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How Does The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Affect The Education and Development Of Children?

Michelle Dale - Friday, October 05, 2012

First of all can I say a public happy birthday to my husband, who has been travelling by my side since we met in 2006, a new birthday, a new country… That seems to be how our birthdays go.

When people discover I am a digital nomad with a husband and 2 children, I get mixed reactions. Not just from the folks in the UK where I’m from, but also the folks in the countries I am living in at the time. Sometimes the reaction will be very positive, that we’re living the dream, following our hearts and doing what they would find very difficult to achieve.

But then there are the people who react in a different way, ones concerned that our lifestyle could have a negative impact, particularly on our 2 children, that we’ve done the wrong thing by not giving them ‘stability’ from day one. In a nutshell, I left the UK in 2005 to start a new life, something daring and without a plan, just a one way ticket out of England. In 2006, I met my husband, who was also travelling, in 2007 we had our son, (he’ll be 5 next week), in 2009 we had our daughter and she’s 3 years old, and we’re all currently in Crete, Greece. The whole time, we’ve continued to stay on the move, living periodically in different countries, it’s been eye-opening and exciting.

But What About The Kids…

My kids have been moving with us every year of their lives, averaging each birthday in a new country.

Some have told us that moving them around to different locations could cause problems with their development, that they would be behind other children ‘mentally’ and could develop social problems. I have to say that given the fact that I have had no comparison and I don’t sit down giving my children IQ tests (I am one of those people who think kids grow up way to quickly, and they should be left to be kids for as long as possible, live and learn at their own pace) I have to say that despite the fact that my philosophy is “happy parents = happy children,” and we would only ever do what we thought was best as a family, I had no real idea of measuring whether this lifestyle had been positive or negative in their educational development…. until now…

The Story So Far

But first, before I go into the results, let me take you through what I’ve been doing with my kids up until this point.

Because of the nature of my business, I have never been out of their lives or had to go to a day job, (this was always my ultimate dream for when I had kids) I’ve been home with them, watching them, seeing them grow and change. Whenever we have moved, we have always needed to squeeze all our belongings into a car, that’s generally how we travel, so they have never had a huge number of toys, they’ve kept toys they love and play with often, and the rest we part with before moving to our next destination. In addition to this, I have always made sure everywhere we go that they have had access to creative things, such as pens, crayons, chalk, play-doh etc… When we got to Italy, I also started to learn to cook and got them involved with that too, and we go out of course so we can give them new impressions.

Being digital nomads the iPad is never far from reach, and as well as getting them involved with doing things with their hands, I have also let them loose on the iPad. There are puzzles, games and educational apps, they were both very comfortably finding their way around the iPad by the age of two. Our daughter in particular would take the iPad and go straight to YouTube and find videos on counting for numbers and the alphabet, she could also find video’s of counting in the language of the country we happened to be in, or had visited.

So armed with an imagination, some basic supplies that can be found in most countries, getting them involved in what I was doing around the house and with the help of an iPad, I was able to prepare them for whenever we decided it was the right time to put them into school.

Preparing For School

We came to Crete in April this year, and we discovered that there was a school in the village we are staying in, which has around 8-10 children on average – it’s one classroom. Given that we thought it would be good for our kids to make friends, we thought we would start them off in the school this September.

Only our son was permitted to attend, our daughter was too young. To get them starting to speak the language (Greek is a far cry from English) we hired a childminder for 3 days a week, but this was no ordinary childminder, it was a neighbour, who loved children, and was living with a large and wonderful greek family in the same village we were in. Our children (and us) were accepted into the fold as part of the family, and our childminder, and all her family, have been helping our children, speaking Greek to them, involving them in their day, and the children have been so content with their lives.

This helped prepare our son for learning a little Greek for when he started school, they had been going to the neighbours for 3 days a week for about 5 months in total. This is the first time they had ever been away from us, even though it was only a couple of doors away it did take a lot of getting used to for our son, but as they say here – “seega seega,” slowly slowly.

Starting School

On the first day of school our son was very unhappy, he cried and wouldn’t involve himself, for the first week or so, he had trouble adapting to his new environment, he had issues in particular with touching other kids (like for holding hands and singing songs) – just for the record, this is his personality, our daughter is the direct opposite of him, is very sociable and will often impose on other children in the playground to see if she can be involved with their game, super-confident and super-friendly, and will hug complete strangers if she feels inclined. Our son has never been like that.

By the second week, things were starting to improve, he was much happier, and the teacher, who was now able to see more of the nicer side to his personality, became able to see more of him, and understood him a bit better.

By week 3 (this week), he was very happy, he skips and runs to school, loves his teacher, he has made friends, and is getting on very well with the activities, including holding hands.

In Just 3 Weeks…

The teacher called me into the classroom this week when I went to collect him because she said she needed to talk to me about my son – in all honesty, my heart sank, and I was preparing myself for finding out some bad news… Maybe he was behind, maybe all those things people were telling me were true, that our lifestyle had somehow left him below average… Maybe he had no clue what the teacher was telling him (we were lucky that she speaks English too – but the class is all in Greek of course, his classmates only speak Greek).

I sat down and she started to explain to me what my son does at school, how he responds and reacts, how she can instruct him in Greek and he always knows exactly what she is saying and follows through. He generally won’t talk to her in Greek, (she believes he won’t say anything in Greek unless he knows it’s perfect) but he does communicate with the other children with a little bit of Greek – so far so good. She then went on to explain that many of the things she is beginning to teach the other children, he already knows and is very comfortable with. We then got on to discussing how he should be going to this school for 2 years, but as he’s such a “bright and capable student” she will already recommend for him next year to go to the next school up and essentially skip a grade so he doesn’t get bored and is challenged. She explained that he may need more Greek lessons to prepare him, but we’ll assess his language capability later – he may be okay.

The Verdict

So for anyone out there concerned about how moving around with small children might have a negative impact on their development, not being able to go to the traditional tumble tots, playgroup, or play dates, or make regular friends, I think as long as you are prepared to put the effort in, (and it doesn’t have to be loads, I am a mum, but I also run a company online so I need to schedule my time, I just try to do something small everyday with them), then you could be very pleasantly surprised.

What Now…

What the future holds for us as a family, I don’t know. We booked up to stay in Crete until April 2013, (with no clue of where we would go next) and currently we are living in holiday accommodation, but the life of a digital nomad can be unpredictable, we very rarely plan anything more than 3 months ahead – but I have to say that the appeal to see how my son develops in his new surroundings may just be enough to keep us here a lot longer… That along with the beautiful Cretan weather, people and way of life. It’s not like we have anywhere else to go other than a new destination, and I could think of worse places to settle for a while than a sunny island in the Mediterranean.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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