Long-term sailing mum, Aimee Nance, reveals how she copes educating her daughters as they sail around Central America and strategies to keep them engaged and focused.
‘So how's homeschooling going?’
It’s always the first question we get asked when me meet other sailing families. And it’s the thing we spend a lot of time and energy on as we sail around Central America with our two school-age daughters.
We are boat schooling with our own curriculum. Rather than pay for "school in a box" where for a large fee you can have textbooks, workbooks and reading books show up at your door, we're picking out our own books and workbooks. Why should our girls be studying about ancient Rome when they'll be living in Central America for months on end? Considering we're passing though the Panama Canal, why not learn about its history? School hours will be loose but will encompass 15 hours of school Sunday- Saturday with plenty of field trips.
The first 60 days of cruising and attempting to homeschool was rough – real rough. We set sail off into the sunset and discovered that every aspect of your life has been turned inside out. Nothing is the same as it was when living on the dock. Showering, eating, cooking, sleeping, everything is different. Then comes homeschool.
For the first few months our kids would rather do just about anything than homeschool. Honestly, can you blame them? Like us, they were enthralled with their new life – dolphins swimming by, fish to catch, dad's out swimming with whales, they'd rather be snorkeling with manta rays and more.
Conversations with other sailing parents all start the same: thinking we're failing and the kids are going to be calling Child Protection Service. It doesn’t take long to discover that you’re all in the same boat, worried that you haven't dedicated enough time to teaching and tired of fighting just to get the kids to cooperate.
I reached my breaking point two months into the trip. My ears were bleeding from all the whining about homeschool and I had had enough. I didn't sell off everything I owned, save for two years and say goodbye to friends and family to cruise and fight with an 11-year-old every day. It was not on my list of things to do.
‘If you don't want to do homeschool, you don't have to,’ I told my daughter. ‘You have the option of not doing any school for this entire trip. No problem. No worries. You can expect that once we go back you will be the oldest kid in 6th grade.’
My husband, Phil, knew where I was heading with my homeschool conversation and chimed in.
‘Think of it, Jessica. You might even be old enough to drive in 6th grade by the time we get back,’ he said. ‘How cool would that be? A 6th-grader with a car. I bet you'd have tons of friends all wanting rides. Maybe you can even get your own parking spot right next to the principal.’
Our oldest daughter got the hint and hasn't complained much since.
So how are we handling homeschool?
Both Phil and I are passionate about our girls’ education and have split the work of teaching our girls. We dedicate 15 hours a week (Sun-Sat) to school. Every school day the girls will do Math, Language Arts, and then something else. That something else might be History or Science (Phil has a PhD in Molecular Biology – a huge help).
The girls are also required to read from a book of their choice everyday. The girls are also required (no options regarding this) to write in a journal every day. All I ask, is that they write a few sentences about what they did the day before. This is to be written in their words as a memento, something they can look back at 20 years from now.
Right now homeschool is going well. I love teaching the girls as it gives me a chance to learn new things too and keep an eye on their progression. The girls like homeschool because it allows them to move at their own speed. One is blasting through Math while the other needs to go slow in the Language Arts department, which we can easily accommodate.
With an established 15 hours of school needed each week, the girls can decide if they want to blow off a day knowing that they'll have to make up the hours later that week. For us school is year round to make up for the periods of days when we don't homeschool, like on long passages.
One of the most important things we’ve learned is that schoolwork does not have to be done at the same time every day. Some days we hike before it gets too hot and then do school. Some days we do school after dinner when it's the coolest part of the day.
Don't kill yourself and your kids trying to maintain a strict schedule, it's easier if you establish how many hours you'd like to complete in a week and go from there.
Aimee Nance is currently 'cruising' around the world with her young family. You can follow their adventures on Sailing with Terrapin.