Worldschooling: a minimalist’s list for learning on the go

Apparently I blinked, because it’s time to start the next school year. This summer has whooshed by, and though it’s been glorious, our rapidly-approaching trip means we’re gathering our books and supplies, doing a ton of research, and easing in to this next year already.

More than a few of you have asked how we’ll be homeschooling on the road—or, worldschooling, more appropriately. I’m happy to share.

There should be a few bits of disclosure before diving head-first into the topic of education from the road:

• Our educational priorities are a bit different this year, seeing as we’ll be stomping around and through the greatest textbook ever (that is, Earth). This, plus living out of backpacks, means we’re taking a very minimalist approach to school. (This fills me with glee.)

• We don’t exactly know what we’re doing here. We’ve never lived out of backpacks for a year while traipsing through almost every continent, oddly enough, so we sorta feel like we’re making this up as we go. There are plenty of people who’ve gone before us—and who are doing this lifestyle, right now, all the time—so we’re not alone. But we’ve certainly never tried it ourselves.

• Our family has a rather unique philosophy about education. Or maybe I should say unique approach. Either way, it’s taken us a few years to really figure out what matters to us… we’re slowly getting there. Basically, we believe:

• That learning is a constant, 24/7 endeavor,
• That educational opportunities can be found everywhere,
• That students are people who educate themselves (sometimes with the help of inspirational teachers or mentors), and
• That the two most significant things we can do as parents is to provide an environment where learning is naturally inevitable, and to model a posture of lifelong learning ourselves.

This can happen anywhere—in traditional classrooms, at home, in the woods, between the covers of a book, on a rickety bus in rural Sri Lanka, or at the table of a restaurant on a Chinese side-street.

Minimalist school supplies—the bare minimum for a solid education while traveling.

So. Yep, our kids will be learning stuff this year. And while the bulk majority of their school supplies involve their passports, eyes, and legs, here’s a few other things we’ll use:

1. Journals, sketchbooks, and pencils

For writing, art, and science, both Tate (age 9.5) and Reed (age 6.5) will keep journals. The oldest kiddo, fourth grade, will write daily entries about our day’s activities, and we’ll help the first grader write a sentence about his favorite moment of the day.

They’ll also sketch the natural world around us and research anything that intrigues them via the Internet, books, and museums, following a Charlotte Mason approach to art and science. Rinse and repeat for one year. (This will also serve as Tate’s Commonplace Book for the year.)

Not only is journaling a simple way to posture ourselves as students of the world, it results in a fantastic souvenir the kids will treasure the rest of their lives.

2. Kindles

For children, I prefer paper books. Even though Kindles are crafted with the idea of mimicking paper and ink as much as possible, I think there’s still something about staring at a screen versus engaging in a real-life book.

However, I can’t deny the sheer practicality of Kindles for travel. A massive library in a lightweight backpack? Yes, please.

Tate has a refurbished Kindle Paperwhite, and Reed recently acquired my old Kindle 3. Both are locked so they can’t purchase directly on their devices, and they’re both connected to our local library, so we can rent digital books as much as possible.

3. Books

At the same time, our Kindles won’t replace thin, lightweight paperback picture books. Reed is massively into early-reader chapter books, but at age 6.5, he still enjoys picture books (Tate does too, for that matter). But at age 4, Finn is at a crucial stage of early literacy. I’m not willing to go sans books for nearly a year at his age.

We’ll carry beloved paperbacks and read them frequently, perhaps trading them in for new books as we come across used English bookstores (we know of at least one in Thailand, so I don’t doubt we’ll come across more). Certain cities also have libraries with books in English, and we’ll use them if we plan to be in town longer than a few weeks.

4. iPad

We have one iPad for the family, which serves primarily for education, secondarily for work, and lastly for entertainment (we need to remind the kiddos of this frequently). Again, I’m not big on screens, but the power and compactness of a tablet for on-the-go education can’t be denied.

