And that is not a bad thing.
Let's start with the books. I love books, just not textbooks. I prefer to learn and teach from rich, colorful, well-written literature, even though this means more work for me in terms of lesson planning. The other thing it means is we need a library, and that's not an option for a traveling family (assuming you move about very frequently like we did). So we thought a Kindle would be our hero, and it could have been had we budgeted a small fortune for downloads. So although the kids read a LOT of good books through the course of the year, they did not read all the wonderful historical and scientific books I had dreamed we would study together.
Then there was that pesky matter of time management. The other sort of wonderful learning activities I had on the docket were indeed wonderful, but they demanded chunks of time we just did not have. Well, yes, I know we had the same 24-hour day we had always had, but in our previous life we were not trying to hike to a glacier or take in a Ranger talk on edible plants or find sea cucumbers or go exploring Monument Valley with a member of the Navajo Nation. I thought we would do those things then return to the campground to write papers on our fun and create notebook pages complete with diagrams of the intertidal zone and sea star illustrations and the list of microbes that create the cryptobiotic soil crust. Instead we often returned late in the day with just enough energy to have dinner and journal or blog about our days or text friends and crash with a good book. I thought we were going to create science notebooks that would make most homeschool mommies soil their denim jumpers, but no. Wasn't happening.
In the middle of February I was stressing over the lack of anything resembling formal schoolwork in our usual day. By March's end I was sending guilt-ridden texts of failure confessions to my friend, Melissa. By April I was the one who was about to soil a denim jumper (if I owned one) (I swear I do not). And by May I was certain the authorities were coming to get me.
Somewhere before our halfway point I realized something: we are educating with excellence, it just looks backwards from the traditional route.
This is what I mean. In a traditional school plan a child learns all about something by reading about it, studying a bit, perhaps completing a related project, taking a test, then finally being rewarded with a field trip to round out the learning experience. We went backwards and started with the field trip and it ignited an excitement for knowledge that I've never seen in my kids, or in myself for that matter. After observing the habits and antics of ravens in several locations we all got excited enough to want to dig deeper. When we walked around the sugary dunes of White Sands National Monument we were ripe with curiosity about how gypsum crystals are formed, eroded, then blown on the winds to create a spectacular park. A seven hour hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon will make geology far more fascinating than any science book possibly can, but you're more likely to dive into that same book after you've been dumbstruck by mile-high sandstone cliffs.
I should have known better when Joel (in a crowd of adults who did not know the answer) told the park ranger the difference between a valley and a basin (I never taught him that). It should have given me pause when Emily heard an adult on a ranger walk ask what that funny growth was on the tree and piped up, "Oh, that's a burl."
I knew we would learn some geography. I was confident we could skip math for awhile and no one would forget how to add and subtract. I smiled politely every time some nice camp neighbor said, "Oh, what a great way to get an education about our country!" Before we left home I could pay lip service to that ideal all day long, but I had to go live it for real to believe it. I just don't think I was quite prepared for what else we would gain. While I was dreaming and planning and looking in one direction, my kids were learning things behind me and in spite of it all.
Things like kelp is slippery and barnacles will cut you and there is all kinds of gravity at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Obsidian is really sharp and a baby squirrel will stand its ground against a lizard twice it's size. Banana peels take fifteen years to break down in the desert and jack rabbits kiss. We learned that anarchists are fun people to invite for dinner and West Texans know everyone and if you really want to know about Native Americans you should close the dumb textbook and go meet the real deal. We were able to confirm our theory that if you never get out into bear/coyote/scorpion territory where you will actually run into one (or all three) you are bound to live your whole life needlessly afraid of such things instead of fascinated by them.
Traveling a country like ours will teach you REAL history and science, not the gpredigested string of facts found in most textbooks. And if you're afraid to stray from the familiar traditional model of education, you might miss out on the best learning experiences of all.
P.S. In case you are on the planning end of your own road schooling adventure and are wondering what is worth packing along, here is a short breakdown of what we took and what we really needed.
Expectations versus Reality:
I took the Kindle, some biography paperbacks, grammar books, 3-ring binders, literature guides, math texts and practice sheets, a mineral identification kit, dry erase boards, nature observation kits, history text, and several boxes of art supplies. Of that we only used the art supplies, biographies, and the Kindle.
I fully expected we would use the Internet for research ALL. THE. TIME. I think we used it for school work maybe twice. Park Rangers beat Wikipedia and Google hands down. Plus, when you get out into the best parts of nature you will be far from any cell tower.
I thought the pile of National Geographic magazines (two years worth) was not worth it's weight. WRONG. Totally wished we had taken them. I lost count of how often we encountered something and I knew exactly which issue had a great story on that topic. Only it was in a box in Florida, far, far away...
Wouldn't it be cool to learn geography by following the Lewis & Clark Trail? Yeah, I thought so too, but we went in the wrong direction…
I expected we would return home to do quick evaluations and find that everyone was a bit behind in math, spelling, and writing. WRONG. Joel is about 3-6 months ahead in math, everyone can still write quite well, and they can all spell words they never studied.
And they can tell you what cryptobiotic soil crust is, and why you need to avoid walking on it.