The Highs and Lows of Worldschooling With Young Kids

I think I may have jinxed myself by starting this article. 

You see, I began writing it about two weeks ago, with plans to publish it fairly quickly, but unfortunately, life got in the way. 

About five days into our month-long worldschooling trip in Mexico, I started running a fever. Since I’m in charge of the kids while we’re here, I tried to just shake it off, taking ibuprofen at night and trying to get a little extra sleep. I told myself that I was just tired from all of our worldschooling adventures and from acclimating to a higher altitude. 

After a few days of fever, however, the stomach pain started—and didn’t stop. By our second week here, I could no longer sleep from the pain and I knew that it was time to get a doctor’s appointment. 

Following an hour-and-a-half examination, the doctor exclaimed cheerfully, “It’s good that you’ve already spent so much time here in Mexico. If you hadn’t built up immunity, this could have landed you in the hospital!” She wrote me a lengthy prescription for this pile of medications and sent me off to the pharmacy to fill it. 

worldschooling mexico challenges stomach virus.JPG

Little did I know that once I got home from the pharmacy, another adventure would be waiting for me. A few minutes after I got home, my older son accidentally locked our toddler in his bedroom in a game of hide-and-seek gone wrong. Without a skeleton key, we had to call a locksmith to release our panicked one-year-old, who sobbed hysterically the entire time and was barely comforted by the dark chocolate that I tried slipping him under the door. 

Clockwise from top: The Baby Liberator, our locksmith; me; the victim (with chocolate on his face); the culprit 

Clockwise from top: The Baby Liberator, our locksmith; me; the victim (with chocolate on his face); the culprit 

A week later, the baby got locked in again, but at least this time, it was his own fault. When the locksmith came, I asked if he had a “frequent flyer” card so that we could start earning points. He didn’t, of course, but he liked the joke. 

All this is to say: in case you were wondering, real life does happen on these trips. And since this isn’t our first time worldschooling with young kids, I wanted to share an honest look at the joys—and challenges—of learning abroad. For those of you who are considering worldschooling in the future, like some of the families in our Language Learning At Home Facebook group, I hope that this will help you set reasonable expectations for your trips. For the rest of you, well, may you enjoy this peek into some of the experiences that we’ve had as a traveling family—it’s been a true adventure!

Here are some of the highs we’ve experienced while worldschooling with young kids: 

  • Exploring new places with your kids. While we enjoyed visiting new places during our last trip to Mexico—while our oldest was only 1.5—this trip has been infinitely more rewarding, as we’ve gotten to hear his opinions on the new things we’re discovering. I love his innocent, wonder-filled questions, like the one he asked on our way to visit the Castle of Chapultepec: “Mommy, are we going to see real Mexican knights?” Together, we’ve marveled at ajolotes at the Papalote Children’s Museum, learned how the Aztecs built Mexico City on top of an enormous lake system, and danced salsa with a crew of senior citizens in Coyoacán (sorry for the terrible video quality, but I hope it's still cute).
  • Exploring old places with your kids. One of the reasons that we wanted to return to Mexico City was to re-connect with old friends and places, so we’ve dedicated a good amount of time to that. As we’ve visited with these friends—largely fellow members of our church here—I have been so grateful for their willingness to make (lots of) time in their schedules for us. The first weekend we were here, we spent 6 hours celebrating our the birthday of our friends’ two-year-old (and we were the first to leave the party) and the next weekend, we joined them again for a leisurely 4-hour dinner. Would this have happened back in the US, or would we have been too overscheduled to have enjoyed so much time with friends? Thanks to our visit here, I’m definitely rethinking how we do fellowship with those who we love in America. 
  • Trying new foods with your kids. Despite my history of stomach viruses, I’m a big fan of Mexico City’s street food culture—and it’s been really fun teaching my kids to appreciate it as well. Although Xavi is a little picky and still eats mostly quesadillas, he’s also learned to appreciate gorditas—thick tortillas that are fried, split in two, stuffed with pulled pork, cheese, and mashed potatoes, then put back and topped with as much salsa, sour cream, cilantro and lime juice as you can want. Xavi declared them, “The best thing I’ve ever eated in my life!” Both of the kids love anything flavored with tamarind, which is very popular here, although they have yet to embrace the spicy-sweet Mexican candies that are ubiquitous. 
  • Meeting new people with your kids. Especially here in child-friendly Mexico, kids are a wonderful icebreaker, and I’m lucky to have has a chance to talk with with new acquaintances here—from Uber drivers to fellow parents at the park—thanks to my children’s enthusiastic self-introductions.  

