Back to School

The girls had a little break from the time they left school in Canada until we got to Guaymas.  We were just having too much fun traveling to do much schooling.   They had their “summer” break in February and March.

They did lots of fun (and educational) things during that time.  In Hawaii, we went to Volcano National Park which was amazing.  While in Indiana they went to a sheep farm, the Children’s Museum and they had high tea with Cameron’s mom and our dear friend Marianne.  Isa built a motion sensing robot lizard from little tiny parts, attaching the motor, the batteries, the circuit board and putting together each little piece.  Good thing she had her engineer Uncle Brad to help out!

On the road trip from Indiana to Banyan, we hit as many national parks as possible.  In all of them, they participated in the Junior Ranger program (which is so cool!!).  They currently have badges from Carlsbad Caverns, The Grand Canyon and White Sands.  We hope to rack up more of these during our RV adventures this summer.

But, “school” had to start sometime.  No one knew this better than the girls.  Once we had been aboard Banyan about two nights they started asking “when are we going to start school?”  By the fifth day, they were begging me to begin.  I kid you not.  So, we started slowly and are now in full swing.

When I was researching boat school options I had a really hard time finding the nitty gritty details from other bloggers about what materials they were using.  I understand the hesitance, even talking face to face with other homeschooling parents there is a little tiptoe dance around the subject.  Many people feel very strongly about their choices, and there are so many choices!  I for one, just wanted to find the entrance to the rabbit hole, somewhere to begin!

In the following, I write the blog post that I wish I could have found and read during those first searches.  This isn’t what works for anyone else, it isn’t even what would have worked when we started in 2015!  This is what works for us… for now…  There are many ways to school at home very successfully. This is not meant to answer the questions of “why” we do what we do (as that would be a bit long for an already long blog post), but more just “what” we are doing.  I hope it might be a little bit useful for some and entertaining to others.  And if you’d rather not wade through the writing, at least the pics will prove that it isn’t all snorkeling and playing on the beach!

My Influences and Most Useful Resources:

Kate Laird’s Homeschool Teacher, a practical guide to inspiring academic excellence

Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home

The Rainbow Resource Center

Daily Routine

School happens most days except Sunday.  On Saturday we do an oral review of the week, reading, a bit of math or math games and catch up if needed.  Schooling is always in the morning but sometimes spills over to the late afternoon.  That 1 – 4 pm timeframe is not all that productive and we would much rather be out snorkeling or paddling anyway.  I make a plan the week before based on a master plan so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Then, I modify it the night before or morning of.  Thanks to Kate Laird, the plan is called Mr. Chekov.  Haha, get it?  This plan seems to have magic powers.  Having it written there in black and white for some reason makes it much more powerful than if I just told them what to do today.  No one talks back to Mr. Chekov.

Mr. Chekov

Sometimes the girls will start straight away, even before they get out of bed.   But, other days we have a slow start and encouragement is required.  Generally, they are happy to do their work.  They know that when it is done, we can play and the rest of the day is free.  It is not always smooth, not even remotely, there are some days when fits and fussing force me to draw on my well-worn copy of Doctor Becky A. Bailey’s  Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline…which is really more about me controlling my own fits and fusses.  I find that if I follow the principals laid down in this book, life is pretty smooth and when conflict does arise, we can use it as an opportunity to teach.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  Most days I can do it:)

Materials / Curricula.

Mine is a mashup of publishers and tools.  It just naturally morphed into that rather than a boxed curriculum.

Reading – 40 minutes of quiet reading daily.  They can read anything except for graphic novels, cartoons and fact books.  I also regularly assign some out-loud reading from their Easy Peasy Reader (EP) so I know they are reading some things on the edge of their competency.  EP exposes them to lots of poetry and has great old stories drawn from the McGuffey’s Reader of days gone by.  The girls love graphic novels and comic books which they devour outside the assigned reading time which means that they are reading a lot.

