Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

Moved Abroad: But What About School?!

Erik recently wrote about his first month of early retirement, and he answered two of the common questions we often hear ...but what are you going to do (aren’t you going to be bored)?  What about money?  You won’t run out?

I am here to answer another common question ... but what about school (for the kids)?

What if “school” was visiting the Alhambra Museum?  Writing or drawing during your visit?

Large fountain at the Alhambra.

But ... what about school?!

The first thing that comes to my mind is ...1) I get the question.  I understand why they are asking it.  But also 2) How much my perspective about learning has changed.  And maybe 3) Our current journey might have a positive impact on others and their ideas around learning.  


Let’s back up ... prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic I was already reading about, researching, and lurking in social media groups about the idea of World Schooling.  It was possibly in our tentative approximately 5 year plan.  You can read our previous post here.  Being able to slow travel and see the world with the kids seemed like the ultimate learning experience and opportunity for them (and us!).

And then along came COVID-19 and the global pandemic... I started preparing for the possibility of postponing our move to Spain (originally planned for August 2020) and preparing for potentially (and unexpectedly) schooling my children in a non-traditional way for the 2020 - 2021 school year (City Schooling).  I immediately started researching even more.  Lurking in even more groups online anything from Homeschooling to World Schooling to Wild Schooling to Unschooling and so on.  I also started reading more books about different approaches to learning (and one of my favorites being Balanced and Barefoot).

It’s been eye opening learning about all the different perspectives to childhood and childhood “education.”  My goal when we started this unanticipated City School journey in the Fall of 2020 was to escape from my personal biggest complaints with the public school system in the US ... such as inappropriate expectations for their ages, standardized tests, worksheets, too much desk work, not enough time outside / moving / in nature, long days / homework ... to name a few.  Oh, and not enough of science / history / the arts / hands-on experiences, etc.  (I guess I can definitely name more than just a few).  This is by no means targeted towards educators for the most part (I was a public school educator for 11 years!).  These are systematic problems with public schools in the US.  I say the US because that is our experience.

Don’t get me wrong... I can definitely go on and on about my kids and positive experiences in both preschool (church / private) and their elementary school (and how much I love their teachers).  Like I’ve mentioned before, we probably wouldn’t even be in Spain right now if it wasn’t for their exceptional experience in Dual Language at our school.  But this post is about the benefits of a learning experience outside of the traditional school system.

City Schooling to World Schooling 

How has our City School experience (and now transitioned into World School) gone so far?  Honestly, much better than I thought it would go.  The kids transitioned much more easily than I envisioned (and probably better than I did at first).  We fell into a nice flexible routine in Houston and spent much of our time outside of home nature and / or on Field Trips.  We were thrown off some by the holidays and working on our Visas / move, but we now we have nice flexible routine again in Granada, Spain as we wrap up the year and look ahead to different learning experiences this summer.  I’ve tried to play on my strengths - Field Trips / adventures (and connecting that to book work / work at home).  Due to COVID-19, we also unexpectedly discovered 1000 Hours Outside and embraced nature.  And this will be a life-long change and benefit for our family.  I also made play and choice a priority, created a lot of my own “lessons”, let the kids and their interests guide us (our youngest has really developed a love and interest in snakes (thanks in part to our snake experiences at the Houston Arboretum and Snake Discovery on YouTube) which started August 2020), and finally yes, we did purchase some awesome resources too (hello, Beast Academy for math!).

I think the very common societal idea that a traditional school setting is the best setting for every child is definitely a misnomer.  (And yes, I understand that having the choice to do otherwise is a privileged choice though).

But to go back to the question ...what about school?  I think school is only ONE part of childhood (whatever school may be for that child).  One of the most important things about childhood is CHILDHOOD, and often school interferes with just that (in my opinion or personal experience).

What if “school” was ...

What if “school” (or learning) was reading about the history of the Alhambra and then visiting the Alhambra in person.

A photo from our recent Field Trip to the Alhambra.  We read history about the Alhambra prior to our visit.

What if “school” was actively engaging in the US Presidential Election Day in 2020 ...and involves practicing your writing skills by writing a letter to the first female Vice President, Madame Vice President Kamala Harris.


Writing in Houston’s McGovern Gardens.

