We were asked that question a lot when people saw the four of us traveling on our bikes throughout the Americas.
At first glance, it would be easy to think we were neglecting their education. Two preteen boys riding fully loaded touring bikes from Alaska to Argentina… were they really learning the 3 R’s?
Both my husband and I are long-time teachers and I like to think that classroom experience taught us a few things about how kids learn. The most important thing I’ve learned from my students throughout the years is that kids learn. They just do. In spite of teachers. In spite of parents. Kids learn. It’s what their brains are designed to do.
One might think that, as long-time teachers, we would favor a fairly structured approach to our children’s education. We don’t.
If we’ve learned anything from our four years of full-time travel on bicycles, it’s that Mother Nature is a much better teacher than we’ll ever be. Mother Nature taught our sons about their world – about the formation of mountains and canyons, about seasons, about wildlife and plant life. She taught them about the sheer variety our world has to offer and how interconnected we all are.
It was incredible to watch our sons exploring their world. We could see the magic in their eyes when they climbed out from under a bush tenderly cradling a discarded cicada shell or when they swam with sea lions. Each experience added to the vast network of knowledge they stored in their brains.
I was amazed at how easily my sons picked up information. I used to joke that simply by pedaling through an area, the collective wisdom of the area passed into their brains by osmosis. It honestly was like that.
One time we were in the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin formulated his theories on evolution. As our guide explained the theories, my sons were running around the beach chasing sea lions and not paying attention in the least. Or so I thought.
That evening I decided it was time to play “school” – the theories of evolution are too important to leave to chance and, since we were in the Galapagos, now was the time. I herded my sons into our cabin for their lesson.
“Today we’re going to learn about Darwin’s theories of evolution,” I told my sons once we were properly situated on our beds and ready for school. “Can you tell me who made the Galapagos Islands famous?”
“Charles Darwin!” they cried.
“Exactly,” I replied. “And do you know why?”
“Because this is where he saw all the unique animals and came up with his ideas about evolution.”
“You’re good! What ideas are you talking about?”
“Natural selection, Mom. The survival of the fittest and all that. The animals that are best suited to live in an area are the ones who manage to pass down their genes so, over time, the whole species changes.”
I was blown away. The whole time our guide had been explaining it, all I saw was the boys running around the islands oohing and aahing over the cute little sea lions. Maybe I didn’t need to be worried about their education after all.
My sons showed me, time and time again, how capable they are of learning. As we traveled, their reading, writing, and mathematics skills skyrocketed. Their understanding of science and social studies went through the roof. In short, they learned more than I ever dreamed two preteen boys could possibly learn.
What’s the takeaway here? Get your kids outside and let them explore. They’ll learn. They really will.
This article originally appeared on Unplugged Mom.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a long-time schoolteacher who taught grades 1 – 9 plus Special Education in Honduras, Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, and Malaysia. She’s also traveled widely on her bicycle – including a one-year jaunt around the Indian subcontinent, another one-year ride around the USA and Mexico with her husband and two children, and then spent nearly three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina with her family. Now she’s living in Boise, Idaho, putting down roots and enjoying being part of a larger community.