Boatschooling, Part 1: finding a path

“Are you homeschooling your children?” It surprises me how often we are asked this question, given that we have been away from home for five years with kids who are smack in the elementary/middle school window of learning. The snark in me is tempted to say “no, we’re not,” and watch the reaction. Partly because, really, don’t they think we are concerned about our children’s education? Also because- well, we’re not really “homeschooling” in the sense of Doing School At Home… but that answer is a little too involved for most people who ask the question.

Homeschooling is a monster topic, so to offer a meatier reply, I’ve got input (surface-skimming input!) from our point of view spread out over multiple posts. This post offers my perspective on getting started; subsequent posts on the specifics of  how learning looks on Totem, things I wish I’d known before, and any questions that come up along the way (bring ’em on!).

Mairen writes in her journal between Bali and Lombok

I mean no offense to those who ask us if we’re homeschooling, just as I took no offense from their odd phrasing. I realize they are only looking for information and we’re happy to help. How to address our children’s education was my number one concern about cruising as a family, so I can understand where it’s coming from.

It used to be that if you were going cruising, the de facto curriculum was Calvert. This was what the books recommended; this was what the well salted cruisers said “everyone” used. As an American cruiser nothing else was seriously presented for primary education (many countries provide standard materials for distance learning). The world of learning outside of school has changed dramatically since then. As homeschooling has grown in popularity, there’s been an explosion of resources available for parents and for kids. The options for approaching learning can be as wildly different on a boat as they are for homeschooling families on land. This is great on many levels, but it can be a little overwhelming. Trying to muddle through the options is the concern I hear in people who want to know what we do.

If you’re in the planning stages and overwhelmed by choices it’s helpful to get familiar with how a number of different families approach education, not just one, because there is no cookie cutter approach that assures success. Every family, and every individual, has a different rhythm for learning. No one of them is right.

As we get seriously into our five-year plan and I revisited homeschooling, I defaulted to the presumption of Calvert. The problem was that closer I looked, the less it seemed like a fit for our family: highly structured and voluminous, material with no correlation to our travels, and content that couldn’t be readily shared between our three kids. The message I’d been given for years was that this program was the right thing to do, but it just didn’t feel right.

I needed help understanding the alternatives, and I found them by meeting homeschooling families: in person, through community groups, and online. What a relief to have hammered into my head that no two families approached homeschooling the same way, but they all had great kids!

My homeschool doulas helped demystify all the code words of homeschooling that I was completely unfamiliar with as a newbie: eclectic curriculum, unschooling, natural learning, classical education. These fundamental approaches are loaded terms in the homeschooling lexicon: if you’re completely new to homeschooling, spending a little time to learn about these and others will help you navigate what’s out there. As you might expect, people tend to be pretty passionate about their choice, so you need to be able to apply your own filter to evaluate the pros/cons for your family.

Lining up a direction for how learning can look for your children means being familiar with them (and others), the materials and support available, and finding the best path for your family. Doing this effectively means stepping back to think a few things through: what are you family dynamics? Your parenting style? How your children learn? We don’t all process information the same way, and this is a gift of an opportunity to find a direction that works for everyone.

Ultimately it was meeting these families in person that had the biggest impact on helping me overcome my fears and trust my instincts to find what felt right for us. The kids that really impressed me were at a gathering of unschooling families in our area. This was a turning point where I could finally let go of the guilt I carried for wanting to find a very different method of learning from the structured walls of What Everybody Always Did Before. In truth, it was the teenagers who kind of blew me away. I’d never been around a group of teens that was so engaged in… well, everything, it seemed, but especially the community of around them, across ages. It was beautiful to experience the joy of learning in these articulate people.

With a path in mind, filling in the blanks on resources and materials became easier to manage. Here are a few things to think through when you are beyond the philosophical approach, and looking at options:

  • Time frame. Is this a sabbatical cruise of a year or two, where you plan to return to enrollment in the same school system when you get back? You might find current teachers to be your best allies here to help keep the transition smooth.
  • Regulations. What are the requirements in your state (/province /country) to register as a homeschooler? In the US, regulations vary significantly by state. This is less important if you’ll soon be non-resident or are unsure when you’ll return.
  • Internet. What’s your connectivity going to be like? Many programs presume not just an internet connection, but broadband with unlimited data. 
  • Materials/resources. There’s some trading between kid boats, but you can’t count on it to fill in gaps along the way- more like serendipity. Think through what you need to leave with, and where you can safely have material shipped along the way.

I’ll readily admit I’m not accustomed to writing about homeschooling- there’s a lot more “out there”. I’d love to hear from others about your questions and experience to try and improve my articulation. I deliberately offer no silver bullets, but hopefully enough food for thought.

I’ll get into the specifics about what we’ve done on board in the next post. Meanwhile, please get in touch via email, comments or our FB page with what you want to know about boatschooling or what you’ve learned along the way.

This is the first in a series of posts on boatschooling. 

14 Responses

  1. After working in the Public School system for 15 years (and having 2 kids go through that system) I regret that I didn’t home school our kids.