What if you could choose the math curriculum you think is best for your family in your “school” and balance that with hands-on or real world math skills ..?  Such as through hands-on math activities at a Children’s Museum or real world experiences like learning about Euros and handling money at a market?

Helping at the market in Plaza Larga (Granada’s Albaicin neighborhood).

What if “school” was science lessons IN nature ... or small group labs (cow eye dissection) at a local museum?

We loved our nature walks and studies at the Houston Aboretum.

Cow eye dissection lab at The Health Museum in Houston.

What if “school” was learning about history and current events by studying Nelson Mandela at home, visiting a local museum exhibition about his life, and learning to make connections to present day (such as the Black Lives Matter movement)?  (And unexpectedly being asked to appear on a local news segment about the Nelson Mandela exhibition).

George Floyd Mural in Houston, TX.

What if “school” involved being able to fully participate in your local community by getting to know your neighbors such as ones that work at a local garden across the street from you?

We loved the McGovern Centennial Gardens in Houston.  We met now life long friends and unexpected teachers for the kids (like Master Gardeners) during our City School adventure.  On this day (photo above) one of the gardeners offered the kids fresh watermelon from the Family Garden.

We especially loved rainy days in the McGovern Gardens.

What if “school” is a day or half a day or even a few hours engaged in service in your community?

We enjoyed a more COVID-19 safe outdoor volunteer experience this “school year” in Hermann Park (Houston).

What if “school” was travel?  What if you had the opportunity (FIRE!) to learn a language and culture (for us Spanish and Spain) immersed in that language and culture?

Granada, Spain

What if you could put the arts and other areas that are considered extras / extra curricular activities at the center of your “school” through weekly trips to art museums (or other art experiences)?  Or what if your “school” had more time to pursue passions and interests such as weekly trips to the golf course (or the time to try new things!).  

Archeological Museum in Granada, Spain

These were all real experiences for us this “school year.”  Is everything always perfect and all ideal Field Trips?  No, of course not.  Life is not perfect, but I could not have dreamed of how many positive learning experiences we did have despite a really difficult year with Covid-19.

Even if you believe a traditional school setting is the best option for your family (or maybe in many cases the only option), I encourage you (and myself to continue to!) open our minds about different learning experiences during childhood or even young adulthood (or adulthood!).

But ...What About All Those Negatives (Homeschool)!?!

I still often hear (and even in some cases thought myself) the “negatives.”  The most common ones ...but 1) what about socialization!?!  2) Or hah!  They won’t listen to ME!  Not like they listen to their teachers ...and maybe to go along with that 3) What do I know about teaching them?  And finally 4) But they need to know XYZ by this age / grade, right?  What if they fall behind?

Honestly the only one above that I was somewhat concerned about was number 2.  Let’s go to number 1 first.  The idea that kids can’t be social outside of a traditional school system is a complete misnomer to me (of course this somewhat depends on the family situation and effort you put into it).  Now 2020 ...and into 2021 is a lot different obviously due to Covid-19, but I would argue under normal circumstances social activities and opportunities are even greater if you were able to school on your own.  My kids had structured and unstructured learning and playing opportunities throughout our City School and World Schooling year with other children their age, of various ages, and even adults.  They met new friends and saw old friends. I think like a lot of things is what you make it.  Just because a child is in a traditional school setting doesn’t mean they are getting ample time to talk or play with others.

They won’t listen to me as much as they would listen to others.  For the most part this went MUCH better than I had initially envisioned.  I think given the right setting and situation children are naturally curious and WANT to learn.  Are my own personal children going to act the same as they would with a classroom teacher?  No, of course not.  I am their parent, and they are most comfortable with me (in fact I’ve had my children already as students since I was their art teacher!).  But I think that is okay.  And I think there are some ways around this to make the situation better for all involved.  My strategies included learning outside of home in public (take your book work with you!).  My kids are much less likely to act foolish in front of others versus at home!  Also balance their time learning with you by also learning with others ...either in structured ways (hello, outdoor adventures at Armand Bayou in Houston) to unexpected learning opportunities like when the master gardeners gave us lessons at McGovern Gardens Family Garden.

What do I know about teaching them?  For anyone that asks this are their parent.  You know what is best for them!  You guided them prior to age 5 and yes, educated them on life then ...why aren’t you their best teacher now?  And for anything you feel like you need help on ...maybe learn WITH them, or yes, you can include other teachers or guides.  For example, my kids did (free) workshops with the Children’s Museum Houston for Tinkercad.  I know nothing about Tinkercad, but of course they can learn from others too.

