“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.” – Euripides.
Here’s an article I wrote that was published in The Independent in September this year – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/starting-the-school-of-life-9722300.html Within a few days it had been shared more than 1,000 times, after about a week more than 2,000 times: the key aspect that was picked up on was that we’d deferred our eldest son from starting school for a few months.
This was a decision forced on us to a large extent. We’d originally planned our charity fundraising trip to see family and friends for the summer, but the motorhome delivery got delayed until the point where we had to decide to defer Daniel starting primary school or cancel the entire project.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Saint Augustine.
To delay primary education’s starting date from September to January is something every parent can do anyway. We chatted long and hard about it, then decided that taking three months out of 15 or 18 years of formal education was fine. Daniel’s headteacher-to-be gave her blessing, and his teacher-to-be came round our home in July with details of the levels in reading and counting that she hoped her pupils would be at by that January; and to our delight, Daniel was already there!
We also figured he and his three-year-old brother Darley would learn more from travelling than at school at that age. We’d learn lots too, about the world and about ourselves as a family together. We’d also be together, which was fantastic – as too many older people have told us: “Make the most of your time together when your children are young as they grow up so quickly.”
“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon.
In our decision we considered, as any parents would, what really would be best for our little boys. We considered that the word “education” is derived from the Latin ēducātiō meaning “a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing”. This suggests that parents should play the main role in educating their children – it’s a huge part of the job and responsibility of being a parent!
Teachers generally do a really wonderful job, but it’s not and never should be solely their job. We parents need to teach our children. It’s a massive responsibility and one anybody who has children should know, and take on eagerly.
“Young people should travel… You can’t know if you don’t go.” Quincy Jones.
Education can be defined as learning in which knowledge, values, beliefs, skills and traditions are passed from one generation to the next. Every experience that has a formative consequence on the way we think, feel or act is therefore educational. Although education is compulsory in most countries up to a certain age, attendance at school frequently isn’t.
For instance, in the UK, The Education Act 1996 states: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
The mention of “otherwise” is what covers education outside of school. The guidelines also explain that an efficient education is one that prepares the child for adult life not in the country as a whole but for life in the community of which the child is a member. Travel as an education teaches children that they are part of the world community – and surely that is a most valuable lesson.
“Travel teaches toleration.” Benjamin Disraeli.
This is what a primary school teacher told us in response to our query as to why he thought travel is a great way to educate: “Schools refer to three characteristics of learning especially in early years – active learning; playing and exploring; creative and thinking critically. A big thing in Early Years is looking at differences and similarities.
“This can be as simple as different meals we eat, but when travelling a child sees differences in weather, scenery, buildings and much more. Real experiences are so important to make things concrete for them.
“A child needs these to be able to talk about things and then be able to write – building up a bank of ideas and so on. It’s very important to talk to your children about everything you see – for example a sparkling sea, the huge mountains and other aspects of scenery.”
Travel is perfect for all of this. Now several weeks into our travels, here’s what we are realising about travel as a fantastic education.
I. There seems to be a great lack of male role models in primary school education. Men: I guess this is our fault for not choosing to be primary school teachers. Through our travels our boys have met many great male role models of all ages and social backgrounds and from a dozen different countries too. Many of these men are from the older generation: they are retired, they have some wisdom of the world, and they have the time and natural urge to pass it on to inquisitive minds. It’s learning that’s not limited to one viewpoint: and so our boys’ learning has been broad, their young minds broadened.
II. Problem solving. The boys have been part of our decision-making every day, all day. For example, when we got stuck in the mud it was Daniel who suggested we needed a tractor or Land Rover to tow us out… And so it proved! When we helped some French motorhomers stuck in the mud in northern Spain, the boys (as we all did) learned of teamwork and international cooperation – for as well as us there was a New Zealander and a Spaniard helping, four different nationalities working together – a wonderful lesson. Then there was the time it was too windy to cross the mountains, so we all decided a stay in the garage car park was better for our survival…
III. Socialising. This is a skill that travelling definitely teaches. You need to get on with people to get on. You need to learn how to communicate using body language and hand gestures if different languages make communication less simple. This is a great thing. This helps our boys learn how to have healthy relationships too. And they’re learning that generally people are great and helpful and full of kindness to each other! As we’re travelling more we’re also meeting more people with young children who are also on the road that travel is an alternative form of education.
IV. Family time together. We’re fortunate enough to be able to make the most of our time together with our children presently while we travel together. On our visits on the Face2Facebook Project they have also learned first-hand the priceless value of family and friendships. They’ve also learned the value of being charitable and kind, the gift of giving – that we all need to think of others and especially those less fortunate than us. They’ve also learned the value of teamwork.
V. Culture learning from meeting different nationalities and seeing different traditions. What a brilliant education! Much of their learning is one on one too, personal and totally heartfelt.
VI. Architecture. From Moorish to Tudor, 15th Century to ultra-modern, we’re seeing a variety of styles, and not just as pictures in books.
VII. Nature. From driving about or just walking (an underrated pastime!) we’re seeing all manner of trees, bushes and flowers. The boys are learning to love and respect nature. We’ve even waved good morning to glorious sunrises.
VIII. Food. The boys have never tried such a great variety of tastes and they love it! Especially different types of chocolate… This is one of the greatest pleasures of travelling, trying different foods and drinks. My own favourite discovery is café bonbon – mmmmmm… And they’ve seen where a variety of foods come from: oranges, lemons, dates – we’ve even eaten some fresh from the tree and you don’t get tastier than that.
IX. Animal/insect/reptile studies. We’ve seen all manner of birds from herons to kingfishers, then we’ve seen a praying mantis and beetles, also a gecko and a snake. These look better – and a bit scarier – than if they are in a book. And we’ve even seen a rainbow pigeon in Javea…
X. History. From Hampton Court Palace to Stonehenge to Hadrian’s Wall to the history of Zaragoza and Valencia, we’ve been lucky enough to see these historical sites. As well as history, travel is a real-life education in Art, Music, Maths (adding the miles up etc!), Reading, Languages, Sports, Geology and of course Geography. It is learning through experience, which is much more memorable than rote learning – and a lot more fun! Having the time travelling together also allows us to focus on particular talents and passions that we see developing or coming to the fore. I knew at school for example that I was going to do nothing involving physics when I got out in the big wide world, yet the school curriculum still insisted I wasted a few hours a week on it, time that would have been much better spent studying English Literature for me. So if there’s something we see our children are especially competent at or that they love, we can focus more on that and bring up the pace to beyond the levels expected of them if at school.
XI. Seeing the world. This is important not just so at such a young age they are aware of the expanse of the world, and that this world of ours has opportunities all over it – but also in that they can see there is more to life than just office work. Our boys have seen mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea (and sailed on it on the crossing to Santander) and perhaps it’s one of these environments to which they’ll be drawn to earn a living and give their God-given skills to others.
XII. Self-confidence. For us as a family it’s been brilliant to see Darley go from being shy (covering his eyes with his arm and going quiet) when meeting new people to being a confident little boy who walks up to our friends who are about to become his friends, chattering away about the toy cat he’s (always) carrying or saying something wonderfully observant to them such as: “You have got… two eyes!” He’s a very chilled-out little boy these days.
Travel gives such self-belief and the very going on a trip teaches risk-taking and how to beat away fear. We really hope our boys grow up with rather than the question: “What could go wrong?” being the first thought after an amazing idea that the question they wonder and then act upon is: “Imagine – what could possibly go right; what are the boundless possibilities if I do this?”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost.