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Arches National Park is located in the beautiful state of Utah. The park encompasses more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, dramatic canyons, and towering pinnacles.

Arches National Park

The park offers 2 scenic drives and we did both of them. The drives were breathtaking with plenty of viewpoint stops along the way. The parking lots can get crowded, so set aside enough time to backtrack if you can’t find a spot at a particular viewpoint.

We did a few easy and family-friendly hikes inside the park, and we’ll share our experiences with you.

Park Ave Trail, Arches National Park

Park Avenue Trail

A 1.8-mile walk through a gorgeous canyon surrounded by some amazing rock formations.  The trail begins at the Park Avenue parking lot with a fairly steep climb down but the incline is stepped making it relatively easy.  We loved strolling through the canyon and stopped often to look up at the massive pinnacles (like skyscrapers on Park Avenue).  It was a cool day, but I would imagine that the walk would be more challenging in direct sun as there was little shade on the trail.  The trail ends at a formation called Courthouse Towers.  If you are taking a shuttle, you can grab it at the Courthouse Towers parking lot or you can retrace your steps to get back to your car.  Rich doubled back for the car, allowing the kids and I more time to explore and take photos.  

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock Trail

This was an easy, partially paved walk to see Balanced Rock. It only takes about 20 minutes and the paved part is wheelchair and stroller accessible.  It’s a rock…balanced…on a tower.  Great photo op!

Sand Dune Arch

Take an easy and scenic hike down Broken Arch Trailhead.  First, take the first right turn to go see Sand Dune Arch.  It’s only 0.2mi down a narrow slot canyon and has a lot of shade. 

Broken Arch

After that, return to the Broken Arch trail and head to Broken Arch.  It’s not really broken, although it is cracked across the top.  The views from the arch are magnificent.  It’s an easy, flat 1.8-mile loop.

Delicate Arch Trail, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch Trail

Delicate Arch is one the most iconic arches within Arches National Park, figuring prominently on Utah state car plates, stamps and in tourist advertisements.  It’s a beautiful arch on an exposed rock face, with scenic vistas behind it.  It is, however, a 3.2 mile round trip from the nearest parking lot, and there is no water or shade, so it’s not for everyone.  You’re advised to bring lots of water, and it’s best viewed at sunset.

This hike may be too much for kids or the elderly.  No problem, just head to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.  The viewpoint has a parking lot and is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

 

Arches National ParkFiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace is one of the most challenging trails in Arches, and the park requires that hikers accompany a ranger-led hike.  It is a labyrinth of bright red sandstone fins that even experienced hikers can get lost in, with identical looking passageways and no landmarks.  You can view the exterior of the fins from the parking lot at the trailhead, and it is magical at sunset.  We highly recommend you stop there if you can.

Arches National ParkArches National Park is a national treasure and the park service asks that visitors do their part to protect the park.  It’s important to stay on marked trails to protect the soil.  The sandstone has pot holes called “Ephemeral Pools” that tiny organisms live in.  They should not be stepped in and if full of water should not be touched.  The Arches themselves are fragile and should not be climbed or walked on. 

Arches National Park

Arches National Park also has a Junior Rangers Program. They offer booklets at the Visitor’s Center or you can download them before you go. The book is full of activities that can be completed to earn a badge and a certificate.  The Visitor’s Center also offers Explorer’s Packs that can be checked out and returned at the Visitor’s Center. The packs include binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook, and activity ideas. The Junior Ranger badge can be earned with the pack.

Arches National Park

Camping is available in the park at Devil’s Garden Campground. Due to construction, the campground is closed until November 30, 2017. Campsites will be first come, first served from Nov 30 until Feb 28th. For dates after Feb 28th, 2018 you can reserve a spot up to 6 months in advance.

The park is open 24 hours a day, and the visitor center is open daily (closed on Christmas Day) at 9 a.m. and closed at 5:30 in the summer.

