• close family • small boat • big world •


March 16, 2014

by Paula
Vero Beach, Florida

Living on a boat is not a vacation – it’s just real life in a very different place. And doing so with kids means we need to integrate school into the picture. This year, Nicole is in sixth grade and Cash is in eighth. Home-schoolers have many curriculum options, ranging from all-in-one packages to self-made programs. We’ve opted to create a curriculum ourselves to give us the flexibility to tailor the work to our kids’ interests and abilities, as well as to integrate it into our travel experiences. As a former high-school math teacher with experience developing curricula and programs, it has been fairly easy for me to create the work for them – though it is quite time-consuming. It’s been fun; it is one of my favorite parts of this life. Here’s a basic overview of our boat-schooling so far.

The Structure
Both kids have a planner where I write the week’s assignments each Monday. It is their responsibility to manage their time through the week to get the work done. They can choose which assignments to do when and at what time of day to get to it. There are days when they get to their day’s work first thing and finish up by late morning. Other days they are more focused on other activities and delay doing schoolwork until afternoon or evening. Ideally, they will finish by Friday so that they can have a “weekend” with no schoolwork. If there is a week with too much procrastination and too much left until the weekend, I step in the following week to insist they work according to my schedule. This is usually enough to get them back to working more productively on their own.

Cash is taking Algebra and we use the McDougal-Little book by Larson Kanold Stiff. Nicole is taking PreAlgebra, also using a McDougal-Little book by the same authors. I give five assignments each week, most often based on one section of a chapter. Math work is fairly traditional. They either read the section to learn the concepts, or I give an individual lesson. They work problems from the book, we check the answers, and they make corrections. They both enjoy math, and often chose this work first each day.

English: Vocabulary
The foundation of this work, for both kids, uses Vocabulary From Latin and Greek Roots by Elizabeth Osborne. We find this workbook to be too basic on its own. It’s a good introduction to the words and their roots, but the exercises don’t delve deeply enough into the roots. I supplement this with
my own Additional Exercises (which is one of the most time-consuming parts of my school preparation). My questions for a Unit are based on that Unit's roots, but I add many more words that use those roots. The questions are a mix of formats, and I insert humor and personal details to keep them interesting. After every four Units there is a review, in which they write sentences with selected vocabulary words. One week, Nicole wrote each sentence integrating the word hippopotamus and Cash combined each of his into a story.

English: Reading
We’ve got lots of books on board, both paper and digital. Most marinas (and some small towns) have a book-exchange library, which helps keep our supply going. Both kids read a lot, which is great. Occasionally, I assign a specific novel to be read, and we have a family book discussion. So far we have discussed Night by Elie Wiesel and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

English: Writing
I assign a five-paragraph essay at least every other week, and topics are wide-ranging. At times, they are given a specific assignment, such as an expository essay on a history topic. Other times, they are given the latitude to choose a topic of interest, often from our science book. Both kids participate in writing our blog, and posts count as writing assignments

This subject is a mix of topics, and we are using a variety of resources. We use the National Museum of Natural History book, Ocean. It is a not a textbook, but is a very comprehensive book with extensive information and images. They read a section and either answer questions I create or produce some visual images based on the reading such as charts or diagrams. Other science assignments are based on boat skills, such as knot-tying or navigation. Cash is also learning physics with the book Basic Physics: A Self-Teaching Guide by Karl Kuhn. He enjoys this very much.

History is my weak point, and I am re-learning the content one step ahead of the kids. We use the Pearson middle school book that covers US History from beginnings to 1877. They read each chapter and answer the review questions. To get a non-traditional view, we also read from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. We round out the history work with other projects, such as creative writing, debates, and creating maps, timelines & diagrams. We like to have discussions of history topics at dinner time, and Greg adds a wealth of knowledge to these.  This past week, the kids were asked to choose the top five most important Amendments to the US Constitution, and be ready to defend their choices.  We had a dinner round-table comparing and evaluating the importance and implications of the Amendments. Whenever possible, we visit local museums or historic sites.


Cash continues to teach himself electric & acoustic guitar, and he plays regularly. He has moved away from piano, but continues to play the keyboard when inspired. Both kids and I played carols together on recorder and piano at Christmas-time. Nicole has focused on art and enjoys drawing and jewelry-making. Cash has also taught himself java programming and the use of 3D-modeling software. His current project is a java music player.

The real beauty of our school experience is its flexibility. We can relax the workload when on a passage and schedule timing around other events. Work goes according to their needs – especially in math. I give more work of the same content if they did not understand it well enough the first time through, without the need to keep to a specific pace of lessons. We integrate the kids’ ideas for assignments, such as Cash’s interest in making a Fuzz Box for his guitar – an excellent electronics project. We can use methods that would be difficult in a traditional school setting to keep their interest. One week I had each kid create the Science questions for the other, from two different sections of our book. If an assignment doesn’t capture their interest, we work together to adjust it to be more compelling.

On days we are staying put, the kids can wake up according to their natural body-clocks. Our one-on-one lessons and self-directed pace is much more efficient than in a traditional school setting, which gives us much more time for creative projects, lots of music, exploring, and fun. Granted, we still have our moments of no motivation for schoolwork, and of too much reminding by me, but, in general, schoolwork is fun and satisfying for us all.  Added to the academics are the broader and more varied experiences that come with living and traveling on a sailboat.  Taken all together, we hope that this year will be an excellent education for our kids. 

juliana said...

This sounds great Paula. I'm enjoying the blog.