We travel a lot with our two kids. The most common question people ask us what we do about the education. I must admit that before the kids were old enough to go to school, we thought our road trips would simply end when the kids would need to attend first grade, and we‘d just go back to our normal lives. But, it didn’t happen! Let’s see to keep living this rewarding lifestyle with kids.
The majority of vanlife and overland travelers start off as singles or couples. Family travel is way more complex to plan and involves a lot more emotions. On the other hand, it’s much more rewarding and it’s way more fun to experience. We started travelling in the caravan when our first daughter was two years old and our second was a three-month old baby.
Do we take away the opportunity to make long-term friends from our kids?
A very common fear among those considering the van life with kids is the lack of friends and schoolmates – will the kids feel isolated? Sure, we pull our children out of their communities for a few months a year, so they probably don’t have as close relationships with their schoolmates as other kids do. Still, they aren’t away all the time. Most of the year, they’re in school and they get to experience the same things that kids their age do.
On the other hand, there’s still one big question to answer. And that is: should we make these decisions for our kids? Should we keep them in their local community and allow them to strengthen their relationships there, or we should show them the world and let them experience different cultures, languages and situations? What’s the best approach? Will they thank us for letting them live local or for taking them on international travels? We don’t know, and to be honest, nobody knows. I personally know a guy who was homeschooled and traveled Europe with his parents as a kid. He’s now a wealthy investor, who remembers his childhood with pride and joy.
I base my decisions on trends I see around me and online. Society is becoming less local, and more international. More and more people travel and therefore our children will need to be ready to understand other cultures, time zones, lifestyles and values. They will need to communicate with people who are very different from those from their village.
Before cars became a common means of transport, people traveled within a perimeter of about ten miles; now many people travel anywhere on the planet. I feel like it’s good to help our kids get ready for a future of international travels. I want them to understand that there isn’t just the Czech culture out there, as Ken Weary from Hotjar,
who also travels with kids, mentioned in his interview. He says that kids who travel are better prepared for the future overall — they can choose better who to be friends with, they have a broader view of the world, and they can recount their travels for the benefit of those kids who never crossed the borders of their own country.
We ask our girls’ opinion a lot, too. Their views matter to us. We need to know that they enjoy the traveling as much as we do. So far, our experience is that their schoolmates miss our girls more than our girls miss them. There’s always something to do, something to learn on the road and in far away places. We go to towns, we draw when it rains, we homeschool, and they can have a break when it suits them. So they like it all, even though they do enjoy school back home.
Homeschooling is fine, unschooling is not allowed
There isn't just one single form or homeschooling. No. There is traditional homeschooling as we know it, which means teaching kids from home or abroad. Parents need to visit their local school office to get approval on upcoming semester materials, and by getting the kids prepared to pass verification exams. Typically families who homeschool this way are diplomats, or expat families working and living in a different country.
Then there is more radical form of homeschooling, called unschooling, where nobody is actively teaching the kids. There is no plan, no schedule. Parents simply answer any questions the kids might have. And kids learn their own way, choosing their pace and subjects. Some start earlier with formal learning, some start later; it's up to them. Sounds cool? It might be, but for example in the Czech Republic unschooling is not allowed. Children need to attend at least some years of formal school, or pass the semestral exams.
On the other hand, in the USA the education process is fully in the hands of the parents, so if you are considering this path, you'd need to register your kids in an American school first. Also, you'd need to prove that you don't live in your country, for most of the year. In the Czech Republic, the maximum amount per year is 3 months. If you're going for the unschooling approach, you can easily do worldschooling, which is unschooling, practised while traveling.
We do live in the Czech Republic most of the year, and we are happy with it, because there are stricter countries in Europe, such as Germany and Greece. These countries don't even allow homeschooling. In Germany, if your kid missing from the school, they might even be taken by police and brought to school. So yeah, there are differences across the globe.
In most countries, regulations are similar to those in the Czech Republic. You are allowed to homeschool your kids as long as you, as a parent, have graduated from high school or have a university degree, depending on which grade is your kid at.
Would my kids learn fast enough?
Our travels may look as a gorgeous vacation that lasts several months. Well, we know how difficult the logistics of traveling long-term can be sometimes. The fact is that we keep a schedule when we travel — five days of work and two days of rest per week. We're not necessarily strict about it, but some 70% of time we work or homeschool, and the rest of the time is dedicated to exploring and playing. The main benefit is that new things are always around the corner, not days away from where we are.
Also, schooling works better and more efficiently at home. There is one teacher to two students in the van. So the process is intense, there aren't any distractions from schoolmates, as well as no waiting for other students to finish a given task. The trade-off is that Renata, my wife, spends a significant part of the day being a teacher. So we rely more on my work to bring in the money.
