Tips for (distance education) homeschooling on the road

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I’ve procrastinated on writing a post about homeschooling your child on the road. I’m still recovering! I get asked about it all the time so I decided to breathe deep and share.

This is a post written more towards distance education than homeschooling, or unschooling, on the road in Australia.

Distance education in Australia is what my homeschooling experience amounts to, so I can’t offer you any tips about homeschooling in other countries, nor about taking on the responsibility of teaching your child yourself.

Well I could, I was once a primary school teacher and feel quite confident to teach my own kids, without a curriculum to follow. You can’t beat the school of life and family unity.

However, I’m not interested in writing a post about that, and I’ll explain within this post why I chose distance education instead of homeschooling for our road trip around Australia.

There is no right or wrong, only what’s best for your values and situation. Do your research and choose what resonates with you and what you can manage.

Tips for homeschooling on the road

If you have any insights, experiences or tips for homeschooling your child on the road, please leave them in the comments below.

A bit of background about me

The Golden Mountain
From the top of the Golden Mountain with my students

I graduated from University in 97 as a primary school teacher. I have no idea why I chose to become a teacher. Yes, I do. Because I had no other idea what to do or what I was capable of.

My daydreams of becoming a great explorer and writing in my journal was just a frivolous dream and not something I was good enough to do. So I chose the box – teachers get decent pay, are well respected, and get 12-weeks paid holiday a year. I’ll do that!

(Ha! I had no freakin idea about the 12-weeks holiday and decent pay myth!)

I soon discovered teaching opened up the portal to my passion – travel.

Three days after I picked up my teaching degree, I jumped on a plane bound for Indonesia.

I wanted freedom and memories, not four walls and security.

After Indo, I moved to London and started my teaching career in one of the worst areas in East London. “Welcome to the real world,” the kids shouted with chairs raised in the air ready to launch across the room. The word bitch was thrown in for good measure every now and then too!

My teaching career over 15 years spanned across London, Dublin, Bangkok, Sydney, and North Carolina. Mixed positions and classes, but one thing was common, I taught a lot of challenging children, in challenging areas.

I discovered that the education system doesn’t differ much from country to country. It’s broken across any border with a purpose largely squash souls into a box.

Apparently, I was squashed into a tiny cell at the bottom of a transportation ship in a previous life. Yep. The box suffocates me to extreme anxiety measures. Therefore, a life of teaching slowly killed me.

I had no passion, I did not believe in the validity of the system, I hated living in a box, and I was left devoid of meaning and purpose.

I woke up every morning uttering the words “Oh Fuck.” What an ungrateful, miserable way to greet the gift of life presented to you each day.

Teaching for me was about straining to fit into the box, managing kids behaviour, and desperately trying to get them to pass a test. There were good parts in there. I learned a lot about reading practices and I loved my kids, but I was totally burned out and suffering. I felt incompetent, out of control, and unhappy.

Until one day I woke up and said

“Fuck it. I’m going to make a change. This will not be my legacy, nor how I live my life anymore.”

It was a slow road outta that hell, but I made it out alive. Once I felt safe enough with our new travel blogging path, I burnt my teaching licence. I did not want a back door. I despised it that much and I couldn’t walk near a school without feeling like I was going to vomit.

What I found challenging about homeschooling on the road

School lessons on the road in an old train carriage in Outback Queensland
School lessons on the road in an old train carriage in Outback Queensland

Mentally I did not have what it took to walk back through the school gates.

My tolerance level and ability to cope was low.Kalyra would refuse to do the work, turning what could have been a quick hour at the table to a drawn out three-hour battle. I was transported back to the classroom, once again feeling so out of my depth, in pain and struggling to breathe. My stomach was a knotted up ball of anxiety twisting its way up to my chest.

I retired from teaching to get away from it and now I was dealing with the classroom management again and struggling against a system I didn’t believe in. Only this time, it was my daughter, and she was the biggest challenge I’d encountered.

This wasn’t the relationship I wanted with my daughter.

Homeschooling and distance education may be different for you

Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia

I want to write honestly about my experiences homeschooling on the road, but in doing so I want you to understand this will probably not be the same for you.

You probably don’t have the teaching background that I had, so that past history won’t be creating a knot in your stomach. And you may not be running a full-time online business at the same time.

When Kalyra was happy to learn, it was awesome and I loved teaching her.

I lapped up the chance to teach her when we were out experiencing life – actually, I’d like to rephrase that – to guide her. That was what I was always good at as a teacher – helping children connect to their dreams and the joy of life.

My travel stories would light up a world of possibility for them in their eyes, but I’d be forced to extinguish it out in order to follow the cramped curriculum, teach to the test, and overcome the many social and behavioural challenges.

Why did we choose distance education over homeschooling on the road

MONA Museum - Hobart, Tasmania

1. We couldn’t homeschool. When we went to register for homeschooling in New South Wales, we were told we needed a permanent home. So we enrolled Kalyra at the Sydney Distance Education School based in Surry Hills.

