Traveling has never been more popular for Australians. But there has been a burgeoning trend over recent years, particularly among Aussie families who are deciding to embark on 12 month ‘laps’ around Australia, or long term travel within Australia.
As a traveler – I see so many benefits for children to start traveling from an early age. School will always be one place learning occurs, but it is not the only avenue – and parents play a key role in the success of their children’s academic lives no matter what the learning environment. But, as a teacher, I also see the importance of education and not falling behind in school – which can impact on the future of any child.
The Arguments For & Against Taking Children Out Of School
I am a casual relief teacher in Victoria, (who works within one high school); which sees me step in and out of different classrooms constantly. Thus, I have seen a lot from both sides of this argument. As a global traveler for the past decade, I truly see the ‘travel expands a person’s worldview’ argument – which leads to many parents opting to give their children the best start in life they can. This doesn’t always have to be within a classroom, or within the “best” school. It can be on the road, exploring our magnificent country. Or even a trip overseas for even more cultural learning. Travel will always be important to us as human beings – with learning opportunities remaining endless.
However, I also see the importance of learning and ensuring the skills students need to succeed are learnt. Which when children miss school – this can impact on this success. Keep in mind that no school is exempt from student learning being disrupted. Each term, a school will have a number of things which will take away from active learning in the classroom – school incursions, excursions, assemblies, camps, wellbeing visits during class times, absent teachers (which can last weeks or even months) – even distractions. Most students within Australia have Ipads and laptops in class, especially in the high school environment. Just because a student is in class or attending a traditional school; it doesn’t always mean that they are actively learning every second of the day – there are many distractions within a classroom and technology has made this harder to combat. So always keep these things in mind if you’re worrying about your child being away from school.
This article is in no way designed to be a guide piece on HOW to educate your child outside of the school system. It is meant to be an overview of how you can EDUCATE your child informally or formally within the period you are away – or when you’re at home and are looking for ways to do more. It remains up to you to read curriculum documents for your state, undertake distance education programs or speak to your child’s school to understand what skills they need to be learning at their age/ability levels, if they are not attending a traditional school for a set period.
I am not an expert. I am just a casual relief teacher who sees a lot of parents stressing out over this issue after making this decision – and they need not be! I just want to share ideas on skills I see students learning everyday, and how you can bridge that gap in some way while you’re away.
Some Things To Remember
–If you are embarking on a 12 month period of travel – you should be researching about enrolling your child into a distance education program or home schooling program (in Victoria this is only relevant to those aged 6-17 years.) You will need to check the laws set out by your state for what is required. (If your child is heading into the final years of high school, you definitely need to talk with your child’s school before deciding if you should be taking them with you.)
–If you are traveling for 6 months or less (or even a term) – then you may have a partial enrollment with your child’s school (or at least an agreement with them), to ensure that your child doesn’t miss out on key skills/content whilst they are away. Or the school may allow you to set activities or complete tasks based on the travel you are doing with your child – this really depends on their age/school level at the time.
–If you do decide to undertake distance education – many parents stress so much about meeting deadlines and keeping up with it all – don’t fret if you are behind or don’t complete the work. Any work you do will be a benefit. It is unrealistic to expect you can keep up with everything they expect and travel. Plus – stressing your child out when you’re already adjusting to living on the road is not going to help them. It could foster a negative learning environment – which is the last thing anyone wants! There are many ways to create informal learning opportunities every day.
–Realise that every subject within the school curriculum can be covered in some way – even on the road. Look at the areas your child loves and make those a priority. But also try and incorporate your child into new subject areas or communicate with them about what is interesting them most right now.
–If your child has not started school yet, skill them up on basics that you would have been doing at home. It makes no difference that you are traveling. Reading books and writing (with a pencil) particularly.
Ultimately, the success of your child’s education comes down to their own attitude on their schooling and the expectations that are set by parents. Teachers do their best to foster learning and inspire – but we are not the only reason your child learns at school.
Below is a snapshot of what you can do within certain subjects, not every one that is available. But the major cores are focused on nonetheless.