Grammar / EnglishFirst Language Lessons.  I do these lessons 2 to 5 times a week depending on their length and difficulty.  I like the memorization, the introduction to grammar vocabulary and the generally rigorous if repetitive, nature.

Writing – The girls journal a full page in their notebooks daily.  This seems to be the max of each of their attention span and 100% more than they could muster in 2015.  I never correct their journal writing, just admire and have them read aloud if they wish.  We are also doing a little handwriting with Zaner-Bloser Handwriting.  They are learning cursive now, which Isa LOVES.  They also have to write summaries of their History and Science lessons – the beginnings of learning to write a paper.  This may take the form or copy work, dictation or a true independently written summary depending on their ability and the subject.  Soon, I will be exploring writing competitions for their grade level.  I’m hoping that this will encourage a little motivation as the “Mom Assigned” topics don’t always inspire.

SpellingSpelling Workout.  I don’t like this curriculum, I find most of it to be busy work.  But, it is what we have on board so we are working through a lower level grade, taking one quiz a day until I find their level.  They write sentences or paragraphs using the spelling words which I correct rigorously. I look forward to trying the highly recommended All About Spelling.  Sounds like it will help me too… in case you haven’t noticed:)

HistoryStory of the World.  We LOVE these books.  This year, we are learning about the Middle Ages. Following Susan Wise Bauer’s advice and suggestions, we also have a healthy smattering of free reading books about the Middle Ages, we try and watch movies set in the time frame and our night-time story is about this time in history (Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court).    I also have them copy out maps of the region incorporating Geography into the History we are studying.  Currently, Isa decided that Europe looks like a large flying dragon – cool!.

MathFamily Math / 99 Math Puzzles / / Singapore Math / Flashcards using a Leitner Box system / Math Games / Merchant Math (aka giving change) / Quick Math App / The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math / Monopoly / Cribbage / KUMON / Khan Academy (thank, Karen!)

One of our girls just gets math.  She was looking at an algebraic equation with multiplication and division (both fairly new concepts to her in themselves) and she just intuitively knew how to deal with it.  “You do the ones in the parenthesis first right Mamma?  Then you take that answer and do the next question.”   “YES!”  I replied and stood there reeling for a bit. This one is working through the Singapore Math Curriculum very happily and at a grade ahead of her age.

For our other daughter, we have a different plan.  If you read my earlier post on homeschooling, you recall that the combo of math, this daughter and I made schooling almost unbearable in 2015.  In Canada, she functioned well in her grade level but was still a bit slow in grasping and using concepts.  Her teacher, in our last conference, really stressed the importance of her memorizing the basic math facts before she hit her next grade level.  So, we decided to spend some time to really cement math facts.  She isn’t following a curriculum right now (which I have mixed feelings about).  We are focusing on memorization of the multiplication table and all the facts of addition and subtraction from 20.  It is very slow work as she doesn’t seem to naturally retain this kind of information.  It is like a puzzle for me to figure out the best way to help her learn, keep her engaged, help her find confidence and encourage an interest in math as a fascinating subject that really is so much more than arithmetic.  So, I also read stories about math, we play all sorts of games, we do math puzzles and we play with all sorts of concepts like probability, spatial and numeric relationships and logic.

Getting upset about math can still be a struggle.  When she is overwhelmed, gets something wrong or is unsure of how to proceed, she is likely to melt down with feelings of defeat.  My lesson learned (most days) is staying positive, patient and compassionate when frustration ensue; taking rests, breaking the lesson or game down to simpler ideas when concepts are challenging.   I keep lessons short and manageable, avoiding pages and pages of independent work.  It is my responsibility to present the information in such a way that it can be absorbed and retained.  While trying to keep things do-able, I’m also encouraging her toward having a sustained focus on math.  It is a complex puzzle and each week I learn something new.  There is a lot of psychology involved.

