‘Unjustified leave‘ was circled in blue pen. I was holding the official response to our application for Olivia to miss a term of school for this trip. The inner goodie-two-shoes in me began to worry. Were we depriving our firstborn of educational opportunities that she would never receive again? While my intuition suggested not, I was greatly relieved when the highly regarded school principal responded to my well intentioned, yet unquestionably over-the-top phone call with a, “Go and have a great time.” It was the best thing we did with our kids.” So here we are, nearly a month into our trip and Van Life Grammar School has just begun.
After receiving the principal’s (unofficial) blessing, Dave and I agreed that apart from the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic, a large bulk of our home school curriculum would consist of basic life skills that we had thus far missed teaching the girls because of busyness and/or lax parenting. Gone were the days when learning to ride a two-wheeled bike consisted of a push down a bitumen hill, or when poor manners resulted in a good chase around the backyard with a wooden spoon. As a result, Van Life Grammar was going to try to get back to a hint of the good old days.
Our first term day of VLGS began with Mummy’s School of Table Manners. “Sit with your legs tucked neatly under, and your elbows off the table,” I explained to the girls. Liv’s hand quickly rose. “Yes, Olivia,” I prompted, expecting her to ask me where to place her neatly folded napkin. “I just did two pongos,” she laughed, Mia quickly following suit in hysterics. Oh dear, it seemed that I was going to have a long term ahead of me. Time to call in the big guns… Mr David.
As Dave appeared in our makeshift classroom outside of the van, he was appropriately dressed in snorkelling attire. He and Olivia were off for a snorkel in Coral Bay, and upon their return they would review their underwater GoPro footage to record, on their custom-made observation chart, what species of fish they had seen, in what number, and estimate their appropriate measurements. This science lesson would be followed by a family game of cricket. Beach art was scheduled for the final period of the school day, where the girls and I would attempt to make coloured sand, beautifully presented in my empty Kombucha bottles (hopefully softening the blow for Dave of the $6 price tag).
By the following morning, our enterprising students had impressed us with their quick ability to put their maths and art lessons into practice, setting up an impromptu shop at the front of the van selling their coloured sand bottles to the lovely grey nomads until they gathered enough coin to ride their bikes to the corner store to buy themselves a supply of ice cream and lollies.
While I don’t think I am a natural educator, this season has blessed me with a unique environment in which I can be intentional about teaching my daughters. I feel both an opportunity and responsibility to choose carefully each day the values, lessons and skills with which I want to impart them to grow into strong, hardworking, and kind people. I want them to leave my classroom each day with an understanding of how deeply loved they are and more of an understanding of themselves and their wild hearts. Of course, living in such close proximity to each other means that they will likely learn more from the behaviour they see modelled by Dave and I than from our more structured lessons. What a very scary thought!
Spending so much time with our children during this trip has also made us realise how much we learn each day from them. They have an incredible ability to be content and excited with simple things, show us unconditional love when we make mistakes, and make us laugh instead of cry even when things are not that funny.