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Arches National Park

Whenever we visit Santa Barbara, we never miss an opportunity to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.   Located on Stearns Wharf, what this sea center may lack in size it makes up for in quality.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Upon entering the exhibits kids can look at and crawl through a 1,500-gallon tidepool tank.  It’s up close and beautiful, filled with local creatures.

Our twins loved the Shark Cove exhibit where they were invited to gently touch coastal sharks and rays.  They were fascinated by the baby sharks, which can be seen inside their translucent eggs.

At the Intertidal Wonders exhibit, you can touch and feel sea anemones, starfish and hermit crabs.  Trained naturalists stand by to engage and answer questions.  Our boys really enjoyed this hands-on experience.

Our teen was quick to head upstairs to the dimly lit and beautiful “Jellies & Friends” exhibit.  Black lights glow through tanks full of these gorgeous creatures as they move slowly through the water.  They are like floating artwork.  

Upstairs they also have a small reading area for young kids and an adorable puppet theater.  

Marina Puppet Theater
Marina Puppet Theater

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is open daily from 10 to 5 but is closed on most major holidays.  

Adults: $8.50
Seniors (65 and over): $7.50
Teens (13-17 years): $7.50
Children (2-12 years): $6.00
Children under 2 years FREE
Museum Members FREE

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

They also sell the SB Nature Pass that includes unlimited admission to both the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Sea Center for two days.  They’re both well worth a visit for kids of any age.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

If you are interested in visiting Santa Barbara, check out our other post on Family Fun in Santa Barbara.

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Sea Center Fun in Santa Barbara

While on our cross-country road trip from California to Florida, we took a detour north to visit Montgomery, Alabama, the site of several important events in the struggle for civil rights in America.  We feel it is important for every American child to learn this history, and we wanted to take the opportunity for our children to see it in person.

Home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, and for a short period was the capital of the Confederacy in 1861.

Capitol, Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery was where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, leading to a court case and sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, demanding an end to bus segregation.  The Freedom Riders were attacked by white supremacists at the Greyhound Bus Station in Montgomery in May 1961, which brought the cause of desegregation and civil rights to national attention.  In 1965, Dr. King organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, gathering attention that led to the Voting Rights Act passing in 1965.

Montgomery, Alabama

We had booked a room last-minute at the Embassy Suites in downtown Montgomery.  After checking into our room, we chatted with the bellman, who, upon finding out that we were solely there to see the historic civil rights locations, told us he would be happy to drive us around in the hotel shuttle and share his city with us.  We were so impressed and it was a unique experience to be shown around by a local.

We started by visiting the bus stop where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  There is a bench and a sign describing what happened and how it affected history.  The Rosa Parks Museum is right there, with the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  It includes a full-size bus from 1955, built as a ‘time machine’, which transports visitors back in time to recreate the events of that fateful December day.

Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama

Next we saw Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which is the church that Dr. Martin Luther King preached at during his time in Montgomery, and where many of the planning meetings for the Civil Rights movement happened.  It was closed the day we visited, but we were able to see the outside, and our tour guide told us about its history.

Montgomery, Alabama

Across the street from Dexter Avenue is the State Capitol, which is almost unchanged from how it looked during the Civil War.  It has statues and monuments for Alabama leaders, including one for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.  We had an on-the-spot history lesson about who he was, and what the Confederacy was, slavery, segregation, and how it all related.

Capitol, Montgomery, Alabama

But there was also a monument for the speech given there in 1965 by MLK at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Capitol, Montgomery, Alabama

Finally, we visited the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  It is a beautiful and thoughtful monument designed by Maya Lin (the designer of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in DC), with a central fountain of water rolling over black granite.  

Civil Rights Memorial

Under the water, carved into the granite is a history of the Civil Rights Movement, circling around the fountain, so you can follow each moment as you walk around it.  

