Friday, 8 April 2016

Homeschooling Without a Car

Homeschooling Without a Car - Picture of a tree
"Well, you're going to have to buy a car."

It's the first thing almost everyone says to us when we come upon one of those life transitions: 
  • When I was pregnant with C (public transport with a baby?); 
  • When I was pregnant with J (public transport with a baby and a toddler?!);
  •  When C was diagnosed with mobility issues (walking and public transport when your son needs walking therapy!?!); 
  • Again when C was identified as gifted (all those extension programs, you're going to need a car!); 
  • When we began homeschooling (how will you get to all the activities?).

The thing is, even though a car would be useful in some situations (and for those rare occasions, we have extremely understanding friends, Uber, taxis and rental cars), we have gone to a lot of trouble to organize our life around not needing a car. (In fact, our usage is so infrequent, even when we're trying, that it's not even worth us signing up for the local car-sharing network).

It's not that owning a car is a bad thing - it's just not something that rates very high on our list of must-haves.

We catch trams, trains or buses to go to different beaches . . . 

Of course, there are compromises that need to be made in order to be car free. One of those is living in an area with very good public transport. Which means expensive. Which means we chose to live in (by Australian standards) a smaller apartment, rather than a free standing house. The thing is, the longer we live in our little home, the more we enjoy it (and the better we are at organizing our space so that it all works). 

Some of the things that are great about it are:
  • Being able to easily get to the inner city.
  • Not having to ever worry about parking. Public transport is usually slower, but once you're there, you're there. There's no driving around for 10-30 mins trying to find a car park.
  • Getting exercise. I'm not a natural at exercising - I quickly get bored with almost all organised sports, and the idea of pointlessly walking / running / cycling with no end goal in mind except the act of exercising pales quickly. But as we have to walk to get to public transport, and after a day out and about (which we do many times a week), we have easily done 3-5 kms of walking. This has had the added benefit of helping C to practice walking - he's got the gait of a marathon walker now, and he's fast. Something that he might not have ever learned how to do if he didn't have to practice so darn much (hello Dyspraxia!). 
  • We get to observe the world at a slower pace - the kids' walking pace (well, J's walking pace, though we still haul the pram around for when she's tired), so there are many things that we get to observe that we would never have noticed (like birds nests in trees, or possums crawling along the electricity wires) if we drove by in a car.  
  • Our kids get used to using public transport and walking and navigating their local area. When he was little, C loved studying Google maps and using it to get to know the local area using street-view. He'd also help us out by finding out what our destination would look like. Now both kids are very confident on how to use trains, trams and buses, including how to use the ticketing system. 
  • We're a lot more social - you can't catch a train with an inquisitive preschooler and a talkative  primary schooler without also ending up engaged in conversations with other travelers. And yes, the fact that we homeschool usually comes up, and C has handled these questions so often, he is now able to confidently answer almost any question thrown at him (though we had to talk him through what to answer when they would ask what 'grade' he was in - a question that doesn't really make sense in a homeschool-setting, and would just leave him confused. If you're wondering, we told him to just state his age, which is usually all they wanted to know anyway).
Being near so many great facilities is fabulous for homeschooling

Of course, there are downsides:
  • We can't do every cool thing. It's easier to go to events that are on the public transport routes, rather than far away from them. So we generally don't get to go to the homeschool events in the more outer-suburban or rural areas. 
  • When someone's sick, it can be hard to get to the doctor (but that's why we use the local home-call doctor service). 
  • Sometimes it's hard to haul all our books home from the many local libraries - but that's when we call in 'the Daddy' to help us get them all home (We generally end up at the library in the late afternoon. Neither of my kids are early risers . . . and neither am I! ). 
  • Getting things home from the hardware store - we're relentless DIY-ers,  so we're often hauling large, weird things home on trains (though honestly, for the really big stuff there's always home delivery. It's quite amazing how many places will home deliver, and for the smaller shops, often for free as well.) 
  • I'm struggling to come up with another downside. I really am. I really, really love not having a car.
The inner-city gardens are a regular excursion

Strangely, as each life change has happened, I have found the fear of how hard it would be far exceeded its actual difficulty. More often than not, there was always another way to do it without using a car, and that is still the case now that we are homeschooling. And the benefits, particularly the exercise and interacting with people in the local community, and wider community, for us, far outweigh the positives of car ownership. It's a choice, but it's not as impossible as it might look from the outside.

5 comments:

  1. I love that you struggled to find another downside!

    It's so satisfying to find creative ways to live according to our values, isn't it? I'm with you on finding exercise for its own sake boring. When I'm at the gym I use the cross-trainer because it's the one machine I can rest my phone on to read or do my Anki flashcards. And I gave in to my daughter's begging for a dog a few years ago because I knew it would get all of us outside and walking.
    I can imagine a few people in the US reading this and wondering how anyone can possibly survive without a car. We're lucky here in the UK to have great public transport too.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Lucinda! I'm always a little envious of the public transport in the UK. (My son had an obsession with the London underground a few years ago - hence his pseudonym, C for Canary aka Canary Wharf.) And <3 on exercise being tough when the mind doesn't stop.

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  2. I could totally do no car. We are a 1 car (truck) family. Where my husband takes the truck to work every day and we manage just fine without it. Groceries, library, church, parks, doctors. All easily within walking distance.

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    1. Thank you for commenting Agape! I love the idea of everything being in walking distance - something we haven't quite managed (and everything being in walking distance is more dream than reality in Melbourne). But it sounds awesome.

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  3. I am car-free in Boston. I gave up my car when my youngest (twins) were 4 years old. There are a lot of pluses, not the least of which are that I don't have to shovel out the car during our epic winters. While we don't get to go to some of the admittedly cool homeschool things happening outside of public transportation, there's a ton of things we can do in Boston, and some of my favorite are simply walking around the gorgeous spaces of my city: great exercise for me and the kids, and stealth education (history).

    The big downsides are that the cost of public transportation is going up while the service is going down, my husband needs a car two or three times per month to visit clients and go to conferences, and food shopping for my family of six can be a huge pain.

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