If you’ve ever wondered how to start homeschooling on the road or what it costs, plus felt totally overwhelmed because you don’t know where to begin, I know exactly how you feel.
I’ll share with you how we started, what it costs us, how to choose a curriculum, plus give you tips for digital programs that make learning fun (so you don’t have to fight with your kids to do their schoolwork).
When we left home, our youngest was due to start kindergarten, and our oldest was due to start grade 2. If we’d stayed home, the material they’d be covering in school wouldn’t exactly be rocket science, but I was scared of screwing up their education by attempting to teach them ourselves. And I didn’t know a soul who homeschooled – this was brand new territory for me.
So I turned to the internet, took the plunge, and?
It turns out that the thought of homeschooling is way scarier than actually doing it.
How to Start Homeschooling on the Road
Figure out the Legalities in Your Jurisdiction
The rules are different everywhere, so be sure you look into your local laws on homeschooling before you start. Find out:
- if you have to notify the government of your intentions to homeschool, and if there is a deadline
- what the rules are (if any) for what curriculum you need to teach
- if there are any reporting requirements on your part (ex. we have to submit a progress report twice a year to our homeschooling officer)
Figure Out Your Priorities
My main concern was ensuring that IF we fail at pulling off a life of indefinite travel, my kids must be able to re-enter traditional school back home and not be behind in subjects such as math, reading, writing, and spelling. Also, if we do pull off a life of indefinite travel, I want them to be fully qualified to study at university some day, if that is something they choose to do.
I felt like there was more wiggle room in things like science and social studies at their ages, since there is no way it’ll matter if they learn about dinosaurs or the solar system at the exact same age as their peers back home. As for social studies, at this age, the stuff they’re learning is quite basic and would be common sense for most people.
But math? Reading? Spelling? Writing? It would be pretty hard to slip back into school if you’re not at least as far ahead as your peers back home. So keeping pace with their peers back home in those areas is a priority for us.
Decide on a Curriculum
There are a ridiculous number of options out there and at first, it’s rather overwhelming due to the fear of choosing wrong and messing up your children’s education for life. No pressure, right? So….
Narrow it Down
If you’re traveling as we are, chances are you’re trying to pack as light as possible, so traditional textbooks and workbooks are out. And I bet you’re not packing a portable printer either (we’re not!), so digital products that are intended to be printed are also out. We needed a 100% digital curriculum, with learning activities that could be done online with our laptops or an iPad.
Next, out of the remaining options, you’ve got to pick a program that is in line with the curriculum of a country you’re comfortable with. I wanted to make sure the curriculum was in line with Canadian standards (since that’s our home country), and if I couldn’t find that, then in line with United States standards (hey, they’re our friendly neighbours to the south, and I figured their curriculums should do the trick also.)
The list of potential curriculums was now much smaller. See? Stress level is reducing dramatically already. 🙂
I don’t claim to be an expert, but for what it’s worth, here are the programs we chose.
The 2 programs that stood out to me are Dreambox and IXL Math. My plan was to use Dreambox as our primary program, and supplement with IXL math as needed for drill work. Dreambox teaches them HOW to do math plus includes practice. IXL is only for practice, with no instruction included. So far, we haven’t touched IXL math since Dreambox alone seems to be doing the trick nicely.
Dreambox is in line with a lot of curriculums in North America, including that of Ontario, Canada. Plus, a search of reviews and homeschooling forums turned up lots of positive comments. So we took the plunge. Worst case if it ended up being lousy, we could always look for a plan B. But as it turns out, our kids LOVE Dreambox, and it’s obvious that they are learning a lot. This is good news for us, since it covers their math needs from kindergarten to the end of grade 8.
Dreambox turns math into a game. Sure, there’s no avoiding some boring bits where they just have to get through the work of learning a new skill, but the rewards are frequent enough that I get pretty much zero complaints about the program from my kids. And since I loathe arguing with my kids and pushing them to do stuff they don’t like (who doesn’t!), this is awesome. So far, my kids love it so much that they are zipping ahead to more difficult material, not because we are pushing them to do it, but because they WANT to, and are excited about their progress.