Our iPad is a portal for exercising the brain with math, typing, foreign language, and more. It doesn’t replace real life, no doubt—but used efficiently and intentionally, it certainly helps reinforce ideas.

Here are some of my favorite apps…

• Math: Splash Math and Khan Academy as our main resources, with Math Bingo, Sushi Monster, and Geoboard for enrichment

• Foreign language: Duolingo (Tate’s learning Spanish, I’m slowly working through French), and Bilingual Child in Spanish for Reed

• Language Arts: Spelling City—I love that I can create our own spelling lists (and it’s free!), Logic of English’s Phonograms, Wet Dry Try for handwriting practice, and Articulation Station (Reed has a speech delay).

• Reading: Audible and Librivox for audiobooks, Free Books for occasional reading of books in the public domain, iBooks to hold any PDFs or digital teacher’s manuals (for my use, mostly).

• History: This Day in History for a quick snapshot of events of the day; Timeline Builder for building a timeline as we learn important events—this last one is clunky, but I’ve yet to find a better timeline app (and I’ve looked). Also, this doesn’t include random apps we’ll use here and there for specific locations (several art museums have good guide apps, for example).

• Faith: The Bible by YouVersion, BibleMinded for help in memory work, Common Prayer.

• Other: TapTyping for typing, Merriam-Webster for a dictionary and thesaurus, Classic Board for a digital chalkboard, Wikipedia for reference, YouTube for watching stuff.

And yes, we can just use the Kindle app for the iPad for our kids’ reading—but I like keeping our books as close to, well, books as possible. I don’t want the option of games on their devices, even if they are digital.

5. Miniature white boards and dry erase markers

I love the little lap-sized white boards from the dollar section at Target (similar to these). We have one for each kiddo, great for both free drawing and for parent-led teaching activities, such as grammar exercises, sentence diagramming, handwriting practice, and math problems. They’re like the modern-day version of old-school slates.

6. Handwriting book and preschool workbook

Reed uses Handwriting Without Tears quite successfully, so we’ll bring his level of workbook with us so he can naturally progress at this skill. And because Finn feels left out whenever his big brother works on his handwriting, we’ll also bring a simple preschool workbook he can dink with whenever it strikes his fancy. Along with a blank sketchbook and crayons.

7. Uno and dice

Not only is it an all-ages game, Uno cards are great for math games—big numbers in four colors (for sorting) mean endless variations of skill drill (multiplication, sequencing, etc.). Same with a set of dice.

8. Pocket map

I bought this simple laminated map for our trip—it’s nothing fancy, but it’s large enough to have the basic major countries and their capitals labeled. We’ll use this to review wherever we are.

9. Story of the World

This four-volume audiobook remains one of my favorite educational tools ever—not just for travel, and not just for homeschooling families. From ancient through modern times, this is history told in story form. We prefer the audio versions, which I spent a weekend converting to mp3. They’re all housed in our iTunes account, ready for instant play on our iPad.

Typically I’m a big believer in learning history chronologically, but we’d be silly to skip the history of wherever we are in the name of chronology. So we’ll keep working through the end of volume two and in to volume three, but if we happen to be somewhere significant, of course we’ll skip ahead (or go back in time) to whichever story covers that locale.

We all listen to these stories together—even the adults learn with this anthology.

10. Museums, historical sites, natural wonders, and people

Last but certainly not least, we’ll take advantage of any offerings our travels take us. Panda preserves in China, planetary observatories in the southern hemisphere, rainforests, zoos, archaeological dig sites, safaris, local crafting lessons, climbing historical sites, walking ancient streets… Honestly, if we spent the majority of our time focused on these things, we’d be golden.

There’s also the sheer act of trip planning that provides a solid education: money exchange rates, flight times, learning the basics of different languages, reading signs and maps, packing, using metro and bus systems… it’s endless.

Minimalist school supplies—the bare minimum for a solid education while traveling.

(Not shown: dice, white boards, little kid workbook. I could retake the photo remembering everything, but I’ve got stuff to do.)

