Our World-Schooling Journey: How We Educate While Traveling Full Time

by | Jul 26, 2018 | PARENTING, TRAVELING WITH KIDS, WORLD-SCHOOLING

One of the most common questions we get, when we tell people that we are traveling full time (and therefore consider ourselves to be world-schooling) is “but – what about the kid’s education?”. Some are curious… some are concerned… some seem judgemental.

I find it amazing that some people think sitting in a classroom – especially at a young age – could provide a superior education to traveling the world. I’m not saying that sitting in a classroom is a bad thing – but I don’t think pulling your child out to travel full time is a bad thing, either.

If anything, it opens up so many possibilities for learning and growing and developing an open mind and a global worldview. And, in today’s world of rising fascism and intolerance and migrant crises, I can’t help but think that we need more global citizens than ever.

People who see beyond borders… people who don’t view the world in terms of “us” and “them”… people who see similarities, not differences… people who embrace change and growth and new experiences and aren’t scared of the unknown.

Charlotte made instant friends at her school in Belize. She only stayed four days, because the school itself was too old-fashioned (all sitting at desks, writing in books, stricter discipline), but the teachers and students were absolutely lovely, and welcomed her with open arms!

Aria loves to play football (soccer), so she has the perfect ice-breaker with new kids, even when they don’t share a language.

Charlotte became great friends with the neighbourhood girls in Mexico, despite no shared language (at least to start – Charlotte quickly learned to say “vamos! vamos! No mas! Si, mañana”, and that proved to be about enough!)

That’s a heavy load to place on the shoulders of two carefree young girls, but I love that we aren’t even needing to “educate” them. They are just learning and growing as we go. There is lots of information out there about unschooling, and world-schooling, so I’m not going to try to explain these concepts right now – other websites and blogs can do justice to that much better than I can!

And we’re still figuring it out, too, so I’m certainly no expert. Suffice it to say, we believe that playing every day, in different cultures, with people from around the world, is as good – or better – an education as they would receive in a classroom.

“When I watch our two little whipper-snappers navigate their way through new city streets in a foreign country – their little blond heads bobbing with confidence as they stride along, unfazed by the traffic or the noise or the chaos or the foreign language – I think, there couldn’t be a better educational experience than this.

Oh, sure, we bought some Kindergarten-level school work books. And they were exciting for about 2 days before it became a chore that brought on more whining than learning.

The latest batch is still sitting, untouched, waiting for a rainy day when researching monarch butterfly migration patterns or sea turtle life cycles or volcanoes or sharks or how people lived in the “olden days” or palaces of ancient kings and queens or how dolphins help save human’s lives becomes boring.

Or when we run out of things to paint or draw or create.

Or when we run out of notebooks in which to write about our travels.

Or when we run out of people to which we can write postcards.

Or when we run out of coins in new currencies to learn about money and numbers and counting.

This was a day of wonderful coincidences. Charlotte and I had decided we wanted to make puppets, and headed out to the local Papeleria for craft supplies. Not 10 feet down the road, we found this box sitting beside the trash: a perfect puppet theatre! So, we scooped it up, took it home, washed it up, and set to work. It also become a doll house later (we built two stories inside with beds and tables and things).

And that’s to say nothing of the hours and hours of free play time, both with just the two sisters and with all the new friends we are meeting, where sand castle villages are created without any adult intervention. Where restaurants are launched and vet clinics are built and hospitals are staffed. Where Royal Balls are attended and dance shows are performed and live music is played on homemade instruments. Where Lego cities are created. Where books are read, and more books are read. Where new languages are encountered and learned and processed.

I could go on and on. It’s a pretty amazing thing to sit back and watch young kids play and explore their world. Oh sure, every now and then, either Jonathan or I get a bit anxious and say “but shouldn’t we be TEACHING them something? Shouldn’t we be sitting down and ‘doing school time’?”

We’re new to this whole world-schooling approach, and we are socialized to believe that young kids need to be in school, in a classroom, to be learning. And as parents, of course we worry about whether we’re doing the right thing, and whether our kids will gain the necessary skills to be successful human beings in this complicated world.

But when I watch our two little whipper-snappers navigate their way through new city streets in a foreign country – their little blond heads bobbing with confidence as they stride along, unfazed by the traffic or the noise or the chaos or the foreign language – I think, there couldn’t be a better educational experience than this.

Aria and Charlotte exploring the streets of Hoi An, Vietnam.

I am very fortunate to have grown up with a mother who was deeply engaged in her children’s lives, and very open to learning about different ways to educate. My three siblings and I all had different educational experiences.

My older sister went to public school from Kindergarten through to the end of high school – she jokes that she got short-changed compared to the rest of us.

