Roadschooling – What That Looks Like at Three Months In…

We’re not quite sure yet is probably the best answer (you can read more about our entering arguments here). As the practice has become more mainstream, the term “homeschooling” no longer immediately calls to mind questionably educated and socially maladjusted teenagers.   Instead, any negative commentary I have heard usually relates to the speaker’s personal assessment of her or his own inability (mostly due to lack of patience) to teach children, especially their own. Fortunately, we are educating our children and not anyone else’s and roadschooling (homeschooling on the road) overall has thus far been (mostly) extremely rewarding.

On a typical school day, the kids wake up to find their academic tasks for the day listed on a note card which is posted on the cork board below the dry erase calendar on the outside of our bathroom door. Everyday the kids complete work in art, mathematics, reading, writing, spelling, geography, knitting, and home economics. Keeper is also taking an online chemistry class. To fulfill science requirements for the girls, our afternoons usually involve some sort of scientific exploration that relates to wherever we find ourselves (e.g. Ocean engineering and marine biology on the beach, Junior Ranger Programs offered at the National Parks, physics labs at amusement parks, health and anatomy anytime (we live in our laboratories), etc.).

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After breakfast, and sometimes even before, the kids will tackle their respective TO DO lists in the order they prefer, usually easily breezing through their favorites first before grappling with those they enjoy, um, less. Sometimes I have to interrupt Firebolt well into the 6th or 7th chapter of her latest book (she is only tasked with reading three a day) to remind her she should probably start on math, while WoodSprite often requests, “Hey Momma, can I do another math exercise?” in an effort to postpone our reading work. Keeper has, on occasion, finished everything by 0930 and, when significantly less motivated, has taken until nearly dinnertime to finish his knitting assignment, which is extremely trying for all involved, including his growing scarf.

Usually following such less efficient days, I’ll have a conversation with Keeper (and occasionally Firebolt, but not WoodSprite, as she doesn’t yet procrastinate like her older siblings) about why were schooling the way we are. In preparation for ongoing discussions with our kids to remind them why they each have these daily responsibilities, Flight and I have spoken at length amongst ourselves about what we hope our kids to take away from this year’s educational experience. We decided that these lessons fall loosely into three different categories: the basics, different ways to apply the basics, and life skills.

Flight and I wholeheartedly agree that no matter what our kids end up doing once they leave our house, we hope they will be successful. What parent wouldn’t want that for their kids, right? To maximize the potential for their success, we recognize there are certain fundamental skills they each need to develop before they might apply them in any specific direction. These “basics” as we see it include math (can’t get away from that) and the Four Arts of Language, which is a concept I learned from Andrew Pudewa of the Institute of Excellence in Writing (IEW – more on that shortly…).

My hope is that math will never be a stumbling block for any of our kids, meaning instead of being turned off by any numbers-based academic challenges they encounter they will feel confident enough to meet them head on and dig in to learn to conquer them. Thus far, I’m happy to see how they are moving through the concepts presented in their respective Singapore Math workbooks. A typical day’s work requires them to review their textbook (the older kids usually on their own and WoodSprite under my guidance) before tackling their respective exercises.

Keeper is (mostly) able to rein in his impatience should he not immediately understand something and has become very good about asking for clarification on any initially troubling concepts. We’re planning to introduce him to basic trigonometry soon because he is keen to study physics in earnest (he’s currently studying chemistry) and we let him know it’d be much easier with some familiarity with trig. Firebolt has shown very advanced skills with word problems, easily translating words into numbers and executing appropriate multistep operations. She has nearly mastered her multiplication tables and reviews them with Keeper, Flight, or me several times a week. WoodSprite is on track to be half-way through third grade math by the time we finish our trek. I attribute her comfort with math to the work we did with beads and pipe cleaners throughout last year. Counting by three different number intervals a couple days a week gave her an easy familiarity with how numbers relate to each other and she has rocketed through the start of elementary math. I wish I’d known about this particular exercise earlier for both Keeper and Firebolt. Although WoodSprite occasionally struggles with deciphering the meaning of word problems or correctly identifying which operation should be used, I think that has more to do with her developing language skills than her math savvy lacking. Overall, each kid is progressing nicely toward the goal of age-appropriate mathematics mastery.

