Roadschooling for Elementary-Aged Children

two young boys working on junior ranger badges in Florida

By

“But, I’m not qualified to be a teacher,” you say.

“Bullarky,” is my reply. After ten years of traveling around and teaching children from birth through sixteen years old now, I can tell you that it would take a special kind of person to not be able to teach their own kids on the road, especially young, elementary school aged children. In fact, I’d argue that there is absolutely no one more qualified to teach your own kids than you.

You’re with them nearly 24/7 after all, aren’t you? You know there interests, their strengths and weaknesses, and road schooling your own kids comes with the secondary benefit of teaching both the young ones and their new teacher one of the most valuable lessons of all, patience!

Now, I have a great respect for teachers. They work for little pay, and essentially are society’s babysitters. In addition to the real lessons they teach, they must be able to handle all of our children’s varied attitudes, fits, tantrums and do so in a way that accommodates the quickest learners and those that need more time simultaneously. It’s no easy job.

Luckily, you won’t be dealing with strangers’ kids. You’ll be focused on yours and yours alone. If little Johnny needs more time learning the different sounds of the alphabet but Suzy Q just soaks it all right up, you can adjust for each of them. Similarly, just because a class of twenty or thirty kids requires seven hours a day, five days a week in a traditional school setting, that doesn’t mean you need to run an 8am to 3pm schoolhouse out of your RV or van. When you embrace the journey, you can make any moment in time a chance to learn something valuable–be it mathematics or just a general interest in curiosity.

After all, kids who are curious tend to learn more easily, and curiosity is less a natural born instinct than being able too see how magically interesting the world is.

While we break things up according to the level of difficulty below, we first wanted to comment on one of the most enjoyable ways for homeschooling families to cover a plethora of subjects without anyone even realizing they’re participating in “school” — America’s National Parks!

Roadschooling in National Parks of the United States

a collection of junior ranger badges and patches hung on a curtain of an airstream
Collecting Junior Ranger Badges across the US.

Aside from being drop dead gorgeous and arguably the most peaceful areas in this nation, nearly every National Park (and many National Monuments) have Junior Ranger Programs. These are workbooks designed for children of often specific ages, but can of course be as malleable to your young ones as living on the road requires.

These books encourage children to hit the trails, explore their campsite, and take a closer look at the park they’re visiting. They almost always integrate some form of art, reading, science and history into a fun little workbook that kids can finish and turn in for a badge, patch or both. We’ve yet to meet a family on the road who didn’t do–and love–the Junior Ranger Programs.

Many state park systems will have them as well.

Beyond these programs, most National Parks, Monuments and Historic Sites will also have a visitor center where kids can do everything from touch a owl’s wing to watch a video on the park’s subject matter.

Simply put, National Parks make the best schoolyards! Please, just remember to follow every rule of the leave no trace principles, especially the part about leaving it cleaner than you found it! Picking up a bag of trash is one of the best lessons in Social Studies your kids may ever learn.

Reading & Writing

No doubt one of the two most important skills one will ever learn, alongside mathematics, many children experience difficulties learning to read and write in a traditional setting, only to discover that with a tutor and given their own pace, they not only can more easily learn this every day use skill, but actually enjoy it.

a young man learning to read
Our middle son, learning to read in Tulum, Mexico somewhere in his 5th year.

My attitude toward reading (and most other subjects, actually) was influenced greatly by watching our oldest son attending kindergarten at a Waldorf School. If you’re not familiar, Waldorf Schools put an emphasis on taking things at every individual child’s pace, and stress creative thinking far more than memorization and principles. It worked wonders, and all three of my children have been allowed to choose when they wanted to learn to read.

Beginning with the alphabet, we spent only as much time every day as they were interested. Every one of them are prolific readers for their ages, and in all three cases significantly “ahead of the curve.” Again, I don’t stress that this is important–it’s not about what specific amount of days since a child’s birth have passed before they must learn to read, but about when they’re ready. I have simply noticed that when these principles are followed, all three of our boys have wanted to read and still love doing it to this day.

Real Roadschooling Lessons for Reading and Writing

Learning the Alphabet

Difficulty: Easy

This is the first step in learning to read and write, and there are a plethora of ways to make learning your letters enjoyable for kids.