On the wall behind is part of MLK’s famous quote: “…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  It is a powerful monument and reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight for civil rights.  We were all affected by it.

Where to eat

We had a great dinner at Central Restaurant, an open-air New American restaurant in a converted warehouse space in downtown Montgomery.  The food was delicious and the service was excellent.  We were able to walk there and back from our hotel, and the downtown area was well-maintained and pedestrian-friendly.  

Central Restaurant, Capitol, Montgomery, Alabama

Where to stay

Embassy Suites by Hilton Montgomery was a great place to stay for our family of 5.  They include breakfast and each room has a pullout sofa bed, so we had plenty of room to stretch out.  The staff was very friendly and it was centrally located.

Embassy Suites, Montgomery, Alabama

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Montgomery, Alabama and the Civil Rights Movement

Have you ever dreamed of traveling long-term with your family?  In 2013 we made that dream our reality and we have traveled full-time ever since.  We love sharing our adventures with others and are often asked questions about how we do it.   So, we sat down and collected all the questions we’ve gotten over the years and answered them for you, right here.

How do you support your family?

Before you quit your job, you should know that we, and most other full-time travelers, continue to work, online or otherwise.  Rich is a software engineer and is able to work online.  When we started our journey, Rich worked contract jobs.  He found them on websites like Upwork, and by networking with former co-workers.  It seems like many of our nomadic friends work full-time online.  Jobs like graphic designer, writer, copy editor, website design and virtual assistant are common.  Others teach English in the countries they travel to or find a job teaching at an online school.  Others start online businesses or work for call centers.  We even met a really wonderful woman from Amsterdam  that was a hair stylist.  She supported herself by offering haircuts and shaves to travelers in hostels.  To get started, have a look at sites like Upwork and Hire My Mom.
Working in Ambergris Caye, Belize

What did you do with your house?

If you are already leasing a home then leaving is as simple as giving your notice, but home owners have a big decision to make.  We originally rented out our home in California.  It worked well in the beginning but presented a challenge when our renters moved out and we were not nearby.   Finding a replacement from overseas was a challenge so we decided to sell. It was a better situation for us.  We do know several people who are able to collect enough rent to cover their mortgage and traveling expenses.  It depends entirely on your situation and housing market.
Ireland With OurFamilyTravelAdventures,com

What about your belongings?

When we left we donated and sold the majority of our belongings.  The remainder are in a storage unit.  Amazingly, we found that we don’t miss our stuff.  One of our favorite things about traveling full-time is discovering what we really needed and didn’t need.
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What about school?

We call ourselves worldschoolers.  We mix and match online classes with the experiences that we have while traveling.  For example, while staying in Mexico, the boys did online courses in Math, writing and Mayan History.  We also enrolled them in a local Spanish class and studied the history, culture, religions and aquatic life.  When we stay in one place for longer than 3 months we give our boys the option to attend local school.  We let them decide.  Currently we are in one place for 6 months, so our oldest is attending a local high school, while the twins homeschool.
If you are not already homeschooling, be sure to research local homeschooling laws.  Each state has different laws about pulling your children from school so be sure to do it the right way for your state.
The Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain

What about socialization?  

We are a really tight family unit and have a great time together as a family.  Our boys left some amazing friends back home and thanks to Skype and social media our boys can talk to and play with their friends and family members no matter where we are in the world.  We also try to connect when we can with other traveling families.  It’s fun to meet other traveling families who share our lifestyle.  They are easy to find via Facebook groups and expat boards.  The boys also play with local kids in parks and at the beach.  When you’re young and building a sand castle, communicating is pretty easy, no matter the language barrier.

Where do you stay?  

We spend most of our time in vacation rentals that we find on VRBO.com, Holidaylettings.com, Flipkey.com and through local agencies.  When we stay in one place for more than 3 months, we negotiate with vacation rental owners for a long-term rate.  You can get amazing deals, especially in off-season.  We also stay in hotels and resorts.