2. No time to create structured lessons myself. I know with homeschooling – i.e. when you take care of all the lessons and make sure your child is learning and meeting benchmarks – you have more freedom to learn from experiences and create the lessons how you want. With all the travelling and business related tasks we had to do that was one extra pressure that would have blew my brains up.

3. I’d get lazy. I’m not good at doing things if I don’t feel there is a purpose, or I’m not good at it (unless I have someone standing over me making me do it). Take art. I’m a stick figure girl at best. Art brings back horror memories of paint-splattered classrooms and staying back late to clean it, and chaotic disorganised mess. One reason I loved teaching in the US was because they had specialised teachers. Phew. No more fumbling through art and music class.

Distance education gave me the structure, lessons and discipline to do the work. It’s in the best interest of my child that I don’t skip this stuff, but I was frightened if I took it on myself through homeschooling it wouldn’t get done which is not fair to her.

4. Fear of her falling behind. I hate the system but we all live in the system in some form, even if you are just on the periphery. Homeschooling was temporary. I didn’t want to risk Kalyra returning to school  and being so far behind that she suffered. Nor did I want to place that burden on the teacher to help her catch up.

Distance education was the best solution for us. I still think it is and I will do it again for our road trip across the US. It will mean a lot of extra, useless work, but we’ll get it done.

Did my teaching experience help me with homeschooling on the road?

Tasmania 3 232

Yes and no.

All my strategies for behaviour management did not work and I had no principal to send Kalyra to once they all failed.

Teaching your own child is sooooooo different. I’m sure many of you have homework battles with your children of an evening. That sure amplifies when it comes time to distance education or homeschooling. Of course, it may not. Every child is different. Your child might LOVE you being their teacher.

Yes, because I could quickly evaluate her progress and make any necessary adjustments, I could teach the material quickly as I understood it and I know how to teach to help kids learn. (Although Kalyra is a perfectionist and likes to have the last word, so that was a challenge.)

I could easily tell if something was a waste of time and so we just didn’t do it. If I opt for the box, I’ll do my best to fit into the box as much as I can, but I’m not going to waste a week doing a unit of work on car safety when we’re road tripping around the country and the girls have long worked out how to open and close a door. I wanted to bang my head against it! Faaaaarrrrrrkkkkkk!!

Frequent questions about homeschooling on the road

Capricorn Caves, Rockhampton, Queensland

Here are a few questions I regularly get asked about homeschooling on the road:

1. How does distance education work?

You enrol your child in the nearest distance education school in your district. For us it was SDEPS in Surry Hills. They’re assigned a class and a teacher. There’s opportunity to interact with the other students through an online system and via newsletter etc.

The teacher sends out the work to you. Plan in advance your postal addresses so they can send the work. We’d usually get it sent to the post office and pick it up from there, or if we  knew where we were staying, we’d get it sent to that address and let the accommodation provider know in advance it was coming.

We’d request to get a term’s worth of work sent at once; it’s far easier than picking up new work every couple of weeks.

The work is done in two-week blocks. All units of work and lesson plans are sent to you, including any materials you need, like art and craft. It’s very easy to follow the lesson plans and implement them.

You send the completed work back every two weeks to your child’s teacher with an evaluation form of how you felt they went.

2. Is distance education free?

No. You will pay an enrolment fee and a fee for materials. For us it was $150 per year. The school covers the postage for you when it comes time to send the work back

3. Did your child fall behind?

Not at all. Now that she’s returned to school, her teacher’s have commented how advanced she is. They were surprised there were no gaps.

Again, every child is different, but I believe if you are good at keeping up with their skills and engaging them in real life experiences, they won’t fall behind. Or, if they do in some areas, they’ll quickly catch up.

family travel homeschooling

Travel helps children become independent thinkers and curious creators. (click to tweet)

Skills that will help people learn quickly.

4. Was the distance education workload too much?

When you’re busy exploring, the days can be long and hectic and fitting in the extra workload can be tough. I was surprised at how much work there was, although we got through it.

I asked for special consideration to have the workload reduced. Because we were travelling for business, it wasn’t complete “pleasure” We were doing a lot of educational tours, which meant she was checking off a lot of social studies and science skills. It was difficult for us to manage the schoolwork on top. Our request was granted with a reduction of some units of work.

5. How did you manage it with the travel?

We scheduled school lessons around the travel. We did our best to spend 1- 2 hours of a morning to do the work. If we had an early morning activity, we’d fit it in of an afternoon. On quieter travel days, we’d do as much as we could, to compensate for the days when we were out exploring all day.

For the less intensive work, we’d do that when we were driving if we could.

We had the term’s work sent to us all at once, so we’d motivate ourselves to get as much done so we’d have greater breaks between terms. Sometimes that gave us an extra 1-2 weeks holiday.

