Outdoor Education for Children

A family bicycle tour.
By Linda Wilson
July/August 1984
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Education en route: Basic orienteering skills of compass reading, map work and mileage computation supplied a mathematics curriculum. For history and English "classes" we visited famous sites (like Kitty Hawk, Williamsburg, and Carl Sandburg's home) and learned from the excellent books and pamphlets at these places.

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Last year my husband, Bob, and I realized that our precocious children, Robert (12) and Tina (10), were beginning to perform poorly in school, apparently because they were bored with the routine classroom curriculum. So Bob and I decided that a temporary change of scenery was in order. Believing as we do that learning should be an active process of exploration and discovery, we felt that an extended family vacation in which the four of us could get out into nature, see new places, and meet new people might be just the elixir needed to renew our youngsters' waning sense of adventure and to revive their wavering enthusiasm for scholarly pursuits.

After considering all the different modes of transportation available to us, we finally opted for bike tripping. Cycling would allow us to stay outdoors most of the time and would offer us physical, as well as mental, stimulation. Besides, biking is fun ... and, after all, this was going to be our vacation! It didn't take us long to study up on our basic survival needs and to plan the "courses" Robert and Tina would have to tackle in order to satisfy their regular school requirements. Once we got these preliminaries out of the way, we packed up and took off on an exciting family adventure that led us from our home in Sevier County, Tennessee, through North and South Carolina and Virginia, all the way to Washington, DC—a fitting destination for outdoor education! By the time we got back home, we'd biked a grand total of 1,200 miles!

And did our trip re-inspire our offspring? See for yourself: The photographs in the Image Gallery capture the essence of our educational experience far better than words. I present them for the enjoyment and edification of other MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers who might be contemplating a similar family sabbatical.

Bicycle Tour Conclusion

Bob and I are journeyman window cleaners. Having left our farm with only $25 in our pockets, we were able to finance our entire trip by washing windows along the way! In order to do so, our whole family had to learn to conserve our resources by eating fresh and filling foods bought at the best price, and by settling on simple pleasures rather than expensive ones. But, all things considered, our time away from home and the classroom was worth everything we put into it. Robert and Tina returned to school fresh and eager to share their experiences with classmates and teachers. And Bob and I are more convinced than ever that hands-on learning is really the best road to a meaningful education ... for kids of all ages!

EDITOR'S NOTE: For further reading on bike tripping, see A Family Bikepacking Vacation (On Less Than $20 a Day!). This article recounts another family's adventure and offers a handy list of the gear you might want to take along. Should a mountain bike be more to your liking than a traditional touring cycle, see Mountain Biking for Beginners, for our review of the new models. 

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