We’ve been home schooling Keenan (he’s 12) and Daria (she’s 10) since September 2010. We thought we’d all be better-off taking it one step at a time. First, try home schooling for a semester while living on dry land. Check. Then, try home schooling while out at sea. Check.
The kids came into it all with a terrific public school education at South Pointe Elementary, and North Beach Elementary before that, both in Miami Beach, Florida. Over the years, the kids have been fortunate to have had a few of the type superstar teachers you remember for decades. So, we have big, um, flippers to fill.
How goes the kid schooling aboard the good ship Muddy Waters? As we’ve said to inquiring friends and family, the teachers are sure learning lots! We hope the students are too. Who knew teachers also had to read all the materials before class each day? Then prepare a lesson. Then actively discuss it and engage and evaluate the students. All in a positive, meaningful, relevant, semi-structured, consistent, timely, productive, helpful and occasionally inspiring way. Yikes. Please have your kids bring lots of apples to school. (Or any citrus – that was the key to fightingscurvy aboard way back when.) And thank a great teacher each time you see one.
Last semester, before leaving the dock, we took the kids to see the thought-provoking film Waiting for Superman. In the same spirit, we took them to a rally for the Children’s Movement of Florida, founded by friend and Florida citizen extraordinaire Dave Lawrence, Jr. Dave is one of the nation’s leading advocates for early childhood education and an inspiration for us. Good schooling, early and often. Lucky for me and Jennifer, our parents emphasized the same thing. (Ok, ok, maybe my dad said sports, mountain climbing, travel, and adventure were the highest priorities; but, I guess that was because he expected hard work at school. Or else.)
We’re often asked about whether we use a formal distance learning or online program for home schooling. (Though we opted for a different approach, Calvert School is a commonly used schooling system among sailors with kids.) Over the past year or so we did lots of research on the internet, talked to teachers and administrators in the Miami-Dade school system, attended some home schooling seminars, joined a few online groups for home-schooling aboard boats, and talked to a few real life home schooling parents and home-schooled kids. And from all that…we created our own hybrid program!
The kids take math and science through Florida Virtual School, an online school sponsored by the State of Florida. FLVS has fee-paying students from states across the union, plus from scores of different countries, but it’s free for Florida residents. Check-out the FLVS website to learn more about how it all works.
Having been through a full semester of math and science, we’ve found the FLVS courses to be rigorous and structured and the teachers to be smart, kind, and always available. Keenan’s teachers are Mrs. Pennington for Science and Mrs. Bozutto for Math. Daria’s teachers are Mrs. Golay for Science and Mrs. McGehee, Mrs. Arnold, Mrs. Faucett, Mrs. Carlisle, and Mrs. Serianni (the Mega Math Team) for Math. All are terrific teachers, with – by our count – more than fifty years of teaching experience between the four principal instructors and then decades more including all the instructors on the math team.
Keenan and Daria enjoyed speaking to their teachers regularly last semester and have learned lots, though they’ll say it’s not the same as being in class with a teacher in front of you (and your friends at the desk next to you…). That said, they’re mastering the skills in math and science they’ll need when they eventually return to terrestrial-based schooling, and they’re getting the opportunity to do everything else you’re reading about on this blog. We’re grateful to have found such a good online option in FLVS allowing them to build their math and science skills while out here exploring at sea.
Keenan and Daria are between semesters for math and science. FLVS has pacing guidelines that require completion of a fair amount of coursework each week, following the Florida middle school curriculum. We simply don’t have regular enough, or strong enough, internet connectivity in the more remote Bahamas islands, so the kids will start-up their second segments of math and science once we return to the United States late March-ish.
In the meantime, we try to supplement some of their math and science studies with tasks onboard, like helping with the log book, basic navigation techniques, trip planning, moon phases, tides, tracking our fuel and electric consumption, managing the provisions inventory, etc. We also refer to some of Jennifer’s healthy green smoothie concoctions as science experiments, so there’s that too…
We try to work-in as much local geology, geography, and history as we can, including through field study. And yes, we count snorkeling and hiking as field study! Before departing we took Daria (Keenan was hanging out with a buddy I think) to a joint University of Miami – National Geographic Foundation presentation on blue holes in the Bahamas. Spectacular stuff. We’ve been to one blue hole here in the Exumas and plan to visit others when we travel north to the Abacos.
We bought a few books on the Bahamas and try to read-up on what’s here. While we use the excellent Monty and Sara Lewis Explorer Chartsfor navigating, we’ve found Stephen Pavlidis’ The Exuma Guide: A Cruising Guide to the Exuma Cays to be the best local guidebook for folks on boats looking for more in-depth historical and geological information on the islands. We’ve had the kids read through lots of it so far. We’ve also found that nothing beats local knowledge, so we listen, listen, listen when Bahamians or local sailors tell us about what to look or listen for.
Jennifer and I teach the other two core course categories required in Florida middle schools – social studies and language arts. We’ve divided social studies into American History, World Geography, and American Government and language arts into Grammar, Literature, and Composition. We use McDougal-Littell’s text book American History, Holt’s textbook World Geography, McDougal-Littell’s textbook Grammar for Writing: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics (plus Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style), and McDougal-Littell’s text book Literature. We also have the accompanying teacher’s edition for each text book, plus various workbooks.
While the kids are one level apart in math and science, we’ve put them in the same level for social studies and language arts. It gives us a classroom with two students. What lucky teachers. Often the kids will ask about a topic and we’ll take a learning detour into an entirely different subject.
A typical home schooling day is about three hours of class time, averaging four or so days a week. We don’t have class when we’re underway because there’s simply too much to do onboard to keep the boat pointed in the right direction and from bumping into stuff above, below, and around us. Also, even with our stabilizers, deep keel, and heavy boat, no one much feels like reading about adverbs when we’re underway in blue water.
Because Jennifer and I follow local, national, and international news regularly back at home (and whenever we have an internet connection here), we’ve always tried to talk current events with the kids. We do the same onboard. That’s been fun and always challenges some of our own quick assumptions about topics, since the kids ask thoughtful and insightful questions in ways only a kid could ask. No prejudice, preconceived ideas of which way to think, and so on.
The kids also write in a journal each evening. They occasionally resist. But they always lose that battle. We don’t have a working television onboard, and both kids continue to read a lot – mostly young readers novels. We’ll resupply when we’re back in the states, though we’ve found some good book swaps so far.
It all sounds like a lot (at least to us as we write it), but the kids still have lots of time each day for exploring, boat tasks, and meeting other kids (and adults). For physical education, Daria practices ballet on the upper deck most mornings (while Jennifer does yoga), and Keenan’s been playing a lot of touch (and sometimes tackle) football on the beach with the other kids here. They also keep busy with artwork, crafts, and photography.
We’ve also learned over the years that cruising requires – from the entire crew – a good amount of discipline, teamwork, initiative, flexibility, and humility, all things we hope add to the kids’ education. It’s been so gratifying to see the kids grow-up right before our eyes even in the short time we’ve been living aboard. We count our lucky stars each evening, literally and figuratively.