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The pros and cons of worldschooling. Part 1: What do the kids think?

If you’re considering worldschooling as an educational approach, your core family philosophy and way of life, you may have lots of questions about whether it really is going to be right for your family. Will your children thrive and learn all that they need to in order to live a productive and fulfilling life? What are the logistics of homeschooling on the road? Will your children have access to enriching social experiences outside of the family unit? What exactly are the pros and cons of worldschooling?

It’s a big decision to take on the responsibility of your child(ren)’s education and making the big wide world your classroom might feel daunting and overwhelming, as well as liberating and exciting (probably in equal measures!). Although you can of course try worldschooling for a short time (maybe 6 months or a year) to see how it works for you, it is best to first arm yourself with as much information as possible.

I have asked five experienced worldschooling families to give you all their pros and cons of worldschooling. In Part 2, we’ll be hearing from the parents, but first up, let’s hear from the kids! I hope you enjoy their comments as much as I did!

Pros of Worldschooling

On hearing the insightful views of this lovely group of worldly kids, there are some themes that become very apparent. It appears that they have a shared appreciation, across their ages, of:

Meeting new people

Making new friends, learning from locals and seeing the world through a different set of eyes is enjoyed and embraced. Difference and diversity is no barrier for these kids!

I absolutely love to meet ‘strangers’, to hear languages I don’t understand.

Witnessing cultures first hand

The ability to learn from real world experiences rather than textbooks and technology is valued. Seeing, doing and immersing oneself in a country’s language, history, infrastructure and natural environment are viewed as key to learning.

I like to know what something looks like instead of having to imagine it.

The food!

A bunch of kids after my own heart! Discovering new flavours and cuisines is just one of the many joys of travelling, and it’s not lost on even the youngest of these travellers!

I love to try different foods in each country.

Spending time with parents

Time spent as a family is appreciated and awaited with anticipation. Parents are viewed simultaneously as educational guides and as a source of fun.

I’m really looking forward to having fun with my family.

Flexibility of learning

Having a say in how, where, when and what they learn is empowering and motivating for these kids. Individual preferences can be considered and styles of learning can be adapted to suit current needs.

It is pretty hard, but I keep trying because I want to be able to read stories.

Travelling lets you do more fun stuff, which helps you to learn, instead of just sitting in a boring classroom watching videos. It means you are actually doing it in real life and it is really really fun so you will remember better and learn more. In grade 3 at school, we learnt some things about Indonesia by printing out pictures of their food, and watching some YouTube videos. But technically, that is all fake compared to actually going there and tasting the food for yourself and talking to real Indonesian people. Soon we are going on a big trip which means worldschooling for the next 2 years. I’m really looking forward to having fun with my family, trying different foods, meeting people from different countries and going to places that I have seen on TV and seeing them in real life. I don’t really like maths that much, so if there is a way that my mum and dad can make maths fun in the real world, I would be ok with that. At homeschool, maths has been ok, but still not that fun because we have just been doing the books that we did at school. I like doing Maths Online because I like working on the computer.

Jasper, age 9

School can be a bit annoying because when you are trying to learn something and people try to talk to you, it is hard to concentrate. I like homeschool because you don’t have to drive to school and you get to stay at home and can be in your pyjamas if you want. My Mum or Dad is a good teacher. At our house there are some sandflies, which bite me and can distract me, but Mum made us do a project on the sandflies and learn more about them so we can understand them. We did the same thing about a Rainbow Lorikeet too. At homeschool we learnt about the human body because Mum is a nurse and I liked learning about how I work on the inside. I like knowing what things are called and we made a human sized body and drew all his organs and bones inside. We called him Mr. Bones. I am looking forward to going to Bali soon mainly because of the awesome waterpark but also because I want to learn about Bali and learn some Indonesian. ‘Selemat Datang’ – that means ‘welcome’. You can learn Indonesian on the Babble App. We have been using it already. Mum says we have to learn how to count to 10 in every country we visit. I can already do it in Japanese and Spanish.

Dash, age 7

I like being together as a family, and getting to learn what I want, when I want to. I like seeing different things and places.

Dante, age 8

I love it [being worldschooled]! I love Mum being my teacher and I think she is a really good teacher. Mum is teaching me how to read. It is pretty hard, but I keep trying because I want to be able to read stories. I can’t wait to go to Bali again! The people are nice and they have spring rolls. We spent a few nights in a beautiful big villa last time. We are travelling for a long time this trip ‘cause we are a travelling family. We are staying in Bali for 28 days. They have elephants in Bali, we can see them and learn about them. Maybe there will be baby elephants. I like learning all about different animals and seeing them in real life.

Daisy, age 5

I love seeing the stars and animals, like butterflies. I love playgrounds! And I loved riding [on a bicycle] around Uluru with my mum.

Allegra, age 4

I love to try different foods in each country. I like making new friends, going to schools and camps, and playing football all over the world. I like that it’s all a big adventure.

LJ, age 8

LJ recently spent 6 weeks attending an outdoor international school that accepts travelling kids in South Goa, India, and the plan is to enroll her in a similar alternative school for a month in Southeast Asia. She has also trained with local football clubs in Europe, Tanzania and India.

LJ’s walk to school in Goa, India

We think it [worldschooling] is very fun, especially in Holland with Almerik [a friend made while travelling]. I like travelling because I like looking at new things and you get to see other places. I like learning about money because I like learning about what types of money they have. I like some architecture. I like learning about other vehicles [like the suspended railway at Wuppertal]. It’s easier to learn about things by being there. We’d rather travel to learn about Roman history because it’s funner [more fun].

David, age 9

I like to see palaces and things we don’t have here. I like to try different foods, especially pancakes in Holland. I like trams and trains and monorails and big [sightseeing ferris] wheels.

Rilla, age 6

I like going on big aeroplanes. You get to see playgrounds and interesting stuff that you can’t find here. We like learning about languages. I like to know what something looks like instead of having to imagine it. I like the hotels. We like making friends in new countries.

