Home Education Magazine
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
Our Ultimate Field Trip - Julianna Mazel
We began our homeschooling odyssey during a time in our lives when travel was always on our minds. Although we embarked on the adventure of homeschooling for a good many reasons, one that topped the list was being able to travel in many countries as a family. We treasured the thought of opportunities to learn with our child, seeing, touching, smelling, and experiencing every corner of the world together. For we knew that every location and experience would change us, taking us to new heights of understanding and caring for other peoples and for the places in which they dwell, as well as for each other.
My husband and I had already taken our daughter to the heart of Mexico and had high hopes of many other excursions. But, as we began homeschooling, I was pregnant with our second child, soon to be followed by our third, fourth, fifth, and yes, even a sixth. For a good, long time foreign travel took a back seat to road trips, park outings, and long nature walks in the countryside that surrounded our home.
The children learned much about the flora and fauna in our area and every other that we visited. They were known by friends and acquaintances for constantly having some new adventure to share. For they would regale anyone who would listen with tales of what plant, animal, or new friend they may have encountered that day.
It was always our intention not only to teach our children about the rest of the world, but to show it to them. We wanted them to meet and spend time with people with different world views, backgrounds, and beliefs than their own. To simply read about far away places never satisfied our appetite for learning. Our family was well known for whipping up international meals, dressing in costumes, and celebrating international holidays as part of our learning experience. Our wanderlust could not be satisfied.
So it was when a friend approached us about a trip into China. China! We were all so excited we could barely contain our enthusiasm! The eight of us practically tackled the poor man for more information. Our dear friend had visited China before, taking a backpacker's route that kept costs down and allowed for an excursion through The most beautiful provinces in the entire country. He was preparing for such a trip again and invited us to come along. With only one child in diapers, we could not pass up such a wonderful opportunity!
The trip was only a few months away, but we still had plenty of time to prepare. My husband was working as a videographer and wanted to shoot as much video as he could while we were there, and of course, we planned to take many, many photos. Homeschooling, as we had always known it would, lent itself perfectly to this preparation time. "School time" was more fun than ever! Our then 13-year-old daughter began learning video and photography from her father. He set aside time each day to prepare her to work with him. She already possessed a strong interest in photography and video and was eager to learn and participate in that aspect of the trip.
As a family we checked out books from the library, including travel guides, to learn more about the area that we would be exploring. We read ancient Chinese tales, stories of people who had traveled in China before us, newspapers and storybooks, in the hope of understanding the people, perhaps, at least a little better. We used the web and library to find resources for learning bits of language that would be useful while traveling. The children helped prepare authentic Chinese foods, and ate everything, even the Thousand Year Old Eggs, that were put before them. I was rather proud of them, because, admittedly, I was a bit too squeamish for that one.
When the day finally came for our departure the children were well prepared. With backpacks on, whistles around their necks (in case they should become separated from us in a crowd), and smiles on their faces, they boarded the first of what would prove to be a significant number of modes of transportation.
Our eldest daughter sat next to a Chinese man on his way home from a visit with family. She wasn't shy and asked him to teach her some Chinese language as they traveled. The man was amused and honored, and spent hours chatting with our precocious young miss. The rest of us were scattered throughout the plane on the three connecting flights. Even our little one did well, smiling and charming the Chinese grandmothers around him.
We arrived in Hong Kong 24 hours later, but we spent little time in the city. Our real interest was in meeting the people, seeing the country at large, and getting to know the culture. The city did not lend itself well to that. We spent a few days in an ancient village outside of Hong Kong where the children watched water buffalo in miry bogs and climbed an ancient Banyan tree with the native children. Children, it seems, speak a universal language. We, as adults, can and should learn much from them. Although they couldn't understand most of one another's words, they were fast friends.
The time came for us to travel on and we boarded a bus that took us to the Hong Kong border. That crossing was the most challenging part of the entire trip. The throngs of people who were trying to cross the border closed in on us from all sides and four of the children slipped out of sight. My husband was ahead of me and couldn't see them, for a moment I was terrified! I listened hard to hear the sound of emergency whistles, but heard nothing. As my heart began beating wildly, people around us delivered our little ones to us. The graciousness of those people showed through, even in such a wild situation. Needless to say, we will choose another way to get across the border should we travel that way again. The children, however, were undaunted and excited to board the train for the upcoming 14-hour ride across China.
The train trip was everything we hoped it would be. The Chinese people were so fascinated with the children that we were only alone when the lights were out for the night. Our kids made friends with the other children on the train, we saw more of the countryside than many of the natives get to see, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The eight of us sat up whispering in the dark with the excitement of all we had seen and experienced.
From there we visited large cities, small cities, towns, and villages. We rode in taxis, buses, motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis, and a more modern version of the rickshaw. We climbed the karst mountains of Guilin, took a boat ride down the Li River, and followed a traditional Cormorant Fisherman as he set his birds fishing in the river. (This traditional form of fishing uses birds to catch the fish and deliver them back to the fisherman on the boat) The children even got to hold the birds when the fishing was done. We climbed the magnificent rice terraces of misty mountain villages and ran our fingers through clouds that floated in the windows of our mountain room. The hospitality of the Chinese people made us feel welcome and we found ourselves very at home in this new land.
I realize, of course, that not every homeschooling family will have opportunity for such an exotic excursion. But I share this story in the hopes that all of us will realize the opportunities that homeschooling offers. If our children had been attending a more traditional school we would not have been able to take the time for our adventure. We would have missed the growing experience that this was for all of us. We would have missed the changes that took place in each of our hearts and learning to embrace other cultures. Surely this is enough reason to homeschool in itself; to be a part of the adventure of learning with our children. To see the world through their eyes and to become like children again ourselves.
© 2002 Julianna Mazel
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
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