Yardie Creek Gorge, Exmouth, Western Australia

6. How did they go socially, especially when returning to school?

Kalyra was nervous on her first day returning to school. She felt a little like a fish out of water. She’s naturally shy and doesn’t like people looking at her. But, she bounded out of there after the day was over, had made friends and fit in perfectly.

If your child is returning to their normal school when your travels stop, it probably won’t be a problem. It might take a few days for them to warm back up. Your child will socialise with other children, and adults, on your travels so I don’t think this is ever a big problem. Social skills family travel truth bomb

7. How long did you spend on school work each day?

It depends on what we had going on, but usually 1-2 hours a day.

8. Is it fun to teach your own child?

Yes and no. I love guiding my children and helping them connect to life and their dreams. Some things I loved teaching her, but generally I didn’t find it fun to do the school work.

9. What if you can’t finish all the work’?

Don’t panic. Send back what you have completed and either send back the work unfinished or let your teacher know you would like an extension and will get it back to them with the next batch of work.

10. I’m nervous and feel it might be too much. Is it worth homeschooling, or doing distance education, so you can travel with your kids?

Without a doubt. It’s time, growth, and connection on such an enriching level. It was so worth it for us that I’m choosing to do it all over again when we road trip the US this year. It’s about what you’re willing to sacrifice to create what you’re dreaming. You can’t get it without some kind of discomfort.

family travel

UPDATE: We are now travelling full time again overseas. This time we have chosen to homeschool rather than do distance education. I share why, plus my homeschooling strategy, routine, and resources in this post.

Read more about homeschooling on the road:

Do you have any other concerns or questions about homeschooling on the road? What’s your best tip to share?

16 thoughts on “Tips for (distance education) homeschooling on the road”

  1. I love the last truth-bomb! What a great point! People forget that education was always truly in the hands of the parents until they institutionalized schooling.
    We homeschool our oldest and people ask all the time how he will get “socialized.” I think it’s funny because they’ll say this as he is playing in the yard with the neighbor kids or helping his little sister walk to another neighbor. Ahhhh!! It is so hard to get my little man to listen to me and I know he’d be a teacher pleaser, but such is life. Three weeks in Australia (beginning next week!) with no school for me – goodness knows I need the break (or him) and we’ll just make up for it in June. Love the flexibility!

  2. Wow what a great post, thanks so much for sharing. Our family of 5 is about to leave for a year of travel and I have yet to get the homeschooling thing totally prepared so this is really handy. I had no idea it mattered if you didn’t have a permanent address… I hope that doesn’t affect us here in QLD!!

    1. Each state has different rules so you might be okay. The way around it is to register while you have the permanent address as they pay a home visit to check. Then once that’s done leave for your trip!

  3. I like the Truth Bombs! Everyone needs to approach schooling when on the road in whichever way suits best. We spent 10 months on the road last year and I tried to keep up with maths and English from books we took with us as best we could, some days it was a battle to even get the times tables done (which we did for 15 minutes or so each morning) as there was a reluctance from the kids. Despite everything, and a lack of real structure, the girls returned late in the year to grade 5 and year 7 here in Australia and still came home with super reports and grades after testing. They simply slipped back in as if they had never left. All the ‘beating myself up’ worrying that there might be a gap at all, no necessary at all. It is definitely the best education we can give our kids and the resilience that came from the experiences we had in Europe shone through. Calculating currency and buying items, the girls were having so much fun. No regrets at all. Great post Caz, thanks.

  4. Thank you so much for this. It’s amazingly helpful! We’re looking at about 2 years of travel around the time my little daughter will be about 5 or 6, and I haven’t been able to get my head around how to home school her so that she’ll definitely be ready to re-enter school when we’re done. This sounds like just the thing.

  5. Love love love Caz… I think it would kill me to home educate the way my sister did with her twins when they were primary aged… but reading the ups and downs and ins and outs of your experience, distance ed sounds achievable. It does! Not with the teenagers!!!! But my twins are now 9 and a great age where they suck the world up. It’s so exciting to see it and be part of that.

  6. I love this article! I don’t have plans to have children of my own any time soon but I have definitely thought about homeschooling/distance schooling for the future. Good on you for making it work, it’s very inspiring to see ?

  7. Thanks for the great info Caz, so very helpful. We have just started planning our trip to the US next year for 12 months with our 2 boys aged 7 and 8. Just wondering if you need to have laptops or chrome books with distance education, it seems like a lot of baggage to take a whole term worth (or a year) of school work for 2 kids.

    1. Hi Sharon

      A laptop is not a requirement, but does make it easier for communicating with your teacher and if you want to jump online to do any further work. However, a notebook would work just as well. As we work while we travel we have our laptops with us so used them frequently, but I wouldn’t say its a requirement. Check with the school just in case.

      They’ll send you out workbooks, and a couple of textbooks but it’s not that many and won’t be too heavy. Usually the work they send out to you has it’s own paper to record the work so text books are minimal. Perhaps make a special arrangement with them in regards to the amount of stuff you’re required to take.

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