By Chelsea Whitby, HHU Contributor
Guest writers are invited for their insights into different aspects of the Homeschool Hub Utah's four pillars, which are to connect, empower, educate, and serve homeschooling families in Utah. While we feel each guest blogger's message will be helpful to homeschooling families, not all ideas presented by every guest blogger are officially endorsed by Homeschool Hub Utah.
When I first started imagining our homeschool life 13 years ago, travel was at the top of my dream list. My inner nomad wanted to wander the earth, wild and free. And I wanted to show my kids that there were a million other beautiful lives out there beyond their familiar little world. So many of my personal values (diversity, exposure to ideas and people who are different from me, tolerance, understanding, courage, etc…) all seemed best taught and lived through travel.
But then reality set in.
Mid-life career changes, unexpected health problems, tighter-than-expected finances, a home full of introverts, and a global pandemic all shifted our focus to other areas of need, and somehow frequent and widespread travel never could become a top priority for us. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized that not all dreams need to come true. I’m a pretty creative person and I can dream of a lot of things! (We’re homeschoolers after all -- flexibility, creativity, and imagination are our secret superpowers, are they not?) There are literally thousands of dreams I’ve had, each one beautiful and unique in its own right. If I spend all my time measuring the life I have now to any one of the thousands of lives I’ve dreamed, I will always be unhappy.
Instead, can I choose to view my life now as one of those dreams- the one I’ve chosen to make my reality?
But there were those values again, pestering me in the back of my mind. So “if the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain." World travel was not coming to us, despite our best efforts, so we had to go to it with the resources we had available to us. Literature studies, documentaries, music, cultural events, exposure to ethnic foods, book clubs, and podcasts all became our gateways to the world. Those were methods of transportation we could board any time without worrying about who would feed the dog or water my Silver Torch cactus while we were gone. And although our memories may not be as exotic as some, they were never dull and we never lacked destinations to explore next.
We had to work a little harder for the sensory experience that travel hands you freely, filling in the blank spaces with our own flavors and smells, but it was well worth the work. Some of the places we visited were:
China: We read Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis and then researched and planned a full Chinese New Year, inviting a special guest to join us and preparing authentic dishes to try. We ended the evening by making paper dragons and gifting red envelopes to each other for good luck in the new year.
Denmark: We read The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong and studied the geographical differences between Denmark and Utah. We ended by learning how to attract wildlife to our “school house” just like the children did in the book.
The Andes: We read The Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark and immersed ourselves in Incan art forms.
If world travel is just outside your reach right now, don’t lose heart. Maybe it’s just not the right season. Or maybe it’s just not in the cards for your family. Either way, there is courage in daring to love the life you already have without needing to change it first.
Below are just a few of the ideas and resources that might get you started on your own adventures. Wild and free are a state of mind that can’t be contained by a lack of funds or opportunity. Tap into your inner nomad and see where it takes you.
Literature studies and book clubs: This is my ABSOLUTE favorite way to teach! Everyone loves a good story and the rich conversation that naturally came from these read-alouds was pure gold! We would often find a topic or theme from the book and develop some type of project to engage in after.
Brave Writer is a great place to start to learn how to do this. Each book ends with ideas for a “book club party school” event you can put on to make it a more immersive “travel” experience.
Gather some like-minded friends for a monthly book club. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, my kids and 4 other families gathered monthly to discuss books about diversity so we could help our children understand what was happening and gain some proximity to others’ lived experiences that don’t mirror our own. I often left those discussions in tears; so moved was I at the deep level of insight and compassion these teens tapped into through their reading and discussion. It was a highly transformative experience for everyone involved.
Form a “travel club” with other families. Each kid could pick a place in the world and a book to go with it. When you meet to discuss the assigned child could report on the country and then help lead a discussion about the book the group read.
I found this gem while perusing the Los Angeles library bookstore recently. Wouldn’t this make an awesome study?
Documentaries & Movie Night: For years we had a weekly documentary night while we ate dinner. It felt like a movie night to my kids and it felt like learning to mom. I’m amazed at all the things we learned through those documentaries, and it gave a visual to all the things we were reading and talking about that was just so invaluable.
This list of 23 Binge-Worthy Travel Documentaries on Netflix right now gives me so many ideas of fun ways to explore the world from home.
Who doesn’t love HGTV or Food Network? We love to watch shows like House Hunters International and discuss what it would be like to live in different places.
Field trips: Check out the local art museums, botanical gardens, universities, and fairs to see what exhibits are coming your way that might lend themselves to studying different locations or cultures. Often the artist is from a specific country or culture which lends itself to great discussions about how our experiences form the way we view the world. Get on their email lists so you don’t have to remember to go check their website every few months.
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Food: Eating foods from a specific place can be massively educational. Using dining out or cooking in while studying is a full sensory experience for learners. Even if they don’t love the food, they won’t forget the experience.
Making authentic food at home can be a really fun way to spread the learning out throughout the day the same way you would if you were traveling in the country. Remember it doesn’t always have to be a full meal. What dessert is that country known for? Or is there a special drink that’s really iconic to that region?
Visiting a market specific to that ethnicity can be an educational experience in and of itself. Salt Lake City has a Middle Eastern market, Myanmar Asian market, an Ethiopian market, and many more. Pick one new thing to try such as a new spice or an unfamiliar treat.
Podcasts: I can’t be the only person that gets exhausted trying to drum up stimulating conversation with a car full of introverted boys. I love the reprieve of popping on a podcast that’s relevant to the things or places we’re learning about while we drive. Check out this list of family-friendly travel podcasts.
Chelsea Whitby has been working in education in one way or another for the past 20+ years. She has her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Language Literacy. When she decided to homeschool her kids almost a decade ago she discovered her love for alternative education and hasn’t looked back. She lives with her two teenage boys, her fantastically patient husband, an eternal puppy aussiedoodle, and an angry senior cat. She loves to read everything, practice meditation and yoga, imagine she’s a professional author and artist, and have deep existential conversations with anyone who will listen.