Roadschool Lesson Ideas for the Traveling Family
There are paid, formal classes parents can take to fully equip themselves for becoming a teacher of their own children.
They cost money, are often impersonal, and anyone alive from the beginning of time through 1920 or so would laugh at the concept. You, as a parent, have all of the tools you need to teach your own children, the primary one being life experience. The secondary tool–one those Roaring 20’s Traveling Homeschoolers didn’t have–will be unlimited knowledge via the Internet.
Roadschooling is simply homeschooling, done from the road.
We’re not here to belittle any method of homeschooling, but after doing it now with three children between the grades of Pre-K through sophomore year in high school, we think we’re ready to impart a little simple wisdom.
What follows are ideas and specific information geared toward children in elementary school and younger. It does actually get quite more complicated as they approach 7th, 8th, 9th grade and beyond.
Brain Quest Reading, Writing & Arithmetic
- Time: 1 – 3 hours per day, 4 times per week. Only a portion of that should require your attention, you essentially spend 10 – 15 minutes an hour explaining concepts to children who then spend the remainder of the time working them out. They will have questions, you will have a varying degree of ability to answer them quickly. See below for more notes on teaching your kids these types of subjects.
- Cost: $7 – $20 / year
And any other subject for which you, the parent, are not an expert in. We handle this with workbooks like those provided by the Brain Quest franchise. They cover about a dozen subjects, from reading, writing and grammar to addition through multiplication, at all the various grade levels. They also touch on things like telling time, money and social studies. They’re a great place to start a conversation with your kids, to get them understanding the basics, and allowing your own pursuits to explore from there.
Our boys in particular also like these Star Wars workbooks, and once they’re 8 years old or able to read quite well, Word Ladders for spelling and critical thinking.
As your children get older, you may find yourself needing to brush up on things like, “What in the good name of Thor is a denominator again?” or “Yeah, possessive plural nouns, I totally don’t get that anymore…” When that becomes the case, this will take a bit more time than the 1 – 3 hours, since you’ll need to spend time remembering how it all works. And while you may be able to explain the concept of “Carry the 1, bud, clearly,” they may need your attention repeatedly throughout the lessons.
Teaching language and math is by far the most time consuming part of our homeschooling experience.
- Time: 1 – 3 hours per week. I find this a subject best suited to casual conversation over things they’re interested, because they heard it being discussed elsewhere, or because you’re in a town, museum, or national historic site where the subject matter is readily available and on display to them.
- Cost: Free
While the workbooks above will touch on this subject, I find the best way to get kids talking about what’s going on in society is to listen to the news. I prefer NPR, but also will allow Fox News Radio a few minutes of airtime and also listen to podcasts that discuss a variety of issues. I try to be careful not to expose them to too much, too young: all news is sensationalized these days and I’m not ready to discuss rape or mass genocide with an 8 year old. Still, when they hear something about the President of the moment or what Congress is or isn’t doing, and how the reporters react and discuss it, that opens up a lot of room to discuss things.
“Why are they always talking about black people?” “Why would anyone want slaves?” “What happens if we get into debt with China?” “What is debt?” These are all real questions I’ve been asked in the last six months. I don’t have all the answers, but I can at least give them the perspectives.
“Some people don’t like other people just because of the shade of skin they were born with. Some people who were born with that shade of skin are tired of being thrown in prison, looked down upon, and kept out of things just because of that. China is a country full of good people just like America is, and just like America, it’s full of people in power who abuse that. Except, they don’t get to vote, or choose how many kids they have.” You don’t have to be a master at social science to just have a conversation.
As a relatively liberal person, I am no doubt providing an ample stream of bias to my way of thinking, but I do find it interesting that–even without any prompting–children will typically understand some basic truths.
“I like Abraham Lincoln better than George Washington,” my 8 year old said a couple of months ago.
“Why?” I prodded.
“Abraham Lincoln didn’t have slaves.”
