I have compiled these tips for homeschooling while travelling from our experiences of homeschooling three very different children during our family gap year.
To travel the world is challenging enough but travelling families also need to decide if and how to tackle homeschooling on the road.
Even though I am an ex primary school teacher and an experienced mum, homeschooling was a learning curve for every member of our family.
But we loved the whole experience. There were far more good days than bad days!
I hope there will be a tip here that will help you and your child to enjoy homeschooling while travelling.
But you do not have to travel as a family to benefit from these tips – they can be adapted by any family embarking on the rollercoaster home school journey.
Homeschooling while travelling
Tips for before you leave home
Talk about homeschooling before you leave for your trip.
Let your children know that homeschooling will form part of the trip. Then it won’t be so much of a shock when you start schooling!!!!
They may have imagined a glorious, school free trip!
Research the different types of home school options to ensure you choose a style that best suits you as well as your child.
Join local homeschooling groups
Find and join home school groups local to you. There will be many groups on social media you can apply to join.
Ask these experienced home school families for their tips and recommendations. What has worked for them? What would they do differently if starting again? Which websites or books have proved the most useful?
I found local homeschooling groups to be very supportive and encouraging of our trip and home school journey.
Research the national or state curriculum standards.
Look at your local or national government education website to find out the learning expectations for your child’s age group.
These websites will not give you topics to cover or lessons to follow. Instead, they will provide you with an framework of skills and expectations for each subject within your child’s age group.
For example, for part of the math curriculum in the U.K, age 8-9 year olds should be ‘able to count compare and order numbers beyond 1000 and add and subtract fractions with the same denominator’ and so on.
Knowing what we needed to cover in our homeschooling helped us when it came to our planning our content.
Meet with your child’s teacher
If your child is in formal education, arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher (this is easier to do in primary education than in secondary school).
Do not expect – or ask – your child’s teacher to give you academic work to do or to share their planning with you. Your child is not their responsibility once you leave the school.
However, we found that many teachers, particularly in primary school, offered this help voluntarily.
Use the meeting to ask the teacher’s opinion as to where your child is currently at in their education. Is there anything your child needs to work on, to practice or develop?
Plus, if you find out that your child will be missing a particular topic, can you incorporate that into your trip?
We discovered our 9 year old would miss a topic on rain forests. So we decided to visit Costa Rica during our trip which has some of the world’s most accessible rain forests.
Plus, we were able to take photos to email back to school to help the class with their topic work.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by everything you potentially have to cover.
Firstly, start thinking of your home school curriculum as a cohesive, all encompassing subject rather than a set of individual subject lessons.
Look at homeschooling as learning through topics. Some subjects, such as math, may have to stand alone but nearly every other subject can be incorporated into an overall topic.
For example, learning about volcanoes can include much more than just geography. Literacy – write a news report about a volcano eruption. Create a quiz, volcano themed word search etc. I.C.T – research online volcano eruptions around the world. Make a collage of volcanoes. History – make a timeline of volcanic eruptions. Learn about Pompeii. Art – draw and label parts of a volcano. Geography – where are volcanoes located, how do they work?
Topic work is a successful approach if you have multiple children of different ages. The children can all follow the same topic but at a greater depth of understanding or outcome depending on their age.
Secondly, break the curriculum down into hour segments and you will be surprised by how many hours you will need to cover the lessons your child may miss.
For example, in most primary schools geography is allocated one hour a week or less in the curriculum timetable. So in a 39 week school year, your child will only cover 39 hours of geography a year. 39 hours – that is not a lot of geography to cover during a family gap year!
Furthermore some projects will naturally build up over time and do not have to be stand alone topics.
For example, our art loving daughter drew an observational art piece of a native flower in each country she visited. She practiced her art, learned about the flora of the country in which we were travelling but also built up a wonderful travel memento.
Ask your child for their opinions and ideas.
Is there something in particular they would like to learn about or an existing interest they would like to pursue? Try to make your child’s learning relevant – there is no point choosing to learn about polar bears whilst you are travelling around Hawaii.
