Laura Stein discusses the successes and trials of boat schooling.
My family and I completed the Great Loop in October 2017. After returning to our land-based home we all missed the water terribly as well as the life it afforded us. We knew we had some life decisions to make. Ben reinvented his career to be focused around marine electronics and we moved back aboard in July 2018. Except for a couple of 4 to 6-week stints at home scattered throughout the year we’ve been on the boat since then with. We live aboard a 57-foot Carver Voyager with our two daughters, Molly, 12, and Madelyn, 9.
I began homeschooling the girls on the boat in 2016. They were in 1st and 4th grades; we only planned to cruise for a year and then put the girls back in public school. I taught briefly before the girls were born so it was time to dust of my teacher skills and get back to work. Being a trained teacher is NOT a requirement to home school, or rather, boat school your children. For our one-year trip I felt it was important to mirror what the girls were missing in public school in order to make their transition back easier. I used the same math curriculum our school and covered the same social studies and science units they would have covered in school. We did reading comprehension as well reading novels and the girls kept a blog and journals on the boat. It was, and is, important to me that they were reading, writing and doing math daily despite where we were and what we were doing.
Gallery: Boat Schooling
Days on the water can be a challenge–if waves are rough, we can’t always get our schoolwork done. Either it’s very messy or someone gets motion sick trying to read and write. Sometimes when we are at anchor or underway it’s a little too much togetherness to have a place for everyone to quietly focus. We try to spread out where we can, and I take turns with the girls when and where they need help. If we are in a marina the girls and I try to find a boater’s lounge or a library for a change of scenery. I do keep a strict Monday through Friday school schedule however the beauty of boat schooling is that if we are in an amazing town with much to learn and see that takes precedence and we scrap the regular work for the day. I feel that by keeping on schedule the rest of the time, it frees is up to take advantage of everything that traveling offers and not get behind on 7th grade math at the same time.
The fun part of boat schooling is that every day is a learning experience. If it is a long day stuck on the boat, we do our regular schoolwork and not a ton else. But the girls have learned how to read charts, how locks work, and enjoy (sometimes) helping with boat tasks. As soon as we pull into a port or anchor we are off exploring. Some days this means a cute little town with a rich history. Others it means a serious history lesson. Much of the history of our country can be found in the Great Loop. From Civil War battlefields to the American Revolution to slavery and plantation houses in the south, to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in NYC, to the Hudson River and Erie Canal, the learning opportunities are endless. And we added extras anywhere we could.
We took the Tennessee River to Chattanooga for more Civil War history. We took the boat up the Potomac and anchored for a week in Washington DC. Every day was a learning success there. To be able to show our kids the White House, tour the Capital Building, see the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution and see so many incredible museums was incredible.
The learning certainly isn’t limited to history. Our girls also learned how to catch crab off the boat in the Chesapeake Bay and identify all manner of sea creatures in The Bahamas and Florida. The most gratifying moments for me are when we sit down and study something in a book and they both shout that they remember because WE HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN THERE! Being able to touch, hold, and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors creates a lasting memory.
After our 14 months of cruising was done, we went back to home schooling at home. I knew that I had to make my curriculum my own and no longer mirror what they were missing in public school. The girls and I found a curriculum we are very happy with. I teach all their subjects, however there are many online options for parents who work or are not comfortable teaching a certain subject. When we moved back onto the boat, we knew it would be a little different. As we are now living on the boat more than we are traveling, our schedule isn’t so exciting with exploring. We still take advantage of where we are and what we can learn. We have learned about the Calusa tribes that settled here in South Florida years ago. We have been to the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium. We’ve taken a river tour on the Caloosahatchee River to learn about the wildlife that lives in this area. We learn about manatee protection zones and take our dinghy out often to explore some of these areas. We hope to jet back over to The Bahamas in the spring and continue all the marine life exploration we started there in 2017 as well. And if we’re lucky maybe explore a lot of the east coast again next summer.
Our curriculum and what I teach has evolved and changed each year. This is our 4th year and since we are more stationary right now, I have been able to take advantage of many other resources available to me for boat schooling. We are still sticking with a Monday through Friday school schedule with all our core subjects. In addition, I have added in a virtual school Spanish class for each kid as well as Computer Science for my 4th grader and Civics for my 7th grader. These are fabulous opportunities for them to interact with other students and have some enrichment subjects to work through. As Molly gets closer to high school it’s important for us to explore the virtual options where she can get a little deeper into some of her subject matter.
Life is an adventure and we must take advantage of all that it offers.