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How ‘worldschooling’ parents are educating their kids — by traveling the world

08 Dec

by Kimberley Mok (@kimberleymok) –

Natalya Zaritskaya

© Natalya Zaritskaya

Many of us who are interested in more sustainable ways of living are probably also tuned into alternative methods of education. Forest kindergartens, homeschooling and unschooling are some of the diverse educational trends that are emerging beyond the narrow constraints of conventional schooling paradigms.

“Worldschooling” is yet another option to add to this growing list. Going by other names like “edventuring”, “road schooling” or “travel schooling”, the worldschooling concept generally combines self-directed learning that’s enriched with an active engagement with the world, often in the form of travelling.

A growing number of families are educating their kids this way by journeying the world full-time, either saving up to do a “family gap year” or working remotely as digital nomads, perhaps running an online business, or perhaps travelling cheap through long-term housesitting. In travelling slowly, families are able to spend more time together, and immerse themselves in new experiences. So while there’s no one way to ‘do’ worldschooling, here are a few things to consider.

Raising Miro© Raising Miro

Kids can learn without school, because the world teaches naturally.

Children have an inborn curiosity that compels them to learn things from the world around them. When kids aren’t confined to an isolated classroom and instead given the freedom to pursue their own interests, they will naturally develop a sense of purpose, self-motivation and self-confidence.The notion of unschooling arises from this natural tendency, and worldschooling adds another layer to this by literally transforming the world into a giant, interactive classroom. This perspective shift will inspire a profound desire in kids (and parents) to explore and engage with their daily experiences in a much deeper way, without being limited by the expectations of others. Kids can learn subjects like geography, history, math, art, music, different languages, current world events, critical thinking and social responsibility in a hands-on way through first-hand experience, rather than non-contextually from a textbook.

American worldschooling mom Lainie Liberti and teenage son Miro are one example of how an open curiosity to pursue the unknown can actually enrich life. Mother and son left for South America for what was supposed to be a one-year trip. Eight years later, the two are still abroad and have so far lived in 15 countries. They are now working to build international “temporary learning communities” via their initiative, Project World School, which offers immersive worldschooling retreats for teens in Asia, Latin America and beyond. Lainie and Miro recently gave an enlightening TEDx talk about their experiences:

For Lainie, one key issue was to consciously let go of previous notions of what an “education” is, and how learning happens. “Before we left on our travels, I believed that the only true education was facilitated by professionals in formal educational institutional settings, [and] must include testing, measuring and evaluation in order to be valid or considered ‘education'”, says Lainie.

All that shifted after we started traveling. [We] traveled and explored each day with a renewed sense of freedom and lightness tapping onto our natural curiosity which led our daily itinerary. Eventually we noticed we started to replace the word ‘education’ with the word ‘learning’ when we spoke of our travels. Through our experiences, many questions were sparked and conversations never imagined were initiated. Together, our explorations prompted further investigations and together my son and I dug in deeper as a result of our natural curiosity. Boom. Just like that, we were engaged in learning and we weren’t being evaluated, tested or measured. And the process was fluid and effortless. We witnessed the world around us transformed into a limitless classroom.

samira hachadsamira hachad/CC BY 2.0

New technologies make remote work and remote learning possible.

New technologies and the growth of remote work allows worldschooling parents to travel and work at the same time. To cover more difficult subjects in greater depth, many parents avail themselves of online educational tools like Khan Academy and Lynda, plus a whole host of online tutoring services. Apps like Mango Languages, Duolingo, Memrise and many more help kids and parents alike learn new languages and skills. These online tools were invaluable to Theodora Sutcliffe of Escape Artistes, a worldschooling mom from the UK who is now based out of Indonesia:

For us as a family, world school also needed to prepare my son to have the choice of going to university – I think if you don’t offer that option to your child when schooling them you are closing off great avenues of life unfairly – so we used online tutors to keep up with maths, which I’m not good at.

Coworking hubs in different countries can also be a great resource, offering workshops and a place to network for location-independent families. Coworking spaces abroad can also be places where a new kind of knowledge-sharing is nurtured, both for parents and for older kids.

Slava Bowman© Slava Bowman

Worldschooling may give kids an advantage in the college admissions process.

While lifelong learning is more about the process, rather than an end goal of “getting in” somewhere, experiences abroad can actually give a worldschooled college applicant an edge. Taking additional standardized tests like the SAT or ACT will go a long way in demonstrating that they have the basics covered. Providing “evidence of achievement in key areas such as literacy, mathematical skills, and critical analysis” is key, says Jennifer Fondiller, dean of admissions at Barnard College:

Successful students have submitted journal reflections, lists of books read, countries visited, volunteer work, jobs held, and they have created daily schedules of how they’ve spent their time. [..] These students have the potential to showcase rich learning experiences that highlight their intellectual curiosity, breadth of knowledge, and desire to seek more… all of which can add tremendously to a classroom setting and to campus life.

Aidan Meyer© Aidan Meyer

Worldschooling families are a diverse bunch.

So you might be thinking, what kind of people do this worldschooling thing? These parents come from all walks of life: some are tech-savvy, others are educators, designers or scientists by profession, but beauty blogger and worldschooling parent Lucy Aitkenread explains one common thread: “This is a generation of parents who see the whole world as our home. [..] We are open minded, trusting, we believe that we have something to learn from ancient traditions [and] different cultures.”And what are the stakes? Former teacher, education reform advocate and author John Taylor Gatto reminds us: “Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.”

But in the end, it all comes back to what kind of life you want as a family, says online entrepreneur and worldschooling mother Sabina King of A King’s Life: “Stay relaxed and enjoy the journey because it’s not about the children learning, it’s about all of you growing and learning as a family.”

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