Lennard, age 9

There is nothing like being able to see the world from different eyes. I absolutely love to meet ‘strangers’, to hear languages I don’t understand, to discover amazing food, and to be open to many opportunities in life. I love to travel and have had some amazing experiences, but just this past year my family and I made the decision to travel during the ‘usual’ travel time of the year because I would like to go to college and have started dual enrollment classes in Florida. Last semester, I did two online courses in order to continue travelling, but this semester I am taking a campus class so we will be travelling in May and through the summer.

Kiran, age 16

Cons of Worldschooling

It’s very telling that everyone spoke at greater length about the pros of worldschooling compared to the cons. Missing friends and family certainly seems to be the prominent downside of worldschooling when considered from a young person’s perspective, but other struggles included minimalist living, foregoing enjoyed activities and managing typical travel nuisances, such as jetlag, sun exposure and turbulence.

Missing loved ones

Be it friends or family, loved ones are certainly missed by these young travellers. Although the world has been made smaller by technology and it is undoubtedly easier than ever to stay in touch across land and oceans, there is still a sense that, for these kids, it’s not the same as connection in person. However, this must be weighed against their self-stated pros of witnessing cultures first hand and meeting new people from all over the world; a difficult balancing act for any parent!

I don’t like missing my friends and…that’s all I don’t like.

Minimalist living

Confining your possessions to a suitcase, rucksack or a small mobile living space might prove challenging for children and adults alike. It is entirely understandable that a young person would miss the familiarity of their much loved toys, books and home environment, but these kids demonstrate that, while this might be the case, enjoyment is found in novel experiences and resources.

 [It is annoying] not having enough room to store all the food I like [in a caravan].

Forgoing activities

Whether it be dance, sport, music or artistic pursuits, saying ‘goodbye’, even if only temporarily, to the classes, groups and lessons that are loved is going to be understandably difficult. Two of these kids, however, demonstrate that talents and passions are not left behind when travelling and that, with a bit of research, activities can often be continued wherever in the world you happen to be.

We will find a ballet class when we get to England so I can dance.

Travel nuisances

I think we can all agree that jet lag and sunburn are a nuisance! Although these cons of worldschooling are briefly mentioned, they are not dwelled on and they don’t seem to be a key factor in determining a child’s enjoyment of and benefit from a worldschooling lifestyle. Temporary hassles such as disrupted sleep, long travel times, insect bites, turbulence and sun exposure seem to be of little lasting importance.

When we go on a plane I don’t like the plane tilting.

I miss dancing class. Mum says we will find a ballet class when we get to England so I can dance.

Daisy, age 5

Two things that are annoying are, one, not having enough room to store all the food I like [as we are travelling in a small caravan at present] and two, not being able to see my friends. It’s not the same over the phone as playing with them. It’s nice to meet new friends along the way, but then we have to leave them soon after!

Dante, age 8

I miss home! I miss my Nanna and Nonna.

Allegra, age 4

As a teenager I feel it is nice to have a home base in order to see my friends and just hang out.

Kiran, age 16

I don’t like missing my friends and…that’s all I don’t like. When I have kids, we’re going to be travellers too and go on a long trip to all my favourite places in the world. I think it’s good for kids to do this. Sometimes it’s hard but you learn a lot.

LJ, age 8

I miss playing with my friends at school but I can meet new friends when we are travelling and I have cousins to play with too.

Dash, age 7

I don’t like jet lag. When we go on a plane I don’t like the plane tilting.

Lennard, age 9

I don’t like heat stroke.

David, age 9

So there you have it: the lowdown on all the pros and cons of worldschooling, as told by the kids. Did anything surprise you? Do your kids agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Still wondering what worldschooling actually looks like in practice? You may also enjoy reading about the rhythms and routines of a worldschooling family and our home education plan for homeschooling a 3 year old within a worldschooling context.

Next up, we’ll hear all about the pros and cons of worldschooling from the parents’ perspectives.

Contributor Bios

Many thanks to all these wonderful young people for taking part and sharing their thoughts with us. Here’s a little bit more about them and their families:

Small Footprints Big Adventures
Fellow eco-conscious family, Dante and Allegra, Mum, Emma, and Dad, Anthony, are striving to find the right balance between travel and time spent at home with loved ones in Victoria, Australia. When at home, they are involved in promoting change within their local community to help others work towards a greener lifestyle. Follow them on facebook and instagram.

Gadsventure
The Gadsby family (Jasper, Dash, Daisy, Mabel and Mum and Dad, Kris and Brian) have just left their home in Queensland, Australia on their second family gap year. First stop Bali! Follow them on facebook and instagram.

Homes Away From Home
Canadian family of 3, known online as K, L and LJ, are currently on their year-long adventure around the world. 3 continents and 14 countries down, and they still have 5 months to go! Follow them on instagram.

The Burlings are a Kiwi family of five: twins, Lennard and David, younger sister, Rilla, and Mum and Dad, Kylie and Fraser. As older parents, Kylie and Fraser made a conscious choice to home educate their children, and take every opportunity to spend quality time with them, forming beautiful memories both in New Zealand and across the globe. They enjoy sharing with their children the things they love most in the world.

Kiran is in the process of setting up his own blog (once he has, I’ll include the link here so that you can follow him). He is currently taking an online US History course as well as following his passion of writing by taking a campus-based ‘Freshman Composition’ course (for any non-Americans reading, I also had to look up what that is!). He commented that he has found the transition from homeschooling to traditional education to be ‘no big deal’ since he’s outgoing, enjoys classroom discussions, and makes friends quickly. I love that his family have been able to adapt their approach to education to suit Kiran’s needs at different points in his childhood!

Homeschooling a 3 year old includes practical life skills and time outdoors, like building a campfire.

The Rhythms and Routines of a Worldschooling Family

What does life look like for a worldschooling family? What are the daily and weekly rhythms and routines of a world schooling family? Can children possibly thrive away from the over-scheduled norms of Western culture? (Spoiler alert: yes!)

