By Karen Blackburn

Travelling With Kids

I love to travel, and started my own personal traveling when I was 14 and went on my first solo trip to visit my Grandparents in Arizona. In fact, a luggage set was my 14th birthday present. When I was 21, I began my backpacking career, after being inspired by people I saw sleeping on the deck of a boat on a previous journey along the Alaskan coast line when I was 16. This is the way I wanted to see the world!

I always remember my parents saying that it was good to go traveling when I was young, because once real life started, travel would have to wait. Well, that didn’t sit well with me. I was determined to make traveling a part of my life, and a career, a house, a business and children were not going to stop me!

We live in a world where we are able to connect globally, and yet, often we are reluctant to do that in a real way. It is easy, and safe, to explore the world and its varied people from the comfort and safety of our homes, or in resorts that have all the comforts of home and give us controlled experiences that give us a small glimpse into another person’s life. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the need for a relaxing holiday where no one has to worry about the day-to-day things, and the experience is hassle free. We all need this type of TLC from time to time.

Traveling without the safety net of a pre-arranged tour, and carrying your home on your back leads to a very different experience, especially when doing that with children in tow. Our family decided to travel in this way for most of our journeys. It wasn’t always easy. We typically arrived with a guidebook in hand and no reservations. We did not have an itinerary, just some locations in mind, and a flight home at the end.

Why would we choose this way of traveling? Well, because our goal was to explore, and follow the paths that we encountered along the way. We wanted our children to experience people and places as they were presented to us.   We wanted them to learn about cultures of the world through direct experience. We decided to use exploring the world as a canvas for learning about life, both the way other groups live their lives, and as a way to make decisions, form opinions, and recognize similarities and differences between the global community.

Travel is often seen as a way to bring a family together. This was true of our method as well. We each had our own roles and responsibilities. Each for their own packing and carrying of clothes and personal items. When we would arrive in a new location, I would have some possible places marked in our guidebook, and we would split up – two staying with the packs, and two checking out lodgings for the night. When we started exploring the following day, we had a list of questions that could be answered by tourist information, or a local such as a hostel worker or someone in a restaurant. When our kids were young, most of the decision making was left to the adults, but as they got older, they were increasingly involved in transit and route planning, navigating to locations we used in a particular city, finding a place to stay, and in the information gathering process. By our last trip, they would go to find our room, and find out important information independently. Of course, there were times when this was problematic. The first trip that we allowed the boys to pack for themselves resulted in a huge rope and grappling hook, shoes that were falling apart, zap straps, bungee cords and duct tape. Well, the rope was sent home, but the duct tape and zap straps saved our feet and clothing many times, and the bungee cords were used daily for attaching luggage to the tops of taxis so that we could stay together in a car rather than being split up.

If you have the chance to travel with children, it is so important to be flexible, and to add fun. I see traveling as a learning experience, but this does not always mean learning facts and dates, going to museums and taking tours. It means finding places to climb and explore, renting bikes, going bowling with the locals, renting ATVs and going zip lining. When we started, there were no cell phones or personal computers, so reading a family novel, playing cards and dice games, drawing and seeing movies in a theatre were our entertainment. Part of the beauty of this simplicity is that it removes distractions. It forces a family to work together as a unit, and siblings to rely on each other as friends. It requires problem solving, collaboration, and compromise.

Traveling teaches life skills that are really survival skills no matter what setting one finds oneself in.   Recognizing dangerous situations, trusting your instincts, goal setting, facing challenges, developing tolerance, accepting differences, talking to strangers safely…these are invaluable lessons. I feel confident in the abilities of both my boys when they venture into the world, whether that be living independently in the lower mainland or living abroad.

From an educational point of view, there are a wealth of learning opportunities. Traveling should never be seen as ‘missing school’, it simply provides direct experiences that add to continually building our understanding of life and the world.

When exploring any place, be it at home or abroad, there are many questions to explore.

