Never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered homeschooling Cole, I mean why would I? He had a great school in a small community, he was happy with all his peers and enjoying where he was. Then we decided to move onboard a boat, kind of a game changer. This meant we had to do something about his continued education. So here I am homeschooling or should I say Boatschooling my 11 year old son. Sounds easy right? Let me just say that I was really intimidated with the whole idea in the beginning but have come to realise that not only am I pulling it off, but Cole is thriving. Good news right? Read on and I will tell you how I got there and how you can too.
Ok, here we were embarking on this enormous life change and adventure to live on a catamaran and sail to who knows where? What am I going to do for school? My mind is spinning with confusion. There are so many different choices on how to go about it. You can Homeschool with a structured set curriculum, you can create your own curriculum or forgo it all for the Unschooling method and allow the experience to do the teaching for you. Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? I know I was. Another huge factor to consider is the lack of internet, don’t even bother picking a curriculum where you have to log in to do the work because you will become a slave to finding internet connection. Internet is not reliable down in the islands and when you do find it its not very quick, not to mention usually in a restaurant or beach bar, not exactly the perfect classroom setting. That said, if you will be hopping from marina to marina while you cruise using the internet is a much more reasonable option. We prefer to anchor to save our budget so this was not an option for us.
Cole works on Science in the Salon.
So what did we do? Lots of research! Reading blogs like this one, asking on Facebook homeschool groups, ( check out the Facebook boat schooling group and kids for sail group ) and talking to Cole’s former teachers. I still felt confused with all this information but in the end we chose to build our own curriculum rather than a boxed set, one that would suit our life. This is still a work in progress as I am always asking fellow cruisers what they are using and trying to assess what we might be missing. I found most box sets to be a bit restricting in the topics that they assign. While we are cruising we try to take advantage of the learning opportunities that present themselves, such as studying Volcanoes since we visited a few volcanic islands, some dormant and some active. What a great way to learn. If we were confined to a set curriculum this lesson may have come long after we passed these islands and the opportunity would have been lost.
Finding a cool spot to read on the boat is half the fun.
The first thing I learned to do was relax about it all. In the beginning we were not very diligent with getting at schoolwork, since we had never homeschooled before we had no routine in place. This is OK, give yourself a chance to find your groove once you move onboard. Your kids will be learning about their new living environment and it is a lot to take in. You will want to find a routine that works for you and your family. Don’t stress about this, it will happen once you’ve settled in. Enjoy the excitement of moving aboard and this huge transition and your new found family time. After all isn’t that part of the reason for being out here?
Getting back to work after a quick swim for recess.
Our routine developed into doing school first thing in the morning and finishing anywhere between 12-2pm. This will include a couple of small breaks or recesses for a snack and to get the fidgets out. You will find that most cruising families are on this schedule which makes it easy to coordinate after school play time amongst other cruiser kids. Of course this is all in a perfect world but this cruising lifestyle can be unpredictable and always changing, whether it be to a new anchorage or a day of exploring.
I soon learned that for my own sanity, it was important to be flexible. Don’t stress out when your child hasn’t done school for 10 days and its no where near spring break. I recently counted the number of school days where kids are actually in class and found that even with gaps of a week here and a few extra days there we are still ahead of the game. Yes, I said ahead! Cole is able to finish a school year quicker than he would if he were attending a real school. We don’t really follow the schedule from real school anymore because it doesn’t fit with this lifestyle. We will do school on Saturdays and Sundays and even 7 days a week sometimes, spring break, xmas holidays and summer vacation are irrelevant, we just do school when we can and it all seems to work out in the end. That is what works for us. Some days we will only get in 1 hr, others it will be more, that is what I mean when I say try to be flexible and not make too many rules for yourself. You will feel much more relaxed about it all, it works for me.
Many of the things learnt on a boat aren't coming from curriculum books and are not to be discounted. Cole is involved in most of the repairs and maintenance on the boat.