And here are some of the lows:

  • Medical emergencies while abroad. Unfortunately, the fact is that if you worldschool for long enough, you’ll likely have to deal with a  medical situation while abroad. We learned this during our first worldschooling trip, when—the very day we arrived—I had a serious medical emergency. For the first two weeks of our three-month stay here, I had to make almost daily trips to the hospital for check-ups—trips which took between 45 minutes and 2 hours (each way) in city traffic. Since I wasn’t well enough to go alone, my husband and toddler had to accompany me, which meant entertaining a toddler in up to 4 hours of traffic and while at the hospital. Suffice it to say, it was a very challenging experience, and in comparison, my stomach virus this time around has been a breeze. 
  • Scheduling difficulties. If you’re traveling in a country that has a significantly different approach to time or daily routines, expect to struggle a bit with adjusting to your new schedule. Mexicans tend to keep a later schedule than Americans, and that’s been a bit of a challenge for us. Our kids go to sleep (and wake up) very early by Mexican standards and their eating schedule is totally different from the norm here. We’ve made some strategic decisions to skip naps or delay bedtime when it was really necessary—mostly to spend time with friends—but every few days, we have to plan a quiet day so that our kids can catch up on sleep. It’s a delicate balance, but we’re trying to meet everyone’s physical needs as best we can, while still enjoying the more relaxed culture here. 
  • Entertaining young children in a potentially un-baby friendly space. Although we know how to look for a family-friendly rental, each time we have traveled, we have had to do some minor “renovations” to make our Airbnb apartments baby-friendly spaces. Both of the apartments that we’ve rented while worldschooling in Mexico have been beautifully decorated with antiques—aka highly breakable, expensive objects that should be hidden from toddlers at all costs. Our current fifth-floor apartment has windows that do not lock or have any sort of safety mechanism; therefore, I have tied them shut with heavy string. And you already know about the baby’s penchant for locking himself in the bedrooms—I baby-proofed them just this afternoon with tissues and packing tape. So if you’re planning a worldschooling trip with young kids, expect to have to make some creative (temporary) alterations to your space. Also, without toys or sufficient space to run around, young children (at least mine!) tend to bore easily, so we all need a solid game plan and extra patience to make it through each day. 
  • Transportation challenges. When we were worldschooling with only one child, transporatation in Mexico City was challenging, but still a great adventure. We used the Metro a lot, and our extremely güero (white) child charmed all of the passengers by insisting upon hugging them or even sitting in their laps. Now that my husband is working while we’re here, and I’m responsible for two kids by myself, transportation is mostly just a pain in the neck. We haven’t ridden the Metro or the bus once, so we either walk or Uber everywhere that we need to go—and although that may sound more convenient, I would trade the Metro for an Uber ride with an unrestrained toddler any day. If I could manage the hundreds of Metro stairs (no elevators!) with two kids and a stroller, that would surely be my main mode of transportation. 
  • Homesickness or feeling out-of-place. I’m not going to lie that I am seriously missing my dishwasher and coffee maker right now, but I know that these are just creature comforts and not a big deal in the scheme of things. When homesickness—which is not really homesickness, but rather a consciousness of my own outsider status—tends to hit is when I can’t figure out everyday things. The other day I went to an enormous (and gorgeous) bakery to pick up a cake for a party. It had five different counters, and I was supremely confused about where to order and where to pay. I ended up standing dumbly in the middle of the store for a while, until I could figure out what the other customers were doing. Buying bread should be easy, of course, but it wasn’t immediately intuitive to me—and that was a reminder that I’m not exactly at home here. Instances like this have given me an enormous amount of respect for people who emigrate to new countries and have to re-learn everything from basic greetings to how to check out properly at the supermarket. To say that it's a challenge to adjust to these changes is a great understatement. 

If you've worldschooled with young children before, did you encounter any unexpected challenges or joys?