How do you decide where to go next?  

We all have places that we really want to visit. Right now Jen’s dreaming of Jordan, Rich is researching Iceland, our oldest wants to return to London and the twins can’t decide between Nashville, Tennessee and  Tokyo, Japan.  But where we land next is usually decided by flight costs.  Flying with a family of 5 is really pricey!
Ireland

What about medical insurance?  

Standard U.S. health insurance is only useful within the U.S., or to fly you home in the unlikely event of a serious incident.  For us, a better alternative was trip insurance, which can be purchased month-to-month through various online services.  InsureMyTrip is one site to look at.  For routine medical needs, we found to our surprise that outside the U.S., doctor’s visits and prescriptions are both inexpensive.
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Do I need a Visa?

That depends on where you from and where you are going.  US citizens are lucky in that you can visit most countries with just your passport, getting a tourist visa on arrival with no requirements.  The EU allows 90 days, Canada and Mexico 6 months, and most of Central and South America have similar rules.  Other countries’ visa requirements vary, and you may need to get a visa before you leave.  You should check with the State Dept. website for the latest details, or with your country’s department of state if you are not from the US.
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How much money do you need to travel for a year?  

We get asked this question all the time, but it’s the one question that we can’t easily give an exact answer to.  Everyone has different travel styles and budgets.  Different countries, and cities within countries, have very different costs.

To help break this down, in general you should plan to spend about half your travel budget on housing, about 25% on transportation, and the remaining 25% on food, insurance, and incidentals.  We are careful not to buy lots of souvenirs, as you might if you were on a quick holiday trip, or book expensive tours.  If you’re aiming for a year of travel, you need to travel light and live like a local as much as possible.

We like to rent cars and stay in vacation homes, so our budget is higher than friends who take the bus and stay in family hostels. It also depends on where you are traveling: Paris and Rome cost easily 10 times more than Mérida, Mexico or Chang Mai, Thailand.  Our best advice is to think about these questions and figure out what you can live with, and budget your time and choices accordingly.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

  • Housing:

There are so many choices!  As we mentioned above, we tend to stay in rental homes and hotels.  Here are some tips on accommodations:

Housesitting – If you are willing to take some time searching for the right fit and don’t mind caring for someone’s home and beloved pets, then house sitting might be a great choice.  You get to live like a local in someone’s home and you don’t pay a dime! Many homeowners welcome families with multiple children.

Family Hostels – Family hostels are popping up all over the world and are a great choice for the budget minded traveler.  Many offer large private rooms with dorm-style bunk beds and self catering kitchens.

RV or Motorhome – Another great option for full-time travelers is to rent or buy a RV.  RVs are a great way to travel around for families.  Make sure the countries you want to visit have decent roads though.  Costa Rica’s roads are not the same as Germany’s!

We created a PDF guide all about finding accommodations for families who travel.  If you sign up for our newsletter, we will send you a free copy.

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  • Transportation:

We often rent a car because we like to explore without too much planning ahead.  Also, Rich loves the challenges of driving in a new place. When we visit large cities, we skip the car rental and use public transportation.  We have also found that services like Uber SUVs and Lyft are great for large families and their baggage!

If you get around by car, are you bringing your own, renting or buying in the place you are traveling to?  Do you need insurance?  Many countries are restrictive about insurance to non-citizens, so you might be stuck with rental car daily insurance, which can be rather expensive (*cough* Mexico *cough*).

Not bringing a car?  Will you travel by bus, train or regional flights?  Research your options and compare costs vs. time/trouble.

  • What part of the world are you visiting?

numbeo.com is great for researching the cost of a given country.  You can also get a good idea of how far your dollar will stretch by looking up local restaurants and hotels.  Yelp and TripAdvisor are also great for doing research! You can find the cost of an average meal, hotel and excursion.  It’s also a great way to figure out what part of town to stay in.  That inexpensive rental on the outskirts of town may sound like a good deal until you add in parking or cab fares, and take 2 hours out of your day.

