Tag Archives: home-school

Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles. Away from home again.

It’s 6.45pm and the sun is about to set on the small sand island of Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The sun is blazing a bright shimmer across the water towards the beach, still powerfully hot and bright, reminding us all of its strength even at this time of day. Tourists – Mexicans and Americans mostly – are gathered, iPhones at the ready, to capture the ball of fire as it falls rapidly from the horizon, sending twirls of pinks, purples and reds across the sky. Beer in hand, I’m also watching.

I’ve been thinking about this ‘final’ blog for some time and this seems as good a time as any to write it. With only a 8,000 kms flight back to London (not including a short hop to Dublin), that’s it for my third round the world trip. I caught the travelling bug as a naive and ponytailed 17 year old, took off again in 2002-3 (mostly to watch the World Cup in Japan and Korea) and again this time with my brilliant wife, Miriam and my brave, funny and awesome young girls, Arielle and Eden.

I sometimes sit back and think, did we achieve what we wanted to from this trip? Well, yes, I think we did. We wanted to show the girls that there’s a big wide world out there – check. We wanted them to understand that the world is not scary but exciting and inspiring and that there is life outside London – I think check. We wanted to spend more time together as a family, to learn and teach each other – yes, check. And, we wanted to share in an experience of a lifetime and gave the girls lots of memories – definitely check.

So after 56,000 miles, 33 flights, 50 taxi rides, 2 campervans, 14 boats and 18 coach journeys we head home. On the way through 11 countries and 4 stop-over countries, we’ve stayed in 42 hotels, 3 rainforest lodges, 3 eco lodges, 1 hotel car park, 1 school, 27 campsites, 2 restaurant car parks, 1 town square, my sister and relatives and countless other hostels, farms, and others. We’ve had many bizarre illnesses, strange allergic reactions and a good few fevers and tummy bugs. We’ve lost money (still don’t know what happened to that cash in Chile), missed and booked the wrong flights (twice, cost a lot of money!), run out of petrol and been stuck in the sand twice!

We tried to learn two languages – Spanish for us all (went ok-ish but should be a lot better after nine months in Spanish speaking countries!) and I’ve been trying to teach the kids Hebrew (going better than Spanish!), we’ve learnt a lot of coding, finished the school curriculum, surfed, snorkelled and swam so much! As Eden says #notgoingbacktoourlocalpoolagain!

We have also met the most brilliant people along the way. Long lost relatives, who the kids have really taken to and I’m happy that they’ve now met so many relatives from my side of the family. Other families doing the same as us, traveling different routes, taking their time, but all with the same shared objectives. And, families who have settled away from home, searching for a different, quieter and more open lifestyle.  And like these folk, it’s not always been easy and certain moments have been very stressful and difficult but having to deal with that, I suppose, is part of the experience.

And while the world seems a lot smaller than in 1992 – anyone under 30 heard of reverse charging an international call? – it still amazes me that you can stay in touch with friends, family and news of home on a handheld screen. But, honestly, it has also been very liberating to leave all that behind for a while and just have the time to wonder, to think, to be still either alone or together, to wake up early and see the sunrise or walk in the warm evening air. That is what I’ll miss the most.

Thanks for following our trip.

Until next time.

PS – title is from The Edge of The Deep Green Sea by The Cure

Home schooling, or How do teachers do this everyday?

On good days, I wonder why we ever send our children to high-pressure, under-funded test factories, when we can learn through doing. The kids can tell you how volcanoes work, complete with an exposition on plate tectonics, learnt while looking up at one. We have time to linger on stuff that the kids find interesting, and bugger the curriculum.

So in the last few weeks, that’s meant Eden learning all about the International Space Station and doing science experiments, and Arielle doing a project on healthy eating and the evils of factory farming. Random, perhaps, but we can cover maths and literacy, and still have loads of time to be led by whatever interests the kids. We have conversations about current affairs, inequality, poverty, inspired by what we’re seeing everyday.

And then there are the bad days. You know that Sunday afternoon fight to get the weekly 15 minutes of homework done, which takes two hours of stropping, sulking and tears (mostly yours)? We have days and days and days and days of that. When nothing I say seems to penetrate into the kids’ heads, when every ‘fun new way of learning about fractions’ is met with derision, boredom and cries of “but you’re not a real teacher”. Don’t I know it.

We’ve home-schooled on the beach, up mountains, in libraries, in the rainforest, on trains, planes and buses.

The kids have done projects on crabs, kimonos, glaciers and glow-worms.

They’ve also researched every country we’ve travelled in, its history, geography, nature and politics. Arielle’s explained the horrors of the American War in Vietnam and the Spanish conquest of South America through the medium of comics. Eden has researched how the Andes were formed, and studied the animals, birds and insects of Nicaragua, done best when we wandered through the forest around our hostel on Ometepe counting, identifying, drawing and bar-charting everything we found. The kids’ blogs and films from every country are here.

Miki’s taught both kids how to play chess and backgammon, and speak Ivrit. I’ve been learning coding with Arielle (she was obviously better than me from Day 1), and teaching both kids to sew (which sounds strangely domestic of me). We’ve both been indoctrinating them with our left-wing, liberal politics.

