Taking our kids out of their public school education for an entire year to embark upon our slow journey (a planned 3-year sabbatical) was a scary prospect.

My brother homeschooled all five of his  daughters. And my other brother’s daughter went to Montessori school until she was in high school.

So, we knew that viable options existed.  Obviously, we want whats best for our kids.  But, we just weren’t sure how well we, as parents, could execute.

Two children working in their Junior Ranger workbooks overlooking Crater Lake inside of Crater Lake National Park

A little school time overlooking Crater Lake. Crater Lake National Park

“what great kids!”

People tell us all the time how awesome our kids are. Some are commenting on their being well-mannered. Others are impressed by how smart they are. Still others are moved by their compassion.

And it really is true. We do have great kids. They’re positive, motivated, friendly, compassionate, and open-minded. They enjoy learning experiences, including travel, exploring, and even going to school.

How they became this way, though, is less about what we do as parents than what we don’t do. In fact, we don’t believe our children became this way, at all. We believe they came this way.

Children learning biathalon rifle shooting in Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia

Biathalon rifle shooting in Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia

education means ‘to draw out’

That is to say, we feel like human beings have a lot going for them. Given the right mix of protection and freedom, they can learn and accomplish a ton. Often, years ahead of the curve.

Education comes from the Latin educere, meaning ‘to draw out’ the pupil. That is to say, true education is less about what you put into the student, and more about what you draw out of them.

Kids using robotics in an ASTC participating kids museums

Learning is fun in ASTC-participating science centers around the country


We knew when we took off in 2016 for our planned, 3-year hiatus, to travel the world with our children, that we’d be giving them the education of a lifetime.

Roadschooling is how we described our approach. It was pretty loose, and fell somewhere between homeschooling and unschooling.

There were three principles we attempted to embody during our year of Roadschooling, in an effort to best draw out our kids.

  1. Quality inputs
  2. Self-direction
  3. Autonomous point of view
A family reads a signboard below Devils Tower National Monument

In our classroom, on the Tower Trail

quality inputs

We weren’t experts on unschooling. We have friends in San Francisco who swear by it. The only other information we had came from a radio report we heard on the topic, several years prior.

The focus of the report was a family who had bought a farm in New England in order to become cheese entrepreneurs. Instead of putting their son into public school, they opted to unschool him on the farm. There was plenty to learn about milking cows and making cheese, as well as how to run and market a business.

They had an elderly neighbor who, after a lifetime of farming, knew just about everything there was to know about agriculture. In addition to helping his parents run their farm and manage their business, the young boy would spend hours helping his neighbor with whatever countless projects he had going. In exchange for the help, he received, literally, a lifetime worth of education.

On top of all this, the boy could then pursue whatever studies intrigued him.

When many people first hear of unschooling, they believe its a farce. An excuse for not educating one’s kids. However, we believe that where quality inputs are available to children, then self-directed study can be a truly educational experience.

We visited 40+ national parks, stayed with 40+ couchsurfing hosts, and hiked near-daily in some of Nature’s most sacred spots. Quality inputs, to be sure.

Children feeding cows hay on a farm

We couchsurfed on several farms


A core tenant of unschooling, and of road schooling, is self-direction.

Self-direction allows kids to love learning. Learning is not a regimented routine which is imposed upon them. Rather, it is a natural expression of their own curiosity about life and the natural world.

When we allow children to follow their own curiosity, they engage with object of their learning in a natural, easy way. There is no stress or strain, or conflict. Only curiosity and wonder expressing themselves.

Our job as roadschooling parents became to listen to our children, and to respond in ways which fostered their understanding of life and the natural world. It took some practice, but once we got the hang of it, it became second nature.

Our child might ask us about something we saw while hiking on the trail, or just something that’s on their mind. It was our job to respond to them in a way which supported their curiosity by providing additional context (answers and information), while answering their question.

Derek Sivers talks in this blog post about cultivating his child’s long attention span. There’s so much here that we not only agree with, but have been fortunate enough to experience firsthand with our children over the past year and a half.

It would be difficult to steal Derek’s thunder, even if we wanted to. So, do yourself (and your kids) a favor, and give it a read when you have a chance. Its quite moving.

Children overlooking the turbines inside of the Bonneville Lock and Dam in Columbia River Valley

Roadschooling at Bonneville Lock and Dam in the Columbia River Valley

autonomous point of view

This one is, for me personally, the hardest of all. Sometimes my kids can act goofy. You know, strange.

I’m not talking about antisocial, or harmful behavior. Just periodic weirdness. It could be a voice they’re using, a dance or song they’re performing, or who knows what else? Just something that’s a little out in left field and, according to adult logic, serves no good purpose.

When this happens, my natural tendency is to let them know as much. Or, at least to put the kibosh on whatever weirdness they may be exhibiting.

But truly, what right have I? If the behavior isn’t harming anyone, isn’t it their right to express themselves however they see fit?

It sure is.

And I’ve noticed a similar tendency in myself, when it comes to allowing my children to formulate their own world view, in light of the quality inputs and opportunities for self-direction.

We’re talking here about nothing more than letting kids process information in whatever manner comes naturally for them, and not adulterating objective facts and figures with, subjective viewpoints.

Goodness knows, we, as parents, don’t have it all figured out. So, why the rush to fix our own worldview inside the heads of our kids?

But simply allowing them to have their own point of view can be difficult. There’s a knee-jerk reaction to just tell them, “how it is.” 

not morality, but style

I’m not talking about morality or ethics. I’m talking about style.

I believe the same is true for many parents. We reactively attempt to bend our children’s perceptions of what’s worthy or unworthy of attention. This works well for reinforcing our own sense of worth and of comfort. But what good does it do for our kids?

We believe a better alternative is to our kids the freedom of expression needed to process information, and to formulate their own philosophies. Again, this stops short of any wrongdoing or harmful behavior.

When done the right way, we wind up having as much input, or more, into their world views because we’re acting in the role of welcome participants. That of accepting soundboards.

A family looks at a zen garden in a Portland public park

A Moment of Zen in Portland Public Parks

summing up

Before embarking on our journey of discovery, the idea of keeping our kids out of school for an entire year, at times, had us a little apprehensive.

However, somewhere deep down inside, we intuitively knew that for a single year, we could educate our children as well as public school. Maybe even better. Even informally. Even on the road.

We learned from our experience that true education can happen anywhere and at any time. It happens best as a family.

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