Back-to-school hassles usually include finding the right brand of pencils or a backpack your kid doesn't hate. This year, well, things are a little different. The pandemic means some parents will be overseeing at-home learning, often while trying to keep their own jobs. Others will send their kids back to class part- or full-time, crossing their fingers that they'll stay safe.
Still others will homeschool on their own time. And an adventurous few will even do it while traveling all over the country in RVs. It's called "roadschooling," and some parents say that with the uncertainty of the new school year, it makes more sense than ever.
Jackie McGuire, a Maryland mom of three school-age children, plans to hit the road full time from the end of September through the new year. She was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, but has expanded a side business, plus her husband is working remotely. Her family will use a 40-foot bus as their RV, mixing in camping when the weather permits. They'll follow their school's remote-learning curriculum while on the road.
"I'm looking forward to being in places without cell or internet signals, showing my kids parts of the U.S. they haven't seen, and having them develop a better ability to keep themselves busy," she says. "There's also a really cool aspect of non-traditional learning, using mile markers for math, actual rocks for geology, that you can't do stuck inside."
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It's hard to say how many families have embraced roadschooling, but around 1 million Americans are "full time," living in their RVs instead of using them for occasional trips, and the proportion of younger RV owners has been growing. The internet is also full of resources for those who make the leap. One of the most prominent websites, Fulltime Families, has a Facebook group with more than 36,000 members where parents trade tips on RVs, travel itineraries, and lesson plans.
Robyn Robledo, a California mom of five, has been roadschooling since 2015 and chronicling her family's adventures at Nomads With a Purpose. She says one of the best parts of roadschooling is incorporating destinations into her kids' lessons. For instance, a trip to the beach might include a stop at tidepools to discuss the creatures that live there. A stay near a battlefield may coincide with a study of the Civil War.
"With traditional homeschooling, I felt like I needed to follow traditional subjects and curriculum," Robledo says. "But with roadschooling … I quickly learned that traditional subjects were limiting, and instead, I tried to use as many hands-on and in-life lessons as possible. Through our travels, our kids have been able to learn way more applicable life lessons than they were learning from textbooks."
Of course, roadschooling still demands planning. Parents must abide by the homeschooling laws in their state of permanent residence, and requirements can vary dramatically. They need to decide whether to follow a set curriculum that might require reliable Wi-Fi, use workbooks and paper-based materials that take up valuable space in an RV, or rely on more real-world lessons. And some worry their kids might not thrive away from friends and other support systems.
McGuire says the pandemic is precisely why she isn't concerned about that last part. "Even if circumstances aren't ideal, we always explain change to our children as an opportunity for adventure. That's how they see the world," she says. "Normally, the one thing I'd be worried about is taking them away from friends, but they haven't seen theirs in months and have grown much closer to each other, so it's not as big a factor."
The prospect of traveling and teaching kids at the same time may seem daunting, but Robledo says the right mindset is key. With roadschooling, "there aren't many breaks and it means you have to be 'on' all the time. It can be exhausting, for sure, which is why I tell parents to focus more on the relationship and less on the curriculum at first," she says. "If you nurture good kids who are emotionally fulfilled, there is a really good chance that they will be successful in life."