I went to public school from Kindergarten until the Christmas of my grade four year. I had been increasingly disliking school (which is completely opposite to my personality – I LOVE school and would have kept going forever if someone had paid me), and had something like 40 days absent in grade three (with a stay-at-home Mom who believed in “mental health days”, all it took was a comment from me about not wanting to go to school, and I would get to stay home to play with my little brother and sister).

When I hit grade four – and had already learned most of the curriculum in grade three, since I was in a split three/four class – I was so bored. I had an uninspiring teacher, very little outlet for my natural creativity, and basically just coped through the school day until I could get out and get to my dance school for the ballet classes that were my life line, or home to my country house where I could play outside or read or draw.

At Christmas that year, my Mom asked me if I wanted to go back to school after the holidays ended, and I said no! I hadn’t known it was an option, but when presented with the opportunity to try homeschooling, I leaped at the chance.

My Mom took a very loose approach to homeschooling. She also had two younger children at home, and mostly provided books and art supplies and lots of time to explore and bake with her, coupled with lots of library trips and Science Centre outings and nature walks. She was basically unschooling before there was a word for it!

This approach worked brilliantly with my little brother and sister, who had never been indoctrinated into the public school system. However, I was too used to the regular school system and, combined with my planner-organizer-results-driven personality, I found it too unstructured and boring. I’m the kid who used to make my little brother and sister sit at desks while I taught them things at the chalkboard and made them write tests so I could mark them!

Luckily for me, the year I was in grade four, my Mom had been sending my little sister to a part-time Kindergarten program at a new Waldorf School in our area. As she learned more about the Waldorf philosophy and education system, she realized it might be a good fit for me.

So, after a long January of unsuccessful homeschooling, she asked if I wanted to try the Halton Waldorf School. I said yes, and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

My Mom says I came back from the very first day with a huge smile on my face, looking like the “old Meredith”, who loved learning and school.

I don’t want to derail this blog post any further, so I’ll save a deep exploration of the Waldorf approach for another day, but essentially it’s rooted in creativity and curiosity and story-telling and art and drama and holistic learning and the mind-body connection. It’s about learning, not teaching. It’s about more than just reading and writing and arithmetic – but, ironically, you learn those things far better (more thoroughly, more naturally, more deeply) than in a public school setting.

Suffice it to say, Waldorf was made for me, and I loved it there. I attended the school from the middle of grade four until the end of grade eight, and then went to the local public high school.

After 4.5 years of Waldorf education, my learning style had changed and I was able to get a lot more out of my public high school experience because of it. I was far more focused on learning rather than results, on enjoying the process rather than producing a perfect product.

After high school, I went off to university for first one, then two degrees in Theatre (a BA and MA). So that was my educational journey!

My siblings and I in St Kitts. It’s difficult to get a normal photo of us: there is always much silliness going on. Patrick makes Laura laugh hysterically, which makes me laugh uncontrollably, which makes Megan + Patrick giggle non stop… and repeat. Life is better when we’re together!

My little sister did her part-time Kindergarten program at the Waldorf School, then homeschooled until grade four. She attended Waldorf until grade eight, then went to our local public high school. My little brother essentially did the same, but without the Waldorf Kindergarten. It’s a good thing we’re all spaced out by 3-4 years, because we could only afford to have one kid at Waldorf at a time! It’s amazing, but it’s not cheap.

My older sister learned to read at age 4. Me, about age 6. My little sister (who is now a vet), didn’t read a thing until she was 8 – and one day just picked up a chapter book and read it cover to cover. My little brother learned gradually, I guess around 5 or 6, but he had a better vocabulary than all of us by age 8.

My older sister is now a Kindergarten teacher in the public school system – but she started her own Forest Kindergarten program at her urban Toronto school, so her mostly-New-Canadian kids are now traipsing through the Don Valley Ravine every day, rain or shine or snow!

I earned a BA and then an MA in Theatre. I got into a PhD program, but wasn’t sure I wanted to follow that path, and took a meandering journey through a few different jobs before landing my dream job (that I didn’t know was going to be my dream job) as the Marketing and Events Manager at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, a brand-new First Nations Cultural Centre (which was used a lot for conferences and events, hence my position). Leaving that job to travel full time was the hardest part of making this life change!

My little sister didn’t do her final year of high school that was required for university entrance in Ontario at the time. Instead, she did a college degree in Entertainment Administration, then traveled all around the United States with her boyfriend’s band for 2 years before coming home one day and saying “goddamn it, I want to be a vet, why didn’t you make me go to university?!”

Well, we’d all known she was born to be a vet from the moment she was 4 years old and rescuing frogs from the pool filter every morning, and then diagnosing our cat’s serious illness 2 days before our parents even noticed anything was wrong when she was 8 years old.

So, she did night school to complete the few courses required for university admission, got accepted into a university Arts program (she would have needed a lot more night school classes to get into the Science program), and then sweet-talked her way into switching to the Arts & Science program so that she could end up graduating with all of the required Science courses for vet school.

