Does Vacation Count for School?

So how do you receive counsel about homeschooling from non-homeschoolers? Do you grin and bare it? Do you stick your fingers in your ears? Do you nod your head in agreement with something you know you’ll never actually worry about or do? Do you roll your eyes? Do you give the reasons why the speaker doesn’t actually know anything about what they are talking about? What do you do when people, seemingly with the utmost concern, come up and offer you advice on how to homeschool?

Kids playing at the beach

I recently vacationed to a foreign country with my family, which includes two school-aged children. I was a bit bemused by the number of comments that I got about my children and school. I especially got lots of comments while in airports and planes.

It always started, “so you must have just been down here for the weekend”, or “you must just be coming down just for the weekend, because of school. So how long are you here for?”

My answer (said with a little hesitance, because I knew what was coming next) “No actually we’re down here for almost two weeks.”

Looks of shock and dismay. So I always rushed to explain without waiting, “We homeschool.”

The first time I stopped there, but got one of those knowing looks like, “Ahah, bold faced truants.”

After that I rushed on to say, “We brought our school with us.”

That calmed the fears of some. I don’t know if it was completely true though. It depends what the definition of “brought our school with us” is. I have the feeling that if they watched us, they wouldn’t have agreed with my statement at all. We really truly vacationed. My school-aged children brought along books to read. A couple of them actually were readers. See, I told you, that we brought school with us. They brought along their nature journals and some pencils. Isn’t that bringing school with us? We had our snorkel gear. Surely that counts for school stuff. We read a book on the life of Christ everyday. We studied from the most important textbook of all, the Bible.

Orange Fronted Parakeet in Captivity

Maybe I should have said, “We’ll make it up in the summer.” But I haven’t planned our summer out yet. I’m sure it will be full of nature study too, so will it actually be more school-like than our vacation? Maybe, I don’t know.

So, do I think that my kids were schooled while we were vacationing? I do. While I do think that they need to get some math done now that we’re home, I happen to think that they learned tons while we were vacationing and I’m off to record our learning experiences in my journal.

They snorkeled and saw lots of neat fish. They went birding every day with their dad and saw and identified some of the neatest birds, you can imagine. They had hands-on social studies and geography lessons. They were encouraged that learning Spanish was a practical thing to do.

Now I have this question for you. What do you count as school? Do you have to do math, reading, language arts, penmanship, spelling, history, science, Bible, etc. before you count it as a homeschool day? Do you count field trips? What do you call a field trip? Don’t you think that vacation counts as one long field trip?

I still don’t consider our family unschoolers. I do however appreciate the learning opportunities that come from things other than textbooks.

I do believe in “doing school”. I’ve just started to really believe that sometimes we overdo school, when actually it’s the experiences around us that help our children to learn and remember.

Mama and Baby

P.S. I actually wrote this post last year after a vacation. We did just return from another vacation to the same spot and it reminded me that I had never actually posted this. This year, I didn’t hear anybody ask about school. Maybe I was too busy trying to keep a squirmy baby in my arms and to look like I was in complete control of her, I don’t know. We did get in a really fun math lesson on this trip. My husband spent a couple of hours teaching my two school-aged kids all about cameras–aperture, shutter speed, etc. They know it better than I do. Hurrah! Score for including math on our vacation! It was school for sure!

These pictures are from our most recent trip.

Unplanned Social Studies–In Mexico

We were very privileged to take another vacation in Mexico this year. I am still battling some days with morning sickness, so it wasn’t as active as some of our previous years, but we still had fun and some adventure.

We like to learn about how the people live down there and what things are the same and different from the way we live. I think that is the best way to learn social studies–experience it. On this trip, we had the opportunity to have a social studies lesson that was totally unplanned. We got to experience a Mexican hospital first hand.

The second day that we were there, it was raining. My husband and I were a little disappointed because we had visions of soaking up sun. It didn’t bother the kids at all though. Their idea of fun in Mexico is to play in the water, and rainwater qualified. They put on their swimsuits and splashed to their heart’s content. Unfortunately though it all ended very abruptly. JD Boy slipped and fell on the slick, wet tile and bit a hole clear through his lip.

My husband and I debated for awhile what we should do. We ended up taking him to a hospital named Ameri Med. We thought that going to an American hospital would be the thing to do. It was false advertising. While the receptionists and billing folks spoke excellent English, the doctors and their assistants did not. My husband was the only one allowed to accompany JD Boy into the exam room. He speaks no Spanish. I’m not too sure why they didn’t send one of the receptionists back to translate or allow my husband’s grandfather to accompany and translate, but anyway, that was the way it happened.

The doctor tried to explain to my husband what his options and the prices would be. "Suturos" were 4000 pesos. After my husband asked about glue, he said "Derma  Bond" was 1700 pesos. He chose the glue and thought it wouldn’t be too expensive, but we later learned that that was only half of the charges. We were also charged for the "servicios". All of it came out to around $300US. I concluded that the "Ameri" part of the name wasn’t because the care given was American type care, but that the prices were American.

