Several years ago, or in large family lingo – six children ago – I was talking with a fellow homeschooling mom who mentioned her secret to taking long trips with children: give them allergy medication first – apparently in hopes of a quiet ride. Hmmm. Tempting, perhaps, but I don't recommend it.
Now, whether or not you take this extreme approach to travel, you may feel a tinge of fear when you contemplate an extended car trip with your children. Frankly, children can make a trip less than peaceful. Or possibly make a trip an all-out war. "How many more miles, Mom? How many hours is that? Is that a short time or a long time? Mom! He touched me! Tell him to stop making that noise!"
If any of this sounds familiar, I think I can help.
Mile after mile, town after town, rest stop after (dirty) rest stop we have become seasoned travelers. Our family of nine traveled over 15,000 miles in just a few months last year. Nine people, one van.
Most people react rather predictably when they hear of our extensive travels. Their comments fall into the less-than-encouraging, "are you out of your mind?" category. Yet in all honesty, our time on the road has been nearly all positive and the positive times can be narrowed down to three specific steps:
1. Don't try to recreate home in the car! Although we do continue homeschooling while traveling, we never bring a large stack of textbooks. This will only cause frustration and confusion as you try to keep track of everything. Within the first hundred miles, at least one juice box will have spilled on the math book, saltine crackers will be permanently pressed into the creases of the grammar book, and your lesson plans will have been sucked into the mysterious vortex which all mothers loathe. Travel light! One idea is to bring just one small spiral notebook for each child with the instructions, "Write or draw what you see!" You can call it a journal, a diary, or just a wonderful memento worth saving. Card games, laminated activity pages with a few whiteboard crayons, a basic flower press for roadside stops – these are small items that will enable you to travel light while learning along the way.
2. Plan your attack! Before you pack even one suitcase, take a moment to honestly evaluate your family. What drives you nuts? That factor will be multiplied many times when you sit in the car hour after hour. If it's a discipline issue, take the time to train before you leave for the trip. A bratty child at home will be an absolute terror after a thousand miles. But developing good obedience habits will make the trip pleasant for the entire family. If it's a sibling issue, think of what would make for peace. When I was a child - apparently a rather contentious one – I always sat in the front seat with my dad in our pea-green Plymouth Duster while my mom braved the back seat between my older sister and younger brother. It wasn't until recent years that I learned that it was not due to my navigational skills but simply for the sake of peace! My parents obviously knew the wisdom of "divide and conquer" long before travel ideas appeared on the Internet. So if you have a child like me – one who would rather fight to the death than give up an inch of territory – arrange seating to maximize family harmony.
3. Take advantage of your advantages! Endless hours in the car provide the perfect time for listening to audio books to which your children may not normally listen. Some of the great classics which seem rather daunting at home (and thus ignored) have become well-loved favorites in our family when listened to in the car. At home I read aloud to the children individually (from our littlest ones to our biggest) but in the car our family has a great opportunity for bonding when I can read-aloud to the entire family. A shared plot, a period in history that triggers the imagination, the suspense of what's next – these things are just the start of making great memories together. Last year I read a Jim Kjelgaard classic as we traveled and everyone enjoyed it – even the four year old talked about parts of the book she loved. Yet at home I would never have considered that as a book she could comprehend.
Don't spend your valuable family time on the road filling in workbooks and taking tests. Immerse your family in the real-life history, geography and learning opportunities all around you.
All the creative homeschooling on the road ideas will be pointless if you are constantly dealing with disobedience and bickering. Not to mention that you will end your trip with a lot less hair than when you started. These three simple tips can go a long way to help make your trip pleasant, harmonious and memorable.
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