Ultimately, we hope to live out our conviction that learning can happen anytime, anywhere, from most anything. Writing, reading, and math will comprise the bulk of any “formal” education, with everything else providing opportunities to build on those skills.

Honestly, our kids’ education is near the top of my list of reasons to get excited about this trip. I can’t even imagine how this would have shaped my own childhood—even if the kids aren’t exactly cognizant of how extraordinary this upcoming year will be, their parents are. And we’ll make the most of every opportunity.

(A few affiliate links are used.)

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids,
1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids, 1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

67 Comments

  1. woollythinker

    Um, wow. What an unbelievably awesome thing to do. Am officially very, very jealous. Thanks for all the resource links!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’re so welcome!

  2. Robin Shliakhau

    Tsh, THANK YOU!!! I knew you were doing something like this which is why I clicked to this new site. In a couple of weeks I will be traveling alone with my two “worldschooled” kids for a month to Eastern Europe to see family. I was desperately trying to figure out what to do and take, but this calmed my nerves. Plus I’m a minimalist, so you had me at hello :-)! Happy Travels!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Nice! Sounds like a blast, Robin.

  3. Marla Taviano

    This might be my favorite post in the history of ever.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! You make me laugh, Marla.

  4. Amanda Sue

    Yay! This was a really fun read…I’ve been following your posts about this, and while it’s not anything we’re in a position to do at the time, it’s an exciting thought for our future!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Amanda! And yes, you never know… 10 years ago I never dreamed we’d do this.

  5. sharen

    I’m so glad you started this site!! I have a 21 month old and number two due early next year, and would love to do this sort of thing when they’re a little older. I’m going to be following along on your adventures with both a little jealousy and a lot of excitement/motivation to start saving for our adventure even now!
    P.S. I live Australia in a coastal town about an hour outside of Melbourne if you’re interested in a day trip out of the city when you get here 😉

  6. Melissa McIntyre

    WOW! I just love this soo much! Do you have any idea how inspiring you are? I think I’m going to have my kids read your blog this coming year as part of OUR history & geography! Oh, and THANK YOU SOO MUCH for listing what you’ll be using as you travel!!! I now have spelling for my 8th grade son. He’s excellent at spelling so our main focus for him this coming year is elsewhere, BUT since his uncle just gave him his old ipod touch, I’m downloading this spelling for him. He LOVES spelling and is now excited that he gets some “school” on his ipod!

  7. Sarah Mae

    This looks wonderful! Love it!

  8. Shelley

    I’m so glad I found your blog! We are trying to do something similar but different. My hubby is a pilot so traveling to places around the globe is not difficult. We want to have living experiences for our kids. Last year we did 3 weeks in Rome in a residential neighborhood and studied everything Italian before and during our trip. We are basing most of our studies around cultures we will go. Hopefully we will be able to do a full month somewhere every year or so.

    I’m excited to watch your journey and pick up any tips you learn along the way. I don’t think there is any better educator than travel!

  9. Erin MacPherson

    I have to admit I was totally skeptical when I read the first paragraph of this blog post… how could ANYONE fit enough materials to school for an entire year into a backpack? But then I read the list… Story of the World, e-Books, journals, art… oh my! I love it. SO amazing. I might do this for some summer… oh, I can dream.

    (ALSO, I feel like you and I crossed paths… I grew up in Bend and moved to Austin and I think you did the opposite. Anyway, I was just in Bend and oh how I miss it.)

  10. Hanni Go

    I am just loving this new site! Thank you for sharing with us. I am so curious what paperpack favorities you are bringing and how many?

    Also, since you love good children’s literature have you read andy of the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes? I found them on a charlotte mason reading list and they are our new favorite.

  11. Hanni Go

    I am just loving this new site. Thank you so much for sharing. I am so curious what beloved paperbacks you will bring and how many you think you will bring?

    Also, since i know you love children’s literature, have you ever read the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes? I found them on a Charlotte Mason reading list and they have become our new favorites. Just delightful!

  12. Kara

    LOVE this! Thanks for taking the time to write all out.