Once they settled on the Derma Bond, the doctor looked real close at JD Boy’s lip, pinched it together and the assistant smeared glue on. And that all went faster than you can read that sentence. My husband was shocked. He was expecting that they would clean the wound, but once it was glued, it was too late. No hydrogen peroxide. No iodine. No alcohol. No water. Nothing. They were done.

We were very concerned about infection. In a place where sanitation is an issue, it seems that they would be even more careful to disinfect wounds than we are, but not so. On our way back from the hospital, we stopped and purchased some hydrogen peroxide and had JD Boy rinse his mouth several times a day until we could tell that it was healing and that the possibility of infection had cleared up.

His wound looks good now. The inside is healing and there is a minimal scar on the outside. So I’m glad we took the route we did.

Last year, when we went down, I took JD Boy to a Mexican dentist and we were intrigued by Mexican dental care. This year we took him to Mexican hospital and were concerned about Mexican health care. If we go next year, I’m hoping that we can learn about something totally different and that maybe we can plan our social studies’ experience rather than having it as the result of an accident.

JD Boy refuses for me to post any pictures of his wound. I didn’t take any of the hospital for fear of getting in trouble. It looked fairly normal though, at least the waiting room, which was all that I got to experience. However, I have a few shots from just around town, that I thought were interesting.

Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
While Mexico has no official religion, 89% of the population is Catholic. There are services and activities going on at this Cathedral all the time.

Electric lines by Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Electric lines close to the Cathedral.
You can see the Cathedral in the distance. The infrastructure, even in this town that runs mostly on tourism, is poor. This isn’t even the worse case of spider-web lines that we saw. The roads are also poorly maintained. Right now they’re repainting and remodeling all the store fronts in certain parts of town. The locals think that there must be some event planned that they just haven’t heard about yet.

Playground equipment in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Playground equipment.
The playgrounds aren’t covered with lawn. They are covered with dirt. You can see that the equipment isn’t super well maintained either, but my boys thought it was a blast to play on anyway.

Stay tuned for pictures from our nature study while we vacationed. I can’t wait to share them with you.

Learning while Visiting

While we were in New Mexico, we were so privileged to get some really quality time with friends and family. Spending time with others is really a great learning opportunity for my children. Our friends and family have experience, perspective and knowledge that I don’t have and they just unwittingly share with the children. My children always learn.

One of the days while we were in New Mexico, we spent at the home of some of our family. Now I have decided that getting to know extended family, definitely qualifies as social studies. There isn’t a better way to learn about the family tree than to get to know all of the branches. The last time that we were able to see most of these family members was when my oldest was 9 months old. In other words, they were strangers to my kids. So it was just great for them to get to know part of our family.

My kids were so excited because they added two new birds to their lifelists, while we were there: Black-chinned Hummingbird and Gambel’s Quail. We spent lots of time watching the Quail. Gambel’s Quail was one of the birds that I was so anxious to see on our trip. I’m sure glad that we got to, because the other bird was the elusive Road Runner, and I’m still upset with all of them for not showing their faces to us. Unfortunately, try as we did to persuade the birds, they did not pose for us, so the only photos I have to choose from are some irresistible pictures of my kiddoes.

Mischievous JD Boy

JD Boy

Mother and Daughter

Zippy and me

G'tums Waving


We also spent one day at the home of some very dear friends. As is always the case, when you take your children to somebody else’s house, they discover that the friends have way neater things than you have. This visit was no exception. The boys in that family took my kids for rides on their quads (four-wheelers). My kids are ready to move to New Mexico right now, just so they can have quads.

Trampoline Jumping

They also had the neatest trampoline ever! Even I have to admit, that that one is a winner. It’s just a lot safer looking than the typical. I’m heading to one of these days to see if I can get one.

Zippy with Static Hair

A bit of a closer look at what the trampoline did to Zippy’s hair. Impressive!

They also had real, live chickens.

G'tums feeding chickens

They got to feed the chickens…. and hold the chickens….and chase the chickens…

JD Boy Collecting Eggs

…and gather eggs.

The kids thought the chickens were so neat and are thinking that maybe we should get chickens. I informed them that first we have to get used to taking care of the dog. On top of that, we’re vegan, so what would we do with the eggs? Well, they had the answer for that: "Sell them." Don’t expect any posts anytime soon about us getting chickens. I have absolutely no intention of adding that to my life, but it was fun to watch the kids enjoy somebody else’s chickens.

Our time with family and friends was not only very enjoyable, but it was also educational for the kids. Sometimes, I think that I make learning too big of a project. Sometimes, I just need to turn them loose and let them explore the world around and meet and learn from the people around them. I try, really I do, to be the balanced homeschooler–with the right amount of structure and the right amount of spontaneity.

