Guest post by Nancy Sathre-Vogel: does roadschooling work?

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Nancy is a ballsy kind of lady.  There aren’t many mums who would cycle 27000 MILES with their kids from Alaska to Argentina and round the USA and Mexico….  She’s been on TED, she’s written several books on travelling with kids, and her new one Roadschooling: Education Through travel came out last year.

Nancy Sathre Vogel roadschooling
Nancy and her family in the Andes.

When we set off in 2013 in a campervan for a year, schooling was one of the things we were asked about a lot, especially as our kids are not little: we have two teens and a tween.  We’re still figuring out how, with an hour of “school books” a day for a year, our three are at the same level or above their peers now that they’re back.  I’m beginning to wonder if we are not asking questions about the wrong type of schooling.

Here is Nancy’s take on how and if Roadschooling works.  For sure it does……

 By Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Roadschooling – it works.

While there is no definite definition of roadschooling, I define it as an education based on experiences while traveling. In other words, we used our travels as the basis for our sons’ education. By that I mean that when we visited the Panama Canal, we studied the history of the canal, the challenges involved with making it, the economic impact of cutting a week off the ships’ journeys, and the ecological effects of connecting the two oceans. Our travels were the basis for all we did.

As a family, we spent a total of four years biking the Americas. Our twin sons spent their Grade 3 year pedaling around the USA and Mexico, then spent Grades 5, 6, and 7 biking from Alaska to Argentina. After traveling a total of 27,000 miles, we arrived back in Idaho.

We faced a fair bit of criticism while on our journey. Most people felt as we did that our travels were a fantastic experience for our boys, but there were those who felt otherwise.

“I just don’t see how subjecting kids to this odyssey of self-discovery or whatever it was, could possibly benefit them in the long run,” one critic said. “At college-age, maybe. But not grade-school aged kids. That’s just irresponsible.”

I maintained that the proof would be in the pudding. While I suspected that our travels would benefit our kids, only time would tell.

“The kids learned how to be homeless children on a bike,” another critic told me. “Of course, the techniques of success as homeless children on a bike will have to be adapted somewhat for success as homeless adult males on a bike.”

Had we set our kids up for failure? Had we doomed them to a life of homelessness on bikes?

Tundra Nancy Sathre vogel
The Tundra – on a bike.

“I hope your boys can get integrated back into normal American teenage life, get into college and into actual careers,” somebody else said. “As someone else wrote, learning ‘the techniques of success as homeless children on a bike’ doesn’t necessarily map into anything really useful down the road.”

And now, nearly four years after finishing our journey and returning to Idaho to settle down, I have some answers. The proof really is in the pudding.

At this point, my sons are 17 years old, and are preparing for college. They are both taking plenty of Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses. They both scored well on the PSAT tests. One son is fairly certain he will major in Electrical Engineering; the other is debating between Physics and Computer Science.

We could have chosen to stay in Idaho and the boys would have played on soccer teams and swam on swim teams. They would have eaten lunch in the school cafeteria and ridden the bus to school and raced outside to play tether ball at recess. They would have had sleepovers and played video games with friends. They would have been part of chess club and boy scouts. Those things aren’t bad and they would have learned from them all.

We chose to take off and travel the world. Our boys climbed on Mayan pyramids and Incan temples. They swam with sea lions and scuba dived with turtles. They flew over the Nazca Lines, saw the mysterious Ica Stones and conehead skulls, and gazed at ships rising and falling in the Panama Canal. They saw real life penguins and guanacos and rheas and armadillos and foxes and bison and musk ox and big horn sheep and reindeer and iguanas in their natural habitats. They stayed with indigenous families in the Bolivian highlands and with migrant workers in Mexico. They went sand surfing and real surfing. They ate lomo saltado and carne asado. They drank Inka Kola and mate.

And through it all, they learned. I always said the proof would be in the pudding, and now we’re seeing that pudding loud and clear. Roadschooling works.

Nancy Sathre vogel bikes
No ordinary geography lesson.

Nancy blogs at

I asked Nancy about her book, Roadschooling: Education Through Travel

What inspired you to write this book, and who is it for?

Our sons’ education has always been the most-questioned aspect of our journey. After spending hours responding to emails asking about various aspects of educating children on the road, I figured it was time to put everything I knew together in one place. My hope is that any parents contemplating long-term travel with their children will read Roadschooling: The Ultimate Guide to Education Through Travel and be reassured that they really can do it.

Only teachers can home educate, right?

HA! I remember way back, many years ago, when I was about to teach Grade 1 for the first time. I had always worked with older kids and was confident that I could teach kids to read better, but I had no idea how to teach them to read in the first place. A teacher friend of mine said, “Relax. Kids will learn in spite of their teacher.” He was right.

Kids learn. It’s what they do. Their brains are designed to make sense of the world around them. Put them in a challenging, stimulating environment and sit back and watch them learn.

Is there anything in it that might surprise readers?

Not really surprise, but I hope it enlightens. While working on my master’s thesis, I researched what actually happens inside our brain when we learn. Knowing that helped me design lessons for my classroom, but it also gave me the confidence to know that our sons were learning.

You’ve had a pretty amazing life of adventures. What’s next for you?

What’s next? Who knows? At this point, our sons are juniors in high school, so will be starting the college search soon. Maybe, once they are out on their own, my husband and I will take off again. Then again, I am having an awful lot of fun playing with copper – maybe we’ll just stay here in Boise, Idaho and never travel again!

You can pick up a copy here….

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