    We aren’t going around the world (just yet) but we are taking most of September to travel. The time coincidences with my husband’s sabbatical from work, so we are hitting the road and touring around the US for a few weeks.

    I’ve been wondering how we’d take this homeschool show on the road, and you’ve just given me lots of ideas and inspiration.

    Thanks, friend!

  13. Visty

    I was impressed by all your ideas, but when I got to the UNO cards in a travel soap dish, well, it’s genius.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! It’s usually the little things that are most impressive, eh?

  14. Kasey Moses

    Love the links! Totally JEALOUS!! Enjoy!

  15. Jennifer Clark

    This is great! It’s something we’ve always wanted to do with the kids, even if we only travel around the U.S. I just don’t know how we’d afford it. Have you considered doing a post on the financial side of roadschooling/worldschooling? I’d live more information on that piece of the puzzle. Thanks!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep, a finance and budgeting post is in the works!

  16. bronwen

    i’ve enjoyed your blogs for a while though i don’t often comment…just have to say i’m really looking forward to following along with your travels for both the fun and the practical details. we really want to do this with our kids in a few years but with a recent move and other life things budget and priorities are currently not in order. i think following along is going to give us just the incentive needed to get those on track and i’m looking forward to a regular reminder of “oh yea this is what we want to be doing!”

  17. Becky

    I loved reading this post! We, too, have “world schooled” ~ taking extended trips to Europe each of the last four years, anywhere from 5 weeks to 11 weeks in length. Can’t wait to follow your longer adventures.
    We have a very similar homeschooling philosophy to what you described and it blends well with this type of travel. I just thought I would add a few small things that have helped us! I LOVE that laminated map (I think I will get one for OUR future travels). My boys, who are now 10 and 12, have retained a lot of geography from coloring and labeling maps of their own. Our travels were more localized (and shorter) so I copied outline maps of the countries we were visiting, but I feel like there is a geography coloring book out there that might be useful. We, too, are big on journaling. In addition, each of our boys started a travel blog. They seemed to write about facts in their journals, but feelings and experiences on their blogs ~ is Tate going to blog? It is awesome to look back on and see each trip through their eyes at the time. Lastly, it took us a trip or two to realize the value of occasionally taking an actual tour. We have had some incredible guides who tailored their info to our boys ages and we all learned SO much more than we would have on our own. We have only been to Europe, but we have never had less than a fantastic experience using Context Travel. What an incredible blessing it is to show your children the world….enjoy every minutes!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Becky! Yep, Tate is going to blog—here, about once a month, and she also has a monthly writing gig for a travel brand (we’ll link to those posts here, of course). 🙂

  18. Rebekah

    How incredibly helpful and inspiring! I think I’ve pinned every single AoST post…can hardly wait until my kids are old enough to do a trip like this.

  19. Dee

    I’m beating down pangs of envy. Do you think you could address how you are financing such a trip in a future post? Of course, not the specifics. I just think of something like that and think, wow, I could never. We have our own issues and I don’t work virtually, but something that shares how a family can make this happen. Also, what do you do about retirement planning?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep, that’s in the works!

  20. Wanda

    as a former elementary teacher, I would recommend a package of sheet protectors too. Great for free writing on, sliding a piece of handwriting paper in, a worksheet, etc and all could be used repeatedly. They do wear out eventually though so I’d say a small package would last you a long time :)My K-2 students LOVED using them last year.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Great idea!

  21. Laura Carroll

    We’re about a month in to a 6 month Europe trip, and we’re using a similar philosophy for our 6th and 3rd grader — journals, kindles, and, occasionally time on the iPad. And we’re spending a lot of time learning as much as we can about what is around us! Thanks for sharing; I’m looking forward to following your trip.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Your trip sounds lovely, Laura! Enjoy every minute.

