When we first told friends and family we were planning this year overseas, that we were going to start Around the World Stories and that Matt was leaving his job, we got a variety of reactions ranging from joy to shock and questions ranging from why to how, but the question we were most often asked was about our kids and how we planned to teach them this year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how ‘school’ will look this year. How is our day going to look? What do we really want to learn this year?
I asked our kids the other day what goals they had for themselves this year.
“To eat more yogurt than anyone in the the world and to learn Chinese,” announced our 7 year old.
“To learn German, Czech and Swedish,” answered my 9 year old.
“To learn how to whittle, to get better at math, to break my top biking speed and to learn French and German,” responded our 13 year old, a bit more realistically.
Alright, so maybe I should’ve given them a bit more time to think about it.
We’ve never tried road schooling before so I’m not going to pretend we’re experts, but here’s what it looks like right now for us.
Learning right alongside the kids
This one is huge for us. We love the idea of ‘inspire not require’. When my husband and I are learning about something, the kids always seem to want to learn about it too. Before we went on our bike trip along the Moselle, we read about the area together, we learned about the castles and the stories behind the people who lived there. We sat in a castle ruins in Beilstein, Germany and read all about the kings and queens, the lives they led in the very spot we were sitting. Now we are planning a trip to Salzburg, so we’re reading a book about Mozart and watched the Sound of Music (of course!). They’re genuinely interested and want to learn more partially because we are here, but also because we are doing it together as a family.
Getting out of our comfort zone
This one’s been surprisingly hard for me. I forgot how awkward it is when you don’t understand someone and they have to repeat themselves three times. I forgot how hard it is not to have a Target around every corner. I forgot how hard it is to hear an announcement on the train and have everyone walk out while you have no idea what’s going on. We have no choice but to ask for help, to step out of our comfort zone. But I have to remind myself that isn’t a bad thing. I love that our kids are seeing us doing different things, being unsure and then figuring it out. We will get lost, we will miss cable cars and have to hike down the mountain in the pitch black (true story that inspired our story ‘Maja and Mountain Man’), we will be outsiders, we will feel uncomfortable, but those things will help us grow. We could stay in hotels where everyone speaks English, but then we would have missed out on staying with that wonderful woman in Germany because we met and talked with her nephew, a blacksmith at a medieval festival. And, equally important, we would have missed out on her kind offer to use her washing machine!
We could always just stick with the groups that have an English speaking tour guide, but then we would miss out on the tiny cafe in the middle of the forest that a kind stranger told us about. I want our kids to see us trying new things – sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. I want them to try things, too. To step away from what they know and do things differently this year.
Becoming compassionate world citizens
I’ve been thinking about what that means a lot lately, and we talk about it a lot with the kids. How does it feel to not know anyone nor how to speak their language? How would we like others to act towards us right now?
When we moved to Copenhagen a few years back, I remember being dropped off at our new home with no car, no food and our luggages were lost. We were all exhausted and hungry after our two flights and not in the best of moods. We didn’t know where anything was. So, being in Europe, I figured there’d be a grocery store within walking distance. I left our house and started to walk. After a few minutes, I met a woman walking her dog. I asked her if she could please tell me if there was a grocery store nearby. She said, “Follow me.” We walked a few minutes back to her house. She dropped off her dog, took me to her car and drove me to the grocery store. She then walked me through the entire store showing me what everything was. Who knew yogurt was sold in milk cartons in Denmark? She then drove me home. It’s something I’ll never forget. Her kindness, the time she took for me.
That’s something that I want our kids to learn – kindness, tolerance, compassion.
Okay, so maybe we’re biased on this one. But stories – whether read or listened to – are amazing teachers. They feed the imagination. They teach. They help us remember. When we create characters for Around the World Stories, we make a point of never completely describing the physical characteristics of the protagonist. Our kids love to come to us with drawings of what they think each boy or girl looks like. Whether we are listening to Story of the World to learn about history, Heidi to imagine the Swiss Alps, or our story, The Happiness Assignment, to learn about Danish culture, we are learning so much and remembering it!
This is a fun one. What better place to teach about Michelangelo than inside the Sistine Chapel, or medieval history than inside a 1000-year-old castle, or Mozart in Salzburg, or Anne Frank in Amsterdam? Reading H.C. Andersen’s stories in Odense by his birth house and playing in the garden where he played, smelling the lavender in the lavender fields and walking from one island to another during low tide while learning about sea life have all been amazing learning experiences.
Even on days when we don’t go on amazing field trips (most days) or when we don’t sit and ‘teach,’ I’ve seen that learning happens everywhere, all day long. We just need to provide the environment in which they are inspired to learn – and that’s pretty easy to do out here. Right now, it’s summer here, and so we are spending a lot of time outdoors. We hike, we explore, we build windmills and mini rafts in the creek. They journal, read maps and help us plan where to go and what to see. They convert their U.S. dollars into whatever currency we are using that day and figure out how much they can spend each month to make it last the year. They order ice cream – they’ve gotten amazingly good at saying ‘waffle cone’ in several languages. So, even on days when I feel like they haven’t learned anything, I try and give myself a break because they really are always learning.
I don’t know exactly how this year will work, but I do know that we are going to learn a lot and grow a lot. We’re pretty excited about that.