My Way on the Worldschooling Highway

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Did you know there is a global community of families who call themselves ‘worldschoolers’?

For these families, learning while travelling and living in other countries is a primary way in which they meet their children’s educational needs.

Some families may ‘slow travel’ their way around the world and enrol their children into schools as they go, whilst others are full-time home educators who may or may not have a faster pace of exploration – or an entirely different method of exploring the globe, which I hope to describe in this article.

When I discovered the term ‘worldschooling’ about a year ago, it occurred to me that it was a very fitting label for my own family’s lifestyle.

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Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic, January 2016

I was inspired to write this piece in response to a discussion I was party to in which it was assumed that worldschoolers are nomadic families who are on the road full-time.

I wanted to challenge that perspective – I say that worldschooling comes in many guises. I don’t believe full-time travel is a necessity and there are many ways in which you can explore global culture without even leaving your hometown.

I do believe worldschooling entails at least some first-hand experience of a different country each year, in the midst of plenty of global education in other forms – yet even that sounds arbitrary to me, especially knowing how my own family’s journey to the worldschooling concept has developed and how much of our journey has been moulded by chance rather than by design.

Full-time travel may well be the aim of many worldschoolers but there are many different levels of this educational philosophy – no definite border between ‘worldschooling’ and ‘not worldschooling’, no matter how many actual borders have been crossed.

So, without further ado, here are 10 ways I feel my family are full-time worldschoolers without being full-time travellers . . .

1) Taking every opportunity for a trip

By the end of this month (September 2016) we will be able to count 5 trips abroad in the space of a year. I think that’s pretty good going!

Our 5 trips cover 5 countries within 2 continents (Portugal, Morocco, Czech Republic, Greece and Italy).

Most of the travelling will have been completed as a single mum. In fact, I always used the excuse of being a single mother to stop me embracing the idea of travelling full-time – having now discovered just how many single mothers actually are travelling full-time with their children, I will have to drop that excuse!

All but one of our trips were organised just weeks in advance as we leapt on cheap fares and made spontaneous decisions to travel, and four of them were partly or wholly organised alongside other home educating / worldschooling families.

Whilst myself and my children keep a wishlist of places we’d really like to visit, we don’t turn down invites to places not on our list – we suspend expectations and are willing to take opportunities just to see what happens. This was certainly the case when visiting the Czech Republic in January (I’m usually a sun-seeker!).

We also follow the path our home education journey takes us on – our imminent trip to Italy was originally inspired by watching a documentary about volcanoes (cue chat about Mount Vesuvius, cue decide we should visit Pompeii, cue take next available opportunity to plan a trip there).

2) Hosting travellers through Couchsurfing and Workaway

We have been hosting fellow travellers in our home via Couchsurfing for over 5 years now. The majority of these travellers seek cultural exchange with locals, meaning there is ample opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures and languages.

If I combine our own trips with the sum of our hosting duties, we have spent approximately three-quarters of the past year in daily contact with people from other countries.

Our favourite guests to host are fellow families on Workaway. These families, whilst not necessarily following the same lifestyle as us, believe in the value of travel, cultural exchange and volunteering. They usually stay with us for at least a week, during which time we work communally – I benefiting from adult help, my children benefiting from live-in friends, and the guests benefiting from free accommodation and local knowledge. We have made some wonderful friends through this and some reciprocal invites to their homes in other countries.

3) Hosting language students

I put this in a different category to Couchsurfing and Workaway, as when I host language students I’m paid expenses for being a host mother to teenagers and children as young as 10. Suddenly being the responsible person for up to another 3 youngsters is an entirely different experience to hosting an adult Workaway guest who is there to help me out!

The tables are also turned somewhat in that we have to ensure our students get the most out of their time in the UK – the aim of their trip is to have an immersive language-learning experience, thus we must give them as much opportunity as possible to practice their English and learn about our life here: on the surface, it’s about their learning journey, not ours.

However, our experience of this so far has made a real impression on my kids. “Remember when those Chinese girls were here and …” still starts many conversations in our family. The nature of the students’ visit means that topics related to global education are always on the cards for mealtime conversation, said mealtime conversation often digresses into the students’ own language, and my younger children witness older children embarking on international travel without their parents.

