You’re here because you think travel is a great thing for your kids and you’ve heard of worldschooling and would like to try it. Right? I want to help because world schooling has been my full-time job since 2012, we love it and we want more people to try it. My boys are 12 and 10 now and we’ve taken them to around 40 countries on all continents bar Antarctica to further their education. Before the travel adventure we were regular stay-at-home-schoolers, the elder child went to school briefly, the younger one has never been. Having tried school, homeschooling, unschooling and worldschooling, I know which I prefer and what works best for us. If you, like us, think taking your kids to learn at source is a great way to do education, then here are our ultimate worldschooling ideas, tips and destinations. Worldschooling has to start at home, there are tips for boosting pre-travel learning, and for worldschooling on the road. Don’t forget, worldschooling is an active process, it’s not just taking the kids on holiday, you have to dig deeper and do your research wherever you go.
Worldschooling necessitates long-term travel with kids and I wish I could write one definitive post called How to Travel With Kids and answer all questions on the subject in 500 words, unfortunately I can’t, nobody can. ( But I’ve tried, we now have, How to Travel the World as a section of this blog). We’ve done it, financed it and enjoyed it, but to tell you how to do it would take a book because the options are endless. There is no one right way. At the bottom of this post are some useful links attempting to cover that huge topic, just for you. If you have any questions on how to do this thing, put them in the comments. Thanks!
Worldschooling and Finding Opportunities
I think this is the most fun part of worldschooling, looking for opportunities for your kids. Forget the school-style curriculum for a moment and think about all the things your kids could be doing if they were in the perfect spot to try them with free time uncluttered by school or dad’s work schedule. Opportunities our children enjoyed have include:
- Cooking lessons in Cambodia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka
- High diving lessons from World Champions at Crystal Palace, London
- Learning to kayak on calm, clear waters in Thailand
- Discovering their inner and physical strength, trekking in the Himalayas
- Becoming proficient at snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef
- Stone carving lessons from a master craftsman in India.
- Ski lessons, for weeks on end, in Romania
- Mastering climbing walls on 2 cruise ships
- Experiencing Forest School in London
- Learning the basics of languages through living them.
- Getting up-close with meerkats. A dream come true for my younger son at ZSL London Zoo.
I’m sure you could think of loads more experiences and places that would benefit your kids, you could find the ideal spot for learning horse riding, Thai boxing, circus skills, scuba diving or surfing. Likewise there must be some perfect place to learn basket weaving, paper-making, pottery or painting. You can also find better, cheaper, more diverse and enjoyable activities for them to try or master by moving around the world. Follow their interests, what would they like to try and what new experiences can you give them?
Don’t forget that by finding these opportunities they’ll be meeting passionate people with incredible skills. Those people are amazing and diverse mentors and really open kids’ eyes as to possibilities in life. That’s real world socialisation, the exact opposite of the institutionalised same-age socialisation of public schools.
Of course, you’ll also need to find opportunities for them to hang out with other kids sometimes, just for fun. We find that’s pretty easy, just take them anywhere kids gather, most playgrounds do the job or get them signed up for any kid-focused groups or courses that they like the idea of. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that kids have to be kept in large groups as they are in schools, from experience, my two often prefer to stay away from other kids or hang out with adults young or old.
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Worldschooling at Home
If you’re home-bound for a while, you can still learn a lot by stepping outside your front door, observing and asking questions. Don’t just take your corner of the world for granted, think about why it is that way.
- Visit every museum you can find. Give each one plenty of time and let the kids explore the areas that interest them. You can’t force learning. As they get older they will find more and more to interest them in museums. Trust me on that, don’t turn them off museums when they are too young by making them tedious. If they are old enough, kids’ audio guides are fantastic.
- Visit every historic building, monument, temple, gallery or UNESCO site. Find out as much as you can about them though books, videos and guides before you go.
- If the kids are old enough, take tours. In my experience there’s little point with small children
- Visit every type of environment in your area, shoreline, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, freshwater lakes, rainforests, swamps and wetlands, hills and mountains. Get outside and see what grows there, what lives there and how those environments feel. Research before you go, read or watch videos and play treasure hunt, see what they can spot.
- Check out local agriculture and industry. What grows in your area? What animals are raised? What manufacturing happens and where do the raw materials come from? Why do they do that here?
