Worldschooling: What Is It and What Can We Learn From It?
Do you remember the last weeks of school before the holidays? How you wish you were on some exciting adventure instead of cooped up in your classroom? Well, what most kids only dream of is now becoming reality for more and more children around the world.
Made possible by the remote working revolution, more families are embracing the nomadic lifestyle, ditching school altogether to travel the world with their children indefinitely instead of being tied down to school holidays and curricula.
Whether their trips are funded by online businesses or freelance careers, or they’re taking a ‘family gap year,’ the question of how to educate their children while travelling is often at the forefront.
Some travelling families choose to stay in each destination longer term and send their kids to regular local schools. Others prefer to homeschool their children, sticking to a more or less formal curriculum often provided by the family’s home country.
More recently however, a growing number of nomadic parents are choosing to unschool or worldschool their children.
We’ll be exploring what exactly worldschooling is, how it works and what can we learn from it.
Worldschooling and Unschooling
To explain the concept of world schooling, we have to first understand that it is closely related to unschooling.
Unschooling is a type of homeschooling that lets the child take control of their own education, allowing them to pursue their passions and interests in the form of projects or field trips instead of following a traditional curriculum.
The idea behind this seemingly extreme form of education is that children have an innate desire to understand the world around them. By allowing them the freedom to follow their own interests and engage with topics they are passionate about, outside of a confined classroom setting, they will naturally develop skills, self-confidence, and discover their purpose.
Worldschooling simply takes this concept to the next level, by adding travel into the mix and letting destinations and experiences guide the child’s learning, ultimately turning the whole world into a classroom.
But as there is no official definition of worldschooling, each family tends to define what the terms mean for them. Here’s what most worldschooling families have in common:
- They believe in a holistic approach to learning that incorporates different aspects of life, nature, culture, history and science, instead of separating education into different subjects
- They believe that standardised test scores, degrees and grades are not a good indicator for future success
- They acknowledge that ‘learning’ and ‘education’ are not the same and that children learn better when they are actively engaged in a topic rather than forced to follow a set format
- They agree that each child is different with different talents and that traditional school curricula don’t have the flexibility to take this into account
- They believe children learn best when the process is connected to a tangible outcome, like a project, artwork, real-life experience or creation
- They use hands-on experiential learning, like field trips, experiences and immersive travel, to solidify knowledge
In their 2016 Tedx Talk, Lainie Liberti and her son Miro Siegel shared their experience of travelling around the world for 7 years while worldschooling. For this family education means “developing critical thinking skills, building global perspective, becoming sensitive to other world-views, being inspired to take personal action and developing a deep love of learning.”
In reality, this means that worldschooling looks different for each family. Some even combine it with more traditional classes, either taught by the parents themselves or through online education programs.
How Does It Work?
Learning is usually completely self-directed by the child, but parents support and guide their children each step of the way. They can also take a more active role by piquing their child’s interest using a strategy called ‘strewing.’
“The idea is to strew interesting things along our children’s paths that they can then choose to pursue or pass by depending on whether or not it interests them. For world unschoolers, the power of travel means that the world will strew for them” says Ashley Dymock de Tello who recently published a book about Worldschooling.
Sarah Blaine, a worldschooling mother of two from New Jersey, explains how their family bases their curriculum on their destinations: “A great deal of our curriculum, of course, will be travel related, and our adventures will form the structure for their curriculum as the kids will help us to research where to go, what to see, learn the history we need for context, and so forth. They are even included in budget discussions, which is more practical math than most kids see in school.”
“They’ll be reading novels about the places we visit, and we will create a science curriculum that covers topics my older daughter needs to cover plus makes use of science museums, environmental education centers, aquariums, and other places we visit that bring science alive.”
Online learning tools and platforms like Khan Academy, Lynda, and language learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise are used by many worldschoolers, letting them mix and match their learning materials and customise their curricula. If children need more support than tools and what their parents can offer, online tutoring is available in nearly all subjects. Theodora Sutcliffe of Escape Artistes shared that “for us as a family, world school also needed to prepare my son to have the choice of going to university […] so we used online tutors to keep up with maths, which I’m not good at.”
Why Is Worldschooling Gaining Popularity?
Alternative forms of education have long been on the rise, spreading beyond the narrow constraints of traditional education systems. As such, worldschooling is a natural progression of the location independent lifestyle.
Location independence and the digital nomad movement are fuelled by the remote work revolution. In 2016, 43 percent of Americans said they had worked remotely at least a few times in the past year. Instead of working from home or the nearest coffee shop, people are starting to add travel into the mix and take their jobs on the road.
The nomadic lifestyle is by no means restricted to single people or childless couples. In fact, many nomadic families embark on their journeys to be able to spend more quality time with their families. Worldschooling allows them to take a much more active role in their children’s education than traditional schooling.
Community to Combat Loneliness
One of the big questions that homeschoolers and worldschoolers are often asked is how this lifestyle impacts their social life and network and those of their children. Traditional schools provide social interaction for children without parents needing to put too much thought into it.
In contrast, home and worldschooling parents have to make a conscious effort to provide enough meaningful social interaction for their families. A big benefit of the increasing popularity of this lifestyle is that it’s becoming easier to meet other families who share their values and lifestyle.
The Sundance Family, for example, a German couple who travel the globe with their six children and share their experience on their blog, have spent the last few winters in Thailand in a community of over 200 people, including over 100 children, most of which are worldschooled. For them, bringing their online community together offline is really important as they have dealt with loneliness in the past.
Lainie Liberti and son Miro founded Project World School, which provides co-created communal learning experiences for teens and adults. Miro realised his desire to connect with other self-directed learners after travelling with his mother for three years. These immersive family retreats are held around the world and each one is focused on a specific theme related to the host country.
Pursuing Further Education
As with any type of homeschooling, a common objection to worldschooling is that the children will fall behind their peers in exams and won’t be able to compete in the job market or pursue higher education.
A 2014 study on unschoolers who attended college carried out by Psychology Today found that “the great majority of respondents who went on to college reported no difficulty doing the academic work. Indeed, most said they were at an academic advantage, primarily because of their high motivation and their high capacity for self-initiative, self-direction, and self-control.”
What We Can Learn From Worldschooling
While a nomadic lifestyle might sound like dream for most people, it’s not achievable or even desirable for every family. Yet, there are still concepts that we can learn from worldschooling that can be applied to traditional education systems or regular homeschooling.
Realistically, it is not always possible to add more field trips or real-world experiences into a normal classroom.
However, personalised learning software and apps make it easier than ever to give children more choice in what they want to learn. Allowing children to pursue their interests and passions will help them to engage with the material and ultimately retain more information than forcing them to adhere to a strict curriculum.
Worldschooling is still in its infancy, but with improving education technology and the rise of remote work, it is likely to be a growing movement in the near future.