  • What plants and animals live here?
  • What are the homes made from?
  • What does the architecture tell us about the local history and resource use?
  • How do people get their food and what do they eat?
  • How do families live, work and play?
  • How do the locals travel and what do they pay? Are there differences between locals and tourists? (female only cars on the trains in Egypt, different fares for locals)
  • What does the night sky look like?
  • What are the environmental and social issues?
  • What are the dangers in a particular environment? (pick pocketing, drug abuse, poverty, hunger, street safety)
  • What writing, number and money system is used?
  • What is the geography, and how has it changed? ( Erosion, volcanoes, canyons, deforestation, salinization, rock formation)
  • How has history shaped a place and it’s people?
  • How do nature and man interact?


When learning on the road, there is no need to formalize this learning. It can simply be used to start discussions, raise questions, and as the building blocks of memories and connections. I do work with families who travel through my work at Hume Park Homelearners who choose to formalize learning. Younger students may simply keep a travel journal as a scrapbook, adding photos, artifacts, collections, drawings and stories. Older students often use a computer, and create projects related to science and social studies concepts. They sometimes also read a historical fiction novel that takes place in the area of the world they are exploring.

Things to think about when on the road with kids:

  • Pack lightly- only bring clothes you like wearing, but are not too attached to. You will wear the same things day to day, so bring things you can part with, and buy something new when you need a change. Your old clothes may be a gift for someone else.
  • Pack toiletries in waterproof bags which can go into the shower if needed when in hostel situations
  • Use a money belt or small purse that attaches to your body and can be worn under clothing when needed. Also, as adults, split up money, cards and passports. Keep a photocopy of documents in a safe place. This is for safety, but also, in some places, photocopies are expected even to buy a train ticket.
  • Bring a separate day pack to carry water, snacks, cards, cameras, an extra layer of clothing, suntan lotion and bug spray
  • Bring an extra stuff sac or fold up shopping bag for dirty laundry, and later to bring gifts home
  • Buy things that will entertain and be a piece of home. For example, once we bought a small guitar for hours of musical exploration, another time we bought cheap skateboards which kept the lids active, where a point of interest with locals, and also helped with transporting packs and rushing to catch a boat
  • Don’t be discouraged by ‘mistakes’- often these detours are gifts in disguise. Stay calm, don’t rush, and follow your instincts.
  • Bring journals for yourselves and the kids. These can be a form of documentation, reflection, but also, give kids permission to use them as they wish- it might be drawings, collections, paper for keeping score of a card game, stories, and maybe it serves as a travel log, but not always
  • Bring a book just for information, and that has rip out pages
  • String for laundry, as well as a small amount of detergent or a multi-purpose bar of soap to do underwear and socks in your rooms if staying more than a day
  • Pack a few cheap novels- most hostels have book exchange shelves so having some trades is a great idea. Also, look for family read aloud novels that take place in the country you are visiting
  • Use a guide book- second hand is fine and can be abused if needed. You can mark places on maps, highlight information, rip out a map if needed, and serves as a souvenir of the trip later on. There are many on line options that can be useful when traveling, but a book is accessible on the bus or train and can be put in the daypack.
  • A personal child’s camera of some form to capture images and memories on a personal level


Wherever your travels take you, remember to live in the moment and enjoy the journey!






Reading the World – Part 2

Today I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with my niece’s daughter, Avalon Rose, aged 2 ½. She was such a reminder of how children learn through doing, by being in their environment. Armed with magnifying glasses, shovels and garlic clusters that missed their Spring Time planting, we went for a walk around my garden. We dug in the dirt and checked out ants, spiders, woodbugs and rocks. We stopped every few feet to discover another plant or flower, looking closely with our magnifying glasses, pulling the seeds off and discovering their shapes, sizes, colours, and how they travel. I now have many variety of grass transplanted into my flower beds…. We went to the herb garden and smelled peppermint, oregano, thyme and marjoram. She announced that there were grapes growing, and raspberries.

“ What’s that sound, Karen?” to the calls of crows, seagulls and distant trains. Then, onto the fish pond to feed the fish. “How much food?” “The baby food or the big food?” We discovered that there were babies sporting shades of grey, silver and light orange, and bigger fish of orange and white. From here, we traveled onto the deck where she had a little lay down with the cat, Frenchie on the hot tub cover.