- How are houses constructed in your area, is that because it’s hot, cold, windy? Are locally available materials and tradition a factor?
- What do people eat? What is available and what are the staples? Why?
- What’s the weather like? Are there 4 noticeable seasons or just the wet and the dry. What are temperatures like? Why is that? Are you close to the equator, up a mountain or at sea-level?
- What are the people like where you live? Are they all of one race and nationality or do you have a glorious mixture? Why? Are they rich or poor? What is the predominant religion? How did that religion come to be there and what other religions can you find?
Just observe and ask questions. Be a learner. You’ll see that all the subjects that they study in neat boxes in school are actually tangled and intertwined.
Worldschooling on the Road
Once you leave the familiarity of home the things you observed above are going to change and because you noticed them and thought about them, you’ll see those changes more clearly and start to understand why things are so. Just take all of the above and do them everywhere you go.
When you’re picking travel destinations for maximum educational impact, try to pick places with as much diversity as possible. So if you live in the tropics ( as we did), go somewhere with snowy winters. If you live in a busy city, find villages and countryside. If your kids never see the ocean, find a coral reef. This bit is so much fun, the world is a great big playground to explore, for you and for your kids.
There is so, so, much to learn everywhere in the world. Here are a few top pics on topics that can be explored in diverse ways through travel, just some ideas to get you thinking about the endless possibilities.
Wars, my boys are always asking about them. Dad is the expert here, I’m not at all. They’ve had in-depth conversations about events leading up to both world wars and how they ended over dinner on four continents. They’ve also visited quite a few sites with war connections, from the shrapnel damaged buildings of Kensington to the Bridge on the River Kwai. We’ve talked about poppies and their war association as we’ve seen them growing in abundance across Europe and strewn over the Tower of London in last year’s centenary.
Just last week we found the WW1 medicine exhibit at London’s Science Museum absolutely fascinating.
I love that in worldschooling the same topics keep coming up time and time again, each place we visit adds another piece to the jigsaw and the kids’ knowledge deepens.
This audio book has been our constant companion around the world. We have the disc to play in cars and D has it copied onto his Nintendo 3DS to play over headphones.
Places to visit include, the Canberra War Memorial and Museum, Australia. Churchill’s War Rooms and the other Imperial War Museums in the UK. The Museum of London, Canary Wharf has a section devoted to WW2.
The Vietnam War
You absolutely have to go to Vietnam. Take them to the Chu Chi tunnels and the war museums. Think about age appropriateness here, the tunnels are fun, the museums can be harrowing. We haven’t taken our boys to Vietnam yet, for no particular reason, it just hasn’t been convenient. We will take them soon.
In Laos, among the amputees and cluster bomb victims, they learned that the effects of this war continue today. Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history, the US were trying to knock out the Ho Chi Minh trail. The kids have seen the devastation and the caves the Laos people hid in during the endless raids.
See this post on the COPE Visitor Centre in Laos, it’s brilliant, a must-visit.
Great artists come from all over the world, back home in Australia we didn’t have an art museum of any kind to visit, so we checked out local artists and Aboriginal Art. On the road you have way more opportunities, The Dali Museum in Spain, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Louvre in Paris, the free art museums in London, both the Tate Modern and National Gallery have kids’ audio tours. Also check out the local, traditional art styles as you travel. Islamic art and calligraphy is fascinating and very different, learn why it is that way. London’s V&A has a good Islamic Art collection.
The boys first got interested in Van Gogh through Doctor Who, we’ve built on that interest over time through books, such as the colouring book below, and through seeing his works in galleries. If they didn’t know about Van Gogh BEFORE they saw his sunflowers, they would have been totally “Meh!” about just another painting.
Slavery changed the world and it’s an important topic. We started learning about slavery back home in Australia when we were investigating the history and evolution of modern music ( with lots of help from You Tube). Since then we’ve visited the plantations of the deep south and seen the African influence in Charleston. In the last month two museums have featured the slave trade as a topic, the Museum of London, above and the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. I hope to take the kids to West Africa soon, to see where the horror began.
Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Fault Lines
An unexpected “perk” of travel, the kids have now experienced half a dozen small earthquakes and tremors. Thankfully, nothing major. They know what it feels like. They’ve also seen the damage that major quakes produce, in the streets of Kathmandu and in the landslides of the high Himalayas. They’ve seen human suffering. Quake victims are no longer something unimaginable that exists on the other side of the world. When we see opulent spending these days, such as in the glitzy malls of Dubai, our thoughts are always with the Nepalese people still living under plastic sheeting. The imbalance and lack of care in the world is something quite sickening.
