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You are here: Home > Online Articles > Taking a Year



Taking a Year

By Nicole Schmidt


Taking a Year
Nicole Schmidt and her husband will spend the coming year camping throughout southern Africa with their two sons (photo: Schmidt).

“I am the only one in Year 6 who has to take a whole year off to travel,” Simon proclaimed in the righteous tone he reserves for his parents. I could not help but smile on the inside because the last time he had been so dramatic about being the only one was when he emphatically stated that he was the only one in Year 6 without an iPhone. This was an improvement.

Yes, it’s true. Simon is the only student in Year 6 who has to take a whole year off to travel. As parents, we are working to shift the language and thought process around this family choice and we now refer to it as our year on. So, yes, we are taking a year on.

People’s reactions vary widely when they find out that my husband and I have both resigned from our jobs at the Luanda International School and plan to load up our 2007 Land Cruiser with two tents and two boys. We will camp our way through southern and eastern Africa. Colleagues from the corporate world are envious and cannot even imagine having this choice. Some friends refrain from passing judgement with words but their faces reveal the truth. However, there is one common question on everyone’s mind: what are you going to do about school?

As a secondary principal, I confidently respond that children don’t really need to go to school. It has been such fun watching and hearing people’s reactions to that. I then, of course, appease them by explaining that our lifestyle and the experiences that we plan to have are that authentic context we talk so much about as educators. I remind them that exploring the natural world is the inquiry we need to help us understand connectedness. What could be more amazing than travelling with their father, whose passion for natural history and deep understanding of our connectedness to the environment is a gift? Seeing the world through different lenses and asking questions with concepts and big ideas in mind means we are living the action component of the curriculum to which educators often refer.

I remind those who wonder why we are doing this that planning a 10-month trip on a budget is a real-life case study. I tell them that using maps, articles, guidebooks, and making choices about where to go and why are the very skills one needs in life. Planning meals, food shopping, cooking on the fire and setting up camp are life skills that are not often explicitly taught in schools. Being able to explore our environment, make observations, interpret what we see, and draw conclusions is better than being in a science lab. Given the state of the world, having endless hours to read, listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and discuss global issues is actually an efficient use of time.

I asked our sons and my husband what the rationale was for taking the year on. Interestingly enough, we are all coming at it from different angles. To slow down and simply be, one told me. To be focused on the present without worrying about solving the next crisis at work, said another. To be able to connect as a family unit and build lasting memories. To be able to see all the National Parks in South Africa. To see new places and meet new people. To learn about things that other kids in school don’t get to learn about. To see a lemur. To learn to drive a 4x4. To see some new birds, dragonflies, and butterflies. To become a better photographer. To learn to make movies. To perfect making a birthday cake on a fire.
We also have some very different fears. Will we all be able to get along for that length of time, one worried? Will the lions enter the camp at night? Will I get lonely and miss my friends? What other kids will I be able to meet? Will I be able to turn off my brain and not work? Will grandma be able to call me?

We’re now planning how we’ll document our adventure and negotiating how we’ll limit our use of technology. After all, one of our goals is to connect with each other. Another goal is to connect with our family and friends to share our adventures. We’ll figure it out.
I know that this is the best decision I have made as an educator and a mother. I look forward to the unknown, to the challenges, and to the amazing adventure we’ll share. I will smile the day both Henry and Simon say, “Yes! We were the only ones who had to take a year on, and lucky for us!”

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:

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10/17/2019 - Ellen Johnston
A follow-up article on what came about from the Schmidt family year on?
08/29/2018 - Stephanie
That's fantastic. So exciting. It will be an adventure adn a wonderful experience for your whole family.
Be safe and enjoy :)

06/05/2018 - Gerard
Sounds incredible! And very similar to the kind of education Elon Musk said he wanted for his own children.
05/27/2018 - Teresa Araujo
Nicole Schmidt what a great article! What a great principal you were! What a great role model for all mothers and teachers!

Always surprising me! Never stop learning from you! You are one of the most courageous woman I meet. Congratulations for being outgoing, outstanding and different! Wish you amazing adventures as an individual and as a family!
05/27/2018 - Mudther
How brave, and, I hope how wise, to follow a dream as we all wish we had chosen to do. All joy and fulfillment my darlings. XX
05/26/2018 - Sue
Wonderful! What a year of learning it will be! I salute you and your very important decision both as educators and parents! Well done!
05/26/2018 - Lau
What fun! I fall into the envious category!

Looking forward to the updates.

Live, laugh, learn & love.

The Coulson Clan

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