Three years ago we sold our house and most of the things in it and yielded to the wanderlust in our hearts.
We packed our children into a VW camper van and left London for an eight-month-long road trip that took us through eight countries and ended in New Zealand. We’d unintentionally entered the world of “world schooling” – a place where families believe a child’s education isn’t best served through the classroom, but through experiencing the big, wide world.
Our children were young enough on that road trip for us to travel with them unabashedly and without needing to justify their absence from school. It was a good job really, as I was only just forming my natural learning apologetics. Traveling Europe with our young children was a crash course in alternative living and education. I spent almost the whole time reading books about how children learn, visiting child-led learning spaces such as the Forest Kindergarten in the Blackforest, and guzzling down the stories of the families we met on the road.
By the end of that trip I’d come to know that our children wouldn’t go to school, but that they’d learn through living and experiencing, motivated by curiosity and delight. We left the car in the UK, flew to New Zealand and, a few weeks later, turned up at a kiwi “natural learners” camp and felt as if we had found a home for a while.
Other families aren’t quite so haphazard. They plan meticulously and deliberately choose places to visit that will widen the scope of their child’s learning.
Over the last three years we’ve had several world schooling families come to stay with us. We listened to a six-year-old describing what it was like to climb a Nepalese mountain and were blown away by a nine-year-old’s artistic photos of Cambodian temples.
We’ve visited the expansive natural learner’s network in San Francisco, staying with a family who crammed into a jeep for six months in order to watch the whales migrate along the Baja California. Whales are noisy, apparently, when there are hundreds swooping and singing 100 meters from your sleeping bag.
What kind of person does this?
This is a generation of parents who see the whole world as our home. We are the kind of people living in the UK who voted to stay in the EU. We aren’t solo nation citizens, but see ourselves as intrinsically connected to every continent on earth. We are also native to Facebook, unafraid of using social media to find free accommodation in other world schooler’s spare rooms.
We are open minded, trusting, we believe that we have something to learn from ancient traditions, different cultures.
We are the parents who refused to accept we had to hang up the backpack and hiking shoes.
There are probably two things that have fanned the flame of world schooling recently; a developing understanding of the diverse way children learn and new opportunities to earn whilst roaming.
World schoolers are liberated by increasing information about the way children learn.
There is a wealth of information coming out about how children learn best through play and experiences. People feel far less reliant on the classroom-plus-teacher model, and far more comfortable knowing they simply have to provide a supportive learning environment. Some world schoolers take curriculum on the road, others use the world around them as the curriculum.
Children are naturally curious, and as long as they feel safe and supported, can use every circumstance to learn. Through travel, parents and children are put in a somewhat of a mutual learning space. It is awesome to tackle a new language together or to be simultaneously awed by architecture that actual knights lived in. Knights!
World schooling mum, Rho Edmunds, reckons that using a child’s interests is an incredible way to plan a trip. “Pick a theme that you are excited about, and make that the main focus when planning your itinerary. I have friends that are horse fanatics, they plan their travel around destinations they can have riding adventures. We know another family that likes to follow certain sports. Just leave room for unexpected adventures!”
World schoolers are also granted their freedom to travel through digital entrepreneurship.
A huge reason world schooling is on the rise is the ability for parents to earn on the road. Pre-internet, work usually required a desk, a boss, and an in-tray where your paycheck could be shoved. These days the only requirement is a solid wifi connection. I’ve gone about my online business from a building not much more substantial than a coconut shy. I had to cross a rickety swing bridge over a furious river to get to it, but I have a fairly significant Protestant work ethic to appease. Oh, and there were elephants washing in the river. No kidding.
I’ve also had to work a whole morning in perishing cold on a concrete block outside a closed library, exploiting their free wifi. Just in case I was making it sound like I was some kind of glam, digital Bear Grylls.
Some world schooling parents save and save and save and then take a sabbatical from the office in order to hit the road. But the majority are working freelance, they have their laptops in their bags and they run their store, or film their vlog, or submit their articles through those magical airwaves we’ve all come to love. Many world schooling parents run digital businesses entirely rooted in travel, through travel apps or travel websites. Crystal Blue, a solo mum, runs Enlightened Globetrekker and describes her eight year old daughter as her partner in the travel company.
World schooling isn’t a lifestyle available to everyone; it is a somewhat prohibitively pricey form of education, and in some countries it’s actually illegal for parents to take their children out of school. But among those who are able, there are certainly some willing, and for us it’s official – world schooling is the new homeschooling.