  • What monthly bills will you need to pay from home?  

If you sold your home and paid off your debts, this may not be an issue, but remember to add in other expenses including storage units for the items you keep, mail services and forwarding, and state and federal taxes.  If you plan to keep your US health insurance, include that into your budget.

We hope that this has been helpful for anyone considering extended family travel. It’s so rewarding, we hope you can find a way to do it yourself.  If you have further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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Long-term Family Travel: Your Questions Answered

We thought it would be fun to ask some of our fellow family travelers about the amazing educational experiences they have had while traveling: we call it “Worldschooling Wednesday”.

Today’s featured bloggers for Worldschooling Wednesday:

Catherine, Richard, Lottie & Libby from Life In Our Van.
We highly recommend you check out their blog about exploring Europe in a motor home.

lifeinourvan.com

Ever wanted to pack your bags, jump in a motor home and go off and explore Europe as a family? Well that’s exactly what we (Catherine, Richard, Lottie & Libby) have done since September 2016.

Picture this. All your belongings safely stowed in the back of your mobile home. Imagine you sitting in the driver’s seat, with the kids in the back, ready and raring to go for yet another family adventure in your trusty motorhome….Our road trip really has become that adventure in every sense of the word, with every day full of surprises as we move from one location to another.

lifeinourvan.com

So although the idea of leaving it all behind and embarking on a family adventure around Europe might seem to some extraordinary…..I can safely say we are anything other than extraordinary. Just a normal family of 4  who decided to focus on educating our own children rather than others. So we’ve stopped teaching at schools in the UK, taken the plunge, and purchased a motor home. Traveling across 26 countries in Europe for the past 332 days! Hence the appropriately titled name for our blog ‘ LifeInOurVan’.

lifeinourvan.com

Homeschooling our children each week, whilst embracing new travel opportunities and growing together as a family. Each family adventure or experience faithfully recorded on our blog at Life in our Van. Now, every day brings a new outdoor classroom / playground / family adventure for our two wonderfully energetic and entertaining young daughters. As well as making you want to start your own road trip, we hope it’s also great for ideas for things to do with children across Europe.

lifeinourvan.com

You can read more about this amazing family on their blog Life In Our Van

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Life in a Van

Before we left on our big adventure in 2013 our kids had always been in the public school system.  They attended a typical California elementary school in the Bay Area.  Our oldest had just finished 5th grade and our twins had finished first.  Our lives revolved around our little school.  I was PTA secretary, a room mom and ran the school auction.  My husband coached soccer and helped in the computer lab.  So when we decided to pull the kids out and travel the world, our first hurdle was education.

Homeschooling never crossed my mind.  My first thought was a full-time online school.  There were several to choose from so we picked our favorite and decided to sign up in the fall.  We started our adventure in July, so we were in no rush to start. Our days were filled with visits to castles, historic towns and museums. We spoke new languages and discussed science and nature.

The kids seemed to be absorbing so much, so we kept pushing back starting online school.

Then we discovered Worldschooling and our lives were forever changed.  I have never seen an official definition of worldschooling but two of my favorite worldschooling moms, Lainie Liberti (Raising Miro) and Robyn Paulete, wrote this definition for the Facebook group Worldschoolers:

Essentially worldschooling uses traveling as a platform for education and favors the idea that mental knowledge is just one aspect of learning. Development of personal and global awareness, practicing mindfulness, patience, communication skills and language immersion are valuable qualities often overlooked in traditional models. One family calls it, “Homeschooling on a global field trip”.  Families who identify with being “worldschoolers” employ different learning styles. Some are unschoolers, some are traditional homeschoolers, some enroll their children in schools in foreign countries and others go to correspondence schools. There is no one right way to worldschool and as worldschoolers, we embrace our differences.