A Presidential Inauguration was a great way to discuss how the government works. The reason people vote for different presidents, or congresspeople, and looking at it as an attempt not to indoctrinate your children into your specific way of thinking, but to give them some modicum of what the different sides and multitudes of groups want, and why, is a beautiful way to help your kids grow into what will hopefully be a future generation not so drastically polarized that nothing real ever gets done in Washington — or your home state — without being undone 4 years later.
Holidays like Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, Pride celebrations, Veterans Day and even Halloween and Christmas can be excellent opportunities to discuss different ethnic, political and religious concepts with your children, to whatever degree you feel they are ready to hear.
Get a Hobby with Your Kids
- Time: An hour or so a day, as often as you’d like.
- Cost: Depends on the hobby. From example below, Legos cost big money, about $30 a set, but once you have some you can reuse them forever. Skateboards cost $100 – $200, before pads and a helmet, which is another $100, but skateparks are usually free. Bicycles, Legoland and binoculars all cost more.
One of the best things about teaching your own kids is you don’t have to adhere to any specific rulebook. Well, maybe in some states. Local laws aside, though, finding common ground with your children can give you a way to not just spend more time with them and be their friend, it can make it easier to discuss a myriad of other things young people should learn.
Building Legos with your kids teaches practice, creativity, and how to follow instructions. Not to mention it’s super fun. If they haven’t played with Legos yet, tell them it’s like Minecraft but IRL and no programmer is there to limit their imagination. If they really dig it, there’s even a theme park. Which is, well, super awesome.
My kids and I go to skateparks. They like riding skateboards around, I love riding skateboards around. We get to spend time together, and we all learn to face our fears and try and push ourselves. It’s healthy, exciting and a great way to meet other people in your own community or as you travel around. For similar reasons, we enjoy canoeing, snowboarding and riding bicycles.
We also spend a lot of time birdwatching. Most kids won’t want to sit around and wait for birds all day, but as you spot one–even a robin–and take some time to look it up in a book like the Sibley Guide, they tend to get excited about learning different bits and pieces of why a bird has a certain color, shape of beak or why some fly more while others like to swim.
Find something you can get your kids behind that you also enjoy, and your time as a homeschooling parent becomes infinitely easier.
- Time: 1 or 2 hours per day, however often you’d like. The average American watches 32 hours of commercials every minute, I believe, so flipping the script to making TV time something that can become bonding, educational and less zombified is a win-win.
- Cost: Disney+ costs $7 / month, Netflix $9 / month, but you can find free content online, too, of course. It’s just not Mandalorian good…but that’s not what we’re discussing here anyway.
Well, more specifically video content online. TV works though, if you have it and know how to plan correctly, or your local On Demand is great. We have Disney+ where everyone from Neil deGrasse Tyson to Jeff Goldblum have shows that captivate and teach kids about things you may not have the knowledge or interest to explain. Nature shows? Kids love to see a jaguar fight an alligator. Wild Kratts and even Nature Cat, both on PBS, get kids excited in our natural world.
From documentaries on the American Revolution to cooking shows, television can be a great way to bond with your kid in a stress free environment that they may not even realize is “school” at all.
Educational TV Shows by Age:
- 2 – 6 Year Olds:
- Nature Cat
- Wild Kratts
- Disney Nature Documentaries
- The Magic Schoolbus
- 7 – 12 Year Olds:
- The World According to Jeff Goldblum
- The Cosmos
- Bill Nye the Science Guy
- Blue Planet
- Planet Earth
- Time: :30 minutes a week, when they get their allowance. But also, every time they go to spend their allowance, and have to subtract what they spent and think about how quickly it all goes.
- Cost: We pay our kids $1 per year old they are, per week. We also pay them an extra $1 / day if they meaningfully help with their baby brother, since that is the most responsibility they have at this age.
Money is, sadly or otherwise, a big part of life. Understanding how to make it, save it and spend it wisely is key to living a successful, comfortable life where you either make enough to get what you want or realize that you can be happy within the constraints of how much you do make.
