reading vs. television

Television has always been a difficult issue for families.  In our family we avoided broadcast TV and watched only parent-approved DVDs while our son was little.  But those rules began to relax when he started to visit his friends.

It felt like TV was a Pandora’s Box; once we let it in, it grew more and more distracting.   But what to do about it?  We didn’t feel quite ready to toss the television set out the window…

To our complete surprise the problem solved itself when we got away from English language programming and traveled.  Like the budding TV addict he was, our son complained bitterly for the first few weeks but then something remarkable happened: he discovered books.vaticanstairwayreading

We let him follow his own curiosity and select books at the English bookstore in Rome.  He found the ‘Horrible Histories’ series from UK author Terry Deary and from then on he was never without a book.

Which made waiting in line, riding trains and planes and all those boring parts of traveling much, much easier for everyone.IMG_0887.JPG

tubereadingIamSpartacusTry it at home – turn off the TV and explore a book with your kid.

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GO TEAM GO!

IMG_2925GO TEAM GO!  Seize the day!  Life is short!  There’s no time like the present!  Just do it!

Traveling and learning are naturally compatible activities; one enhances the other.  Together they create a different state of mind where the world becomes a classroom and all the people in it are teachers.  Homeschooling on the road was such a great experience for our family that I’m convinced if everyone knew how easy, rewarding and fun it is, there would be a groundswell of road scholars.  And I think that would be a very good thing for kids, parents, education and world citizenship.

It’s easy.  We were not professional educators – just a couple of freelancers with an eight-year old son. If we could homeschool on the road, then you can too (all you need is love…).  Start by planning a trip to a place your family is curious about.  Then visit your child’s principal, outline your travel plans, promise to keep up with the curriculum while you’re away and politely ask for a leave of absence for your child.  Here’s some advice: do not ask teachers to work up a curriculum for you – they are already very busy.  You may ask them for a list of the material they expect to cover while you’re away; then do some research and assemble your program; there are lots of resources (and many are free) on the web.

It’s rewarding.  You don’t need to make a long term commitment to roadschooling to reap the rewards;  you can do it over summer vacation, a long weekend or even on a family daytrip.  It’s not about how far you go or how much money you spend, it’s about focusing a child’s natural curiosity about the world and connecting that to learning.  The effort you make now to teach your kids about the world will benefit them for years to come.  It may even kickstart your child’s education (like it did for our son: the power of positive disruption).

It’s fun.  Well duh, that’s pretty obvious (see the photo above).  You’ll explore new places together, get closer and make memories that will become family treasures.  What could be more fun than that?

One more piece of advice:  Don’t wait.

Homeschooling on the road is simpler when kids are in elementary school.  As they move into the higher grades, the curriculum can get pretty challenging for non-professionals to cover (I’m talking about things like algebra and physics).

There are no cheerleaders for the ‘stay home and don’t try anything new’ team.  So…GO TEAM GO!  Hit the road and LEARN!AVANTI.JPG

a perfect museum

LaSpecolaBirdsMuseums are one of the greatest inventions of all time.  For a homeschooling family they are high-quality on-demand interactive curriculum providers.  Think of all you could learn if you just went to museums five days a week!

11. Stay off the beaten path.

Italy is packed with museums of every size and description.  In Rome we lived across the piazza from the Italian National Pasta Museum; down the street was an underground museum showcasing ancient ruins uncovered by workmen repairing the foundation of the theater above.  There’s an enormous system of museums devoted to just about anything Roman that you could wonder about.  And of course there’s the Vatican Museum with one of the greatest collections of art and antiquities in the world.

Most parents know from sad experience that museums can be tricky.  After our first disastrous trip to the Vatican Museum we learned that such an enormous collection was just too overwhelming for our kid.  Thereafter, we broke our visits into smaller chunks spread out over a few weeks or looked for smaller museums off the main tourist path.

We also learned that museums were more fun for all of us if their collections appealed to our son’s interests; like most eight-year-old boys that meant anything creepy, crawly or weird.

After a bit of research, we hit the museum jackpot in Florence at Museo La Specola: the oldest scientific museum in Europe with collections dating back to the seventeenth century.  It’s a manageable size for an afternoon visit with a somewhat dusty yet charming assembly of taxidermied creatures – including a hippopotamus that was formerly a Medici family pet!  But La Specola’s most famous and spectacular displays are life-sized anatomical wax figures modeled from dissections of real cadavers by eighteenth century Florentine sculptors.  They were created for the purpose of medical study with glass eyes and human hair wigs.  Naked, realistic and gruesomely beautiful, they lie on tattered silk cushions staring out from their glass cases.  Art students sit and draw them for hours.IMG_8089

When you know what sparks your kid’s curiosity then somewhere you’ll find a museum dedicated to it; take time to look online and get off the tourist trail.  Museo La Specola is not for everyone but for us it was a perfect museum.