I recommend reading this post alongside my home education plan for the year ahead (age 3-4). They support one another and it will give more insight into what worldschooling looks like for our family.

 

Let me say straight away that we are not a routine-driven family at all. Some children need routine (particularly those on the autistic spectrum) and some parents need routine to help them reduce stress and anxiety, and to help them plan and feel prepared for what might come. Both of these are very valid reasons, and if it works for your family, that’s great, carry on. It doesn’t work well for us though. Here’s why:

 

1

I don’t think an overly structured sleep/eat routine is very child-led and we want Theo to learn to respond to his own body cues as this is ultimately a skill that will contribute to good health later in life. So, he eats when he’s hungry (and always has access to healthy snacks and water), sleeps when he’s tired, and wakes when he’s rested (no specific nap time or bedtime). Similarly with activities, we have a couple of things in the diary, but I ensure that there’s plenty of time to do whatever Theo fancies on that particular day. It’s through free time and free play that I can really observe and respond to Theo’s current learning patterns and interests.

 

2

I don’t believe worldschooling and a lifestyle that involves travel fits well with strict routines (although I’m sure some families achieve this because they make it a priority for their family). Every day looks different for us when we travel, we jump time zones, take long journeys and we inevitably do a whole host of things that are only available at certain times and wouldn’t necessarily fit around an existing routine (from flights to tourist attractions to restaurant opening times to one-off events). 

Theo has never demonstrated a need for routine and he’s currently very adaptable so this works well for us. Of course, if our younger son, due next month, needs more structure, we will have a rethink and find a balance that works for everyone. 

 

3

Too much structure makes Alex and I feel pressured, stressed and bored. Flexibility is important to us both, and the freedom for plans to change and the ability to take the day as it comes feels most relaxing to us. Interestingly, this has become more pronounced, particularly in me, since Theo was born. 

Most parents know it can take an eternity to get kids out of the house (Alex and I laugh and reminisce about a time when we would decide we wanted to leave the house …and so we just left; now we have to pack snacks and changes of clothes and make sure weather-appropriate clothing is, if not worn, at least taken, and ensure teeth are brushed and shoes are on etc etc etc, and sometimes you have to do these things multiple times!), so I try not to plan anything with a fixed arrival time for the morning as it feels too stressful for me, which then impacts Theo. 

 

Of course, while we’re at a home base, some things do have to be done at a fixed time so we’ve ended up with a weekly rhythm that has lots of flexibility built in. 

 

Our weekly rhythm

Alex currently works Monday-Friday, so Theo typically spends the working week with me, and looks forward to time with Alex at the weekend. We usually spend most of the weekend together as a family, but Alex and Theo may also have some quality time for a few hours, allowing me to play netball, get on with some work or run errands by myself. 

With the exception of breaks for both short- and long-term travel, Theo has attended swimming lessons since he was 5 weeks old. He loves it and it’s a real highlight of his week. His lesson is currently the only weekly activity with a fixed start and end time, after which we swim together. 

We attend ‘Playcentre’ twice weekly. Although it starts in the morning, it runs for 3 hours, during which families can arrive and leave at whatever time suits. Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s that’s ideal for home schoolers (and world schoolers passing through for however long, like us). Nothing like it exists in the U.K. but when I read about it prior to our arrival in New Zealand, I knew it would be a good fit for us. 

Playcentre operates with the central philosophy is that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, take note of how and what their child is learning, and respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning. Each session, I document what I’ve observed Theo to be learning and enjoying, I take and print out photographs to illustrate this, and I consider what opportunities I can provide to assist him in developing his interests further should he choose to. The service is entirely led by parents and other caregivers so we all have an opportunity to make decisions about how our centre is managed, how funds are spent, and what resources we would like to have available.


 

Some example pages from Theo’s Playcentre journal



Outside of these weekly activities, time is spent doing whatever Theo has been showing an interest in. We do a lot of mountain biking, swimming, gymnastics (our council runs daily drop-in gymnastics sessions for under 5s, which you can pay for in bulk and use whenever you want so we do this when the day allows for it and when Theo wants to), walking and hiking (forests make him particularly happy) and visiting one of Christchurch’s many playgrounds. 

Aside from gross motor activities, Theo also enjoys baking and helping me cook family meals (and eating the ingredients as we go!), going to the supermarket, helping me clean, garden and do laundry, listening to music, and free play at home (role-playing doctors and shops, and creating scenarios with his vehicles are the preferred areas of play at present). 

He occasionally goes for a bit of painting and craft but this so far hasn’t been a big interest so we don’t do a huge amount of it. The resources are available to him should he wish to access them, however. Ditto with musical instruments; they are there when he wants them, but he so far prefers to enjoy music through dance and singing. 

With regards to reading, he seems to go through phases. Books are always available and he’ll have periods where all he wants to do is read endless stories until your mouth is dry, followed by periods of not showing much interest in books over his toys. We try to encourage daily reading by regularly offering books, but we don’t force it. Typically we work reading into our every day activities as well (menus, road signs, mail, recipes etc), so his literacy learning doesn’t solely come from reading books.

 

Daily constants

There are, of course, a few daily constants. When in the day they happen might vary, but you can be assured that they definitely happen at some point. 

1

We get outside every single day, without fail. Fresh air and exercise are really important to all of us, and lack of them noticeably affect our moods. Theo and I are very similar in this respect. 

 

2

We are also similar in that we need to eat breakfast immediately upon waking. Alex can happily wait an hour or two, have a leisurely coffee on an empty stomach, and then eat more of a brunch…by which time I’m a cranky, lightheaded, shaking mess. So, the first priority at whatever time we wake in the morning is breakfast for me and Theo. After we’ve finished, we then get dressed and ready for the day.

 

3

Theo and I always eat all of our meals together; he never eats by himself. Of course Alex misses the meals we have when he’s at work (or rushing out the door in the morning), but we all eat together at the weekend, for weekday dinners when Alex’s schedule allows, and of course for every meal when we’re travelling.