Once done outside, we moved inside to play a game of honey bee tree, and then onto Lego. I was a little unsure of her skills in this department, since I only have the tiny pieces, and a random collection at best. However, as kids do, she quickly discovered how to join pieces together, and automatically collected the square pieces to build a tower. Once those ran out, she tried two smaller pieces to make a square on top, ending with a lid. Then on to a house, fitting shorter and longer pieces together to complete her rectangular shape. Once finished, she explained each colour to me, and then announced it was time for a snack. “Cucumbers have seeds too.”



This lesson took all of an hour and fifteen minutes. She, as all children, used every sense to learn more about her world, and build on past understanding with each new discovery. This is our natural way to learn. How does this translate to learning to read the word?

Reading World2

If we start with things from our concrete environment that have meaning, then we can use these to build on. We can introduce the abstract system of shapes and sounds that is our English language. So, the letter ‘f’ is now related to fish and flowers and fast, the long e sound is in tree, seed, leaf, and bee. Peppermint is associated with a scent, and the shape of a leaf. I often suggest activities focused on the sounds, rather than the shape of a letter. So, a snake is shaped like an S, and makes a sound like ‘SSSS’ It is also the sound at the beginning of the word seeds, so a follow-up activity could be to collect those seeds, and glue them onto a large representation of the word SEEDS, making the seeds form the word. This is the image that stays in the memory system. Another activity is to introduce a sound, and go on a search, collecting physical examples around the house or yard, or, in this age of technology, by taking pictures for the sound of the day.


Scrapbooking is an excellent way to collect artifacts from all of your experiences. This is not the fancy, and costly type, just a regular old style scrapbook to tape, glue, draw, add photos and ticket stubs, maps, pamphlets into.   It’s a way to track all your experiences, and then use those later to make connections, add letters, words, scribed responses. It can contain collections – rocks, leaves pressed flowers, seeds, shells…there are no limits to collections. It can show different environments that are part of your child’s life- the backyard, the beach, the forest, your favourite park, and later, this can lead to observations of similarities and differences between different places, and during different seasons. It can be a place to record ‘All About Me’ items including likes, dislikes, family, and traditions. When I am conferencing with young children, and their portfolio includes a personal scrapbook, this leads to the proud sharing of favourite times, and helps me connect with the child, as well as to help them make connections between the important events of their lives, and eventually a connection to the written word. “ What did you like best at the park? Let’s write that here. “ I often suggest scribing for children so that they recognize that a specific image has a related set of symbols. Too often, learning to read and write consists of copying the letters of the alphabet, on lines, with a foreign tool called a pencil. This is hard work for little hands. Not only do they have to figure out how to hold the tool, but then, how to copy a shape, that has no meaning, or purpose. Copying single letters has no meaning connected to it. It doesn’t communicate anything. Think of the letter ‘W’. We say ‘double U’, but it’s shape is a double set of ‘V’. And then, look at the sound! Recently, I had a child telling me letter names out-of-order. She commented that she has a hard time remembering that one, as well as X and Y. None of these letters has a connection between it’s name and the sounds it makes – they are abstract, so we need to help find a concrete connection. For example, a W is shaped like a wave, or split in half, like wings on a bird. Paint brushes, clay, yarn, or sand can be used to form a letter shape, or images that tell the sound such a snake for S, mountains for M , tree for T.

I mentioned scribing earlier. Again, there is so much to consider when asking kids to write or respond. They have to think of the word, then break it into sounds, then remember what letter says that sound, and then try to print the letter. So often, the thought is lost, or the response is watered down to a three word sentence because that is all there is energy for. If an adult scribes a story, a response or a retelling in legible printing, then this can be used later for a child to reference when sharing their pictures. Often, this starts with a memory related to the picture they include, but over time, they can begin to follow the printed words, because they already know what they say. They are their words. These opportunities allow the child to take ownership of their experiences, and this becomes ownership of their personal learning journey.