All of this is the formal learning, when we’ve ‘done school’, usually when we’ve stopped somewhere for at least a week so we’ve had a routine of school in the morning and other activities in the afternoon. In between these times, we’ve visited countless museums and galleries, and walked through ancient sites and natural wonders.

Miki and Arielle learnt how to grow, roast and brew coffee in Vietnam; we all did a week’s Spanish course in Argentina; and learnt to hula hoop from wonderful circus friends.

The kids have learnt loom weaving in Japan, silk weaving in Hoi An, and weaving with llama wool from master weavers in the Sacred Valley in Peru.

We’ve learnt about the value of caring from the environment by taking part in a beach clean-up in the Great Barrier Reef; how and why to care for abused animals by working in an animal rescue centre in the Peruvian Amazon; and just how much work it is to be self-sufficient by working on an organic farm for a week in Argentina. The kids have been to school in Sydney with their cousin, played with kids at an after-school centre in Brazil and helped out at a pre-school in an incredibly poor mountain village in Peru. Truly learning by doing.

Added to this is the learning that comes from just being in a new place, a new country, trying new foods, seeing how different people live, experiencing new environments and cultures, learning to make new friends and talk to anyone. The value of this may take some time to express itself – and I hope the impression that this year has made in the kids lasts them a lifetime – but both kids are undoubtedly more aware, sensitive, resilient and open to new things than they were before they left for this trip.

Home schooling. It’s been a trial and a privilege. But going back to regular school may be an even bigger shock to the system.

Land of Lakes and Volcanoes

Nicaragua was one of those countries that I knew almost nothing about before we arrived. I had a vague recollection of something to do with America and the Contras, but I couldn’t have told you any more than that. One month full of volcanoes, rice and beans, and sunshine later, I could quite easily have been none the wiser. It’s a country with a well-trodden tourist route that shields its visitors from the grimmer realities of its past. Except that we spent the last week with friends that we met in Black Sheep Inn in Ecuador – Ray, his friend and his daughters doing a very similar round the world trip as us.

This was fantastic on many levels. The four kids got on brilliantly, overjoyed to have other people to play with other than their sibling. There was something amazing about overheard conversations along the lines of ‘This is just like the cycle-rickshaws in Vietnam. Have you been to Vietnam?’ with Michelle having been there and knowing exactly what Arielle was talking about. One of my (many) fears about going home is that Arielle and Eden will be so excited to tell everyone all about their adventures and their friends will look at them blankly as it’s so far away from their reality.

What made the time even more special than just the relief of having a break from being 24/7 entertainment system for the kids and having adults other than Miki to talk to, was hearing about Nicaragua in the 1980s at the height of the Sandinista – Contra war from Ray, who served as an emergency medic and soldier with the Sandinistas. We spent time in Matagalpa where he had been stationed, we drove through countryside which he had last motorbiked through 30 years before to reach remote outposts to train local health workers how to deal with gunshot wounds, and heard about his experience of being shot during a firefight with the Contras.

Thanks to Ray, I have a deeper, more visceral understanding of the war that left over 30,000 dead, most of whom were civilians. The fledgling socialist government of the Sandinistas, having removed the Somoza dictators from power in 1979, put in place massive healthcare, land redistribution and education programmes. This terrified their right wing neighbours to the north, so Reagan first legally then covertly funded the paramilitary Contras to wage a dirty civil war against the Sandinistas. As Ray said, when it was clear that their tactics involved the targeted killing of doctors, nurses, teachers and judges, he could no longer stand by impartially. Having trained as a soldier back home, he took up arms with the Sandinistas.

It is an experience far removed from my own, and as a pacifist, I struggle with the idea of taking up arms in service of a cause. But I have no doubt that in that situation, I would have been firmly on the side of the Sandinistas and their bid to create a socialist, democratic state. But then, as now in today’s world of unremitting injustice and inequality, I wonder what exactly I can do about it. Answers on a postcard, please.

And on a lighter note, we also enjoyed the pleasures of Nicaragua, known as The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. Seeing real actual lava in a live volcano will go down as one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen, and sandboarding down the side of another one, as possibly the most terrifying.

We spent a week on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, which has not one but two volcanoes. We stayed in an eco lodge, serenaded by howler monkeys by day and our walks back to our cabin lit by thousands of fire flies at night. It was the sort of hot, damp, flower laden tropical paradise I could have only imagined before this trip.

We also spent a week on the Pacific coast, getting on with school with sand between our toes. The kids also learnt to surf, and could obviously do it from the first attempt. I am clearly not wired to enjoy the feeling of imminent disaster (see also volcano boarding) and stayed safely on dry land.

The Sandinista are in power in Nicaragua again today, with Daniel Ortega – a former revolutionary – back in charge for a 3rd term, after changing the law to allow himself indefinite re-elections. The people we spoke to appreciate the investments made in education, workers’ pay and social programmes, but the concentration of power in his and his wife / deputy’s hands combined with repression of opposition parties and curtailing of freedom of speech do not bode well for the country. A great great shame in what is a beautiful, fascinating country.