01 Mar Learn while we travel: meet worldschooling!
Since 2011 we have been a nomadic family, meaning that we travel and work at the same time for about 8 months a year. The other 4 months we choose to spend with family and friends in Holland. Usually over the summer. We chose to combine school in Holland with school on the road. Sometimes school on the road means a ‘normal‘ school in a building in a foreign country, sometimes it means worldschooling, or learning from all the experiences kids have while traveling.
On this page you can read how we have done it so far, combining ‘normal‘ school in Holland with learning on the road or attending a local school abroad.
What is world schooling?
World schooling, in our definition, is done while traveling with your family, teaching your kids in the experience of travel itself. Everything you experience is a very rich source of educational material. Going to the local market, buy local fruit and vegetables (dad, what is this??!), cook it together, taste it, going to the beach, look for seashells, watch birds, watch fishermen clean fish, swim in the ocean, play with the waves, learn how to body board and later stand on a surf board, surf! Everything you do while traveling is new to children and they will be like a spunge, taking it all in. This type of world schooling requires parents who have some energy to spare and at least one parent present in the activity. The other parent can get some work done ;-). In the afternoon the parents switch, do something with the kids (can also be in the house!) while the other parent works. We have done it like this for several years.
Only recently (about two years now), our kids attend semesters at local ‘normal‘ schools, mostly Montessori led, in a foreign country (Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico). Even with an enrollment like that we sometimes miss other kids, other families to talk to, support (watch each others kids), have a social life outside of our own family. We also miss being on the road, as attending a local school requires that you are there geographically ;-). And that was the whole idea of living like digital nomads, free of any geographical obligations.
Travel in community or live in community ánd educate kids
This ‘problem’ if you will, has a solution. You can look for a group of families who travel together, go on excursions together and have a teacher who travels with the group and organizes additional classes. In this way, you are not alone as a family, you can keep traveling ánd the kids get a more structured learning on the road. Especially when learning how to read and write, this can be helpful. One semester on one location and then the group travels to the next location for the next semester. An example of this form of world schooling you’ll find with travelingcircus.co. Currently the Traveling Circus is exploring South America.
World schooling can also be done in community on a specific location where families stay a few months, like Nica World School in Nicaragua. On that location a specific program is offered to families and kids attending. Worldschooling in these last two forms we have not explored yet and are looking forward to doing so in 2023/2024.
So, how do WE do it?
In one travel leg, we typically pick two destinations. For example 4 months in Tulum, Mexico followed by 4 months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2021/2022 travel leg). Or 4 months in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and 4 months in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica (2019/2020 travel leg). Or 4. months on the Spanish island of Tenerife, followed by 4 months in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica (2018/2019 travel leg). We try to repeat destinations, so the kids can make friends, leave and return, or go to a local school more than once. Going back to a familiar place helps them adjust more easily, they know the place, they remember things, they remember people and kids. It makes it all easier. We often start a travel leg in Mexico, as the flights from Brussels (Belgium) to Cancun (Mexico) are very cheap. From there we travel onwards.
Ever since the children were born (2015 and 2017) they have been traveling with us, learnt how to crawl, walk and talk. We have always encouraged them to explore the world around them and doing so while traveling is a great gift! Exploration and following a natural curiosity is crucial to finding a path in life that really suits a child.
Exploring comes natural to kids, but we are in the way
It is one of the first things that becomes clear when observing a young Isa, before she could speak. She loves to be outside. Always barefoot. Climbing onto things (in campervan or outside). Running. Picking up insects from the ground. Observing them, tapping them, seeing what happens. She seems to see everything. Pointing at something. A bird we did not see. She is curious.
Vesper is a real boy, he climbs everything. When he was a year old or so, he loved to climb stairs. We do not use any stair security doors or locks, so we always are there with him. He goes first, one of us follows: see? you can do it. He has gained a great motor skill from being allowed to climb everything. Vesper rode his first bike when he was 2,5 and at 4,5 he joins his dad on the mountainbike course. He loves to be outside, like his sister, he loves bugs, everything that crawls. He loves the ocean. And he too, is very curious.