As parents or teachers of children beginning the journey of learning about the world, and learning to read the word, it is always important to trust that the process is happening. This can be difficult if that journey takes a route unfamiliar to traditional learning or takes longer than the expected rate of learning. If we push a skill before the brain and body are ready to integrate that skill, it is a wasted effort. However, if we focus on exposing, experiencing, exploring and engaging a child in learning opportunities we are giving them the building blocks to build their own understanding, and permission to determine the rate and route that they need to get there.

Reading the World – before Reading the Word


We live in a world where there seems to be a constant rush, a push to take our children out of the physical, experiential world, and into the limiting world of print. Don’t get me wrong – I am a reader, and love words, both spoken and in printed form. I teach young children, and one of my responsibilities, and joys, is to provide the skills needed to become a reader in a written world. But, we have at least five senses, and humans learn everything we need simply by being human up until we are about five years old.


We learn to use to our environment for cues to tell us when food is available – maybe that’s mom we hear in the kitchen, the smell of food, the sound of an adult who provides us with food, the smell of an individual or a food source… we know that what we need can be provided by the environment we are experiencing, and we don’t need to read about it to know and trust that information.


We learn to trust our instincts by testing out a gut feeling, and having it confirmed or denied. We develop our physical bodies by trial and error. We use our vision to learn about colours, textures, how things work, the connection between two or more things. Humans are born knowing how to Read the World, and that is how we learn to survive and thrive in it.


Movement of our bodies in the physical world helps our brains remember and retain important information, and prepares our bodies and muscles to interact with and react to stimulation.


In indigenous cultures, children begin their learning by knowing 1000’s of plants and animals, understanding the connections between those organisms, and how they support human activity. Every sense is used in this exploration of the living and nonliving world. In these settings, knowing and respecting the environment and everything in it, is the most important skill to have. Even when a writing system is used, the images and sounds are a reflection of the natural and social world of the individual or group.

Read the world
Exploring and observing.

In Scandinavian cultures, the practice in the past has been to allow young children to develop basic life skills in a forest setting, by exploring, building, observing, listening, smelling, and negotiating – with nature itself, and with other people in their shared interactions with their setting. There is also a belief in these cultures, supported by concepts such as Brain Gym and Bal-A-Vis-X, that say that experiential learning and big body movements like crawling, climbing, swinging, rolling, jumping and walking are the first vital steps in preparing the brain for later learning. These activities help the brain make connections. They allow us to use both sides of our brain together in stressful or dangerous situations. Our physical activities develop these pathways, and we develop strategies to help us use past information and apply it to new situations.   These skills are important not only for human survival, but for formal learning to occur. Once our bodies and brains learn to work together, we can then be prepared to begin higher level learning, such as learning to read, to retain factual information, to think critically, and to remain creative in problem solving.

However, this has not been the philosophy in our modern-day educational systems. I began my teaching career as a teenager, working with both very young children, and older children with learning or physical challenges. In the last 30 years, I have seen a consistent shift in how we allow children to develop skills. There has been a move to have children reading words before they are five years old. For many, reading and writing is being pushed before they have developed physical skills and coordination. It is being stressed as more important that riding a bike, balancing, swimming, building, imagining, creating. It is seen as more vital than developing relationships and problem solving. It has forced children to stop ‘doing’, and just sit still.   Hence, ADHD/ADD are now commonplace, and are seen as a reflection of a child not being able to manage himself, of being a problem for the system that they should fit into. Perhaps we need to look at the system. We need to recognize that if the body and brain are not fully developed and integrated, then no amount of rote learning will work. If we have a writing system with abstract symbols and sounds, unconnected to our daily life, we are forcing children to not only learn a new language, but to learn it with no connection to our picture of the world as we have learned it early in life.

Creek Exploring
Always exploring.

So, how do we go about developing reading skills in a holistic way? How do we learn to accept when a child is ready, and what do we do when he is not? First, we keep playing. We take kids out of the classroom, and into nature, or the physical world. We build on strengths, and use those as a vehicle to where we hope to get to. I’d like to start by sharing my own personal journey of teaching a resistant reader, both as a homeschool mom, and as a teacher. One of my own children struggled with reading. This was difficult for me, coming from a background where I taught hundreds of children to read.