Educating Your Child While Traveling Australia
English (Or Literacy Based Activities)
Reading enhances the literacy levels of your child, it helps them with spelling, learning new words, and becoming familiar with punctuation and sentence structure. It also fosters creativity and imagination within them. Reading makes better readers. It also makes better writers.
If your child hates reading, ask them why. Communication will explain a lot to you and help you find reading materials which will make them interested in this area. There are books out there which aren’t so text heavy – Manga particularly. But it is still all reading.
Read books for 30 minutes a day. (Real ones at first and ease into e-books as your child gets older). In Victoria, your school can register your child for the Premiers Reading Challenge. (Ask them to do this before you leave) to give them a little challenge with their reading. Any reading is beneficial.
Australian texts. If you want to help your child learn about Australian history, there are many texts available which will assist with this. See History section for more.
Literature studies. Just reading a book is not enough the older they get. If you are familiar with a story – or even a film, get your child talking about it. Ask them what themes/messages belong in the story, ask them to describe the characters, setting etc so you can foster some higher level thinking within a text. Even better, if you can compare similarities and differences between two things – especially between texts/characters etc then this will enhance the critical thinking elements they learn from year 7. Things many students struggle to do.
If you’re looking for structured worksheets – Breaking News English is a good resource a number of teachers use in their classes. It breaks work down into different levels – so you can work to your child’s level. This is also really good for children who don’t have english as their first language or children with special needs. Activities include reading, vocabulary, fill in the missing gaps etc.
When driving, have your child read road signs out load (if they can read). They can make a list of the places you drive through, the places you stay and learn all the towns and cities of Australia – many Australian children (and even adults) cannot do this!
Apps. There are many apps available like those listed here. Many of these would work to not only engage your child but also to educate them and build their skills in comprehension, spelling, phonics and writing.
Writing is a skill students need to progress in throughout their student career. Writing takes practice, but editing work is also a great skill to grow. Any writing is important and as I always say “you can edit 100 pages of writing. But you can’t edit a blank page.” Any writing will be beneficial to a child becoming a stronger student. Also ensure they are writing with pencils or pens as often as possible – this skill is on the decline since technology was introduced into the classroom on a worldwide scale.
While reading, get your child to note down any unfamiliar words in a reading log. We often get students in Year 7-9 to define these words as well – so they are actually learning the words in case they reappear in other texts.
Journal writing. Have your child create a journal that they write in daily about your travels. It can be as detailed or basic as you like. If they struggle to put thoughts down, write one with them and have them base their writing on what you have done. Teachers model to students all the time – so there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things this way. They can glue pictures into it and make it a worthwhile memory of your adventures too. This journal is a really cool option if you are looking to buy a ready – made journal your kids will love.
Spelling. You can use apps (there are basic ones out there). Like with the road sign activity listed above, you can also get your child to spell the town names and write them down.
Write stories. You can have your child write a story (real or imaginary) where they get to be a little creative. Ask them to check their work including using capital letters, full stops, commas, question marks and general paragraph structure. (Kids have a habit of writing a whole page without any paragraph breaks.)
Adjectives, Nouns, Verbs etc. Students that can be descriptive are a step ahead of those who can’t. If your child can make a sentence like “the girl ran over the hill” into something like “the young girl ran quickly over the steep green hill” they are already developing their writing – no matter what the purpose of their piece.
Essay Writing. Unless you understand how to write an essay, this won’t be easy to do. Most schools use the TEEL template for essay writing paragraphs. TEEL standing for:
Topic Sentence – Explains what the paragraph is going to be about (ensuring the essay question is being answered).
Example/Evidence – What examples you will be speaking about to help answer the question.
Explanation – using your examples, explaining them in more detail and how they relate to the essay question.
Link – A summary sentence to link the whole paragraph to the essay question once again.
If your child understands this process already, getting them to practice paragraph writing will help them in their Year 7-12 studies. If not, they will learn it when they return.
Apps/Games around writing. Apps like Words With Friends or 4 Pics One Word are really fun games to play. Board games like Scattegories and Scrabble are also great – and fun! Also look at the list of activities listed under Apps in Reading.
Others on the road have also spoken about playing smarties games with spelling, where for every 4-5 spelling words a child gets right, they receive a smartie chocolate to eat. (This can also be done with Times Tables for math based activities.)
