Boat Schooling- Intimidating or Easy?
If I'm being honest, right off the bat, my biggest reservation was boat schooling or home schooling my kids.
Some of the families that we followed had home schooled always, or had transitioned to home schooling the year or so prior to leaving.
However, we decided that we wanted our youngest to have one year of public school (kindergarten) under her belt so she could learn the rudiments of reading and writing before setting off.
Frankly, the idea of home/boat schooling scared me.
I had absolutely no idea where to begin.
I seriously doubted whether I had the patience necessary to successfully home school our little tribe.
I worried (we both did), about what our kids would miss out on by being home schooled.
It seemed like an enormous undertaking to take on my children's education, while also juggling all the other responsibilities I would have living on a boat- night watches, cleaning, provisioning, preparing meals (I love my husband dearly and he is incredibly helpful and gifted in many ways- but cooking has never, and will never be his strong suit- to put it mildly, lol).
Basically I was incredibly intimidated.
BUT- there were obviously other families that were making this happen.
If they could, then I could too.
As we researched and followed other families living on boats and home schooling their children, I began to feel more comfortable with the idea of home schooling.
It became clear that boat kids who were home schooled could still play with, socialize with, and interact with other boat kids. Making sure that our children didn't miss out socially was an important consideration for us. This means that when we set out, we would sometimes be going out of our intended way to give them the opportunity to be around other kids.
We learned that it wouldn't hinder them, should they choose to go to college, as colleges are interested in enrolling home schooled kids.
We hope that the experiences, travel, exposure to different cultures, etc. that this lifestyle will give our children; will far outweigh any potential drawbacks that being pulled from public schools might have.
Once we came to all these hopes and conclusions, we stopped wondering whether or not we could home school and we became committed to finding out everything we could to prepare ourselves for how to home school effectively.
I began by asking, and reading about different home schooling methods.
Most curricula out there now are offered primarily online- not via text books.
This presented certain problems for us, since we know that internet accessibility would probably be extremely limited if not completely out of the question in many places and for long periods of time (for example; when traveling far flung islands and atolls).
With Starlink in it's initial testing phases now (in 2021), who knows? Maybe we will have high speed internet in the middle of the Pacific! We are planning as though this won't be the case though.
I learned that for grades K-2 curriculums are still primarily workbook based. This was great, but would only apply to our youngest who would be 6 and entering first grade when we left.
I liked that many curriculums available offered self grading, which would be immensely helpful, given all the other duties I would have living on a boat.
I also felt that this would be useful for state reporting reasons (more on this below).
Fairly early on, I learned that one of the other cruising families we followed, Zatara- used Alpha Omega's Switched on Schoolhouse curriculum for their 4 children.
The fact that it was available entirely offline on flash drives quickly cemented it as a likely forerunner for us.
We looked at the costs of the courses offered and compared them to other available online curriculums available and found that they were all pretty comparable from a cost standpoint.
Even better, when I inquired, I found out that I could reuse the courses I bought for up to 5 students each, even years apart.
Being that we have four children, this meant that I would be able to reuse my eldest's courses for each of the younger 3 kids, which would save us a pretty penny over the long term.
To be fair- I have no idea if other curriculums out there offer this as an option.
Finding out that we were able to do this with SOS basically halted my quest for other curriculums, haha. As we get closer to our departure date I will likely revisit different curricula options.
The next thing I looked into were the home schooling laws. The law provides for home schooling in all 50 states, but the requirements can vary GREATLY from one state to the next.
A great resource for finding out what the requirements or guidelines are in your state is HSLDA.
We were initially unsure as to whether it would make more sense to keep our base as NY or Florida for home schooling purposes, but once we compared the guidelines for the two states- we felt that Florida would make more sense. Our families mostly live in Florida and NY which is why we focused on these two states.
NY required yearly in person testing which wouldn't be feasible given our travel plans.
Florida allows for other methods of yearly evaluation which made a huge difference for us.
Even better, we learned that we could use a private school or "umbrella school".
An umbrella school circumvents the need for a lot of the oversight that is typically required of home schooled students and many of them provide you with necessary items like transcripts and diplomas so that home schooled children can continue onto college, trade schools, apply for scholarships, or even transition into a normal public school should you choose to re-enroll them at some point in the future.
To be clear, you can do all of these things without the use of an umbrella school, it just simplifies the process for home schooling parents.
There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of umbrella schools that provide this service to home schooled or boat schooled children. A simple google search with your home base state will provide you with a list of options.
For a small yearly fee you can gain a lot of freedom and be provided with a ton of resources from one of these schools.
Many of them operate or have been approved and accredited in multiple states.
We choose to use Aspiring Heights Academy as our umbrella school because they are based in Florida.
Some of these umbrella schools have agreements or arrangements with online curriculum programs. In the case of AHA you have the option as a parent to use your own curriculum or you may enroll in Florida Virtual School which is the curriculum that they have made arrangements with.
Since an online curriculum probably isn't possible for us, we obviously chose not to go this route, but to stick with our own offline curriculum.
Since doing this research and making these decisions, so many things have happened, including the big c-virus. I'd be lying if I didn't say that midway through May of 2020 I was seriously doubting my ability to home school my children. I think most parents caught unexpectedly virtual schooling their children had a really hard time adjusting. While this initially made me doubtful that I could handle boat schooling I realized that there were many key differences in what occurred in the spring of 2020 and what I was proposing to do in the future.
Here's a quick little rundown:
While virtual schooling as parents, we had no idea what our children were meant to learn the following day. I feel that preparation is key, and for home schooling, the parent needs to be a step ahead of their child. They need to know what they're going to learn next, understand how to best explain it to their child, and have the resources they need at hand in order to properly teach them. When virtual schooling, we had no idea what our children would be learning tomorrow which made it a very frustrating process for everyone.
When boat schooling or home schooling, you have the freedom to focus on learning in a more natural and exciting environment for your children. You can adapt your curriculum to suit the places you are traveling to that year.
In Italy? Visit Pompeii and Rome.
Near a volcano? Learn about volcanoes and hike one if possible.
Learning about marine life, geology, weather patterns, etc. will come naturally since they are immersed in these things daily.
Learning about mechanics may come naturally to some children as boats are in constant need of repair, and most cruisers learn how to do this maintenance and these repairs themselves to save pennies.
Learn bits of different languages, cultures, and their histories as you cruise different parts of the world.
If you look at the world as your children's classroom, it will make learning so much more enjoyable for them, and teaching will become far simpler for you.
It's a huge leap of faith, but I firmly believe that anything is possible if you want it enough. Researching and preparation are key to smooth transitions. The opportunities for learning that boat life can offer to boat kids are simply not attainable under most normal circumstances.
What do you think?
Do you already boatschool/homeschool?
What did you find were the most difficult parts of the transition from public school to boat or homeschool?
What would you have done the same or differently?