Practical Ideas for Reading as you Travel

Reading about the place you are travelling to, or are currently in, is a wonderful way to learn about and enhance your enjoyment of that place. You will have already built some mental 'hooks' on which to hang any new information, which aids in retaining that information.

In our family we mostly use "living books". These books are our 'mind food' - feeding our minds and our hearts with interesting stories about the lives of real people in a wide variety of subject areas (and locations). We read aloud to the children as often as we can manage, as well as each member of the family enjoying books individually.

We find we learn a great deal through these 'living' fiction and non-fiction books because they are not 'dry' like many school text books. We become truly interested in the life of the characters, and usually can't wait to get onto the next chapter. Facts are interspersed with the 'story', making remembering pieces of information remarkably easy.

Add this type of book to actually being in the location that it was set, or seeing the subject matter first hand, makes learning a breeze, as well as being wonderfully enjoyable.

What to Read?

For us, the best choice is always a carefully chosen, well written, living book.

Try to match up what you are reading with the location you are in or heading to. This will enhance your enjoyment of the place and add to or solidify what there is to learn.

For example, as we headed toward Darwin, NT, we enjoyed a book titled "The Bombing of Darwin", and another titled "Cyclone Tracey". We learnt much about the history of Darwin through these books, so could appreciate the impact that WWII and Cyclone Tracey had had. Whilst in Darwin we visited the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, as well as the Museum. In so doing we built on what we had already understood, and thus added to the learning.

Along the Gibb River Rd (north WA), we encountered thousands of bats, so we worked through a 'Magic Schoolbus' book titled "The Truth About Bats". Whilst enjoying the Ningaloo Reef (mid WA) we enjoyed another 'Magic Schoolbus' book "A Fishy Field Trip". This particular book opened up our minds to the fragile coral reef and provided information about its fish, at the same time as our eyes were taking in its beauty on snorkelling trips. Again, the reading of great 'living books', mixed with a dose of 'real life' combined to make the learning experience fun and memorable.

Click here for lots of Ideas on great literature to enjoy in a variety of locations in Australia. Also, literature ideas on various topics and suggested ages given for most books.

The Best Times to Read

So many people say, "But we don't have time to read!" "We're too busy".

I agree that it can be hard to find time in the 'busyness' of travel. But it is well worth the effort to make it a priority. The best idea is to find a regular period that suits you so that it becomes a habit. Schedule reading times into the ebb and flow of your travelling life.

We try to read aloud to the children every day - often several times a day (depending on available time and attention spans). Usually we'll have 2 or more books 'on the go' at once. For example, a character building story, an historical fiction piece, and a science choice. Sometimes Dad will be working through one with the children, and Mum another.

We've found the following times work well:

1. Around the Breakfast table. As soon as breakfast is eaten (sometimes a child or 2 is still finishing off), we share the bible, followed by discussion and prayer time.

2. In the Car. Our 1st 'car activity' for the day is usually a half hour or so of reading aloud. (This usually involves Mum sitting sideways in the front seat to project her voice to the rear). If we are still travelling after lunch, a 2nd half hour of literature is often enjoyed.

3. After dinner. Immediately after the evening meal, one parent does the dishes, while the other shares books and discusses with the children. Here we usually alternate between history, science and geography. Sometimes this involves looking up reference books or field guides for further information on something we have seen that day, sometimes continuing a science or history text, and sometimes working through our history curriculum.

4. In bed, before lights out. At this time we most often choose a character building story - something for the kids to ponder as they drop off to sleep.

5. Before getting up in the morning. (This only happens occasionally when we aren't in a hurry to do anything or be anywhere, and only in the cooler weather. If you're travelling up north in the warmer months, you'll understand why we don't lie-in in the mornings!

6. On non-travelling / quiet days. Any free opportunity!

Tips for Reading Aloud

  • Be careful to keep the times short when you are starting out or when the children are small. Increase the duration as they get older. Try to leave them wanting more.
  • If you have young children, or wriggly children, allow them to do a quiet, solo activity while you read (eg jigsaw puzzle, drawing/colouring, playdough). It's amazing how attentive they will still be to the story. nb, don't allow them to distract the other children though.

