These two families have been learning U.S. history firsthand — by driving their classroom right up to the story. In this episode, we talk about roadschooling with Kay Akpan, The MOM Trotter, and Robyn Robledo, Co-founder of Nomads with a Purpose.
Is a physical classroom always the best option for your student? Most of us got a taste of at-home learning over the pandemic, for better or for worse. While many turned to online learning, others took a totally different approach. For some, taking their students on the road was a more creative and attractive option.
On this episode, we talk roadschooling with Kay Akpan and Robyn Robledo, who’ve been “RV schooling” with their families since before the pandemic.
The Roadschooling Trend
At the very beginning of the pandemic, the idea of roadschooling — that is, jumping in an RV to travel the country and do schooling along the way — started to make headlines as so many people were forced into a remote lifestyle.
For some, however, roadschooling was a decision made well before any social distancing restrictions were put in place.
Driving into Spontaneity, with Kay Akpan
Before her son was born, Kay Akpan, The MOM Trotter, didn’t really take the time to travel much. But that all changed when she realized how much she wanted her son to see what the world had to offer. Making that promise, Kay and her son set out on their adventure.
But what exactly does the schooling part of roadschooling look like? Is it a structured time in the day where a student sits down and mimics what a regular classroom environment would look like?
For Kay and her son, learning happens all day long. Anything you’re doing can be a teachable moment, for children and adults alike. The idea of having structured learning time just didn’t make sense. So instead, she’d head to a new state, stay there for a week or two, and truly explore, getting to know the environment at a slower pace to take everything in with her child.
Kay shares the biggest benefits of roadschooling for her family:
- Visual aids: Students are able to visit Mount Rushmore, and truly take it in — rather than just reading about it. This gives a whole new perspective to the teaching.
- Spontaneity: Instead of adhering to a rigid schedule, teaching can become whatever presents itself to students that day — such as encountering a turtle and then spending the afternoon learning all about them.
- Social education: Because you’re moving around, students gets to interact with many different people from all walks of life.
Advice for Families
For those families considering roadschooling, there’s one thing Kay would like them to think about: Changing their mindset. You might look out at your child playing with a rock and think nothing of it. When really, they could be weighing the rock or figuring out what type it is. Be flexible, ask questions, and let their curiosity lead.
While you’re traveling, you may start to feel guilty if you can’t keep to a schedule in the same way you could if the student was in a classroom. That’s okay! Just allow them to find their interests and ignite that passion for them however you can.
Problem Solving Every Day, with Robyn Robledo
For Robyn Robledo, Co-founder of Nomads with a Purpose, traditional schooling just didn’t make sense for her family. Plus, looking at how exhausting it was to keep up with the expenses of Southern California, she was looking for a change.
After taking a few initial trips, Robyn, her husband, and their daughter took to the roadschooling lifestyle. But then they decided to take it one step further.
Campground or a Nice Meal Out?
Robyn realized quickly their trip to Europe was too busy for them to keep up with any sort of coursework. Instead, she had her daughter learn to use a budget — keeping to different guidelines with every country that they visited.
“Along the way I said, ‘If you have 155 euros, you get to pick: Do we get a campground or do we eat out or do we buy a really nice meal tonight?’ We lived problem solving day by day,” Robyn says.
Adapting to Interests and Passions
Different from Kay, Robyn had a home base in San Diego for a few years during the winter, which is where the more traditional learning took place. But when they were on the road, most of the same rules applied:
Their daughter would always be learning something of their choosing on the road — anything from an instrument to surfing. As long as she was pursuing her passion constructively, Robyn was satisfied.
The biggest benefits of Roadschooling for Robyn and her family included:
- Adapting to interests and passions: Each student is a little different. Getting to experience the places and things that interest them can give you a new perspective as a parent.
- Self perpetuating education: The more the student experiences, the more that they want to learn.
- Limiting social media: Having such a unique and custom environment allows the parent to tailor it without so much outside stimulus.
