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What We Have Learned from Planning School on the Road

Three Lessons for Planning Your Child’s Education During Long-Term Travel

School books for our time on the road.

During our Nomad Life trip where we will spend a year on the road, we will be traveling during the school year. During the trip, our two youngest boys will be in grades 6 and grade 7. For this reason, a large part of our planning has focused on understanding how the schooling will take place so that when we return home, the boys will be able to reintegrate the school system as smoothly as possible. We have spoken to many experts and officials to make sure that we are doing everything in accordance with the education requirements that are in place where we live. It is a complex landscape to navigate, and we have learned a few things along the way. In this post, we will share what we have learned.

As you read this article, there is an important caveat to keep in mind. School systems vary from country to country, and from region to region within a country. Educational milestones and requirements are determined by government authorities. Within this regime, parents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their child receives an education that meets the criteria set out by those government authorities. In this article, we will provide examples from where we live (in Quebec, Canada) and we will share our lessons learned with the hope that anyone using this information will validate it within the context of their own jurisdictional realities.

With this caveat in mind, there are lessons which we have learned in navigating the educational system in delineating our responsibilities as parents to ensure a quality education for our children - with the view that when they return, they will reintegrate the school system.

Lesson 1 - Understand Your Responsibilities

Wherever you live, there is a government agency in charge of education and there are legal requirements that are meant to ensure that children receive quality education throughout their childhood. Where I live in Québec, for example, all children must attend a public or a private school from the ages of 6 to 16 years old. There are exemptions to this rule and one of these is that a child does not need to attend a public or private institution if they are being homeschooled. If a child is homeschooled while residing in our province, there are homeschooling regulations which parents must comply with and which allows the government agency to have an oversight over the quality of the homeschool education being received by the child. For example, the homeschooling regulations state that a parent must develop a learning plan for the child and that this plan must be submitted to and reviewed by the government agency at the beginning of each school year.

The challenge for those considering long-term travel where I live is that these specific homeschooling regulations only apply to residents of the province of Quebec in any given school year. Since we will be traveling out of the province for the duration of the school year, we are not considered to be residents of the province for the purposes of the home schooling regulations. In other words, because our children will be living in another country (or other countries, in our case) for the duration of the school year, the homeschooling regulations do not apply.

Our objective is to travel for one year and to have the children return within the school system after that extended travel. Although our absence from the province of Québec means that we are exempt from the homeschooling regulations, I will make sure that my children learn the curriculum that they would normally do in school to ensure that their reintegration goes as smoothly as possible when we return.

When we first learned that the homeschooling regulations will not apply to us because we will be living out-of-province for the duration of the school year, we were skeptical. After all, we plan on coming back and we still consider ourselves Québécois in every sense of the word so why wouldn’t the requirements apply to us. It took an incredible amount of research and speaking to many government representatives to become comfortable with the idea that if the child’s feet aren’t in Québec during the entire school year, then they are not considered to be a resident of the province under the home schooling regulations. The extent of our research is what allayed our skepticism and allowed us to sit in our confidence that we understand our responsibilities as parents and are doing right by our children.

The first lesson was this: do your research, understand your responsibilities as a parent in your specific region and know what steps to take to educate your children during your extended travel.

Lesson 2 – Communicate with Your Children’s School

Very early on in our Nomad Life project, we spoke to the teachers and school principal to inform them of our family plans over the next school year. We asked for their advice and help in planning the learning strategy while we will travel and they were keen to support the children. To be honest, we were expecting the school authorities to give us some push-back about our trip and thought they would judge us negatively for taking the children out of school. The reality was quite the opposite. We have heard only positive comments from their teachers and principal who were kind and supportive of our family objectives. In speaking with them, we could sense that they initially had a concern about the children’s educational journey while away but they saw that we are serious and organised parents and that concern was quickly dissipated.

Their most important piece of advice was for us to maintain a portfolio of each child’s learning during our extended travel. This portfolio can include completed workbooks, written texts, photographs, short films or artwork. The objective of the portfolio is to show the school (upon our return) the quantity and quality of learning which was accomplished during the trip. The portfolio will help the school to evaluate the child’s learning and to determine whether they are apt to reintegrate the school system with their peer age group.

In addition, we are working with the school to establish how our sons will stay in connection with their classmates throughout the year through monthly Zoom sessions. Our children will be able to maintain a connection with their friends and feel proud about showing their peers where we are and what we are seeing.

In terms of planning the curriculum, one of the main things that we did, with the school’s help help, was purchase all of the schoolbooks for next year in each of the following topics: Math, French, Spanish, Science and Geography. This way, the children will reach the same learning milestones as their peers using the same curriculum tools which should make their reintegration all that much smoother. Truth be told, our sons were not ecstatic when they saw the box of books being delivered on our front porch but it was a nice reminder for them that our Nomad Life will not be all vacation. What we are embarking is life on the road – and life means some work for all of us. The same way that I will be a digital nomad and have work to do as a consultant, they will be nomading students and will have their own work to carry out.

The second lesson was this: communicate early and transparently with your children’s school to plan the curriculum for the duration of the travel and establish a healthy partnership with teachers for the betterment of your children’s education.

Lesson 3 – Leave Room for Organic Learning

Completing the school workbooks and meeting the established curriculum will be important, but the whole point of our travel is to explore the world and let the kids discover new sights and cultures. During our trip, it will be critical to leave enough time and space for the children to learn organically.

We plan on letting their natural curiosity guide them in their learning journey as we travel from Canada to the US, to Mexico and then to several countries in Central America as we make our way to Panama. Over the course of the trip, we will visit parks, villages, cities and museums. We will go to beaches and markets, cross borders and navigate public transport. In all these situations, the boys will face many real-life situations that will naturally teach them about history, geography, math and science. When an opportunity arises for them to explore a topic or an area, we will do our best to follow them on their learning quest.

Having said this, we will also nudge them along by suggesting readings and activities along the way. For example, our first stop as we enter the U.S. will be in the Catskills where we will cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge on our bikes. What better time to read the short story by Washington Irving which created the infamous character of Rip, a villager in colonial America who falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains and awakes 20 years later having missed the American Revolution? The hope is that tying in the learning with our travel sites and sounds will make the education meaningful and exciting.

In addition, languages will play a big role in our travels. As francophones, the children will have daily lessons in speaking and learning English and Spanish as we travel from Québec to Panama during this one-year adventure. There is no better way to master a language than to use it in everyday life. Our trip will allow us the opportunity to do this everyday for a year.

The third lesson is this: plan the curriculum but leave time and space for the children to learn from their travels in a way that organically quenches their curiosity and meets them where they are.

We did an enormous amount of research in our planning of Nomad Life. Some will say that we are over-planning their education and that the point of travel is to learn from the journey. They are not wrong. But since the objective is for our boys to reintegrate the school system as smoothly as possible when we return, we need to plan the basis of the curriculum to allow them to follow along with their peers. And when they return, they will be able to tell their friends about that time they were doing math homework on the beach watching the grey whales in the beautiful blue waters of Baja or doing their science activities under the huge Sequoia trees of California!

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