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Home Schooling on the High Seas

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Living life on the seas, whether completing a circumnavigation or working while chartering, is the dream of many families. Kids along for the ride get a chance to experience many different cultures, customs and circumstances. However, what about a formal education? Just how do you combine cruising with schooling?

The decision to set off on a two- to three-year round-the-world cruise was one of the hardest Jane and Marc Adams of Chicago ever made.

“We weren’t just deciding to take the kids out of school, we were really deciding if we wanted to change the way that they looked at life,” says Jane Adams, who with Marc, 9-year-old Caroline, 8-year-old Grant, and 5-year-old Noah, started their cruise last fall aboard their Hallberg Rassy 46, Imagine, in the Caribbean 1500 cruising rally. “We hope that by cruising, they will have a better appreciation for the world, the environment, and for others.”

Having a child was life-changing, and potentially career-changing, for Iris Mosing, who with partner Henry Metz has chartered their 75’ foot Shaitan of Tortola since 1995.

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“The brokers were not very happy when we had Luana,” says Mosing, who has won numerous awards for her culinary skills. “We even considered buying land on St. Thomas and working ashore. But we love chartering.”

Another decision Mosing and Metz made early was to find ways for Luana to interact with other children.

“I loved attending a Mom’s group at Magens Bay when were in St. Thomas,” says Mosing. “When Luana was older, I put her in kindergarten for a half day on St. Maarten and later for a full day in grade school in Trinidad. We would occasionally take her out for two months at a time to cruise and her teachers sent assignments by Email. But, she’d have to be back in the classroom for end of term exams.”

Mosing adds, “Since she was young we’d always drop her into different groups and she made friends quickly. In fact, when we talked one time about selling the boat, Luana got very upset. She worried about how she would visit all her friends, including the ones she hadn’t met yet.”

Ultimately, Mosing and Metz found a private school in Bequia where 7-year-old Luana attends third grade and lives with an island family during the week while her parents are on charter.

A typical day for the Adams kids is a little different.

“School starts right after breakfast when we’re in port or at anchor,” says Jane Adams. “We take a mid-morning snack break and sometimes a quick swim. Then, we’re back to school until lunch and then are usually finished around 1 p.m. After school, we are off exploring. This often involves swimming/snorkeling, land exploring, or sight seeing.”

There’s no structured school when the family is underway.

“We may read that day or do a few easy subjects,” Adams says. “We also don’t have a typical school week. If we have been underway a lot, we may need to have school on the weekends. But, if a great ‘field trip’ is available we may have a day off during the week. We also don’t take breaks for the holidays but will break when we have visitors or need to make passages. Our schedule is more about completing the work appropriately and on a schedule that works for us as a family.”

The Adams chose the Calvert Home School program for their curriculum.

“First of all,” says Adams, “I wanted a program that provided everything that I needed for the entire year for each grade. Since we will be gone and often out of frequent phone and email communication it would not have been practical to develop my own programs from the many on-line resources. I also wanted a curriculum that had a full written program with an on-line supplement. Although we are often able to access the Internet, it is not consistent so it would have been difficult to use a program that relied solely on Internet access. I also wanted a program with choices, such as, the ability to utilize different grades for different programs. Calvert’s program best met all of my needs.”  

The Ellsay family, Chris and Christine, and their 8-year-old daughter Andrea, 6-year-old son Ryan and 4-year-old daughter Cari, cast off from Georgian Bay in Lake Huron in July and sailed to St. Maarten by Christmas aboard their PDQ 42’ Cat, Stray Kitty.  Christine Ellsay chose a different program.

Ellsay explains, “I didn’t want to use Calvert as I think it is geared more towards Americans and we are Canadian. Because my husband is from British Columbia and we plan to move back to BC, the province of BC has an excellent home schooling program called SIDES and they allowed us to use it for our cruise. The program is flexible. If the kids need to do a project on a certain land animal, I will ask if it okay to do barracudas instead and it is usually fine.”

There are many ways the Adams have incorporated schoolwork into cruising.

“History lessons often include the history of places that we visit, such as, forts, museums, monuments, or special historical sites. Geography lessons often include the maps and charts where we have gone or are going and fun things, such as, latitudes and longitudes. Science, of course, includes a new extensive knowledge on sea life,” says Adams. 

She adds, “We’ve also incorporated guest speakers in our curriculum. We recently asked a physician to provide a lecture on anatomy for science class and another cruiser that plays bagpipes provided a music lesson one day.  A little variety helps to keep the interest of the children. It also gives mom a little break.”

The benefits of cruising and schooling with kids can be great.

“Luana is very wide-minded,” says Mosing. “She loves her land family, we love chartering and our family life together is very cozy. It’s a win-win for us.”

Ellsay adds, “The pros are that they are seeing the world and how it works. They have one to one help with school instead of being in a class of 25 kids. I think they probably do as much work as they would in a normal class; they just get it done a lot faster. The cons are they miss out on the team sports that they used to do like soccer. However, all are stellar swimmers, snorkelers and walkers. We have been meeting a lot of children while cruising, so they have social interaction, which can be a con of home-schooling on a boat.”

For those considering launching off on an extended sail with school-age kids, Adams advises, “Just do it. Many people will give you a lot of reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do something like this but it really comes down to what’s best for you and your family. You only have one chance to take a cruise like this when the children are young. Eventually, they’ll grow up and the chance will be gone.   If it is your dream, don’t let anyone take it away. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to land.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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