Road School

June 30, 2017

I never pictured myself as a homeschooling parent.

Not only am I a big proponent of public schools, I don’t think that I’m personally cut from the parent-as-teacher cloth. The role does not come easily to me. When people have asked me how homeschooling has been going, my answer is usually that it’s a mixed bag. I’m so grateful for the extra time with my kids, but sometimes it borders on family-time boot camp. I’m lucky that I have bright girls who love to learn and catch onto new concepts easily, but that doesn’t mean that they never whine, or argue, or procrastinate, or dissolve into puddles on the ground when a new lesson just feels too hard. And they aren’t the only ones with weaknesses; I speak too harshly to them, I expect too much, and I get angry and huffy and impatient just like they do. I would say that each day kindof feels like a failure to me. It’s never just a morning of 2 dutiful students with 1 loving and knowledgeable teacher moving through a morning of educational exercises together. There are squabbles and incentives (sometimes downright bribes), there are complaints and sometimes tears, and multiple cups of coffee. (I have considered giving it to the girls as well to see if that might help.)

I initially pictured us sitting all together at our tiny camper table, their independent working spaces designated by the plastic place mats they picked out for themselves. There would be a folder of projects for each of them, and they would stack up their completed work neatly as they finished each assignment.

Road School: Year 1, Day 1. What could possibly go wrong?

This plan lasted exactly 30 seconds. Our daily routine is more of a daily dance of keeping them separated. They distract each other, they frustrate or entertain each other, and oh, my, goodness, they compete with each other. As soon as one child announces that they hate writing postcards, it is immediately the other child’s all time favorite thing…

“Can we please write postcards right now?! I LOVE writing postcards! I want to write THREE today!”

“Noooooooooo! I HATE writing postcards! No No No PLEASE!!”

And back and forth to infinity….

I’ve tried so many tactics to limit distractions for them to focus. I play quiet music, I turn on the fan, and shut some doors.

“Coral, you go work in Mom & Dad’s room now while Sunny uses the table.”

Sunny: “But, Mom, I wanted to do my work in there today!!!”

I have literally had to hide in our tiny bathroom from time to time to leave each girl alone in a room with no one to engage with to TRY to get them to focus on their work. I’ve set timers. I’ve offered candy rewards and screen time. We’ve done sticker charts. Did I mention I don’t think I’m cut out for this?

But even though each day considered by itself feels like a failure, I love that we now have months under our belts, and I can look back and clearly see that as a whole this educational year has been a great success. I just want to highlight some of the things that we have explored this year together.

Travel Journals

The notebooks that the girls have been keeping full of drawings and writing about our adventures is the crowning jewel of our year, in my opinion.

I have eased up on trying to make Sunny engage with many other writing prompts each week, because writing is not one of her favorite subjects. I feel like it’s going to be really important for years to come that they keep these travel journals of our adventure, so this is writing priority #1.  It’s already great to look back at early entries and see how far they have come in their art skills, and even more impressively advanced in their spelling and writing skills.

One of Sunny’s first entries: Monday, August 29, 2016 Goldendale, WA – Bend, OR This week we left Wenatchee. It was hard. What was hard??? Leaving Wenatchee was hard. That is what was hard. It was hard because I am going to miss Cash! But I’m excited that it’s going to be so much fun.


We initially used regular lined notebooks as travel journals, but eventually moved to these Draw & Write Journals. They offer blank spaces for all of the artwork as well as giant lines for small hands to write their stories. We ordered new ones on Amazon each time one volume was filled, and the girls really enjoyed getting to pick out their next one from all the fun cover options.


These entries were frequent reminders that the most memorable things for adults and children are often very different from the adults in the group! An entry by Sunny: “Tuesday, May 2: Boston, Massachusetts We went to BOSTON! We followed the Freedom Trail the whole day, it was fun. At the end of the day we went to the park and ate DUNKIN DONUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had never had it before. We also saw Paul Revere’s house. He warned the colonists the British were coming. We saw where John Hancock is dead.” Her illustration is of her donut.
Coral’s entry about Washington D.C. included drawings of Phoenix the Right Whale and an elephant from the Natural History Museum, Lady Liberty from the top of the capitol building, and a fold-out of the Washington Monument! “Friday, April 14: Washington, D.C. Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. That is big for the Washington Monument! Can you believe that? Uh oh, man, that is tall I think Dad is maybe 5 feet tall. Hahaha oh yeah.”
Coral’s entry about our visit to the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia in April. She illustrated weeding the garden at the Powhatan Village, the skink on the wall and musket demonstration at the Jamestown Fort, and sailors on board the Discovery ship.  About Discovery she narrated, “On the boat we saw smooth, giant ropes and bread so hard we thought it was a cookie.”