Dreambox is available for use on your computer, laptop, or iPad. We use the iPad version.
For reading, we chose the Hooked on Phonics program. I’d bought the paper version at home, and while it was great in terms of setting out the lessons in a logical, easy-to-follow manner, our kids were often bored with it. Plus, it was too bulky to pack for our trip.
However, their iPad version is fantastic. My kids like it a lot more than the paper version, and they are learning a lot.
Hooked on Phonics for iPad has a beginners program for new readers, called Hooked on Phonics Classroom, plus a more advanced program called Reading Pro Classsroom for older kids. Both are designed as a self-study program. However, there is no mechanism in place to prevent your kids from moving on to the next lesson before they’ve had enough practice, so you’ll still have to guide them and let them know when to repeat a lesson for more practice.
Access to a steady supply of books is also needed. Partly so we can read to our children, and partly so that once they have learned the basics of reading, they can practice their new skills by reading books that interest them. For this, we use the digital version of our local library back home. There is an enormous selection of reading materials for all ages, and they can easily be downloaded to our laptops or iPads as needed.
Writing and Spelling
There’s no way to avoid the traditional pencil and paper for this one, but at least that stuff is lightweight, can be bought anywhere around the world, and doesn’t take up much space.
Our 5 year old is currently learning how to write the letters of the alphabet, as well as numbers. Our 7 year old is practicing his skills writing in full sentences, and learning how to spell while he’s at it. We’ll up the difficulty as they progress. We use the Handwriting Without Tears method for printing letters and numbers. We looked up our home government curriculum online for this subject, and are using that as our guide to how quickly our children should be progressing.
The Leftovers: Social Studies, Science, History etc.
I hope you don’t mind me calling them the leftovers. It’s not a reflection of their importance, honest. 🙂
For these, we are basing their learning on the local government curriculum from back home (which is available to read for free online). We have access to whatever books we could possibly need from the digital version of our public library.
But we are also giving our kids a lot of freedom to influence what they learn in these areas. If one of them wants to learn everything there is to know about the solar system, we’re certainly not going to stop them because it’s “not time” to cover that topic yet.
Everything they need to learn will be covered eventually after all. This is one of the advantages of homeschooling – we can easily roll with it if one of our boys is fascinated with a particular subject and wants to delve into it deeper. It’s kind of cool to not be limited by the practicalities of trying to teach 20 or 30 children at the same time, like a traditional schoolteacher would be.
Other Random Learning Programs We Love
Here are a few more digital programs we’ve used with great success.
1. Learning to Read an Analog Clock
I have no idea when kids are supposed to learn this skill, but I’ll tell you, it sure makes your life easier once your kids can read their own watch, and understand how time works. I found a great little iPad app called “Telling Time” by GiggleUp Kids. We purchased the paid version, and even our 5-year old can read a watch now. It’s very cool, and I LOVE it!
2. Math Practice Turned into a Video Game
We don’t use this often, but once in a while, we use it a reward for hard work in Dreambox. It’s “Medieval Math Battle” by Spinfall, and our kids love it.
How Much Does Homeschooling Cost
If you’re braver (and more ambitious!) than I am, you can make your lessons from scratch and pay next to nothing. Your only expenses would be for pencils, papers, and other inexpensive supplies. But to do a good job of it, you’d have to wade through the curriculum requirements of whatever curriculum you choose to follow. If your local government curriculum is anything like ours, be prepared to read through a LOT of material in order to figure out what you are supposed to be teaching your children. Hence, the reason why we chose to pay for access to quality pre-made learning programs.
The cheapest way to buy Dreambox is to to take the plunge and sign up for 6 months at a time. For our 2 boys, we pay $99.95 in total, every 6 months.
Hooked on Phonics
Hooked on Phonics Classroom for iPad cost us $49.99 for all the lessons, and the program can be used for more than one child.