    On another note, I was once asked a weird question regarding our schooling choices by our daughter’s 3rd grade teacher. At a Parent conference she asked “why has your daughter attended school in three different school districts in 4 years?” As serious as a judge I replied, “we’re in a witness relocation program.” I was ready to leave it at that but she freaked out, turns out her husband was the Chief of Police for the Memphis PD…

    1. That’s quite a statement- I’ve heard similar. Have you written about this on your blog? I’d be very interested to know more… more than fits into comment space!

    2. Which statement are you talking about? My regret statement? Sure, email me I try not to put much job related stuff on my blog, you never know who’s reading. As for the witness relocation program, I had had enough of people wondering or asking why we moved so much and just short of saying “it’s non of your business” I came up with this. We didn’t move 11 times in 13 years because we were running from anything, we were being transferred with my husband’s job. I thought her reaction was hilarious. I wished I’d had it on film.

  2. Quick 2 cents from the other perspective — my sister and I did “BC Correspondence” for the 4 years that we spent circumnavigating (Canada’s free solution for kids that live far away from regular schools), and I always felt reeeally bad for our American friends who were stuck doing their Calvert curriculum!
    As a 13-year old, it seemed to me that they had to spend *so* much time on school, while we could do a bunch of work on passages and then none when we were in cool ports… I don’t know if either system has changed since then (that was ’98-’02). But I’m excited to hear more about how you guys are doing things — it’s good research for future babies 😉

    1. BC absolutely rocks with the options it provides to families from the area. Not just a correspondence program, but a range of MANY options to choose from so you can find one that feels like a fit for your family. How cool is that? Kinda makes me wish we were BC Canadians! And yeah, the Calvert kids do spend tons of time in school. When other boat kids are swimming and exploring the world around them, they are locked up studying. The families who choose it really seem to love it, but… well,it’s not our choice. 🙂

  3. I’ve been wondering about state regulations/state residency issues for a while. For example, my husband and I currently live in Illinois and plan to leave to go cruising next year, most likely purchasing a boat in Florida. Illinois has very lax regulations on homeschooling but high state income taxes and other regulations, so we have considered changing our residence to Florida before leaving. If we no longer live in the United States, but haven’t legally changed our residence to another country, in what state are we residents? Didn’t know if you guys attempted to address this issue before leaving.

    1. I think that if you aren’t in the US, and having adopted residence elsewhere, you’re still technically resident in the state which you were most recently resident in the US. Think of it this way, would you still vote there (or, why wouldn’t you)? I don’t think you should be accountable to a state’s requirements when you’re no longer living in the US, but I wonder if some states feel differently. If it’s a worry, maybe someone in the education department can help. We consider ourselves WA state residents, as we were before we left… no personal taxes, we have property there, we like to continue to vote there, not to mention all our personal ties- it’s home.

  4. Behan, have you checked out the Home School section by The Pioneer Woman?

    She has a whole section dedicated to Home School besides all her cooking stuff. Seems she’s in a sort of network. They live on a HUGE ranch in Oklahoma and they home school their 4 kids and her niece and nephew. There are so many more home school options now than there were back when my kids were in school. They even have group get togethers (which wouldn’t help you) but I’m sure they would love to Skype with your kids as a Geography lesson, and vice versa.

    1. I remember looking at her homeschool information waaaayyyyy back when we were trying to work out our own plans and approach. She’s got such a gift for clearly presenting information in plain English (and with gorgeous photos!). Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I was nodding my head in agreement as I read your blog, we are a family of 5 too and are also often asked (sometimes in a horrified voice) – “what about school?”
    In the UK the legal requirement is for children to receive ‘an appropriate and adequate education in a school setting or otherwise’, possibly one of our best worded pieces of legislation. Everyone does what suits them (often through trial and error for the first few months!) and that is the beauty of home schooling that you fit the work around the child, not try to fit the child into the box,
    Fair winds,

  6. We ‘homeschool’ too although I don’t like labels. We love our choice to live aboard a sial boat and educate our children ourselves. What, like it’s hard? Great post, thank you for sharing and nice to meet someone like minded 🙂

  7. I love your blog, and I think your kids are the absolute luckiest to have such an amazing childhood!
    One thing I keep wondering about is exams and qualifications: how will you handle that to make sure their choices aren’t limited later on? For a UK based child it’d be really tricky to avoid having to get back into the system after the age of 15 or so, as there are major exams at 16…not sure if that’s the same for you guys?

    1. Hi Kate, thanks, we think they’re lucky too! In the USA, there’s a big exam when you’re about 17 called the SAT. It’s a standardized test of general knowledge that’s required by almost all US universities as part of the application process. Our 15 year old is prepping for it now- not a problem. We could even take it here in Malaysia, most international schools offer it during certain times of year. It’s my impression that we’re not funneled into career paths as early as UK kids, so it’s not a big deal… the limitations are more around things that would require a group, say, organized team sports or theater production, or specialized expertise in the arts, but it’s rarely something that can’t be managed or simply postponed if the passion is there.

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