We had a family meeting the other night where we broke the news to our kids that we’ll be homeschooling them through the summer. They were unimpressed, even after I pointed out that since nothing is open around here, there’d be nothing to do. It’s all but impossible to find a private cottage to rent for July or August. What’s the point, I asked, of sitting around the house doing nothing all summer? This way we can homeschool through July and August and then, when the “vacation” is over and things are more normal, we can rent a cottage or travel or something.
I don’t blame them for feeling disappointed; last summer was epic — and I never blogged about it, did I? Let’s rectify that.
You know that I’ve always had a homeschooling fantasy, long before COVID made me a homeschooler. Mr. December and I had been tossing around the idea of taking a big family trip and homeschooling along the way. If you have a sense of Mr. December’s personality, you won’t be surprised that he insisted we do a trial trip first. So it was that I found myself planning a two-week road trip.
The kids wanted to see New York City (because there’s an m&ms store there, that’s why,) so we ended up doing a circuit from Toronto through Corning to NYC, detouring inland through Kerhonkson, NY, and then hitting Boston and Montreal before heading back home. Here’s our route map:
Planning is something I do very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed prepping for this trip. The itinerary had to be planned, of course, but there was also a lot of logistical planning to be done.
We decided early on that we would all stay together in one hotel room whenever possible. The super-helpful lady at Mariott reservations assured me that since we’re a family with four fairly young kids, nobody would bat an eyelash if we brought sleeping bags for a couple of kids to sleep on the floor. I spent over an hour on the phone with this young woman as she checked the square footage of every room before we booked.
We bought a “toddler cot” for E and a self-inflating camp mattress for K; both of those items, as well as all the bedding, could fit inside a single medium-sized suitcase.
Next, our packing strategy. Since the trip necessitated spending no more than three nights in any one place, we didn’t want to be burdened with too much luggage. We decided to pack only about four days’ worth of clothes and do laundry as we went (most of the places we stayed had coin laundry machines.) Clothing for all six of us fit into a second medium-sized suitcase.
Of course, when you’re planning to go hiking, horseback riding, swimming in lakes, and exploring cities all in the same trip, no one pair of shoes is right for all activities. Since our car would be with us for the whole trip, I reasoned that we could store bulkier things like shoes, beach towels, and rain gear in the car. We stowed them in three huge plastic bins that, when piled neatly, created a nice little side table for whoever would be sitting in the back row.
If we wanted the kids to do some academic work (and we did) we’d have to bring some school supplies with us. I used an old plastic file box that had a snap-on lid with a handle. Each child had their own hanging file folder that held their workbooks. The file box also had enough room for a well-stocked pencil box and our charging station.
The kids had a strict limit of “whatever you can fit in a small (read: tiny) backpack, plus one stuffie and maybe a pillow.” They were responsible for their own personal items, and I’m proud to say that the only thing left behind was a single water bottle.
We determined the setup for our minivan: the two adults up front, three younger kids across the middle, and K in the back. She wasn’t keen on that arrangement until we said, “You’ll have your very own kingdom with nobody bothering you!” That got her on board.
You know I’ll work a DIY crafty project into anything if I can, right? This time I managed two:
I bought four plastic clipboards with room for stuff inside. On the front side I put a blank piece of paper and laminated it to the clipboard with clear adhesive book cover. Voilà: a dry-erase marker board for doodling. To the back I laminated a copy of the route map I posted above, so the kids could follow our progress. Everyone got a pencil case with pencils, dry-erase markers, and washable markers; I stocked the inside of each clipboard with blank paper.
Family trip t-shirts
I’ve always felt that matching t-shirts would be helpful when we’re out and about as a family; this was my chance to make it happen. I designed two different shirts and used printer-compatible iron-on transfers to apply them to the shirts. To the kids’ chagrin, we made them wear these shirts anytime we were going to be somewhere with crowds. When we lost N at the Boston Children’s Museum and they asked us, “What is he wearing?” we simply pointed to our shirts and said, “This, but smaller.” He was found very quickly.
And so, with our belongings packed and our car fully stocked with water and snacks, we pulled out of our driveway and started our adventure.