ScienceBuilding Foundations of Scientific Understanding / The House of Science / Potentially Catastrophic Science (50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists).   Cameron is the science teacher.  It requires forethought and planning which I am tapped out on after doing the rest of the planning.  Usually, he does a lesson two days a week. Right now, it is all about learning the basic building blocks of understanding, curiosity and fun.  Cameron does experiments (like creating the first ever battery), dissects fish, has rock-talks and more.  History of Science is also thrown into this category as it makes the science that much more fascinating and memorable.  The “Potentially Catastrophic Science” book always incorporates the story of discovery and tells about the scientist who discovered the principle being explored in the experiment.  It has been very fun.

Adelaide feeling with her tongue the flow of energy created by putting different metals (coins) together in a conductive (wet paper towel) environment. Zap!

ReligionAlive in Christ This is the curriculum that the girls used in Canada and I like it better than anything else I’ve tried and failed to use.  It usually leads to lots of interesting philosophical and historical discussions.   We often do an art project in conjunction with the lesson or some other activity to illustrate the topic.  We will incorporate other major world religions later in our study as well.

Second Language – I haven’t put much effort into teaching them Spanish (I know…bad mommy!).  They do have a foundation in Spanish thanks to their nanny for several years, Margarita de la Rosa.  Cameron once walked in on Adelaide having a full-on temper tantrum in Spanish when he came home unexpectedly in the middle of the day.  Although I notice that they do understand quite a bit, they are extremely reluctant to use their Spanish.  Our plan currently is to do a two-week Spanish immersion home stay when we come back to Mexico this winter.  Then, when we cross the Pacific, we will thoroughly confuse them by beginning a family-wide French class in preparation for French Polynesia.

Art – I love making art.  We do lots of art.

Music – Isa started violin while we were in Canada and Adelaide started Ukulele.  We have a good book that Adelaide seems to enjoy working through, You Can Teach Yourself Uke.  She learns strum patterns and chords and picks away at it.  I jump in with her now and again with my guitar and will sing the melody, but she seems happy to just sing and strum away and I love hearing her play with it.  Isa took violin lessons for three months and we have several books she works from.  She loves it and according to her teacher, is very quick to pick things up.  It is a challenge for me as I have never played the violin, but I sat in on all the lessons and can squeak out the tune when needed so, I guide her study as well as I can.  It has been great for my sight-reading skills!  As she progresses we hope to incorporate regular Skype lessons with her teacher from Canada.

It is definitely a huge and daunting responsibility teaching your own children.  You do always wonder if you are doing the right thing, if you are meeting their needs, if you are missing something critical. Almost daily there is a crisis of confidence in my mind and I’m always worried that I’m either pushing too hard or not hard enough.  In the end, I know it is the right thing and I know that it is working to their advantage in many areas.  These days we have settled into it much faster and more easily than the first time around.  I’m feeling the benefit of the experience our first year gave us.  But I think mainly, I have embraced it.  I see it as a great joy, a fascinating challenge and a privilege.  I’m so so grateful to be able to spend all day with the girls and Cameron.  Having us all together, working toward a common goal, talking and debating, arguing and making up.  We are forever pushing each other, playing together, being bored together, being creative together, singing together and cuddling together.  It is the gift of this life we have chosen.

P.S.  Adelaide is almost 10 and Isa is 8.  They study between grade 2 – 5 depending on the subject, which I mention only in case a reader in curious as to how any of the above may relate to their child.  We aren’t able to rely entirely on internet based programs due to the locations we travel.  This guided many of our choices.  If you have any questions at all about what we do, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Just for fun, some fish paintings I did of fish we have seen in the Sea of Cortez


  1. Jeff says:

    “No one talks back to Mr. Chekov.” (I’m trying to get my oldest to make checklists every day and I’m going to totally use this). : )

    Thanks for the update on your lives and the detailed entry on boat education. The flexibility, dexterity, and even the “crisis in confidence” sounds very much like where we’re at these days… and we’re not even home-schooling! As always, I’m impressed with how you guys are moving forward.

