Family Magazine

Boatschooling, Part 3: Things I Wish I’d Known

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

another kind of school


We get more questions about homeschooling than almost anything else. To try and offer meatier background on our approach I've split out a few blog posts on the subject: first, offered thoughts on finding a boatschool path; second, what we actually DO on Totem; and here, things I wish I'd been able to internalize before we started our homeschooling journey.
Planning to homeschool was stressful. The early months of homeschooling were, too. I wish I could have let go of the anxiety I felt. Aside from the pressure leading up to our departure (did I have the right materials on board? Was this even going to work?). It was pretty intense the whole first year if I’m going to be honest with myself.
To be clear, this was my burden. The kids did not find it stressful to be taken out of their mainstream school path. But reflecting on the process as a parent, how can we be easier on ourselves? It’s natural to wonder if we are we doing the right thing, of course, and while we are all responsible for guiding their development, knowing their education in our hands is a daunting responsibility. It’s one felt especially keenly as a homeschooler.
Here’s what I wish I had known when we started homeschooling.
1. You may not get it right the first time
Going cruising is a massive lifestyle transition. The homeschooling path that felt right to you during planning may not necessarily be a fit with your life once you depart. You may find that the mode you intend to follow doesn’t work with a child. That’s OK: it is not a failure to stop and change the course you’re on. We seem to evolve what we're doing all the time, but I believe that this is a natural flow for anyway. It’s no failure to acknowledge you need to make a change, even a big one.
Our friends on s/v Don Quixote started off with Calvert before they had even moved aboard (which, by the way, I think is brilliant-  I wish we could have gotten away from the traditional system before departure, to smooth those learning curves). It turns out that Calvert was not a fit for their family, a really nice thing to work out so they could more readily seek a path that worked before they were out of the country, and materials harder to source.
after school

2. Your child may not like homeschooling
It is almost inevitable that you or your children will compare your new learning path with the one you left behind. For children experiencing sadness at saying goodbye to a loved teacher or friends for a cruising adventure, this might be especially difficult. We actually didn't have this problem, but I've heard it repeated from other boats. Possibly it was easier for us because we left with relatively young children. Possibly it is because our guiding principle is to keep learning fun.
A kid who says they don’t like homeschooling is reacting to a symptom. Homeschooling is almost certainly not the real problem: something else is. Help them separate those feelings, and talking with them to understand the root of their feelings so you can made any adjustments you need so that homeschooling works for everyone. A social kid may miss being in a large classroom, an athletic kid may miss a soccer team, another may miss a favorite reading nook at the library. Find out what the root of the problem is and how to help them become happier learners where you are.
3. It helps to have a tribe
If we were back in our land based community, we would surely have been part of at least one group of other non-traditional learning families. Just because we’re mobile doesn't mean that isn't possible. Kid boats have a way of being drawn together, and we make the most of that however we can. It’s a great chance to do group activities that we can’t always do on our own, and opens the door to more learning by sharing experiences and discussing them together. Older kids can mentor younger ones, which offers great benefits for both.
kids dont' like cruising. much.

In La Cruz, Mexico, tween girls from two different boats wrote the script for a production of Harry Potter- staged in the marina amphitheater with all parts played by cruising kids. It was brilliant and a great experience for all. In Barra de Navidad, we learned about bats inside the ruins of a hotel along the lagoon, and planned a Bat Day that involved some pre-learning and then a visit to the “bat caves.” Everyone brought information about bats to the table to share. We took a dinghy trip to explore the place, making observations and taking photos. Afterward, we lined up what we saw with what we had read and discussed to better understand bats. Doing it with a pack of kids made it different and fun from “everyday” learning. It’s the kind of thing you’d organize with your homeschooling group at home, but can just as readily organize in our floating community.
4. You won’t be perfect. Deal with it.
It is perfectly normal for it to take some time for you to gain confidence in how you’re homeschooling. Trying to let go of the stress around that, if you can, will make it easier on everyone. Be willing to let go of things you thought were essentials and try something new. Talk to other families around you and learn from their experience. As much as the kids loved doing projects like the Bat Day with other kids, it was helpful for me to talk to other parents about what they were doing, what was and wasn't working. We all have hurdles and can help each other through them. Ultimately, there are good days and bad days: days I feel like we nailed the whole learning thing, and days I feel like a failure and want to give up. It took time and experience for me to know when I needed to get out of my head and realize that there is no perfect, and what we are doing as a family is amazing.
5. It all works out
About two months in, I was sitting on a beach in San Diego with my friend Annie. An experienced cruising mom, she talked me through my worries, and promised me it would be OK. That's not to say that you can just will it to be OK, but that it really helps if you can just relax a little. If only I could have internalized her advice back then! It took me months. With the perspective of time, I realize this anxiety is common. It’s just hard to pop up the periscope and recognize this is normal when you’re living it every day.
I don’t mean to be flippant by saying it all works out as if that was just going to easily and organically happen, but if you are worried, and you are still reading this, then you are probably the kind parent who will be working at making this journey successful and possibly shouldn't worry quite so much.
Whatever path you choose, opportunities for learning are a natural part of every day that we’re out here as a family. The unofficial holiday, Learn Nothing Day, is a standing joke in the unschooling community. Do you know how hard it is to go for a day without learning anything? Now imagine yourself actively looking for opportunities to learn from inspirations in the world around you. Then put yourself in a lifestyle that changes the language, geology, culture, scenery, history, etc. on a regular basis. The learning opportunities are tremendous, and really, it is all in a flow.
We shouldn't worry

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