When we’re at home, we always eat at the dining table (or garden table if the weather’s nice). When he was little he had a highchair that attached to the table, he then moved on to a booster seat strapped to one of our chairs (both of these were great to travel with!), and once he was tall enough he started just using an ordinary chair. We think it’s important for him to enjoy meals as part of a family social gathering.

 

4

Teeth get brushed twice a day every day in the morning and evening. Although Theo is given the freedom to make choices for himself (for example, with regards to what he wears, when he eats, what he eats from the items I make available, when he sleeps, what he wants to do etc) attending adequately to personal hygiene is non-negotiable.

 

5

Theo still benefits from a short nap. Although he doesn’t choose to take one every day, they happen most days. He has always napped anywhere: in a sling, on me, in the car, on the sofa etc. Sometimes they’re 10 minutes, sometimes they’re an hour or two.

 

How does this differ when we’re away from our home base?

The daily constants remain the same regardless of where in the world we are. Of course, our current weekly rhythm and the activities available to us only apply to where we are now. When we travel, we inevitably have less rhythm to our week because Alex isn’t going into an office so there is no distinction between weekdays and weekend.

Daily activities are dictated by our location and our limited personal resources (we travel with a few books, a few small toys for flights/car journeys/restaurants, and some colouring pencils and paper), but practical life tasks are always available wherever we are, there will always be some form of gross motor activity on offer, and we seek out learning experiences specific to the area that we know will be of interest to the whole family.



 

Helping to sort laundry and clean in Airbnbs


We tend to take each day as it comes, working around the constants of breakfast on waking, attending to personal hygiene, giving Theo an opportunity to nap in a sling or in the car if he wants, and getting outside for whatever adventures are to be had that day wherever we are.

Our home education plan for engineering and design includes creative, open ended play with toys such as Lego.

Home education plan: Home schooling a 3 year old

Here in New Zealand, the academic year runs in line with the calendar year, with the long school summer break occurring over Christmas. Since Theo’s birthday is also in December, shortly before both the academic and calendar years come to a close, it makes sense that the end of the year marks a time for reflection on his previous year of learning and a time to consider the year ahead. If you’re wondering what home schooling a 3 year old might look like, this is our home education plan for 2019.

 

Our educational philosophy

Our approach to education is integrative. We are certainly ‘worldschoolers’ but within this ‘unschoolers’ who take the bits that resonate with us from different philosophies and approaches, and we don’t follow the bits that don’t fit with our family values, beliefs and goals for our children and family as a whole.

Neither the plan itself nor our educational approach are necessarily the ‘right’ way to do it, nor what would work best for you. You must choose what resonates with you. Consider this as you read the rest of this post, along with the fact that all children have different interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and this plan has obviously been put together with Theo in mind.

In addition, I have obviously developed this home education plan with our family circumstances in mind. I recognise the fact that we are privileged to be able to buy books and other resources, to be able to afford swimming lessons and days out, and of course to be able to travel. We also make use of many wonderful free resources, such as outdoor areas, museums and the library, and I hope that you are able to find services and resources in your area to suit both the needs of your children and your family budget.

We’re very child-led in our approach to everything regarding Theo’s development and how we parent, and we try to foster independence and choice within the limits of some boundaries regarding personal hygiene, safety of himself and others, and the law.

In terms of education, we see it as our responsibility to provide the opportunity for a broad spectrum of experiences and to introduce a range of learning areas, but we’re not going to force a curriculum down his throat. He can decide what interests him at any given time, what skills he’d like to work on, and what topics he would like to acquire deeper knowledge in.

Children want to learn; I have no concerns that he’ll just not want to do anything (as is often feared by those unfamiliar with an ‘unschooling’ approach). I don’t believe this to be possible in any case; children are always learning. It might not be how or what an adult wants or expects them to learn, the adult may not even realise it’s happening, but by observing our children at play, we can identify huge amounts of learning occurring naturally all the time.

 

Why have I written a plan?

Three reasons really.

1

To assist in jumping the hoops.

In order to home educate in New Zealand once Theo reaches compulsory school age (kids here start after their 5th birthday, joining their class at different times of year, and must be in formal education by their 6th birthday), I will have to apply to the Ministry of Education for a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Enrolment at a Registered School’. This process involves proving that ‘your child will be taught at least as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school’.

This homeschooling plan, combined with an end of year evaluation and proof of learning (through photographs and videos, logs that I’ve written and any pieces of work that can and have been kept, such as artwork), will be invaluable in that process and ‘proving’ our capability in offering Theo a level of education that the Ministry deems acceptable.

Of course this isn’t necessary in all countries so if you’re considering home education, check what the requirements are in your country (it is also necessary to check if you’re world schooling and staying anywhere on a visa that is longer than a visitor/holiday visa). In England for example, children start school during the September after their 4th birthday but you don’t have to inform anyone or provide evidence of learning if you choose to home educate; you just get on with it.

2

For my own and Theo’s records.

As well as having to apply for the initial certificate of exemption, families in New Zealand then have to sign bi-annual declarations for the Ministry of Education confirming that they are continuing to provide home education. Although this isn’t typically a rigerous check, putting a broad plan for the year ahead in writing can’t hurt and will get me in good habits.

Having a written annual record may also prove useful if we find ourselves in a country that requires more thorough evidence of home learning, so may be something that other world schooling families would like to consider doing. It will give me something to go back to when I reflect on the year passed each December, and will help me organise my thoughts for evaluating our home educating journey.

Similarly, keeping regular logs of learning and what I have observed in Theo as the year progresses will act as a memory aid to all we have done and help me identify changes and achievements. Combined, they will be a useful tool for my records.

I was taught to get into the practice of keeping diaries and journals from an early age and I’m very grateful for these snapshots into my childhood. I kept a scrapbook and short diary each day when we were abroad, and my parents kept projects and workbooks from school (I was mainstream educated). Keeping a diary is a wonderful opportunity for learning and developing skills (writing, drawing, scrapbooking etc) but also a tool for processing emotions and organising thoughts and feelings about the day.

