Posted Online: Feb. 01, 2013, 9:24 am

When your home goes from sea to shining sea

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Photo: McClatchy Newspapers
Kelly Berg peers out the back window of her family's RV while packing in preparation for a seven-month trip to all the lower 48 states Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, at the Bergs' home in Raleigh, N.C. The family is partnering with First Book to deliver 6,000 books to underprivileged children around the country.
RALEIGH, N.C. — When 10-year-old Kelly Berg first told her friends about the seven-month cross-country family RV trip her mom was planning, the response was: "Is your mom crazy?"
But that quickly gave way to a little bit of envy when they heard the details: Kelly is spending the second half of fifth grade traveling with her mom and 7-year-old brother, Anton, to national parks, historic sites, factories and museums in 48 states to learn about America firsthand.
Their mom, Brenda Berg, is driving "Forrest," the family's 32-foot-long RV, down 17,000 miles of highway on a quest to give her kids the kind of education that can come only from experience. Also on board is Marina Kranjec, a 19-year-old exchange student from Sweden. Berg's husband, Christer, will join parts of the journey when his workload allows.
It's a full house and an even fuller schedule. When presented with a map of the U.S. to use as a wish list, Kelly and Anton marked about 400 places they wanted to see. Together, the family pared the route to about 90 stops.
The explorers left Raleigh, N.C., a few days after Christmas, heading first to Florida and getting used to life on the road. The route won't take them home again until late summer, in time for Kelly to start middle school — but that doesn't mean they'll be out of touch.
The children, who attended Stough Elementary in Raleigh and are registered as homeschoolers for this half of the academic year, make frequent blog posts on a website created for the trip. Skype video calls allow Kelly and Anton to share what they learn on the road with their Stough classmates and to sit in on science lessons and other events going on back at school.
"A lot of kids don't get to do this," said Kelly. "So it's really cool that I get to do this."
Before the Bergs left Raleigh, they took the RV to the school to show to Kelly and Anton's classmates.
"We said to each and every one of them, 'We want you to be part of our trip, we want you to go on our trip with us,'" Brenda Berg said. "I can't wait to spend this time with my kids, and it's about us, but I also want them to understand that everything we do is about more than just us. I want them to understand that they're doing this on behalf of other kids who can't."
The school was "unbelievably supportive" of the trip, Berg said. "From the first minute we even mentioned it, it was like, 'Great, how can we be a part of it?'"
Teachers and administrators at Stough were happy to help, principal Cheryl Stidham said, because the trip fits right in with the school's emphasis on education that reaches beyond classroom walls.
"Many students never have an opportunity to get outside of Raleigh," she said, "and so I thought this may be a real opportunity for the children at Stough to see the country through the eyes of one of their classmates."
Berg hopes the journey tightens the family and expands its horizons.
"I hope the kids will just get a better understanding of our country," she said. "They've been abroad, they've been to a lot of places, they've been on a lot of airplanes. But they've never seen our country by the road, and really how massive and how interesting and how diverse."
To explore that diversity, Kelly and Anton each are interviewing at least one adult they meet each day. The question Kelly chose to ask was "What do you love about America, and what is the one thing you would change?" Anton asked, "If you could live in one book — fact or fiction — what would it be?"
His question stems from the love of books he and his sister share, and another aim of the trip is to share that love of reading with other children.
The Bergs have partnered with nonprofit First Book to donate books to schools in need along the way.
One thing that buoys mom Brenda Berg is the reaction of people — friends and strangers alike — when she tells them about the trip.
"Almost every single person I've talked to has been supportive of it, and excited about it, wishing they could go on it, wanting to contribute, wanting to be part of it," she said, "and that's powerful."
But most powerful is the response from people with older children, who Berg said invariably tell her, "'You will never regret it.' I live by those words at this point."