On the Road Travel Curriculum 2017

books.jpgWe often get asked how we manage to homeschool four children,  run a business, be full-time performers and travel most of the year.  This question is amusing because  we really  just go with the flow and it all works out.  I try not to think about the “how we do it” and instead just get it done.  So let’s talk about homeschooling on the road.  These are the the things we are doing this school year.  If something stops working, we change it up.  What we do isn’t necessarily what your family should be doing.  This is what works for us.  Everyone has to find their own way on the journey of homeschooling.  However, I hope that in sharing our resources, you may gain something of value that works for you too.

First, let me say that we are very relaxed homeschoolers.  In other words, some days we get a lot of “school” stuff done and other days we simply get stuff done.  I (Mom) am the one that handles most of the homeschooling.  Generally, we find a new theme each year (usually in January) and that lays the general foundation for our year.  We school year round so that allows us days to not do official school things.  Now, I must add that we are very interest directed in our approach to learning.  Learning happens all the time, every single day with or without curriculum tools.  When you travel most of the year, you learn that education comes in all forms.  One day it may be how to repair the bus and other days it could be learning to read a map because gps has once again tried to get us lost.  Often,  I feel more like an *unschooler but I can’t fully embrace that title because I love me some good curriculum to add in the learning process.  LOL  I also insist on the kids learning math and spelling in a more formal way.  My unschooling friends just threw eggs at me on that one.  : )

This January 2017, we decided to complete novel studies of Newberry Awarded books.  I had high hopes of doing  notebooking type of novel studies and even purchased some lesson plans online for our first chosen novel.  We went in hard with all the extras and it lasted about three days before I said forget it.  We tossed it all in the trash and actually just started reading it together.  The kids enjoyed it more and it opened many discussions that might not have otherwise evolved from a more strict approach.  We are now on our second novel and are simply snuggling and reading it as a family.  It’s fun, everyone enjoys it at their varying levels and it’s just another thing we share as a family creating memories together.

This year 2017, we started Life of Fred math series.  So far, it’s working wonderfully.  It’s a strange and quirky storyline but the lessons are engaging and my three oldest are getting a really strong foundation.  The series starts at about 1st grade and goes all the way into higher levels of math including trigonometry and calculus.   We have started a celebration party when any child completes a LOF (Life of Fred) book.  The party involves pizza, brownies and a special little reward (most often a  Lego mini figure mystery pack).  Oh, and some beer for Mom and Dad because we deserve it too!  LOF is working great for us currently and even better it is a small book that travels really well in our bus.  Hope it continues to work wonderfully but if things change for any particular child,  I am totally willing to find a new source of math learning.

Spelling!  The nemesis of my children and by default me. It’s really important to me that my children learn to communicate intelligently and effectively.  Spelling is a big deal to me for these reasons.  That being said none of us are natural spellers (except my mom who always could spell almost any word).  Many programs that I tried didn’t work well for my kids.   Many tears were shed from all our eyes due to frustration from all of us.  But, I finally found a program that is working almost magically for us!!!!  It’s called Sequential Spelling.  Basically, each day is a spelling “test” and each day the base words build on each other.  They take the test and simply correct any mistakes with no pressure or stress.  After a while, they naturally learn the spelling.  Sounds overly simple but really they are learning hundreds of words with NO MORE TEARS!!!  That’s a win in my book.  Again, it’s working now but if for some reason it becomes ineffectual for any one child, I will shift gears and find what will work.

We also do a historical person/place type study using the Who Was….? series.  These are smallish chapter books that go into suffienct depth of the individual’s life/place.  They are small and again store well.  And even better, after we finish one, we find a Barnes & Noble and pick a new one.  Each child gets a chance to choose one that interests them to study as a family.  If there are additional ideas that we want to expand on during these readings, we find resources and go deeper into any given topic.  It’s really a lot of fun and cost effect too.

*Living books are the basic foundation for our science and history studies.  They are more engaging than textbooks.  We share ideas in a relaxed and pressure free environment which leads to understanding and absorbing information.  We also use the Ideas in 30 Seconds series and have read most of them.  Great info in little bits to learn and  really understand.  We often choose to go more in-depth on any given topic of interest.  I have tried using a more structured history and science program but that just caused me too much pressure.  If mama is stressed out over keeping up with a structured curriculum then nobody is enjoying learning.

