Monday, October 17, 2011 to homeschool while traveling...

Recently, a mom on the Hip Homeschool Mom's Facebook page posted a question about continuing homeschooling while traveling.  How do you do it?  Do you just quit?  Try to carry on as normally as possible?  Make modifications? Since we traveled cross-country by car two summers ago, and have taken numerous drives up and down the Pacific Coast of the United States, I feel fairly well equipped to answer this question.
Gnorm the Traveling Gnome on the dash of our car, along with maps and other materials.

Get the kids involved in the planning!
First and foremost, you should know where you are going, right?  And, how you will get there?  I am a firm believer in relating lessons to whatever is happening around us.  For our trip, we planned to travel through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and finally New York.  Together, my son and I went to our local AAA office where we picked up travel books on each state or region - the books are FREE if you are a AAA member!!!  We poured over them talking about the merits of staying overnight in certain locations, the best historic sites to visit, and so on.

We printed out an outline map of the United States, and got hold of stickers depicting the state flags.  Then, JP roughly marked our travel route on the map.  We did quite a few calculations using the distances we would travel - how long is the trip total without stops? How long with certain stops? What would be the fastest we could reasonably make the trip?  We did calculations based on our budget and possible choices we could make as well.  Lots of math, geography, and a bit of history all involved just in planning the trip!
Gnorm, updating our map.
Decide on materials to bring along...
Our journey was not a vacation.  It was a move.  We moved from California to New York, and thus brought pretty much everything with us that would fit in our car.  But, that doesn't mean it was all accessible.  I decided to pack a few bags that we could easily get in and out of the car.  One was clothes and toiletries for our journey.  One bag was nonperishable snacks and treats.  The third was full of books, magazines, school supplies, etc.  The third was accessible from our front seat. 

In that third bag, I had packed our packet of maps, with the USA map on top.  I had a pouch filled with pencils, pens, and colored pencils, and plenty of paper (both blank, and lined, as well as notebooks).  There were several reading books (some chosen by my son, some chosen by me), stationery to write letters to friends, and worksheets relating to other subjects that I felt JP needed to keep working on. 

Mt. Shasta in California
Take advantage of the natural scenery, as well as the man-made...
I am a firm believer in conversation as a large part of learning.  We learn when we are engaged with the world around us, and with the people around us.  So, as you travel along, look out the window...what do you see? Ask the kids what they see...anything that surprises them?  Anything they have never seen before?  Something they have seen before, but don't really know about?  On our cross-country journey, we saw mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on.  The natural beauty of our country is ripe for conversations - we talked about how geography affected explorers, pioneers, and settlers as they moved west.  That led to a discussion about the interaction between the "white man" and indigenous peoples.  From there we talked about customs and rituals of various groups of people.

Don't forget to talk about the man-made things you see as well.  We saw trains, various types of work vehicles, cranes, barns and silos, factories, and so on.  From these things, we talked about different aspects of farming which led to a discussion about our food choices, pesticides, and a variety of health issues.  We talked about how transportation has evolved over the last two hundred years, and the impact on travel, trade, and cultural exchange.  As we stopped at various locations, we talked about the differences in the people we met, the layout of towns, and so on.
On the road, you see lots of interesting vehicles.
Perfect opportunity to talk about transportation, multiple types of industry, and trade.

When possible, visit historic sites...
Because of our budget, and time line, we didn't stop at as many historic sites as either of us would have liked.  But, we did make a point of stopping at Mt. Rushmore.  First of all, my Google Maps directions SUCKED and took us on a crazy backroads round-about are-we-lost kind of adventure...  But, that adventure also took us through some interesting small towns we never would have seen if we'd stayed on the main highway.  We saw tiny towns, an amazing part of the Black Hills that we would never have seen otherwise.  We also accidentally drove up to the Crazy Horse National Monument (but didn't get out of our car as it was getting late...).  

As you visit historic sites, don't just go and look, then leave.  Take the time to find out why that site exists...what is the deeper significance?  If there is a museum attached, stop and take a look.  At Mt. Rushmore, you can not only look at the amazing carved mountain, but also visit the museum, see a great display of the flags of the United States, and take a few different walks through the wooded areas.  Talk to other travels too!  Many have interesting stories to tell, and these sites are a great place to meet people...far better than meeting random people at rest stops, right?

Let your kids pick out postcards at the sites you visit.  They can practice their writing skills by sending postcards to their friends and family.  But, be sure to let them keep some postcards as keepsakes as well.   

