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The best guide to homeschooling on road trips in the US

Homeschool on Your Next Road Trip

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

As a child, when I answered the question, “Where do you go to school?” with, “I’m homeschooled,” people were usually surprised and skeptical. It wasn’t mainstream. Many had never heard of it.

My mom didn’t have the Internet. She found curricula she thought would work with our learning styles, changed along the way when something wasn’t working, and even incorporated unschooling styles when appropriate.

Hands-On Experiences within Road Trips

I don’t remember much about what I learned from history in a textbook, but I could give you a pretty good tour of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I could compare and describe the different biomes in Minnesota. I could share the experiences of the first travelers to Yellowstone.

Why? These are things I learned by immersion, through my senses, and through experience. When we took a family vacation my mom made sure it was filled with learning. It was always fun and never felt like a chore.

The Crystal Bridges Experimental Study

It turns out I’m not alone in remembering what I learned outside of the classroom. In a recent study, children retained more information after a field trip than they retained after learning the same material from a book.

In this Crystal Bridges Experimental Study, students were randomly selected to visit an art museum while the others remained in the classroom.

EducationNext.org summarized the results, “School field trips to cultural institutions have notable benefits. Students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of an art museum experience improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future.”

I am now homeschooling my own kids. We follow a fairly traditional style, using textbooks on the living room floor, but we also spend a lot of time camping and traveling and learning as we go.

How to Decide Where to Next

Consider these questions when planning your next road trip.

Road trip roadschooling defined

Where should I go?

You can choose a trip based on your educational goals or choose educational goals based on your trip.

One of my dream road trips would be to follow the path of Lewis and Clark. This would be an example of a trip based on education goals. I would base the trip on the specific thing I want to learn.

Another one of my dream trips is to go to Alaska. This would be an example of choosing a destination and then discovering what it has to offer. I base my learning on what my trip has available.

So to answer the question, you should go wherever you want! You can learn just as much with either education trip strategy. The key is to be intentional.

How should I prepare?

Obviously, you’ll need to take time off work, pack the essentials, make sure your vehicle is ready for what you expect of it, and get a tune-up. An on-the-road car problem would be a significant roadblock to your learning goals. Next, confirm you have adequate car insurance coverage, especially if you plan to travel out of the country.

Concerning your child’s education, once you decide where you’re going and what you hope to study, go to the library and check out books about it. Your kids will remember so much more when they experience what they have read about in a good book.

Read biographies of historical figures, fiction centered in the area you’re traveling to, and books explaining the geology and geography of where you’re going.

Should I bring textbooks?

If you head out on road trips once or twice a year for a couple of weeks, my recommendation is to ditch the regular textbooks. Let the unique experiences of your trip be the only textbook.

If you’re a traditional homeschooling family and you take frequent trips, take the books, or take at least the appropriate number of worksheets for the duration of your trip.

If your program is Internet- or DVD-based and you’ll have access to the Internet and the time to focus on it, bring it.

If you’re an unschooling family, then you just keep doing what you normally do, just on the road.

If you plan to bring your traditional school work with you, try not to let it run your trip. Fit it in where it makes sense, but let the unique opportunities to learn from what’s around you take prominence.

I find that if we spend the bulk of our day in the vehicle, it is easy to crank out a lot of bookwork. The kids are stuck in the car and days like that are perfect for getting ahead. Then, when you have a day filled with activity outside the car, you don’t even have to think about trying to squeeze in bookwork.

How can I incorporate education into a family vacation?

When you start looking for ways to learn as you go, you may feel overwhelmed with opportunities. Each region of the country has different geological and climate-specific features. The locations of important historical events are scattered throughout the country. There will be opportunities to study science and history every single place you visit. I promise you.

Consider what your children are interested in. Use their interests to narrow down your list of possibilities. Research your route and find what activities will fit best with your family.

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A Guide to Road Trips In the US

I’ll quickly list the four major regions of the U.S. with some of the things they’re known for. These ideas offer a springboard from which you can dive deep into the specifics that are unique to the area.

  • Northeast – In the Northeast, you can study history where it happened. This area played a central role in U.S. history starting with Native Americans, then the Pilgrims, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and beyond. There are mountains and the ocean, rivers and woods, and cities and farmlands.
  • South – The South features opportunities to visit the locations of key historical events, like Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields and the cities and towns where vital Civil Rights activities occurred. You can even study more recent history important to American music and pop culture. You’ll find plenty of places to study science from the Smoky Mountains down to the Everglades and across to the oil fields.
  • Midwest – The Midwest used to be the frontier as East Coast American headed west. You can find homesteads and the wagon train trails as settlers moved even further west. The Mississippi River, separating the East from the West lends itself to the study of engineering with steamboats, locks, and dams. You can study the Great Lakes and shipping, prime farmland and why it’s so good, and tornados and why they happen there.
  • West – Native American history is in abundance across the western U.S. Find out how the gold rushes changed the land both geologically and socially. The geological features to study include glaciers, mountains, the continental divide, volcanos, and archeological dinosaur digs. The geographical diversity includes rain forests, deserts, and everything in between.
  • Nationwide – Across the country, you can find and explore National Parks. Each park will offer a junior ranger program, which is a great way to dig into the unique things to learn about that area. Children who complete the program earn a badge and certificate. Ranger-led programs give homeschooled kids the opportunity to learn from others and discover the rich resource in rangers. You can also learn about an area by visiting its state parks with educational programs. Museums, zoos, and aquariums offer more locations to learn.

What should we do with what we’ve learned on road trips?

Discuss each family member’s favorite part of the day. Ask what everyone thought was the most interesting thing they learned.

Have each child keep a daily journal where they write down where they went, what they learned, and what they want to know more about.

Assign reports. You can have your kids write a report highlighting what they learned. To help your child get personally involved in the studies, let them know what they’re going to need to write a report about. That way they can look for relevant information and ask the questions they need to.

You’ll find that it’s totally doable to homeschool on road trips. Your children will internalize what they learn in a way that doesn’t happen as easily when learning from a textbook. In fact, a growing number of people are taking to the road full time and “roadschooling” their children along the way.

My mom pioneered roadschooling without even knowing it. She just did what made sense to encourage learning. I am continuing down her path with my own on-the-go homeschooling style.

This kind of learning is accessible with just a bit of planning, starting with the questions listed above.

Melanie Musson is a writer for Autoinsurance.org. She’s a homeschooling mom of four little girls and their favorite place to learn is in the great outdoors surrounding their Montana home.

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