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Our World School: An End of Year Report

30 Dec

A living room with chequered tiles set up on the ceiling, at Scienceworks, Melbourne

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For anyone planning longterm travel with kids, anyone who would like to travel and is delaying having kids to do so, or any parents who would love to travel but feel they can’t because of the kids, probably the single biggest concern is what sort of education a child will get on the road.

This is also a major source of anxiety for other family members, particularly grandparents.

Honestly? Education, once you get the hang of it, is one of the easiest things about travelling as a family. I’ve posted before about the wonders of unschooling, a child-led approach to learning. I’ve also posted about the sheer hell of imposing a school-y structure on travelling, AKA death by long division.

Most of Z’s learning is hands-on, supplemented by almost entirely self-directed reading. We spend very little time on more formal learning, though I’ve had to learn a lot myself to keep up with his questions on the places we visit.

Here’s the end of year report card on my now-ten-year-old son’s roadschooling. I’m hoping travelling parents, prospective travelling parents and, for that matter, others considering alternatives to the school system, will find it useful. Continue reading

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Seeing Stars in the Outback

4 Dec

The curving edges of Wilpena Pound, a gigantic geological depression.
Weather doesn’t get more biblical than droughts, floods and plagues of locusts. And that precise trifecta has hit the South Australian outback this summer.

The great salt lakes, which sit dry for decades on end as brilliant mirrors of pinkish white, oscillate between aggressive blue and muted brown. The impossibly ancient mountains have turned from the iconic outback red to green.

In fact, looking out from the ridgetops of the Flinders Ranges, it’s easy to see how the ridiculed explorer turned prescient surveyor, George Goyder, decided the mountains were ringed by an enormous inland sea.

It’s easier still to pity the poor sods who slogged in his wake through almost a thousand kilometres of spiky acacia, spiny wattle and savage spinifex, amid flies so persistent that the diagonal motion of the hand in front of the face to clear them away for a second or two is known as “the Aussie salute”, carrying (yes, carrying) a wooden boat to traverse the imaginary sea… Continue reading

14 Great Arts Courses in Ubud, Bali

3 Nov

Yves Picq's image of Rice terraces in Bali

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Set amid the rice fields, temples and river gorges of rural Bali, art comes naturally in Ubud. And it’s one of the easiest destinations in the world to get in touch with your artistic side, thanks to a myriad day, half-day or longer arts courses just waiting for the taking.

Before you begin the perennial quest for cheap hotels in Bali, it’s worth planning some time to be creative. Here’s just some of the arts you can learn in Ubud:

1: Silversmithing Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #2: Happiness on the Riverbank

3 Oct light shining through clove trees on pulau ternate, maluku, indonesia

Lima in his football shorts on the stony banks of the river

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Lima has just discovered clothes. Three months ago, in fact. Compared to the itchy bark loincloths he used to wear, they’re remarkably comfortable. An excellent addition, he feels, to his eminently satisfactory life.

It would be hard not to warm to Lima. He’s 40ish, he thinks, or thereabouts, with a ready laugh, a happy soul and keen eyes below wiry brows and wrinkled forehead.

A hunter-gatherer from the Togutil tribe, one of four minorities scattered across the crumpled, riverine forest of Pulau Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands, Lima is, I think at first, the single happiest human being I have ever, ever met.

He wants, he tells me, for absolutely nothing, and desires nothing either. Continue reading

Buddhism: the Planet’s Whipping Boy?

18 Jul

Yak dressed as Buddhist monk, from Dance Mat Typing programme.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It’s often said, generally by Christians of the scary-to-very-scary variety, that folk can be far ruder about Christianity than any of the world’s “great religions” and get away with it.

Now, when it comes to what my ma used to call “the People of the Book” but now terms “the Sky God religions”, this may well be true. When it comes to Buddhism, however, it seems that anything goes.

Even on the BBC! In fact, the nine year old has recently put fingers to keyboard and sent a stern email to the Director-General of the Beeb.

It reads, in its entirety: Continue reading

Into the Deep

12 Jul

Z in scuba gear exiting a boat with a giant stride.

One small step for mankind... One giant stride for a boy.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Why learn to dive?

Well…

Scuba diving opens up an entire new world. There’s the fluid, graceful movement in three dimensions, moving up or down (quite literally) on a breath, turning any way you wish like a gymnast in zero gravity, powered only by your legs and fins.

There’s the chance to explore the complex ecosystems of coral reef: a surrealist, ancient, technicolour landscape, populated by a myriad creatures who, unlike their land equivalents, have yet to learn to fear human beings.

There’s that warm, buzzed glow of discovery you get when you surface. And that edge of anticipation as you take the giant stride off the side of the boat…

Which is exactly what Z is doing, in the picture above. (The ginormous wetsuit is, in fact, an extra small.) It’s his first giant stride as a qualified Junior Open Water diver, off Koh Tao, Thailand. Continue reading

At the Orphanage

28 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Our first volunteering stint as a family brought us to Baan Kingkaew orphanage, a home for orphaned children aged from three months to six years old.

I’d wondered before whether spending an afternoon playing with young children could be meaningful. Could in any way improve these little ones’ lives.

And, yes. Something as easy as arranging a visit, bringing plasticine, paper and art materials, toting tearful children around on one’s hip and doling out the physical affection which orphaned three and four year olds crave so intensely did, I think, help a little.

Continue reading

Sweet Charity? On Volunteering

26 Jun

Z pretending to fly an Antonov cargo plane, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

When volunteering, it's good to have a handle on your capabilities.

I have an aversion to the idea of volunteering overseas which dates back to a hospital bed in small town Mali.

It wasn’t the extended families cooking on open fires in the grounds, the babies too weak to cry, or even the emaciated woman hawking bloody sputum onto the floor beside my bed that did it.

Nor was it an operating theatre that would have had Florence Nightingale reaching for the ether, through which I ventured on an all-too regular basis to the surgeons’ bathroom. (Kind of them to share. But still…)

It was the kid from the Peace Corps. And, of course, he was trying to help. Continue reading

Seeing the Light

24 Jun

Repeating patterns of mirrored mosaics, altar of side temple, Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Gorgeous glasswork at Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai.

There’s a brilliance about the light in the medieval temples of northern Thailand. It glints off mirrored mosaics, gold buddhas and gilded towers, off gaudy dragons and solemn elephants, illuminates great swathes of brightly coloured murals…

It puts the sombre stained glass gloom of European cathedrals to shame. Continue reading

Making Incense, Vietnam

8 Jun

Joss sticks (incense sticks) ageing in a factory, North Vietnam.

Incense sticks drying in the factory outside Hanoi.


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Incense is part of daily life in Vietnam. Joss sticks are offered at the altars which grace every business and almost every home, sold by the kilo in little stores and even (in some parts) burnt against mosquitos.

Now, there are not many places on this planet where a passing nine-year-old boy would be welcomed into a factory, given the tour, and then provided with his own workstation to get to grips with incense manufacture. But Vietnam is one. And the sheer kindness of all the craftspeople we met yesterday, with nary a hard sell or tour group in sight, was truly wonderful. Continue reading