4) Spending time with friends of other nationalities

My children are frequently exposed to other languages and cultural ideas when we spend time with friends of other nationalities. For those who have come from a significantly different cultural background, we see how one’s country of origin has a big impact on matters of hospitality, parenting norms, personal space and socially acceptable behaviour – the contrast can seem more evident in one’s own country when you are generally surrounded by your own cultural norms.

Perhaps the most topical issue to navigate as a mother has been that of parenting techniques – often a hot potato amongst friends of the same background, but all the more so when you recognise Western consumerist imperialism in modern parenting practices. In this respect, I have found myself denigrating my cultural background as friends of other backgrounds seek to emulate it (I’m thinking of traditional/biological norms of motherhood such as birth, breastfeeding and baby-care practices, and the consumer products and services that have been put in the place of a mother’s arms).

Yet openly making cultural comparisons with people I trust is like a petri dish that helps me observe and develop my own beliefs and mental scripts in a safe space (opposed to the influence of the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric that the mainstream media dangerously peddles to the masses). This is important as my beliefs could well shape my children’s beliefs, and how we communicate with some of these close friends also informs how we communicate with my daughters’ relatives in Morocco.

I hope my children can learn from these relationships and see that it really can be about making the most of our similarities as human beings rather than letting our differences come between us.

These relationships can be about finding the things that work in different cultural systems and creating your own personal culture around it – and being confident in your own identity actually makes it easier to figure out how you fit in to the wider world.

5) Of maps and stamps

This is basic but it keeps geography and travel at the forefront of our daily lives: we like putting maps on our walls.

Our living space is adorned with a large world map and a map of Morocco, and our kitchen with a map of Europe.

Our letterbox is often blessed with Postcrossing postcards, random but inspiring glimpses into the lives of individuals in other parts of the world. These cards are addressed to the children and usually include little bites of information about the card’s subject and tastes of other languages.

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Anyone can do this and for us it is a constant source of inspiration to actually go and see the world. When the postman keeps bringing you messages of hope that you will one day visit Michigan or Hong Kong or Prague (oh, we did that one!), it’s a constant invite and reminder to step outside our home comforts.

The world map planted a seed when FreeToBeP developed the desire to visit Russia just based on what he could see on the map. That seed has already started to sprout as we begin making contacts in Russia and I cost up a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway!

6) Raising mixed-race children

Our worldschooling adventure really began with a 2-year-old FreeToBeP and a fateful trip to Morocco. I now have two daughters who are half-Imazighen (the native people of North Africa).

I feel a deep responsibility in bringing up mixed-race children in a multicultural society that is at odds with itself; a society in which some people look with disdain upon anyone who cannot tick ‘White British’ on their census form. Identity is often a big topic in the lives of those born of two different racial backgrounds and it is with both honour and trepidation that I start to teach my girls about their heritage.

But what an honour! To have such a wealth of cultural discourse based upon bloodlines from two very different countries and cultures. Four-year-old FreeToBeZ is already very aware of her mixed background and it has led me into a deeper understanding about white privilege and subtle forms of racism, which will surely form the backdrop of many an informal home ed PSHE lesson.

Aside from these more sensitive issues, we also collect resources that could inform my daughters’ understanding of their paternal heritage as they grow, from Tamazight language resources through to modern anthropological studies of the Imazighen tribes (tentatively referred to as I am nervous of the sense of ‘othering’ and exoticising that these studies can smack of – something I am ever nervous of in my own accounts). These resources help me to clumsily fill in gaps that I keenly sense in their absence from the traditional mountain life that their father’s family lives.

My daughters are privileged with all the opportunity and freedom that a British birth certificate brings. Yet how sad I am for them that they cannot understand the unwritten stories of their ancestors that their ageing Imazighen grandmother can tell in a language that they do not know.

Rather than the sense of being “neither here nor there”, I hope my daughters grow into worldly women who feel comfortable in different settings – and may our worldschooling journey nurture that.

7) Exploring all the facets of your homeland

In order to get the most from our travels to far-flung places, I believe an appreciation of where we are from and knowledge of our own heritage helps. We may or may not be proud of our cultural heritage, yet knowing one’s self is often key to truly knowing what is outside of ourselves.

Travelling with true awareness of global concerns involves being aware of our own cultural history and the social capital we may or may not be privileged by.

With this awareness, as well as exploring the well-known icons of your homeland and its history, why not seek out evidence of other countries and cultures within it? There may be places of worship that are different to your own (if you have one), expatriates of other countries, people whose first language isn’t the same as yours, specialist world food shops, and public networks or events that support multicultural communities (examples in my area are the South West Dorset Multicultural Network and an annual Dorset One World Festival).

