So here we are, six months into a two-year cruise on our Bowman 57 ketch Searcher, boat schooling our two kids, daughter Renaissance, eleven, and son Havana, nine. The adventure has been exciting, but boat schooling our kids has not been easy. From what other cruising, boat schooling parents tell us, it hasn't easy for them either. But the rewards far outweigh the negatives.
The good times are very good. We watch our kids get tan, become physically fit, take on responsibility, swim with dolphins, get involved in projects and share their curiosity about the world through which we sail. There are field trips ashore for visiting island markets, exploring mountain valleys, visiting a chocolate factory or a spice plantation, or sailing through the ash cloud of a volcano.
The onboard classroom work is the toughest, the math and reading exercises. We aim for a three hour block of boat schooling five days a week from nine a.m. to noon. I fear we fall short. But we as a family are living a dream and we are together exploring the world. Having the kids with us expands our adventure, introduces us to other cruising families and to things we'd not experience without our kids. This cruise is ultimately for them; we are along as guides.
The other families we've met in the Caribbean this winter are from Europe: the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Very few American families appear to be sailing with kids. Families are easy to spot, in a dinghy, on the dock or on deck. We are eager to "gam," to get the kids to the beach while we share information. Despite the language differences, our kids have the universal language of "play."
When we made the commitment to leave Maine and take our kids on an extended cruise, boat schooling options were one of our prime research projects. Maine Homeschoolers, a home schooling bookstore in Hope, Maine had workbooks, resources, teachers' guides and lesson plans available along with first-hand advice. There is a wonderful educational book store near Fort Burt in Road Town, Tortola, BVI. The Internet provided a wealth of links dealing with home schooling (nothing on Boat Schooling), but perhaps too much information. The most valuable sources of advice and information came from other moms and dads we met along the way who were, like us, inventing as they went along. A chat with our kids' two teachers before we left Maine helped us prepare for what was important to stress during our on-board classroom sessions.
Buying a home schooling package from Calvert or one of the other suppliers would not work for us. The other cruising parents we met agreed. Boat schooling is different than home schooling. We are in a living classroom, which requires a different mind-set. Why study Roman History, when you're sailing through Colonial America? What better way to learn about volcanoes than to sail through an ash cloud from Montserrat and taste a volcano!
We have been using a mixture of workbooks from BrainQuest and Spectrum, along with a variety of support resources, including the Internet. We stocked the boat with lots of reference books like The American Museum of Natural History's mammoth book "Oceans" along with "Animals" and other books on geography, geology and the cruising guides. We have books on tape, a French language program on DVD. We have encouraged our kids to create their own books, to write stories, to include drawings, photos and sketches of the things they've seen and experienced. There are journal entries to make, podcasts of their verbal stories to record. Havana is just beginning to read "The Cat in the Hat" series, while Ren can be found tucked up forward, buried in the jib bag reading a book called "Julia Gillian," the adventures of three girls her age.
This is a special time for this family afloat. It is a gift we can give our children, an experience they will have with them for the rest of their lives. They will learn things from this voyage that other kids only read about in books. They are experiencing the world first hand, learning about the ocean and its fish and mammals, geology, weather systems, navigation, and about themselves. Kids learn best while on field trips, where the learning is interactive and real. That's what this family cruise is – an extended field trip.
David Lyman, who holds a US Coast Guard master license, is a photographer, writer and former President of Rockport College in Rockport, Maine. Follow the Lyman Family from as they learn and explore the Caribbean this year: www.KidsOnBoats.net.