Each night my husband reads to the kids several books, one of which is the 1,000 Facts series.  We are currently reading 1,000+ Fantastic Facts.   We have been reading one double page each night for about a year now.  We all are learning so many interesting facts.  Our youngest is a little sponge and absorbs so much it is simply amazing me.

I would like to say that science experiments happen daily or weekly but the truth is that we get around to maybe three a month.  We love science but often being on the road or on set for our circus shows doesn’t allow convenience to accomplish as much as I would like in this area.  However, this hasn’t stopped my kids from having quite an extensive knowledge of scientific principles despite my lack of continual experiment offerings.

For my other two, we have started reading Everything You Need to Ace…..In One Big Fat Notebook series.  Currently, we are reading the American History, English Language Arts and Science ones.  These go into a lot of depth and are written in a colorful and fun way.  The things they are learning from simply reading this book to me is exciting.  Did you catch the reading to me part?  Yeah, I’m sneaky that way.  They read to me thus increasing their reading abilities and are learning the given topic too.  Oh yea!  Sometimes I get it right!!!!  It’s been one of the best things that I found to get more reading/learning in at one time.  SCORE!!!

My older kids also choose books that they want to read to themselves.  They are free to choose whatever interests them.  They write down each title they have completed on the 2017 ongoing list.  We reward them in small ways for this achievement.  It encourages them to read more and also serves to reinforce their personal accomplishments.

Lastly, we play a lot of games together.  I am a bit obsessed with games and if you asked my kids what type I like best they would all say “tiny ones!”  Yes, ones that store really easily are my favorite.  We have every imaginable card game and dice game.  There is so much learning to be had playing games together.  The list of what we have is too long to list but if you have specific questions, I am happy to answer them down below.

That’s our homeschooling in a nutshell.  It’s relaxed and based on living our education through travel and reading.  Last year, we planned our entire circus tour based on the fact that we were studying pioneer days (aka Little House on the Prairie) and wanted to experience first hand all the places that we read about in the books.  If we can create a love of learning for our children then we believe that they can accomplish anything they truly want to do in life.  I am happy to answer any specific questions you may have about our homeschooling travel style.

*Unschooler is defined as “an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.”  (Because I insist on math and spelling for my kids so I am not  an unschooler but choose the relaxed/eclectic/world schooler instead.   

*Living books is defined as books that are “usually written by one person that has a passion for the subject and writes in a conversational or narrative style.  The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts.  Living books make the subject come alive.”

 

 

 

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Turning 10 in Montana 2016

Our daughter’s birthday in August found us in Montana for our shows.  After finishing up we had a week off to celebrate her special double digit day.  We stayed at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park for her birthday.  The swimming was perfect and the ice cream delicious.  Each day Yogi Bear came out for a meet and greet.  I am pretty sure we met him every single day.  LOL  There was an ice cream social for guests each afternoon.  If you have never tried Huckleberry ice cream, get to Montana and try some.  It’s simply amazing!  Notice the black ice cream my son and husband were eager to try.  Licorice!  Not my cup of tea, but they enjoyed it.  We always love our time in Montana.  The people are so friendly and welcoming.  The roads are long, the mountains steep and friendships run deep.

Redwood Forest 2016

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The Redwood Forest is one of my family’s favorite places to visit.  The majestic trees, misty air, dampened quite and earthy smells makes for a magical experience beyond pictures and words.  We love it so much, that this is our second trip in two years.  If you ever have a chance to visit, do it!  You will enjoy every single second you are embraced in the ancient mysteries of the Redwood Forest.

Why the Hell Not?

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How do you travel all over the USA with four kids, a cat and haul your circus show equipment (including a 25 foot aerial rig, competition sized trampoline, landing mats, sound system, etc)???  It’s called Pinterest friends!  What?  How?  Okay, let me start back a little while.