We began by learning just one letter per day, beginning with the capital letters. Buy a composition notebook and write the letter A at the size you want your child to write it in the book as well. Then draw a few simple pictures: an ape, alien and angel, for example. Note I didn’t choose axe or alligator, but all words that begin with the “long A” sound. Take it one sound at a time. This type of picture, sound and shape association works wonders. As you progress through the alphabet, you can review the previous letters you’ve worked on as well, maybe only drawing two, then one associative drawing for these ones. While this all takes considerably more time than just buying a workbook and letting that lead the way, it gives you and your child a teacher / student relationship that can continue through later years and lessons, and allows you to tailor early learning to the specific characters, creatures or activities they personally enjoy.

Once they seem to have the basics down, there’s a pretty solid set of workbooks that our kids find relatively enjoyable, by the name of BrainQuest, which not only does the job for “Pre-K” or “Kindergarten” but keeps on going through the years.

Brain Quest on Amazon

Get Brain Quest for “Preschoolers” on Amazon.

brainquest workbook for kindergarten
Get Brain Quest for “Kindergarten” on Amazon.

Perfect for travel days, these cards are a fun way to help your kids gain knowledge while you drive. For ages 2 – 3 and 3 – 4.

The Sign Game

Difficulty: Medium

As your youngsters get a decent grasp on their letters, or at least are beginning to get there, the classic roadtrip “sign game” is a fun way to pass time while you’re actually driving. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, it’s rather simple: as you drive down the highway look for signs. Start with the letter “A”. When you spot an “A”, move on to B. Traditionally, everyone is supposed to play for themselves, but young kids just learning the alphabet will have a harder time so we play together as a team. You’re also only supposed to count the first letter of a sign, but we began by all playing as a team and any letter “A” would count, as long as a parent saw it too. That’s just to avoid the temptation to cheat now that it’s more of a game than what most kids would associate with a school lesson. “When you see the letter, just say what color sign it’s on,” is usually enough to keep them honest.

As they come to know every letter more intimately you can start adding in the first letter and make it every kid for themselves, if you’d like.

Reading and Writing Workbooks Your Kids Will Love

Difficulty: Medium

You can certainly get creative as well with the workbooks, for example our boys are significantly into Star Wars, so we found these books and they actually ask if they can do them, regardless of whether it’s “school time” or not.

Star Wars Reading & Writing Work Books on Amazon

Star Wars World of Reading

Star Wars 1st Grade Writing Skills

Star Wars 1st Grade Reading

Do some digging and you’ll find similarly themed books that touch on everything from unicorns to fairy tales to adventure series to space.

Learning to Read Independently

Difficulty: Medium

The first stage in learning to read on your own, aside from knowing the basic sounds most words make, is wanting to read on your own. Again, the Junior Ranger programs and national and state parks have worked well for us here, because our kids want to do them at the same time (and I want to do them with both of them together!)

This causes competition when one child needs more help than another, and I’ve found leads the one who isn’t being helped at the moment try and read on his or her own. Comic books are another great way to encourage independent reading, since they come in every variety from Micky Mouse to Spiderman, and a variety of difficulties. They’re essentially short books with lots of fun pictures and though children will be tempted to just look at the pictures to figure out the story, eventually they’ll want to read the story as well, and the pictures just help them through that while mom or dad has a minute to relax, watch the road, or help another sibling.

Full on Independent Reading

Once again, focusing on your kid’s interest is going to work wonders here. We bought some easy to read books for our 7 year old, with a theme he should have enjoyed. And he straight up refused to even try to read them. He made up excuses, like they were for babies (they weren’t) and that they were too hard (they weren’t.)

We didn’t push the subject from there. He wasn’t forced to spend 20 minutes a day reading them. The books just sat there in the art bag and he would pick it up now and then, only to toss it aside and draw instead. Not the worst thing. But one day, when his little brother showed interest in the books (they were too difficult for him, but he’s more into pushing himself) he realized he might like to take a stab at it. He read two of the books that day alone and was so proud he wanted to read them again to us.

Beginner's Reading on Amazon

I Like Bugs: Very Easy.

Clone Troopers in Action: Medium

Basketballs Greatest Players: Difficult

Mathematics

You may notice a rather laid back, perhaps seemingly even lackadaisical approach to our homeschooling techniques. This is not because we don’t believe in kids learning, it’s because we want to make sure they want to learn. Curiosity is a better teacher than eight years of expensive higher education, in my opinion.

