My Kids Aren’t Learning Anything


“Mom, I need some more language arts worksheets printed,” said my nearly 15 year old this morning, who needs her world aligned at all times or she gets frantic. Order, structure, neatly stapled packets are a dream come true and the chance to organize canned foods makes her heart go pitter-patter.

“We’re not doing any worksheets today,” I said. “We’re going to clean the kitchen and then we’re going looking for those alligators.”

“But then we’re not learning anything!” she scowled.

The rest of the kids chimed in, ‘We’re not learning anything at all today?” they asked.  Because apparently if we’re not sitting with a worksheet or text in front of us, we’re not, “doing school” according to my kids.  Huh.

But what my kids don’t realize is while they think they lucked out with less often serious, sit-down-studies, I’ve orchestrated a well-planned winter of intensive education…and they don’t even know it.


We drove the famous Alaska/Canada highway, studying the history of its making and involvement in the war along the way. We’ve extensively studied maps, planned routes, learned geography, stood in the ocean and wondered how far from home we were, then calculated it.  We’ve budgeted, planned, mapped and learned to live with only what we can fit in a duffle bag.  We learned how to traverse the metric system, calculate for kilometers, compute gas mileage and we know why the exchange rate is so poor.

Because we have talked about everything, continually, along the way.


We spent a day at a Japanese Internment camp where people were caged by their own government for their ‘own protection’ And for a couple of hours  my children saw life from a perspective they couldn’t have gained from any well written book because standing in those shoes is an irreplaceable feeling.  Standing over the graves, wandering the original buildings, searching the wall of names, and just being there. They will never forget that day.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.


We explored a Railroad museum in the desert where we learned about turn of the century farming, the expansion of the rail system across the U.S. and the impact of that expansion on industry. We stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, walked the streets of Tombstone, Arizona and explored the museums and history of the wildwest in every town along the way. We saw the inner workings of a gold mining shaft, rode a subway in downtown Los Angeles, looked across the Rio Grande in to Mexico from the sanctity of U.S. soil and talked about how their lives differed from ours. We determined rock classifications in the desert (is ignoramous a rock?), climbed lava formations, crawled through caves, and looked for gold in dry creek beds of Texas and Arizona.  We’ve found fossils, shells, arrow heads, uncountable bones and even petrified wood.  We’ve seen dolphins leap through the water and jelly fish float the surface.  And one of my favorites, we’ve stood at the feet of the Bristle Cone Pine.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

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For three months my family, that hasn’t always been a family…these children, who haven’t always been siblings…have been together.  They’ve been loved by aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma’s they never knew existed. They’ve bonded in ways only a road trip can offer, supported each other, defended each other and learned more about each other than they could have had they spent seven hours a day in separate classrooms, in separate schools or in my kids circumstance…separate families.  And though we could all use some time apart…believe me…they’ve become closer as a family than ever.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.


We’ve been to more museums, historical monuments and interactive science centers than we ever thought possible…and we’re not done.  We found starfish and sea creatures in the surf of California, felt the intimidation of gang members on the streets in passing, we witnessed the homeless on every corner and talked about the ‘Why’ of it all. We took advantage of having television in some of our stops to watch documentaries on the Depression, The Orphan Trains, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Dust Bowl, and The New Deal. Ask them about the KKK in the 1930’s, or the Union Strikes and why they happened, they can tell you.  We found how-to art videos on Youtube and learned how to draw faces, then practiced, together, for weeks while relaxing in the cabin up the Frio River here in Texas where Mya discovered a love of art she didn’t know she had and Robin lost herself in water color painting she’d never even tried before.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

We’ve walked the beaches, ridden our bikes, looked for turtles along the piers. We’ve been inside crumbling Indian ruins, hiked red cliffs and touched cactus to find out why we shouldn’t. We climbed through a crystal cave, saw wild pigs, dodged thousands of deer and when the car ride became too boring, we searched all day for the elusive Northern California Zebra, to no avail.


We’ve met people from all over the world, of different nations and skin color and religious background. We’ve made friendships with strangers and talked hours with elderly, so full of history and knowledge, that their time is invaluable. We’ve learned how to budget. How to make money last. How to feed an entire family on JackInTheBox tacos.

And my kids still think they aren’t learning anything.


They don’t realize that I carefully filled their Nooks with classics and stuck them in a truck for 5000 miles.  And yes, somewhere in our spare time we’ve squeezed in ‘actual’ school work. When the weather keeps us inside we cram as much math, grammar, writing and science in as we can. And when the sun comes out, we sometimes multitask and study in the fresh air. Three of the kids completed 12 weeks of online creative writing workshop they liked so much it didn’t seem like ‘school’. The boys are teaching themselves how to code on their laptop, hoping to invent a million dollar video game and they all fight over computer time so they can earn badges doing math on Khan Academy. Mya is obsessed with her science class, which is her new favorite subject and racing to finish the year early, while Robin is elated to have finally found a math program she likes on the shelves of a thrift store and percentages are no longer her nemesis.

Yet, they still think they aren’t learning anything.


Next week we head to Utah where we will be within a short drive of six ghost towns, abandoned mines and high desert terrain to explore.  Along the way we’ll hit the Alamo, a Marine Animal park, Carlsbad Caverns, several historical military and geological sites as well as another glimpse at some Indian ruins and the Grand Canyon.  I’m sure they won’t learn a thing there either and it will all be a big waste of time as they get further and further behind on their education because they haven’t memorized Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species like I did in ninth grade…though, the only time that knowledge has ever served me is in this sentence.

Yes, it’s really too bad my kids aren’t learning anything.


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17 Replies to “My Kids Aren’t Learning Anything”

  1. What an education those kiddos are getting in just a few months! Hats off to you and their dad! The best part is that they’ll remember many details and events of this trip for the rest of their lives. In my opinion, this definitely qualifies as time well spent!

  2. I LOVE it! THIS is how to teach children! If you are in Utah, you have to visit “Hole in the rock” a home carved into a sandstone cave and of course Arches national park.If you come up through the four corners area to check out Mesa Verde, if you head north into Colorado and want a BEAUTIFUL drive of ancient sandstone cliffs and a spring you can drink from right off the side of the road, ancient Indian paintings and a canyon with a sluice box hung by the Chinese when they were building railroads across this country, go up hwy 141. Or you can go up over the worlds largest flat top Mesa, the “Grand Mesa” with over 500 lakes to trout fish from, hwy 65! 😀

  3. I recall back when you were debating with yourself that Homeschool / Unschool was the right thing for you. I am so glad you now understand what those of us who suggested that you go for it were trying to say.

  4. Liked it until the dig on biological classification. Just because some things aren’t rendered important to some, doesn’t mean they aren’t important to others. Classification of species was fascinating to me then and still is today, and it isn’t a curriculum requirement to memorize it either – it’s more about explaining how we actually do classify organisms, which it good to know if you are ecologically inclined.

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