Now more than ever in a social climate in which casual racism seems to be rearing its ugly head, it’s important that we forge interfaith and intercultural links with people of different backgrounds.

Saying that worldschooling journeys must involve trips to countries other than your own ignores the richness of what you have been brought up around, especially in a diverse society such as ours. Yes, our dominant culture will always be the most obvious in our own homes, but there are people and places in your own country, town or even village who have much to teach you about the wider world.

8) Language learning

For language is not just about words and translation – the more you learn about language and linguistics, the more you realise how relative the world is based on the words we use and the way in which different concepts are expressed in different languages.

It is difficult to learn a language without also being exposed to cultural and religious concepts associated with that language, and (I find) without therefore becoming fascinated with those parts of the world in which that language is spoken.

My own forays into various languages has come as a result of our chosen destinations rather than preceding them, but the breadth of knowledge that an interest in language opens up is astounding. For example, did you know that there are over 6000 living languages in the world?

The world of languages and linguistics goes far beyond actually being able to speak another language, and travel can be a natural consequence of being fascinated with such subjects.

FreeToBeP is currently intrigued with Italian having decided that he wants “to play that game” I play on my phone – he’s referring to my Duolingo course. The advent of smartphone apps and online peer exchange have made language learning all the more fun and accessible, and can easily complement a worldschooling lifestyle whilst sat on your own sofa . . .

And to then put it into practice and learn a language in context on the move is perhaps the best lesson we can give our children about how language acquisition naturally works (no textbooks necessary!).

9) Plan a world adventure

We’re considering taking less frequent trips over the next couple of years in order to plan The Big One.

Although short trips to European destinations are well within our budget and other practical considerations, if I want to run with FreeToBeP’s Russian dream then we’re in for saving some pennies first – and if we’re going to book the Trans-Siberian railway, we should probably go the whole hog and take the route all the way down through Mongolia to China (China also being on FreeToBeP’s wishlist!).

Whilst the need to stay put and save up could feel like stagnation, the expectation of a trip flavours many of our family discussions. Planning for a long-distance trek could take months in itself.

We are currently packing for our trip to Italy and recent conversation has often turned to the language, food, sites and history of our destination – these discussions around our dinner table at home are part and parcel of our worldschooling life. The actual trip abroad does not exist inside a bubble, it is the culmination of a dream made real thanks to a period of research and planning.

Indeed, part of the fun is in the itinerary planning, and this is something you can let the kids loose on – thus when you arrive at your destination you’ll have a good idea of each family member’s hopes for the trip.

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10) Networking with other worldschoolers

As well as fellow travellers within our local home education circle, we make an effort to connect with other families in different locations who share a similar lifestyle.

As worldschooling families network and meet, more and more events are being organised especially for those following this way of life and a number of worldschooling communities are developing around the globe.

Earlier this year we attended our first worldschool event in Plitra, Greece. As a travelling single mother, these events have the added attraction of inherent friendship and support whilst losing none of the sense of adventure. Whilst I have the company of fellow parents, they are places where I can be sure that the children will also have peers to play and learn alongside.

We have learnt that distance and language doesn’t have to be a barrier to friendship as we build relationships with people in different parts of the world. My children’s social experience is often very different to those who spend their days in a classroom with 30 peers sharing the same age and hometown, but herein lies the heart of the worldschooling message – yes, some people live their lives very differently to us, but a different way doesn’t equal a wrong way.

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FreeToBeP and his sisters’ cousin in the Atlas mountains, Morocco

In conclusion, I hope these suggestions have gone some way to explaining how worldschooling is not bound by one set of rules and may look as different for each family as home education itself does (ah, and what of the experiences of those worldschooling families whose children actually attend school?).

I like to think that our family’s past year has been a comfortable middle ground – the excitement of travel tempered with the security of a home base. Part of me feels like we’re living the dream whilst another part lives vicariously through the blogs of families having a full-time, nomadic lifestyle which leads them to truly immersive experiences in far-reaches of the globe.

If you’re travelling the world full-time with your family, I’m in awe of you (especially if you’re doing it as a single parent)! But perhaps the next ‘worldschooling’ family isn’t there yet and are making the practical, emotional and logistical decisions and actions to get there one day.

