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:
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.