Worldschooling – what is it?
Worldschooling is hard to define and everybody will have their own explanation and understanding of it. Most people will say that it is learning whilst travelling. It means living with the belief that the whole world is your school instead of school being your whole world. Sometimes worldschooling is referred to as edventuring (combining education with adventuring) or life-learning (meaning that one learns in and from real life situations and experiences).
More and more families in the world are choosing this road as their children’s education as in many developed countries the dissatisfaction with the existing education system is constantly growing. Requirements and laws differ in each country but there is one thing in common – this nearly a hundred years old system of children sitting still, memorising facts, and taking tests the results of which supposedly determine the level of students’ knowledge and the direction of their future. There are some alternative education systems and institutions here and there but those are not recognised by the vast majority anyway.
After being away for almost a year and having seen and tried the learning process in the schools of Australia, Indonesia, Greece and one international private school in Brussels, I have only one conclusion – a school is a place for children to spend their time and socialize while their parents are at work. I know some families who took their kids out of the school because of peer pressure and bullying. These are huge and growing problems at schools these days, too, and sometimes parents even don’t know about them. Some parents are smarter and make the decision in favour of their children’s psychological health by choosing some of the alternative education methods available.
Parents who choose to worldschool their children are considered rebels as well because implementing this lifestyle requires taking one’s children out of public schools and educating them. This means that at least one of parents must leave their work to be able to become a teacher and have enough time for teaching and looking after their children. It is possible to worldschool in your own country as well but usually worldschooling means traveling abroad and learning along the way.
Who can afford it?
I get this question very often and every time I hear it, I ask one particular question back. Do you know how much one day in your life costs? I’m not talking about the amount you spend on food at the supermarket. Sit down and make a list of all your payments (mortgage, leasing, rent, various bills, etc.). Then divide the sum by 30 and you will get an approximate idea about the value of one day in your life. You can also add the value of the stuff you have accumulated over the years (furniture, clothes, household goods and appliances, etc.). There are a lot of things around us that we think we need. Yes, all this creates a sense of safety, comfort, and stability but it’s all an illusion. There might come a day when we could no longer have these things or even our life might end suddenly, which is why I’m wondering whether life in the comfort zone is life at all? Do we grow living life like that or are we just slaving away in our workplaces to support all of it?
Long-term travel is a form of minimalism. In December 2016, my family sold or donated 99% of our household. We kept only our photo albums, our daughter’s paintings, some of our favourite dishes and a few pieces of winter clothing in case we would need to return to Latvia in the middle of a cold winter season. The last week before leaving is quite obscure in my memory. The main goal was to free the apartment and to decide what to take with us. Now, a year later, I have no idea what is packed in those few boxes sitting in my parents’ attic. This is how important stuff is! You forget about things when you don’t see them.
There is an old trick with children’s toys. Ask your kids to choose their 10 favourite toys, pack the rest in a box and hide it. Some months later these toys will seem like new ones! It works the same with adults. With an exception of your favourite objects, the rest is easily forgotten soon enough. Once you start picking things up and finding reasons why you can’t throw them away and where you could use them, you start a never-ending, resultless and exhausting fight with yourself and with that voice in your head that whispers that you need to keep it all. What is the solution then? Stop buying! Or ask at least 5 questions to yourself before you buy something. Ask yourself why you need it and how it will serve you. Have you noticed that when you spend a few days out of cities, in the countryside, you can easily manage to live with what’s available? But once you enter supermarkets or shops, you get this feeling that you want to have a look at this, at that, ok and that too, and then minutes later you end up paying for it because “I can afford it and I really need it”.
When you travel long-term, you only pay for accommodation, food and everything that enriches your experience (entry tickets, transport, moving around, etc.). Many people usually travel to places that don’t require winter clothes and paying heating bills. This way everything you need fits in a couple of backpacks and/or suitcases. Last year during our travels we sorted our things four times because the bags were still too heavy and there were clothes and stuff we didn’t even use. Children grow fast. We donated at least half of their clothes to the local children just because those clothes didn’t fit anymore.
There are many ways of long-term travel. Some families hop from one city to another and even manage to visit 35 countries in a single year. Some people need it, some children are fine with it. We find it exhausting and this is why we belong to the so called slow-travel group, i.e., we base ourselves in one spot and then we explore the area thoroughly instead of running and hopping to another place. Slow-travel is sometimes cheaper as well because you might get a better deal when renting a place for a longer time. When staying in one place for at least a couple of weeks, you can feel the local rhythm, find your favourite cheapest food places and the best deals for food in the shop. You can also understand the public transportation system and how to move around better. Renting a car is not always the best option and you don’t always need a car in the first place.