They’re also familiar with what happened in Sri Lanka, the tsunami is an unavoidable topic over there. They’ve spent a lot of time with a British tsunami survivor and know how deeply affected he is by what happened that day and how incredibly lucky he and his 3 children were to survive.
What I’m trying to say is, that they know plate tectonics and about the associated natural disasters. They’ve stood on top of the world in the Himalayas and know that the ground was once sea bed and has been forced up into magnificent snow-capped peaks. They’ve seen the fossil sea shells on sale in the streets. It’s a topic we’ve covered, in depth.
London’s Natural History Museum has a great section on earthquakes, the planet’s structure and natural disasters, including a simulator and tsunami footage.
We just took a tour of mainland Greece with history and mythology in mind. This was requested by my 12-year-old, he has a deep fascination born of his own reading, click through to find out more about that topic.
You’ll find their footsteps in every country touched by their empire. I think our most interesting encounters with the Romans have been in Romania, the Romanians are very proud of their ancestry and the language shows their influence very clearly.
We keep bumping into the same Emperors over and over again, in statues and in their works. The extent of Roman influence on the world is quite staggering, something I didn’t realise until we started this journey.
These children of mine have visited temples and churches from every major faith and some very minor ones. They’ve lit candles to Ganesh, Bhairab, Jesus and Shiva, they’ve visited mosques with mum respectfully covered by a hijab, they’ve sat and chatted with Saddhus in Kathmandu, they’ve hung out with the Amish in Pennsylvania, watched the incredible Easter processions in Guatemala, seen the grave of a Voodoo queen and been blessed by a Buddhist monk on top of a mountain in Cambodia. Beat that school RE lessons!
The wonderful thing about visiting these places is that people always want to share, they encourage the kids to get involved and will tell you a little about what is going on. You’ll probably need to do some extra research on world faiths too. There was a wonderful TV series called Around the World in 80 Faiths presented by a British Christian minister. If you can find it on You Tube it’s a perfect, entertaining introduction for older kids.
Next on our list has to be the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the holiest of places for Sikhs. It would also be cool to take them to the Vatican and, of course, to Israel.
The average kid will never see a tropical rainforest. They may learn about the forest floor, understory, canopy and emergents, why the forest is structured that way and what creatures inhabit each layer, but to actually see one and feel the himidity…wow!
There are temperate rainforests too, we encountered these in Guatemala, they’re quite different and it’s interesting to compare.
Visiting after doing some research is a great thing to do, or you can find guided walks or rainforest centres with exhibits and interactive displays to help your family learn about these ancient biomes. We can highly recommend the Rainforest Discovery Centre and Canopy Walk in tropical Queensland.
The Spice Trade
Malaka, India, London, the spice trade seems to follow us around. They’ve visited the museums, been on the ships, smelt the spices and seen them growing. It’s unavoidable.
Nothing beats Kennedy Space Center, but London’s Science Museum has a good space section too and is free. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is a stunner and don’t forget to check out the space section at Epcot, Disney. Walt loved to educate and kids can learn a lot in his parks.
Biology and Natural History
This is my subject, I was a Biologist and Zoologist in my life before websites. The two best and biggest museums for this have to be London’s Natural History Museum ( free) and New York’s Museum of Natural History, just off Central Park. Both are superb but quite different, it’s well worth visiting both. Try to find opportunities to get hands-on, many museums have exhibits for kids to touch and explainers nearby to fill in knowledge gaps.
Wherever you go you’ll discover the local flora and fauna and get a chance to consider adaptation to environment at source, look out for nature parks showcasing the local environment, zoos ( London Zoo is our absolute favourite) A few more ideas on places to visit below:
The Grant Museum of Zoology, London. Free.
Welney Wetland Centre, Norfolk. UK. Just one example, there are thousands of similar places.
Australian Wildlife Parks such as the Rainforest Habitat in Port Douglas, Queensland.
Quite honestly, I think my kids have learnt as much from watching Steve Backshall’s animal programmes as they have from me, some of the stuff he covers I learnt in university.