Until that time, I believe they have every right to describe themselves as worldschoolers if that is their educational philosophy. With a zest for travel and a passion for meeting and understanding other people , you can’t go far wrong.

If this post has piqued your interest, it’s topics such as those found in my 10 Websites for Teaching Global Citizenship that keep me eager to see myself as a global citizen and keen to keep my children in contact with people of varied backgrounds – and to keep on exploring those varied backgrounds first-hand!

Please feel free to share your own perspective and experiences in the comments below – it would be wonderful to hear of other families’ journeys.

Edventuring in Greece

Edventuring in Greece

We’ve recently returned from the April 2016 Worldschoolers Spring Edventure at the Porto Grana Hub for home educators in Plitra, Laconia, Greece.

So much of our experience was about the sights, smells, tastes and sounds we encountered. How can I capture in words the scent of orange blossom or the pungent smell of olive oil production? Or find a way to translate onto screen the sensory stories of my taste buds? At least the visual element is more easily shared through the many images I collected.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a photo journal of the highlights of our trip. I’ve included commentary to give you some insight into the week’s learning journey, seasoned with links to find out more where you may wish to.

Enjoy!

Orange-picking

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One of FreeToBeP’s favourite activities of the week

This was such a simple yet memorable activity. The sights, scents and tastes of the orchard as the sun beat down on us was so evocative – if paradise has an aroma, orange-blossom would be it! As if I didn’t already bemoan the quality of oranges in England, now that I’ve eaten one freshly plucked from a Peloponnese tree, I fear the bar has been raised even more.

One intriguing feature of the orchard was an orange-lemon tree – a tree that bears both types of fruit as the result of a successful graft.

FreeToBeP loved being amongst the trees and his orange harvest ensured a week’s very sufficient vitamin C intake for the whole family.

An interesting fact is that the intensive cultivation of oranges in the region dates only from the mid-20th century – prior to that, the delta of the Evrotas river and its tributaries was used as rice fields (a small percentage of EU-grown rice is still grown in Greece).

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Culture & Tradition

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Preparations for the flower festival in Papadianika

We joined local school children in the nearby village of Papadianika as they decorated candles to be lit at the traditional Γιορτη Λουλουδιών (flower festival) on April 30th. Many May Day festivities take place in Greece, of which this festival is one example.

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Greek Orthodox chapel next to Diros Caves

Religious tradition is very evident in Greece – chapels are built in all sorts of places, and the above picture was taken just along from the Diros caves [a boat trip through the caves was part of the itinerary for the week which I was unable to do due to the wants/needs of my children, yet I have it on good authority that it’s worth the €12 per adult / €7 per child].

Wherever you go, you will see numerous prayer boxes along the side of the road, known as kandylakia. I sadly neglected to photograph any. These are shaped like miniature chapels and often include icons of saints, and incense or candles to burn. As well as traditionally being spots where travellers can stop to pray, they are increasingly used to commemorate lives, particularly of those lost upon the road – there is a joke that roadside kandylakia can be seen as unofficial ‘drive with caution’ signs!

Plitra Beach

beachrunWhat a treat to have the local beaches all to ourselves in 25+ degree heat! The beach was a short walk from both the home education hub and our accommodation. Just like our seaside home in the UK, the bay at Plitra is calm, featuring sandbanks and a very gradual decline into deeper waters – a perfect beach upon which families can relax, play and paddle.

As the boys went scouring the rockpools, our host scoured the same area for food – the seashore forage finds were an impressive array of herbs and spring greens that well illustrated how ‘frugal food’ is often about the richness and abundance of Mother Nature.

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Sun + sand + sea = happy children!
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Sun + sand + sea = happy me!

Monemvasia Old Town

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FreeToBeZ enjoying the sun and the sights in Monemvasia
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Restored lighthouse – and a levitating FreeToBeP, apparently

A truly fascinating place for both children and adults, the old town of Monemvasia is an ancient fortified town (now largely restored in keeping with its original style) and it’s worth spending a full day exploring. Our trip wasn’t as lengthy as planned as, unfortunately, the castle and grounds atop the summit were closed to the public due to renovation works. However, there was still plenty to see . . .

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monem1There was a wonderful vibe of history coming alive upon the peninsula of the old town, complete with quaint little shops and cafés that complemented the town’s heritage. Both architectural antiquities and local flora were prevalent here, and I also appreciated the local bee colonies through the purchase of a very sweet honey wine – indeed, Malvasia wine is historically from the town.