We look for ways to stimulate that curiosity in our kids as much as we can. We took Isa on her first travel leg when she was 13 months. We traveled in a campervan from Mexico, via Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua to Costa Rica in three months time. Camping on campgrounds often with very few facilities. With one rule when we are out there: stay close and always eyes on the baby by one of us and clear handing over of that responsibility to the other parent who was doing something else.
When you do that, there are just two more things we parents need to do: facilitate and go out of the way. Let them go. Let them climb it, let them cut it, let them cross it, let them jump into it. If we keep cutting it for them, helping them climb it, crossing it for them, jumping it for them, all they learn is that we can do it better.
So, how do we incorporate learning, or education if you will, in our nomadic traveling lifestyle?
The amount of things kids learn while on the road is mindblowing. That is the first reason to take them everywhere and show them the world.
Besides an environment that allows for exploration, we hope that our attitude as parents towards our children, stimulate exploration rather than inhibit it. This is not always easy and we still have a lot to learn: When it rains for example, Isa loves to jump the puddles and play in the mud. Me as a mum, had to learn that it is ok that her clothes become dirty up to the a point they won’t get clean again. I heard myself say to her: ‘Isa, you can’t play in the mud with your new sandals. They will be all dirty.” And then a few minutes later I see her walk around the puddle with guilty eyes, looking at me and saying: ‘mum, I am staying out of the mud, my new sandals are getting dirty’. For me this was enough to realise I don’t want to inhibit her play and exploration in such a way. So I said, ‘it’s ok Isa, we will clean them up’. Followed by the happiest face and the biggest jump into the puddle with her new white sandals. For me a big lesson that afternoon. Clothes are there to facilitate play, not only to be beautiful. And whatever I say, is truth to her.
Children learn by imitating US (uh oh… ;-))
Whatever our children see from us, they will copy. If I sit on a yoga mat, my kids will join me, curiously looking at me what we are doing. If Steven is putting on his track and field shoes, Isa says: ‘dad can I come and put on my running shoes too?’ The habits we have, will be copied by our children and some of those will become patterns in their lives as well. That’s completely natural but important to be aware of. Any values we’d like to ‘teach’ them will be taught through our example. We can’t inspire a value in them that we ourselves don’t live. Steven has an outgoing personality with strong social skills. Anywhere he goes, he’ll talk to people. Taking a taxi, talking to the taxi driver. Going to the store, talking to the teller. Walking the streets, greeting people. Our kids witness this and take it as ‘this is how it is done’. Consequence? Vesper sitting in the stroller waving at people he passes. Isa saying: ‘hola’ to anyone she passes in the streets or talking to the waiter in the restaurant: ‘tres años tengo’ (I am three years old), holding up her three little fingers. Or climbing into the arms of an unknown guy in a Spiderman suit.
This is something that amazes us every day. Kids are like a mirror. What you’ll show them, they’ll mirror. The more we can be our natural self, the more they will be their natural self. We believe that is where happiness lives and from where we grow as human beings. From following and mirroring our own behaviour we now got two children who are social, they are not afraid of people (they won’t hide behind our legs when we arrive somewhere new), wherever they see another child, they will go and make friends. It is something they learn while we travel. We say goodbye to friends and we make new friends.
Stay in one place longer
To make friends, it helps when you are around longer than a week or two. When we travel, we usually stay in one place for 4 months (or longer). We do this to make friends, for our kids to make friends but also to work (Steven and I both work remotely). When we have to move around every 2 weeks or so, our brain will not enter creativity mode, but sticks in the response mode. Staying in one place longer gives us more peace of mind. We also stay in one place for 4 months or longer, because we think it is very important for our kids to speak the language of that country. So far this always has been Spanish or English. We choose to make use of local teachers to help our kids learn languages. And it just really helps if you are in one place longer. It would be my sole suggestion if you choose to worldschool your kids with help of local teachers/ schools.
