I’ve always loved Simple Homeschool’s Day in the Life of series – over the years, I’ve found it an extremely important source of both inspiration and reassurance that we’ve chosen the right path for our family. Last year was the first in which I participated: here’s our Day in the Life of a Homeschooler post from last year.
This year could not be more different, as we’ve spent the last five weeks travelling around the beautiful country of New Zealand in Charlie the trusty Campervan! Every one of those days has been jam-packed with adventures and learning opportunities of all kinds, from seeing their first geyser explode to walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – a 6.5 hr, 19.4km trek over an active volcano – to panning for gold. There are literally no two days the same. In the main though, we’re following a more unschooled, practical and hands-on phase of learning while we travel for three months, which was preceded by three months of your more typical, academic style of learning which involved a great deal of books – see this post! So, to give you a flavour of the travelling, roadschooling lifestyle, I’ve chosen two consecutive, but contrasting days.
Day One – Two glaciers in one day!
The day started as two little smiling heads appeared from the bed above the cab of the camper, ready and eager to start a new day. We had a long drive ahead of us (about four hours) up to our next destination of Franz Josef from our current campsite by Lake Wanaka, so we hit the ground running, with the Beans helping us to reassemble the van and turn the lower bed into a table and chairs ready for the journey. We had a quick breakfast, showered, and completed the worst job of the day – dumping the waste water and toilet – before setting off.
For the first hour, they chatted happily together, re-enacting several of their previous adventures from the trip with their teddies (I’ve noticed they do this a lot in their play – it’s clearly an important part of assimilating their learning), before they started to get fractious with one other (let’s be honest here, they’re siblings spending 100% of their time together, arguments most definitely happen!). At this point, we put on the history audiobook they’d selected over breakfast: Our Island Story, Volume 3, James I and Guy Fawkes to Queen Victoria (the time period we’re currently studying). The narrators were hugely engaging, and we all listened intently to the history of the UK up until the reign of George I, stopping every so often to answer the Bean’s questions or just stare in wonder at the spectacular scenery through which we were travelling.
After about 2 3/4 hours (and with history definitely covered for the week!), we stopped at the car park for the Fox Glacier, a 13km temperate glacier located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. We wolfed down a quick lunch eager to get on and see the frozen marvel awaiting us. On our short 50min return walk up to the see the end of the glacier, we chatted with the Beans about the distinctive U-shaped valley carved out by the glacier and stared in awe at the sheer vertical cliffs left behind; discussed the milky glacial flour water (fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock suspended in the meltwater) flowing from its snout; and read the information boards about how and why glaciers grow and retreat over the years – they were fascinated to look at the signs showing where the glacier had reached in previous years. A geography lesson that I’m sure they’ll remember for the rest of their life.
Then, it was back into the van and onto the next glacier, 30 minutes up the road at Franz Josef. This was a much longer hike (1.5 hours), but proved no problem for the Beans who’ve become very fit since we started travelling given all the hiking and biking we’ve been doing – the day before for e.g. involved an impromptu 3.5 hour hike up to the viewing point of Roy’s Peak, and involved an elevation gain of about 850m, almost as tall as Scafell Pike (the highest mountain in England) is above sea level! On our walk up to the Franz Josef glacier, we happened upon a ranger’s talk and in the process, learned all sorts of new facts, such as how the reddish hue to the rocks is from the red lichen, the first plant to regrow after a glacier has retreated re-exposing the ground-down rocks underneath its previously destructive path. They were also fascinated to learn about and touch the layers of vertical quartz in the glacial valley walls (as opposed to the horizontal layering you’d normally expect) formed as the earthquakes, caused by the meeting of the two tectonic plates, pushed the earth straight up and out of the ground.
Along the hike, the Beans revelled in the opportunity to squat down next to the various streams and waterfalls and lap up the refreshing clear glacial waters! The fact that we’d seen another glacier just a few hours earlier didn’t detract from the wonder of arriving at the viewing point and seeing the awesome spectacle of the jagged glacier ahead of us. A day not to be forgotten.
