Outdoor Education for Children

A family bicycle tour.

| July/August 1984

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    Gearing up: Our equipment consisted of Fuji bikes (with 15" frames for kids) outfitted with toe clips, sturdy tire tubes, flags, racks and panniers, helmets, gloves, and water bottles.
    PHOTO: LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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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.
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Physical education: Frequent stops for water broke up long pedaling hauls and helped keep us fit. We also paid close attention to good health by eating fresh fruits and following basic first aid procedures.
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Departure: We left Sevierville on Sept. 3, 1983, on a journey that took us through lots of rugged terrain and gave us a feel for the uphill struggles of the early settlers.
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Home economics: Everyone had to lend a hand with the homemaking chores!
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Human awareness: Meeting people from all walks of life and learning new skills were some of our most valuable experiences. Here, Robert and Tina stand with their new friends and bakers.
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Time out for sightseeing: During our rest stops, we took in Indian burial mounds, historic battlefields, and such scenic horizons as the lovely Western North Carolina mountains.
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON
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    Our destination at last: With the true spirit of do-it-yourself determination, we actually made it from Tennessee to DC and back again on bicycles!
    LINDA AND BOB WILSON

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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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