We Are Worldschoolers

spotlight with elly mcguiness and colin clapp

Briefly describe your family (who you are, ages, where you are from, backgrounds, profession(s), etc.)

We’re a world schooling family of four from New Zealand. Born and raised in England, Colin now considers himself a kiwi, although he still enjoys tea and biscuits, and keeping up with the football. A couple of his early formative travel experiences included enjoying the ski life in Vail, Colorado, and biking across the former Yugoslavia (which may offer some insight to his age!). During a Kiwi Experience tour around New Zealand, Colin knew that he was going to set out to make Christchurch, NZ his new home.

Born and bred in New Zealand, Elly got the urge to get out and explore other lands while she was studying at the University of Otago. She started with a 12 month exchange program to Canada, and loved it so much that after a year back in New Zealand she completed her final semester in the Czech Republic. She spent the next six years working and traveling abroad, including teaching English in Korea, a short stint working as a fitness director on one of the (then) largest cruise ships in the world, and six months backpacking through Central and South America.

Ayla and Romy are the Chief Play Officers (CPO’s) of the family. Born at home in Christchurch in December 2013, Ayla set off on her full time worldly adventures not long after her third birthday. She loves exploring and making friends all over the world. She loves art, fashion, books, swimming, dancing and gymnastics. 

Ayla became a big sister in early 2019 when Romy was born at her Nannie’s house in Gisborne. Romy was born into the full time slow travel life and set off to Vietnam when she was just two months old. She loves cars, swimming, and any of Ayla’s things.

Describe your worldschooling travel style. (how long you’ve been doing it, how it works and briefly where you’ve been)

We identify as slow traveling digital nomads. We started online businesses from scratch when we left New Zealand in early 2017 for the freedom it could offer our family. We prefer to spend 3-6 months, or sometimes longer in one place. As a general idea we thought we’d spend a few years in each continent.

We started off in South East Asia and spent our first three years there. Malaysia was the longest place we stayed. We lived in Penang for about 10 months at the start of our world schooling journey, (including a couple of visa runs), and we also spent a few months in KL and Johor Bahru.

We like to alternate between simple apartment living, and house sitting. We’ve spent around a third of our travel lifestyle house sitting, including six months in Bali and shorter stints in Krabi and Chiang Mai (Thailand), New Zealand and KL. In March 2020 we moved on to the European leg of our travels and started with a long term house sit in rural France (where we currently reside as I write this in July 2020).

Since we left New Zealand our work has been completely online. For longer term stays, we like to choose places that have co-working spaces available so that we can focus on building our businesses. We’ve found that it’s much more productive and works better for us overall when we have a co-working space to go to. 

We like the idea of just being able to work with everyone at home, and we do that when we need to (such as here in rural France), but in reality that will be an easier option when Romy is older, as she’s still only 1. So for now, we “tag team” the work time with one of us working and one with the kids. We have complete flexibility so can work around each other when we have appointments booked in, or specific projects going on. 

Describe your worldschooling – education style.

We identify as unschooling world schoolers so our education style is completely child-led. Our children are self directed learners. They get to choose what they learn, when they learn it, and how they learn it. 

Why did you choose this learning path?

We believe that life itself is full of abundant learning opportunities, so you could also say we identify as “life schoolers”. Colin and I have both considered ourselves to be students of life for a long while, and we intend to continue learning as long as we live! So unschooling has become a natural extension of that.

We both attended traditional schools and probably hadn’t even heard of unschooling until Ayla was born. At the time, we already had the intention to homeschool her. From the beginning we had decided that it was important for us to spend plenty of time together. We couldn’t imagine that once she got to school that she’d spend almost as much time with a school teacher, as her family. 

As well, we wanted to have flexibility, and the opportunity for Ayla to more easily follow her passions, without getting caught up in a system that spends a lot of time organizing children, fitting learning into scheduled slots, and telling children what to learn. We also like the Rudolf Steiner philosophy, which emphasizes play based learning for the first 7 years of life.

When Ayla was young I thought I’d still want to follow curriculums when she got older, probably for the usual reason of making sure she was up with whatever National “standards” were in place. However, we met some unschoolers when she was very young and we just felt incredibly connected to them and the way they were “doing life”. This was probably the beginning of evolving our way of thinking into more of an unschooling approach.

When Romy arrived, it became more evident that Ayla would need to take her self directed skills to the next level. We continued through the “teething” phases of bringing a new baby into the family, and it has been incredible to watch Ayla flourish since then. Her endless questions are evidence that she is just so interested in everything. She spends hours on end  just doing her own thing, whatever that may be, and at the same time takes every opportunity to go out exploring too. 

From the beginning, we simply said that we wanted to raise curious children that are interested in the world around them. We believe that this curiosity, coupled with the freedom to follow their own path at their own pace, paves the way for our children to tap into their own innate talents and creativity so that they can find their purpose and follow their passions.


What are the greatest gifts (benefits) you’ve experienced as a worldschooling family?

