When we decided to set off on our travel adventure there were a number of logistics to work out. We had to choose our destinations, research visas, locate rental accommodations, book travel, but one of the most important decisions was how we’d continue our son’s education while we were on the road. Education and long-term family travel, do they mix? Could we make it work?
Being the planner that I am, I think we started researching daycare options when I found out I was pregnant and we began researching schools when our son was about 3 years old. It’s always been a priority for us to provide him with quality education in an innovative, progressive, and supportive environment.
Getting a Solid Foundation
In Portland there is no shortage of great education options. We ultimately chose CLASS Academy because it not only met our philosophical and academic requirements, but also met our logistical needs. CLASS Academy is a year-round, Pre-K through Eighth grade private school that provided before and after school care included in the tuition. Great for working parents.
We liked that they offered small, age-blended, classes (a 1:10 ratio), an ethnically diverse student body, and an accelerated curriculum that emphasized reading, math, science, and public speaking. A big plus for us was that they also taught penmanship, art, and physical education which are subjects that are becoming increasingly rare.
Students are placed into groups according to their emotional, social, and academic levels. They are always challenged, but never frustrated to the point where they lose their love of learning. CLASS Academy aims to produce independent, inquisitive, observant students, and creative thinkers.
We really appreciated the annual science fair, monthly artists and authors assembly, regular multicultural celebrations, and the multisensory learning approach.
Transitioning to Homeschool
We aren’t trained teachers and we had never even considered homeschool before we decided to travel long-term as a family. We were intimidated and a bit worried that our skills would not measure up. Plus, we had big shoes to fill as we all loved our experience with CLASS Academy and felt that the quality of the education was exemplary. We began to research our options.
If you are just getting started with homeschooling, the problem isn’t lack of resources, it’s the overwhelming amount of information and choices. There are countless packaged curriculums to choose from, cloud-based curriculum websites (i.e. learnzillion.com), multiple virtual k-12 schools, random downloadable lesson plans, a plethora of homeschooling websites and blogs, tons of great educational videos on YouTube (i.e. CrashCourse), online educator communities (teacherspayteachers.com), fun curriculum-based interactive websites (i.e. BrainPop), and a variety of self-learning platforms (i.e. khanacademy.com).
Since we originally only expected to travel for 1 year, we wanted to be sure that our son could easily transition back into a traditional classroom environment upon returning to Oregon, without struggling to catch up. In order to make that happen, we felt that we needed to cover the topics outlined in the Common Core Standards for his grade and our state. We located the information on Oregon’s Department of Education website. This gave us an outline to guide us. From there we needed to decide how we’d go about teaching each topic.
With so many fantastic resources available to us, we decided against committing to a pre-packaged curriculum and instead we’d essentially build our own personalized curriculum by picking and choosing all materials and lessons ourselves.
We also felt that travel itself would be a fantastic education, perhaps the best education. Visiting art and history museums, religious and cultural monuments, studying different languages, eating authentic world cuisines, experiencing the culture first-hand, planning travel, managing logistics, calculating currency rates, budgeting activities, and making friends along the way. It’s project-based learning at its best.
Homeschool provided us the flexibility to move between and explore destinations on our own schedule. Some weeks we had classes every day, some weeks only a few days. School generally took place in the mornings, but if we had plans, then we did it in the afternoons or evenings instead. The one unchanging requirement was that upon waking each and every morning, our son had to read a book for a minimum of 30 minutes.
We kept a list of all of his activities. You can view his Personalized Homeschool Curriculum here.
School in Mexico
We spent a year and a half homeschooling and for the most part it was working for us. There were times when it was intellectually and emotionally draining to both the teachers and the student, but the flexibility was worth it. When we came to Mexico in February 2015, one of our goals was to settle down for a bit. We wanted to provide our son with a sense of routine and give him a chance to make friends. We’d only planned to stay for a few months before moving on, but before we knew it, we’d been here for 6 months. Although our son did make friends with some local and one or two expat kids, he’s very social and we felt that it just wasn’t enough. He really needed to spend more time with kids his age.
Once more, we researched our options. We could enroll him in a private or public Mexican school (but his Spanish skills were very limited), we could enroll him in one of the local bilingual schools, or we could enroll him in a small private school run by a long-term Expat where classes were taught in English, but there were Spanish classes every day. We really liked the idea of a fully bilingual school, but the more we asked around the more we leaned toward Victoria Robbins School, the English language school.
Every single comment that I’ve ever read or heard about Victoria Robbins School has been glowing. Parents, students, and teachers love the school. It actually reminds us a lot of our school back in Portland, CLASS Academy. It is a small school (about 65 students) with age-blended classes, is ethnically diverse, project-based, and a close-knit community. It’s not a bilingual school, but most of the kids speak Spanish fluently.
From the very first week, our son has been extremely enthusiastic about school. He enjoys all of his classes, loves all of his teachers, and gets along with all of his schoolmates. He’s made some very good friends. There are a few areas where the curriculum doesn’t quite meet Common Core Standards, but in general we feel it’s a solid education and his teachers have been surprisingly open to suggestions for touching on a few additional topics here and there. Their flexibility and commitment to their student’s education is evident and inspiring. We love that our son’s entire English class will be authoring their own novels during the course of the year. We also love that extra-curricular activities include community service, which happens to be the most popular option.
For now, the plan is to stay in San Miguel and keep our son at Victoria Robbins School. We will likely enroll him in a Spanish immersion class during the Summer break and we’ll probably supplement his math skills with something like DreamBox Learning. We’d also like to get him involved in some art classes and perhaps a soccer (futbol) team. We’re not sure how long we’ll stay in Mexico, if we’ll continue traveling after we leave, or if our next stop is moving back to the US. I guess only time will tell, but we feel confident that our son’s education has not suffered in any way because of our travels. In fact, we feel he’s experienced many things that others will only read about and he’s benefited in a way that will help him become a well-rounded, empathetic, adaptable, courageous, intelligent, curious, and independent young man.