Now that we’re heading into the summer and I’m thinking that I need a little bit of break from lots of things in life, we have decided to take the education as it comes to us for awhile. We’re putting away our lapbooks and our workbooks and we’re going to go spend some time in the garden and outside and we’ll see what we can learn. Life is full of learning opportunities and surprises. I’ll keep you posted what we find and learn.

Social Studies in Mexico

Social Studies is another great thing to study on vacation,  especially when you’re traveling internationally. Just to observe the people’s customs is a lot more social studies than you can possibly get when reading about people and their ways. Just wish we could travel to every place that we wanted to learn about.

We very much enjoyed eating Mexican food while we were there. We love Mexican food.  In that part of Mexico and on south through El Salvador, everybody eats corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are a thing of Northern Mexico and, of course, Texas! It’s a treat to have the fresh made tortillas. I enjoyed watching this lady make them.

One of the most interesting things we did on this trip was to visit a Mexican dentist. It wouldn’t have been as interesting if I was the patient, but since I wasn’t I was intrigued by things they did differently from U.S. dentists. My father-in-law has concluded that he can pay for his trip to Mexico by visiting the dentist there. He had to have a crown and some fillings so he spent a few days at the dentist, but she really did do a nice job for him, it seems. John Deere Boy had a tooth that needed pulled, so I decided to give the Mexican dentist a try. She did a right fine job. She was so careful that he didn’t feel any pain. He complained more while we drove to the dentist than he did at the dentist!

JDBoy at the Dentist

But let me tell you about a Mexican dentist, besides being a lot cheaper. The practice we visited had two female dentists, two chairs, one assistant and one exam room. Both dentists worked in the same room. So I sure was hoping that the other patient would be quiet, so that John Deere Boy would become frightened by the other guy’s pain. The door to the exam room stayed opened the whole time, so it was easy to look in at the patients and dentists.

Mexican Dentist Chair

Also there was no glass on the windows in the waiting room and there was a dusty road in front of the office. But I sat in the waiting room for hours and I never felt like I was being choked on dust. I could smell it. They had fans in the exam room to keep the dust out of there, I guess. That was our visit to the Mexican dentist…not to bad. I’m thinking if I ever go back that I’ll go to her too.

While John Deere Boy and I waited during my father-in-law’s dental visit, we went exploring. We watched the school switching shifts. They school half of their children in the morning and half in the afternoon. I don’t know if they divide them by age or how they are divided. Everybody walks home. There were no buses. There were several little shops close to the school that sold drinks and ice cream and things like that. But we only saw three kids of all the hundreds that were walking by stop and get a snack. I thought, that is a lot different than American kids. The American kids would have lines going at the ice cream shop.

We stopped at one some of their little shops and looked at their wares. We were intrigued with the one that sold bulk foods and dog food.

Little shop

John Deere Boy was especially intrigued with their fast food restaurant:


That was grilled chicken that they were selling there on the same dusty road that the dentist was on. It didn’t look appealing at all to us, but maybe that is because we are vegetarian.

We also spent some time checking out a Cathedral. There are many Cathedrals there. Even though Mexico does not have a state church, the population in Mexico is 89% Catholic. It is interesting to be in a country where religion seems to permeate things so much more than in the U.S. For instance, every bus that I’ve ever ridden has multiple Catholic emblems on it: crosses, Mary, etc.

JDBoy in front of Cathedral

On Saturday night while we were there, we had the opportunity to watch a group doing their native dances. I videoed it, because it was so interesting and so loud. They had on large feather head dresses and they were burning incense or something and they were beating on the drums that made your head rattle. It was really quite interesting, but unfortunately those clips are gone off of my camera. I don’t know where they went, but they disappeared. We watched the same type of thing last year, but my husband was gone with my video camera that time. So I’m being very unsuccessful of videoing their native dances. I guess I’ll have to go back for just that purpose!

We also had the opportunity to visit a cemetery. My in-laws had adopted a little Mexican girl from that town that passed away before they brought her home, so she is buried there. I was amazed by the cemetary, but I think the pictures say everything I can say, so here they are:

Mexican Cemetary

Mexican Cemetary

Wealthy Mexican's Grave

This is my final post on our trip to Mexico and I never found a post to put this family picture in, but it shows that we enjoyed ourselves immensely!

Waiting for sunset

Where are we?

We are on vacation! Vacation always provides some really wonderful learning opportunities that just don’t pop up when you are at home. Just think of some the things that are perfect to study when you are away from home: geography, social studies, history and nature studies, etc. We are having so many great opportunities to learn. (Besides that we are soaking up some much needed sun!)

I hope to post several of the things we are learning over the next few days, but today, I thought your kids might like to guess where we are. Have your kid(s) look at the picture below and figure out where we are. If they leave me a comment before I make my next post telling me where we are, I will get a postcard for them and mail it when I get home. I would mail it from here, but I’m not sure that they have mail here. I don’t think they’ve got that system quite figured out yet.