This week’s blog post is written by Explorer Family Mom Erica Bennett from @7wildhearts. Erica, living in the sunny state of Florida, homeschools her children, which allows them to experience so much more compared to sitting in a regular classroom. Erica and her family of 7 are members of our Inclusion & Diversity committee, and help us spread normalized conversation about promoting inclusion in nature. Erica is here to talk all about their homeschooling journey — where it began, why, how its going — and we are so excited to share her story. Here is what Erica had to say about ‘When Homeschool Meets Roadschool’: 

Our Journey to Homeschool & Travel

My husband, Steve and I  made the decision to start homeschooling our kids pre-pandemic but it was autumn of 2020 before we put it into practice.  For us, the decision to shift from public schooling to homeschooling was an easy one as this new learning adventure was coupled with a cross country move that already had us diving into huge life changes.  We were ready to prioritize exploring nature and traveling together as a family, so choosing a program that would fit our new, more flexible schedule was the first step. 

Homeschooling, Roadschooling, and Worldschooling are all forms of alternative education that are gaining popularity these days, especially among young families looking for experience-driven learning outside of a traditional classroom.  As the primary learning instructor, I decided that a somewhat eclectic approach was a good fit for our family because we have lots of different ages and skill levels. We just wrapped up our second year of homeschooling and have done most of it from our home base in Florida. However, our flexible schedule has also allowed us to educate our kids on the road as we travel throughout the United States for 4-12 weeks at a time. 

How We Take Our Schooling on the Road

Like all big changes, there was an adjustment period as we all figured out how to navigate the highways and byways of homeschooling. Our kids have BIG personalities and different learning styles, but once we felt like everyone was in a good place with this new aspect of our lives, we began to intermittently travel for a week or so at a time. Easing into travel was a great decision because it gave us a good foundation to build on as our road trips became longer and longer. 

Typically as we travel, we try to get in about 2-3 hours of schoolwork on Monday through Thursday and slow down our academic pace a little. We want experience-driven learning to be at the forefront of all of our road trips.  That works well for us because when we are home in Florida, we fly pretty quickly and efficiently through most of the curriculum content and exams. Having full control of the pacing during the school year has been such a game changer and allows us so much freedom to plan hikes, road trips, and even weekdays at Disney World! 

Chances are that if your family spends long or indefinite periods of time traveling the country, at least one parent is working remotely or attending meetings virtually. Dedicated “work time” is important for Steve’s career, so this time is key for scheduling productive learning for our kid crew as well. Some days we utilize a couple of morning hours to complete math lessons and science labs while his meetings and collaborations are happening. Then we spend the afternoon and evening exploring national and state parks in whatever state we happen to be traveling through. If we get lucky, the visitor center at said park or monument will have wifi available which helps on days when there are projects to be submitted or daytime meetings to attend. Oftentimes, visitor centers will also house a mini-museum full of things to learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the area, so we never miss an opportunity to stop in.

My 3 Basic Principles for Homeschooling Success on the Road:

Fan Their Flames

One of the most important things we can do as homeschool parents is to watch for that spark of passion or enthusiasm in our kids and fan that flame. It sounds super easy and yet it requires some forethought and a substantial time investment. Vox, our almost 9 year old, just loves animals but sometimes gets disgruntled at the idea of long hikes so we make sure to get him a field guide for whatever region of the country we are traveling through. We know there is a  high probability he’s going to get excited about classifying everything he can on the way to an overlook or waterfall. Does the hike take longer? Yes, definitely. But it’s worth slowing down to help foster those formative skills and interests. 

Our daughter, Astoria, is a budding photographer and has been putting our old Canon 50D camera and lenses to good use after taking an online photography class this year. Since Steve also knows a lot about cameras, this has been a great way for the two of them to bond when we are taking in sights across the country. Not only does this fan Astoria’s flame for photography,  but it gives her that connection and time with her dad which is so special. 