The nooks and crannies of the narrow cobbled streets were a delight to explore and the views were divine. A must-see if you’re in the region!

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Gytheio 

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Dimitrios shipwreck

We stopped for refreshments upon Mavrovouni, the longest beach in the region, near to the charming port town of Gytheio. Volunteers observe and protect this beach over the spring to summer months as it is the nesting ground for sea turtles, yet also a busy tourist spot during the height of the season.

As we left the Gytheio area we also spotted the Dimitrios shipwreck on Valtaki beach, where the poor vessel has lain abandoned for 35 years.

Gerakas Port

gerakas2The entrance to Gerakas Port is well hidden, historically making this a safe enclave away from looting pirates. A glorious mountain drive took us up and over the headland to this hidden beauty, where the environments of wetlands and sea merge via a fjord-like approach from the sea. I sense this little gem is best appreciated by boat!

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Cyclingpbike

liambikeWe arrived in Greece with two eight-year-old boys who couldn’t cycle and left with two eight-year-old boys who could! You’ll be relieved to hear they weren’t swapped for different children, but gained new skills whilst having free bike hire at the hub and Plitra seafront all to themselves throughout our stay. Three-year-old FreeToBeZ was rather pleased with her attempts too.

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Olive-picking

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FreeToBeP harvesting late olives

Although the olive-picking season was officially over, there were plenty of olives left on trees in public spaces – the children made the most of climbing them whilst the late olives were collected from both branch and ground (and are now being salt-cured on my kitchen worktop).

Sixteen-month-old FreeToBeL loved the fresh yet bitter fruits, her young palate open to new flavours in a way our modern sweet and salty diet has scuppered for many of us.

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FreeToBeL enjoyed eating the bitter offerings fresh from the tree!
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Wild olives collected, cured and preserved (and shared with us!) by the owner of our accomodation (Pansion Amarylia)

Ancient Asopos

asopos1asopos4asopos3asopos5Wow! What finds we made here. The ancient Roman port town of Asopos was destroyed by an earthquake in around 365BC and much of it now remains hidden under the sea.

Much of the ‘beach’ here is made up of broken brick and tile, the remains of buildings which last stood over 2000 years ago. A bathhouse, port and temple are some notable remnants along the shore and a number of large storage urns remain partly intact. Sections of pavements and mosaics are preserved, with areas being revealed or masked as the tides strip back or deposit covers of rubble and sand.

There are so many historical ruins in Greece that not all have been excavated and this was very evident here – on one section of beach we found numerous remnants of ancient Grecian pottery, which really quickened the pulse of the archaeologist in me.

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Roman bricks and tiles aplenty here
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Ancient handle – just one of our many finds

Cookery & Food

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Authentic Greek salad in Sparta
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Preparing a traditional spinach pie with vegetables from our host’s garden

FreeToBeP has recently developed a real passion for cooking and has been lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with people who have a true love for good food.

Our host showed us how to make vegan varieties of local dishes (many of which are traditionally made just with vegetables anyway) and the children had opportunity to help out, picking fresh ingredients from the garden and appreciating the food in a new way thanks to doing this.

As much as possible, the food eaten at the Porto Grana Hub is organic, vegan and grown locally or foraged – whilst the hub’s philosophy encompasses both frugality and ethics, we always ate satisfying and delicious meals thanks to our host’s cooking skills and knowledge of local edible plants.

We were surprised with the vast array of foodstuffs that can be foraged for within just a few minutes’ walk of the hub, quite apart from the abundance of olive, orange and lemon trees – wild mountain thyme and edible seaside plants were some of the notable examples, particularly the very tasty kritamo (better known here as rock samphire and something I hope I will, quite literally, stumble over again along the Dorset coast).

And finally . . .

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our busy week in Laconia and heartily recommend a visit to the Porto Grana Hub to other home educating and worldschooling families!

Springtime was the perfect time to go, the country blooming with greenery yet the temperature already reaching 30 degrees during our stay.

Greece is definitely on our list of places to return to – the history, language, fauna and geology captivated us all, and what we managed to explore in our one week was just a small taste of what the country has to offer.

To learn more about our base in Greece – the Porto Grana Hub – read my interview with the hub founder, Evangelos Vlachakis, and/or visit the Porto Grana website.

Oh, and did I mention the animals, playground and family yoga session?

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