Advice for Families
While there are many benefits to roadschooling, it does come with its downsides. One example is there is less chance for student interaction with other people their age. To combat this, Robyn suggests an emphasis on fun.
This could be making sure you’re leading the way when it comes to hiking, skiing, and more activities to keep your student engaged. Or, if your student needs more intellectual stimulation, ask more questions of them. It’s all about meeting your student where they are and challenging them to be the best version of themselves.
This episode was brought to you by Art of Problem Solving, where students train to become the great problem solvers of tomorrow.
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Kay Akpan Q&A [1:44]
Eric Olsen: on this episode, I was fortunate enough to talk to two families, living road schooling lifestyles. This is Kay Akpan, the MOM Trotter.
Talk about some of the biggest benefits of road schooling that you've experienced. I really loved your example of you're able to learn US history firsthand driving your classroom right up to the story. What else do you love about it?
Kay Akpan: Like you said, that first one for me was the biggest one, because we went to Mount Rushmore and you read about in books, and my son walks up to it and can see it in person and how big and we've read about it and he writes a report about it. So that's really major for me. Another one, again, is just learning as you go. This continuity of it. Like I said, I don't like to say, "Hey, you've got to learn this specific thing today."
The other day, something really cool happened. We're driving on the highway in Florida. And we saw a turtle crossing. So we parked, got out, learned about the turtle, helped it cross, make sure it was going the right direction, learned that if you move it the other way, it will turn around and cross back where it's going. Those are things that I didn't even know, I was learning too. So the fact that you can just stop and see something interesting and make that out of a whole lesson and even turned that hour lesson into a weekly lesson, depending on how much interest your kid shows, for me, that's one of the best things.
Eric Olsen: I love that concept of being able to drive into spontaneity. How much of, I'll use the word curriculum, but how much of it is pre-planned versus we're going to explore the world as it comes? And how much of it is structured versus impromptu?
Kay Akpan: Hardly any of it is pre-planned. Everything is just as we go. If my son wakes up this morning and he's showing an interest in snakes, "Hey, that's what we're going to do for the week." There was a time when he showed an interest in volcanoes and we went to Hawaii, and we went to, I kid you not. I know, I am like, when I said I will show you a picture of the world.
I really promised that I would. He said, "Mom, I love volcanoes." And he was always talking about was volcanoes every day, morning, after I was like, "Oh my God, I'm tired hearing about volcanoes. I'm just going to take you to go see one." So we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He did the whole lesson, it was amazing. He learned so much. So for him to actually talk about volcanoes and lava rocks and to pick up a lava rock and look at it. Mind blowing. Yeah.
Eric Olsen: I can imagine him coming home from the library with a book on Antarctica and you'd be like, "Oh no, no, nope." Just grab it from him, hide it.
Kay Akpan: How did you know? You said that like you knew. He was just talking about that. And I'm like, "Aiden's, that's a little, not a little, but that is a very expensive trip. Maybe when you get older, you could take me there." That's what I told them.
What was your initial draw to the Roadschooling lifestyle? [4:53]
Eric Olsen: What do you think drew you to road schooling in the first place
Kay Akpan: Sure. So growing up in an African home, you don't always get to decide what you want to do or what you want to study in college. Your parents basically decided that for you. And I grew up, my mom was a principal, so everything, I never missed the day of school, it was perfect. And it's perfect everything, perfect grades, there's no room for anything. I graduated high school at 16. I started college when I was 16.
So it was a lot of pressure. So I literally just went 360 and said, "I'm going to do the complete opposite." I'm going to home school. I'm going to unschool, I'm going to road school. I'm just going to let my son learn what he wants to, and I'm going to encourage him. And I'm going to push him along the way because for me, that's like the most important thing. I want him to be happy. I want him to enjoy what he's doing. I want him to say, "Hey, I did this because I decided to not because I need to please my parents or anything like that."
