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Spring and Easter are right around the corner, so this is a popular time to travel here in the US. Ever wonder how to go about homeschooling on the road? I have one key piece of advice for you- ditch the curriculum. Why waste precious learning time sitting in a car or hotel room filling out workbooks when your family could be immersing themselves in a completely different environment or even a different culture? I have heard so many stories of homeschooling families who have done just this. Remember, your curriculum is a resource. Don’t let it get the best of you. Use it with some flexibility.
Almost two years ago, my son Brendan graduated from boot camp and AIT training in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. It took some planning, but we managed to pack up our nine other children (Kenzie wasn’t even thought of yet) and drive almost 1,000 miles to be there for him. Believe me, it took some preparation packing up everything that we would possibly need for a five-day trip. What was conspicuously missing, though? Our curriculum. Yes, at this point in time we were eclectic homeschoolers and did use a curriculum.
I knew that we didn’t want to waste precious time with our son by tying ourselves down with schoolwork. Doing it in the car wouldn’t have worked, either, because all of my kids get carsick, and this would have exacerbated the problem. After some initial thought, I realized that it really wasn’t a big deal because they would, no doubt, learn a lot on this excursion.
We began preparing for this trip by doing a week-long unit study on the military. We learned some military marches, what the different insignias mean, and what sorts of activities are done at basic training. It gave us a fair understanding of where we were headed, but, more importantly, it got us even more excited than we already were.
The trip to Missouri was a long one, and it was probably one of the best geography lessons my kids have ever gotten. We live in eastern Pennsylvania, so we had to drive across our state, then through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and, finally, Missouri. The children kept themselves busy by writing down all the different states we saw represented on license plates; surprisingly, we saw a license plate from Hawaii. The kids were pretty excited about that. We also observed the topography of the different states and noted the vast differences between, say, Indiana and West Virginia. (I do have to add that while all of the states were beautiful, West Virginia won our hearts. I would love to live there someday.) We also kept a close eye out for wildlife and had fun looking for Bigfoot. (Read this. You’ll understand; my kids love to poke fun at me.) My kids also got a kick out of the Missouri Department of Transportation name- MoDot. It took us a while to even figure out what it meant because here it’s called PennDot, and I guess we’ve never given any thought to what other states may call it.
You know how when you read about famous places or see them on TV, it’s kind of a ho-hum experience? (At least, it is for me.) I’ll tell you what, seeing them in person is amazing. Even though we were not able to stop because of time constraints, driving past Wrigley Field and the St. Louis Arch left a lasting impression on us. In fact, Devin particularly liked this monument because of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief when Percy gets attacked by a chimera in the elevator of the Arch.
Once we got to the base, it wasn’t anything like we expected. I guess I’ve seen the movie Stripes one too many times because I imagined it would be some dreary military base with nothing to look at but trainees marching everywhere, getting screamed at. It was beautiful. Seriously. It looked like a movie of a small town in the suburbs. Grass everywhere (not concrete, like I was expecting), a mall that was called the exchange, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a school, fast food- you name it. Seeing where Brendan had spent the last five months helped me to breathe a sigh of relief because we all honestly thought it would be some horrendous place.
The first day we got there was family day, so we were all seated in an auditorium when all of the soldiers came marching in. I’m getting chills as I’m writing this because it’s still so emotional for me. They did several formations, and after a brief speech, we were able to spend the day with him. Seeing him for the first time since Christmas almost brought us all to tears because it was so obvious that our Brendan was now a man. He had an obedience and respectfulness that went way beyond the good kid who left for boot camp. The kids were fascinated with his dress blues because we had studied the uniforms, and the kids were happy to tell him all about it. We also signed out his battle buddy and spent the day with him, too, because his family would not be there until later.
We spent the day visiting the Leonard Wood museum and the exchange where the kids were introduced to the concept of sales tax and why the soldiers there did not have to pay it. Since we walked everywhere once we were on base, the kids had a great time looking at the gigantic bullfrogs we saw everywhere. Gigantic.
After family day was over, we retreated to our hotel rooms, which the kids were enamored with because we never go anywhere, and got some sleep.
The next day was graduation. The army played a slide show of actual basic training exercises, and we were blessed enough to see Brendan throwing up after coming out of the gas chamber. Perfect. After a beautiful awards and graduation ceremony, Brendan was ours again because he is in the Military Police reserve unit. Sadly, we witnessed several families saying goodbye to their sons and daughters who, being active duty, would not be coming home just yet.
This trip was, by far, one of the best learning experiences we have ever had. The kids still talk about it, in great detail, to this day. Not one math or language arts book made it into our suitcases, but look at what they learned:
-biology and natural habitats
There’s probably so much that I’m missing, but I think you get the picture. So if you’re planning a vacation or a road trip, consider leaving those books at home. There’s so much more out there.