Frustrated by a regime of statutory testing, and keen for a midlife adventure, Sue Cowley and her partner decided to step out of the system, and set off on the educational adventure of a lifetime with their children. Road School is the story of their family’s adventures around Europe and across China, and what they learned along the way. Part comedy travelogue, part parenting guide, part educational philosophy, Road School asks you to consider what ‘an education’ really means and offers tips for anyone planning their own learning adventure.
As a parent in the UK, you must make sure that your child has a full time education, once they are of compulsory school age. However, this education does not have to take place in a school. A growing number of parents are finding that home educating, or ‘unschooling’, either permanently or on a short term basis, is a viable and attractive option. The national curriculum, benchmark tests and exams serve to reinforce the idea that there is a specific set of knowledge which equates to ‘an education’. However, when you are home educating, it is entirely up to you what and how you wish to teach your children. Or, rather, what and how you wish your children to learn. You might choose to include part or everything that is in the national curriculum, or you might not. Sue’s family found that one of the best things about Road School was the freedom to follow their interests. Sue offers plenty of advice based on the lessons her family learned on their Road School adventure, such as:
• Take into account how learning can happen simply by visiting a place and exploring it. Don’t feel that you always have to formalise your visit by turning it into a ‘lesson’. The experience of going somewhere can be memorable and educational in its own right.
• Much of what your children will learn on the road is social and emotional rather than intellectual. They learn how to cope, how to adapt, how to be resilient and how to be brave. The challenges and difficulties that you face on the road will teach them all these things without any direct ‘teaching’ needed at all.
• Involve your children in making decisions about the content of their curriculum, particularly when it comes to choosing topics or themes. What would they most like to study during your learning journey together? You can teach subjects such as English or history through cross-curricular ‘themes’ rather than as discrete lessons. Ask your children to decide which topics interest them the most and capitalise on those.
• One of the great things about educating your child yourself is that you get to learn alongside them. Not only do you provide a model of lifelong learning, but it’s also very liberating to learn new things as an adult.
• Remember that teaching is not the same thing as learning. You don’t have to teach your children directly for a set number of hours each day in order to educate them. Learning can take place all the time, and anywhere, rather than just during ‘school’ hours. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or day of the week it is – if there is learning happening, then your child is being educated.
Stepping Out of the System
Travelling with Children
A Road School Curriculum