Eric Olsen: And in 20 years I'll be interviewing your son in an episode. It's like, "I grew up on the road. Now. I just want my kids to have this brick and mortar traditional school experience."
Kay Akpan: You know what, that's so crazy. I was just talking to somebody about that earlier, because your point of view as a parent is so different from your child's point of view. Because I could be sitting here saying, "Hey, he was on the road and he was learning and this." And then he grows up and he's like, "Oh man, I didn't really like, oh that's good." So you do the best that you can as a parent, to be honest. And I always say, you have to do what's best for your child. If you say that your child is thriving in a certain environment, then encourage it. Like I say, if he shows interest in school, then "Hey, why not?" But he said, "Mom, I don't want to go to school. I love homeschooling. I love learning on the road." So we're going to keep doing that.
Robyn Robledo Q&A [6:28]
Robyn Robledo: The rat race just did not make sense to me. I would sit down with my husband and go, I just don't understand. We have to make this much money. We are self-employed. We have to make X amount of money to cover our business expenses and then X amount of money to cover where we live and food costs this much. And we were in Southern California and I'm like, "Victor, we have to make about $8,000 before we're even feeding our family," because the rents were so much. And I also had been camping a lot more and I said, "Why don't we just start with a couple long road trips and just see if we like it. We could save money and not pay for our mortgage or our rent for a couple months." And then my husband saw I was so happy and we just kept going.
What are the social disadvantages, if any, to Roadschooling? [7:12]
Eric Olsen: This is Robyn Robledo, co-founder of Nomads with a Purpose. What are some of the downsides, things about road schooling that surprised you negatively? For instance, how do you handle the nomadic nature of the lifestyle in terms of, I would assume, potentially shorter term friendships for your kids that they have to manage?
Robyn Robledo: Absolutely. It depends where you're at. So going abroad, you really don't have like-minded kid or even aged kids to interact with. My big advice to parents, if they choose to do this is you have to step up your fun factor and not to the sense of like, "Oh, let me buy you ice cream." But you have to be... My kids I didn't feel like had lack in that part. Yes, in fact, my daughter who's 21, just did a Ted talk on this. You still have to maintain being the parent and the disciplinarian, but you also have to be relatable to your kids. And for me, my kids they're like, "Oh, my mom always wants to do something fun." She's always like, "Hey let's..." I'm always dragging them out of bed like, "Hey, let's go hike. This let's go here."
I have a willingness to push. So I was, I was always the fun and they're, and it was more like, "Hey, if you don't want to come skiing with me, that's cool, but I'm going skiing." Not many kids sit back. I did have one kid who sat back, but they don't, so parents... I did, still do. Parents have to provide and if you are not that fun person, as far as activities, then you maybe intellectually you become that stimulus for them. You pose more of like a Socratic school where you're posing more questions and you really have to put yourself empathetically in your kid's shoes and say like, "How are you doing? What do you expect? Do you enjoy this? How can I make it?" I never took my kids out of that equation. Even from budgeting to where we went go, "Hey, what would make you happy? Maybe we could be a team and do this together," that's worked.
If I cued my husband right now and had him come on, he would tell you the hardest part is he does not handle change well, kids are resilient. It took him, well we're seven years in and he's thinks that he's almost figured this out. He's like "I'm getting close." And we have a home base that we come back to now. But it was just for a while. We're actually moving out of it again. And he's like, "I got it, the seven years in. I got it this time, I'm not scared." But just if you have any trauma in your life and sometimes those, it's that feeling of unpredictability to some is exciting and to some is not so exciting.
Download AoPS’ Raising Problem Solvers Guidebook [12:15]
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Robyn Robledo Rapid Fire [10:42]
Eric Olsen: It's now time for our rapid fire segment called Problem Solved where we ask the guest to solve incredibly complex and difficult education issues in single soundbites. Robyn, what's one thing about K-12 education you wish you could snap your fingers and problem solved, it's fixed?
