This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

One of the consequences of this ongoing pandemic is the encounter-clash of millions of families, at all latitudes, with the home learning. Mysterious object and still little explored, home schooling could be destined to stay between us (maybe in flashes) for a while longer.

In some way, this practice is “cousin” to smart working, even though the latter seems to meet less resistance and causes less doubt. As a matter of fact in both cases – that have similar patterns but still are not comparable – the key is to accept a change of vision and even more, own a strong capacity of reorganization and reinvent our living, moving and communicating way.

However, for decades there’s been a niche of people for whom home learning has always been a real necessity and an appreciated practice, actually, very stimulating: we’re talking about families that navigate around the world on boat with their children.

We were mentioning organization and, surely, these family groups faced the problem at the root, picturing and putting into practice a lifestyle change that has no equal, at least in western world. It’s basically about making their children live a “cultural stateless” experience, which could degenerate into a real disaster, or, on the contrary, give an educational enrichment truly hard to equal.

For many, the opportunity to trade a school of bricks and mortar with lessons on the deck or the beach is part of the fascination of a traveller lifestyle, and surely is an approach worthy of deepening about. Let’s take a look at different approaches that families on a cruise prefer, and let’s try to draw some useful advice from which the temporary home teacher could benefit.

Carry out the triple role of parent-teacher-playmate can be particularly challenging for all the family members, however it has been proven that learning outside the school class brings benefits, among which a higher self-awareness, confidence, creativity and imagination. Moreover, the constant necessity to juggle between education, maintenance of the boat, socialization and online occupation may create a stimulating dynamic while living in the tight confines of a boat. It is certainly not easy. Educating children is the most challenging aspect of the trip, like and maybe even more than sailing across the ocean.

Sifting through here and there, I got an idea of what could be the different approaches to boat learning, and I tried to understand what might be the most advisable.

Not scholastic: an informal style which promotes topics and activities that should be chosen by kids themselves.

Eclectic: quite a popular approach to home learning, in which parents consider and choose the best parts of different systems and resources.

Academic program: a sort of “school in a box” where ready-made programs can be used as they are or integrated as one sees fit.

Distance learning: where teachers use online learning (or a variation) to teach students.

What’s the best method?

To decide which education style is the best it is necessary to be honest with yourself. What type of parent are we? Creative, smart, and excited about the idea of teaching our kids? Or, we would prefer to follow an already written program to avoid the fear and doubt about an already challenging activity. 

 The majority of the examples I read about on the internet, initially considered a good plan to opt for an eclectic style of home learning, since they loved the idea of their children learning about the world surrounding them. They pictured to give fascinating lessons about the history of the country they were visiting, or to educate them about the weather systems though which they were sailing.

Actually, creating a study plan suitable for the kids’ age, enthralling and funny is more complicated than one could expect. The point is that the majority of people not always learn quickly and safely, and it is important to stay flexible, assess what works and what doesn’t, and be willing to “tack back around” if necessary. Basically, many of them found home learning much more difficult than they expected.

Although parents understand their child better and dedicated individual learning is amazing, it’s necessary to consider that there are many abilities and strategies that teachers learn during their studies that, simply, are not part of a parent-teacher’s “toolbox”.

 The strategies to put in place exist and can relieve the commitment and make learning more enjoyable: for example, things work easily when there’s a prepared program in advance, and shared with children; creating a weekly lessons program, the parent and the kid can check it together.

Another important “trick” can be finding “external” aspects to teach or children: whether it be a scientist giving a speech about sharks, or a photographer explaining his pictures of a turtle, or a tour guide illustrating a nutmeg plant, teaching is surely more effective and engaging when it has a good component of practical example.

However, generally speaking, it seems like a mixed system is the most effective; the most popular approach seems to be keeping exercising kids with a basis of native language and maths program and everything else comes from what kids-students live on boat.

For what concerns duration and frequency, from two to four hours a day, for four or five days a week, seems to be a common practice and enough to keep children on track. It will depend on the duration of the sailing, the age and the children’s character. Or even, on whether one wants the children to integrate again in the school system once the trip is over. What seems to be not possible is switching the school day with a day of boat schooling all of a sudden.

Another key concept is to team up.

Whoever has kids knows that make other people enter the “circle” usually improves the dynamic. It is not rare that navigator families go on the trip with other boats and families; or, at least, they share a few stop or different times of the year with them.

Sharing this experience can lead to amazing results, scheduling and organizing a “boating school” shift. You can organize the “school bus” (one of the rafts) bringing the kids to a boat at anchor for the morning lessons. A few hours of class, then the school bus gathers again the kids for a swim before lunch or an activity on the beach.

It is incredible the difference between teaching your kids, and other peoples’ kids.

Listening and wanting to learn improves immeasurably, of course: you’re not their parents! It sounds like a joke, but exchanging kids or simply mix them up leads to fantastic results. Languages, cultures or simply family habits are mixed. Parents come from different experiences (plumber, vet, physiotherapist, civil engineer, flight attendant) but everyone has something different to offer, and children take advantage of it hoggishly. 

A misunderstanding concerning home schooling (boat schooling in our case), is that kids lack in socialization. On a boat, facing this problem mostly depends on the part of the world you are sailing in, and how much time you are willing to put yourself “out there”, talking about social media and track down other kids. The popular Facebook group Kids4Sail is full of families who are in different areas all over the world. Every month the group makes a position call, where people can find other boats with kids of similar age in the same area.

Generally speaking, a common trait of kids educated on boat is their confidence. Kids learn soon to talk to people of different cultures, backgrounds and age; they mature and develop an extrovert nature. Kids are confident about meeting new people, asking for directions and negotiating with market vendors. Being in the world with other people gives them social abilities and a higher self-esteem.

All good, then? A new world opens up with only positive implications? Not always. In the examples I followed up there’s been some slowdowns on the way. An example is that sit for six hours a day is not easy for these kids.

Another aspect to take into account is that being “different” could also make children an easy target for bullies. Unfortunately, not keeping up with latest trends, videogames and Youtubers may cause some adaptation problems.  

However, nothing compared to the rich experiences that these kids have the luck to get, far beyond education.

Seeing the giant leatherback sea turtles spawning on Grenada beach, learning how to produce chocolate, climb an active volcano and visiting a museum of slavery…every place has something new to teach, every place makes us take a few steps forward.

It is all a magical kaleidoscope that our children could live even for only a period of their life, but that – we can tell – will change them (for the better) forever.

Why not, then?

Fair wind, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo