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Carschooling® Meet the Gozas - A Full-Time Traveling & Performing Homeschool Family
 
By Diane Flynn Keith
 
The homeschooling Goza Family has been criss-crossing the United States for eleven years, since they left their home in San Francisco to take their act, Activated Storytellers, on the road. Dennis, Kimberly, and Zephyr Goza perform educational theatrical shows for children and their families at school assemblies, libraries, and homeschool conventions. They rarely stay in one place for more than two days and relish exploring America year-round in pursuit of new experiences that enrich their homeschool lives. They have traveled in an RV extensively, but are currently van-schooling and camping as their little troupe entertains families along the East Coast.

The Gozas are the quintessential road-schoolers, and have come up with some innovative ideas that I asked them to share with carschooling families in this interview. But first, meet the Gozas. Dad is Dennis Goza. He writes the scripts and music forActivated Storytellers and is also the family cook. Mom is Kimberly Goza. A physical comedian, she takes the falls onstage and also makes the sets, costumes, and props. The director of the shows, Kimberly handles the bookings, manages the website at www.activated-storytellers.com, and does the driving! Dennis and Kimberly have one son, Zephyr Goza. He started performing when he was in diapers. Now 12 years old, Zephyr enjoys cartooning and making and selling comic books based on the Activated Storytellers' scripts. He is a Lone Scout through the Boy Scouts of America, has collected numerous Jr. Ranger badges from parks, and likes to read and design computer games. Here's what they had to say about life on the road.

I know you homeschool for practical reasons due to your work, but were there other considerations that caused you to choose homeschooling for Zephyr?

Kimberly: We decided long before we began touring nationally that we would homeschool. In fact, we decided before Zephyr was born. As we were browsing the "expecting a baby" books we stumbled upon the homeschooling books - conveniently located in the same section. And the concept struck us both as the obvious choice. So, we would be homeschooling whether we were touring or not. Touring simply became a viable option since we were going to be homeschooling anyway.

Do you have a permanent residence address? If so, is that the state whose requirements you follow to legally homeschool?

Kimberly: For us keeping a home of any type would be impractical. Our mail is delivered to California and so for business purposes our address is listed as such. But our address is simply a mail forwarding service. Our dentist is in Pennsylvania, our printer is in Arizona, our photographer is in Florida, our doctor is in Arkansas and our things are stored in Nevada. In the past we filed a Private School Affidavit (R-4 Form) in the state of California. According to discussions on FOTR (Families on the Road) a yahoo group I belong to, the consensus is that you are not required to abide by any state's schooling laws unless you reside there for more than 3 months. In our situation we are hardly ever in one state for more than three weeks. Granted, this is my understanding gleaned from discussion groups and I have not researched it thoroughly myself.

Do you have a guiding homeschool philosophy?

Kimberly: I suppose you could sum up our philosophy as "environment based." Our philosophy essentially is that if an opportunity exists take advantage of it, and by the same token make your own opportunities. With our touring itinerary, keeping anything remotely resembling a daily schedule is simply impossible. We have learned to take advantage of resources when they are available. In addition to the obvious - historical sites, national parks, museums and the like, here are some examples:

  • When we are camping we try to tackle Zephyr's various scouting requirements.
  • We find time to read at bookstores.
  • Kinkos provides time to do computer work, paper work or drawing, while we prepare materials for our shows.
  • We use driving time (which can be up to 6 hours on some days) to learn Japanese (from books and tapes) and practice American Sign Language.
  • We do computer work while driving. We use an inverter to plug in our laptops, and Zephyr is teaching himself game programming.
  • We also use drive time to practice music on the keyboard - yes, a full size 88 key keyboard that lives up to its nickname, the whale."
Dennis: There are two principles I try to follow:
  1. Relate new material to what Zephyr's familiar with, and
  2. Have him do a project, even something simple that gives him a chance to express concepts in his own terms. In other words, he retains what he outputs much better than he retains what is input.
What methodology do you use, if any?

Kimberly: I suppose the term "eclectic" would most aptly apply.

Do you actually set aside time everyday for studies or insist that Zephyr "do math" or any other subject?

Kimberly: There is the ideal and then there is the reality! Our latest approach is Dennis and I have each adopted certain subject areas and we come up with various assignments for him. Dennis is covering math, science and music. I am covering Lone Scouting, art, reading and foreign languages. I prefer to write out the assignments for the week and let him decide what gets done when. Dennis tends to give assignments one at a time. But in reality, we are all so busy performing, driving and taking care of all the things that go along with running a business that the "school" side of it all tends to get set on the back burner.

Do you use traditional textbooks and curriculum products on the road?

Kimberly: We don't use any curriculum products or traditional textbooks. I have done some Internet research on "Standards of Learning" and have used them occasionally as a kind of guide for topics for the times when we may want to broaden our horizons. For instance, I use the recommended reading lists, important historical events, etc. I like to grab resources from the Internet and download them on to my palm pilot for easy access.