That said, aside from reading, I see math as the most important, most used function in real life for children and adults alike. To that end, we take it relatively seriously. At the same time, it’s one of the subjects kids can easily learn to hate. So once more, we’ll try and keep it interesting for them.

Counting M&Ms

Difficulty: Easy

Buy a bag of M&Ms, or the small, lots-in-a-bag candy of your choice. M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces are good because they have a lot of different colors and I think chocolate and peanut butter are better for kids than say, whatever Skittles are made of.

“Can you count five red M&Ms?” Then watch little Johnny give is a try.

“How about ten yellow M&Ms?”

“Put two blue M&Ms in a pile and three red M&Ms.” Wait for that to happen. “Which one is more?”

“If you take away three of the yellow M&Ms in that pile, how many are left?”

It’s fun, it’s an introduction to not only counting but the concept of subtraction and addition, and you can decide how often they get to eat their homework. Take that, dogs!

Lego Brick Top Counting

Difficulty: Easy

If your kids dig the little plastic building blocks that ours (and just about every kid we’ve ever met) do, then this is a fun one, too. We try and sneakily make it about multiplication, without ever using that big word at all.

Firstly, get a bin full of just simple Lego bricks. Not the Harry Potter castle pieces or horses or curved space ship stuff, just the square and rectangular pieces. Some will be two rows by four, some one row by six, some are just one “dot” on the top, and so on.

a young boy eating and playing legos
Our youngest. He’s doing more posing for the camera here than anything else…

“How many rows does this brick have?” “How many dots all together?” Get them acquainted with the concept of rows and dots, then move into more complicated questions like, “If this brick has two rows, and each one has four dots, how many dots all together?” It’s doubtful they’ll just come right out and say, “Eight!” That doesn’t matter. We’re not teaching them to memorize multiplication tables. We’re asking them to count Lego brick tops. I often phrase it like, “Okay we’re going to sort out some Legos so that we can have piles that are the same. So these ones are 2-by-4s and these ones are 1-by-6s,” and make it all about the cool things we’ll build when we’re done. I do it for as long as they’re interested, and soon enough they begin to memorize, “2-by-4s have 8 dots.” It’s subtle, and fun. No one even suspects it’s school and when it’s all said and done they can build a cool race car or castle instead of filling up on M&Ms all day long. 🙂

Addition and Subtraction with Money

Difficulty: Medium

Kids dig money. Before they understand what each piece is worth, it’s fascinating stuff. “Can I buy a bike with this handful of pennies?” “Is this little silver one enough to get an ice cream with?”

We began with just coins, as it’s easier to part with them, and we even used them as incentive: if you get the lesson right, you can keep some of the coins.

As we all know as adults, coins come in 1, 5, 10 and 25 cent pieces (primarily, I don’t run across many 50 cent pieces or gold dollars in regular life.) This makes learning addition and subtraction a bit easier, since they can deal with less numbers initially. It also introduces them to the concepts of counting by 5s and 10s.

Some examples?

Lay a nickel on the table and a pile of pennies. “This nickel is worth five cents. How many pennies do we need to equal it?”

“If I have a dime and you have three nickels, who’s got more money?”

You can then slowly advance the concepts, “If a Hershey bar costs 9 cents, and you have a dime, how much money would you get back?” You can choose whether you begin with just calling them all 10 cent pieces and 5 cent pieces or if you want to use the terms nickel and dime. Our kids found learning that nickel equals five and quarter equals 25 more difficult at first, so we worked that in and out of the lessons until they got the concept. Actually, they still don’t all have it down. 😛

Quarters are going to be the hardest, but they’re great for introducing fractions. “A quarter means 1 out of 4, or one-fourth. So anytime you have a quarter, if you had three more you’d have a whole.”

“A whole what?” they’ll ask you.

“A whole dollar.”

“Whoa.”