Robyn Robledo: Study less. I was the overachiever in school. I did everything right. That's why we live the way we do because I was like straight a student, full scholarship. I opened a business at 20 years old. I did all these things and then I had kids and I go, "Wait a second. This is the meaning of life to me." Enjoying my family, enjoying my kids. I would've said like, "Worry less about school." I can obviously in hindsight, it's 2020 and you always appreciate your past and go, "Well, it got me to who I am today." But I would definitely have worried less and just enjoyed the moments more.
Eric Olsen: What part of education do you think or hope looks the most different 10 years from now?
Robyn Robledo: It's kind of the same as the first one in that I really do hope that we get to have more individual, however, even more so creativity based. And I do think that's coming in with how much AI is coming into the workforce. I think we're in a really pivotal transitional period, in that 10 years from now we're not going to have the same jobs that we see today. Which means there's going to be this space for creativity driven jobs. And so if we can teach kids how to... Creativity is a reflection of your individual self-worth and we are missing that in the school system. Kids are taught to be all the same or this cog mentality. And so if we can really hone in on, we want bright kids, we want kids that are thinkers, problem solvers, but we also want kids who are proud of themselves at who they are and not just what they achieve.
So if we can really tap into a child's... Part of my journey was that, yes, I was the overachiever. School was so good, but my mom only just said, "Oh, I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of you." And I always felt like, "You don't even know me, like stop being proud of me, just get to know me." And I think that's something that gets overlooked. If you have a really intelligent kid, while you want to give them affirmation for that, you don't want that to become their whole identity because they then grow up to be successful adults who feel like something's missing. And that's where we see these, all the stories of, "Oh, I was the CEO and I decided to get a backpack and go to Thailand." We have to nurture both parts of the human development and intelligence is important, but it's not the only part of what makes the human experience so beautiful.
Eric Olsen: And finally, what's your best advice for parents looking to raise future problem solvers?
Robyn Robledo: Hug your kids more, just hug, really love... We are in a love deficit. So all of this stuff is great. All the creativity, the road schooling, but I think kids, they need affection. And it's really easy, just like I was talking about in the last question, to be about the intelligence and the validation and the external experience of the world. And I know for my kids, we just overly, we gave them so much affection, not so much like praise, like "You're so good. You're so good." It's just knowing, that's the beautiful thing about road schooling is you spend more time cuddled up on a couch, reading a book together. Or even if you're watching movies together, there's this sense of togetherness that kids really crave in the end. They're going to remember how present you were and not necessarily the grade they got on the next test.
The flip side, we have a whole lot of kids, probably not here listening to this podcast. We have a lot of kids that aren't being challenged enough intellectually. So it's awesome that parents are still pursuing that because I'm very much... If you had my kids on and they said, what's, you asked them, "What's to the adjective or the value your mom wants in you guys the most?" All of them will say capability because it's such an important thing to me. My kids have to be capable, but I can't, but at the same time I codded it myself that I couldn't just be so much about capability in the external world that I had to sit there and just like, "You guys want to hug?" Luckily I had a kid that was extra huggy and I realized like, "Oh wow. If I just hug you a lot, you behave much better."
Eric Olsen: And listeners, we'd love to hear your answers as well. So email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your best advice for raising future problem solvers. And we'll read our favorites on future episodes.
Robyn, thanks so much for joining us today.
Robyn Robledo: Oh, thank you for having me, Eric. That was fun.
Episode Summary & Conclusion [15:38]
Eric Olsen: All right. So I'm pulling up scottscheapflights (dot) com right now and Italy doesn't look all too bad right now. Or maybe I could fix up an old school bus and hit up all the national parks this summer. I saw someone do that on TikTok who could probably figure that out. Anyway, I love that these parents are doing what's right for their families. I'm always challenged and excited at seeing other parents choose boldly and live differently. There's so much about road schooling that makes sense for the right kind of student and the right kind of family. And I loved getting a chance to learn more about it today. I hope you did too. And may you continue your journey alongside us raising the great problem solvers of the next generation. See you next week.