I’ve followed with interest these world traveling homeschoolers. The ones who spend time around their cute little rental tables, RV porches, or camped out on a beach blanket doing a bit of traditional school (reading! writing! arithmetic!) and then immersing themselves in the local culture for the rest of the day. So when it became a reality that we were going to have this opportunity to go to West Africa I started considering what to take with us and what to leave behind.
Whether folks were truly concerned, mildly curious, or just grasping for conversation, many asked about our school plans for our three weeks in Nigeria. Having put a good deal of thought into what I thought would work, I am happy to report that it worked beautifully and I would highly recommend it for anyone taking a short term trip overseas.
We took the full three weeks off.
I did not pack a single book. (They had some audiobooks of stories they enjoy, but had no obligation to them.) There were no assignments. No nature study. No maps. No moments of “oh, let’s google that and learn more about it.” No observations required of them. (I had taken journals, and offered them a treat each day they sat down to write about what they were seeing and doing – many entries were made in their travel journals. I haven’t read them, so I am not sure what they have documented, but do know they asked me to spell “Niara” (the currency) and “peanut butter”, so at least those two things were written about.)
Truth be told, it was actually five weeks of no school, with us having taken a week prior to the trip and a week post trip off of school, too.
The week before the trip was essential to my sanity, and the week after has been essential to their sanity.
This had all been worked into the schedule, and was a big part of the reason why we started school so early in the summer.
The fact that it was planned helped me to fully embrace and enjoy the unconventional and long break in the middle of the school year, but the reality is – worrying about it wouldn’t have helped or changed anything apart from robbing me of the joy of simply being.
If you find yourself in this boat of taking a semi-long break in the middle of the school year, whether through a well executed plan or a curveball that life throws at you, do your best to live fully where God places you and find the moments to rest in the current season so you’re ready for the next season. Don’t let worry rob you of the joy to be found in the everyday moments of your beautiful life.
Mercy Me has a line in their song Happy Dance that says;
“We’re so consumed with what we think we’re supposed to be
That we stop living like we know that we’re free.”
One of the freedoms we have in homeschooling our children is that it doesn’t look like traditional school and we have the flexibility to shift things around without compromising their education.
Should we ever become traveling homeschoolers as a regular part of our life a complete neglect of all formal education for the sake of embracing a local culture would compromise their education and we would handle things differently than we did on this short term trip.
I am partial to the above images of my boys. While they never verbally indicated it, their body language was screaming their discomfort in this particular situation, and their daddy stood nearby as a physical reminder to them that they weren’t alone.
The boys spent hours upon hours outside each day. There were always oodles of children to play with during the day. In the evenings there were two brothers that were always around, which was special for my boys to be able to get closer to those two.
In addition to their outdoor time they spent time in their room, retreating and recharging as they listened to audiobooks or talked with each other. They also watched an episode of Chopped each day, and a few times made cookies for everyone. There weren’t a lot of options for them to do and I saw very clearly how good and valuable their “bored” times were for them. Their imaginations soared. Judah started writing his first novel and Wesley’s conversational skills exploded.
In the midst of living fully our three weeks in Nigeria I was struck with this great relief that we didn’t have any copy work to write, dictation work to study, nature, art or composer studies to focus on, or books to read through and narrate. Regardless of how beautiful and charming I find our school approach to be, it was wonderful to simply be in the new culture we were privileged to be guests in.
Charlotte Mason says it this way;
“Our aim in education is to give a full life… We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests… Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest… Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul . . . The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
Our three weeks in Nigeria, free from the added responsibilities and obligations of school work, allowed us to bend better to the culture we were in. We were available at all times to do, to see, to go, to help – whatever availed itself, we could be there. We were able to to live fully. To be present in this manner was an essential training ground for our eyes to be opened to see more widely the beauty God has created across the world.
“We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.” – Charlotte Mason, from her book Ourselves.
She goes on to quote part of Marlowe’s Faust;
“Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!”
I am convinced that the greatest things they – and us! – learned can’t be put into words. But for fun, here is a list of things I know my boys learned while we were immersed in a third world country and not doing school:
- How to speak goat – not even kidding, Judah practiced this every day and sounds legit.