With that, you can transition into…

Telling Time

Difficulty: Medium

Telling time may not immediately seem like math, but aside from being a basic life skill that’s quickly being lost to the iPhone’s digital screen, it is certainly math. It’s 4:30 and you’ve got a meeting at 6, how much time is in between? How much time do you have to watch Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on Youtube though, if your commute to said meeting is going to take 20 minutes. What if there’s traffic? Okay, forget the traffic bit…

Now that you’ve taught them about quarters, you can use the 15 minute quarters in an hour to explain how a “quarter” is not always 25, but instead 1/4th of whatever the “whole” is. Bust the M&Ms back out and lay four down. “What is a quarter of these four M&Ms?” Do the same thing with eight of them. You can do this with a pie, too. Grab their favorite pie, uncut, and cut it into four pieces. Then into twelve pieces. Ask them each time how many pieces make up one quarter of the pie. Then, eat the pie.

Once they grasp that, get an old fashioned clock with a face on it and show them how you can split it into four parts. “A quarter of one hour, which is the whole, is fifteen minutes. So when you hear someone say, ‘It’s a quarter to 1,’ that means it’s 15 minutes until 1 o’clock.”

Simple math can follow, “If your favorite YouTube video is five minutes long, and you’ve got ten minutes until bed time, how many times can you watch it?”

“If it’s 2 o’clock now, and it will take 2 hours to get to Utah, what time will we get there?” Help them along. Point it out on the clock. Get them familiar with how it works, and then dive right into, “It will take us 15 minutes to walk this trail, and we want to finish by 3 o’clock. When should we leave?” when they’re ready.

The likelihood your children will need an old school clock in their lives is slim given our new digital world. Then again, being the only adult in 2050 who knows how to tell time may just win you that last ticket on the escape pod to Mars.

Solving Math Problems

Difficulty: Hard

Once our kids had the basic concepts of counting down, we just made our own “workbooks.” It’s easy enough to write down 20 problems, from 2+3 progressing to 7+4 and on to doing two column, double digit math and so on. I favor this over workbooks any day because you’ll quickly learn which numbers and combinations your child has issues with, and can work on and / or around that. As you get into double digits, you can explain concepts like how everything is essentially 0 – 9, and when you get to 10, you’re just starting over with 11 – 19, 20 – 29, and so on. They’ll get this eventually and you can move onto 100s.

Once we hit the 100s with our kids, they went nuts wanting to learn big numbers. “What’s a million thousand plus to bagillion?”

“Those aren’t numbers.”

“Why not?”

“So glad you asked!”

Developing the curiosity is as important as putting in the actual problem solving.

At that point, you can introduce them to more abstract concepts as well, like, “If you and your brother find a treasure chest with ten gold doubloons in it, and you want to split them up evenly, how many do you each have?”

Or, “If you can ride your bike 10 miles per hour, and you have to go 20 miles, how many hours will it take you?”

If you feel like this stuff is rudimentary, and any parent should know it, you’re probably all set to take your kids’ math levels to whatever your own are. If you didn’t realize all of this, don’t worry, neither did we until we trial and errored our way to watching our own kids love to figure things like this out.

Other fun ways to learn math concepts, easy and difficult, include using a tape measure, watching for speed limit signs and then telling them what your speedometer reads, “What? It’s 65 miles per hour and you’re going 67! That’s 2 too many. The police are going to get us!”

Science

When you veer away from the standard things we all tend to know–reading, writing and math–and into more specialized subjects, things can start to feel a bit more frightening. Do you really know the difference between limestone and sandstone? A fir tree and a pine? Did birds evolve from dinosaurs or did I make that up?

Well, maybe you do. Maybe you’re a stone mason and so you sure as sheetrock know the differences between certain types of rock. Maybe you’re an arborist and so you know your plants. Maybe you’re a Jurassic Park fan and know everything about dinosaurs.

three young boys playing in the tide
Watching the tide roll in and out makes for fun sand castle destruction. Toss in a quick lesson on gravity and the moon and voila, you’re a teacher!

Use that! Teaching what you know gets your kids interested in what you’re interested in, and can make for much more entertaining and fulfilling relationships than trying to plow through a bunch of stuff you could care less about…and they’ll realize that, likely tilting them toward disdain for science as well.

Luckily, roadschooling opens you up to a world of learning that can happen for you and your child at the same time. Here are a few ways to make learning about all types of sciences–from biology to geography, geology to dendrology–easy, affordable and more of a fun day out than a long hard hitting of the books.

Science Museums!