On the walk back, the children continued on a conversation from the previous day’s hike. We’d been to Puzzling World earlier that day and had been inspired to create something similar in our own back garden, along with a microbrewery (a long-held dream of MrJ’s) for the parents. I suggested that if we did this, Bean8 might like to design and make mocktails to sell (based on the delicious ones we’d tried in Thailand) and Bean9 might prefer to create some puzzle trails for children to complete as their parents sampled the beer… They loved this idea and have talked about it constantly since. Having previously worked out what types of drinks/puzzles they’d sell; how they’d make them; and what they’d sell them for, this walk’s chat focussed on the hours they planned to be open; how they could manage those hours with all the clubs they attended (they didn’t want to miss their acting or football classes!); whether they could employ someone to sell the drinks; how much they’d need to pay them; how many drinks/puzzles they might sell in a week; and what sort of profit they could expect. All from a simple walk and a conversation… Who needs business training!!
After the walk, we treated ourselves to dinner out, which involved a free pick up from our accommodation in a Hummer and causing much excitement amongst the children! We ate a delicious meal, had a quick game of SET (a game of visual perception) and met a lovely couple at the table next to us – the Beans chatted happily away to these complete strangers, updating them on our exploits around the North and South Islands – before finally arriving home and collapsing into bed after another physically exhausting day.
Day Two – Kiwis, tuataras and more glaciers
This day started in a much more relaxed fashion. We’d booked tickets for the West Coast Wildlife Centre including a backstage pass to find out about their kiwi breeding programme, but we didn’t need to be there until 11, so we had a lazy morning reading and in Bean8’s case catching up on the cricket with MrJ.
At 11, we donned the fetching blue covers for our shoes and headed down to the incubation room of Operation Nest Egg, an initiative set up to help recover the rapidly declining kiwi populations by removing the eggs and chicks from their burrow and keeping them safely in captivity away from predators, until they’re big enough to fend for themselves. Our tour guide was exceptional, introducing us to the different species and geographical spread of the kiwis; why they’re so endangered (primarily due to the introduction of non-native small mammals, such as the stoat); their anatomy and breeding behaviour; along with how the Operation Nest Egg programme works. We were then introduced to Isabelle and Myles, two small kiwi chicks incubated and reared in the facility.
We all learned so many fascinating facts – probably the most interesting was the size of the egg compared to the kiwi’s own body size: 20% and the equivalent of a human giving birth to a 4-year old! It grows to this size in only 10 days (!) and during this time, the egg takes up so much space inside the kiwi, that she can’t eat anything until she’s pushed the egg out of her body. The egg is then incubated for 76 days by the male (significantly longer than for most birds), but the advantage of all this initial time investment is that the chicks come out pretty much independent from their parents (although still small enough to be an easy target for stoats). This also makes things easier for the Operation Nest Egg team as the kiwis don’t imprint on their adult handlers, allowing for an easier transition back into the wild. It’s a hugely successful operation and proved a captivating science lesson for the Beans (and us!).
After a quick lunch back in the van, we headed back into the Wildlife Centre to walk around the main exhibits and watch enthralled as two young kiwis, born in October at the sanctuary, foraged around in their darkened enclosure searching for insects to eat. In addition to the kiwis, there were also excellent displays, videos and information boards about the geology behind glaciers. Here, amongst other things, the Beans learned all about transverse, lateral and radial crevasses and how they’re formed. And finally, there was a tuatara enclosure (reptiles endemic to New Zealand), where they added to their knowledge of this interesting creature. The children were keen to go back into the kiwi pen for a second look at the gorgeous kiwi chicks before we headed back to our motel (we were having a quick night out of the Charlie the Campervan to catch up on sleep and washing!).
It was our first rainy day in NZ, so we took the opportunity to catch up on some work. They both completed a couple of Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons (we have the family download version), their daily maths work (Bean8 is using this book and Bean9 this one) and they finished up by reading the information guide from the Wildlife Centre and writing a summary of facts they’d learned about kiwis and tuataras into their diaries.
There was just time for a little play before dinner, after which Bean9 was keen to get back to her kindle (she’s reading The Jungle Book at the moment) and Bean8 listened to one of the How to Train Your Dragon books on Audible. Which gave me enough time to finish off this post!
Hopefully you’ve found this insight into life on the road interesting. We’re feeling incredibly blessed to be able to take this trip of a lifetime together. We’re all learning so much, growing even closer as a family and having so much fun in the process, that I think we’re going to struggle to adapt to normal life after our three months is up! So until that time, we fully intend to make the most of every second of our time out here on the other side of the world 🙂 Carpe diem!