Another important way we foster our kids’ learning on the road is to plan specific activities around things our children are individually passionate about. Our 7 year old, Miro, is so fascinated by rocks and minerals that he sleeps with his rock collection and identification books next to his bed. Our recent trip through the American Southwest was the perfect opportunity to plan a visit to an active gypsum mine where we could dig our own selenite crystals at Glitter Mountain, Arizona. We came away with 5 gallon size bags full of gypsum which we used in our spring fairy garden and the happiest first grade rock hound in the state.

Experience-Driven Learning is Everything

We want our kids to be critical thinkers with big ideas and seek to learn as much as possible from every experience, so we focus on finding little ways to learn and grow together. As a travel family, we have the privilege of watching our kids explore real world circumstances and challenges firsthand. In the last year, my kids have gone cliff jumping into Lake Michigan, hiked to Delicate Arch in Utah and Devil’s Hall in Texas, plunged down a natural rock waterslide in the Smoky Mountains, and explored the volcanic wonders throughout Yellowstone. This is experience-driven learning at its finest! Lessons in perseverance, self awareness, and risk assessment are just as important as reading and writing are for growing minds.

When we are out exploring, we make sure to utilize all of the ready made educational materials that are distributed by National Parks and Monuments, such as the Junior Ranger Program here in the USA. Not only do the kids get a badge for completing age appropriate learning activities, but the content almost always teaches us new things about the ecosystem of each destination. Coupled with informative displays at the visitor centers and throughout the parks, we always walk away with new knowledge and perspectives. We also try to prioritize stopping at local science centers and natural history museums when we are on the road. These places are all about enrichment and provide the perfect environment for our kids to explore their interests with hands-on learning experiences in a broad spectrum of subjects.

Our kids also enjoy using their nature journals to sketch and record their observations as we hike, especially when we are in dramatically different environments than we are used to. Field guides or posted informational signs are often all that is needed to start classifying and identifying our natural surroundings. Our kid crew loves to hunt for specific flowers, birds, and insects that they know are in the area as we hike and explore. I remember how excited we all were to spot our first ever banana slug when we were hiking in Olympic National Park after learning so much about them from the Junior Ranger Program. We have just as much enthusiasm for encountering small, strange creatures as we do seeing moose in Colorado or grizzly bear #399 with her four yearling cubs in the Grand Tetons. These experience-driven learning opportunities are so  enriching to our kids and we can see it paying off in spades!

Celebrating Wins - Big & Small

From birthdays spent hiking in the canyons of Sedona and waterfall chasing in the Smoky Mountains, to science presentations recorded in the ancient rocks of Colorado National Monument, we get to celebrate our big and small wins in some of the most epic ways. It’s truly one of my favorite things about this lifestyle, but as a homeschool and travel mom, I have a lot of roles to fill and sometimes we take on challenges that don’t always go according to plan.  Some days are downright hard and exhausting. However, those moments serve as a necessary reminder that no big dream or meaningful life change comes without putting in the work and wading through the difficult circumstances that occasionally come our way.  

After all, this is real life! We’ve learned to roll with the punches and make the best of what each day brings. That can mean we plan a rest day when we have cranky, overexerted munchkins or spontaneously take a day off of schoolwork on a particularly stressful week to head to the beach for some sunshine and sea breezes. Whether we’ve dealt with our van stuck in the sand or a child refusing to walk another step on a difficult hike, keeping the positive energy flowing and maintaining a flexible mindset is so important. The truth is that we can all do difficult things, messy things, seemingly impossible things, and extraordinary things!  The best part for our family is that we get to celebrate both miniscule and monumental moments in the coolest ways and in the most spectacular locations. 

Thank-you for taking the time today to read Erica Bennetts piece about their transition from homeschool to roadschool. You can follow Erica and her family of 7 over at @7wildhearts.

Don’t forget to tag us in your adventures on Instagram by using @KidsWhoExplore #KWE #KidsWhoExplore 

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