So lets talk about the actual goods, what am I using? In the beginning we really only focused on Math, Reading, Spelling and Writing and since then I have added a few more components and even eliminated a few.
Our Math curriculum is Teaching Textbooks, it comes in book form or CD. We have used this for the past 3 years and are very happy with it. Cole finds it easy to understand with their straightforward instructions. We use the book version because I like to read over the lesson with him and can then offer help in the same language that the text is using. I wish math had been this clear when I was learning it. We have also used flash cards for multiplication etc.
Teaching Textbooks has been a success for us.
For Writing we have used Writing With Ease as a guide and then build on that by writing reports and paragraphs about the countries we visit. I tried to get Cole to keep a journal but he wasn’t into it and so we moved on. Some kids love to journal and we may revisit that idea again. Trying new things that your kids are interested in really helps, don’t feel like you have to always stay the same, if something isn’t working try something else. That is the beauty and privilege of Boatschooling.
We have used this on and off as part of our curriculum.
Next is a series called Story of the World. This is a history/social studies set that can be used for many grades based on how in-depth you go with the research, projects and supplemental information. I think it is a great book for kids in Elementary school. The way that history is presented is in order of real time and is told in a way that keeps their interest. In the younger years you can read the story to your kids and eventually have them read it on their own. Cole is always asking for “one more chapter” so that is a keeper for us. Every time we visit a new country we are experiencing social studies from their varied cultures and races and their history.
Science is a subject that cruising kids are exposed to everyday without even opening a textbook. They are snorkelling and discovering new fish and sea life, they are seeing the effects and force of wind on the sails, using pulleys and ropes to haul heavy loads, watching weather patterns and how they affect us, catching and cleaning fish, witnessing the power of solar energy to power all our electronics, learning about osmosis when the water maker converts salt water to fresh. This is an amazing result of living on a boat that cannot be measured and this is only to name a few . This year is the first year that I have used a textbook for Science and it was to introduce some of the other elements that we aren’t getting such as plant cells and anatomy etc. It is a basic introduction but could use some supplemental material to get further in depth. For grade 6 it is just enough. Whenever we can relate what we are reading about to something we experience in real life the learning meter goes through the roof, its very exciting to see.
This years Science book.
Learning about the flora and fauna of the local jungle in Dominica.
Some of the other topics we include are Grammar, Spelling, Group Projects, Field Trips, PE, Art and Home Ec. We have a few extra books onboard that are for reference and supplemental material to help us along or emphasise a topic. There has been a few occasions that we team up with other kids and parents to work on projects or lessons together and that is always a treat for Cole.
Some of the supplemental material that we carry onboard. You can always swap with other boats once you have used what you have.
We pulled out the sewing machine to try it out for a few small projects and it was a hit.
Boat schooling is different than home schooling in the sense that there are so many more things that our kids are learning that we don’t even realise. There is exposure to things that we take for granted just from the everyday goings on. The life skills that are learnt are immeasurable and Cole amazes us everyday with some of the knowledge that he has soaked up. In many ways I feel that this life is giving him and accelerated program where he is able to learn so much more without even knowing it. There are still moments where I stress out thinking about Coles education, wondering if he is getting everything he needs but I definitely know that he is loving what he is learning and even says that he likes boat schooling so I will take that as a win and keep on keeping on.
Filling the Dinghy with fixed fuel is one of the many new skills you learn as a cruising kid.
I hope you found some answers in this post and feel a little less intimidated by the whole idea. If I could sum it up in a nut shell I would say, keep an open mind and go with what feels right for your kids and your family’s schedule. Your kids will learn no matter what you do so take a deep breath, you can do it! Boat schooling is a gift and privilege that not many kids get so you are already winning and so are your kids. The cruising classroom is priceless, congratulations on joining in.
If you have any other questions shoot me an email and I will respond as soon as we get internet.
“Life is for Livin”
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