I met Jeannie at one of the Caravan Shows we attended a couple of years ago and was instantly drawn to her gorgeous nature. She fondly and passionately chatted about her time on the road with her own family and when we were gathering stories about road schooling, we were so glad she wanted to contribute. Here is her wonderfully honest experiences.
“We started on our journey around this amazing country of ours back in 2009, when our boys were only 5 and 6. Our plan was for a year on the road and being the tiger mother that I am, I decided to enrol them into the Brisbane School of Distance Education as I didn’t want my boys to miss out on any of the crucial early stages of their education. We chose BSDE at the time because we felt it would be the easiest option for us as we would have a guided program of work to complete. Easy, peasy, or so I thought! What I realise now is that I had a very unrealistic expectation of the time we would have available during our trip to dedicate to the boys’ schoolwork.
Life on the road is busy. Very busy! It became very clear, very early on, that all this “spare” time was a figment of my imagination, rather than a reality. So of course, the schoolwork became a real burden on us and a massive guilt trip for us as parents. It took me a few weeks to build up the courage to talk to the boys’ teachers about our lack of time to complete the schoolwork, but what a relief it was when I did. They really helped me to re-adjust my perspective of education and focus in on what really mattered. On their recommendation, we ended up stopping all formal education, with the exception of 2 things. Doing a little maths when we could and getting the boys to write a daily journal, which have since become precious mementos of our trip. I still remember when we decided to park ourselves in a remote national park called Palm Valley (between Uluru and Alice) for a week to work on their Year 1 maths and being amazed at how much they were able to learn in such a short period of time. Best of all, it was actually a fun experience for both of us. (if only Caravanning with Kids were around back then with your Travel Journals!)
Some things I have learned from my experience on the road with the boys:
- The experience has totally transformed my perspective of conventional school education. I learned that much of school time is wasted time in a way. We were able to complete a year’s worth of learning in very small chunks of dedicated one-on-one time.
- Never fear your child will miss out, as most of the primary school education is repeated, year on year. So if they miss out this year, they’ll be able to pick it up when it’s covered in school next year.
- Most national parks around the country have a Junior Ranger program which offers free learning materials for travelling families. Always ask the rangers about this when you see them. They are awesome ways for your kids to learn in-situ.
- There are many opportunities for learning on the road. We visited many museums, visitor centres, went on guided tours or ranger tours in interesting places, and read up about each new town or area we were visiting.
- Being in a routine is key. Having a regular time to do some journaling every day made all the difference. If we missed a day or 2, the boys would resist having to get their journals out to do the work, but if it was part of our daily routine, there would be no resistance at all. So while I prepared our dinner, their Dad would help them with their journals or do a little bit of maths. But don’t get me wrong, we also went weeks and weeks without doing a single thing, so don’t beat yourself up about doing “nothing” either.
- Drop the guilt of not being able to (or wanting to) fit in the schoolwork. It can ruin your whole experience of travelling. Just be confident that your children are developing in a different way than they would in a classroom. Our boys both ended up being school captains in primary school, so it really didn’t hurt them to take a year off conventional schooling.
- Many people comment on how different our boys are to other kids their age. They interact confidently with adults and have a very mature and open-minded outlook. We really believe this is due to the interaction our boys had with fellow travellers while on the road. Each night while my husband and I were setting up our site for the night, they would roam around the camp grounds striking up conversations with other campers. The next day, we would meet these fellow travellers on the walking tracks and they would know our entire life story, where we had been and where we were going. Very funny indeed! It’s only now that we look back at all that interaction and realise how valuable it was for our boys.
Our boys also took 2 months out of school in Years 5 and 6 to go to Greece with their Grandfather. My Dad offered to take the boys to Greece with him on his annual pilgrimage to the homeland and we thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was only later that we realised everyone else thought we were crazy to let our children go to the other side of the planet without us. “How are you going to live without them for 2 months? Do you trust your Dad enough to look after them? What if he gets distracted and loses them in some Greek village or at the Dubai airport?” On and on it went. At the time, I had talked to their school Principal about the trip and she was extremely supportive and not concerned at all about them missing out on school. She said the experiences they would have were much more enriching than the school work they would miss out on. It just gave me that confidence knowing our decision was sound and took away any feelings of guilt for me.
Eight years later and I still struggle with the conventional education system. My boys are in high school now and are doing very well but I don’t feel completely comfortable with the way they are being indoctrinated to accept society’s norms and struggle almost daily with wanting to pull them out of school to home-school them myself, in an effort to keep their minds open. If only I had the patience and courage to do this! Of course, I also yearn for those wonderful times again of being on the road as a family. I still consider this the best thing we have ever done for our children, as well as for us as a family unit. Don’t underestimate the change it can make to your life.”
A little bit about Jeannie: While travelling around Australia with her family, Jeannie decided to leave her corporate career behind to follow her passion for natural skincare. Jeannie started making and selling natural products at various Darwin markets in 2010. This soon developed into an obsession and in 2013, she completed her studies to become a qualified Cosmetic Chemist. Jeannie’s business, Natural Wonders, started in Darwin in 2010 and has grown to become a passionate family business, with her husband, Sean and her sister, Vicky joining her full-time when it moved to Melbourne in 2015. Natural Wonders is particularly famous for its wonderful natural insect repellent range called Good Riddance Mozzie & Midgie Mousse, which is now stocked in over 200 stores around the country, including all Mountain Designs stores (and our little shop too…). You can also meet Jeannie in person at the Victorian Caravan, Camping & Touring Supershow every year.
Check out our review of Jeannie’s products here