Sailing a 40-foot yacht in Mexico, cooking shellfish on a beach in Scotland, and navigating the labyrinthine streets of Seville are not part of the school curriculum for most children. But these activities, and many more, have made up the educational program for 14-year-old Tristan Lane and his 5-year-old brother Sage in the past few years. The boys’ mother, Jennifer Lane, decided to give up their settled Canadian life five years ago and sponge up learning opportunities while travelling from place to place.
On the phone from Ontario, where the trio is currently visiting family, Lane explains how difficult she found raising two boys on her own, with a life centered around their school schedule.
“I had the house, I had the RV, I had the boat, I had the cars, I had the business. And I was exhausted from working for them all the time,” she says of her former lifestyle. “I didn’t have enough time for my kids.”
Lane ventured into homeschooling after she saw her older son, a straight-A student at his public school, gradually becoming apathetic toward learning. Lane’s decision was further justified when, several years later, she came to realize that her younger son would probably not have thrived in a conventional school system.
“My youngest one, I fear, would be one of those kids that wouldn’t do well in school,” she explains. “Some personality types, they like to work more independently, they’re stubborn to do things a certain way, they have to learn on their own terms: he’s one of them.”
For Lane, following her sons’ interests is paramount. She subscribes to the “unschooling” method of education, whereby children explore their natural interests and goals without a set curriculum. The parent’s role is to provide children with the tools they need to learn through hands-on experience.
Lane remembers, for example, a period of time when her son Tristan became interested in plants. “And so I just said, ‘Okay, go study plants. Make ‘em grow, make ‘em happen.’ And he just went full-on into it.” She noted that the learning of traditional school subjects happened in the context of real-world experience. “He was studying about plants, but he was also studying science, he was also studying math.”
In the past several years, the family of three has spent time in Scotland, Spain, Canada (including several months in Vancouver), and Mexico. To make their lifestyle viable, Lane sells her art and also collects royalties from a line of skin-care products she developed as a former spa owner.
Because they move to a different location every few months, the family members have shed most of their material belongings. Lane finds the paucity of possessions especially liberating.
“Everything you own is work,” she says. “If you really look through all your belongings, you could actually sit there and calculate how much time each belonging takes to care for. And it really adds up.”
The major downside to their lifestyle, Lane says, is the constant unsolicited advice on how she should be educating her sons.
“There’s not a lot of people that do what I do, so I face a lot of people challenging me, saying maybe they should be in school,” Lane explains. “And so it’s been difficult finding a lot of support.”
She adds that, should her boys tire of their current lifestyle, she would be willing to put them back into a public school. After a pause, she remarks, “I doubt that’ll happen by the way they’re going.”
Her conviction is summed up by a photo she captured of her son Sage while in Scotland in July of last year. The mop-haired 5-year-old has his little hands on the teak wheel of a seal-watching boat. As he paws the wheel, the icy blue ocean visible behind him, his face radiates an impossibly-wide, mischief-tinged grin.
To see the photo or read more about the family, see Jennifer Lane’s website: http://wearethree.ca