Theo is of course not yet at the age where he is keeping his own journals but I have tried to start this for him (and we talk about his thoughts and feelings at the end of the day as an alternative method of processing them). If he takes an interest as he gets older, he can continue it. Like me, he may also appreciate having a window into his childhood when he’s older.

3

To help others.

Finally, I thought it might be of help to others who are also starting this journey and trying to figure out what home schooling might look like for their families. Of course, there are countless ways to ‘do’ home education and it will look different for every family. This is just what made sense to me, but I expect this to change and evolve as Theo gets older, as I get wiser and we all find our groove as a home educating family.

 

Our Home Education Plan age 3-4 years

This ‘plan’ for the year ahead is very loose and is not intended as a strict curriculum or as a benchmarking checklist of ‘can do’, ‘can’t do’ items. Areas of learning will arise naturally from everyday experiences, and if they don’t, that’s fine. Not everything has to be ticked off by the end of the year.

It is intended as a guide and tool for myself, not for Theo. I can introduce the ideas written here as they arise naturally but if they do not spark an interest in Theo, we won’t do them; we can come back to them.

I have structured my homeschooling plan according to core subjects and learning skills. I don’t expect learning to take place according to these categories, and activities and conversations can of course tick more than one box, but laying it out in this way helped me organise my thoughts.

Baking, for example, ticks the Maths box (measuring out ingredients), the English box (reading a recipe), the Science box (baking of course involves a series of physical and chemical changes to particles when ingredients are combined and heated), a number of cognitive skills (working memory, inhibitory control, planning), and of course the practical life skills box (learning to cook is an essential life skill!).

 

I recommend reading this home education plan alongside my post on our current rhythms and routines, as they support one another. This will also give you an insight into the daily and weekly rhythms of a worldschooling family.

 

*

Maths and Numeracy

 

  • Basic counting and arithmetic using real life situations and incorporating multiple senses. We do number work all the time as we play, eat and just go about our day. Here are a couple of examples, but you can count anything!
    • Counting pushes on the swings.
    • Asking him how many grapes (or whatever food!) he wants on his plate and then counting them out. … ‘You ate one, so now you have x’.
    • Asking him about numbers as he plays. ‘How many mechanics do we need to fix your car? … Two, ok. One, two. … This person has gone on their lunch break so now there is one mechanic.’
    • We watch the birds eating on our lawn while we have breakfast and count them, adding and subtracting as they fly away/back.

 

  • Number recognition and identification in real life situations. Again, this crops up naturally all the time and we don’t have any specific toys or learning materials with numbers. Here are a few examples.
    • He identifies house numbers on mailboxes as we walk down the street and traces the number with his fingers. He also points out numbers in shops, on speed limit signs, on buses etc.
    • Asking him to press the correct button in lifts (elevators), at ATMs, on chip and pin card machines (and anywhere else numbers appear).
    • Although technology has somewhat eradicated the need for a family calendar displayed in the kitchen (as was the norm when I was a kid!), having seen how much Theo enjoyed finding the correct door on his wooden train advent calendar during December, behind which was a Christmassy activity for us to do that day, and how this enabled him to practise his number recognition, I will now be displaying a calendar and asking Theo if he would like to identify the correct day, date, month each morning. Depending on your preferences, this could be done on a traditional paper calendar or with a Waldorf-inspired perpetual calendar. Either of these options will visually introduce and reinforce the idea of natural rhythms according to seasons, months and weeks.

 

  • Clocks and time keeping. Obviously clocks (both digital and analogue) can be used as tools for counting, arithmetic and number recognition. When it comes up, we do just this. In addition, over the next year, I would like to facilitate Theo’s understanding of passing time. He is still a bit young to understand that other events are occurring simultaneously outside of his world, so getting his head around the idea that if we allow time to pass, we may miss the things he enjoys may well be something to work on next year. However, developing an understanding of ‘if you want to go to gymnastics, we need to leave when the clock says x’, ‘Mummy will be back when the clock says y’ is much more achievable. I have recently begun introducing this, and he has been demonstrating that this is a helpful strategy for him, particularly around managing separation when I need to go out.

 

  • Basic understanding of money. Of course, like time keeping, using money provides a real world opportunity to practise counting, arithmetic and number recognition. Developing a working model of how to navigate the exchange of money and goods, as well as an appreciation for the money we have, gratitude for the life it buys us, and an understanding that money and the items it purchases are to be valued, can be explored through:
    • Involvement in handling money in shops and supermarket checkouts.
    • Role play.
    • Conversations about where our money comes from, what we use it for, and those that are less fortunate.
    • Donating both unwanted items and money to charity.

 

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English Language and Literacy

 

  • Reading. 
    • We provide access to a wide range of fiction, both modern and classic, non-fiction, and poetry aimed at both adults and children.

 

  • Phonics. We haven’t taught Theo the alphabet, nor will we for the time being. He will instead, in his own time, learn to read and write by first mastering phonics (the sound a letter or combination of letters make. e.g. ‘fff as in flower’ as opposed to ‘ef’, as is taught in the alphabet). He will then learn to correlate these sounds with their alphabetic symbol. Here are a few examples of how we are introducing this to him.
    • Following words with my finger as I read helps Theo make links between what he’s hearing and what he’s seeing.
    • We also take the time to identify specific sounds and their symbols when we read, and highlight any commonalities between words e.g. “This is ‘bh’ as in bug, and bus, and book. All these words start with the same sound, ‘bh’.” (while pointing to the ‘b’ at the start of each word). Poetry is particularly good for recognising patterns in language as rhymes rely on the use of the same sounds.
    • We play sound games like ‘I spy’ but use the phonetic sound rather than the alphabet letter. e.g. “I spy with my little eye, something on the table beginning with ‘ssss’ (not ‘es’)”…”spoon!” We have made this game more complex in stages. I started by presenting one obvious object so Theo just named the object when given the sound. Then, I presented two objects so he had to make a choice depending on how he interpreted the sound. Then more objects, each with different sounds. We have just started the next stage, which involves using a sound that corresponds to multiple presented objects. When Theo has given one example, I encourage him to find further examples. I will then progress this further by giving digraphs as well as single letter sounds, by choosing larger areas in which to search (a whole room, an outdoor space, an image), by introducing ending sounds as well starting sounds, and finally by introducing all of the sounds in the word.
    • I plan to also try rhyming variations of the sound games. e.g. “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with …”, and “rug starts with a ‘r’ sound and ends with a ‘g’ sound – can you think of any words that rhyme with ‘rug’?”.
    • We will try sorting games as an introduction to matching written letters to phonetic sound. For example, encouraging Theo to place all the objects that start with a particular sound next to their corresponding written symbol.

