Montclair family prepares for global “world-schooling” trip
By ERIN ROLL
There are some things that have to be done before setting out on a road trip: put holds on the newspaper and mail deliveries, ask the neighbors to water the plants and feed the pets.
For the Blaine family of Montclair, however, the pre-trip planning is a little more complicated. Get the house ready for potential renters. Buy an RV. Work out a study curriculum for their two school-age daughters, with help from the girls’ classroom teachers.
“It’s a lot to do, but we’ll get it done,” Sarah Tepper Blaine said on Tuesday.
The family — which includes Blaine, husband Mike and daughters Elizabeth, 12 and Julianna, 8 — aren’t embarking on your average road trip; this is a yearlong, around the world “world-schooling trip.” They will be departing in July.
The family is chronicling the trip — and the pre-trip planning — on a blog called “Blaine Voyage,” which is meant to be a pun on “Bon Voyage.”
The concept is known as “world schooling,” a premise in which families educate their children, or have their children’s education supplemented, by traveling or experiencing different cultures and meeting new people.
Blaine is an education writer and blogger and belongs to a couple of world-schooling groups, including some on Facebook. The trip has been at least three years in the planning, including mapping out an itinerary and putting aside savings in a travel fund. It also means that Blaine and her husband will be away from their regular jobs.
“What I like about world schooling — it’s embracing each family’s journey,” says Montclair resident Azizi Birkeland, whose family has also placed a high priority on travel and new cultural experiences. One family may world-school with a lot of travel, she said, while for others, it’s a matter of simply wanting to experience the world outside of the context of their own local community.
Birkeland recently attended a world-schooling conference in Mexico and is scheduled to present at the Family Adventure Summit in Canada later this year.
She says that a lot of parents come to her for advice on how to world-school with their own families. “My advice to people is, overcome your fear, because your fear will sabotage your dreams.”
The Blaines’ upcoming odyssey got a mention in the Washington Post; Blaine has contributed blog pieces for “Answer Sheet,” the education blog run by Post education writer Valerie Strauss.
It helps, Blaine said, that the itinerary will include several countries where it is less expensive to travel, and she noted that the international leg of the trip will spend more time in the less expensive countries and less time in the costlier countries.
There are a few reasons why the family is embarking on the trip.
“We liked the idea of traveling as a family rather than waiting for retirement,” Blaine said.
Another reason is to help get her daughters more of a grounding in social studies and culture, something that she felt was lacking when her older daughter was attending Hillside.
“At Hillside ... it seemed that the focus was very test prep,” Blaine said. She added that with a recent change in leadership at the school, that may have changed since Elizabeth’s time there.
During her own elementary school days, Blaine said, she remembered getting a thorough education in social studies and international culture. But she felt that in some — though not all, she emphasized — of the schools in Montclair, the subjects were getting short shrift.
The first leg of the trip will be across the United States and Canada, starting in July. That’s where the RV will come in. There will be a brief stopover at home around Thanksgiving for the holidays, after which the family will depart for the international leg of the trip. The international leg will include Australia, Laos, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Israel and then Europe.
One of the plans is for the girls to compile their own “textbooks:” binders containing material and write-ups of the different places the family will visit. And Blaine hopes to set up some moments when the girls can video chat with their classmates back home.
Elizabeth is a sixth-grader at Glenfield, while Julianna is a second-grader at Hillside. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from their teachers,” Blaine said. She noted that the teachers have been helping the family make sure that subjects such as math get covered on the trip. It also helps that at Glenfield, because of the house system, Elizabeth will be returning as an eighth-grader to the same core group of teachers that she had in sixth grade.
And besides the teachers, Blaine said, many local parents have been excited about the idea. “People are excited. People are supportive. People say, ‘can you pack me in your suitcase.’”