A few of the best aspects of our lifestyle:

  • Having complete flexibility with our work and schedule. We enjoy getting up and going to bed on our own timings (or going to bed within some limits for the kids; otherwise they would never go to bed!)
  • Being able to eat all our meals together and spend plenty of time together
  • Having complete flexibility with our lifestyle. This means that we can move on if something isn’t working for us. We’re not “tied” anywhere. If we were needed at home in New Zealand, we could go there. If a location just doesn’t feel right, we can move on
  • For us, it’s all about relationships.As well as spending plenty of time together as a family, we love the opportunity to meet new friends from all over the world. Connecting with others forms some of our most memorable moments
  • Getting to explore new places all the time. We love the excitement and anticipation of stepping foot somewhere that we have never been before, and the requirement to be curious and open minded that goes with all these new experiences. We never get bored of our life and feel like we’re really “living” it
  • Being a long way away from the rat race and the “Joneses” (who we were never really interested in keeping up with anyway!)
  • Owning minimal possessions. We find that this frees up a lot of mental space to just get on with enjoying life, and removes a bit of the overwhelm that can come with kids and all the “stuff” they can sometimes attract.

What are your greatest worldschooling challenges?

Our biggest challenges have mostly been around financial stresses and the frustrations of taking longer than expected to build our online businesses. Since we identify as “life learners” we have been prepared to go through the learning required and take the actions needed to make it all work for us. 

Although we have experienced financial pressures (as a result of a family business that didn’t pan out well in New Zealand), making the choice to world school bought us a lot of extra time in this regard. That’s because we could live in countries that have a much lower cost of living than New Zealand and still enjoy a nice lifestyle.

Our other challenges are mainly around parenting, and learning and growing in that regard, along with our children. We are raising two headstrong girls who know what they want, and we have challenges around creating boundaries, whilst still allowing them to be free spirits! This challenge of course would be present if we were living the traditional life. We’re grateful that we have made the decision to spend most of our time together so we can grow together and learn to meet the needs of each family member.

Another challenge is having time for just Colin and myself. Our kids don’t sleep much more than we do, and we don’t usually have babysitters available. We do aim to find a good babysitter if we can, in our longer term locations. This can require some time for the kids to warm to them and get used to the idea of mummy and daddy having alone time!

Why did you choose to worldschool?

As we alluded to earlier, Colin and I really enjoyed traveling when we were younger. After we had Ayla we weren’t sure how we could make International travel work. And certainly not on a regular or long term basis, so that idea seemed to be “parked”.

However, a failed family business gave us the opportunity we needed to say “Let’s go for it!”

Share a big powerful worldschooling “aha” moment ( an inspiring  story from the road)

A big “aha” moment for us was attending the Project World Schooling Summit in Chiang Mai in October 2018. We basically thought “This is our tribe”. We got to meet other people, face to face, who think like us and value the same things as us. This offered the foundation for some incredible connections and lifelong friendships.

Another “aha” moment occurred not long afterwards when we headed back to New Zealand for Romy’s birth. We stayed with family and intended to get back on the road as soon as we were ready to do so. At the time we weren’t sure how long that would be, because it would depend on the birth being straight forward, and how we felt afterwards.

We were convinced that we’d still want to continue the slow travel lifestyle after bubs arrived. Colin didn’t want to hold me to the idea, just in case I felt differently after the birth. I guess you could just say we remained open minded to the possibilities.

We did find that we felt the same way after Romy’s birth, and the first step was to clear out our storage unit and just keep a few select things with the family. (When we originally left New Zealand we didn’t really know how long we’d be gone for, so we just cleared out as much as we could mentally manage at the time). We were excited to continue where we’d left off and by the time Romy was 2 months old we were off again, another layer lighter without the storage container!

[In case you’re interested in downsizing your life, you might want to check out our YouTube playlist, which shares our 10 part series about minimizing our possessions. It takes you through our journey of starting the downsizing process in 2016 before we left on our slow travel lifestyle, through to getting rid of our storage unit at the beginning of 2019].

What would you say to other (hesitant) worldschooling families that may be considering this journey?

Start with the big picture. What is your vision? What do you want your life to look like? What do you want in your life and what do you want to change?

Then ask yourself why these things are important to you. What are the consequences if you don’t make the changes you want to make?

From there, highlight the roadblocks that you’re facing. These are the things that are getting in your way, and preventing you from taking the next step forward towards living your best life (whatever that may mean for you). 

After you understand your internal drivers and what is holding you back, you can start making a plan to take actions that will move you forward.

Colin and I are both happy to chat with anyone who is considering world schooling, or has questions about specific aspects of our lifestyle, so please reach out if you would like to connect.

Elly and Colin are originally from New Zealand. They have two young girls and have been living a full time ‘slow travel’ and location independent digital nomad lifestyle since February 2017. They spent the first three years of their world schooling journey in South East Asia, and then moved on to Europe in March 2020.

A failed family business spurred the beginning of their adventure. They love the simplicity of their unschooling lifestyle, and the fact that it allows them to spend plenty of time together as a family. 

Elly has 20 years’ experience helping people to lead their fittest, healthiest life. She is an online holistic health coach and freelance writer. Colin helps professional bloggers to optimize their existing content so they can save time, increase organic traffic and improve call to action (CTA) conversions.