Difficulty: Easy to Advanced

three boys playing near a whale statue
Playing at the whale sanctuary in Guerro Negro, Baja California, Mexico.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers is a program by which you purchase a membership at a particular museum and then get access to museums all over the country, even the world.

For example, you can go to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in Colorado or the Aerospace Discovery at Florida Air Museum, purchase a membership with them, verify they are still a part of the ASTC, and bam, you now have access to literally hundreds of museums. California alone has 31 museums participating in the program, and they are not only in nearly every state (the official list changes every six months), but in countries around the world, including Canada, Australia, Bermuda, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Trinidad & Tobago…the list goes on.

Important note! There are restrictions, two in particular to consider when thinking about where you’ll purchase your initial membership.

  1. Science museums within 90 miles of the museum you originally purchased your membership in are excluded. So if you purchase your membership at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas, for example, you wouldn’t be able to use it to gain free admission to the Children’s Museum in the same city.
  2. Museums within 90 miles of your residence are excluded. Of course, full-time travelers don’t really have a “residence,” so it’s likely they’ll base this off of the address on your driver’s license. Also note that “90 miles” is measured as the crow flies, not by what Google Maps or your GPS says is 90 miles of driving distance.

Those are minor limitations for big rewards, though, and this program is all about travelers. To get an idea, in our first example, if you bought your membership in Denver at the Museum of Nature & Science, the “Family” membership costs $109.95, which gets in two adults and all of their children. If you bought it at the Aerospace Discovery at Florida Air Museum, that’ll run you $100, and at Witte Museum in San Antonio you’re looking at $95 per year. For around a hundred bucks, you get access to museums all over the nation, free of any additional charge. You can’t even replace the screen on an iPad for that much money and your kids may even start asking if they can put there own screen down and hit the museums more often to boot.

National Parks

Difficulty: Easy to Medium

We’ve touched on the parks earlier in this article, but they’re no doubt a plethora of information–and access to every single national park, most monuments and a bunch of other “park units” costs a whopping $80 per year.

Whether you want to study the inner workings of a supervolcano in bustling Yellowstone or gaze at the Milky Way in Hovenweep National Monument, the opportunities for learning in our nation’s parks are endless, and beautiful at that.

Life is Science

Difficulty: Easy to Advanced

Daily life also provides a plethora of opportunities to sneak in a science lesson. Physics can be taught by hanging a hammock or skipping stones on a lake. Chemistry can be found in mixing oil and gas for a two stroke motor. Astronomy needs little more materials to make up a lesson than traveling to the next solar eclipse or watching how the moon affects the tides. Teaching kids to identify a problem, gather data on the problem at hand, create a hypothesis and then test it to discover the results can happen in every scenario from building a sand castle to watching leaves fall from the trees. Science is a desire to take curiosity and turn it into observation, and there’s no lab coat required at a young child’s age.

Geography

There is no subject more appropriate to a traveler’s life than geography. So how that is the one subject our oldest did poorly on when taking the Iowa Standardized Tests (he took them, just because) baffles me. Nevertheless, we’ve come up with a slew of fun ways to learn about the shape of the earth’s natural features and the imaginary lines we’ve created to help us all figure out where to tell grandparents to send their cards.

Map Puzzles

Difficulty: Easy

Puzzles help kids understand spacial recognition, patience, and are just darn appealing to many a youngster. Get young children one of those wooden puzzles where each state is a piece and watch them figure out the differences between Texas and New England (hint: the Bushes are from both.)

Dry Erase Maps

Difficulty: Easy

We’ve spent hours highlighting the places we’ve gone, talking about which states we loved and why, and discussing the difference between the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the subtropical climate of Florida and the deserts of the Southwest with our kids on this same dry erase map that sticks to your wall (better suited for RVs perhaps than vanlifers).

Where a puzzle helps them understand the shapes and locations of states, playing with these maps gives them the ability to see how things interact in an unlimited way. Would it be easier to cross the Rockies or dip into the desert? Where are the cities and why? What is above and below the US, and how quickly can we get there?

Reading an Atlas

Difficulty: Medium

While paper maps kill trees and using your phone is just so easy these days, there’s still something beautiful about knowing how to read an atlas. Most of them come with fun facts–state birds or flowers, for example–the real fun is looking at the roads, determining not just the quickest route, but the one that might be the most enjoyable. Will this backroad take us through some gorgeous Connecticut stone wall-lined countryside or could a diversion around Phoenix land us next to a refreshing reservoir where we can spend the day swimming?