As for non-traditional resources we use: A National Park Pass and Jr. Ranger activities, museum memberships that let us into museums nationwide, Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores, and the Internet. And I suppose even computer games and theme parks would qualify as learning resources, considering Zephyr tends to take them one step further. When we visit a theme park he studies track design and hunts down the management and asks questions. And he uses Roller Coaster Tycoon, a software game by Atari (available at Amazon.com) to build on those ideas - learning math skills at the same time.

What kinds of materials have you used on the road to cover basic subjects?

Kimberly: In general we don't use any traditional school products. Everything we use can be found at the local bookstore such as Borders or Barnes and Noble.

Early on we made letters cut out of Fun Foam that Zephyr could get wet and put on the RV windows. He enjoyed saying their names and putting them up. I made the fun foam letters. They were about 3" big. Fun Foam is available in any craft store. They come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Now you can even get some that are pre-cut into various shapes. To get them to adhere to the window use a spray bottle of water, you don't need much water. They don't stay up for long (maybe a day or two) but that was one of the joys - putting them back up and rearranging them. Nowadays, for a change of pace, I decorate our van windows with seasonal or fun window clings (available at Wal-Mart or Office Depot type places, typically in the school aisle).

We never had to "teach" reading. Zephyr just began reading at 2 and is now reading his fourth 1200 page book by James Clavell in the Asian Saga.

Dennis really likes the Teach Yourself series by Contemporary Publishing and uses them himself to learn Tai Chi (ISBN 0-658-01598-2) and Beginner's Chinese Script (ISBN 0-6580-0081-0). Both are available at Amazon.com.

Dennis: I've been trying to come up with a system that makes math fun and positive, but so far I think math presents the biggest challenge of all subjects. I do particularly like the approach of Algebra the Easy Way by Douglas Downing (available at Amazon.com). For science, we have used Astronomy Demystified by Stan Gibilisco (and other books in the Demystified series, also available at Amazon.com). Kimberly: Zephyr is studying Japanese because he is interested in it, and ASL because I know it and we use it in the shows. For Japanese we use two audiotapes: Read Japanese by Len Walsh (Tuttle Publishing, ISBN 0-8048-0496-6) and Japanese on the Go by Barron's (ISBN 0-8120-7828-4). For anyone learning ASL I recommend The Joy of Signing: The Illustrated Guide For Mastering Sign Language and The Illustrated Alphabet by Lottie Riekehof (available at Amazon.com).

Do you notice that traveling has impacted Zephyr's understanding of geography and social studies?

Kimberly: America is our backyard. The beauty is in being able to revisit locations year after year and noticing how they have changed or remained the same. Zephyr doesn't just read about history and various locations -- he gets to live them. He has touched the Liberty Bell, locked the theatre booth that President Lincoln was shot in, and he's been inside the Arch in St. Louis.

He developed a strong interest in the Civil War after we visited Gettysburg. He followed it up by reading related books and by designing a computer game - which required more research, including finding Civil War era music. It is still a work in progress. Because of his interest we have taken him to Antietam and recently Manassas.

He has participated in the Fence Painting Contest during National Tom Sawyer Days for the past two years in Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain's hometown) and we plan on returning next year. To get ready for the event he read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and collected or made all of the things Tom Sawyer had - especially the things that he was given by his friends for the privilege of whitewashing the fence. Contestants tour Mark Twain's boyhood home, the cave where Becky and Tom got lost, and ride the riverboat, etc. In addition to our adventures in Hannibal, we have been to other locations frequented by Mark Twain - his home in Hartford, CT, gravesite in Elmira, NY, and Virginia City, NV where he began his career.

Zephyr also witnessed the launch of Columbia and so the tragedy affected him personally.

Dennis: We visited the Pentagon and the ruins of the World Trade Center a few days after the attack, and again, a year later. (These trips already had been planned, so we just kept our plans.) It's one thing to watch history unfold on TV, but it's another to smell the smoke. These visits have given him, we hope, much food for thought.

At 12, does Zephyr have any idea about what he might like to do as an adult?

Zephyr: I want to be a Walt Disney Imagineer -- the guys who design and build all the attractions at the Disney Parks. I'd like to be in Game Design/Programming. (I'm working on several game projects to start a business!)

What about college?

Dennis: I don't really emphasize to Zephyr that he should go to college, but I certainly want to encourage him to consider it strongly. There are very few fields that can be entered without a college-level education or some equivalent.

I didn't finish college myself (or high school), although I have taken courses at a total of five colleges and universities. (Kimberly has taken a few college courses, and some acting classes -- although we've learned our craft mostly on the job.) A degree isn't essential to do what I'm doing, but I have no doubt that it would have brought me greater financial success. On the other hand, it also may have cheated me of experiences that I wouldn't want to trade for anything.