 

  • Vocabulary. Vocabulary expands very naturally through two key methods.
    • Conversation. We have always spoken to Theo like he is an adult, choosing not to ‘dumb down’ our language or use ‘baby talk’. We use adult words for things, although through his friends and other influences he has also picked up the child terms, e.g. penis vs willy, stomach vs tummy, excavator vs digger. We narrate play (without imposing our interpretations or ideas on him) and the world around us, we converse while we eat, we discuss our day and we make up stories, songs and rhymes.
    • Reading. Reading is obviously hugely important for developing vocabulary, and this is part of the reason why we try to offer a wide range of reading materials (another is that we want Theo to be able to choose what interests him; I didn’t really discover a love of reading until I left school and was no longer forced to read set texts that I had no interest in). Poetry is often broader in its vocabulary than stories, as it requires specific language in order to conform to patterns in rhythm and rhyme.

 

  • Pen holding. This is a skill that Theo will master as he develops stronger muscle tone and control in his hands and fingers. Alongside providing activities to help strengthen these muscles, I will model how to hold a pen, and ask if he would like my help to adjust his grip. Some example activities to build hand and finger strength include:
    • Modelling clay.
    • Play dough.
    • Kneading bread.
    • Threading work.
    • Using scissors.
    • Tasks that require a pincer grip and fine motor control. Peeling onions and eggs are a good starting point.

 

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Science, Ecosystems and the Planet

 

  • Provide answers to questions and further learning for topics of interest by:
    • Discussing topics as they arise (plants, animals, the body, space, weather, tectonics etc).
    • Visiting museums at home and while away. We have a number of great museums here in Christchurch, including the Canterbury Museum, the International Antarctic Centre, Quake City and the Airforce Museum. We recently stumbled across the Southland Fire Service Museum in Invercargill while camping on the South coast. Needless to say, Theo loved it!
    • Providing opportunities to ethically view and learn about wildlife. For example, we recently visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, located in the wildlife reserve on Pukekura Taiaroa Head. From an observatory, we were able to view wild albatrosses sitting on their eggs, as well as a number of other bird species. Our guide gave us a great deal of insight into the life and struggle of these birds, the history of the headland, and the research and conservation efforts occurring at the Centre. 
    • Reading books, looking at photographs and visiting the library to fill gaps in knowledge and resources available at home.
    • Conducting ‘experiments’ through play and the provision of sensory experiences (e.g. water play, sand play, baking, gardening etc)
    • Utilising our large world map, presented at eye level for Theo, to visualise and discuss topics such as habitats, climates, geography etc.

 

  • Model a positive and care-taking relationship with the planet by:
    • Practising recycling, composting, and litter-picking.
    • Finding joy in nature.
    • Discussing conservation, threats to species and how we can help.
    • Discouraging wastefulness with regards to food, water and electricity.
    • Making positive choices with regards to fuel use, sustainable product use, meat consumption and waste reduction.

 

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Engineering, Design and Technology

 

  • Support his interest in vehicles and mechanics by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Tegu magnetic blocks, road networks and toy vehicles, wooden nuts and bolts, Usborne ‘Look Inside Cars/Trains/Things That Go’).
    • Visiting the car garage and enabling him to observe mechanics at work.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.
    • Allowing him to help fix our bikes, pump up tyres, fill the car with petrol, clean the car etc.

 

  • Provide opportunities for construction, woodwork and sculpture by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Haba shape and tack board, building blocks, wooden nuts and bolts).
    • Making modelling clay and play dough regularly available. This will also benefit his muscle tone development required to correctly hold and manipulate a pen or pencil.
    • Using real tools at home to make home improvements and fix broken items.
    • Assembling furniture.
    • Providing opportunities for large scale construction with soft play equipment or sofa cushions.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.

 

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Art and Drama

 

  • Appreciation of the arts. 
    • Visit art galleries.
    • Attend theatre productions (these might be musicals, dance, acrobatics, stage drama, pantomime or street theatre). Theo’s first theatre production was ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway when he was 19 months. He loved it! He sat glued to the stage, dancing and clapping his way through the entire performance. In the last year, we have taken him to see Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and a local theatre group production of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. Over the next three weeks, Christchurch is hosting the World Buskers Festival. We attended today and caught several wonderful shows. Theo then spent the rest of the afternoon climbing, jumping and hanging upside down from whatever apparatus he could find; the trapeze artists were clearly a favourite!
    • Introduce famous artworks and provide opportunities to copy and comment on them. This will enable regular discussions on shape, form, angles and the whole vs details, which will pave the way for the development of visuospacial skills and the ability to reproduce what he sees. 

 

  • Opportunities for artistic and dramatic self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities for both guided and free-expression craft using a range of materials, mediums and equipment (paint, watercolour, pencils, crayons, collage). We display his work at home to promote a sense of accomplishment, pride and self-worth. 
    • Dress up, role playing and imaginative play. During play, Theo often assumes a particular role both with and without the use of props. He has access to some dressing up clothes at home (we avoid characters so these tend to be more open ended, but he can access set costumes at Playcentre* should he wish) and some role playing toys (he has a particular interest in doctors at the moment so we got him the Plan Toys doctor’s set for his birthday). If he doesn’t have the props he needs, he’ll make it out of paper, play dough or whatever open ended materials he has available to him at that time. He’ll also often narrate roles during his play without the use of props. 
    • Support photography. Theo has long shown an interest in my camera and has been able to use it on occassion (under careful supervision!). He was kindly bought a children’s camera for Christmas and has been loving snapping away at whatever catches his interest. I would like to support this by displaying a selection of his photographs and helping him to create scrapbooks of specific days out and events. 