Literature on CD

For a bit of variety on the 'book' theme, why not try books on CD or downloaded to an iPOD/MP3 player. Books on CD are just fantastic for car travel - listen as a family or use as an individual activity. (Individual activities are in short supply in a crowded car/tent/van/hotel room etc - sometimes it is nice for children to be able to create some 'personal space' by using earphones!)

Our all-time family favourite on CD is Story of the World , by Susan Wise Bauer. There are 4 volumes in this series (approximately 40 CD's) containing hundreds of great stories. These stories not only kept us entertained for hours, but we literally listened to 'the story of our world' from the beginning of time up to the late 1990's, and so learnt a great deal.


These stories are aimed at primary schoolers, but I'm not ashamed to say that they kept us adults very interested, and we learnt a lot that we had never heard before! I'd recommend them for any age except the very young or squeamish (they do contain a lot of war stories, particularly the later volumes, as war is a large part of our world's story).

You can find more suggestions on audio books on our Literature page.

Teaching Children to Read While Travelling

One of my favourite parts of homeschooling is teaching my children to deciper the words on a page. It is such a joy to watch them progress through each small step, as they gain this important life skill.

We have been on the road for large amounts of time as 2 of our children learned to read, so can offer a few tips on good resources and what worked well.

A fantastic program for teaching your child to read is "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" , by Siegfried Engelmann.


It is one A4 size book containing everything you need for the first 100 lessons of reading and writing. ANY program that provides 5 months (assuming 20 lessons/month) of lessons in one book is great for travel!!

The program is fully scripted (therefore no prior knowledge of teaching is necessary), and the child is reading short sentences, with the accompanying sense of achievement, in less than 2 weeks. I have used it with all three of my children, and fully recommend it.

After these initial 100 lessons, I found we needed a short transition time before the child could just pick up any children's book and deciper it. At this stage, using a few Dr Seuss beginner books, or other books recommended at the back of '100 Easy Lessons' is a good idea. Books such as Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Put Me in the Zoo. (All by Dr Seuss).

The other books which are great while travelling during this 'transition' time, are the Cocky's Circle Little Books. They are written by various authors, but are published by Murdoch Books. I've seen them sold in post offices throughout Australia ($1.99each, sold in packs of 5), but I usually find them in used bookstores for around 50c each. About 20 of these small, light, books is usually enough for the child's reading to progress enough to then select from the wide range of children's material available.

These Dr Seuss and Cocky's Circle books will also double as useful material for slightly older children, and will be enjoyable picture books for younger children.

Helpful tips for teaching reading:

  • As suggested in "100 easy lessons" keep the lessons short - 20 minutes is usually about right, maybe less to start with, and maybe slightly more as the child's attention span allows.
  • Try to be consistent. Each lesson builds on the last; regular lessons keep the material fresh. Aim for a lesson at least 2 out of every 3 days.
  • Try to find somewhere quiet and without distractions for the lesson.
  • End the lesson early if the child is becoming unduly upset or distressed. You want them to love reading, not dread it!
  • Try to do the lesson early in the day or other time when the child is alert and not too tired.

Tips for Book Loving Travellers

Because of the weight and bulk of books, it is not a good idea to travel with too many. This poses a great dilemma for a book lover! Here are a few tips for lightening the load and obtaining new literature as you travel.

  • Choose and take books which can be enjoyed by more than one person in the family. For instance, an early reading book for a 5-7yr old can also be used as a picture book for preschoolers. Or a book which you read aloud to primary schoolers, could be read alone by a teenager.
  • If you plan to be in a town for more than a couple of days, take advantage of the local library. Most will accept your home town library card as security, and will happily allow you to borrow their books.
  • Swap books which you are finished with, with other travellers.
  • Buy used books cheaply from markets or 2nd hand bookstores. Perhaps trade in your used books for a credit at the store.
  • If you start to build up too many books which you want to keep, mail some to your home (or to a friend, or someone who is collecting your mail). To send a large satchel to most places in Australia via Australia Post, costs $9.90 if it weighs less than 3kg. This satchel will hold up to 20 novel size books.

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