Even though we have gone through seasons of them requesting opportunities to journal as well as seasons where incentives are required to get them started, I feel like these bundles of art and stories are one of my prize possessions. These will definitely go into that category of “grab on your way out the door in case of fire”. I just can’t emphasize enough what a treasure these book are to me.


Maps, maps….MAPS! I have always loved geography, and this adventure has been a perfect opportunity to pass on that love!

Another family who spent a year on the road loaned me their Atlas and printable geography curriculum so that we have these print-outs for each state.

For every state that we pass through, the girls label and color a map of that state. We include where we stayed, capital cities, boundary states, national parks, and other places of note on our maps. While they are coloring the maps, I read noteworthy state facts to them from the Atlas.
We included these maps along with some map coloring sheets and other papers we’ve collected in various places, into a Geography Binder for each girl as a keepsake.
This is the front cover page in each of their binders. We color in each state after we’ve visited it.

We’ve all learned so much about state histories, important geographical features, and memorized a lot of capitals.

Junior Ranger Programs

The activity books provided at every National Park in the country were surprisingly awesome. We had heard of the Junior Ranger Program, but I thought it might be too involved for our quick visits to these amazing places. But we have been able to fit these activities perfectly into our tours of the parks, and they have been incredibly educational for all of us. In Crater Lake we learned about how the gorgeous lake was created when it grew, then blew, then fell, then filled. In the redwoods we labeled the different layers of tree bark. In Death Valley we categorized animals as nocturnal or diurnal. In Bryce Canyon we drew hoodoos. And we did countless mazes, bingos, word searches and unscrambles, and worksheets about trail etiquette and preserving natural spaces. We went on a lot of hikes where our activity books instructed us to record things that we saw, heard, smelled, or felt. We wrote acrostics and drew pictures of animals. This was all under the guise of the girls learning something, but Brad and I learned so much about these national treasures through this process as well! And even though the girls are proud of the badges that they earned after completing each book, I think that I am the one who has become nearly obsessed with collecting as many as possible. I am especially proud of the one they earned for completing the Centennial Junior Ranger booklet (which most parks were out of by the time we began traveling, but we were able to find the booklets and the badges in some less popular parks like Canyonlands in Utah) because it a special reminder that we began this trip during the 100th birthday celebration of the national park system.

Jr. Ranger Programs are awesome!


In the absence of any formal curriculum, we leaned heavily on workbooks aimed at the girls specific grades to help us fill in the gaps this year. These books cover spelling, grammar, math, and science. As I said, I could not have survived Road Schooling for a year if these girls didn’t love learning, and one way that shows through is that working in these books is seen as a treat by these kiddos. They usually each have at least 2 of these books, one in Stumbo and one in the truck, and they’ve both chosen to work through the pages as a free time activity on many occasions. Coral has practiced her letters and beginner sight words. She has sorted colors and shapes, practiced cutting and gluing, and identified patterns. She has learned about reading clocks, the days of the week, and types of animals. Sunny has begun to learn about parts of speech, comprehension of both fiction and non-fiction writing, she’s done adding and subtracting with regrouping, made a lot of headway on multiplication facts up to 12, and is really enjoying the start to fractions and geometry. We have burned through about 3-4 books for each girl, including scholastic, classroom connection, and whatever other random ones we come across. But by far our favorite ones are these Brain Quest books. They present the most challenging lessons in the most creative ways, and I feel like the girls have learned the most from this series.

Our favorite workbook series by far!


The Hastings in Wenatchee was going out of business right before we left last summer, and I picked up this book for $3.00 because Sunny has long been interested with human anatomy – especially blood. This book became Sunny’s science curriculum this year. She would have an assigned bit to read and then I would either come up with questions for her to answer about the information, or trace an image for her to label, or her favorite – she would make up questions for me based on the chapter. We didn’t make it through the entire book yet, but she has studied bones, muscles, nutrition, the circulatory and digestive systems, the human life cycle, genes, and the nervous system. We are taking a break on this book for awhile, but I am eager to finish it up with her this fall.


American History

As we headed into the Eastern US, home of the 13 colonies, our nation’s capital, and countless historic sites, I really wanted the girls to have some perspective on what they were seeing. I took a risk and ordered a book on Amazon that I’d never heard of and couldn’t flip through before committing to the $30 charge, but it was a risk that paid off big time.

This book was amazing.

This book is AMAZING! It came in very handy when we passed by locations where these stories took place. We would take the book out and read the story about the place we were visiting – even if we’d already read it before. It really made history come to life in a way all 4 of us enjoyed.

