A week in – Routines and Flashpoints

So we are now over a week into our adventure, due to our early start, and perhaps this is a good time to look back, as well as forward. We’re now at our second main stop. Brussels, and in our fourth country, Belgium.

What have we achieved?

  • Everyone is still alive, present, and no-one is ill.
  • We have all eaten new things, and enjoyed them.
  • We have travelled over 1000 miles, by car, foot, train, metro, tram, and bus.
  • We have experienced new things, old things, sweet things, beautiful things.
  • I don’t think anyone has lost anything, although I may have lost a pair of pants. (No big story there, but it peeves me to have lost them.)

We are in the process of settling into our routines, if such a thing is possible over a journey of 26 weeks, but I wouldn’t say we have settled into them yet. Is such a thing, a cadence if you like, possible, required, or wanted?

We have tended to start the day with a short exercise programme, based on the classic Royal Canadian Air Force 5BX and XBX programmes. These have 11 and 12 minutes routines of increasing intensity. They are not too horrid, mainly because they are so short.

This is followed by breakfast, then 15 minutes of maths for Aurora, Sophie, and Magnus, using books the school provided, or science or music for Lucy, either also provided by the school or grade 5 theory. We usually do the work one to one, and it has been sold on the basis of “this is all the school you are going to get today”, which is only partly correct. It generally is the only formal structured learning they get. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, such as the day we were leaving Amsterdam for Brussels. I think this is balanced, and supplemented by, the learning they get from just being and living where we are, the conversations we have about what is around us, and what we are seeing, as well as all the interactions in shops, bell towers, galleries, metro stations, etc.

There has been conflict too, about this and more, as we find our feet on the road. Tiredness is often a contributing factor, and sleeping in different beds is always hard. Travel is tiring (I found the first three days of driving particularly draining) and not just for the driver. Later nights, especially for Magnus, and irregular daily schedules don’t help, hence the routines above.

Phones are also a bit of a flashpoint, and it is difficult for us to “be the change you want to see in the world”, as so much of what Harriet and I are doing – researching, blogging, and other things which would normally be analogue, like reading – is on phones or a tablet. I have removed all the games I had on my phone, so as not to be a complete hypocrite…

I do get annoyed when phones come out at the slightest lull in activity, particularly when it is for pointless games, in a beautiful town square, or the like, and sometimes I’ve snapped when they’ve been taken out to take a photo (snapping at snaps?) which is wrong of me.

So how to manage it?

Originally, each of the children had a phone time limit through FamilyLink, which we removed when we realised they were restricting their (our perception of) “good use” (photos, research, learning, blogging) so they could play more games and chat and message with friends. Most car journeys are phone-free, and that has worked well in general, at least until the final hour of a long journey. The car is not wifi-enabled anyway… We tried restricting apps by temporarily blocking them in FamilyLink but that took them out of their folders upon unblocking them, which didn’t go down well.

We’ve come to realise that some activities need to be “physical with a point” like climbing a windy bell-tower in Ghent, instead of “aimless and cerebral” like wandering round a museum. The Instagram photo competition we had last Friday worked well too, so that might become a regular feature.

I think it comes down to chat and compromise, and we are all still learning and adapting. They don’t have a lot of the things we have at home – no-one has watched any TV (just another screen…) since we left – so phones provide a distraction, some privacy and a connection to missed friends at home after all. And we are still talking about it in a (mostly) civil way.

Enough musings for one post, methinks.

Ben

What about school?

This is probably the question we get asked most often. We’ve got four children, they’re all in mainstream state education. How on earth are we getting away with taking them out of school for six months without getting fined, imprisoned or (at the very least) bringing them back functionally illiterate?

When we told them they were going to miss six months of school

It’s taking some clever, and, in some cases, entirely accidental planning…

Geography

The first thing we did (and this was absolutely nothing to do with the trip planning itself) was move to Scotland. The law on education in Scotland is not the same as in England and, crucially, there are no fines (or anything else) for parents whose children are absent from school. That’s not to say that schools are terribly keen on it (fierce letters home for those who book holidays to Disneyland in the cheap weeks) but just that there’s no official sanction.

We have, of course we have, discussed the trip with the schools. I think I first mentioned it to the primary school about four years ago, and the high school were told before Lucy even started there. Both schools have been hugely supportive and positive about what we’re doing. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a teacher who hasn’t thought it was a brilliant idea. The schools do, naturally, have absence figures to submit and I don’t think anyone would be happy with recording six months of unauthorised absence for four children, but somehow (and I suspect there’s some bureaucratic fudge in here about which I have not enquired too deeply) all our kids are being allowed to go away and come back as though nothing has happened. We don’t (officially) need to home school during that time and nor will we, crucially, lose our school places.

S1 science. Every day’s a school day. Probably for me too.

That’s another lucky bit of non-planning. We live in a small town. It has two primary schools and one high school. There is, effectively, no parent choice. (You can choose one primary school over the other, but most people don’t bother, and unless you move away or go private, everyone ends up at the same high school). There’s also no pressure on places. There is space for our kids in the schools and there will be space when we come back. They will (administratively at least) just slot back in.

Time and space

We’ve been lucky with timing too. The children are currently in S1 (first year of high school), P7 (last year of primary) and P4 (somewhere in the middle). So while their education is important (especially to us!), they are not missing anything key. We’re not at the stage of exams – no dreaded SATs in Scotland – and syllabuses (Syllabi? Syllabodes?) and anything that they miss this year will be covered and re-covered in the years to come.

In addition (that’s maths, that is) they’re not actually missing that much school. We leave on 10th February, 3 weeks today (almost to the minute, as I type). Half term starts the end of that week, so they’re only missing half of this term and all of the next. The Scottish Summer term (like the Scottish Summer) is short, finishing at the end of June, so in all it’s about 12 weeks of school they’ll miss, some at least of which will be Sports Days and trips out (and, sadly, high school transition for Sophie and Aurora) and the like.

Support for learning

I am relieved to report I can just about manage Primary 4 maths

None of which is to say that they’re going to get away with learning nothing while we’re away. We’re rather hoping (expecting) that the trip itself will be an education (we won’t be able to get away from languages, geography, history, music and art – even “are we nearly there yet” can be turned into maths, cooking supper (and shopping for it) is home economics and walking up Mount Fuji is definitely PE) but we’ve also been pestering the schools for support so that we can be sure that when we come back the children will have covered everything that they would have done had they been sitting in their classrooms here. Lucy’s teachers have given us the syllabuses (I’m going with that one) for the year, and although I might struggle to explain a covalent bond, Ben handily has a biochemistry degree and a past life as a biology teacher, so I think we’ll be ok. The head teacher of the primary school has handed over precious maths text books so that we can make sure that all of that is covered too (No 239,356,548 on my to do list is revise long division…).

PE. Obviously.

And of course in the age of the internet and phones, there’s an app for everything. One very lovely teacher has signed us up to various recommended programmes, and as I’ve already mentioned this blog is just homework in disguise. (I’m told Because, But, So, is the structure to to aim for – look out for it).

Will it be enough? Who knows?

And if you know – or if you have any suggestions – comment below!

Harriet