As we are sitting in our most wonderful “aerial house” in Orlando, FL, we made a decision.  We decided to put our dreams into actions instead of just talk.  (Beware friends, this can change your life!!!)  My husband and I had always wanted to do more traveling but having a location based business that we owned didn’t allow us much wiggle room for taking time off.  Fast forward to four kids later and it was definitely something that seemed nearly impossible.  Well, the impossible became possible as I started sifting through Pinterest to see what vehicle could accommodate all of us (plus a cat) and our needed gear.  The class a RVs available really wouldn’t configure to carry all of our show equipment, a toy hauler could work with a diesel truck BUT  we would have to have one kid sit between us all the time in the front seat.  I love my kids as much as the next mom, however, hours and hours of chatter right next to me as we adventured through the US was a little daunting.  I had to get creative.  Over a glass (or two) of wine, I bravely continued my “perfect” rv search.

It probably took me several days to think outside of the box.  Then one day I saw something I had never even heard of before.  A weird idea called a Converted Bus.  What the heck was this monster???  Bring on the wine and let’s dig a little deeper I told myself.  (Lol, actually I don’t think wine was involved as much as I joke because I was still nursing a baby.  Baby and I were working hard to change our life.)  In brief, a converted bus is a bus of whatever origin, gutted and “converted” to be a legal rv.  In other words, rip the seats out, put in a nice floor, add beds/rooms, bathroom, kitchen, living area and you have your very own converted bus.   Okay, there’s a bit more work than that involved but you get the idea.

Now, I convinced my ever accommodating husband that THIS was our ticket out of the rat race.   It’s not hard to convince him as we are of similar personalities.  (This can sometimes prove to be challenging, but that’s a story for another day).  I pinned a million ideas of how to do this converting bus stuff.  Okay, now I understand the general idea, all from the comfort of my most wonderful “aerial house.”  In other words, I had NO REAL IDEA how to do what I just learned but why the hell not?  Welcome to our life!  This is a theme that will come up over and over again in my life.

So without a million details on the hows, we shut down our location based business, sold or donated most of our household good and hit the road with circus show contracts, tossed our four kids (one a baby), our cat and our entire circus show in a Uhaul truck and started down the road.  Wait, what about the bus we’ve been reading about???  Well, as in life, things don’t always happen as quickly as you would like right?  Same here, we set off on a dream of exploring the USA with our four homeschooled kids and performing our shows in new towns each week sans the bus yet.

Let me pause for a moment and give a brief reason why a circus show, why homeschool, why do this crazy travel thing?  We have always homeschooled our kids from day one, child one.  This was not a big change in our lifestyle.  We also have always owned our business so this was nothing new.  We had to get creative on how to make money on the road to support our dreams of travel.  After much brain storming, we meshed our entrepreneurial spirit with our unique skill set (aka circus acrobatics) and produced a family friendly show that all six of us (yes, even the youngest) could participate in.  Now, over the years, this show has grown and changed as did our children but we are still true to the original concept.  When you want to let your kids experience the world, you are willing to give up your ideals of what should be done and instead make a way to “make it happen.”  Okay, maybe someday I will go into more details of this part of our journey but for now this brings you up to speed.

Back to the bus that we didn’t have yet…So, here we go with what we had at the time and started performing shows.  Fast forward a few years (yeah, it took that long friends!  Don’t ever give up on your dreams even when it takes a long time!) and we took our bow at the end of one of our shows.  We normally are asked for pictures and people want to chat asking us the normal list of questions.  We enjoy interacting with our audiences after most shows.  But just between you and me,  Tim and I  have a signal when we want to go back in and eat/pee/get ready for the next show.  If one of us is overly occupied with a guest, we will…oh never mind I don’t want to share that because it might happen to you someday (bahaha).  Anyway, Tim was very engaged with a man from the audience chatting.  I went and gave the signal to recue him but he brushed it off.  No big deal as it was the last show in the day so we had time/energy to chat longer.  About a half hour passed and I went back out thinking wow! I need to really save him.  I strolled over and listened in.  Woa!  They are talking about converting busses!  This large family homeschooled, traveled often in their CONVERTED BUS and they wanted us to come over and see it!  Now, up to this time, we never had gone to anyone’s home from our shows.  It’s just not something that happens because we don’t know anyone there.  But, you know how sometimes you get that feeling.  The one you can’t explain but know it’s the universe giving you a nudge??  Well, the invitation was accepted, we wrapped up our contract a few days later and with nothing but a phone number and some vague directions, we set off to meet this wonderful family.  They could be axe murders for all we knew but the nudge to act was there so we did.  (with fingers crossed!)

