Seems we haven’t messed the kids up

It’s been three years since our kids were enrolled in school. When we left, Niall was in third grade. Mairen had just finished kindergarten. Siobhan… well, I guess she’s never been enrolled! It’s been boatschooling ever since.

Finding a homeschooling path wasn’t always easy, but I had some pretty amazing mentors to help find it: Laureen and Jason, Frank and Ronnie, the Seven Cs– all parents of amazing kids. Once we started cruising, we learned so much by sharing with other nomadic families. We don’t all approach it the same way- in fact, we are wildly divergent!- but there is always something to be learned from each other

There isn’t any one way to go about it. Which is what makes it, as a parent, a little scary. Our children mean more to us than anything: what- and how- they learn now, shapes their future.

Although we have absolutely no regrets about boatschooling- and for a variety of reasons, have not enrolled the children in Australian schools- I confess to still crave signs from outside our little circle that we’re doing OK. I don’t want to need mainstream approval, but can’t deny how powerful it is.

Which is part of the reason why, I suppose, it was so exciting when Niall was recognized for an essay he wrote recently. The essay was submitted to a local contest through the public library system, judged by professional authors. But the deepest pride is in seeing how he grew with this process, from start to finish.

Getting his award
Niall accepts his award from the Mayor.

It began when he saw the announcement about the contest at our local library on one of the gazillion visits he and his siblings make. A poem or story, up to 750 words- with prizes given to the winners in 5 age groups from 11 to 18. He worked hard on his piece: for about two weeks, he wrote and spun and rewrote. He invested so much into it, I worried about how he’s respond when he didn’t win.

His topic is ultimately about environmental responsibility. He shares it by looking at a unique experience from our travels, but something most people can identify with: walking along, and seeing plastic trash- and how it fits in the bigger picture. So proud that this is what he felt was important to express for a broader audience.

What finally melted me as a parent was to see my kid get up there behind the podium to read his work to a crowd. He could just barely see the 200-odd gathered over the top. I’m quite sure that I couldn’t have handled that at his age- he was a pro! Although, he confessed later- he had to keep shifting his weight so his shaky legs wouldn’t knock into each other.

It’s a great essay. I crow! I can’t help it. You can read the essay on his blog, or listen to him read it on this video.

Niall’s essay: ocean plastic from behan gifford on Vimeo.

So homeschoolinng, boatschooling, unschooling… it seems we haven’t messed the kids up. They are thriving. We have ups and downs. I always worry that we’re missing something (and I know I’m not the only one!).

Where we’ve come, full circle, is not that homeschooling is a necessary part of the nomadic life we wanted to lead- but the very real gift that we have all relieved from choosing this life. Teachers come from many places, not just the four walls of a classroom. The box is comfortable for many, but I am grateful that we have the opportunity to opt out.

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14 Responses to Seems we haven’t messed the kids up

  1. Octavia June 13, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    Behan, you guys rock! Congratulation to Niall for his essay and award, and congratulation to you and Jamie for giving your kids such amazing learning experiences! I smiled to myself when listening to Niall talk about Mexico, Australia, the US coast, and the Pacific, and knowing that he actually talks from his own experience. How many adults, let alone kids his age, can say that?
    Hugs from California!
    Octavia

  2. Seven C's June 13, 2011 at 2:41 am #

    Fantastic! Congrats Niall (and mom and dad 🙂 ) !
    I have yet to listen and read the essay, but I and the kids all will before tomorrow is finished.
    Public speaking is a highly prized skill and so rare to find. I still get nervous when doing public speaking!
    Again, Great job, Niall! 🙂

  3. Tracey June 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Great work Nial! Great parents…. what can I say.
    Thinking of you often, while we dream of another cruising day.
    Cheers from Vancouver,
    Blackdragon: Tracey, Steve Foster and Scupper

  4. rogoman June 14, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    This is ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!! I have shared it with several hundred people on my Facebook page (I hope you don’t mind). You have done brilliant work here, Nial! Keep working hard and you will have unbounded potential!

    My Facebook entry read: “A young boy from our little Bainbridge island has sailed across the pacific with his parents and young sisters. He was inspired by his experience on a South Pacific atoll to write about the collision between garbage in the pacific and the atoll. Must watch his video and share with kids: http://vimeo.com/24897813

  5. The Ceol Mors June 15, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    Behan, I think we all want a sign now and again, whether we homeschool, unschool, public school, whatever- that the choices we make aren’t hindering our kids. Well done Niall! and well done Totem Academy, the kids are most definitely alright.

  6. tuckerbradford.com June 16, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    You guys are doing a fantastic job preparing your kids for adulthood. We have often held your family up as evidence to our friends and family that what we are planning is an amazing opportunity for our kids to learn first hand how the world works. Niall’s public speaking is better than some of my co-workers’. Ole Niall! Ole Totem!

  7. Doug and Carla Scott June 25, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    So impressed by the Totem family. You are definitely raising a wonderful family. Congratulations to Niall!

    Miss you guys, Carla

  8. Shelley Heaslip July 23, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Wow, what a fabulous piece of writing from Niall, very mature and how skillfully he weaves all the components together. You have every right to be proud of him and your efforts as a homeschool boat. We only managed Palmerston Island in the cooks, but one of the daughters of Tom Neale did our quarantine there.
    Greetings from Vava’u, Tonga
    Shelley, S/V Imagine

  9. Andy August 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Excellent !!! Keep up the good work…

  10. bloc hornet September 4, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    hahaha great blog post, your doing an exciting thing here, think more people should do it and quit making excuses

  11. Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    As a Child I was raised a homeschooler in Kitsap county where I spent many of my days on the beaches and docks around old salts instead of public school trying to meet a quota of american education. though at the time I did not realize it; my family and myself look back and think how amazing it was to be exposed to a life style where kids can grow their education from more than just books, but instead from within them self, their surroundings and life experiences. I’m now a third year architecture student at U of Idaho and pursuing a degree that was instilled in me because of the many hours I spent creating structures in the woods and with my legos (time well spent not in school). I think what your doing with your own kids is really amazing and beneficial to their education keep it up!

  12. Aline s/v The Job Site September 14, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I’m reading your blog from the start to catch up to you today, thus this post a year later, but, Niall, you brought tears to my eyes, and I haven’t even met you. You are a superb speaker, but more importantly an outstanding human being. How amazing that you are so attuned to all that you are fortunate to be experiencing. Obviously your parents are doing a fabulous job of teaching you and your sisters what’s really important in life. Congratulations on the well deserved award.
    Aline s/v The Job Site

  13. Anonymous June 15, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Why would you ever think that homeschooling will mess kids up? Isn’t it abvious that it is the ONLY way to bring up a better, happier, more sane and psychologically healthy kid? I really dunno, maybe my bakground as a psychologist allows me to see a “big picture” and instinctively know what is right, so I am always surprised when I see a parent who decided to go the RIGHT way (home/un/schooling) AND then looking for approval or proof that their choice was right… Don’t you just FEEl this? It is so obvious to anybody who has brains, why look for an external proof? People are strange animals sometimes… 🙂

    • Behan Gifford June 15, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      Anonymous, the title of the post is intended to be ironic and possibly a bit sarcastic- possibly you didn’t catch that. I don’t think it will mess them up at all, but we hear enough from people who do think that what we are doing will, to put it simply, mess them up! As for external approval- well, we really don’t look for it so much, but it is pretty sweet when something like this reinforces for our family that what we are doing is pretty special.

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