    And those fish are great!!!

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Ah… thanks, Jeff. Yea, the crisis in confidence is not just for homeschooling parents:) But you guys are doing an amazing job! Dad was recently regaling me with your adventures in tennis competitions and I’m keen to hear more! Sounds like your kids are going to take the world by storm. Much love to you and yours and THANK YOU for all the work you did helping me get this website off the ground!!! You were instrumental in making it happen. Much Love to your whole family!

  2. Jennie Cunningham says:

    Definitely going to use “Mr. Checkov” too! ; )

    Great post! You’ve encouraged me to revisit some resources I knew about but haven’t used as I work on filling in 5th grade for Bereket next year.

    I just ‘added’ you to a BFSU group on FB….it isn’t super active, but I’m trying to encourage folks to share what they are doing and learning…sharing what you are up to would be great! : ) It is an inspiration to all of us to keep on keeping on.

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Heck Yea! And we must tell you that the girls still talk about their time with you at the Ethiopian restaurant. It was a fabulous cultural experience and one that we really enjoyed and continue to revisit. You are an inspiration to us and were wonderful to share several resources when we were starting out. Thank you, dear cousin!

  3. Marianne McGriff says:

    Anne and Cameron, WOW…being a teacher with two daughters who are teachers…this is my FAVORITE post!!!! You are doing an outstanding job!!! Yes, “Mr. Checkov” works for many ages! When my parents’ driving abilities had diminished, a Dr. informed them that they had to change their ways, and such a relief to all of us who didn’t have to take that responsibility! I intend to use it with ‘you know who’ one of these days!!!!! I’m praying that you are able to reach a larger audience that needs to embrace your methodology. I would LOVE to be one of your students! HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Adelaide!!! Please give her a big hug and kiss from Marianne! Let me know if there are any resources you might need…love to all of you!!!!!

  4. Joyce Beery Miles says:

    Oh, Anne, you are such an inspiration. Your insight into homeschooling on the boat is quite a story in itself. Your girls will grow to be the most well- rounded young women you can ever imagine. Never doubt that you are on the right track, even on the days you question your direction as well as your sanity. As I have shared before, I have known Cameron’s Mom and Dad for nearly 50 years and they certainly must be so proud of you and Cameron both. Your family is living the dream that only a few will ever attain and you will all be stronger for the journey. I dearly love reading your blog and seeing the pictures. Stay the course!!

  5. Bill McGovern says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure!
    You’re doing what we all know is the great gift to your children.
    Annie – we finished planting our grapes three weeks ago and we have liftoff. the vines are growing out of the milk cartons already.
    make sure if you make it up North, be sure to stop in Manson.

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Oh, my goodness!! Bill that is great news! We will be in touch if we are coming your way! Would love to see the property from the ground rather than google earth:)

  6. Doug Vawter says:

    Great post Anne! We all love your commitment to guiding the girls to a life of adventure and discovery. Your fish paintings are great and it shows another talent you and Karen share in addition to music!! I believe after home schooling for a year and half, your time in Canada and the girls success sliding back into the public education system for a year increased your confidence and provided great reinforcement that all was going to work out. It is obvious that the girls also embrace the opportunity for challenge and learning. Continue to enjoy and embrace the many opportunities!!!

  7. Ruth Esther Vawter says:

    Cameron and Anne, I’m proud of you for home schooling your daughters. With the lifestyle you are living, they would be totally bored in a classroom. As an inner city teacher of 30 years, I can tell you that your children will learn more in a morning than the class could in a day because of all the interruptions, discipline, other teachers, the list goes on. Your girls will know more about life, globally than 90% of their peers. Teaching them to interact with people from other nations may develop them to become world diplomats. Continue your journey.