He was so resistant, and so unhappy when we tried learning in conventional ways. It tested our relationship since I was both his mother, and his teacher. It tested our family dynamics, and most of all, it eroded his own confidence in himself as a learner. So, I had to step back and reevaluate the reasons for reading, and the pacing of that skill. He wasn’t ready, and forcing him was doing more harm than good.


So, we started a new journey. After, taking a Brain Gym workshop, I decided to focus on building real skills – ways of communicating, of getting information, and ways to connect those pathways. And more importantly, ways to take down the walls we had built, and replace those with confidence and problem solving strategies. As a young child, he would watch Mr. Dressup on TV, and then half an hour later, create some form of art related to what he saw. At four years old, he would go into our basement and make stained glass pieces as gifts, build dioramas independently showing aspects of our lives, sew toys or clothes, build things from wood or whatever he could find. He did this with no help from us. He is a self-starter, and knew how to learn, how to create, how to respond to the world. We gave him free access to a basement full of art supplies, building materials, a work shop, a sewing machine and lots of recyclables. He is and was an active, imaginative, and creative child.


He was making progress in gymnastics, and so we began to build on the skills he had. We bought a trampoline and a unicycle. He learned to ride by spending hours outside in our neighbourhood. He took lessons and practiced the trampoline every day. He went to circus school, and learned to juggle. Before we knew it, he was teaching all the kids in the neighbourhood how to safely use the trampoline. He could juggle while riding the unicycle. He soon moved into devil sticks, and later, adding fire – yes a bit scary, but a challenge he met with determination. I highly recommend Arenex Gymnastics programs in New Westminster for all kids, but especially those who show us they are not ready to read.


He was also interested in food of all types. We had a home based business, and he became our greeter, baker and food service provider. This was the beginning of breaking down the walls, building confidence and individuality, and building the brain’s pathways.


Once he was school aged, he developed coping mechanisms. I had a colleague say they had never met a child so able to take in information using all their senses – viewing, listening, questioning, experimenting, speaking…all without the ability to read. I would read for him, scribe for him, and taught him how to use pictures and headings to pull information from text books. We cooked together, and took cooking classes through the Adult Learning programs offered then through the Continuing Education programs at NWSS. He took part in Destination Imagination (DI) activities at New Westminster Homelearners program, eventually becoming a volunteer mentor in teaching classes to younger children. DI focuses on problem solving in groups developing creative and imaginative solutions, and limited recyclables and acting. And, we gave him choice…the right to choose how and when to move into the next phase of literacy. He chose to take a creative writing class, and to work with a younger peer group, because he was ready to build those skills. He recognized he needed to develop those stepping-stones that he had not yet put in place.

Learning to navigate the city.

Later, when beginning high school, he started with the grade 11 Cafeteria Program at NWSS as a grade nine student. He had already gotten himself a job in a restaurant at 13, and had moved up from dishwasher to a line chef position. The year he decided to ‘go to real school’, we spent the summer studying for his Food Safe test, and I invigilated his exam, which he passed with 99%. He read and answered all but one question independently. And now, he determined that he really did need to improve his reading. He was ready to use that skill in order to advance his real passion. In grade 10, he told me that he wanted to take the regular grade 10 English Course, rather than an adapted program. He said, “ Mom, this is my time to get good at this. If I have to do it twice, that’s OK. I chose to wait, but now I am ready.” He did do it twice, with the support of excellent and dedicated teachers, and myself. But mostly, he did it through his own determination. He went on to get himself into the Sigma Program to allow him to work at his own pace, as well as working close to full-time in the restaurant industry. Then he got into the Professional Cook and Apprenticeship program, attending VCC at 17, and returning an extra year to finish his grade 12.

Brothers who learn together, stay together.