Why local teachers and not just teach them yourself? You speak Spanish right? And English?
When Isa was 2 years old, we went to a Mexican daycare center for the first time. The teacher heard me speak Spanish with her, while it is not my first language, I think I do a decent job at it. Nevertheless, the teacher instructed us not to speak Spanish with your kids when it is not your first language. The details of the language will be lost and the child will learn to speak a foreigner variant of the language. This will always be heard in their speech and way sentences are constructed. So at that point we decided: as a part of this lifestyle we would love our kids to learn languages. And in order to properly teach them those languages, we will do so with the help of local teachers and selected schools that fit our way of life and look upon life.
Select schools and travel there
We have traveled a lot and seen a lot of Central America, so ever since the kids were old enough to start with a foreign language (both 2 years old), we made an effort selecting schools we loved and made that the destination. Instead of the other way around: think about what you want to see and travel to a country where that can be experienced.
So the first time we selected a school, Vesper was 2 years old and Isa 4 years old. We researched the internet for a school in the outdoors, ideally Montessori led, bi-lingual, multi-cultural. We found Jardín Infantil Las Semillas in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. This is the place where Isa learnt to speak Spanish and Vesper was introduced to it.
At this school, in the middle of the jungle, the kids are surrounded by big birds: toucans and endangered green ara’s (a big parrot). There are families of howler monkeys around and for the good eye, it is possible to spot sloths around the school yard. Amongst the families we counted an astonishing 23 nationalities (!) and it was truly a gift to go to this school.
At two years old, Vesper was still very small and the school, the language, the new people a lot to take in. I usually picked him up at 12 to put him in bed for a nap. I would bike back to the school to pick Isa up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. She also would take a siesta in the afternoon, exhausted from all these impressions. After a while, Vesper slept like the other kids inside the school when he was tired.
All cultures are celebrated at this school during the yearly “Día de las Culturas’. Every family cooks a dish from their home country and brings it to school. We play games from the various countries and songs are sang typical for a particular country. It is a great way to show children that differences are to be celebrated.
Isa and Vesper went to Las Semillas in 2018 (3 months), 2019/ 2020 (6 months). This school caters to students up to 6 years old, so if they would open a full primary we would definitely go back there.
School in Holland
In 2020 we traveled to Holland due to the pandemic and stayed for almost 18 months. During this time we could have opted to keep Isa out of school in Holland and ‘unschool’ her. She has a BFF in Holland that goes to school and she also wanted to go to school.
So whenever we are in Holland for a few months (or longer) Isa (and Vesper since 2022) go to a Dutch primary school. This school runs according to the program ‘Leader in Me’ based on the management model of Stephen Covey (7 habits of highly effective people) adapted for education. It is awesome to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and acting. Isa went to this school for almost a year and Vesper just started his first Dutch school experience in the summer of 2022.
If you are interested to learn more about the type of school we chose in Holland, check out our blog ‘When Isa turns 5 (and is obliged to go to school in Holland) is the travel adventure over?’
Fortunately, a travel adventure does not have to end when a child reaches the ‘obligatory’ school age. This is something that was invented by government. With good intentions. But I believe we are responsible for our own children, in every way imaginable, so also for how they learn.
So, in October 2021, after being in Holland for 18 months (!) we traveled again to Mexico and spend the first 4 months of the travel leg in Tulum, Mexico. This travel leg we took the time to adjust to being on the road again and to have Isa and Vesper slowly adjust to the Spanish language again.
For the second part of the travel leg we moved to San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, about 3 hours north of Mexico City. Here, Isa and Vesper went to a local Waldorf led school called Árbol de Vida.
Pick useful skills to practice
There are several skills you can pick to practice when traveling. Think about swimming. A very important skill for kids to learn, especially if they are in the water every day. In our family we logically picked swimming and learning how to ride a bike.