I fully agree with an allowance. I also expect them to work for it. I not only expect them to do the chores they are given, but to do the daily things–picking up their own socks, washing their hands after using the bathroom, opening doors for others just to be polite, etc.–and hold them accountable for all of these actions. We give them $1 per week per age, and we started that around age 6 when they could actually do significant work and understand the consequences of being irresponsible. It’s kind of hard to expect a 4 year old to do the dishes, let alone not just leave his Lightning McQueen toys jammed into your next footstep.
As they got older, 8, 9, 10 and so on, we would have them keep track of their allowance–and what they would spend–in the back of a notebook, much like an old fashioned checkbook. This helps with math, spelling, and maturity in general.
When a 7 year old making $7 per week buys a $3 ice cream cone, they realize how quickly money can disappear relevant to how fast it comes in. I still buy them ice cream for fun, but every now and then it is good to have them buy something that isn’t just for themselves–and by that I mean a toy–so that they can see that one day you have to buy things like lemonade and grande double iced caramel macchiatos for yourself, so maybe figure out your needs vs. your wants vs. your really wants.
I also fine my kids. If they leave toys lying around now, at ages 8 and 10, I give them a warning. If they leave toys lying around every day, I start deducting $1 at a clip. And then make them write that down in their little checkbooks. They not only lose money, but then have to go and do math to record it. They learn fairly quickly this way. At least for a week or so, then it’s another Lego on the ground, another $1 fine.
Share Your Knowledge
- Time: 15 minutes or so whenever the opportunity arises.
- Cost: Nothing but your lifetime of experience.
“If the yellow light comes before the red light, what color comes before a green light?” “How does gas turn your car’s wheels?” “Why don’t people like carbs?”
All real questions asked to me during my time as a parent, and all great opening questions.
“You don’t need a light before green, can you tell me why?” Let their little brains spin.
“Well, basically your car’s engine explodes the gas to create pressure. That pushes pistons up and down, and those basically turn the axles between your cars wheels.”
“When you live a life where you sit around a lot, like my job, where I’m basically typing on a computer all day, you don’t burn as much energy as you take in. Calories are like gas in a car. Gas makes a car go, calories come from food and they make your body go. But carbs are evil because they taste great.”
I summarize, but you get the idea. As a person in general, I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia, but I don’t memorize every piece of information I’ve ever absorbed. Still, between that and a multitude of jobs over my life which ranged from janitor to pizza boy, web designer to writer, I have learned a thing or two and can do my best to impart that knowledge on them. Their questions are typically common knowledge anyway, but letting them know that I am unaware of an answer now and then helps to ground them in the reality that even when you’re an old man like me, you have more to learn.
Teaching kids to figure things out, to want to learn new stuff, that’s the whole goal in my homeschooling book.
Long drives across the country and short ones to the grocery store, hikes up a mountain and strolls around the neighborhood alike provide ample opportunity for you not only to impart some wisdom, but literally form the bonds that’ll keep them showing up for Thanksgiving dinner well into the 2030s.
- Time: 30 minutes or so of their time every day.
- Cost: Nothing.
There’s no point in one day learning advanced calculus if you can’t keep yourself focused and diligent enough to use it to your advantage. I believe that, before this futurist life where Roomba put Rosey the Robot out of work, adults gave their kids chores sheerly because the adults in question were too lazy to do the dishes, vacuum, work, paint the house, winterize the windows, mow the corn fields and rebuild their horse’s engine. These days, chores can not only relinquish parents from a lifetime of indentured servitude to their offspring, but it can also help them learn to manage their time, do what they need to get done, and know that if they don’t, some type of consequence may occur.
In real life, that consequence is failure. For a kid, it’s usually no chocolate after dinner or no screen time this evening.
Chores also help kids get out of creative mode and into details mode. It’s great to encourage your kid and tell them that every crappy stick figure they draw is awesome, or that the fact that they can ride a bike with one hand in the air is amazing, but a little bit of negative reinforcement helps them to learn that they don’t fart rainbows and sometimes things take dedication and more work than we’d like to get right. Having a kid wash dishes, only to realize they’re all still covered in goo and therefore wash them again, is a great lesson for them to learn.