It was a long journey, but, had we pushed the reading before all other skills, would he have become the confident, creative, self motivated individual he is today? I don’t believe he would have. It is important to know that we never stopped teaching reading skills. I kept reinforcing patterns and rules, modeling reading, and demonstrating the reasons and ways reading can enrich and inform our lives. It just wasn’t the first or only skill we focused on. In this way, he could fall back on a rule when it was needed or important, when he was ready for it. If we constantly expose kids to ideas or opportunities, then allow for experiencing and exploration it helps them build knowledge, and to make it their own. When humans are engaged in experiential learning, anchored in the physical world, they are able to build on past understanding. In my personal and professional experience, individuals that are fully engaged in learning through all their senses, and that are provided with choice in how and what they learn, often will become self-directed learners, initiating the next step, by seeking out a learning opportunity, by advocating what they need from an educational experience.


Tomorrow, I will talk more about how to work with kids by focussing first on Reading the World as a means to Reading the Word.

Hume Park Homelearners


Hume Park is a beautiful location that has truly given our unique distributed learning program a home. So, what is the Hume Park Homelearners program?


It started formally, or perhaps I should say, experimentally in the year 2002. Previous to this time, I had been allowing my own two children the choice each day to either go to school, or to learn at home. Since we had a home based business, and I worked part-time in the traditional system, teaching in Surrey, we were able to offer this option to our kids, as well as the occasional visit to my classroom for some shared learning experiences. I also had access to resources and the expertise of other teachers. However, what was missing was the community aspect that school often provides. I had also spoken to many parents that were interested in homeschooling their children, but wanted support and resources. And, of course, there was always the age-old concern about ‘socialization’….

Belcarra - Hume


I was fortunate that changes were in the wind at a time when I wanted to provide more to my own children, as well as the fact that I had recognized my own need to continue working with children in a learning environment. Teaching is my passion, however, with the stressors continuously being added onto a traditional system, increased bullying, less parent involvement, and learning that was more about supporting a system rather than supporting children and families, I was close to giving up my profession. The changes that came during this time in my life allowed for the development of programs that could be funded by the Ministry of Education when developed and overseen by BC certified teachers. From this change in the education system in BC, came the development of the New Westminster Homelearners Program.


We started with a little group of fifteen students ranging from kindergarten to grade 7. We moved locations six times in our first year and a half, and most of our resources were borrowed, donated and hand me downs. We were actually dubbed the ‘Homeless Learners’ until we established a long-term location in uptown New Westminster. There were many hurdles in the development of a program, however, the Homelearners Program did manage to move ahead, and has become a creative way to teach and learn. Three years ago, we moved to our current location nestled in the beautiful Hume Park, and our name evolved to Hume Park Homelearners.

Cleaning the creek

We are a distributed learning program, meaning that we share learning with the family. The education of each child is a joint venture, a partnership between teachers, parents and children. Sometimes this also involves grandparents, caregivers, tutors and community programs.   Our program is somewhat unique in the fact that we celebrate both individualized learning, and a rich community of learners. Our program is not just kids learning at home in a secluded setting, nor is it a curriculum in a box, or, a one sized fits all computer delivered program. Our philosophy starts with getting to know about each child, how they learn, what their strengths and interests are, and then to develop an individualized program to set and achieve both learning goals, and social-emotional goals. It allows us to work with the whole child, and set a pace and style that will support that child in their learning journey, and to support an entire family for many years. This is the individualized part of Hume Park Homelearners.   It allows for a wide range of resources being used, and the development of projects and portfolios as a means of demonstrating and sharing a child’s learning. We use face-to-face conferences to celebrate achievements and set next steps in learning.


The other portion of a unique learning environment is the development of a close community. Our learning center has become a home away from home. We offer classes part-time which focus on skills that are best learned in a group setting. Therefore, we do not necessarily have formal math classes. This is a highly individualized area of learning, and one in which traditional school spends enormous energy and time attempting to get all the students on the same page, at the same time. Instead, we prefer to focus on other areas crucial to developing the whole child. That can include critical thinking, problem solving, developing and supporting an opinion, sharing ideas with others in building new ideas or solutions, learning to communicate with others by exploring and practicing speaking, listening, taking turns and working cooperatively, exploring social or environmental issues, fine arts, physical education, group projects and productions, and most importantly, a close-knit community that gives each member a safe place to begin their learning journey. We find that this allows our students to take risks, to share their own expertise, and to acknowledge and celebrate that of their peers.