What about a regular school day?
What we found was that education works better when we don't force it, when we go with the flow. Some days we have a whole day of schooling, so we start after breakfast and finish before dinner. And some days the kids (or us parents) are simply too tired and we skip schooling, even if it's a week day.
This means that we're behind sometimes, but overall we're ahead of the school plan. So we take the girls out of school usually finding them a little behind, and we return better prepared than if the kids stayed at school for the whole year.
Sometimes girls like to read, sometimes they prefer to write, just like some weeks they are more into some parts of the workbooks, some days into others – it changes based on the experiences they have on the road. They can't find a natural balance between all schooling tasks, so we sometimes need to push them to finish the less palatable task, making it somehow attractive enough, or breaking it down into smaller chunks. We try to explain the reasoning behind each lesson, instead of just telling them to do it because we say so.
Constant fight with distractions — the most challenging part for the kids is to ignore the attractions we can see outside the caravan, such as sunny beaches and new playgrounds. We try all kinds of strategies to keep the girls focused. Usually they do school at the same time, so that they don't feel like one is missing out on something the other is experiencing.
We teach (read Renata teaches) our kids without much of a strict plan. Sometimes they are happy learning, sometimes they hate it, as we all do. So we just leave it for that hour, or that day. They can keep focused better in the morning. Still, some days we end up not finishing a simple task throughout the whole day and so we have a school day on the Saturday or Sunday.
Is the education system OK with all this?
When the girls were about to start in the first grade, we looked at all the schools in our town. There were sport-based curriculums and little gems, even in the state school system. In the end we found a well-run private school for a pretty good monthly fee. They follow the traditional schedule, but they skip grades, they don't encourage students to compete, and they worked around the federal regulations to create their own schooling style. It's a good school. They focus on social skills, they help kids get to know nature by spending one day a week outdoors in the forest or somewhere wild, and they do it in a friendly way.
According to Czech law, whenever a teacher feels that a kid is not doing well, or is behind, they can test them. The same applies when a student is out of school for long periods of time, say months or whole years. Each student must be registered at a government-approved school and either attend on daily basis, or take exams every semester. If the kids don't go to school every day, the parents take over the responsibility of teaching the kids, so that they do well in the exams.
Real World and individual learning
The crucial thing is to teach your kids how to learn, how to do it in a way they enjoy, so that they want to be educated, they want to explore and see new things. That's a thing many European schools don't do well. We tend to value history lessons and memory skills before logic, financial skills and the ability to adjust to the ever-changing reality of the world we live in. That's probably one of the reasons why we ended up choosing a private school, where the schooling philosophy is more in line with our not so usual lifestyle.
We think that blending education with reality is the best approach. You simply use the beach, the city, the things around you to tell your kids a little bit about history, logic, language and they digest it in a very natural way. Sometimes we count trees or cars, sometimes we write words on the road using chalk, or we build sand castles and other cool things on the beach.
So — is it good or bad?
I'm happy when our kids live a happy life. What I experienced, for example in the USA, was that even a common job can be loved. No matter if it is white collar or blue, no matter how hard it is. You could sell hot dogs on the street and that could make you happier than say, being a Wall Street broker. And in the end, homeschooling allows you to spend more time with your kids – something most parents simply can't do.
I don't know what our kids will want to do in their future, and that may be a problem. So we need to watch out for what they like, what they stick with and we must help them improve those skills by supporting them, by paying for courses, by helping them learn.
Freedom is more important than wealth or social status. My wife and I cherish these values – we know that freedom doesn't come for free, and it brings happiness, which is a huge value to us. We try to explain the inner workings of a man's life to our kids, so they can face adulthood better prepared. We tell them that money plays a role in life, but true happiness comes from other things. That there are types of jobs that simply don't allow people to travel much. That working is better if done in a way that gives you freedom. And we do all that over and over, hoping that our girls will live an even happier life than we do.
Pre-school was definitely a lot easier. Now our kids are in 2nd and 4th grade, so it's becoming a little more complex and difficult to keep up the pace. We need to force the kids to study a little more and sometimes give them awards, or keep them focused even when they feel like playing.
Overall we are happy. Homeschooling takes about 2 to 3 hours a day and the rest of the day we can explore nature, geography, cultures and such. In Greece we learn about ancient history, while in Italy we talk about Christopher Columbus.
The short part of the year when we travel is very different from the rest of the school year, when the school does the job and we barely touch on education subjects at home. This works well, because at home there is so much else to do, like helping family and friends and doing house maintenance, so we don't have much time to teach our kids anyway.