- What the pinch of an army ant feels like – I am still not sure how Judah got pinched, but he did. And now he knows! Wesley was pinched when he was 2 (our 2010 visit) and says he still remembers it!
- Sweat flies make honey – we were standing nearby as a wall was pulled down, and right in the crevice of the door frame was a hive of sweat fly honey! Our friends shared some with us, and it tasted a bit like molasses.
- How long it takes to walk to the stream for water – even though there are now wells and pumps available, it wasn’t so long ago that the stream was the only option. And while our visit was for play, it was sobering to realize what so many people around the world have to do every day for water.
- How to pump water from a well – the home we stayed in had running water, but the Nigerians use pumps at the wells to get their daily water. Interesting side note: Paul spoke with a group of medical professionals about stress management and asked them what their daily stressors are. Waiting for their turn at the water pump was one of their stresses. Friends – we have SO much to be thankful for!
- How to greet people in another language – and seeing how meaningful that is to the local people! It thrilled the Nigerians when the boys would initiate a greeting in Igala, even if the pronunciation was off. A friend put it so well. He told us he knew their language was hard to learn and that you had to exert effort to learn – and that trying to learn the language showed that you cared about the people.
- What a variety of local foods taste like, including grass rat and monitor lizard (only Paul tried the lizard.) There were also spicy peppers, fruit picked from trees on the property, pounded yam (like a hefty mashed potato), gravies (you dip the pounded yam into it, they were seasoned a variety of ways), beans, Maltex, and lots of rice!
- How to pound peanut butter and yam using a mortar and pestle. My boys couldn’t hang with the girls that regularly do this work! It’s a LOT of work! But they had fun trying.
- What it feels like to literally been given someone’s very best – and how to handle that when it’s different than what you are accustomed to. It is humbling, and confusing, and a lot for a kid to process. Ok; it’s a lot for adults to process, too. But we were able to have a lot of really good conversations and talk about what it means to be thankful, truly thankful, for God’s provisions.
- Teaching – the boys were able to teach their friends some of their favorite group games from America and play those games with the kids. I was actually super impressed with the fact that they accomplished this with the language barrier!
- Learning – their friends, in turn, taught my boys some of their favorite games.
- That it is ok to be uncomfortable, and how to handle one’s self when it gets to be a bit much. Our culture prioritizes personal comfort, and the reality is that so much of the world doesn’t get that option. And when you’re a guest in another culture you don’t always get the option either.
- The texture and play-ability factor of red clay – Wesley spent hours and hours playing in the red clay dirt pile and lugging buckets of water, pumped from the well, to make himself a water slide, holes, and other feats worthy of a nine year old’s attention.
- Cultural differences – I know we missed much, and perhaps misunderstood other things, and that there’s really no way to summarize what we learned about the cultural differences, but one thing that kept coming to our attention was Wesley would tell us the kids were picking on him. He said they kept touching him, pinching him, and otherwise just not being nice to him. We were concerned and started watching what was happening – turns out it was a huge misunderstanding and something we hadn’t prepared him for. The boys were trying to hold his hand, place their arm around his shoulder, or lean on him in an affectionate, friendly manner. Very normal amongst the boys there. Every time they tried to do it to him he felt they were picking on him and he would shove them away, and they’d respond to him. As for the pinching that was happening when they were sitting during Kid’s Club for a lesson and Wesley’s eyes would wander. A friend would pinch him to bring his gaze back to the speaker – something that was required of all the Nigerian children or their heads were bopped. Once we realized what was happening and explained it to Wesley it all made sense to him and he no longer felt like he was being picked on.
- Inspired by the Nigerian artisan craftsmen and their handiwork – when we were leaving we stopped by a Maker’s Market of sorts – local handmade goods. Judah was so inspired by what he saw there he has been carving his own versions of what he saw ever since he got back!
If you’ve made it this far thanks for reading through! Summarizing this experience and what they learned has been tricky to do, and I know I have missed some things. But more than anything I want this to encourage you to embrace with joy those seasons where formal schooling is on hold – or to put it on hold if you’re able to travel short term! – knowing that there is so much in the daily living that can be learned that will expand the room in which our children will one day stand on their own and connect their minds and hearts to care more deeply about the world around them.