Homeschooling, world-schooling, unschooling… It seems there’s now an educational lifestyle to suit every family.
But us? This year, we’re Trailschooling our way along the Bicentennial National Trail.
Trailschooling is a lifestyle choice, a wonderful one, but one you can try for a short time. Try it and you may never go back. Want to find out more? Read on…
I remember the day I first discovered Teacher Superstore as a uni student. A bookstore especially for teachers, packed full with resource books bursting with ideas for classrooms games, worksheets, and neatly planned out curriculum units ready to throw into the photocopier and hand out to the class.
The anxiety that comes from the mammoth task of keeping a group of children happy, learning and engaged just floated away. Now all the work had been done for me!
In the months that followed, my lean student budget became even leaner as I acquired a rather sizeable collection of teacher resource books. I remember being literally buried under them most nights during my final prac, flicking from page to page trying to find that perfect game for the next day’s lesson.
There eventually came a time when I remember feeling completely lost without my trusty resource books. I began to question things- was it becoming a bit of a crutch for me? I believe so and as a result, I started to make a conscious effort to refer to them less and less.
The ‘no worksheets, minimal books’ was one of the factors that drew me to teaching in a Steiner school, where lessons follow on from stories the teachers learn by heart. Without books or hastily photocopied papers constantly acting as a barrier between teacher and students, lessons are ‘living’, engaging and genuine.
‘Living’, Engaging and Genuine
So instead of spending my nights frantically flicking through resource books until I came across something promising, I began to sit down, take a deep breath and think about what the children in my class really needed for that day. Over the following months, I was amazed at how much creative fulfillment I got from inventing my own stories, games, and unit plans from scratch for the sole benefit of the children in my class.
For me to do so however, it took a long time to trust that I could provide for the class without constantly referring to ‘the experts’ and to put aside my feelings of inadequacy.
I believe we all, especially mothers, are plagued with these feelings of inadequacy to some extent. Thus, we buy books and refer to the experts on how to parent, how to feed and how to teach our children, when often we possess a surprising degree of ‘inner knowing’ within us already , lying largely dormant. Sometimes, the more we read, the more inadequate we tend to feel, when really we should be turning inward for solutions and letting our creativity and inner power shine.
Ditching the Textbooks and Drawing on Inner Creativity
So it was with this bare-bones, scaled down approach to homeschooling that Z and I embarked on the trail- as much due to practical weight imitations as it was the principle. Our school materials consists of a notebook, a journal, colouring pencils, a Kindle and one Maths exercise book.
Without a space to work in or books at our fingertips, I consider our practise ‘Trailschooling’, rather than homeschooling, and I tend to follow roughly the following four principles:
1. Don’t neglect the three ‘R’s
I’m a bit of a stickler for reading, writing and arithmetic. While I believe it is unnecessary to have a tonne of books to educate your child, I’m also not sure that the opposite approach of letting your child do whatever he/ she wants all day sits right with me either.
The emphasis traditionally placed on the three ‘R’s seems to have gone rather out of vogue in favour of developing abstract, critical, creative thinkers. As a result, many children are graduating high school without having acquired what were once considered basic skills.
So we have a Maths exercise book, which Z works on for 45 mins or so everyday. It would be too time consuming for me to write the sums out or think them up myself, hence the book. Why reinvent the wheel for something like Maths?
For writing, Z writes letters and postcards. Daily journal entries are great, but this can become a bit tiresome after a while, so we mix it up with creative writing a bit- this can work for any sort of travel you are doing with kids, as long as you make it relevant. Perhaps the reason so many kids are disengaged at school is because the lessons brought to them are uninteresting and irrelevant.
Some of our recent writing exercises include:
‘Imagine you are Basil the donkey. Write a narrative from your perspective on how and why you managed to escape from the paddock yesterday’.
‘We camped near an interesting old stockmans hut last night. Write an imaginary story about the last person who lived in it, and what the numbers scratched above the fire mean’.
‘Write a report on the Guy Fawkes Brumbies for an imaginary newspaper’.
Write a short essay detailing the public sentiment around coal mining in the Hunter Valley (many people were eager to share their views on this!)
In a traditional school setting,a lot of the fore-learning and research for these sorts of writing tasks would be acquired from books, but on the trail, I tend to base writing exercises around oral histories or anecdotes we hear from people we meet, or random articles or readings that come our way.
Z is and has always been a voracious reader, but due to weight limitations, we don’t take any reading books. Instead, I have thousands of books loaded on our Kindle- It is not something she would use at home, but suits us perfectly at the moment. She tends to go through a book every couple of days.
In a conventional school setting, children get surprisingly little time to read. Even in the early years, reading lessons are often riddled with comprehension exercises, spelling exercises, text analysis, etc. That’s all very well, but children need a lot of time and space to just read for the sake of reading- whether it be to enjoy a story or to learn something new. Luckily, at school, Z has a teacher who is passionate about books and is a great storyteller. So Z has been making up for her absence by reading and reading like mad this year!
2. Use what you’ve got
With no books to refer to and minimal internet access, it can sometimes be frustrating when Z wants to know something and can’t research it. However, it can force you to find answers in other ways- asking the locals, reading travel brochures, or just pondering over it for a while until we are bursting with curiosity. In our day and age where anything and everything we want to know is just a Google search away, is that such a bad thing, I wonder?
But so that we don’t end up in an informational or educational void, I use materials or resources that we happen to come across in our travels- maps, articles, museums; In fact, in the woodbox where we are staying, we just found a newspaper article from the 90’s on different birds in Queensland. We could use this as fodder for a drawing exercise, report writing, etc. I think that making the most of what we’ve got and being creative with minimal resources encourages flexibility and helps us to be more ‘in the moment’.
3. Ditch the Ipad
As a Steiner school teacher, I may be a little biased but I don’t believe it is beneficial for children to have access to tablets, computers, ipads, phones, or any other screens before they are teenagers. Obviously I have made an exception for the Kindle while we are on the trail. But I really do believe that at the end of the day, electronic gadgets are a distraction, and often, an addiction. I could go on and on, but don’t worry- I’ll spare you the ranting.
4. Educate while on the move
4 to 7 hours of our days on the Bicentennial National Trail is usually taken up with walking, meaning we can’t just sit down at a table to study. But it is a great opportunity to play oral multiplication or spelling games, and to learn and recite poetry.
So all in all, I would highly encourage anyone considering simultaneous homeschooling and travel to give it a go, without getting too wrapped up in what books and materials you need to take. Opportunities for educating your child will always present themselves. You just need to look out for them!
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