Photography of a Fall road trip in Montana (and lessons in homeschooling)
As my regular readers know, I ventured into the world of homeschooling this year. I started this summer, so as of the publishing of this post it has been 5 months since we’ve been on this journey, and boy have we learned a lot already.
One of the things I wanted to do upon homeschooling my kids was travel more with them. I had struggled in the past with taking them out of school for trips and then either dealing with frustrated teachers or having my kids burdened with a backlog of work and tests (because there are always tests) that they had to catch up on. It wasn’t fair for anyone – the teacher, the boys, or me. And though I didn’t take on homeschooling for the sole purpose of traveling with my kids, I saw it as a great opportunity and a huge stress factor we didn’t have to contend with any longer. But learning is still important and figuring out ways to incorporate it into the travel experience was something I gave a lot of thought to and even planned out.
Though this year as been a busy travel year for us, with our road trip through Italy and our volunteerism trip to the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel, our big trips were reserved for October. My kids’ friends would be starting a new year and I didn’t want them to feel weird about it, so off we went to learn our own way.
We hit the open road, full of ambition and curiosity.
We kicked off our travels in Montana where fall was on full display and where I had been earlier this year returning home committed to sharing all I had seen with my kids. This trip delivered. We started out in Missoula. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Downtown Missoula because I could just park the car there and walk to shops and restaurants. We got up early one morning to hike the M and watch the sun finish rising over Missoula, which was covered in beautiful fall colors. Also, when in Missoula you must visit Drum Coffee for pastries and their almond milk latte is the best I have ever had. Also, Paul’s Pancake Parlor for all sort of pancakes, including sourdough which I actually really liked – huge servings too!
Hiking the M was a great start to our first full day in Missoula.
Caras Park, which hosts concerts and an awesome farmers market during the warmer months, was still a favorite spot for sunsets along the Clark Fork River.
We took a day to explore the National Bison Range and came face to face with these big, beautiful creatures while also taking in some spectacular natural scenery. Definitely go on the longer loop (it’s about 2 hours). It’s totally worth it.
We ventured even further to explore the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas and even headed out to take a tour around Butte, which surprised even the tourism folks there when they found out we were from New Jersey, but as I told them, “We’ve never been to a mining town before, so why not!” Random fact: Evel Knievel is from Butte (which was exciting for me, but my kids were clueless).
The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas
We visited both Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. I fell in love with 80 miles per hour speed limits and my kids learned to gas up a car and clean the windshield like pros.
Two national parks in one trip, totally 4 national park visits this year!
So about that homeschooling
What we didn’t do much of was work on any of the homeschooling material I brought with me on that trip. I had printed out math, science, and reading work, as well as some writing/cursive material. But at the end of each day, both the boys and I were exhausted. The responsibility, however, weighed heavily on us those first few days, more so on my 11 year old who is a rule-follower and didn’t want to miss any due work.
After three days of stressing over it, I finally sat down with the boys, tossed all the material aside and told them to take advantage of the experiences around them instead and try to learn as much as they could from the places we visited, the people we met, and any other resource we came upon.
This made us feel a lot more at ease and I learned to trust what I had been preaching for so long: that kids don’t need to be stuck in a classroom, in front of a computer or book to learn. Travel really can deliver on this.
Letting it go, sort of
Fall in Montana turned out to be as colorful and as magical as I had imagined. Though at times it felt a bit hotter than I had hoped (it was early October), the evenings were cool and the air was fresh. The open fields and vast valleys made the long drives easier to endure and those long drives led to many conversations that I will hold dear to my heart.
Though I was able to stay on park property in Yellowstone, I was not able to book a room at the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier as all park lodging and amenities are closed by late September. It’s also important to note that some trails were also closed and a few others were a bit muddy, but we still got some hikes in and were able to enjoy the views. When near Glacier, we ended up staying at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake where I had stayed in the spring. It’s about a 30 minute drive to Glacier and Whitefish is such a cute town! Make sure to stop in at Loula’s for pie…and their fried chicken is ah-mazing too!
Glacier National Park is like a painting. We couldn’t get enough of it.
Yellowstone was a bit overwhelming on limited time because of the vastness of the park. It seemed every point of interest was no less than 40 minutes to an hour away, more if you count all the stops to admire the awesome wildlife. Which brings me to another great reminder: slow down. I didn’t have a hard set itinerary, except for being at certain places where I had hotels booked, but in terms of what to do or where to go, I left that pretty open after a few days of realizing that it was too stressful. I let the kids decide a lot of what to do next. When they wanted to sleep in, we did that too. This was our trip, our time. We could do whatever we wanted with it – it’s why we are homeschooling!
We were in Montana for 8 days. Clearly not enough time to see it all, but definitely enough to fall in love with the state all over again.
I walked away with one clear lesson: homeschooling on the road is difficult to do if you haven’t managed your expectations.
Because I am still new at this, I am still breaking away from the influences of many years of traditional schooling. I question myself daily. I have days when I feel we are rocking it, and other days when I am terrified I am failing my kids. I haven’t been able to bring myself to join other homeschooling groups in my community, though my kids did take part in activities with a local group my sister-in-law is a part of while we visited her in Texas. In short, I am not much of a joiner, so that’s been something I have not gotten around to overcoming. I am always consuming new literature and have realized that I have to be really, really careful. Once you go down the rabbit hole of researching homeschooling resources you will find that there are tons of programs, materials, “schools”, groups, and more that are as expensive as sending your kids to private school. I have found my greatest allies to be my homeschooling sister in law and other homeschooling parents online.
As a new homeschooling mom, and as a parent in general, I question myself all the time. This trip was about letting go, giving in to the unexpected, and trusting it would all fall into place.
Staying on track of their learning, even while on the road is still really important to me. My SIL recently recommended Home Learning by Year. So far this has proven to be helpful to us and at least gives me an insight into what kids at the schools are up to in case my kids want to go back to traditional schooling.
Travel on its own is this constant motivator to learn something new about myself, to face my inhibitions and to confront my fears. Homeschooling my kids while I travel has intensified all of that. I am even more hyper-aware. I try very, very hard to not push them towards things and give them the space to sort of discover it on their own and approach their learning in a natural manner, not a forced one. I don’t want to take the joy of travel away from them. That requires trust. A lot of trust and patience. But my boys are eager learners and ambitious. They are proactive and take a lot of responsibility for themselves. They understand the what is at stake and value the opportunity they have in front of them. I am incredible impressed with them and so proud.
Lucky for me, there were so many opportunities for learning during our road trip. We talked about everything, from the Native American tribes who first settled Glacier National Park (and there’s a wonderful museum at the St. Mary visitor center on the East side entrance to the park) to experiencing home-life in Montana while staying with friends in the rural town of Alberta.
My kids are such incredible travelers and wonderful learners. They make me so excited about all we are doing.
We love Montana and all the lessons it offered on our trip. We are so grateful to everyone, friends and strangers, who were so generous with their time and knowledge and tips. It takes a village!
Montana was the first of a series of trips in our month-long adventure and helped to set the tone for how we traveled and homeschool moving forward. I honestly could have never prepared all the lessons we picked up along the way. It was really an enriching, experience. I will share more on our month of travel and how it impacted and influenced our homeschooling process. Hope it informs and inspires those of you who might be considering it too. And note, no two families are the same. We all travel and learn differently. And though I am still working on this, I know that putting pressure on ourselves to find some mystical balance just makes it all unpleasant. Be kind to yourself.
Stay tuned for more on all the fun we had! In the meantime, you can check out our images on Instagram.
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