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Homeschooling and travelling with children

Homeschooling with Parker FamilyWe met the Parker Family in Mallacoota, Australia just as we were loading up our bikes and getting ready to hit the road again. We later stayed with them at their home in Glenbrook, and got to explore the Blue Mountains. It was a pleasure spending time with them and we were interested to learn more about homeschooling as well as getting to know the family better.

The Parker family are Dad Chris, Mum Nicole, Brae aged 7 and Bronte aged 5. Chris and Nicole made the decision to homeschool two and a half years ago and are very pleased with the results. Nicole agreed to tell us more about it...

You are homeschooling, can you describe how it works?

For us it doesn't just look like doing school but at home. It’s quite different really. We do a little bit of formal-type book work, which we call 'table time', but other than that we read loads of ‘living’ books together and learn lots about the world that way. We also get out and about and just live life and respond to it together.

What made you decide to home school?

Brae catching a fish, Mallcoota 2009 In a nutshell, it seemed like a natural continuation of what we had been doing the first 5 years and Brae and Bronte’s lives. It was the best way we could help them to see and interpret the world through our worldview – Christian.

What are the benefits?

  • Continuing to be the greatest influence in their lives
  • Following their natural interests
  • Working at their skill level
  • Time efficiency
  • You know exactly what they’re being ‘fed’ and
    who’s impacting them

Music lessons - drummingThose who question or challenge the notion homeschooling, may ask 'What about being with other kids and learning to socialise, aren't they missing out?'

We meet with other people and children almost every day with sport, art, music, pottery, friends, community groups like bushcare, and church. They’re very well socialised and learn to relate to a wide range of ages and cultures – not just a same-age peer group.

What skills do you need to teach your own children?

Just a love of learning yourself really. Oh, and a big dose of patience – but same as any parent. You really don’t need to be a trained educator!

How are you measuring their progress? Do you follow a national curriculum?

We follow the NSW (New South Wales) curriculum for their 6 learning areas. I gauge progress by simply observing. I also digitally record lots of what they do/make. I keep all book work, art work etc. dated.

Homeschooling in front of the fireHow much time is dedicated to school? Can you describe a typical day?

Every day is different, but most days we start around 8.30am and work till lunch time (middayish). We sit and read together for ½ hour first – Bible, prayer, Brae and Bronte both read to me. Then we do Maths and literacy exercises (poetry, journal, handwriting etc).

After morning tea it’s musical instrument practise, some history/geography reading and narrating, and then we have a book we’ve been reading together chapter by chapter.

After lunch and a rest, it’s usually free play, sport groups, art or music lesson or community activities. This happens 4 out of 5 days a week. On Fridays we meet with our local homeschooling friends which is now a group of around 30 – 40 children.

How much preparation do you have to do?

Not very much once the resources are decided on. Maybe ½ day per week and then a bit at the start of every day.

Bronte learning in the great outdoorsWhat materials do you have?

Things I’ve been recommended by other Homeschoolers, things found in local educational supplier bookshops, education catalogues, homeschooling websites, general research on internet, the local library, things from here, there and everywhere really. Oh and lots of chats with other homeschooling parents – journeying together with a community of homeschoolers is important.

As you are both a parent and teacher, with the children 24/7, when do you get a break from being mum? Do you get chance to do have time to yourself, for a hobby or socialising?

I don’t often feel I need a ‘break’ from being a Mum – it’s one of the things I most love being. Brae and Bronte are quite good now at giving me space when I need it. I can get out at night if I want to. Occasionally, Chris will mind them for a day, while I go and have fun.

What advice would you give to parents who are considering homeschooling?

Try it, it’s wonderful. Ignore the blank stares and sometimes negative comments and confidently go for it.

Can you describe the benefits of homeschooling for you as a family?

We’ve become so close and enjoy each other’s company. We all get to spend so much more time together and don’t feel like life is whizzing by too fast. Oh and you can also you can take holidays in off-peak times away from crowds (and meet and connect with great people touring on their bikes)!

Learning outdoorsDo you have more freedom as a family in terms of how your organise your daily lives? For example do you work to a normal term time with holidays?

We’re very flexible. We just work around our family holidays, family events – weddings, funerals etc. we do tend to stick close to school terms and holidays because all the organised activities shut down at the end of term, and we’re all ready for a break around then anyway.

Do you envisage the children going to school (in the traditional sense) in the future?

We always said we’d take it a year at a time. Two and a half years in, it’s going so well I don’t think we’ll consider school until early secondary school if all keeps going well.

When the children were a little younger you went on a road trip together, can you say what that was like, where you went and for how long?

We travelled over 10,000kms over 7 weeks from the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney to Uluru and Alice Springs in Central Australia, then Flinders Ranges and then back along southern Victoria and onto Gippsland. It was one of the best things we’ve ever done together and changed our thinking in many ways – especially in terms of what ‘stuff’ you think that you need to fill your life with.

Camping road trip with kids

Can you describe the benefits of travelling, for the children and for you as a family?

A shared experience and shared memories is a precious bond for any family or anyone. We still look back 3 years on and remember fondly together.

What would you say are the main challenges of travelling with children?

Occupying them in the car for hours on end, day after day, you have to be creative. I tried to find something new for them every long car day – new stickers, crayons, pipe cleaners etc. not being able to control noisy environments when trying to get them to sleep was hard too. Also, making the effort to get to these places you know you probably won’t ever have the chance to visit again, and not being able to see everything you would like to because the walk is too long or the car travelling distance too great.

Would you consider going away with the children for several months to travel and see places? If so, where would you like to go?

The Parkers aim to tread lightly on this beautiful earth leaving as light a footprint as we possibly can. So we try to limit travel – especially planes. So, local travel is good and provides plenty of opportunity. This probably means we won’t leave Australia. There’s so much beauty here, so that’s fine by us. Like you, we dream of doing a cycling tour when Brae and Bronte are a little older. We love to paddle our kayaks, so maybe we could explore some river systems etc. too. We’ve talked about showing them the Great Barrier Reef one day. But, YES! I’d always consider travelling for months on end to explore more with the family.

Little crocs in the red dustA final word...

I think a couple of things we can really do for our children are to be proactive in our parenting, turn off the TV and game machines to allow them to explore the scope of their imaginations and the world around them. Secondly, spend time with them. Homeschooling and travelling achieves both these things.

Huge thanks to Nicole Parker for taking the time to share her story.

All photography © Parker Family

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