Quitting school to travel the world
Growing numbers of families are heading off on ‘edventures’ – travel adventures that include home schooling. Caspar Craven has not only done it, he’s written a book about it. He talks to Kate Hilpern.
Without a shadow of doubt, says Caspar Craven, the best thing about taking his kids out of school to travel for two years was ‘spending 24/7 with my wife and three kids.’ And the most challenging thing? ‘Spending 24/7 with my wife and three kids,’ he laughs.
Caspar, a 45-year-old entrepreneur and keynote speaker, is one of a growing breed of families taking ‘edventures’ – long-term trips where children learn on the road, or in his case, at sea. Driven by a desire to spend more time with their children and discover new cultures and experiences – as well as to escape the pressures of work and the straightjacket of the British education system – families like the Cravens are increasingly taking the plunge. Going against all the governmental advice and the concerns of family and friends, these families ‘world-school’ for as long as it suits them (or until their money runs out).
‘On weekdays, I used to see the kids for half-an-hour at best and now I realise I didn’t really know them as people,’ says Caspar. ‘Increasingly, I questioned the point in even having kids if you’re not around enough to help pass on your values and to have quality time with them. My wife Nichola felt the same, so we started hatching our big travel plan.’
Five years later in 2014, Caspar, his wife and their 9, 7 and 2 year-old children left Southampton for a trip of a lifetime, incorporating 84 harbours, 26 countries and 35,000 miles. ‘People often ask why we took so long to plan it, but at the time of making our decision, we didn’t have the money and we hadn’t thought through the logistics – we didn’t even have a boat and my wife didn’t know how to sail,’ he laughs.
For many families – the Cravens included – home-schooling isn’t just a consequence of the trip, but one of the attractions. ‘Not that home-schooling was as easy as I thought - in fact, I have a newfound respect for anyone in the teaching profession,’ says Caspar, who recalls loading up the boat with seemingly endless books covering the national curriculum. ‘For the most part, though, we didn’t use them. I remember one time when I was teaching our son Columbus about the Tudors, and kings and queens of England, and I just couldn’t get him interested. In the end, I leaned over towards him and said, “What are you really interested in?” Fishing was the answer, so we tossed the Tudor books aside and taught him all about fishing instead – the types of fish, their habitats, how to catch them, dissect them and even sell them. It’s an approach we carried on taking and the children and us started to see education in a whole new light – as fun and inspiring.’
As for the nuts of bolts of education - the reading, writing and maths - it was covered every morning by either Craven or his wife, whichever one wasn’t busy with other things like fixing up the boat. ‘Some days, we did more, other days we did less. And sometimes, we got others involved like Pete, a man we got to know on our travels who had been an admiral in the American navy and who wound up teaching the kids all about angles.’
That was one of the great things about the trip, says Caspar – ‘all these people with remarkable talents sharing them with the kids in unusual circumstances.’ ‘One guy we sailed with turned out to be a fountain of knowledge about snakes and spiders; another young woman was an excellent mathematician and brilliant scientist. I have a lovely memory of sailing across the Indian ocean when our eldest daughter, Bluebell, was our chief radio operator and this woman was teaching her all her prime numbers up to 100 over the long range radio.’
But, warned friends, the children would surely suffer from being unable catch up what they’d missed in school. In fact, says Caspar, they returned with knowledge of the natural world, animals and plants far ahead of their peers. ‘And more than that, their confidence blossomed. Willow, our four-year-old, will sit down and chat with any adult. I remember one time, she called one of the skippers off the marina that we know and asked if he wanted to come on board for a drink. She got him a beer and herself a lemonade and they just chatted for half-an-hour,’ says Caspar.
The children’s resilience is second-to-none as a result of the trip, he adds. ‘We sailed through some treacherous conditions on our quest to find paradise islands. And we faced unpredictable emergencies, including a child’s head wound and power failure in the Pacific. But we tackled them all, building on each experience and growing both as a family and as individuals.’
While others blog about their edventuring, Caspar has written a book, Where the Magic Happens, published this year by Bloomsbury. Besides going behind the scenes of the Craven’s adventure, it offers advice on how others can follow in their footsteps. ‘I didn’t just want to share our story, I wanted to help others do the same,’ says Caspar. Advice ranges from involving the kids in decision-making from really early on to the importance of incorporating routine when you’re on your travels – ‘routine really matters to kids, even more so when they’re out of their comfort zone.’
In the end, edventuring all boils down to putting family first, says Caspar – ‘and what can be more important than that? There are so many people who focus on their career and where they want to get to in the world of work. But actually, when you read all the surveys of people dying, the one thing they say is that they wish they’d spent more time with their family. We can’t get enough of it now – we’re off on the boat most school holidays. As a family, we’ve never been closer than we are since our big trip and that’s our opportunity to return to that magical time.’
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