Our community is more than students and teachers. It is a family. Our parent group is a supportive network of individuals who have all chosen to take an active role in the learning of their child. We have parents who work together and share their own successes and failures, their concerns, and their joys. Parents are encouraged to attend the learning center, often by spending time in the ‘Bistro’, our Commons Area, and sometimes, even coming to classes when a child needs a parents support. They are involved in the development of projects, which are shared at the learning center. They give us feedback about the unique learning styles and challenges of a child, and areas in which they need support when working with their child. Our parents help us with our resource library, yearbook, special events, family camp, the garden, and pretty much anything that needs doing. One thing I always struggled with when I was in a traditional setting was the fact that parents were often not welcomed into a school. The notion that school and home are separate entities never sat well with me, especially once I had children of my own. At Homelearners, we believe that working in partnership with families is most beneficial for real learning. It is a shared venture. This also includes younger and older siblings. It is one where there is not the traditional segregation of age and grade, as many of our groupings are multi-aged, or at least have children within two or three-year age groups. Often, a younger child begins sharing their own ’portfolio’ at about three or four years old. We find our children are able to hold conversations with adults, their own peers, or older or younger children.


Another area that differs from traditional education is that we see learning as an ongoing journey over many years. Teachers usually work with a family for the duration of their time with us. This allows us as teachers to know what goals were in the past, and, then, working with the parent and child, to determine next steps. I feel so fortunate to work with families in this way since it allows me to trust each child’s route. It allows self-directed learning by giving children the opportunity to express what they have learned, and what they would like to learn about. I am always amazed at how much I learn during portfolio conferences! By giving children the opportunity to direct their learning, the understanding is often much deeper since they have decided on a topic, and in that exploration, they are also learning skills such as reading, writing and research. When a child is given the time, it is amazing to see how far they can go, especially when it is them that has determined an area they need to set as an academic goal. I could talk about the need to become a better writer over and over, as could a parent. However, if a child makes that goal, and has a say in how they need to learn that skill, there is no stopping them.

Music Program

When we anchor traditional skills or learning outcomes in topics of interest, the learning is long-lasting, and is used as a building block in future years. It also gives a child a way to practice the skill of self-determination. As a society, especially the ever-changing one in which we live right now, we cannot possibly know or predict what skills will be needed in the future. The best we can do is to teach a child to follow their passions, to see themselves as lifelong learners, so that they have the skills to communicate their needs, and find strategies to that will help them achieve their goals. By working in collaboration with teachers, parents and their peers, they can become communicators, problem solvers, critical thinkers and leaders in the future. They can use the knowledge of themselves as individuals to find a meaningful place for themselves as adults in a bigger world. They have a better chance of finding a lifestyle that makes them happy, rather than just being…


I have been fortunate in my life to have found and created work that supports my life, and that is truly what I love to do. This is something that I have been able to pass on to my children. They are the product of a family that chose passion over money, and of an education that allowed them to develop their ideas and skills at a young age. They were able to include all their passions in their learning journey, and today, each of them has a career of their choosing, and which they started in their teens. They may not be rich, but they are happy. They also know they can learn anything they need when they want to change paths. My oldest son, Kiefer, who recently moved into his own apartment, says often, “ I’m so glad you raised me the way you did. I’m good at my job because you taught me to think outside the box.”   The teachers at Homelearners often comment how they love their jobs. We have each had our own children in the program, so we truly believe in what we are doing. We are able to follow the curiosity of a child, and capitalize on that curiosity. We can recognize areas that a group of children need to develop, and that can be academic or social, and use that as a springboard for all other learning. We have flexibility in what and how we teach, since we try to tailor that with the needs of our community, and because we work in partnership with a family. This allows us, as teachers, to focus on the big ideas, and have parents focus on the smaller details at home.


Learning is a lifelong journey. It is meant to develop skills not just specific to a society, but also to the individuals that are part of a society. When you are beginning your learning journey with your children, remember to listen, to communicate, to advocate, to accept, to have patience, to trust instincts, to play, and to love doing it, whatever path you choose for that journey.