 

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Sport and Movement

 

  • Support his love of gross motor activities.
    • Swimming lessons. Theo started swimming lessons at 5 weeks old. He has had breaks from formal lessons for both short- and long-term travel but we have enrolled in lessons whenever we have a home base. These have continually been a highlight of his week so we will continue them for as long as he enjoys them. We also swim regularly together to ensure that he is confident in the water, he has opportunities to practise his skills, and to have fun. 
    • Gymnastics. Our council runs drop-in gymnastics sessions every day. Theo loves attending so we go whenever our day allows and Theo says he wants to. He is currently working on perfecting his somersaults and completing the balance beams without the need for support. 

 

    • Mountain biking. We are very lucky to live right by a forest filled with mountain bike trails and jump/push tracks. Theo was given a balance bike for his 2nd birthday, after which he requested to go mountain biking most days. He has gradually built up his confidence and his strength to enable him to try bigger hills and more daring drops. He was given his first pedal bike with no stabilisers for his 3rd birthday so over the next year he will be given the opportunity to use whichever bike he chooses so he can continue to enjoy biking and gain the skills and confidence to use pedals.

 

    • Family hiking. We all really enjoy hiking so this is in no danger of falling by the wayside! Read some of my top tips for hiking with children here. I also talk about how Theo’s engagement with hiking has changed over time.

 

    • Skiing. We are lucky to potentially have the opportunity to move to Queenstown in March, where we will have several ski fields right on our doorstep. Alex and I are very excited about the upcoming ski season and we’re looking forward to giving Theo the opportunity to try it out to see if he enjoys it.

 

  • Explore dancing and body movement.
    • Songs with actions. ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ is a long-time favourite!
    • Play music from different genres to allow free expression with and without props (play silks, ribbons etc).
    • Introduce games like musical statues/bumps. These also enable a number of cognitive skills to be practised (e.g. inhibitory control and attention).

 

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People and Cultures

 

  • Attend cultural festivals.
    • Christchurch hosts a number of cultural festivals through the year, including a Chinese Lantern festival, a Polynesian music and dance festival, and several parades that celebrate the diverse population. 

 

  • Eat and help prepare a wide range of cuisine.
    • We enjoy food, both at home and in restaurants, from all over the world. When we travel, we always eat the local cuisine, and have been lucky to pick up tips, ideas and recipes from all the places we have been. We practised Baby Led Weaning from the age of 6 months, so Theo has always eaten what we are eating. So far, we haven’t identified anything he doesn’t like.
    • Our meals can be accompanied by a discussion of where this particular food is eaten and how it is prepared.

 

  • Discuss previous travels. Theo certainly remembers some of our travels, as far back as 2017, but has understandably forgotten lots too. We remind him of his experiences and what we learned through conversation and photographs.

 

  • Languages.
    • Introduce foreign language books, audiobooks and songs.
    • Alex and I know bits (little bits!) of French and German, but we have also discussed introducing Spanish and/or Mandarin as these are more widely spoken. We will see what sparks Theo’s interest and enjoy learning languages alongside him.
    • Theo is picking up bits of Te Reo Māori just by living here. He hears individual words, verses and songs regularly, and has access to books written in Te Reo Māori. Take a look at  my beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori here.

 

  • Learn about England and visit places of interest in London. This is obviously partly tied to our hope to return to the U.K. for a visit this year. Regardless of whether or not we do make it back, we inevitably talk about England a lot since Alex and I both grew up in London, and Theo was born in and spent his first 18 months living in North-West England. Our family and friends are there, some of whom have been able to visit this past year. They have then obviously returned back to England, so Theo is aware that these loved ones live there. 

 

  • Māori learning. As we are living in New Zealand, it is of great importance to us that we all learn about Māori history and culture. We do this by:
    • Visiting cultural sites and museums.
    • Viewing Māori art and sculpture.
    • Talking to Māori people about their traditions, family structure, celebrations and traditional food.
    • Ensuring that we all respect Māori customs. Some examples relevant to Theo include that it is considered disrespectful and unhygenic to sit on tables. In the U.K., it is commonplace to see people sitting on picnic tables in parks or perched on the corner of other food tables. Essentially, don’t put your bum where you eat! Food is not to be played with, so you won’t get kids making photo frames or jewellery out of pasta. Heads are considered sacred, so anything that touches them (hats, pillows etc) also need to be treated with respect. We don’t put hats on tables or sit on pillows.

 

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Life Skills

 

  • Theo helps with and takes responsibility for specific tasks within the following practical life areas. Over the next year, he will continue to build on these skills, working towards doing more complex tasks independently. I will ensure that he is provided with the equipment and materials he needs to be able to carry out these tasks (e.g. size-appropriate equipment).
    • Cooking.
    • Gardening.
    • Laundry.
    • Cleaning, hoovering and tidying.
    • Loading/unloading the dishwasher and doing the washing up.
    • Grocery shopping.
    • Personal hygiene, self-care and self-dressing.
    • Caring for a sibling. Theo will soon become a big brother and I plan to involve him in his younger brother’s care as much as he chooses. I suspect he will enjoy taking a leadership role and assuming additional responsibilities (at first, simple tasks such as helping me fetch nappies and muslins, and later, helping to teach his brother new skills).

 

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Music

 

  • Music appreciation.
    • Listen to a variety of music genres/radio at breakfast and throughout the day when Theo chooses.
    • Attend live music performances.

 

  • Musical self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities to explore instruments and the use of his voice.
    • Teach him well-known rhymes and songs.