Maths/Financial Literacy/Problem Solving/Science
Maths can be learnt in so many ways – not just through formal activities. Financial literacy is a skill many schools are really pushing today because it is used beyond the school years. Problem solving can be learnt within many subjects, not just maths based ones. Science can be covered in some ways whilst away, either formally or informally.
Cooking. Teach your children about fractions using measuring cups and spoons. (They can also be involved in the cooking process that way too.)
Distance. Being able to understand a road sign with numbers. What is a kilometer? Look at how far you drive between places (you can use Google maps), calculate distances between point A to B or even places in between. Having your children understand how far you travel per day (and even how far away you are from home) is pretty interesting for them to learn – they will need to know how to do this when they get older. Plus it will tie into geography skills too.
Budgeting your trip..Explain the costs you spend each day and have your child track it. Better yet, if you need to stick to strict budgets make it a game by getting them to help you cut costs or look for ways to stay on budget. If they understand the value of the dollar this will help them in life when traveling themselves – even when converting money for overseas trips. For even more financial literacy ideas check out the apps listed here for more ideas – some of these look really good!
Counting games. Count things you see on the road. Can be Trucks, VW Beetles, or anything you think you will see enough of. It keeps the longer drives interesting.
Riddles. Telling riddles or asking your child to answer technical questions can be really fun and enforces critical thinking in your child. This is something they need practice in.
Science. There are many ways to introduce science into your child’s learning. Visiting science center’s or science areas within museums, talking to them about the basics like the Solar System, using apps that your school should have access to (Stile App is the biggest one right now), and that you can set up prior to leaving and have access to based on the work a teacher sets for their classes. If you want basics like learning about cells Icell is a good one to use as it is interactive and has information included.
Apps. Math based apps (Mathletics) or (Mathseeds) or (Mathspace – you have to work with a teacher within your school to set work from it, but you can set this up before you go); how to tell the time (Jungle time); or anything else you can find will always be winners. Other apps that I have seen math classes using recently include (some of them are free or only a few dollars to purchase):
Solveme – a game covering basic problem solving and balancing equations.
Cloud Times tables – which focuses on learning times tables.
Tanzen – an app which involves moving geometric shapes to create pictures (you could use any Tetris game to help build this kind of skill too.)
Paperama – an origami challenge game.
All of these are worth downloading.
As you are traveling around Australia – there are countless opportunities for geography skills and learning to take place.
Map your trip. Get them to mark off the route you drive, the towns you stop in etc. This is invaluable to any child as many Australian high school students have little knowledge of where cities are in Australia – let alone the world. You will need to prepare for this before you leave so they have resources for them to draw on.
Learn BOLTSS. When it comes to map skills, we use BOLTSS for map work from year 7 (Border, Orientation, Legend, Title, Scale and Source.) You could work with them on state maps or national ones. Before you leave, print off blank maps of each state and turn it into a fun activity every time you move somewhere. They can colour in lakes, beaches, forests, “big” items found in Australia etc too.
Time Zones. If your child wants a challenge, you can show them the World Clock on your phone or laptop and get them to plot what time 9am, 1pm, 5pm, 9pm and midnight is across one point in the world. You can include a blank world map and get them to shade what the world looks like when it is 10pm and 10am in Melbourne, Australia. This kind of learning doesn’t happen often in class. When students travel internationally do they actually understand this kind of thing. If your child can understand that half the world is in the Australian timezone and the other half is a day behind – these are math and geography skills that all of us should know – not just school students.
Australia is full of history. No matter where you are you can cover a lot within the history subject area.
Visit historic locations. Whether it is Sovereign Hill and The Gold Rush, Glenrowan and Bushrangers, Uluru and Aboriginal History or even Port Arthur about Gun Control – there is so much to learn on any day out in Australia.
Visit museums. Same as with historic locations, museums often house local offerings so you can understand the city you are in and what makes it so interesting.
Read books. There are many Australian history books out there which make learning history fun. Jackie French’s books are amazing for teaching Australian history e.g ‘The Goat Who Sailed the World’ teaches about Captain Cook. Other texts that teach about global histories include ‘The Boy In The Striped Pajamas’ or ‘The Book Thief’ or Morris Gleitzman’s series of books beginning with Once which are all based on the Holocaust. The list of what you can do here is endless.
