When Homeschooling Has to Happen Away from Home

An elderly grandmother needing care. 

An unexpected hospital stay.

A medical emergency.

There have been seasons in our homeschooling journey when we had to take education on the road, away from the house.

Often, those seasons weren't optional or even anticipated like the field trips we eagerly scheduled to local children's museums or park days with friends. And, generally those seasons were unexpected, not planned. 

During one such season, great-grandma had multiple doctor's appointments. Learning looked different. Instead of reviewing math at the kitchen table, we answered word problems in the car or waiting in the doctor's office. And, of course there were life skills like holding the door while Grams pushed her walker through the entrance.

In those seasons, we schooled out of a canvas tote bag packed intentionally for unexpected moments when learning happened away from home. Included in the bag were

  • review worksheets
  • a family read-aloud
  • plain white drawing paper
  • colored pencils, and
  • educational games

When we weren't on the road, the tote bag remained by the front door, ready to grab should we have to leave quickly. As children mastered concepts, finished independent reads, or bored of games, I replenished the contents. 

There was also a season--years later--when Grammy was nearing the end of her life. Those four months were the most spontaneous of my twenty-three year homeschooling journey. In a moment's notice, we had to be ready to relocate and educate en-route or on-site. There were days when we were gone all day, spending hours in places where we had to be quiet and occupied. Though I re-instated the tote bag routine, often what was packed wasn't sufficient or appropriate for the situation. And, there were times we needed diversion, a change, something to divert attention if even for a few minutes.

During that season in our journey, we: 

  • Counted. For our littlest learners, counting always helped to pass time whether driving or waiting. We would count by ones, twos, fives, tens, and hundreds, depending on the skill level of the learner. I kept scrap paper and handwriting paper in my purse so that if we were in a place where we could write, we would practice forming numbers or writing numbers in sequence. To vary the game, I would say a number and the learner would say the number before and after the given number. 
  • Practiced oral math facts. With multiple ability children riding in the van, I gave the youngest learner an easy addition problem, the next learner a harder addition fact, and the oldest elementary learner a multiplication problem or oral word problem.

In doing so, learners were able to work at whatever level he or she needed and the oral review was good for everyone!

  • Played "Starts With". This game was one of those which we could start or stop at any time. For the youngest learners, I would say a letter and ask for each child to say a word which started with the given letter. For example, I would say "F" and she would say "fish". For older learners, I would give a consonant blend (br, sl, sk, ch, bl, st, cr, etc.) or change the request, perhaps asking for a word that ended with a given consonant or consonant blend. 
  • Spelled most frequently misspelled words. I kept a list of words--varied levels because though a word on a list is placed in one grade, it may be placed in another grade on another list--in my tote bag to pull out when needed. To practice, I asked each learner to spell a word at their learning level. I would say the word, use it in a sentence, and then ask the learner to spell the word orally. After the learner spelled the word, I would repeat the correct spelling and ask the next child a different word. This would allow learners who were listening to either learn new words or review silently the spelling of mastered words. This activity helped pass the time in the van, waiting room, or surgery center. Click the button for a free printable of frequently misspelled words. Remember, use this list as a guide, in a manner most helpful to your leaner. A third grade learner might be able to spell fifth grade words and vice versa.

 

  • Rhymed words. For this oral game--which we played in the car and in waiting rooms--I would say a word and whoever was with me at the time would say a word which rhymed with the given word. To change up the activity, we would take turns being the first to give a word. This game could be started or stopped at a moment's notice. 
  • Read and retold. Listening to and then retelling a story in sequence is an activity which is extremely beneficial for developing processing skills. I would read a picture book or a chapter in a chapter book and then ask learners to retell the story. To vary the game, I would start with the first event and then ask a learner to recall the next event. Together we would retell the story event by event.
  • Matched states and capitals. Like the math and spelling drills, I would move around the van offering a new state or capital to each learner. In response, the learner would orally provide the match. Again, I would choose states or capitals based on the level of the child. Younger learners always started with his or her state, a relative's state, or a state we had recently studied. To change up the game, I would offer a state abbreviation and the learner would say the corresponding state. We played this game in the car while riding to great-grandma's assisted living complex. Click the button for a printable list of states and capitals.

 

  • Played "I am Thinking of an Animal", taking turns giving clues and answers. Sometimes I made this game geographically or biome specific. For example, the parameters may have been jungle, rainforest, ocean, forest, etc. This allowed every learner to play, little to big. One of our favorite places to play this game was in the garden gazebo at great-grandma's assisted living center.
  • Listened to audio books. Audio resources--music, books, plays--offered a calming diversion in otherwise disheartening circumstances. In addition, older learners were able to download audio books to a Kindle or reader and take learning with us no matter where we had to be. Our high schooler even used our experiences to earn high school credits (that's another blog post). Audio resources have been a means of continue reading or learning subjects we might not have been able to otherwise.  
  • Played games. Grammy loved games and was able to play up until just weeks before she passed. She loved BINGO (great for number recognition for my littles), UNO, Othello (great for strategy), and Scrabble (spelling!). We played, enjoyed our time together, and learned!
  • Talked. There was much to process after every visit with Grammy: her health, her future, her care, the people we met, on and on. Our children always had questions and it was important to put down the books and talk through concerns and questions. Through conversation, sometimes tears, we process our journey together. The relationships deepened as a result. 

I have to be honest, there were many valuable real-life learning opportunities in our unexpected seasons of education away from home--things we couldn't have learned at home.

During appointments we listened to nurses and doctors explain medical conditions, talked to patients in waiting rooms, opened and held doors for people who couldn't do so for themselves, and asked Grammy questions about her childhood. She was able to tell us about her life during the Great Depression. She remembered man walking on the moon and President Kennedy's assassination. She was a living history book!

When Grammy's health warranted stays in assisted living facilities and we visited several times a week, we made friends with nursing staff and residents. When we visited, we were able to help push resident's wheelchairs, encourage the nursing staff with treats and kind words, and visit and play games with residents who didn't have many visitors. During the holidays, we participated in an egg hunt with residents and made Christmas cards. In addition, we had important conversations about life, death, relationships, and medical care. We learned how to care for people, to extend love to folks who were walking through tough circumstances. Those months were a challenging physically and emotionally. However, relationally those four months were some of the most precious in our family's life together. 

Those days had to be intentional, real, and relational because truly every moment mattered.

We wouldn't have experienced these precious times if we weren't homeschooling. 

Have you had seasons like these, times when home education needed to be portable, moments when real and relational learning far outweighed the paper trail of progress? 

What did you do? Please share in the comments.