Zephyr says he wants to be "an Imagineer," and I think there's a good possibility he'll stick with that. It wouldn't require college training, but it would require him to obtain a considerable amount of expertise somehow. And whether it's a prerequisite or not, a university background might give him an edge in a very competitive job market -- which, I fear, means any job market. There's always the chance that he might change his mind suddenly, and decide to do something totally different with his life. In any case, it's best to cover the bases, and that's why I think some sort of degree would be a wise move.

Nonetheless, there are alternatives if a person really doesn't want to attend college. There is trade school, there is military training, there is apprenticeship, and of course there is on-the-job training, such as we have had. It all depends on the interests, ambitions, temperament, determination and resourcefulness of the individual.

We're thinking about high school online and/or correspondence classes because frankly, we're not that confident in our own ability to fill in the gaps as he gets more advanced. It's relatively easy to teach a child at age 4, but later he or she gets into areas in which the parent may not be particularly competent. Of course, part of the appeal of schooling your own child is that you are able to learn things yourself that you have forgotten, or never learned in the first place. Even so, I might feel better having his education rounded out by someone outside the family.

As for specific subjects, we might want to consider in particular technical courses like science, math, and maybe any business-related subjects he has an interest in. I regard math as especially vital, because it helps develop thinking skills that can be applied to any endeavor. I know this from experience, as I had an outstanding math teacher in high school. Unfortunately, I am not a very good math teacher myself, and I am looking for ways to bridge this gap in my son's education.

If you had it to do over again (homeschooling on the road), what would you change?

Kimberly: We would have insisted that a certain amount of academic work get done each week -- but without trying to establish a 9-5 schedule to do it in.

What is the one best piece of advice you have for people that carschool?

Kimberly: Make a plan and be prepared to throw it out the window. Learning in the vehicle provides unparalleled opportunities (especially if no one is prone to carsickness). Bring books, art books, pens and paper - but more importantly talk and listen to your child. You both have a captive audience!

Zephyr: Let kids learn the way they want to. Don't try to force things upon them.

What do you recall as the single best homeschooling moment on the road that you have had either as a family or as individuals?

Kimberly: This question took some pondering. Of all the moments, ranging from political discussions to improvised silly songs, the moment that stands out dates back to one of our first years on the road. Zephyr was about 3 when our vehicle broke down and had to be towed off the highway (yet again). As we were stranded on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck to arrive, rather than stressing out, we turned it into an educational opportunity and wrote a book about it. Zephyr dictated and drew the pictures.

Traveling as you do, when does Zephyr find time to develop friendships?

Zephyr: I have far more friends than you'd expect - email helps me keep in contact with them.

Kimberly: He is happy when there are people around and he is happy being by himself. He has friends all over the country that he keeps in touch with via email and Yahoo Messenger. And he gets to see them all at least once a year, no matter where they live or if they move. One reason we camp more than we stay in hotels is so Zephyr can socialize. There are common areas at campgrounds and it is much easier to meet people. His enrollment in Boy Scouts also allows us to drop in on various scouting meetings and events. I do Internet research in advance when I know we will be in area for more than a few hours. He has been to scout meetings in Chicago, Kansas City, California, Delaware, Las Vegas and Wyoming. He attended Scout Camp in Maryland. We arranged for a troop to "adopt" him. Occasionally we meet up with families we've met online - via Yahoo groups such as Families On The Road and Homeschooled Scouts. It happens that Zephyr's personality is very outgoing and he makes friends quite easily. However, if he was introverted I believe this life style would suit him just as well.

Have you given any thought to when you might retire from the road? If so, what would you like to do?

Kimberly: When we "retire" we'll change our name to the "In-activated Storytellers." They'll wheel us on stage and we'll tell stories. Seriously, haven't given it much thought. We tend to take one day at a time. Most people wait until they retire to tour like we do - so I don't see any reason why we should stop. We also aren't ruling out living in one location. Guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Dennis: I can't imagine retiring from the road anytime in the foreseeable future. Traveling is the part of our job that I like best, and we don't make enough money to be able to retire in this lifetime. But such a decision might be influenced by what Zephyr decides to do when he turns 18. If he settles down somewhere it would be very difficult to go suddenly from having him around all the time to seeing him only once or twice a year. In any case, if I "retired" at all, I'd devote more time to my writing and my music.

Dennis, Kimberly and Zephyr Goza, the ever-nomadic Activated Storytellers, may be performing near you! To see their performing schedule or to book them for a performance for your support group, library, or homeschool conference visit their website at: www.activated-storytellers.com.

Copyright, 2003, Diane Keith, All Rights Reserved.

Diane Flynn Keith is the author of Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities to Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time. Get free car games at her website at: www.Carschooling.com