Rolling over, I pushed the snooze button on my alarm clock. It was late. I needed to get to school. I got dressed, grabbed my books, forced down some cold cereal, and headed off…to the living room.
This was the beginning of a normal weekday for me. I was home-schooled through all of high school. I didn’t experience the daily routine of riding the bus, going to class, and engaging in afterschool activities. However, I learned lessons during those years that I never would have discovered in a classroom.
Although the words “home schooling” seem to indicate that learning must take place at home, this isn’t always the case. A growing number of families are discovering home-schooling as a way to maintain an active and adventuresome lifestyle on the road.
Studies conducted by The National Center for Education indicate that while the number of home-schooled students in the U.S. is rapidly increasing (up from 1.7 percent of students in 1999, to 2.2 percent in 2003), the reasons families choose to home educate is greatly varied. For instance, most families had multiple reasons for choosing to home-school, the greatest reason being concerns about the school environment. A smaller number of home-schoolers said they did it for greater flexibility over schedules and curriculums.
This flexibility was what made home schooling appeal to me during my high school years. It fit my lifestyle perfectly. As an on-the-go person, I spent the majority of my time working, traveling, and pursuing my dream of making films. The flexibility allowed me to intern for local TV companies, including Real Bean Entertainment, and work on film projects in the middle of the school year, with companies such as DAC Films in the Quad Cities.
While I used the flexibility as a way to practice my films, other families use the flexibility as a way to take children on one-in-a-lifetime adventures. Sheila Sherwin is a mother from Wisconsin pulled her son out of the 5th grade to hike the Appalachian Trail.
“My son…was not yet totally swept up in the rebellious behavior,” Sherwin writes, “but knowing him, knowing that he needs to move his body a lot I felt certain that as he got a bit further into this adolescent shift he too would feel increasingly frustrated by the confines of the classroom.”
Sherwin says that her son Will asked her to spell out what the trail would be like, verses staying in public school.
“‘It won’t always be fun.’ I said. ‘It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be challenging.’
“‘I want to hike the trail’ he replied.
“‘But wait, we haven’t even talked about what it would be like if you stayed in school!’ I protested.
“‘I want to hike the trail,’ he insisted… ‘I want a challenge.’”
So Sherwin and her son and his friend Jakob set out on their adventure in September. The first challenge they faced was climbing to the peak of Mt. Katahdin.
“Though we set out enthusiastically, the weight of the packs (filled with 10 days of food) quickly sobered the boys into recognition that this journey would be a far greater challenge than they had anticipated,” Sherwin writes. “Days turned into weeks, and we quickly found our rhythms: hiking, eating, purifying water, setting up camp and dismantling it the next day.”
Sherwin describes the educational activities that kept her and the boys occupied on their trip. “We studied geology as we watched the composition of the rocks we walked upon change by state. We studied math as we calculated times and distances, and played many rounds of cards. And we read stories about Roman kings and warriors in the evenings. But the simplicity of these rhythms was matched by the challenges of weather, terrain, and logistics, all of which pushed our patience and stamina to the limit more than once. After six weeks of walking, we had covered nearly 500 miles, and come away with a profound experience.”
My personal experience was similar in that my family took frequent “fieldtrips” across the country during the school year. We purchased a large, slightly used popup camper and took our school on the road. When we stopped in towns, we didn’t just sightsee – we explored them and learned their history. I saw images from my textbooks come alive in places like Gettysburg, Philadelphia, the Smithsonian in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, and San Francisco.
I studied science in places like the Baltimore Aquarium, the shores of Lake Michigan, the Grand Canyon, and the Redwood Forests. Instead of reading about these places one minute and forgetting about them the next, they were engrained in my memory.
I put my video skills to use by documenting and editing these trips for future reference. In addition, I wrote, directed, shot and edited numerous short films during high school. A few of these films went on to win national awards at film festivals around the country. I made a historical film about the Holocaust called The Light of a Candle that won the award for Best Production Value at the WYSIWYG International Film Festival in California. My parents, my four siblings and I piled into the camper and drove halfway across the country to attend the festival and accept the award.
Home-schooling has opened my eyes to the learning that takes place on a daily basis. Learning means going places, absorbing information, and truly understanding it. Sherwin explains how taking home schooling on the Appalachian Trail gave Will and Jakob more than just head knowledge.
“[The boys] learned that we sometimes need to rely on the kindness of strangers, and they learned that they are many kind people in the world,” writes Sherwin. “They learned the value of cooperation and the importance of kindness and patience – even when you don’t feel like being kind and patient… Though I doubt that Will or Jakob will be able to articulate what they learned on this trip for quite some time, they came away changed.”
And isn’t the goal of all learning to come away changed? My goal is to pass this form of learning down to my own future children. Not only do I want to teach them in an innovative way, I want to create memories with my children that will last a lifetime.
Sheila Sherwin (Christopherus Homeschool Resources)
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) – nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/homeschool