  22. Andrea

    This came just on time! We’ll be out of town God-only-knows-how-long due to medical conditions, so I was trying to figure out how to plan a school year when you don’t have a plan. This is very handy! just one question, the journal and sketch book will be multisubject, like an anthology?? Great ideas!!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep! We don’t really divide our learning time between subjects anyway, per se, so yeah, it’s a collective of thoughts, ideas, sketches, etc. from our learning time.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Laura!

  23. Linda Sand

    Physical education ideas in addition to all the walking:

    Our daughter enjoyed trying to stand on a moving train without touching anything.

    Jump ropes help release excess energy. Jacks can be good for eye-hand coordination. Both are light and easy to pack. Jump rope can become clothes line, too.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Great tips—thanks, Linda!

  24. Amy @WorldschoolAdventures

    We travel with many of those items for our kids’ education. We have spent many hours playing Uno! Whenever we are in one place for a good while we also stock up on extra art supplies and then leave them once we are on the go again. This year we think we will also be travelling with the Settlers of Catan Game (without the big box).

    Of course our favourite educational tool is the big, wide, world. Our kids learn so much from exploring it!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      So great, Amy! Love Settlers…

  25. Nancy Sathre-Vogel

    Well done! You are so right that your children will learn just from being there and doing all you will be doing. Speaking as a 21-year schoolteacher who spent 4 years roadschooling her own kids,and author of the book Roadschooling: The Ultimate Guide to Education Through Travel, I would say the most important thing is to not stress over it. Your children will learn. They just will. Encourage the writing and all that, but don’t push the issue. If you are all tired, then rest. It will all work.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Awesome, Nancy—that’s very encouraging!

  26. Kelly Sage

    Looks like the perfect year! You might want to try the Reading Rainbow app for your IPad. The books are just like having one in front of you and there are thousands. Totally worth the money for the app. It’s like a digital picture library.

    Safe and wonderful travels! Looking forward to following along.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks for the tip!

  27. Amanda Kendle

    Sounds like you have everything sorted out! A billion years ago (OK, 1985, I was 9) my parents took us from Australia to Europe for six months and we were given some basic “distance school” materials from our local education department which my sister and I would work on in our motorhome on occasion – but what I learnt about geography, history, exchange rates, languages etc etc on the trip is stuff that has stayed with me forever. Minimalist is definitely the way to go, your kids will learn so much just by being where they’re going to be.

  28. Erica Marbury

    Oh my goodness, the Commonplace Book was just a profound “Aha!” moment! I unwittingly started one in my teen years, quoting beloved lines from my readings. That special notebook was inadvertently left on a plane years ago. Upon discovering its absence, I was devastated. I think its time to start a new one! I hope Tate and Reed’s become just as special to them. 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, that would be so sad to me too, Erica. I hope it ends up as special to them, too. 🙂

  29. Brook COffee

    Also remember that dry erase markers work on glass. Turns any window or glass door into a huge drawing or learning surface. GREAT post. we are heading to sicily for two weeks, missing school and can’t wait to worldschool. total inspiration!!!!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes! Thanks so much for that reminder, Brook—I had forgotten about that tip. 🙂

  30. HomeschoolDad

    We just moved from New York to London and have been traveling all over Europe for the past 7 months. I have kids nearly the same ages, homeschooled from day 1. Do let me know if you are ever in London!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We’ll let you know—there’s a good chance we’ll be there!

  31. Steph

    I love the simplicity of this. And Uno. When we were first married, my husband and I would play Uno for who had to do the dishes: because we had no dishwasher and it’s our least favorite chore.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Nice!

  32. Tania

    This is amazing. I would love for my husband and I to have the time to do this and travel around the world with our child, but reading your plan shows me what we already try to do – you can make anything an adventure. This would be just as helpful for our little one as it would be for us! Thank you!

  33. Darcey Wunker

    We’re hoping to do this down the road with our daughter (currently 9mos) – I’ll be following you folks as you go. If you make it out to India, let me know – we’ll see how close you are to me. I’d love to pick your brains at that point for how the trip has gone!