National Parks, Museums and Aquariums
- Time: 1 or 2 hours a week, if you can.
- Cost: It’s $80 for an annual pass to the national parks, which is about the greatest deal ever known to man. Museums and aquariums cost more, but there are membership clubs that work nationwide as well.
These places come with built in lesson plans. Almost every national park, for example, has a Junior Ranger program. These are little booklets that they can bring along with them while you visit the scenic vistas, winding roads and historical sites within any given park, complete with specific lessons and activities based on that particular park. State parks often have these as well. It’s like a free lesson plan for the day, and barely even seems like school to many kids. They get a patch and/or badge when they complete the booklet.
Museums and aquariums sometimes have little packets like these as well, but even if they don’t, just walking through them and having your kids read or be read to the signage within the museum is a full on lesson. Note that we don’t recommend zoos, because animals in cages–including and especially birds–is super gross. Fish don’t have fur, so it’s not as bad, I guess. There are places you can go and see animals in their natural state, or get a dog if you want to have an animal succumb to your human overlording.
- Time: 1 – 3 hour per week or so, for a set number of weeks.
- Cost: Varies too greatly.
Just because you’re on the road, with no permanent location, doesn’t mean you can’t participate in activities in a community you’re visiting. It will take lots of planning, and for something like baseball, you’ll need to stick around one location for a few months. But there are plenty of things you can do that require less of a time commitment and less forethought.
- Skateboard camps are typically only a few days long.
- Summer camp is a no-brainer, your traveling kids will already be used to nature and all you need do is enroll them by the deadline. Plus, it’s an overnight affair so bonus vacation for mom and dad!
- Christian churches are often more than happy to accept traveling kids into their Vacation Bible School programs, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- Jiu Jitsu and karate classes often have no requirements that you stick around for any length of time, and aside from needing to buy the outfit up front, don’t really require any other type of commitment. They also don’t care where you live.
- Rec centers in small towns will have clubs you can join, or open swims.
- Libraries will often have events that anyone an attend.
- In smaller communities, where sports like soccer and baseball are community-driven rather than associated with a specific school, the organizers will sometimes be happy to have your kiddo join up. It’s more money for them, and more players in places that often don’t have enough. You should probably stick out the duration of the seasons, though, since a team relies on all of its players.
Best of all, your kids get to have some interaction with other kids in a way you may not be experiencing on the road. Mom and dad may make a friend or too, as well, and you may even find yourself accepted into the community in a way that you can’t find otherwise.
- Time: :15 minutes or more per day.
- Cost: $40 / year.
This is a podcast network specifically for kids, and ours love it. There are loads of stories and many of them are educational, such as Smash, Boom, Best, where the hosts pit various things against one another, like pizza vs. tacos, and have two different debaters engage in civil conversation about why they think there side should win.
- Time: Half an hour or so per class.
- Cost: Around $15 / class.
Outschool is an online learning platform, which uses Zoom, aimed at kids. Ours love the Lego Masters Class, in which the most amazing teacher ever gives them a weekly theme and they have 30 minutes to build whatever they can within that theme. They then judge one another’s creations through various rounds of semi-finals until one kid wins the championship each class. It’s awesome.
They have oodles of additional classes too, from more formal education to hangouts.
30 Minutes of Reading
- Time: 30 minutes every day.
- Cost: The cost of books, new or used, sometimes free.
Ideally, your kids will love to read. If they do, it’s great to encourage them to do so. My wife is more strict about what counts toward reading time, I don’t care if they read restaurant menus, comic books or whatever. If they enjoy it, and if it’s a bit of a challenge but not detrimental to their desire to read, it’s great in my book. But even as with adults, it can be difficult to find time to read, it’s great to kind of make your kids do it, while trying to keep it something they want to do, so that they can develop as great a desire to read their next book as they will easily have wanting to watch the next episode of their favorite TV show.
With all of the above, and not all of it every day even, we find that our kids are well-served in the education department, ahead of most traditionally schooled kids, and we only lose a modicum of hair arguing with them about why it’s important to learn.