Continuing our series of “Lessons Learned” entries, in this installment I’ll look at how our year of full-time travel worked in the areas of school and church.
This is really easy to answer - as far as school and church are concerned the year was a total, utter failure.
But I can see you’ve already noticed this blog post doesn’t end here so there must be more to the story. There is, but we need to look past those two words. School. Church. Both of these words have meanings that can include physical stick-and-bricks buildings. Our year on the road had so very little to do with buildings. Instead, we need to talk about what’s expected to take place within those buildings. Learning, rather than school. Worship, rather than church. How did we do there?
We’ve always been homeschoolers. This, in addition to working online, was half the lifestyle that put this crazy notion of full-time travel into our heads in the first place. But that word - homeschooled - is a big bucket word, a bucket that gets filled from sources with vastly different ideas about how to educate your kids. There is a continuum of approaches to homeschooling - on one end are families that basically replicate the school experience at home with dedicated rooms, purchased curriculum, desks and strict schedules. At the other end are people who identify as “Unschoolers” which Wikipedia defines as
...a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum.
We’ve always been somewhere in between those extremes, moving towards one or the other based on the kid’s ages, what season it was, or what curriculum was of interest.
When we were prepping to go on this trip MsBoyink was getting stressed because she wasn’t getting the kid’s schooling planned as she normally did. I had this vision of us hunkered down in the trailer, with Yosemite visible out the window, but not being able to go explore it because some empty spaces in a workbook hadn’t been filled in yet. Why not be alot more like unschoolers for the year, letting the context of our life and location provide the learning opportunity? Worst case, what, they’re behind a year in some way compared to their age-mates? But what will they have gained?
I pleaded the case and it was accepted by the judge and jury. We still weren’t complete unschoolers however. We packed along a number of historical fiction books and also wanted Data and Storybird to have a more formal math program curriculum for the year. We didn’t nail the latter until we were into the trip for a few months, sourcing a Math-U-See program for Data (which he started around the first of the year) and Teaching Textbooks for Storybird (which she started in March). Both kids finished their math curriculum by the end of August.
Past that? It’s hard to even know where to begin with what we learned. But I’ll try:
- Constantly-changing locations improved our wayfinding skills. Storybird especially improved in this area by practicing finding her way back to the trailer in different campgrounds.
- Oddball things like a scavenger hunt for Presidential statues on a blustery cold day became great learning opportunities that still stick with the kids.
- A smartphone is handy for getting more info online while you are in the moment, in the location. For example - while looking at the statue for a given president I would call up the Wikipedia page about him and read off the basics of his life & career.
- East-coast Civil War sites were a mixed success. Data appreciated them, while Storybird got “warred out” and wanted to learn history that wasn’t about men dying.
- Ranger programs at state and national parks were awesome (and free) learning times, but for much of our trip we were out of season for them. Or they had been trimmed in budget cuts
- The kids didn’t blog as much as we hoped they would. Storybird journaled for the first half of the trip but overall we fell behind in the practice of writing.
- Museums were also a mixed success. We had a pass that got us free or reduced-cost admission to many museums but our kids seemed at an awkward age - too old for “kids museums” and too young for general-age museums. Some were great, and some were a total waste of money.
- New location, places to explore, and no TV on-board can be great motivators for us all to get out and learn about the area.
- There were still days I had to take books away and kick kids out of the trailer to get outside time (Readers!)
- Storybird bought books in different locations to learn more - a seashell identification guide, cacti identification guide, local stories from the Outer Banks, Arizona women in history, etc.
- Geography and the natural sciences are best learned while traveling. There is no substitute for being there.
- Formal learning time is hard to come by while full-time traveling.
- We learned to expect the unexpected, and be flexible enough to embrace it when it happens. Moments like this where among my favorite of the trip.
- I had to learn to be willing to stop working at times and be pulled out to go see what the kids found - birds nesting in a cactus, a dead rattlesnake, etc.
- Learning is a skill that can be improved - thinking to ask “I wonder why that thing has that name?” and then immediately setting about to find the answer was something we got better at as the trip went on.
- Travel/sightseeing/busy days need to be balanced with quiet/do nothing/read/reflect days
We are a Christian family, and leaving our home church behind for a year was tough. We had thoughts of staying connected via the podcast, but found that between time-zone shifting schedules, iffy internet connections, and not wanting to sit still long enough to listen to an hour-long audio file made that tough. We also had the goal of being more “missional” in our living - finding places to volunteer like soup kitchens, rescue missions, etc.
- The trip was a great time to talk about different denominations and how I was comfortable going to any church that based itself on the Apostles Creed.
- We went to 15 different churches, and worshiped with Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Bible churches.
- We went to churches where we comprised 1/3 of the congregation (and MsBoyink was called into duty to play “the pianer”) and churches where we watched the pastor teach on a large video screen with 500 other people in the room.
- We took communion in a number of ways, including kneeling around an altar with a priest in robes serving real wine if you wanted.
- We experienced Easter at a sunrise service at the Grand Canyon - an awesome experience.
- One advantage of our 8-week stint of camphosting was being able to attend the same church for that time. We didn’t “shop around” - just picked one and made it work.
- During the summer months churches tend to be running on skeleton crews - so things like designated greeters and teen programs won’t be available.
- Churches as a whole are hard to find and choose between. Their websites (if they have one) are usually terrible. They don’t have their service times on their answering machines. They answer the phone with “Hello? Who is this?” They don’t make it easy for a complete newcomer to know how to dress and where to go.
- Church life while travelling is just tough. As a good friend put it, “It isn’t about going to church. It’s about being part of a church.”
- Being intentionally missional was tough. Our near-constant movement made it hard enough to find & schedule serving/volunteer opportunities that we didn’t do it
- We did, however, become more deliberate in being proactive in small “in the moment” ways - stopping to help people push an out of gas truck, giving jumpstarts, packing extra soup & bowls in hopes of being able to give some away, etc.
- On a sunny, clear morning in a spot with a beautiful natural view & wildlife around it was hard to feel the need to drive to a building & go inside to worship God.
- The trip provided enough reading time that the kids and MsBoyink each read completely through the Bible while gone.
- On our next leg of travel we’ll slow the pace down in hopes of making volunteer & service opportunities easier to find.
- While we had less formalized worship over the year, we definitely experienced God through the wonder and variety of the natural world.