Can you tailor your trip itinerary to include these interests and learning opportunities?
Our son loves dinosaurs so we visited the world famous dinosaur museum in Trelew, Argentina.
Do not plan to solely rely on technology for your homeschooling.
If you plan to use technology as the primary means of homeschooling you will inevitably run into trouble.
Choosing an online school program will inevitably lead to problems with intermittent WiFi, may only be able to access fee paying WiFi or you may lose or damage your device.
Pack with a plan.
Pack lined and blank paper, pens and coloured pens.
Avoid pencils which require you to pack a sharpener.
Do not bring crayons – they break easily, get ground into hotel and Airbnb carpets and do not wash off furniture!
Bring a blank book to use as a travel diary or topic book.
Send resources ahead if you can.
If you have one definite destination on your trip, consider sending a parcel to that destination which could include home school resources.
We travelled hand luggage only on our family gap year so could not carry a lot of home school resources.
So we decided to send a parcel to a family member abroad that we knew at some point we would be visiting. We sent blank scrapbooks and math textbooks to pick up en route.
When we had finished with home school resources we either donated them (reading books), recycled them (used workbooks) or sent them home (topic books and diaries).
Tips for homeschooling while travelling
Start by having a break!
Give you and your children time to adjust to travelling before starting to home school. You will all need the breathing space!
As a family, you will also need time to adjust to each other 24/7.
Allow the children time to ‘de-school’ before starting a new learning format with them. Give them time to overcome the emotional turmoil of leaving home and all that is familiar to them before adding homeschooling on the road to the mix!
Maintain a relaxed approach
If you or your children do not feel like home schooling one day, don’t do it. Never force home school – it will just lead to stress and resentment from all involved.
Know when to step back but do tell your children that you will be completing the task another time. Otherwise you will just meet with opposition every time you mention home school.
In fact, try NOT to mention the home school word. Children learn best when they are motivated, engaged, interested and relaxed.
Which basically means children learn best when they do not realise that they are learning!
Vary your home school schedule and style of learning
Try to home school at different times of the day. One time of the day may prove to be more successful than another for your family but don’t get stuck into inflexible, scheduled times for homeschooling.
We found we did most of our homeschooling during ‘siesta’ times in the middle of searingly hot days!
Plan opportunities for individual and collaborative learning.
Sometimes you will need your child to work independently for some much needed head space for yourself. (Just don’t call it homework!)
At other times, your child will revel in dedicated, non shared one to one adult time.
And on other occasions, your children will benefit from working together with their siblings.
They will learn from each other as well as developing essential group working skills such as listening, sharing and debating.
Topic work is great for independent learning with art and craft activities proving successful for collaborative projects. We found most of our one to one work was math.
Don’t follow the same format all the time. For example, to learn spellings create a word search, a crossword or a quiz rather than a fixed list of spellings to learn.
Vary your home school location
Homeschooling for travelling families provides numerous opportunities to vary where you study in order to keep homeschooling fresh.
Read on the beach. Take a trip to the supermarket for a lesson about money and change and so on.
Think outside the box. For example, spelling does not have to be learnt by rote. Get outside and scrawl your spelling in the sand, in the dirt, with chalk on the ground and so on.
Home school is not just pen and paper (or ipad work) at a table.
Play to your strengths
If you are travelling as a family with two adults who are both going to home school, play to your strengths.
My husband and I each covered subjects we were good-ish at but more importantly enjoyed doing!
Is there a familiar adult you can rope in for a task? My sister has taught basic french over Skype to our son and my daughter’s godmother provided some English comprehension work for us.
Use your current location to your advantage.
Do not feel you have to keep to the same routine or schedule in each country or location.
Or in countries where it got dark early, such as Iceland, we saved our homeschooling for the late afternoon.
Adopt a world school approach to your child’s learning.
Take advantage of as many learning world school learning opportunities as possible.
There are endless possibilities for learning as you travel the world.
Visit science, art and natural history museums. Explore cultural centres. Tour churches, mosques, historical and geographical sites of interest. See as many indigenous animals as you can. Eat and drink local specialties. Attend festivals and niche events.