She attended vet school on St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, and excelled – literally, she got 100% in some of her courses! She’s now in Ireland completing her one year practicum/clinical year. I am more proud of her than almost anyone else I know for how hard she has worked for this – especially being the one who “didn’t like school” and skipped most of her grade 11 high school year.

And finally, my little brother (you didn’t know this blog post was going to meander into my family’s whole educational story, did you?? Don’t worry, I didn’t, either!). After homeschooling until grade five and then attending Waldorf until grade nine (and thank goodness he did – with his incredible brain and glasses and short stature, he might have been eaten alive at public school, but was embraced and celebrated at Waldorf), he went to the same high school as the rest of us. He was on Student Council, started the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team, organized multiple charity events, and excelled in his classes.

Encouraged by his teachers and family alike, he then headed to university for a degree in Theoretical Physics. After 2.5 years of his degree, he came home one day and, with more courage than I think I would ever have, told my parents he was dropping out.

He had come to realize that he neither wanted to BE a theoretical physicist nor TEACH theoretical physics, and didn’t want to waste his time completing a degree in the field. He then proceeded to hunker down in my parents’ basement for about a year, during which we all worried extensively – and Jonathan had the wisdom and insight to say “don’t worry, he’s a 21 year old boy, he’ll sort it out!”.

And sure enough, he did: he went back to college for Computer Programming, ended up doing all of his internships at a small start-up, walked right into an amazing job with them upon graduation, and has been working for them ever since.

He basically walked into a room with 3 other dudes who were as nerdy AND cool as him, and that was that! They have Christmas parties that involve flying all their employees (all 4 of them) plus their partners to the Caribbean for 4 days at an all-inclusive resort. If he’s a bit late, they don’t care, as long as the work gets done. He got to do interesting and engaging work right from the start.

We have all been moving here and there in recent years, so getting us all in one place at one time has been challenging. These photos are from my last birthday, where we were only missing Laura. So, of course, we had to draw her face on my birthday pie to pose for the photo. Of course.

Anyway, that 1,600 word digression was all to say: all four of us took different educational paths, some of which included homeschooling (but essentially unschooling) and alternate schools, and we all ended up just fine. We all found happiness in our careers, where our careers are more than just a job, but something we really enjoy and are passionate about. But we also all live life fully, in our own ways.

So, while I know it’s anecdotal and therefore completely statistically irrelevant, my family’s educational background has provided me with the confidence to forge our own path for our kid’s education, through world-schooling, rather than worrying about following a traditional model.

We may very well enrol Charlotte, and eventually Aria, in a local school somewhere, but it will be because of the cultural experience of it, and the social engagement, and potentially the acquisition of another language. Not because we think they need to be in a classroom to learn their ABCs and 123s.

And so, here we are. Seven months into our world-schooling, full-time-traveling experiment. We won’t know the outcome of it all for years yet, but all we can do is keep following our hearts, while using our heads, and enjoy this beautiful time with our two little blond adventurers.

Exploring Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount) in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand is where the concept of religion really got introduced to Charlotte, as she saw people praying at the temples and we kept visiting these Buddhist temples. She had a lot of questions about it all (she’s never one to be satisfied with a basic or simple answer – she will always delve deeper until she understands the concept properly), so we did our best to answer them. It was probably our first real taste of what world-schooling/unschooling could be!

And yes… yes, that is Jonathan’s attempt at a man bun. And I have to say, it actually kind of suited him.

About Meredith Kenzie

I am a full-time traveling Mum of two adorably blond and mischevious little girls (isn’t it a good thing nature makes babies so damn cute?). I love to explore new places, finding the fun little places for my littles to play, and getting immersed in different cultures. I like to write and share about our travel adventures while keeping it minimalist and vegan as much as possible! Oh, and I love yoga, ballet, reading, baking, and time with friends.

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4 Comments

  1. Wendy Rees

    Wow – your attitude to travel, parenting and life in general is so refreshing . Yep you right Charlotte and Aria are learning far more than in a stuffy old classroom . I am reading this at 7.30 am on a Monday morning . So interesting- so inspiring. Well done

    Reply
    • Meredith Kenzie

      Hi Wendy, thank you so much! It’s easy to feel like we’re failing or thrusting our kids into a more difficult life, so it’s really nice to hear positive feedback 🙂 And when our girls’ favourite game is to play airplane and pack their backpacks for a trip somewhere, I’m reminded that maybe what we’re doing is okay, after all!

      Reply
  2. Kate

    I love this! What a great overview of worldschooling. I’m so glad you found me so I could find you – I’m adding this to my list of favorites! I need to come back and dig through a few more of your misadventures 🙂

    Reply
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