Mt. Rushmore!
Reading the quotations of Teddy Roosevelt, after visiting Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

Keep a travel journal, and encourage everyone else to keep a travel journal too...or keep one all together...
Several years ago, JP and I began keeping a journal together when we travel.  When he was still fairly young, I would ask him his thoughts at the end of each day - what was the best part of his day? What was the most interesting thing he saw?  And so on...  As JP has gotten older, I've allowed him to keep his own journal, or document our trips in his own way.  Sometimes that means photographs, other times writing things down, sometimes drawing comics about the trip.

For our cross-country trip, I wrote some journal entries on my computer, but I also took photos along the way - several in each state we drove through, and I made little notes that I photographed too.  I tried to take pictures of the "Welcome to XYZ State!" each time we crossed a border, but only a few came out clearly.

Many families play the license plate game as they travel, and it is easily adaptable to keeping track of other things.  For those not familiar, in the license plate game, you keep track of license plate sightings from other states.  We have 50 states, how many can you find represented on license plates while you drive?  Bonus if you see Hawaii or Alaska!  Don't want to keep track of license plates?  No problem...keep track of plants seen, unusual monuments visited, or anything else that interests your family...maybe birds spotted? 

Don't drive through Idaho at night...scary!
Gnorm the Traveling Gnome helped us keep track of our travels.

Parting tips...
A few other things to consider when carschooling, or homeschooling while traveling...
  • Bring a laptop computer, tablet, or netbook:  Many places now offer free wi-fi.  With free wi-fi, you can look up the places you are visiting, find alternatives if plans don't workout, watch videos at the hotel when everyone is exhausted from the day, or keep up with online or computer-based lessons.  Even some of the rest stops on our journey had free wi-fi!
  • Don't forget your cell phone charger!  Things happen!  Don't forget the laptop charger as well...and, while you are at it, pack a power converter!  I got mine at Radio plug it into the cigarette lighter thingy, and it has and outlet on the end that a regular power cord can plug into.  JP was able to watch some videos, and play some games during the less interesting parts of our trip.
  • Bring audio-books!  On this trip we listened to ALL of Story of the World, as well as several audio-discs of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion".  On previous trips we have listened to the books Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling, and A Dog's Life by Ann M. Martin.
  • Make sure everyone has a water bottle.  Refill your water bottles whenever you can instead of buying sodas and juices at every occasional soda or juice is fine, but really, water is great!
  • Bring extra rolls of toilet paper, and a roll of paper towels.  You never know when you will find a rest stop without tp, or when someone will spill something in the car!
  • HAVE FUN!!!!  Yes, you can learn plenty while traveling, but having fun together is the most important part of your trip, right?

Montana -gorgeous!


  1. Sounds like you planned well. We've listened to The Story of the World on several cross country trips as well! And we journal by writing on the back of postcards we buy along the way. We hole punch the cards and put them on a ring and have wonderful memories to look back on!

  2. This is great! We are a road trip family and these are great ideas. I found you through the HHM hop.

  3. Wonderful post! I'm going to bookmark this one to reference when we're planning the next road trip! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I'm so envious of people who can read in cars! My son and I both get carsick, just looking at maps while the car is moving makes me yellow.

    But traveling is so great for kids, wish we could do more.

    (Missed U in the blogosphere these past weeks, glad you're back!)

  5. What a wonderful article! We've done carschooling, too. My kids enjoyed Mt. Rushmore. We did our travel journaling on postcards from each place.

  6. Wow! We don't travel much but plan to start taking short (a few hours to and fro) road trips when our kids are a little older. What great advice for teaching while traveling. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Great ideas!! We plan on taking a road trip in the spring, and I've been thinking about what I will do with them. These are all great ideas. :)

  8. WHAT creative ideas. Just sayin'..

    *tucking some into pocket*

  9. Great ideas. We recently schooled while away from home. This was a first for us. I found the first few days were adjustment time. After that things settled down. I will certainly do it again. Thanks for the tips.

  10. What a great trip and awesome learning ideas! Love all of the photos. :-)

    "Hopping" over to visit from the HHH. Nice to "meet" you.

    Many blessings,

  11. Great ideas! And I love the gnome.......maybe I could do some major traveling when the kiddo are older. Right now, the thought of long car rides makes me cringe!

  12. Thanks for sharing! We just traveled 4 hours to my parent's house. I've discovered a few things that have helped us for smoother trips over the years (as we visit family every other month, sometimes more often): stop at playgrounds! pack lunch in individual divided containers then place in a small cooler! everyone has their own backpack with clothing that THEY're responsible for!


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