Take advantage of activity packs for kids in museums or National Parks. The National Parks in the United States are fantastic for this – they have a Junior Ranger programme that children can join and complete in each park. Our kids loved it!
One of our favourite travel memories is a visit to the fantastic cultural centre in Apia, Samoa. The children tried bark painting, weaving a leaf plate for their dinner and watched a brave local getting traditional tattoos.
Search online for free school holiday activities for local children or children’s events and festivals.
Anyone can join these free events.
We happened to be in Vancouver for its Children’s Festival. Our three kids spent a rainy day at the festival building a ‘cardboard city’ with local kids whilst we relaxed with a beer listening to local bands. We did not do any sightseeing on that day but it was relaxing, fun and we covered a lot of math, design technology and problem solving skills in one day!
In Sydney, Australia, we joined a creative arts event at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Research fee paying activities.
Ask other travelling families for recommendations or search Tripadvisor, Get Your Guide or Airbnb for learning experiences. Always check reviews carefully.
Consider joining a local cooking class or art class.
Our kids still talk about our Kung Fu class in a local park in China.
Their work from our calligraphy class in Yangshou, China is a lovely travel keepsake for them.
One of our best activities was visiting a family run farm in La Fortuna, Costa Rica which we found on the last page of Tripadvisor.
‘Grandad’ picked us up in his jeep and brought us to their family farm where the son of the family gave us a tour of their gorgeous property. We got to pick cocoa pods and sample some of the 28 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown on the farm. At the end of our visit, the children got to grind cocoa beans and make hot chocolate. It was a fantastic visit.
Take advantage of the opportunity to meet people.
Travelling families will meet people from all walks of life. Make the most of any and every opportunity.
Whilst staying with a family in a ger in Mongolia, we asked to watch ‘Grandma’ milking the cows and herding the cashmere goats.
We spent an hour waiting for an astronaut at a book signing at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, U.S.A . We used the time to compile some questions to ask him. It turned out to be an exceptionally quiet day for visitors so we got to have a great chat with a real live astronaut!
Don’t home school every day but do try to read and write every day
Keep homeschooling fresh, engaging and interesting by not doing it every day! Don’t let it become a chore or a source of family tension during your family travels.
Besides, everyday will be a learning day when travelling.
But do try to get your child to read and write every day on your family trip, even just for five minutes.
Reading provides everyone with valuable, much needed quiet head space (in addition to being a useful life and learning skill)!
Writing a diary can help older children to articulate their thoughts and emotions and it will create a wonderful travel momento.
For younger children writing is one of the most easily lost skills. So try to get your child to write every day even if it a short shopping list, a diary entry or a postcard.
Model good learning behaviour
Read and write in front of your own children. Avoid the temptation to use their reading time to catch up on chores (or sleep).
Limit your own screen time (I’m still working on this).
Try not to multi task when homeschooling – if you give the task your full attention, the chances are your child will too.
Learn as a family. Engage in activities together; let your child see you questioning and learning too.
Maintain home learning habits
If you have younger children who are used to a bedtime story, continue this whilst travelling as a family.
I love a bedtime story – the chance to be still and quiet at the end of the day is one of my favourite times of the day!
We read long chapter books as bedtime stories throughout our family gap year – our favourites were Harry Potter and anything by David Walliams. We bought and then donated books or downloaded texts to read to our children.
I will never forget reading David Walliam’s ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’ to the kids very late at night during the long border crossing between Mongolia and Russia. Customs regulations required all the lights to be on and the cabin doors open so sleep was not an option! So I read out loud to the kids.
The next morning a young backpacker popped his head into our cabin to thank me for the story. Listening to our story had helped him to pass the time and had made him nostalgic for home.
Use long journeys to catch up on homeschooling!
We tended to use long journeys to catch up on home school – though not long flights as the kids were overjoyed to have rare television screens to watch!
Homeschooling helped pass the time on the many long train, bus and ferry journeys we took.