We always try to find a temporary house that has a big outdoor area, ideally with a pool and we try to take the kids bikes from Holland to continue practicing while traveling. Going to a sports park with the bikes is a great daily activity with kids!
Both of our kids LOVE to be in the water, in the ocean. They learned to swim between 3 and 4 years old. Never with flotis, or arm inflatables, we were always right there next to them. Teach them like it is, if you don’t move your legs, you will sink. If the house does not have a pool, we look for a hotel and ask if we can use the pool every day, against a small donation. In this way, the kids can always swim, cool off and practice their skill. Below a few photos of the houses we lived in the past few years while traveling.
In this courtyard Isa learned how to walk, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico (2016)
The first house we rented in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica at Cocles beach (2018)
The house we rented the first part of our second travel leg to Costa Rica in the center of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (2019)
Our house in Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica (2020)
The pool in a hotel close to our house in Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (2020)
Our house at Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, mexico (2021)
The shared pool at our house In San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Mexico (2022)
Our house in the center of San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Mexico (2022)
Learn how to ride a bike
We are Dutch, so learning how to bike is a no brainer :-). Ever since they were young both kids have had a tricycle and a wooden balance bike. We bought the balance bike for Isa in San Jose, Costa Rica and it was good practice for the real work to come! If we possibly can, we bring the (very lightweight) Woom bikes of the kids on our travel legs, if we know there is safe biking at the destination that we picked.
Isa practicing the balance bike, San José, Costa Rica (2018)
Isa and Vesper practicing the balance bike and tricycle, at the campsite, Haaksbergen, Holland (2018)
Isa biking to school, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica (2019)
Vesper biking on the big bike of his sister (Vesper 2,5 years old), Holland
Vesper (4,5 years old) on the MTB track with his father (2022)
If you worldschool, do you then have a house in a fixed place?
Yes, we do. We love to have a place of our own we do not need to be careful with. Always living in someone else’s home with small kids is tiresome (neverending cleaning and being careful). In 2018 it was time for us to end our home-sitting streak, we had had until then. So, we bought a mobile home/ cabin on a campsite in Haaksbergen. Also we still own our VW van we take holidays with during the summer (we shipped our VW from Costa Rica to Holland in 2020).
The kids figuring out how a campervan works… Holland (summer 2021)
Around the mobile home, we have playgrounds our kids can go to by themselves, bugs to watch and pick up. Space and tranquility (no cars!) to ride a bike, play with water and sand. Watch the cows go by and the farmer plough his fields.
Our mobile home in Haaksbergen, Holland (2018)
Explore, explore, explore
Whenever we are in Holland, or traveling, we look for experiences. Things to do and experience that enrich us as well as the kids. Visit 200+ year old trees in the jungle.
We go swimming in cenotes, climb to the top of a big cliff to see the water wash into the coast, go iceskating(!), watch sea turtles on the beach, make a fire, take care of farm animals, camp on a beach watching monkeys in the trees, visit local communities, go sailing, make music at the beach.
Sail in Greece with friends on their amazing ship <3 (2017)
Sleep in a tent on the beach, Costa Rica (2016)
Cook on an open fire, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica (2018)
Ice skate at the windmills in Holland (2020)
Visit Inan Itah, a healing community, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua (2017)
Watching the crocodiles in the river below with Isa, Costa Rica (2017)
Make music at the beach, Cocles, Costa Rica (2019)
Explore the jungle and see huge leafcutter ants, Cocles, Costa Rica (early 2019)
Vesper spotting the ‘saltamontes’ or grasshoppers in the garden, Costa Rica (2019)
We hope to be traveling and living like this for a while to come. We always said: if one of us wants to do something else, we reconsider the whole lifestyle. This keeps the door always open to the things that the heart wants. <3
Arriving at our beloved island Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico (2022)
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send an email.