Three strategies for mixing travel with homework

New school, new challenges on the road.

New school, new challenges on the road.

Now that L is a Kindergartner, she has Big Girl responsibilities such as homework. When we’re home, Powerwoman and I make it a priority to build the post-school afternoon hours around these tasks. When we’re away, however, working in her assignments can be a little trickier.

At this point, her “assignments” comprise practicing her letters, studying Spanish words and solving rudimentary math problems on a program called iXL. Still, in terms of logistics, getting the kid to do this homework can be difficult, especially when we’re in a new place and/or a fancy hotel and she’d rather be exploring/lounging/playing with her sister/gorging on room service.

We’ve deployed a trio of tactics to keep homework a priority.

  1. Sticking to a schedule. By far, the most successful way to prioritize homework on the road has been to write it in to a schedule—literally. When we travel, we sit down with L to come up with a schedule, write down our plan, and post the resulting calendar on the wall for L to see. Her kindergarten teacher does this every day in class, so she’s used to it. What’s more, if ever she (or one of the rest of us) deviates from the schedule, it’s easy to refer to the plan and get back on track.
  2. Bring it with. Especially on road trips—or when I’m reporting a story—it can be difficult to stick to a plan. On these occasions, we tend to be a bit more flexible with homework time, and allow L to do her work on the go. Sometimes this means impromptu stops at Starbucks and other coffee shops for 30 minutes of math practice. Other times it means some time on a blanket in a park. While this strategy is not optimal (there always are distractions when we’re out and about), it’s better than nothing.
  3. Clustering. The third strategy we’ve implemented to mix travel and homework has been to cluster busy work into multi-hour sessions at the front or back ends of a trip.  The benefit to this approach: We don’t have to scramble to get L homework time every day. The downside: Sometimes (especially with writing, for some reason), it can be hard to get her to focus for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Because L only has been in kindergarten for something like 50 days, I’m guessing this is just the beginning of our efforts to try and match homework and family travel. The bottom line: Both remain a priority for us, and we’ll continue to try new strategies as she gets older (and as we travel more during the school year). If you’ve got additional suggestions, we’re all ears.

What are some of your techniques to get your kids to do homework while traveling?

Preparing for an ‘Expert Roundtable’

Sisters. North Lake Tahoe. Summer 2014.

Sisters. North Lake Tahoe. Summer 2014.

Over the course of my professional life, I’ve spoken in front of standing-room only crowds of journalists, packed lecture halls of marine biologists, and giant auditoriums of car salesmen (really; don’t ask). None of these gigs has given me as much pride as the engagement I’ve got lined up for Wednesday morning: I’m the featured speaker for the “Expert Roundtable” in L’s kindergarten class.

The gig is part of a monthly series during which parents come into the classroom and chat with students about what they do and the tools they use to do their jobs right.

The last speaker was a veterinarian. I’m chatting about being a journalist.

Because I can’t bring kittens (let’s face it: A vet is a tough act to follow), I’ll be bringing newspapers, magazines, keyboards and steno pads for the kids to touch and feel and share and (in the case of the pads) keep.

Beyond that, my plan is simple: I’ll chat a bit about what kinds of stories I tell, explain how I collect information for my stories, have the kids interview each other (for a sense of what that’s all about), then I’ll share the process through which I put the stories together. (HINT: The process involves bowls of pretzels and M&Ms.)

I’ll conclude with some examples—a retrospective of some of the most fun stuff I’ve done over the years. Naturally, because I specialize in family travel (and because family travel comprises the bulk of what I’ve written since L was born), I’ll share a bunch of anecdotes about that.

Like that piece about the time L and I traveled to Beverly Hills so she could sketch haute couture. And the piece about the time we crossed the Thames River, in London, in an underwater tunnel. I’ll share a story from our family trip to Yosemite this past spring, and the piece from last month, about R’s birthday walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll also share my favorite anecdotes from the month we spent living in Hawaii—the ones about the goats that jumped on the picnic table, and about the time when Blue the horse stuck her white fuzzy nose in through the car window and nuzzled my kids.

I might even show them some of the stuff I reported on our August trip to Walt Disney World Resort.

No, I’m not expecting more than half of the kids to pay attention. And I’ll be happy if one or two (beside L and her BFFs) even remember my name. But maybe, just maybe, one of those kids will hear my stories about my life telling stories and be inspired to become a journalist herself (or, I guess, himself). The mere chance of that is reason enough to do it. Which is precisely why I’m so stoked.

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