Homeschooling alleviated boredom, limited iPad time and prevented adult meltdown from endless games of ‘I Spy.’
I taught about the Magna Carta on the Trans Siberian Railway.
At the end of a math session in the dining car on the Trans Mongolian Railway, an eavesdropping waiter popped over with ‘well done’ chocolate bars for the kids.
I cannot read in a car so we used road trips to practice spellings, timetables or to play word games. Plus, we loved listening to audio books.
Try to read books!
I’m old school. I like books.
We brought one book each from home and swapped around the family. Then we donated them.
We picked up books from friends and family we visited, hostel book swap shelves and charity shops. Not having an unlimited choice in what we got led to us reading a broader range of texts that we may have chosen if we were buying books in a shop or online.
Sometimes, we visited a local library and just spent sometime reading (especially if it was hot or raining outside!)
Reading books rather than relying on iPads means you can read anywhere you like – you are not dependent on WiFi or electricity.
Keep an eye out for novelty book swaps. In New Zealand, many public telephone boxes have been converted in to mini book swaps.
Visit charity shops and yard sales for home school resources.
In addition to books, charity shops (or Op-shops) and yard sales are fantastic opportunities to pick up cheap home school resources for homeschooling while travelling.
Most shops will sell workbooks, paper and pens but you can also pick up textbooks, games and puzzles.
In New Zealand we bought an embroidery kit and the kids learned how to sew!
When you return home…
If your child is returning to formal education after your family round the world trip, do not berate yourself if they are behind in certain areas.
They will definitely be ahead in other areas of learning and general life skills.
Our son did not learn about coding but he can name 94 flags by sight, is a dinosaur expert with fantastic map skills for a child of his age.
Our middle daughter did not learn about electrical circuits but she visited a rain forest and had as many animal encounters as we could plan for cementing her desire for a career as a marine biologist.
Our eldest daughter had sketchy knowledge of the Magna Carta but developed excellent observational art skills which has led to her potentially choosing this path for a career.
Whatever learning they miss you can catch them up at weekends and holidays. But don’t overload them.
Returning to school will be a huge adjustment. They will be in large classes having to learn to share their teacher. Your child will have to adapt to rules, times and structure for learning, food and play.
Our son found it hard enough just having to wear shoes again!
Final thoughts on homeschooling while travelling…
Bizarrely, missing school seemed to be the one question everyone asked us when we announced we were planning a round the world trip with our three children.
We weren’t asked initially ‘Where are you going?’ or ‘What will you be doing?’
Instead, we were asked ‘But what about school?’ ‘Aren’t you worried the children will fall behind?’ I was even asked ‘What did the school say? Will they let you?’
Was I worried?
The simple answer is no. I was not worried about missing school or the children falling behind. I knew that between myself and my husband and the World Wide Web we would cope!
I am a strong believer that school is not the ‘be all and end all’ of learning. And I am an ex primary teacher!
Not all learning is done between the four walls of a classroom.
Not all learning can be assessed from work by pen on paper.
You can read my post on how to start homeschooling here.
So how did homeschooling while travelling work for us?
I loved it. I liked seeing where the children’s interests would lead them and I learnt more about my own children by letting them drive their own learning.
The look of discovery or wonder on their faces when learning something new or seeing something for the first time is what makes travelling with children such a special experience for parents.
The most stressful times were when we did stand alone learning, usually math or science. The children learned easier and more successfully when they did not realise they were learning. Learning was more enjoyable for all of us when it was relevant and in context.
We found it harder to achieve this consistently with our eldest child as the secondary curriculum is much more prescriptive in knowledge content. It is not easy to incorporate the building blocks of a cell or Charles Dickens into everyday activities!
I would have liked to have completed less math, spelling and grammar but as it was always the plan for our children to apply to the same schools on our return to the U.K, we felt the impetus to keep pace with their peers.
Our kids surprised themselves by how much they enjoyed homeschooling while travelling and I think that they still do not fully appreciate all the diverse ways in which they learned, or the knowledge that they gained overall from our family gap year and continuing travels.