How does one start worldschooling?
It will depend on your country’s requirements. In my country, Latvia, primary education is obligatory but there are government’s regulations that allow homeschooling up to grade 6. Many people here think that homeschooling is only for children with special needs but that is wrong. It is an option for all children. You only need to be willing to take this responsibility about educating your children yourself.
In some countries there are no obstacles for homeschooling at all. In some countries nobody even talks about homeschooling but that does not necessarily mean that it is forbidden. Study your local laws and regulations! You might be surprised what you find out.
Another option is long-distance learning. I personally don’t see any difference between homeschooling and long-distance learning (in Latvia). In practice, children can learn wherever they are. All materials are provided electronically. All tests are done on the Internet as well. Here homeschooling does not cost anything extra but you have to pay a monthly fee for enrolling your child in a long-distance learning programme.
Why can’t we just skip the whole school system? Maybe it is possible in your country but in Latvia, as I said, primary education (9 school years) is obligatory. If I don’t register my child with any school in Latvia, I risk losing the rights to my children. Sounds harsh and similar to going to prison? Yeah. This is why we have found a small countryside school, our children are registered there and we fulfil all requirements our country wants us to fulfil.
How do we do it?
At the time of writing this, my youngest child hasn’t reached the school age yet but my oldest child is in grade 5. There is a website where all study materials and tests are placed. All the daily work that happens at school is visible in an electronic diary system as well. In case we need any help, we communicate with teachers via email.
When teachers send some tests, I help my child to learn the theory. Once we understand that she is ready to take the test, I let her complete it on her own and she sends it back to the teacher. Isn’t it possible to cheat? It is but what’s the point? Studies show that completing tests with no time restriction produce better results because the child is in a familiar and relaxing environment instead of a classroom with a teacher walking around and reminding about the remaining minutes for completing the task. My aim is to teach my child to complete tasks independently and to let her make decisions about the correctness of her answers.
We don’t do homework. Every day, I offer at least a couple of subjects we could work on and the kids choose what they want to learn that day. I admit I don’t have the urge to do math or nature sciences every day… All three of us agree on what sounds best and then we get to learning. One day it might be sports and math, the next day it can be reading and speech development, some other days it is foreign languages, etc. Since my children don’t get up early anymore, they are more energetic and happier. While having breakfast, they already start asking endless questions about various subjects. It often determines the course of our studies as well. For example, we are going to the beach and we start talking about sand dunes. They come up with the questions- how old are these dunes? What are dunes in the first place? Are there dunes everywhere in the world? Where are the highest dunes in the world? When we come home, we spend an hour or two on searching information about dunes and we talk it all over. This way children learn to find information and answers to their questions at a very young age. For parents this is a chance to spend time with their children and learn something new as well because… I really didn’t know where the highest dunes in the world are. Do you?
If you live in Latvia or any other northern country and don’t travel, it is hard to worldschool in wintertime because there is no possibility to spend the biggest part of your day outdoors. Once the weather warms up, the situation improves. There are many trails with information stands about various trees and bird species, there are museums and historic places that offer to learn about history and culture. Possibilities are everywhere! You just need time to use them.
People whose native tongue is any of the big languages, are luckier. Materials available for learning can be acquired easier and there is a choice of materials anyway. Online worksheets, programmes, apps – it’s all for you to use. Books can be swapped and picked up from book exchange places. This does not work for us as our native language is not popular at all and there is a poor choice of learning materials available.
We solve this by learning English. My daughter speaks English fluently, my youngest has picked it up pretty well too. This allows us to use online platforms in English. Most popular out there are: Reading Eggs and Khan Academy. These two are suitable for our children but if yours are younger, check out ABCmouse.
Ideas for various creative projects we find on YouTube. This is how we created this video.
Our family’s worldschooling adventures are best described with these photos.
- The state of health of both children has improved tremendously. They are full of energy and ready to learn. Every morning, they wake up in a good mood and whenever they are ready to wake up.
- They see cultural differences and understand that each country has its own traditions. They don’t find it weird and unacceptable. They take it as a norm that needs to be respected.
- My youngest child has become more open and communicable. Over the last 12 months he has freely picked up English and currently actively shows interest in reading in Latvian.
- The children see the benefits of knowing foreign languages and show their initiative in learning them. My daughter wants to learn Spanish and German. Both kids are able to recognize the biggest European languages just by hearing them, even if they don’t speak them. We have spent a lot of time in Greece and we are possibly going back some day again, so improving our Greek is our choice, too.