 

 

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Cognitive skills

 

The following cognitive skills will be mostly practised naturally through self-directed play, games that involve matching/sorting/memory, and by simply sitting back and allowing Theo to come up against difficulties, make errors, and figure out solutions.

I also have a few professional tricks up my sleeve; games, exercises and mindfulness-based strategies that I use clinically with children and adults to either assess or practise these skills.

Many of the activities we already set aside time for also involve the use of a number of these skills. In reading the following short descriptions, perhaps you can identify where these skills might be useful in every day life for a 3 year old.

Cooking, for example, requires planning (to ensure you have all the ingredients), working memory (to hold steps of a recipe in mind), response inhibition (if you become distracted, you risk spoiling your efforts), sustained and multiple simultaneous attention (sustained attention to complete individual steps and the dish as a whole, and multiple simultaneous attention when attending to different items on the hob/in the oven etc at one time), and problem-solving (when things go wrong!).

 

  • Category formation. The ability to organise information into categories. Mammal vs. bird, food vs. non-food, fruit vs vegetable. Being able to categorise information in this way facilitates our ability to think about it, process it, and remember it.

 

  • Pattern recognition. Successfully identifying patterns enables us to logically predict what will happen next. This is known as inductive reasoning.

 

  • Working memory. This refers to the short-term temporary storage of information while it is still needed to complete a task (like a mental post-it note). It’s important in decision making, following instructions, holding multiple steps in mind in order to solve a problem or complete a task, and responding in conversations. 

 

  • Sustained attention. This is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to attend to, look at, listen to, think about something for a prolonged period. 

 

  • Multiple simultaneous attention. The ability to repeatedly shift attention, thus enabling successful multitasking.

 

  • Cognitive flexibility and control. This refers to the ability to shift between thinking about two different concepts. In other words, being able to adapt to a changing environment. 

 

  • Speed of information processing. Again, exactly what it sounds like: how quickly new information is processed and understood. This is necessary in being able to follow conversations or multiple step instructions.

 

  • Response inhibition. This is the ability to refrain from responding to distractions and is important for successfully staying on task when faced with a noisy or otherwise stimulating environment. 

 

  • Planning and strategy formation. This is simply the ability to think about the future and mentally anticipate the necessary actions to successfully reach a goal.

 

  • Problem solving. Closely linked to planning and strategy formation, this is the ability to predict the outcomes of a variety of strategies, choose an appropriate solution, and then analyse and evaluate the outcome.

 

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Social-emotional skills

 

  • Theo has recently started to enjoy board games and loves hide and seek. We will continue to play games (even if not entirely following the rules at this stage!) that encourage turn taking.

 

  • Continue to attend Playcentre* and organise play dates. Although Theo obviously meets children at other activities and while out and about, Playcentre* and organised play dates are the best way for him to develop sustained relationships with other children and to have meaningful social experiences with them (due to the number of children that often attend gymnastics, social engagement can often be fleeting, and despite there only being one other child in his class, there’s only so much socialising you can do during a swimming lesson!). 

 

  • Label and validate emotions, and introduce regulation strategies. As a clinical psychologist, this (I hope!) comes very naturally to me; teaching people emotional regulation skills is a large part of my job. Children do not yet have the ability to do this by themselves since the part of the brain that deals with emotion regulation doesn’t fully develop until their early 20s. Instead, they look to their parents or other primary caregivers for clues and help with this. So, with both positive and negative emotions we do the following:
    • Help Theo to identify his emotions by labelling them.
    • Pinpoint the trigger and thought process behind the emotion.
    • Help him problem solve the most helpful way to manage his emotions. 
    • Label our own emotions, both positive and negative, model to him that it is acceptable and natural to experience negative emotions, and show him how we manage our own anger/frustration/sadness etc in a helpful way.

 

  • Talk about the day and any emotions, both positive and negative, that arose over dinner. Several months ago, Theo started waking in the night visibly upset (but easy to settle with a cuddle and breastfeed) and muttering about things that occurred during the day. He’s always been a bit of a sleep talker but this was a step up and I suspected mild nightmares related to processing the events of the day. In laymen’s terms, memory processing, which happens largely at night during R.E.M., can get a bit stuck in the case of difficult memories. Since my clinical speciality is trauma, I am well aware of the negative impact on sleep poor processing of difficult memories can have, and often some daytime processing is also required. Now, obviously we’re not talking about traumatic memories here, but big emotions and confusing events that seem trivial to us can feel traumatic to a toddler. So, I introduced a daily conversation at the end of the day (but not right before bed) to help him process his memories of the day. Typically, Theo rarely volunteers negative emotions or experiences when asked about the best and worst parts of his day, so I may probe: “I noticed it made you sad when your friend took the toy you were playing with / angry when I said we had to leave the playground / frightened when your friend chased you but you didn’t want them to. Was that difficult for you?”

 

  • Support to prepare for, and then adapt to having, a new sibling (we’re expecting a second son next month). We’ve had many conversations about pregnancy, child birth and what having a baby in the house will be like, and we have a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading together. So far, Theo has been excited, tender, and all for sharing his possessions (and more importantly, milk supply!), but I don’t doubt that the reality will still be a shock for him and he will need ongoing support to manage the influx of emotions that having a new sibling will bring. 

 

We will be living in New Zealand for at least another year (with trips, we hope, to further explore parts of the country we have not yet seen, back to England to see friends and family, and potentially some of the Pacific Islands) so this year’s plan has been written with this in mind. After that, we don’t know where we’re going to be so it might be that next year’s plan takes account for longer term travel and time spent in other countries with differing services and resources (obviously we can only attend Playcentre*, swimming lessons, gymnastics sessions etc where these things are available). 

 

I hope seeing an example of a home education plan has been of help to you and offers some insight into what home schooling a 3 year old means and looks like to us. Just remember it will be different for everyone! I’d love to hear what does and doesn’t resonate with your family in the comments; it’s always interesting to hear how other families are doing it (and there might be some ideas worth pinching!).


* Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s. It is led and managed by parents, with a central philosophy that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, note how and what their child is learning at any given time, and then respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning.