Day 14 of living out of our Jeep as full-time overlanders. We finally slowed down enough to spend two nights in the same place, without moving our vehicle (aka our home) anywhere.
I laid a picnic blanket on the rocky desert floor and called it Caspian’s Corner (my four-year-old loves alliteration). For the first time, I lugged out Caspian’s Box, a giant tupperware container of arts and crafts supplies, books, toys, and loose play items.
I showed Caspian something I’d been saving, a booklet of handwriting sheets. You know, the kind with lines you use when you’re learning how to write. It had the musty smell of the 1970s and my mother-in-law’s garage where I found it.
I just wanted him to see it and know what it was. I figured he’d decide when he was ready to use it.
But he was ready, right then. He asked to do letter writing, so I wrote each letter at the beginning of each line for him to copy.
And he did. He spent at least half an hour writing letters using the lines as guidance, and then he chose to write some numbers.
When he was finished with the handwriting book, he made a discovery. To his delight, he found out I had packed his dry erase board and markers in Caspian’s Box.
There was an exciting connection to make because the board also had lines that showed where to begin and finish letters. This time without anything from me to copy, he spent another 15 minutes or so writing his favorite letters (he skipped the ones he didn’t like as much, like G and J).
Self-directed learning needs a vacuum
You know how it often is. You have two weeks of vacation time, or one day at the national park where there’s so much to see. To make the most of your time, you plan ahead and try to stay on the schedule you set.
As Eric and I marveled at the extensive time our four-year-old spent writing letters out in the desert–COMPLETELY by his own choice–we made an important realization. Caspian’s self-directed learning could only take place when we were intentional about making room for it.
We had been traveling so often since we moved into our Jeep that free time had been rare. We were always doing something, going somewhere.
It wasn’t until we slowed down and had “nothing to do” that Caspian could choose what HE wanted to do. And what he wanted to do was practice writing.
Learning can look like all kinds of things
During 2020, I spent a lot of time researching, in order to define my philosophy of education. We plan to homeschool (roadschool, worldschool) Caspian, and I want a firm handle on the guiding lights that will influence everything we do to teach him.
In that process of research, I gave unschooling an in-depth look for the first time. Though I homeschooled through 12th grade before attending The University of Texas at Austin, I’d had preconceived notions about unschooling since I first heard about it a few years ago. I saw it in a negative light.
But the more I learned, the more I agreed with the central tenants of unschooling. My mom actually incorporated a lot of the unschooling philosophy into my growing-up, even though we didn’t use the term ‘unschooling.’
There’s no concise, universally accepted definition of unschooling. But I’d define it as self-directed learning from the life happening all around a child, with a careful respect for play and family relationships.
While I haven’t fully “converted” to unschooling, I have made a lot of changes to my thinking about education. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend the blog “Happiness Is Here.” I’ve read all of Sara’s posts about unschooling.
One thing I’ve embraced is that learning doesn’t have to mean curriculum at a desk with a pencil. In fact, it rarely looks like that.
So even though Caspian did want to sit and write the alphabet in the story above, learning often looks different for him. It looks like playing, helping around camp, having a conversation.
Making room for learning
Travel is a beautiful opportunity to broaden a child’s mind. We can immerse ourselves in history, meet new people, and consider new ideas. But I believe having a regimented itinerary that leaves no room for children’s input is not the most effective way to use travel for learning.
If you too have an intense desire to see your child learn and grow, then evaluate your pace of travel. How are you leaving room for self-directed learning?