Caravanning around Australia during the school term is not only the domain of grey nomads. Families with young children, not content to cram adventure into specified holiday dates, are taking their kids out of school and travelling for months and, sometimes, years.
For these young families wanting to experience Australia’s diverse landscape by road, education is an important consideration, with parents often having to take control of their children’s schooling.
Jacquie Sandhu from Schools of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) in Western Australia said about 40% of their current primary enrolments are holidaying around Australia and she added that families are also travelling for longer than in previous years.
If your plans for an extended getaway are stymied by concerns over schooling, there is an abundance of choices available to suit you and your child’s needs. Caravan World spoke to a couple of well-travelled families about their strategies for educating their kids on the road.
Cathie Vucak has never forgotten her ‘fantastic’ childhood experience of travelling for six months through Wales, Scotland and England in a campervan with her parents and brother. It inspired her to plan her own family holiday with husband Neil, 10-year-old Jasmine and seven-year-old Sam. They purchased a Vacationer offroad camper trailer and left Perth in March 2011, for a 14-week trek across the Nullarbor and up the east coast of Australia.
Cathie, an education assistant, spoke to the children’s teachers prior to leaving and recalls that they were both adamant the kids should not be doing anything formal, that the trip was enough of an experience. The teachers stressed it would be sufficient for them to keep a journal and to read.
However, as the children already struggled with maths, Cathie and Neil worried they might fall behind. Jasmine and Sam were registered with KUMON (an individualised learning method where children progress at their own pace) and, before they left, Cathie ordered a pile of hard-cover workbooks to last the journey. A computer was not essential, although Cathie forwarded the results via email.
Each evening, Jasmine and Sam sat at the camp table as their parents prepared dinner and spent 15 minutes completing a KUMON booklet, then another 15 minutes writing in their journals. While travelling in the car, the kids finished their homework before being allowed to colour in or watch movies.
With her background in education, Cathie knew what level her children should be at and how to encourage Sam to continue his studies. On the road, she had the children read aloud, recite capital cities and gave them crosswords and spelling exercises from books she purchased. She also encouraged the children to write postcards once a week to their classmates and grandparents. A daily half-hour routine meant the Vucaks didn’t feel they were constantly nagging their children and could enjoy their holiday.
Cathie and Neil enjoyed their experience so much that they contemplated throwing in their jobs and travelling indefinitely. Cathie said being on the road had ‘a really nice life-flow’, as all the daily stresses and irritations disappeared. “It’s just a great thing for families to do,” she added.
Caroline Makepeace taught primary school children for 15 years but opted to enrol her six-year-old daughter Kalyra in Distance Education, while travelling around Australia. With husband Craig and two-year-old daughter Savannah, they set out in September 2013 in a Jayco Outback Swan camper trailer for a prolonged family adventure. The couple run their own full-time travel blog business, enabling them to continue their dream of exploring Australia for a living, indefinitely.
With another school year looming, Caroline said of choosing Distance Education, “I just felt it would be easier for me to manage on top of having to run the business. I didn’t want to be creating units of work and ensuring it matched the curriculum. I wanted all that taken care of so I could just implement”.
Caroline receives a whole term’s worth of work via email which she helps Kalyra with, forwarding completed assignments to her assigned teacher. She says the only additional resources she purchases are art supplies, everything else is included.
Every morning, Kalyra spends an hour moving through the allotted tasks on the laptop set up outside the camper. On quiet days, Caroline urges her to complete more, to allow for days when they are busy exploring.
Caroline admits being a former teacher has its disadvantages. “It’s been quite difficult to teach my own child and manage her sometimes lack of motivation and sassiness. There is no principal I can send her to.” But she added, “I can also quickly evaluate if she has grasped a concept or needs more work and I can clearly see how well she does compared to her age group”.
Caroline believes the education her daughter is receiving from her travels is hard to beat and Kalyra’s social skills, life skills and confidence have soared.
These families agree there is never a right time to travel with children, so they all recommend to just do it. The experience is invaluable for the entire family and it’s something you never forget.
Although they met families on the road with teenage children, they all say they would be hesitant to remove secondary students from formal education.
While Kalyra is still on the road, the Vucaks say their children have slotted back into school without any problems and would love to do it all again.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #538 June 2015.