Talk to them. You would be surprised at what little information children know about historic events. Whether it be national or global: events like the Holocaust, Titanic, 9/11 and even British settlement into Australia are all things they can learn in simple conversations based on what you know. As a casual relief teacher I often do mini lessons on topics the students have no background in simply because they want to know about it. Conversations are wonderful learning opportunities.
Cooking is an activity you likely already do with your children. But there are still ways to incorporate learning into your daily meal making. Teaching them anything about cooking will always be valuable. But there are some things they should be learning.
How to read and buy ingredients plus follow a recipe. Reading a recipe is a learned behaviour. It is something a child needs help to do. But once they understand how it works, they will be able to do this themselves. Make it a real everyday activity by taking them shopping to buy ingredients, prepare the food, cook with you and clean up after eating! Let them lead you.
Safety in the kitchen. When cooking with your child, make sure you explain about how to be safe in the kitchen. Informing children about chopping boards, heat, oil, and sharp objects – all of this will help them in their own kitchen when they grow older. They learn all of this within food subjects in high school.
How to read packaging labels. Given the rise in healthy eating, teaching children how to eat well, how to read a nutrition label and ingredients list will always help them become better eaters and cooks. They will learn this in PE and food related subjects in high school.
Creativity can be practiced on any trip. Whether it is photography, film making or the like, there are many opportunities to teach kids how to be creative – particularly if you have a Facebook page/blog of your travels.
Photography Skills. If you have a DSLR camera you can teach your child how to use it. Though these days, even an iphone or Samsung can do the trick quite well. If your child is learning about framing a shot, aperture, shutter speed and ISO then they are already learning skills that students learn in Year 9.
Movie Making. In today’s world being able to create movies is becoming very easy – and cheap! You don’t even need a video camera – a smartphone or tablet will suffice. Plus many come with programs like movie maker, which make it really easy to edit and create cool videos of your travels. If your child can do any of this, they are already learning skills that many don’t until mid high school years.
Sock Puppets App. The sock puppets app is really cool. I have seen students use this in language classes, media etc. The animated sock puppets lip sync your child’s voice.
Performing Plays or Re-enacting Stories You Read. Don’t just settle for reading a story – perform them! You can take turns reading parts, perform mini plays or just scenes from a story. Easy really.
Sport has never been more important to any school experience. It should not be neglected with a recommendation of 60 minutes of activity per day for children. Interacting with other children is also really important as part of interpersonal relationship building.
Playing games. Allow your child to run around, play games and get their energy released. Schooling is not just about academics.
Skill based sports. Teach them how to shoot a basketball, how to play cricket, learn the rules of AFL – whatever sports they are interested in.
Playdates. You are not the only ones undertaking this adventure. Make connections in Facebook groups like this one. Start meeting people at free camps or paid ones. See if you have similar itineraries to others and plan to meet up. This will help your child interact with other kids and ensure they are building their social circles.
The Choice Is Yours
Ultimately, it is up to you on what subjects you focus on. But there are endless learning opportunities available no matter where you are – and you don’t always require a wifi connection.
I really hope this article helps in some way to give you confidence in keeping your child an active learner on the road. But always remember, don’t pressure yourself to be pushing through content. Just do what you can – most people do start strong and scale back (even when undertaking a distance education program).
What some people have told me they do on the road is set deadlines per week – x4 Math hours: which can include formal work, times tables, math apps – as long as 4 hours happen per week. And best of all, if your child is feeling productive they can complete all 4 hours in a matter of days and have x amount of days off from doing Maths for the rest of the week. If it feels stale – this is a great idea!
The most important thing is your child is likely learning far more in some cases than other students in Australia simply by being in locations where things happened, or by being on the road and experiencing things themselves. Something no book can effectively teach them. They may miss out on some content by being away, but they can catch up when they return with your help and a good attitude.
As long as learning is happening – any education on the road is important and beneficial to them as active learners.
Let me know if you have any questions. I am always willing to help if I can.