lifestyle

"We took our kids out of school for a year-long 'holiday'."

It’s getting harder and harder to get children out of school. But what if it’s for an experience that will change their lives?

So, one day we had this fanciful notion of packing up our car and our kids and driving around the world for a year.

Yes, driving. Around the world. With a seven and a 10-year-old. For a year. In the one vehicle. Easy.

In the end it took five years of planning – revising itineraries, checking weather conditions, researching visas, reviewing health matters and of course, determining what to do about the kids’ schooling.

There has been some talk in the media recently about taking kids out of school for family holidays. Well, this wasn’t a trip to Dreamworld. We considered the loss of formal school time would be more than made up for by what Maddy and Raffy would learn on the road. To make sure of this, we consulted our primary school and, with the principal’s blessing, we enrolled our kids (then in grade 5 and grade 1) in the Distance Education Centre Victoria.

Changing the one and only flat tyre we had in Phonsavan, Laos.

The kids were allocated a teacher with whom they were in contact. They kept up with the basics in English and Maths and work was posted back to Australia on a sporadic basis with feedback received via email.

The life education they received on the road far exceeded what was covered in the classroom. We travelled through 24 countries. Raffy and Maddy learnt to count in seven languages and their linguistic skills were so much better than ours that they interpreted for us and bartered in markets. They made an effort to also learn the basics of saying “hello” “thank you” and “goodbye” in the language whichever country we were in. And they learnt that people appreciated the effort made to communicate.

Read more: A traveller’s guide to Turkey.

Patience was nurtured waiting for hours at border crossings while bored guards inspected our paperwork. Geography and colonial history were explored travelling across continents. Geo-politics was understood comparing housing and living standards from South East Asia to the United States of America to Europe and back to Asia.

One of the most rewarding experiences was viewing the world through their eyes. Raffy discovered in Laos that you could quite easily play with kids your own size even if you didn’t share a language. Maddy had conversations with girls her age in India on the importance of education. They marveled at the size of meals in America, and understood a little of the significance of Turkey’s Dardanelles Strait to both ancient and more modern history.

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Maddy deciphering ancient Greek.

One of the most valuable activities the kids did was to keep scrapbooks. These were visual diaries that documented what they did, where they went and what they thought. Though some days there was a bit of resistance to sitting down and writing, these books captured what it was like for them to be on the road for a year and, now that they are a little older, are a source of great amusement.

Us parents also realised that sometimes we had to throw our schedules out the window. When the kids said they’d had enough of packing up, moving on, being schlepped to museums and historic sites, we learnt to listen and just find a park and some ice cream and hang out for a few hours. Or a few days. We were all equal travellers on this journey and all our needs were valid and had to be accommodated.

Working on the car.

The routine of the trip provided some structure for all of us. A bit of driving in the morning. Sometimes across borders from one country to another. Picnic lunch out the back of our car. A bit more driving in the afternoon. Then exploring our new locale where we would stay anywhere from one night to over a week. We timed the travelling so that we weren’t in the car for longer than a couple of hours and whiled away the time reading, playing games or listening to music.

After almost exactly 365 days on the road, we drove back into Melbourne, anxious about re-entry into the daily grind. The kids were amazing – blending seamlessly straight back in to school and friendships. Danny and I found it much harder, and missed being together as a family, the freedom of no routine and watching the world go by.

The book!

The experiences we have shared still resonate with all of us. Maddy and Raffy have a greater understanding of the world, their place in it and the privilege of being born in Australia. They are aware that there is injustice, inequality and disadvantage in the world as well as great beauty, natural and constructed wonders and that sometimes these things can all occur in the same place.

We have confirmed our belief that children are resilience and independent, intelligent and sensitive and rarely need all the paraphernalia with which they are surrounded. We have all benefited from spending a year in close proximity and still road trip to this day.  In the same car. Together.

Drive around the world: one family, one car, one year, one planet – the book by Danny Rosner Blay and Sandra Khazam with Maddy and Raffy is available on line from Readings and Hybrid Publishers.

 Would you consider taking your kids out of school for an extended period?

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