Our oldest is just about at the end of that, so he’ll be moving on to Reading Pro Classroom (made by the same company as Hooked on Phonics) – it will also cost us $49.99, and can be used for both kids without paying extra.
This will vary a lot depending on where you live. Where I’m from, it’s free if you live in the city and pay taxes, and if you live outside the city they charge you about $170 a year for unlimited access. Even if you have to pay, it’s a steal of a deal considering what you get for your money.
Well, this is a source of sticker shock for sure. Squeeze your eyes shut tight and get a glass of wine ready to numb the pain when you click the buy button online. We have 1 for each of our kids (not a mini, but the full-sized model). This allows both of them to work on their schoolwork at the same time. If your budget is tight, you could always have them share, but then homeschooling will be more time-consuming for you since only one will be able to work on their digital programs at a time.
We bought ours right before a new model came out, so it cost us the discounted price of $399 for each one. The current model is an iPad Air and is selling for $549. If you can, as soon as an announcement is made for a new model to be released, start stalking the price of the old model in the Apple store and watch for a price drop – that’s what we did, and it brought our price down by about 100 bucks per iPad. It still hurts, but a lot less than $500+ per iPad. On the bright side, these should last for several years, so it’s not like you need to plunk down that kind of money each and every year.
If you are crazy like us and buy an iPad for each child’s homeschooling, then save your sanity and buy them a padded case to protect it from falls when they are using it. Trust me, you don’t want to feel like you have to nervously hover over them to protect it from potentially damaging falls every. single. time. they use it. And your kids don’t need that kind of stress either. 🙂 Obviously we teach them to be careful with it – but the extra insurance of a well-padded case is a definite asset. We use the iGuy case made by Speck, and it was worth every single penny.
Alternative to iPads
If you have a laptop that you’ll be bringing, there are a lot of digital programs (ex. Dreambox) that can be run on that. It’ll be much cheaper than buying an iPad per child, so is a great idea if you really need to watch every penny.
OMG, Are Your Kids On the iPad ALL DAY?
Hell no! You’d be surprised how little time they need with these programs per day to make astounding progress. 🙂 They spend about an hour a day on their iPad for schoolwork, and about a half hour on writing/spelling the old-fashioned way 5 days a week.
I know… that sounds like far too little school time right?
But 1-on-1 instruction is far more efficient than having a single teacher try to teach 20 students at once.
Indulge me and compare what my eldest accomplished in traditional school math during kindergarten, compared to what my youngest has accomplished in only 2.5 months of homechooling for kindergarten… with his iPad.
In 10 months of traditional school for kindergarten, for math, my eldest was taught to count to 100 in singles, and by 5’s. I’m not knocking that, it’s what the curriculum required, and I see no reason to rush things. The teacher taught what she was supposed to, and did a good job of it.
My youngest is using his iPad for about an hour a day combined for math and reading, yet in only 2.5 months, he has covered everything his brother learned in kindergarten and grade 1! And he knows his stuff. It’s shocking how much he can do. Plus, he can tell time on an analog clock, remember.
As for my eldest son, he’s already zipped through the entire grade 2 math curriculum (in only 2.5 months), and is about to start grade 3 math. It’s mind-blowing. I never thought this would happen. We are actually backing off a bit on math, just doing enough to keep it fresh in their minds… I mean really, I don’t know what I’d do with a 7 year old who’s, say, finished grade 5 math… and 5 year old who’s finished grade 4 math. I’m trying to put the brakes on a bit here.
It is truly incredible how much kids can learn when they have a personal tutor (their parents for example?), and a learning program that they love.
So There You Have It!
See? Getting started with homeschooling on the road isn’t so hard after all. It’s actually pretty easy, especially if you budget for a few easy-to-use digital programs like we did.
I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m new at this after all. But this will help you get started, and remember that if things don’t work out with one program, you can always switch to another later on. So don’t stress! 🙂