Stratford-upon-Avon, UK and Shakespeare’s Globe on the south bank of the Thames would be my pick. I got my boys interested in Shakespeare through graphic novels, the classic stories and words in comic book format. Try these, we loved them.
I’ve talked about this book before, we loved it and carried it in our backpacks for months. Explore, the Greatest Journeys of all Time.
As you travel the world you’ll cross the ancient paths of those early explorers time and time again. See where captain Cook stopped to repair his ship and made his first contact with native Australians in Cooktown, Queensland. Vasco da Gama keeps popping up just about everywhere, we recently found his grave in Cochin, India.
This post is getting too long, I’ll stop with the examples, but here’s a question people ask:
Can Homeschooled or Worldschooled Kids Go to College?
Of course they can. Statistics show that generally, academic outcomes are better for homeschooled kids than for those in the public school system. If the kids later decide to take exams, they can.
(In the above study, unschooled kids did worse than public school tests. That is to be expected, unschooling families aren’t working towards testing nor following the standard curriculum so the data is irrelevant.)
OK, so they haven’t spent year after year writing essays and solving quadratic equations but it’s a pretty simple process to intensively study for the particular exams they might need in a very short time. Also remember that exams may not be required as different pathways and entry criteria sometimes exist for homeschooled kids. Alternatively educated kids seek our further education because they really want it, not because all their friends are off to university, they should be self-motivated enough to get a few exams if they need to. ( In the UK the iGCSE system exists, kids can study in a year or so at home, then just turn up for the exams.)
My feeling is that my boys won’t want to go to university. I went, I had fun, but in the long run my degree didn’t bring me happiness beyond the gown and cap. Creating my own job did that for me. I think, I hope, that they will create jobs for themselves too, rather than having to be employed by an organisation. They have plenty of time to start thinking about that and no pressure to follow the conventional educational course. But if university and conventional employment is what they want, so be it, we can work together towards that outcome.
Maths and English on The Road
Young children DO learn a lot of maths and even to read, naturally. I’ve seen it happen in my younger son, he was never “taught” to read and he adores his books now. They have both picked up almost all f their grammar and spelling from their reading, there is absolutely no need for memorisation of lists. My feeling is that they do, sometimes, need to write, numbers and letters, and that’s not something my two would EVER do naturally. Maybe it comes with age, but at 12 I’m still not seeing signs of him picking up a pen for pleasure. He taught himself to type using an online program, but writing, no. Lots of boys hate writing, it’s common. I was talking to a schools psychologist about this just yesterday, she said so many boys feel tortured by what they’re forced to do in school and that this torture starts way too young.
With this in mind, we do complete a few work books. We’ve always got a minimum of maths and English books in our packs on all but the shortest trips and from time to time we’ve carried Spanish, Handwriting, Coding and Science too. You can buy them in good book shops or online and we do them if we have some quiet time. It’s important to do a little fairly often because they do regress if they escape writing for months. Some worldscholers will suggest keeping a journal, well my two would rather have their teeth extracted than be forced to write like that, I’ve found that workbooks work far, far better. I have mentioned the workbooks we use ( after much trial and error) in our homeschooling and travelling post ( we’re #1 on Google on that topic!) . For now, I’ll just highly recommend the Carol Vorderman series, Maths Made Easy, English Made Easy, Science Made Easy, Computer Coding Made Easy.
We also use and have used online learning programmes such as Studyladder, Khan Academy, Minecraft Homeschool and Reading Eggs. If we feel we need help from somebody with particular skills, we can find tutors or volunteers. We are now looking for a maths tutor to take some weight off my shoulders.
What Do You Need to Carry to Worldschool?
Really nothing special at all. Some bloggers will write shopping lists for you to boost their affiliate commissions, I’m going to be honest. You need nothing you can’t buy easily anywhere in the world. A notebook and some pencils.
Our preference is to carry a few workbooks as above and the boys have their Kindles for reading. Other than that, nothing. Just use what is around you and keep your eyes wide open.
Those how to travel with kids posts I promised you:
This is one of those posts that will grow and grow, I’ll add more detail, more recommendations, more resources and ideas over time, but now I’m going to hit publish. My perfectionist gene has had this post in draft mode for over a week already. If you’re interested in this topic and would like more information, tell me in the comments what to add. Or do you have any worldschooling tips or ideas you’d like to share here? Lets talk.
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