  34. Megan

    Hi! We are seriously considering the year-long trip ourselves in a couple years, but we’ve done some summer-long trips in recent years where we’ve done some homeschool/on the go education. Two things you might want to think about are some small, kids scissors (these are handy for more than the kids!) And some scotch tape. Can’t tell you how hard it can be to find the real scotch tape abroad! We have used it for everything from taping art on a fridge to make it more like home to covering a crack in a kindle or cell phone case. UNO is totally one of our staples. We also love to take some plain index cards. They can make a thank-you note, be used for drawing, can be handy when eating out since activity menus with crayons are a mostly U.S. phenomenon, and can be flash cards (we have used them cut into quarters for multiplication, addition, etc.) SO excited for your journey!

  35. Dana

    Love how inspiring (and reassuring) you are to so many with regards to traveling and schooling. We are 3 weeks in on our big trip. There are things we needed that we picked up along the way and things we didn’t need that we’ve dropped along the way. There are lots of used English books out there and a deck of cards and word games on paper mats have been incredibly fun. I wouldn’t trade this trip for the world. Have a great trip!

  36. Jennifer

    What an extraordinary perspective! Thank you so much for sharing your family’s journey with us.

  37. Julie Kieras (@happystronghome)

    I’m probably not going to travel with my family around the world any time soon (or ever! :/) but… I LOVE this approach to education. I just started PreK with my 4 year old and this is good to remind myself that I don’t need to by the latest shiny-packaged set of curriculum that comes my way (tempting as that may be for this former teacher’s little fingers! LOL). This list is a treasure trove, I can see that already! Thank you!

  38. RLR

    This sounds amazing! Every now and again, my husband and I daydream about living the RV lifestyle (he can work remotely) and homeschooling the kids. Traveling to where or whatever we happen to be learning about – or vice versa. We haven’t made the leap – but I sure do like your flexible plan!

  39. Camille

    This sounds so great Tsh! I loved your last point about the kids gaining so much even if they are not cognizant of it – each time we have traveled with our kids so many people have commented that it seemed like a waste of cash to pay for them to go since they won’t remember it (on our first overseas trip they were 3 and 5). I think of it in terms of family culture though, and I am guessing you do too. As a family, we think that it is important to step out into the world and learn from it. Some days it may be about revolutions, other days about doing laundry, but it is all forming their souls into curious individuals. I can’t wait to hear about your trip and about what each of you learn along the way!

  40. Asmaa

    It was nice reading your blog. I’ve been doing this for a few years with my kids (9,8). We were in a country with sub standard education so we supplement with their kindles as libraries and good old “splash math”. We’ve recently been displaced due to heavy fighting and the kids picked right back up with their studies. We’ve been in Europe for two months going on three and I have some extra tricks. A good usb stick to download and print worksheets or maps and info about the places you go. A simple craft, we crochet, for relaxing and productive train rides and such. A set time daily for learning. We never go more than two days without at least two hours of dedicated learning. Sometimes you get caught up in the location. Good luck. Nice to know we’re not alone.

  41. Charity@TheHomeschoolExperiment

    I was reminded of you via Simple Homeschool and am so excited to follow you on your journey! Our family did a six week multi-country trip this summer but I couldn’t even fathom the travel while blogging about it! good for you and I can’t wait to read all anout it!

  42. Roadschooling - Families Homeschooling on the Road

    We Love the Spelling City app too! Since space is at a premium when living this lifestyle, we have our children use the tablet &/or laptop, for the bulk of our roadschooling. It is so nice that there are so many educational resources available today that our literally at our fingertips 😉

    ~> We have added your blog to our Roadschooling Blogroll. If you would like to check it out or us, the website is https://www.facebook.com/RoadschoolingFamilies

  43. Wendy J

    Thanks for listing all the resources, I find our family in transition again so this is really helpful for our situation as well…:) I hope you have such a wonderful time!

  44. Toki Tover

    I am definitely jealous of all that you do! I have a 2 year old and a 7 month old and would love to do this with them. I am actually on the verge of wanting to eventually homeschool these girls but the idea of traveling as their schooling, wow… just wow.

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