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that we hit it off, had a wonderful day and was invited back in a few weeks after we finished up another contract on tour.  So, back we went, this time to spend a few nights hanging out on their ranch.  After having shared meals, laughs, music and bus conversion tour, we left to continue on the journey of our shows but with the real world concept that this bus conversation thing could work just fine for us!

After about a month, we get a phone call from our friend, and he says he has found a bus that is mechanically sound, in great condition, owned by a charter school so it’s been treated well, and it’s really affordable.  All the pieces start to fall into place as we dream of how this bus could work for us.  Keep in mind, we were at the laundromat somewhere in western USA when we got the call.  We wrapped up our contracts a few months later and headed to Arizona where both our friends and this possible bus were located.

We arrived and went to take a look at said bus.  It was in fantastic shape!  BUT, let me pause here to let you in on a little tiny fact.  I secretly hated it!  Shhhh, it’s true!  Why, why you ask???  Well, because in my dreams of this bus conversion, the bus was a 40 foot flat nosed diesel pusher.  (Yes, I know my buses well).  But this bus was a dog nosed, 35 foot diesel.  It didn’t LOOK like what I wanted my converted bus to look like.  Life often gives you what you need at the time not what you want and you have to receive with a grateful heart knowing that it will be okay after all.  After a very brief whiney session from me, we decided to buy her, convert her and be on our way.  Did I mention that most people take months and even years to convert a bus?  They take their time making decisions, planning, gathering, etc.  We had exactly four weeks and one day to get her done.  Seriously, that was it because we had to get back on tour for shows scheduled in Colorado.  Four weeks is unheard of to do such an undertaking unless you have no other choice.  You can accomplish what you must in the time frame you give yourself or you can take all your life to accomplish same thing.  Well, excuse the pun but it was balls to the wall time!

I won’t go into details about the conversion here, but two words come to mind:  flies and monsoon season.  (Did you know that June is monsoon season in Arizona?  No?  Me either but now I do!)  Four weeks to the day, we had the bus converted and headed off to the dmv to get her licensed as an rv.  Success was ours!  We passed on first inspection and with the inspectors wowing our work.

We unceremoniously, tossed our kids, cat, show gear into her and took off down the road to Colorado for shows.  Later, we learned a system for packing our 40×40 show footprint and our household into a comfy 35 ft school bus.  That was a learning experience indeed too but for another day.

So many details and laughs that I didn’t share here for space reasons.  This is a tiny little bit of how a dream can become a reality.  We have been on the road for years now.  We have basically seen almost everything in the USA and it’s time for us to dream a new and exciting dream.  Yes, I’ve started another Pinterest board on this new idea too.  But, you will have to follow along on our journey to see where/how we accomplish it.  Please feel free to ask any questions and I will try to answer as best as possible.

One more thing though before I go, please please please keep your dreams alive!  Know that if there’s a will there is a way.  It may not be the way you thought, it may not be the timeframe you hoped but if you always keep at it, those dreams can become your reality.  Then the next dream and the next and next and all the sudden your life is literally living your dream.  Or as my family has come to call it:  Living your crazy goals!

PS No adventure can be accomplished without the help of others.  There have been so many people over the years that have reach out and helped us with so many different things.  Some of you know who you are and some we will never see again but their kindness has touched our lives in ways they don’t even know.  Thank you to all who have helped us. This gratitude in our hearts, is what is actually shaping this next path on our adventure.  We try to teach our kids this lesson of life: Both to receive with gratitude and helping without expectation.  This is an epic journey we are all on together.  This thing called life!  Thanks for being a part of it with us, the crazy circus family.