- We are not tied to one particular place and school schedule. We can move where and when we want without waiting for a school holiday and without notifying the school about the absence of our children.
- Both kids have become more curious. They keep asking questions about everything they see around. They feel the undivided attention from their parents and sometimes they even ask very serious and philosophical questions that let us know each other more because we no longer live in the daily rush when we didn’t have time to answer any questions. Most often these big questions are about things that bring joy, fear, doubt or dislike. This way we work on everybody’s emotional intelligence too.
- Both kids have developed their skills to navigate themselves in an unknown environment and to adapt to new circumstances. They have become more independent and are able to pack their own bags. If we leave the house and something has been forgotten, I am not responsible for it and they know that they need to think twice next time.
- When travelling, one can more clearly see the damage that human activities do to nature. This way we can educate our children about protecting the environment, about zero-waste principles and the necessity to be environmentally conscious. Yes, we are not always able to avoid plastic, we use planes and sometimes eat meat but I think it is more important to make your children think about the things they eat and use and how it all impacts their health and our planet.
- The children come up with creative games in the nature. We have never had a TV but our kids have tablets, of course. When we spend the day outdoors, the tablets sit untouched and in the evening the kids admit that “this was the best day ever”.
- We are together 24/7, which is not a minus as such but sooner or later a day comes when somebody needs a break. We solve this by planning and giving some me-time to those family members who need it most. Even the kids want to take a break from each other and from one parent or another. There are days when I have a date with my daughter and we are completely happy doing “girl stuff” and being away from the boys. And my son is happy to go somewhere with only me or his daddy. Recently, we have agreed that I can spend one day a week alone.
- For us it is not possible to completely ignore the requirements of our country’s education system. There are still tasks we must complete.
- For us the choice of study materials available in our language is not sufficient. This usually means that we take more books and printed materials with us than those whose native tongue is English, Russian, French or Chinese…
- It is hard to provide regular activities that would normally be called “afterschool activities”. My son would gladly learn to play the drums, my daughter is interested in painting. While we can solve the painting part, the drums are a bit trickier to cope with. There are no obstacles if we live in one place for a month or more and there is no doubt that learning to play the drums is much more fun in Brazil than in an official music school in Latvia that has to follow the obligatory programme.
- In Latvia this lifestyle is not popular. If there are families living like that, they don’t do it publically because it is easier. The society’s lack of understanding and even the condemnation creates additional emotional pressure. I suggest finding like-minded families on Instagram. Because of the business and tiredness, families tend to use this particular social network because it is easier to post a photo and a short description instead of a long blog post (I’m writing this on my “day-off”…). By searching hashtags, you can easily find other traveling families and create a community around yourself that understand and supports you (try searching worldschooling, unschooling, familytravel, homeschooling, kidstravel, etc.). Sooner or later you’ll see that these families know each other and lend a supportive shoulder when you most need it.
- Be aware that you must change your own lifestyle when you take your children out of the public school. Somebody must be the teacher and not all people can do that. If you teach your children freedom and life without borders, you yourself cannot stay in the system that restricts all your actions. It is a huge responsibility. Not all can do that and not all have to do that.
- If you have made the decision that this lifestyle is the best and beneficial for your family, act! Once you start doubting and listening to what others say that it will be expensive, that it is madness and that “it will not work for you”, then guess what – it WILL NOT work for you. Those who talk are those who do nothing but talk. You and only you know best what the most appropriate solution is for your children and your family. Yes, it is possible that you might get “burned” along the way, maybe you will need to swallow your pride and ask for help, learn to be humble and receive some lessons but it is not lethal. Instead this is a fantastic chance to find out who your true friends are and also to gain some new ones in the whole wide world.
- To travel has never been so easy and cheap in the human history. There are many sites that publish excellent last minute offers and deals. Holiday in a resort is a good idea if you are exhausted and burnt-out and if you wish to be taken care of while sipping a cocktail by the pool. However, I doubt this is the best way to feel the local culture. Besides, you will most probably pay more for this kind of travelling (unless it is a very good last minute deal). I have a good reality check idea for you. Make a list of all the dream destinations you’d like to visit in your life. Count them. How many do you have? Now, how often do you travel? Once or twice a year? On school holidays, I believe. Let’s assume you’ll live at least by the age of 70. Even if so, there might not be enough time in your life to visit ALL your dream destinations. Worldschooling is your opportunity to check off more, if not all of these bucket list items. Just think about it!