For us worldschooling is about combining the best resources and experiences.  We use websites like Khan Academy and Udemy.  We take language classes in countries that we visit.  We watch movies and read books about the history and cultures that we are immersing ourselves in.  We visit historical sites, learn new currencies and try to immerse ourselves in local culture.  Sometimes, when we are in a place for several months the boys attend the local school.  We let them decide.

In the last three years our boys have had amazing hands-on experiences.  They have toured coffee, sugar cane and chocolate plantations and learned how to create each product, they learned to herd sheep in Ireland and experienced Viking history in York.  They have learned about art history at the Louvre and Roman history at the Colosseum.

Holding a Tu-can, La Paz Waterfall Garden, Costa Rica

We are very fortunate that we are able to travel full-time with our boys, but you can do worldschooling from home.  Just choose a spot on the map and dig in.  You can study the currency, language, religion and history.  The world is your classroom!  Check out our 10 favorite worldschooling resources in Our 10 Favorite Worldschooling Resources to get started.

Want to learn more about Worldschooling?  Here are some amazing travelers who often write about their worldschooling journeys:

http://www.raisingmiro.com/

http://thenomadicadventures.com/

http://traveldeepandwide.com/

http://goodiegoodiegumdrop.com/

http://www.andoffwewent.com/

Are you worldschooling?  Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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  • Worldschooling has never been easier, with so many websites and apps to aid in education.  If you’re new to the whole concept, read our post about it: Worldschooling.

    Here are a few of our favorite resources for supporting a family on the move:

    Facebook

    Our favorite place to connect with other worldschooling families is on Facebook.  Our go-to group is called Worldschoolers and it’s a great place to start.  Other great groups include Families on the Move and Homeschool Travel Connect.  They are all closed groups, so just read the requirements and request to join.

    Websites and Apps

    Duolingo is a fantastic free app for learning 16 different languages, including Spanish, French and German.  Duolingo is Rich’s favorite way to learn a new language and it’s free!
    Memrise  is a learning tool used to teach languages and other subjects like history and geography.  They offer over 200 languages!  The boys and I love Memrise for Spanish.  Something in the way that it is set up really works for me and it’s free!
    Math Ninja is a fun app to practice math skills.  Kids use math to defend their treehouse from robots! Our boys love playing it and it’s free!
    Stack the States is our twins’ favorite game and they don’t seem to notice that it’s an educational app!  Great way to learn U.S. geography and capitals. I wish they would make it for other countries too!  
    Spelling City is a great app for spelling practice.  You can put in your own lists or load a list by grade level.  The app has learning lessons, spelling tests and fun games with the words.  Our boys love playing Hang Mouse on it!
    Lynda.com is a subscription video learning site.  I used it to learn how to create and maintain my blog in WordPress!    A Basic plan costs $25 per month for unlimited courses. Our oldest son has taken some amazing courses including Lettering Comic Books with Illustrator, Foundations of Algebra, and Unity 5: 3D Essential Training.  They also offer GRE and SAT prep courses. 
    Teach With Movies offers lesson plans to go with with hundreds of films.  You can search by specific films or by topic.  The site lists movies that cover that topic and includes lesson plans.  Free
    Kahn Academy offers instructional videos and practice exercises on a wide array of subjects including math, computer programming, economics, science and art history.  Our boys use Kahn Academy daily.  Kahn Academy is a great resource and it’s free!
    Udemy offers over 40,000  instructional videos including music, languages, science, computer programming and history.  Our oldest loved The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Courses range from free to $50.Visit Udemy to see their whole course catalog Udemy Generic 300x250
    Brave Writer offers online classes for ages 5 to 18.  Each class is led by a published writer with homeschooling experience.  Many classes are offered each quarter including Middle School Writing Projects, Powerful fiction techniques and Collage admissions essay.  Tuition varies by class.

    Are you worldschooling? What are your favorite resources? Share in the comments below.