What are all of these little red numbers? Why do exit numbers count down as you go south and west? While Google will get you where you think you want to go, Rand McNally will show you places you may never have heard of.

a map of mexico
Highlighting where we’ve traveled in Mexico.

Reading an Trail Map

Difficulty: Medium

On a smaller scale, and something the internet has yet to do quite as well as roadmaps, learning to read a trail map not only provides for breaks between all of those long, hard steps for little legs, it may just save your child’s life someday. At the very least, it’ll help them understand what’s ahead, where they are, and how much longer until they can open another Cliff bar or bag of trail mix. Understanding the trail you’re on, no matter how short (well, maybe not the 0.1 nature loop behind the visitor center) is a valuable, responsible way to approach exploring nature and understanding your bearings will lead young adventurers to grow into powerful explorers one day should they so choose.

Nearly every trail in every national park, national forest, state park, etc. will have a map available somewhere, whether it be a visitor center or nearby book store. This can be turned into a double lesson, one that involves the value of supporting our national treasures through small purchases like the very trail maps we speak of here.

Orienteering

Difficulty: Medium

While reading a map is certainly a part of orienteering, the real fun is learning how to read a compass and use that to navigate a map when you’re not on a clearly marked trail.

Right alongside that are the valuable, and rarely taught nowadays, skills of understanding how to use sunrise and sunset, the north star, and other landmarks to determine direction.

These are basic, simple skills–once you understand them. Understanding where Orion and the Big Dipper are in the sky, relative to the North Star, is more difficult to learn than you might think. Knowing that the sun sets in the west is a given for nearly every human, sure, but what if you don’t know if it’s 10am or 2pm. Learning these skills for yourself and imparting them on your children will help them be more aware of how the natural world can work for us, and give them a better respect of wild areas they may grow up desperate to explore on their own one day.

History & Social Studies

Difficulty: Easy to Advanced

They say that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Well, most people get it wrong but that’s what philosopher George Santayana said originally. Then again, Winston Churchill claimed that history is written by the victors. While it’s not always so easy to know the truth, at least attempting to grasp our past gives us the ability to contemplate it.

We won’t get into a ton of detail about our personal thoughts on how history has been recorded, but as with science above, the ASTC national (and worldwide) museum membership is a great way to get access to hundreds of museums for around $100 per year, per family.

National Historic Sites are another enjoyable, easy way to access history, and many include admission with your national park annual pass ($80 / year). There are around 140 of these, broken up into National Historic Sites and National Historical Parks.

Historic sites tend revolve around places of particular importance in US history, such as the first railroad through the Allegheny Mountains, the homes of famous writers or politicians, or important trading posts in the US. They are typically easy to digest in a day and tend to cover a singular topic. A complete list of all national park units, with descriptions, can be found on Wikipedia.

Park units with the designation National Historic Park are typically larger than historic sites, and focus on more than one singular location or a considerably more important location, for example where Abraham Lincoln was born and raised, various sites key to the American Revolution in Boston, or important sites in the Wright Brothers’ first flights.

Even one step above these are National Monuments, some of which feel like full blow National Parks, and often commemorate indigenous people from the Ancestral Puebloans to Native Americans, or preserve some special combination of history and natural beauty, such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In addition to providing historical cookies dipped in milk, they tend to outshine true National Parks in one way: significantly less visitors means more time for you and your youngsters to explore without bumping elbows with the next family of roadschoolers.

Art

two boys drawing in camping chairs
Working on something big…

In our family, art is no less a subject than anything else covered here. Expressing yourself through drawing, learning to paint with different materials, or (though we are not particularly blessed with) playing music all plays a vital role in the human spirit’s ability to keep on keepin’ on. Luckily, it’s one of the easier ones for children to dive into, and one nearly all of them enjoy. Some of our favorites…

Recycling & Reusing Existing Stuff

Difficulty: Easy

Combo lessons are the best. Anytime you receive a package from Aunt May or Uncle Amazon, give the kids the box and see what they come up with. The only thing better than recycling is watching a child’s imagination reuse what would quickly become garbage and instead turn it into a fort or a spy glass, a pirate sword or a wizard’s wand.

a young boy creating things from sticks and string and tape
Winter, our 7 year old, loves creating things out of scraps of whatever he can find.

