Our Home Schooling Journey Around The World
Travelling the world and Home Schooling
Our first day of homeschooling was in the middle of the Shropshire countryside in a tiny village called Hindford in England. We were staying with my mother for the summer in her little ivy covered cottage, to escape the horrors of a Florida summer.
I don’t know why we ever sent the girls to school really. Molly was miserable from the very first day she went, and although Astrid joined her two years later, she really wasn’t into the whole idea either. So at the end of the school year we decided not to send them back at all.
Our summer in England seemed a great place to start. Not only were we staying with my mother who was always full of great craft ideas, but also with my younger sister who was and is ‘the best auntie in the world’. Mornings were spent at the dining table with some work books or reading, and afternoons in the garden with Aunt Victoria, making up games, building dens and exploring the canal.
While Dad was out at work we hopped on buses to get to the nearest town and scour the thrift stores and library for books, and then staggered home, arms aching, to lie in the garden and read. Weekends and days off were spent exploring ancient castles and majestic homes, for history lessons.
One very memorable day we set off for the ruins of Haughmond Abbey, not realizing it was a medieval festival day. What fun we had in trying out basket weaving, archery and medieval cooking and eating. As evening drew closer everyone gathered around a fire and played music and sang songs. Nothing that we had ever heard, but wonderfully haunting amid the ruins, and evocative of days long gone. That day spawned weeks of learning and reading about the medieval era and was a pattern for how we would evolve in our homeschooling journey over the next ten years.
Back to Florida
All too soon the summer was over and it was back to Florida. Nothing much changed, except we now realized that without having to stick to school times we could explore whatever we wanted, and learn at the library, park or beach, whatever we were in the mood for. We spent hours at the local library with its huge variety of books, helpful staff, fun CD ROMs and DVDs that filled our days with new ways of learning.
Many times we would drag our books and a picnic either down to the beach or to a little park near the house. We explored historic sites all over Florida and learnt about some history greats like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford who had winter homes just a couple of hours from where we lived.
Before long it was our one year anniversary of homeschooling and as we were back in England again we planned on having a party for the whole family where the girls could show all their projects and work over the last year. The days prior to it were spent baking, tidying, arranging artwork and finishing off half done projects.
The year had been a success. My one goal for Molly was just to get her to enjoy reading again. She had changed from a little girl who loved to pick up a new book to one who moaned when we went to the library or bookstore saying it was boring. It took less than a year, and she was back to being my happy little seven year old girl again. Now at sixteen, her favorite books are by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so we definitely did something right.
A Move to France
After vacationing in the central part of France with my brother and his wife, we spent the next few months working out how we could live there. We had totally fallen in love with the beauty, peace and quiet of the Auvergne. Being an area of extinct volcanoes makes it particularly stunning and perfect for hiking, fishing, picnics and just general exploring. We decided to start learning French in preparation for what we hoped would be a new life there. We bought picture dictionaries, watched some French films from the library and got a French friend to come once a week and give the girls lessons.
Six months later with the car jammed to bursting and a friend driving our rental van with the rest of our belongings, we set off for a new life. We knew this would be challenging as we were going to an area without any English people, unlike many other places in France. We didn’t know anyone, but felt confident about making new friends as soon as we joined up with our local church.
One of the first phrases we had to learn was to explain that the girls were homeschooled. The best we could do was ‘enseignez dans la maison’ which meant ‘we teach in the house’. We thought that the amazed looks were either our accent or bad French. We learnt very quickly that it was just that they had not met anyone before who homeschooled. So in our broken French we tried to explain that it was perfectly legal and quite normal in other countries.
The local school teacher called round one day to ask if the girls would like to attend the village school for a couple of afternoons a week to help them learn French. In turn they could help the local kids with some English. It worked rather well and the teacher even asked Molly, who was eleven at the time, to take an English class a few times.
Other adjustments were harder though. The lack of a library or bookstore for English books meant we were spending a fortune on buying things over the internet. Our business wasn’t as easy to run as we thought and trying to explain ourselves and failing miserably a lot of the time was more frustrating than we had ever imagined.
What really saved us were the new friends from our church and our amazingly helpful neighbours. On one side were farmers with two children a bit older than the girls. In the time that we lived there our daughters were able to see lambs born, pet newborn foals and calves, and make friends with all sorts of other animals. Our neighbour on the other side regularly invited us over for a little something to eat, at least that’s what she called it, although most people would call it a feast. It was a great introduction into French cuisine for us all and she would often painstakingly explain how things were done to Molly who was interested in learning to cook. She gave her many recipes that we would then take home and translate.
The girls were progressing in their language skills despite being too shy to use it sometimes. It
seemed a good idea for them to attend a local school for six months to help with their fluency which was not a popular decision at all, but if they were ever to make a life in France, it would be vital for them to be able to speak the language well. The next few months were hard not only on the girls, being thrust into a foreign school system, but also on us when we didn’t agree with some of the policies that the school had. Being a private school it was not totally beholden to the governmental school system. It did work though as the girls left after the six months fluent in French and very much appreciating homeschooling!
On to Asia
After three years we were really settling into life the French way, but we had itchy feet and an idea for a trip. It had always been my dream to visit Asia, so after much research and financial planning we set the date. What a great educational opportunity for the girls too. They would be able to see people living a life so different to our own.
Suddenly we had so much to learn about. The girls each chose a country to research and we got books and pored over websites to get as much information as we could. As we would be travelling with just backpacks, space for books would be limited so they each bought a journal and reading book with the plan on picking more up along the way. We reasoned that the trip itself would be a wonderful learning experience and we could work out ways to do subjects like maths and science as we travelled.
Our four month journey in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Taiwan was a true education for all of us. We learnt ancient history at the temples of Angkor and heart wrenching modern history about the Kymer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia. We watched locals worship at the Buddhist and Taoist temples in Taiwan. In Thailand and Cambodia the way people lived in small tin shacks, children without shoes and a day’s visit to an orphanage helped us all to appreciate our blessings. We ate everything from Thai curries and bright green noodles to pizza. One menu in a restaurant in Taiwan read like a zoo, so we made a very quick exit.
Some days we did manage to sit down and do some maths, writing or drawing, but mostly we read lots and saw a great deal. These were things that we could never teach our children from books and we are grateful that we had the opportunity to show them a different side to life.
At present, after our trip we are settled in Florida again, back to a more formal way of learning, with two fantastic libraries close by, bookstores galore and busy involvement in our church. We are probably more organized than ever, starting everyday with reading a chapter of the bible, before getting on with our day.
At sixteen Molly is working part time in our family business while continuing to study maths, English and to read voraciously. She is always crafting something. The latest creations have been some origami bird mobiles, knitted blankets for some friends and jewellery. We are lucky to live near the beach so she sometimes takes her Austen down with her for an hour or two.
Astrid’s favourite phrase is ‘did you know?’ as she always has her head in some fact book or website. A while ago we realized that she had a whole different way of learning than her sister so we decided to use some correspondence courses for her. She is currently studying maths and psychology. She mostly works through it herself and sends in assignments to her tutor via email. A couple of times a week we sit down and study an English literature course. When she isn’t reading she is usually drawing. I keep promising to write a book so that she can illustrate it for me!
Our decision to home school seems to have been taken so long ago and yet it feels like yesterday that we were setting off on this journey that has taken us through more than seven different countries, and led us down paths we never even considered we would be taking. It’s only on looking back over the last ten years that we can happily say that we made the right choice.
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