Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 5
Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, then drop me a line. I know there are plenty of you out there Hope you enjoy!
Meet the Redpaths. Living proof that just because you’re not a 20-something doesn’t mean you can’t travel! The Redpaths are a full-fledged family, four total; Brenna and Bob, Owen and Eleanor. Brenna reached out to me via email, and when I checked out their site, From Here to Uncertainty, I discovered that the Redpaths homeschool their children.
Truthfully, I knew very little about homeschooling when I asked Brenna about her family’s experiences. Methods. Perceptions. The logistical and psychological trials and tribulations. Brenna was more than happy to answer a few questions for us. If you’re interested in learning more, check out her post on homeschooling or her interview with Christine at Almost Fearless.
Brenna, let’s get started!
Had you always wanted to homeschool?
We started thinking about the idea of homeschooling when our oldest kid was 3. I did a lot of research, and went to some homeschooling conferences to learn more. By the time he was school age we had decided.
What prompted the decision?
Not any one thing really. Our decision was never about avoiding public school, it was more about being able to dive deeply into interests, and follow passions. Here’s a quote that has helped to form our home school philosophy: “Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the kindling of a flame” -Socrates
Where have you traveled so far?
We have a pretty short list for our 7 months on the road! We slow travel, renting an apartment for a month or two in one city, and taking smaller trips from there. We started our trip in Serbia with friends. We spent a few weeks in Belgrade, and a few weeks in the Serbian countryside. We’ve “lived” in Krakow, Poland; Bamberg, Germany; Perth, Scotland; and Edinburgh, Scotland. We’ve spent a week or less in Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Stuttgart, Isle Of Skye, Oban, Rothenburg, Dresden, Germany’s Romantic Road, and taken day trips to other places.
How long have you been homeschooling?
Owen is 11, and Eleanor is 8, so 6 years (which some days feels like 60).
Are certain countries more kid-friendly than others?
Not in our experience. We’ve only been to relatively tame countries, and we tend to seek out more family-friendly places. We have been surprised at how much our kids have enjoyed more typically “adult” things: the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice for instance, and the ballet in Stuttgart.
Every country does have it’s own way, of course, and the kids have taken a watch-and-learn attitude. For instance, we lived very close to the Town Square in Krakow, where there was a large sculpture by Igor Mitoraj. Local kids as well as tourists climbed all over it, using it as a jungle gym and for photo ops. Coincidentally, just down the street from our apartment in Bamberg, Germany there was a similar sculpture by the same artist. No one even touched the sculpture in Germany.
As far as homeschooling, it varies. Most people assume we’re on vacation until we keep showing up at their cafe day after day. By then they know us. Scotland has a wonderful homeschooling community, and people are really open to it. There is a spectrum of homeschooling acceptance throughout Europe both socially and legally, but from our experience the US is one of the countries at the forefront of homeschooling.
Are there any countries you wouldn’t take your family?
Sure. Safety definitely comes before adventure, and we’re not “Adventure Junkies”, although it does sound fun! Having said that, one person’s prudent destination is another person’s nightmare. We had some family members who weren’t wild about the idea of us starting our trip in Serbia. We try to be smart. For instance, we’re planning a trip to Morocco in March. If we didn’t have kids we would probably fly into Marrakesh and then just figure out the rest. Instead we’re making reservations. We’re planning a month of volunteering in the spring, and I’m looking forward to venturing more outside our comfort zones. It will be good for all of us.
What resources do you use as curriculum?
Owen and Ella both use an online program for basics. We keep notebooks for their work. We do a lot of reading out loud on our Kindle, choosing books that are set in the places we’re visiting. We read The Thief Lord just before we hit Venice. Owen has become addicted to the Sherlock Holmes series now that we’re in Edinburgh. He loves reading, and I build around that. For instance, we’re going to Stonehenge in a few weeks, and he is super excited. I made him a deal: I’ll spring for the tickets that get us inside the stone circle, and he reads up on Stonehenge so that he can be our tour guide. Ella is pen pals with a 2nd grade class in Illinois. We help her write emails about her adventures, and they tell her about what they’re doing in school. Ella is a lover of art, and I link as much to that as I can. The paintings in a church lead to a conversation about the social climate of the time. History and Geography, obviously, come pretty naturally this year.
Any specific companies, websites, social gatherings?
Time 4 Learning is an online curriculum, and it’s terrific in many ways. The presentation works well for my kids. They can advance as fast as they like, or as slow as necessary. They aren’t held to a certain grade level. All progress is documented online and accessible anywhere.
Handwriting Without Tears has been a great program for my kids for learning both printing and cursive.
Starfall is a learn-to-read website geared for younger learners.
And then of course there’s Google for all of the obvious reasons. I can’t imagine doing what we’re doing, the traveling OR the homeschooling, without the internet and Google.
We mentioned the Kindle, which we all fight over. It’s a hell of a lot lighter than the wall of bookshelves we had at home.
As far as social gatherings – it depends on where you live. In Southern California there is a vibrant homeschooling community (which I miss very much). Some areas of the US, and of the world, have more going on than others.
What’s the hardest part of home schooling for you, the teacher, and for your kids, the students.
Such a good question! The hardest part for me has changed over the years. I think that in the beginning I didn’t have a fundamental trust that kids learn because they’re built to. Give them the opportunity, and they’re sponges. These days it’s juggling everything: working, traveling, teaching, mothering. Just like everyone I guess.
Owen says: The hardest part is when there’s not always someone available to help me. I’m impatient.
Eleanor says: I don’t know – it’s not really hard.
You can follow the Redpaths’ adventures in world education at From Here to Uncertainty. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to make sure they see them!