It’s 100 true stories from American history, told in language that is easy for kids to understand, only take 5-10 minutes to read, and include at least one full color illustration. I thought it might seem uninteresting to the girls as we began our new routine of reading it over breakfast each morning (thank you for that idea, Tanya Waldroop!), but it became one of the highlights of our day. We would frequently read 1-4 stories a day. We learned about Native Americans, about the European explorers, and about the enslaved people brought over from Africa. We read about John Smith, John Hancock, and John Henry. We read about Henry Thoreau, Helen Keller, George Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt. We talked about war and about religion and about racism. We talked about alien invasion hysteria and atomic bombs and the invention of the telephone. And the girls were fascinated. I was often met in the middle of a day with, “Can we read another American History story now?!”

I will admit that I skipped a few of the stories. Some things – like witchcraft trials in Salem, hatchetation during prohibition, lynching in the plantation days, or cannibalism at sea, I just didn’t feel ready to discuss with the girls at this age. But I do plan to read this book to them again, and we will add in these tales and discuss when it’s developmentally appropriate. Again, I felt like I was learning as much or more as the girls were learning, and reading through these stories as an adult really changed the way I heard them. I found myself at many of these historical sites, considering what our history means for our present in new and challenging ways. Most anyone that we visited from March – June can attest to my love of this book, because I just couldn’t shut up about it.

Other random stuff:

Sunny’s cursive practice.

There were a number of other things that we studied for a short time, either because I felt it appropriate or because (in the case of cursive for Sunny) they just wouldn’t stop asking to learn it. We learned about the continents and oceans (did you know there are 6 of those now?!), the animal kingdoms, the planets, and the fruit of the spirit. Coral worked puzzles and sorted legos. We watched Art Hub for Kids on YouTube to practice our art skills. We did some science experiments (that usually failed) from a $1.00 book from target. Coral did sight word flash cards, and Sunny had spelling tests.

Sometimes we had P.E., which was usually just me yelling, “Don’t come back inside for at least 20 minutes!”. And we had some music lessons where I exasperated them with what I guess were theory concepts that were either way above their heads or not well presented. We wrote postcards…..lots and lots and lots of postcards…from many of the destinations that we visited. This was a great way to keep in touch with friends but also practice our writing skills.  (It was also a great way to handle the request to purchase something at every gift shop; “You can each pick out 1 postcard from this place!”) And like all of the things on this list, sometimes it was a joy and other times it was a miserable chore.

“Non schooling” Days

Sometimes Brad and I would laugh about the “wasted days” in the truck when we aren’t able to do schooling per se. But those days were often filled with mad libs (English practice) and binge watching Wild Kratts episodes (science). We’ve told them we will buy them a new season of Wild Kratts once they’ve watched each episode of the current season 5-6 times. The result is that they work their way through them (in 30 min increments, every time we are on the road longer than 90 min) to the point of memorization. So now they just bust out with animal facts at random moments. Like when we saw a stuffed antelope in South Dakota, Coral went into a long explanation of how they have the most speed and stamina of any land animal, thanks in large part to their giant nostrils which help them stay cool when exerting lots of energy out on the hot plains.

I bought more than a year’s worth of Nat Geo Kids from eBay and both girls devour the content. These make great reads for the time we spend in the truck on travel days.

Graduation Day

To mark the end of the school year and celebrate all that we had learned and achieved, I made “Final Exams” for both of them that included broad summaries of the things they had learned.  I tried to make it just challenging enough to be fun, and easy enough that they could feel a great success in reviewing all the amazing things we’ve done this year.

For Sunny I made fill-in-the-blank reviews of the American History book and her anatomy lessons.  I made her a crossword puzzle about all 50 states.  They labeled maps of the US, the world, and the solar system.  They did worksheets about what famous landmarks are in which cities and matched up states with their capitols. They listed the Fruit of the Spirit and practiced their math skills. They each had to do a little bit of writing and also categorize animals into the 5 kingdoms.  Sunny had to match up quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.  Coral had to write the numbers from 1-100 and the entire alphabet.

These final exams took us the better part of a day, and everyone felt frustrated at times.  But by the end of the exams, we were all proud of this showcase of the accomplishments of this year.

Coral reviewed her math concepts.
Coral’s alphabet.
Alphabet 2
Sunny’s review of the American History stories we read.
Coral’s solar system.
Part of their “Final Exam” was being handed a blank US map.  Coral knew about 22 states…Sunny knew them all!
We had a special celebration that evening complete with homemade hats, graduation certificates, and of course, brownies.
Looking ahead to next year: Is she insane?  Yes…yes, she is.

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