World-Schooling for the Everyday Family

There is a growing subset of the homeschool movement that has taken the maxim “The world is our classroom” quite literally. These are families who are traveling long term for the express purpose of educating their children.

Even if you don’t travel full time, and even if your child is in a traditional school, you can world-school in the margins. It’s not a method so much as a philosophy of education. World-schooling is about being present enough in your surroundings and with your children to be able to see the educational opportunities all around you. It means looking at your family’s schedule and making time for travel and adventure — even if it takes place in your home neighborhood — and becoming intentional about the learning that takes place every day.

For our family specifically, this has meant creating an organized curriculum for math, science, and everything else spun from the thread of our adventures. In a practical sense, world-schooling means planning carefully for the long-term educational benefit of your children and creating opportunities for them to learn in the world as well as from a book. What does that look like in the real world?

7 Steps to Plan for World-Schooling

To start your world-schooling adventure, you would begin with the following steps:

1. Assess where your child is at in all subjects.

Getting a sense of what your child needs to work on can shape your plans in terms of what to tackle on your upcoming trip. When I was assessing my children, I used the California Achievement Test. This exam is commonly used by home educators and is accepted as a standard form of assessment in most states. The exam can be ordered online.

Another method I used was having a licensed teacher perform an annual assessment on my kids. She gave me a breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses, and helped me formulate specific educational plans for my child.

2. Choose an organized curriculum where you feel you need the support.

For the subjects your children are struggling in, select outside resources to create an educational plan you will follow. You can find some resources I used with my children in this article I wrote for Wand'rly Magazine.

3. Make a list of the museums and educational opportunities at your disposal.

Depending on your destination, make a list of the different educational landmarks you want to be sure your children experience. These can include museums, parks, historical sites, galleries, performances, and exchanges with locals.

For some ideas, check out these ideas for educational family road trips and destinations.

4. Consider what can be read or watched to prepare before you go.

Be sure to give your kids a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture before they go abroad. You can find documentaries to watch as a family or buy books that will give your children a preview of what they will be seeing.

5. Think about how to reflect on these experiences in a way that serves your educational purposes.

Think critically about how you will want your children to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve acquired over the trip. Some ways your kids can reflect their insight include completing projects, writing papers, working through unit studies, taking a traditional test, or creating a portfolio. For us, we decided to have our kids develop a portfolio that kept a careful record of their educational experiences as well as the traditional curricular choices (such as exams and assessments).

The Noodle series on How to Sneak Learning into Everyday Life has project ideas you can easily do with your kids in a variety of subjects, from art to science.

6. Plan some projects with your children that are interest-driven.

One of the great parts about creating a curriculum for your children is that you can customize it to their interests. Try to find a way to combine what they love with the place you are going. For instance, if one of your children is interested in painting and you are taking a cross-country trip to explore the national parks, you can create a project that requires her to study American landscape artists as inspiration to paint famous landscapes you are visiting.

7. Be sure to create a multi-faceted travel experience.

Analyze your travel plans and consider the following: How can we experience the history, culture, language, food, and geography of the area we’re visiting? Combine all of these elements so your children can get a comprehensive experience of your destination.

Executing Your World-Schooling Plan

There are as many ways to world-school as there are families doing it. The only example I’m qualified to give is from our own experience, which I followed from my children’s preschool days until they went to university.

The following are general guidelines we used to shape our children’s educational experience:

Mornings are for book work.

We have always spent our mornings on the content that is related to books: math, science, writing, language study, independent project development. We make our plans together and the children are responsible for self-directing their learning according to those plans. I make myself available to help and redirect as needed.

Afternoons are for adventure.

In the afternoons we are, almost always, out having an adventure, one that has been carefully (and craftily) inserted into our educational plan in a way that is fun for the kids and supports our overarching goals.

Take one day “off” per week

We’ve never schooled five days a week — I never thought kids needed a full-time job. Wednesdays are for life-learning, bigger adventures, major projects, or community service. At home or abroad, leaving kids a day per week for intentional creative space yields all kinds of interesting results.

Make time for books.

Since our children were young, I have read to them at every mealtime: poetry at breakfast, history at lunch, literature at dinner, a fun book at bedtime. We’ve squeezed in an awful lot of content over the years with this approach. As soon as they were capable of reading to themselves, they were expected to do so for at least 30 minutes a day from a quality book that we chose together, according to each of their unique educational plans.

Need recommendations? Check out these book reviews by education experts.

World-Schooling in Action: A Case Study

When we were living in Thailand for six months, we decided to fly to Hanoi, Vietnam and take a month-long overland journey back home, traveling by boat down the Mekong in Laos, making our way through Cambodia, eventually taking a long train journey back to the south of Thailand. The trip fell during two of our kids’ birthdays.

We made a plan together.

We had a family meeting, laid out the plans, the basic route, and the budgetary constraints, and asked the kids for their input (at 10, 12, almost 14, and almost 16, they were very capable of helping to plan!) We’ve always made an attempt to include our kids in the planning and to honor their dreams alongside our own. The two birthday kids got to choose special adventures for their birthdays, as is our tradition. One chose a day in Hanoi visiting the Ho Chi Minh memorial and associated museums.The other chose a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

We collected and explored relevant resources.

Next, I spent a couple of days collecting resources on the history, geography, culture, language, and literature of the countries in question. I searched for documentaries, books, audio books, YouTube videos, blogs, websites, interactive online experiences, and good photo essays about the places we were planning to be.

We watched the entire PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War before we went. The children all read books, at their various levels, about the Vietnam war, the Pol Pot regime and the genocide in Cambodia, and the ancient cultures of the Mekong Delta.

We created a routine and developed projects.

During the month that we were traveling, the kids were often awake early and quickly began working on their book work (most of which actually happened on computers for us, since books are heavy and we lived out of backpacks!) By ten or so in the morning, we were ready to hit the world.

Every meal was eaten at a different local venue, from noodle carts on the street, to family-run, homestyle restaurants (with ants in the bowl!) to an upscale restaurant in Hue, Vietnam, where our 16-year-old was serenaded for her birthday by a table of businessmen and the staff presented her with flowers and an odd cake. We learned a few phrases of each language as we crossed borders and adhered to our personal commitment to learn to speak to locals, even when it was hard.

Experiences included:

  • Visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum
  • Touring the Hanoi Hilton prison
  • Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh trail
  • Climbing to the Perfumed Pagoda
  • Visiting the Ancient Palace at Hue
  • Taking 11-hour bus rides through the Laotian countryside
  • Traveling down the Mekong on a monsoon flood
  • Sleeping in the palace of the last prince of Laos
  • Transplanting rice with local women on Don Khong Island
  • Making palm sugar with locals along the roadside
  • Bicycling throughout some of the 4000 islands
  • Taking in the museums of Phnom Penh
  • Seeing the Killing Fields
  • Going to Angkor Wat

We colored our maps on long bus rides and scribbled descriptions of palaces and museum artifacts in bumpy print when we had a few minutes on train platforms or at cafes. We produced blog posts and videos, along with a proper essay or two on something particularly inspiring to one child or another.

After our trip, a friend of mine emailed me: “I checked in my son’s high school history textbook, looking for something on Cambodia and Pol Pot. You know what I found? One paragraph.”

At the end of the day, this is the essence of world-schooling: It isn’t that things can’t be learned from textbooks; it’s just that so much more is learned outside of them. With a little intention and careful advance planning, anyone, anywhere, can add world-schooling to their educational architecture. Why not give it a try?

Follow this link to learn more about world-schooling and alternative education programs.