Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On the Road

After school is out this June, my wife (and co-author) Robin and I, along with our 10-year-old son, are planning to travel for a year, mostly in a VW camper we recently acquired. This is a trip we've been planning for a long time. It began as a sort of escapist fantasy, then, after our two oldest kids left home for college, it began to seem increasingly feasible. We've now told enough people about the trip that I think we'd have to leave town even if we no longer wanted to — I'd hate to have to keep explaining that we had decided to stick around after all.

What does this have to do with a nonfiction writers' blog? A couple of things. The trip presents an opportunity to create some sort of record (a book?), perhaps exploring the same experience or place or encounter from three different perspectives. With that in mind, we'll try to make lots of notes and photos and sketches — book fodder.

Another, more pressing concern (still tangentially related to I.N.K) is the home-schooling component of the trip. Robin and I have settled, for the moment, on a kind of free-form curriculum. At its core is lots of reading — books of Jamie's choice, which will be mostly fiction, and books we add to the mix, including non-fiction relevant to the places we are visiting.

Also writing, every day if possible. Stories, probably a journal, perhaps descriptions of things or places or experiences. Math might involve a worksheet or two, but it would be nice to make it part of the trip: calculating average speed, estimating the amount of water in a reservoir, etc.

The science, history, social studies, and other traditionally defined 6th grade subjects can, we think, be almost seamlessly integrated into the our travel: the architecture we see, the museums we visit, the things we look at under the digital microscope I bought. (Check this out if you haven't seen one of these: http://www.bodelin.com/proscopehr/). Compared to the hard-to-look-through and difficult-to-focus optical microscopes of my childhood, this thing is a wonder, and a great science tool for kids. Just get comfortable with the idea of seeing your skin imperfections or nose hairs enlarged to the size of a computer monitor. The microscope has a USB connection and takes still images and movies. Here are a couple of pictures Jamie took with ours (my hair, a beetle).

But I digress.

You may have noticed that this blog is not all that informational. It's not one of the many concise, articulate and thoroughly educational book reviews or essays that most I.N.K. writers tend to post and, I assume, work pretty hard on. Unless it comes more easily for them, which I have to admit is a possibility.

This blog isn't especially informational because I want you, the reader, to work for me. Seriously, I'm guessing lots of you have great ideas and information about home-schooling — or, in this case, road-schooling. Or books we should take along. Or ideas about helping a child with a year's worth of reading and writing.

So, if you don't mind, let me know what you think. Feel free to be critical of our educational plans. And if you have links or other resources shoot them over. If I get good stuff, I'll share it with everyone in a future blog.



Anonymous said...

I can't imagine a better education than a year on the road, and your free form curriculum sounds spot on! I hope you'll blog about it.

I'm homeschooling my middle school son, and I highly recommend The Joy of Mathematics--Discovering Mathematics all Around you by Theoni Pappas for all of you! There's a book 2 as well.

It sounds like you have lots to keep your son busy, but if you are looking for more curriculum ideas, I suggest Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp. It's an amazing treasure trove of resources for each year from preschool to highschool.

Best of luck and have fun.
Lorraine Thomas
(lorrainemt at Live Journal)

Linda Salzman said...

In 2007, YA novelist Mark Peter Hughes spent the summer traveling cross country in his minivan with his wife and three small children. He blogged about it extensively: http://mph33.livejournal.com/. You'd never believe how many independent bookstores they managed to hit.

I don't think anyone yet has surpassed Charles Kuralt for writing about how to find the import of a random place you happen upon, most of which can be gained from engaging in conversation with people you meet along the way.

Anonymous said...

Your plans sound good. Homeschooling is much less stressful if you chuck out other peoples' ideas of what you kid should learn at this age and go with opportunity and interest. Love of learning is what you are after.

We did a 3 month trip in Europe a couple of years ago. And my daughter found a bit of morning routine grounding. We were staying in each place for a week or two so it wasn't constant movement, but enough for her to feel a bit unsettled.

Our routine wasn't much: a page or two of math, reading a history book together (Gombrich A Little History of the World). But it was enough to give her some sense of stability.

Conversations are good. And since you are a writer, I'm assuming writing every day is for the adults, too. But if your son doesn't want to write that much, that might be okay. But conversation is very important.

The great thing about road-schooling is that you are learning, too. In my experience, kids like to learn along with you. They are more resistant when they think you are manipulating them into learning stuff you already know.

Have fun.

Unknown said...

Bon voyage! And thanks for the info about the digital microscope, it sounds perfect for a project we have in mind.

steve jenkins said...

Thanks for these suggestions! I'll get the books you all mention, and check out M.P. Hughes blog. And thanks to Jove for the idea of a grounding ritual - that makes lot of sense.

Anonymous said...

We home school too, and I think the generally unschooling method you describe is best for such a "once in a lifetime" family trip.

If we were doing something similar, I'd consider some audio books the whole family could enjoy on the road, and a great big laminated map. Oh, and a camera for your son if he doesn't already have one. But I wouldn't devote to much space to books to take along, other than enough to tide you all over and some good reference books. I'd save room for the treasures to be bought on the trip, in the museum gift shops and little bookstores and secondhand shops you'll come across.

Aside from a journal for writing (I'll always love paper best!), maybe a private travel blog for your son, too, so he can share pictures and thoughts with, and hear back from, family and friends. And while the idea of a book after the trip is marvelous, purely selfishly I'd like to read a personal blog by you and your wife of the trip.

Happy trails!

Chris Barton said...

My one suggestion, Steve, is that before you leave you look around for podcast tours of some of the places you plan to visit. I tried this one before my family (including homeschooled sons ages 9 and 4) went to Boston last summer, and it both made for great listening in the van and gave us our bearings before we ever reached the Common.

Anonymous said...

Another non-fiction author/home educator here. My family recently spent three years in Hawaii - something I doubt we'd have done if we weren't homeschoolers!

It was the best experience *ever*. The kids learned so much about different cultures, picked up a love for Hawaiian music, my eldest (16) started an amazing blog (liveukulele.com) - I could go on, but I'll stop and simply say that with the attitude that you have going into this, this will be a wonderful opportunity!

I recommend packing as light as possible - my kids insisted on bringing legos, though! I think you could feasibly take only a couple of books, and make stops to trade them in at used bookstores along the way.

A loupe is an oft-used item around here, and surely you'll be packing a camera?

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

I remembered something else; it took me a while to start thinking like a traveler rather than a house-bound home schooler!

The Association of Science-Technology Centres (science museums, which include most if not all in North America) has a passport program in place, where if you have an annual family membership to one, your family can get in free (general admission, not any special exhibits usually) at any of the others.

If you don't already have a family membership with the nearest/local science museum, you can buy the cheapest membership from the museums on the list and once you receive your card you're good to go. For a few years we were members of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa because the family membership there was about $30 cheaper than at the closer Edmonton science museum.

More here,