Educating Kids on the Road

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EDUCATING KIDS ON THE ROAD By Pamela Lanier Like most families, the majority of our travels have taken place during the long summer break and over the Christmas and Easter holidays. Obviously, these pose no challenge to continuing schoolwork, beyond taking along some books about the area to enhance the experience. However, sometimes an opportunity presents itself for a trip during regular school times, and when this happens, the question of continuing the children's education while traveling becomes paramount. Depending upon the duration of the trip, there are several options for schooling your kids on the road. Work with your child's school to develop what is called in California an "independent study contract." Under an independent study contract, the teacher gives the child the assignments, to be supervised by the parents and completed by the child's return. This is easiest in elementary school, when there is generally only one teacher involved. However, as the student gets into junior high and high school, more advanced preparation is required. Give the school as much advance notice as possible, arrange to have a personal discussion with the teacher, or in the upper grades, the counselor, who will coordinate the independent study. In the upper grades, it helps to not be absent for the semester finals, though this too can be worked around. On our most recent extended trip, we traveled in Thailand with our daughter, a freshman in high school and our 5th-grade son. The freshman had a complete backpack of books to carry and she did very well working independently on her studies, while the 5th grader needed more direction from us. A typical morning (and I do believe mornings are best for study), would begin with a 9 o'clock study session. Our daughter would work independently, while with our son we would go through each of his five study topics for 20 to 30 minutes each. Although this doesn't sound like a lot of time, it's actually as much time as most students spend on each topic in a classroom day. We take a break around 10:30 for fifteen minutes of exercise, and then get back at it until 12:30. Every afternoon we would have one to two hours of quiet time for independent reading. Using this schedule, our children completed eight weeks of classwork in five weeks, and upon our return were ahead of their class in every subject. They received complete credit, and it was actually our daughter's best scholastic year. It did require some responsibility on our part (geometry is long ago and far away in my memory), and some preparation, but it was more than worth it. And when we realized how little our children were actually learning during their long hours at school, we became much more demanding of them in terms of outside reading, preparing study projects just for us, and learning in general. Private schools perhaps have a longer history of dealing with extended student absences, and most are very accommodating in preparing school work. If you plan to be gone for more than a semester, it probably makes sense to look into an accredited correspondence school. (Correspondence schools that have come highly recommended to us are listed in the resources section.) Enrolling your child in local schools is another option. Obviously, there may be a language barrier, which is more easily surmountable by some children than others. Most large cities have American schools, or a bilingual English language school. Friends whose daughters attended high school in Mexico for two years at a private Catholic school where they began with only a smattering of Spanish are amazingly poised and confident, and their manners are light years ahead of their all-American peers. The feature article, "Road Scholars," was written by Virginie Forain, who has traveled the world with her family, and home-schooled her children using correspondence courses. Her eldest daughter finished nursing school at age 21, cum laude, and her younger daughter enrolled at Stanford University on full scholarship.

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