Then they enquire how old our offspring are. "Six and one," I say. And suddenly the alarm drops from their voices.
Of course, in many countries children don't begin school until seven. But school often hasn't really been a realistic option for us while travelling and, let's face it, it's not the ONLY way one can learn or become educated. Even Albert Einstein said, "education is what remains when one has forgotten everything he or she has learned in school."
We tried school for a while when in Piracanga, Brazil, but Zenchai really didn't like it, although he seems to have forgotten how much.
Occasionally, he talks about it fondly and, when I probe deeper, it turns out that what he really liked was the freedom (it was a Free School) and playing daily with the one or two kids he had formed relationships with.
But every day was a struggle for me to take him to school. He fought it - and hard. Eventually, we listened to him. Suffice to say he had some unpleasant experiences there, though I should add there were some good ones, too.
However, though he is now six and hasn't really had any schooling, Zenchai is bright - very bright, the smart Alec variety.
The point is that whether he is formally instructed or not, he is learning, because, in the right environment, that's what children do. And Zenchai is doing it at his pace, mostly through play, and choosing what it is he is interested in rather than following a curriculum that someone else has deemed either necessary or appropriate.
Rightly or wrongly, that's the path we are taking for now. Not everyone will believe in or support our choices - and we may, of course, change our minds/attitudes - but currently I am happy with how Zenchai is developing and progressing.
Of course, he is hugely challenging, incredibly chatty and fiercely demanding at times also. But I could replace challenging with strong-willed and chatty with expressive and demanding with having the spirit to make his desires a reality. He has a strong personality, but is also highly sensitive. He is very much a free soul.
So when I am asked about reading, writing and counting etc, I don't feel any more concerned with Zenchai's progress than I was when he was learning to walk and talk, which all occurred completely naturally. The same happened with running, cycling, swimming, bodyboarding and kayaking. All we did was provide the suitable environment and tools, which gave Zenchai, when he was ready, the motivation. Through practice and enthusiasm, he got better. And I believe the same will occur with reading, writing, drawing, counting and pretty much everything else.
I notice how he studies the pages of his books even now and looks at the words, trying to work out the sounds. He does it all by himself, privately, and that's fine by us. And if he needs help, he usually asks and we assist.
Zenchai is a good observer. He can, like many young children, handle a computer effortlessly and knows how it operates. He knows all about cars, because it's his passion and he absorbs every word that he hears or reads about them.
I know from my own experience that what I learned best was what I was most interested in and that still remains the case. What was forced upon me I quickly tried to avoid or give up or ended up forgetting.
I became a journalist through desire, passion and enthusiasm. What I learned for my specialised subject, boxing, was done off my own back and not in school. The key, I believe, is fostering that passion.
So we are trying to encourage Zenchai to learn through his interests, which are mainly cars and vehicles, but he is also into pirates, dinosaurs, building, music, magic, singing, books/stories, sometimes sports and many other things. By watching Zenchai play with cars, for instance, I have observed him learn to read (badges, number plates, signs, logos), draw (he loves details), build (he converts almost anything, including himself, into a car), count and write, all fuelled by his own fascination and with no urging or deliberate guidance from us, his parents.
There is no reason why this cannot continue as he gets older, so long as Jamie and I are prepared to support him where needed (and, for the record, neither of us is particularly interested in cars).
The questions that are always asked are about sociability and education when they get older. But being 'homeschooled' doesn't mean Zenchai won't have contact with other children or can't, if he chooses, go on to university one day. And, as said earlier, one day we or he may decide to opt for something more structured and institutionalised.
We seek out playgroups and other families with children wherever we go and, more importantly, Zenchai is in a world where he learns to interact with people of all age groups rather than predominantly his own and spends most of his days in real life situations rather than classrooms.
It amounts to a different type of education. Our model is really more life-learning. But it's a tough undertaking for any parent. Believe me, I have many days when Zenchai is too much for me/us to handle and I think it would be so much easier and convenient to pack him off to school, which would give me all the time I wanted to myself. But the reality is that in those moments we are not quite getting something right and he is reminding us of it.
But neither Jamie nor I, at this moment, really feel a school system is for Zenchai or, more accurately, we haven't found a school model here that we think is suitable for him. So we have chosen an alternative road.
As I am reminded frequently by the homeschooling/life learning/unschooling community, homeschooling is not the experiment. It's how for generations children were raised. School, actually, is the experiment.
However, learning from 'home' means we are with our children practically all the time, which is testing (really testing) for our family dynamic. We also have to place a lot of trust in Zenchai, because he guides us to what he enjoys and wants to learn about.
Thankfully, we've never been too fussed about comparing Zenchai to other children his age. We try to think of him as an individual and unique (which is what all children are) and there is too much stress created by continually being informed your child may be lagging behind or lacking in some way, physically or mentally. I certainly never liked being compared when I was younger. Zenchai excels at being himself and my job is to accept him as he is (which, I admit during challenging moments, isn't always easy).
All I know is that whenever I ask Zenchai if he would like to go to school, his answer is an emphatic 'NO'. To go against that would be disrespecting his choice (as I did for several months in Brazil), just as it would if I kept him out of school should one day he decide again to try.
Some people believe children shouldn't have that choice - that it is too great a decision for them. But I'm not one of them. I believe, even if I don't always succeed in practising what I preach, that to raise respectful people we should treat them respectfully.