  8. Rachel Wheeler says:

    Truly appreciate all your posts and this one especially as I tried to homeschool my two boys this year. I didn’t feel to successful and am sending them back to public school this next year. Altho I know that I’ll be homeschooling my middle son again probably before to long. Love how you broke it down and mentioned which resources you especially like. It’s such a challenge on so many levels. Mostly for myself. I keep thinking… I don’t remember this even though I learned it and I’m doing ok so maybe it’s not that big of a deal. Wrong. haha So.. I’m taking a year (maybe) off and gathering my thoughts again and momentum for the task. Your fish are beautiful and sounds like you have some wonderful plans and goals for giving those girls a great education in addition to the amazing adventure you’re on.

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Thanks, Rachel. I encourage you to keep up to the good fight. Homeschool is no picnic for sure, but there are so many blessings. I hope you benefit from their time in public school as I did. It gave me perspective and confidence and it also gave us an opportunity to start over. In some areas, we needed that.

  9. Nyree says:

    Thank you for sharing such a detailed blog on how you homeschool your daughters. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for because my daughter is around the same age as your children. We’ll be starting our sailing adventure next month. Whilst we’ve been doing Kumon, Mathletics and Khan Academy for maths, I havent done much for the other subjects other than reading tons of fiction books. I’ll be looking to buy the books that you suggested in your blog to cover the other topics. Happy Sailing! Nyree (s/v Kaizen)

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Nyree,
      I’m am so so so pleased that this was valuable to you. That was the main reason that I wrote it, to be of value to at least one other parent who might need it. I’m so pleased to have connected with you and love that our girls are now pen pals! I look forward to following your adventures and maybe running into each other somewhere around the world.

  10. Ellie Goodare says:

    Thank you for a great post. We are about to set off sailing with 5 of our 6 children. And have a mixture of feelings. Excited to be able to teach them, and worried too.

    What a help! I’m sure I’ll be referring back to this post often.

    When you need new material, how do you go about getting it? (Sorry for the fact that I am a complete novice!)

    • Anne Vawter says:

      You are exactly who I wanted to reach when I wrote that post! I’m so happy you found it and I really hope it will be helpful to you in the long run. New material is something that always feels like a treasure hunt. When researching for new things that might fill gaps, I sometimes go back to the same well with the references to Laird and Wise-Baur’s books. I usually find that there is so much good info, I can’t absorb it all at once and different things will jump out to me depending on what is going on with my kids. If I’m just trying to GET stuff, that can be a challenge depending on where you are. When we leave this year, I plan to purchase enough supplies for about 2 years. My plan is to work with visiting family to have them bring additional school books if they visit. If not, then I would plan to source from local places in NZ, South Africa or other wherever we are… that will be a new challenge. I wish you all the best luck and look forward to running into you. Where are you leaving from?

      • Ellie Goodare says:

        Thank so for your reply!

        We live in Scotland, but have bought a boat in California! So we have to decide what to bring with us in the aeroplane.

        We leave in the next couple of weeks, all being well.

        Our oldest is 16 (that’s coming with us) and the youngest has Downs Syndrome, he’s 8. So we’ve got a bit of a big range to prepare for.

        Lots to think about!

        I also need to decide quite how to record our adventure, there’s S o much to do just to be able to leave. That is hard to devote enough time to preparing for everything once we’re there!

        • Anne Vawter says:

          You are right! Getting ready in those last few weeks is totally overwhelming, but you will get through it. Especially when you throw a transatlantic flight in to get to your boat, there is a lot to think about! We had some friends last year who did that and they made it! They took advantage of the Good Will and the Salvation Army stores for their “household” supplies and even found a few treasure like some artwork for their boat without breaking the bank. The tech side and the blog side took a lot of time too. I was amazed how much time I spent getting our digital world ready for us to depart. If you want any help or have any questions, just shoot me an email. If you make it to Mexico, look us up. We will land in La Cruz (the kid hub in Banderas Bay) for our longest stint before we cross in March. If you are planning to cross the Pacific you should join our facebook group “Puddlejumping Kid Boats 2018” What is your boat name?

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