Graph Paper

Difficulty: Easy

While we’re a “you don’t have to color in the lines” family, there is something inherently enjoyable about the structure graph paper provides. Teach your kids how to create a maze or design a treehouse, and watch their wheels spin as they come up with ideas you may never have even imagined.

Origami

Difficulty: Medium to Advanced

There are tons of books out there that focus on origami, and after our 7 year old fell in love with folding paper thanks to an episode of Art for Kids Hub (highly recommend!), he saw this book in a book store in quaint little Cottonwood, Arizona, and the combination of playing with dad’s money and making it into everything from a butterfly to a stand up George Washington. Origami combines skills like patience and precision with learning how to follow directions and then break those directions with personal choices. Nothing is better than watching a child understand this basic principal of all art: first you have to learn how art works, then you can break the rules and make your own masterpiece.

Duct Tape, Sticks, String and Tarps

Difficulty: Easy to Advanced

We don’t “teach” this to our kids. They simply want to do it. I can’t keep a roll of duct tape around long enough to fix anything, and when string, tarps and sticks are thrown into the mix, our kids have made everything from forts they beg to sleep in to bows and arrows to boats. I prefer not to give them any direction at all, and only help when they ask for it…and even then, when asked, “How can I do this?” my favorite response is, “How do you think you can do it?”

Legos

Difficulty: Medium to Advanced

Legos are just toys, so kids have absolutely no idea they’re in school at all, but these little bricks not only capture their imaginations, they teach them how to follow instructions, and then how to smash it all to pieces and create something of their own. Legos have grown significantly more advanced in all of the working, moving parts from when we were kids, and that is awesome. Watch your kid put together an X-wing with real moving wings, and then watch as they learn to reuse what the instructions have told them to create little works of wonder all on their own.

Side lessons? Nothing is permanent, everything can be improved, and having a toy that can be nearly infinite combinations of other toys is better than having only a few in this small, mobile lifestyle we live in.

Spanish

Difficulty: Advanced

We spent a year and a half or so in Mexico. They say kids can pick up a foreign language like it’s no big deal, but that wasn’t our reality. Our oldest, from 14 – 15, did well. Our youngest, age 4 at the time, did okay, too. Our middle son wasn’t as into it. Nevertheless, the United States will have more and more Spanish speakers as every decade goes by, so getting your kids involved in wanting to learn a second language will not only prove to be a valuable life skill for any young traveler, but it opens up your mind to the thought processes that actually go into every day communication. And if your child is interested in writing, there’s not better way to improve your English writing skills than to understand how other languages are constructed. It’s like adding whipped cream to pumpkin pie, and everybody loves that.

Duolingo is a great app for kids who are a little older and can already read fairly well.

For younger kids, Endless Spanish (the whole “Endless” series is actually really fun, quirky and beautifully illustrated) proved the biggest hit amongst our boys.

Finally, there’s no better way to learn a foreign language than to travel to that country and just immerse yourself in it. Go out to eat and master ordering food and the names of the animals and vegetables we eat, then expand depending on your tastes there. Tutors are available around the world and can help you understand what an app never will, while giving you a chance at some true personal communication with a native speaker.

Miscellaneous Life Skills

two boys roast hot dogs over a fire pit.
Hot dog roasting, kind of a a prerequisite of living in campgrounds.

Not everything about learning has to reflect what one might find on a public school report card.

There are lessons to be found in every day life, and they’re no less valuable than addition or proper grammar. Teaching your kids how to fix and maintain their bike, changing the oil in your van or truck, and how to make and respect fire are real life skills that they can take with them forever.

Give your kids a role in every day chores like cooking, how to use a knife, swing a hammer, what the saying “lefty loosey, righty tighty” means. They’ll love you for it later, whether they realize it or not.

Whether you choose to use any or all of these, the most beautiful thing about roadschooling your kids is that you get to witness it all–from the first time they read “bat” to when they truly impress you with some knowledge they picked up on their own, no nudging required. Homeschooled and roadschooled children are not weird, not unusual, not “different” in the negative connotation that word often is associated with, and in nearly every firsthand case we’ve ever encountered, they’re actual the most well-rounded, robust people after it’s all said and done.end of article