The Four Arts of Language is another, ahem, language altogether. I remember studying Language Arts in elementary and middle school, but my memory of that coursework always translated solely to writing. The introduction to the IEW curricula we’re using discusses the Four Arts of Language as being listening, speaking, reading, and writing and, in order to be an effective communicator, it is critical to master each. Every day Keeper and Firebolt are required to write or revise a couple of paragraphs to document something aspect of our journey. You may have noticed these writing exercises are slowly evolving into blog posts. Still gaining confidence in reading and writing, WoodSprite has daily lessons in each through IEW’s Primary Arts of Language program (including reciting poetry), and we hope her voice, too, will eventually make its debut on the blog.

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In addition to tearing through books on her own, Firebolt reads to her sister (and me) every day. They are well into Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, having already finished Little House in the Big Woods. I have off and on read to all family members and would like to make that a more consistent occurrence. Along the same lines, to help Keeper become more comfortable with public speaking, four days a week he is required read up on one state from the Kids’ National Geographic Atlas (and we’ve focused mostly on the ones we’ve been to) and brief his sisters (and his parents) on what he has learned, including how to find it on a blank map.   Specifically, he’s required to make a notecard with key words highlighting both standard facts about each state (like when it gained statehood and its capitol), three interesting facts he learned, and two things he remembers from our being in the state (if applicable). By sharing his memories last, the floor is then yielded to each member of the family to offer their own memories as well, hopefully solidifying some lasting impressions of our trek. A byproduct of this exercise is that the number of states each kid can correctly identify is growing by leaps and bounds, as captured by their weekly geography tests. Win-win-win. I like it.

Spelling straddles the arts of reading and writing and is an additional requisite we have for each kid. Keeper is tested weekly on a standard list of grade-appropriate words and, when he reviews them as tasked, easily reproduces them perfectly. WoodSprite and Firebolt have started the same spelling program also put out by IEW PAL. The start of this program has augmented WoodSprite’s grasp of her daily reading and writing work, which has in turn amplified her comprehension of spelling rules. Firebolt has been more than resistant in studying spelling along side her younger sibling, but I have had to remind her that, because she did not get this foundation while in public school, she needs to review these building blocks so her writing can catch up to her reading level. After completing half of the lessons, I have already noticed a big change in her willingness to work on breaking down sounds for larger words so she can put the appropriate letters in the correct order. Good stuff.

So, if math and the Four Arts of Language make up the basics and those are covered by chosen curricula, how do we plan to build on those fundamentals and apply them in varying directions to best expand each child’s educational horizons? Wow, that was a lucid, yet especially wordy question – how long have you been waiting to ask that? In truth, it’s really a great question, one we’re trying to answer every day.   The short answer is that we often fold science in with daily writing exercises, especially for the older kids, and call attention to and apply what we’re covering in math anywhere we can.

When we were recently picking up a few necessities in Target Keeper found a Nerf gun he had been coveting. After looking at the price, he confided he didn’t have enough money to make the purchase. I declined his request to advance him on his allowance, but he then saw a 25% off deal (requiring a text exchange with Target) that applied to his purchase of interest. I encouraged him to do the math, being sure to take into account sales tax, and, if he had the funds for the total amount, I would be happy to send the text to get the 25% off coupon. Keeper worked out the calculations and was thrilled he could now afford to add to his Nerf arsenal. I happily texted Target to fulfill my end of our bargain and Keeper came home with a new piece of gear, but only after flexing his understanding of percentages.

The final aspect of our schooling has more to do with life skills than book learning. Each of our kids participates in meal planning and helps prepare at least one dinner a week. Post-meal clean up responsibilities rotate daily.  Our journey has provided ample basic first aid lessons, learning what medicinal herbs best soothe skin woes and how we can identify them locally and prepare them for use. Laundry is becoming an all hands event that will eventually be each kid’s sole responsibility as soon as they are able to do it on their own. We also want each to learn the basics of sewing and knitting, just as they will eventually all learn to mow the lawn and every other aspect of caring for a household. That’s right, they’re already in training to be adults. Giddy up.

So, that’s our optimistic assessment at three months in. Our fluid travel plans are evolving just about hourly, and I’m sure our roadschooling efforts will flex to meet the shifts in our route. I plan to write another summary at six months in and we’ll see what things look like three months wiser…