With her mom at the wheel, Caroline Haroldson sets out on the field trip of a lifetime - a cross-country adventure that promises reading, writing, arithmetic and, of course, fun
This fall, while Lake Oswego 5th graders crack open their textbooks to read about Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Rushmore and the Freedom Trail, Caroline Haroldson will be experiencing the real thing.
And she won't be skipping school.
Haroldson, a 9-year-old homeschooler, begins a cross-country trek September 4 - the same day students in the Lake Oswego School District return to class - on a quest to learn as much as she can about the nation's history, geography and government.
That morning, Caroline and her mom, Amy Haroldson, take off from Lake Oswego in a station wagon armed with guidebooks, state maps and a laptop computer.
Ahead of them will be six weeks of non-stop learning on a variety of subjects, starting with the fossil beds in Eastern Oregon, through the Midwest to the historical cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia to the Deep South.
Along the way, Caroline will read books and other materials pertaining to what they'll see. That could include portions of 'Huck Finn' in time for the Mark Twain House stop, or poems by Edgar Allan Poe preceding their visit to the writer's historic site in Philadelphia. Maybe, at Graceland, they'll throw in an Elvis tune or two for good measure.
But it won't be all work and no play. Early in the trip, they'll make a pit-stop in Preston, Idaho, where the indie movie 'Napoleon Dynamite' was filmed. There, Caroline - a fan of the big-haired geek - will get to see the school where Napoleon played tetherball and the diner where characters Uncle Rico and Kip hatched their business plan.
In Wisconsin, she plans to spend a day enjoying The Dells, a town known for its multiple waterparks. In Manhattan, she'll see a Broadway production of her favorite musical, 'Les Miserables.'
'We were allowed to have some fun deviations,' Amy said with a smile.
Have books, will travel
The Haroldsons named it the 'Ultimate Mother-Daughter Adventure.'
'I am not sure Caroline would be too keen on the idea in five years, when she is 14. And in 10 years, it may not be feasible,' Amy writes on their Web site. 'I am hoping that we will look back on it with the same feeling we have had with the whole home school experience; as a really magical time together.'
Caroline attended Palisades Elementary School through second grade but found the classroom environment distracting. She opted to learn at home because of the variety and flexibility the setting offers. She now tests on a 5th grade level.
'I can go anywhere I want to study,' Caroline said. 'You can sit outside to do your tests and go places.'
'Travelschooling' locally has played a crucial role in how Amy teaches all subjects. For example, a science lesson could include a trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Caroline might complete math problems at a coffeeshop or read at the Lake Oswego Public Library.
'I gobble down books real fast,' Caroline said, quickly rattling off her favorites: 'Nancy Drew,' 'Warriors' and 'Harry Potter.'
Homeschooling also gives Caroline more time to focus on her passions - dance, gymnastics and theater. In February, she played the lead in a Northwest Children's Theater's 31-show production of 'Junie B. Jones.'
'(Homeschooling) is fascinating and edifying for me, too,' Amy said. 'It's been so rewarding.'
Amy added that she doesn't have a problem with the Lake Oswego School District. Caroline's older brother Drew attends 8th grade at Waluga Junior High School, and Caroline may one day attend public high school there.
'We don't know where the path will take us,' Amy said. 'We take it year to year.'
Finding her niche
A narrator for the Oregon Symphony, Amy hatched the idea for an educational road-trip as she pondered ways to teach Caroline about American history and government.
'I wondered, 'What's the most exciting and best way to present that to her?,'' Amy said. 'I thought 'Why can't we do an extended trip?' Home schooling affords us the time.'
The concept, she said, took hold and would not let go. Amy began researching opportunities for homeschoolers on-the-move and found a wealth of information about 'travelschooling' on a grand scale.
According to Amy, the travel industry recently began recognizing the niche market. Many museums and tour groups offered the Haroldsons free passes after they heard about their travel plans.
Noticing a potential to reach out to a greater population, Amy founded Home school Across America and put it on the Internet. Her mission is to inspire other homeschooling families to take advantage of their freedom to travel.
As the Web site became more popular, parents from across the country sent in suggestions about where the Haroldsons should go and what they should see.
'It's great because now we have something to talk about with everyone,' Amy said.
The Haroldsons are no stranger to a life of discovery and cultural experiences. As part of his job, Caroline's dad Matt Haroldson, took the family to the Caribbean for a year.
And last summer, they spent a week in the rain forest of Belize learning about the Mayans, climbing the temples, tracking the Howler monkeys and hiking.
'Caroline loved it and she thrived in it,' Amy said.
Open to input
As Amy planned their trip, she was boggled by all there is to see and do in the U.S. She whittled the list down to a number of activities the duo could realistically accomplish in six weeks.
'The trip is still evolving,' Amy said. 'I wanted to make sure that everything in this trip is new to her.'
On that note, Amy left out the Grand Canyon - the Haroldsons already saw it.
The men of the house plan to stay at home in Lake Oswego, where they will 'watch an unhealthy amount of football ... and maybe do some projects,' Matt said.
Dad is wholly approving.
'I think it's fantastic that someone can take this much time off to travel,' he added.
Caroline and Amy will alternate between camping, staying in cabins, hotels and the homes of families that offer a bed.
They are still open to suggestions from the public. After the adventure begins, the Web site will track Caroline's travels on an interactive map and through podcasts, a blog and video postcards.
Amy traveled cross-country with her parents as a child, and she knows the same journey can have a life-long impact on a curious young girl.
'I have really strong memories of the things I saw,' Amy said, 'so I know she will, too.'