And finally number 4 ... But they need to know XYZ by this age / grade, right?  What if they fall behind?  Even after being a public school educator for 11 years, this one still irks me.  I think (for the most part) there aren’t necessarily specifics they MUST know by a certain age or grade ...and there is no behind.  It is all arbitrary.  Kids aren’t all the same nor should their education be all the same.  They have different strengths and areas of growth.  They have different interests and talents.  They come from different family situations and from different neighborhoods.  For us instead of focusing on what they need to know by this age or grade...or worrying about falling behind ...I’ve tried to focus on a love of learning through our experiences each week while knowing our path will lead them to where they need to be as individuals.

Looking Ahead For Our Family

But despite everything I said above we do plan (or are in the process of) enrolling them in school next year.  What!?  Why?

Homeschooling is technically not legal per se in Spain.  And another reason... I think the best way to immerse them in the language and culture is through school.  (Luckily I think we found a school that is going to be fantastic for them and does things differently than we were use to in the US ...for example, embracing school outside and in nature).

What have I / we enjoyed the most about schooling on our own?  What will we miss as the kids head back to traditional school next year?

-Time.  Our time together.  This was also a huge reason why we took the path to FIRE.  Although as far as “losing” time with my kids, we had a pretty ideal situation.  I was a teacher, and for their baby and preschool years they were with Grandparents when I was at work (can’t beat family!  Well, for our situation at least).  And when they moved on to elementary school, they were at school WITH me.  But teaching is definitely an exhausting profession, and most of my time outside of school was spent recovering from teaching which is not an ideal use of time.  Luckily their school in Spain will be less time than we did in TX (9 am - 2 pm in Spain.  We were often at school together in Texas from 7:15 am until at least 3:45 pm ...often longer hours depending on my work that day or our schedule.  Leaving at 5 pm or later wasn’t uncommon for us).

-Flexibility.  You really can’t beat being able to go on daily adventures and Field Trips versus revolving around a school schedule or only on weekends.  We also currently have the flexibility to travel since our life doesn’t revolve around the school calendar (for example we are taking a weekday beach trip in May).  We hope to travel even more as Covid-19 improves.  I will never hesitate to take them out of school (within reason) though; I think outside of classroom experiences take importance over inside of the classroom experiences for the most part.

-Their own paths.  This may fall under time and flexibility too.  It’s nice right now to be able to explore their own passions and interests.  We were able to golf every week on the weekdays for my son.  We set out to read a lot of books on snakes and explore them at the Houston Arboretum with my daughter.  (Those are just two examples).  Sure you can try to explore passions and interests even when you are in a traditional school system, but no one can argue there is definitely more time and flexibility to do so if you aren’t in traditional school.

-1:2 Teacher Ratio ... in our family.  And now that Erik is retired, 2:2 especially since he likes helping with math.  Even in elite private schools you can’t get that kind of attention.  Kids are not all the same I don’t personally think generalized and standardized learning for a group of children the same age is the best approach.  But when you have a classroom full of kids and one teacher, the teacher has to make the best of the situation.

-Play / Active Outdoor Play / Nature: Because of COVID ...and their “home learning” this year ...they’ve probably had more time (there’s that word again!  Time!) than ever before to play, actively play outdoors, be outdoors, and be in nature.  And I think all of those things should be at the top of a list or towards the top of a list for important aspects of childhood.  But unfortunately most of those areas are missing from US public schools now.  The good news is their school next year in Spain seems to place a high importance on the outdoors and nature.  I am not sure about the play aspect yet.

To come back to the question, “what about school?!,” my short answer is ...what about school?  Let’s reframe the idea or importance of traditional school.

And as we look ahead to traditional schooling next year, I would like to try to balance some of our World Schooling best practices with a new adventure in a Spanish school.  Time will tell.  So what has the process been like to get them enrolled in school?  Stay tuned for a future post as we are still working through the process.

Granada, Spain

What do you think?  What does school mean to you?  Would you embark on a City School or World School journey?  What are your perspectives on education?  Comment below!

Read Erik’s latest post here.  Embark on your own FI journey with us here.


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