Boat Schooling Aboard Banyan

Okay, so I am not alone in feeling that homeschooling, was by far and away the hardest and possibly the worst part of cruising.  Recently, at a meet-up over July 4th on Bainbridge Island I did a little informal survey.  We got together with SV Agamere at their home.  SV Wild Rumpus was there in the RV which they are traveling around the US and Canada in during the summer.  We also got to see SV Karumba who we met in La Cruz while we were there.

Incidentally, there were also a few non-kid boats, SV Finte and SV Carmana … 6 boats from the BaHa Ha Ha all happened to be on a little island off Seattle for the 4th!  It was pretty fun.

We had a wonderful time with these folks. Champaign and foraged Oysters... what could be better
We had a wonderful time with these folks. Champagne and foraged Oysters… what could be better
From left to right (aside from the 5 year olds older helper standing behind him) we have one of every age, 5 to 12.
From left to right (aside from the 5 year old’s older helper standing behind him) we have one of every age, 5 to 12.


Feasting was the order of every day. It was the first time that Cameron and I had ever crabbed.
Feasting was the order of every day. It was the first time that Cameron and I had ever crabbed.

Back to homeschooling.  So the result of my tiny sample size survey was… boat schooling can be really hard.  The weird thing was, we all had trouble with one kid in one subject.  Can I just say that it was brutal at times, and I was not alone.

I went into homeschooling with such a sense of confidence.  How can two, well educated loving adults NOT do a great job?  We kept on hearing from so many people around us “Oh, you guys will do so well!  Just having the girls around you so much will teach them a ton”.  I’m not inclined to disbelieve them, but… it’s just taken a long time to find our way.

To support my informal, small sample size survey I add this anecdote; The single most common thread that I read about starting home schooling was this piece of advice, “don’t stress so much about the first year.”  This statement leads me to believe that everyone stresses during the first year.  I have come to accept that this is just part of learning to homeschool for some families.

Some people don’t have trouble…or at least they say they don’t.  There are those parents who sit next to you at dinner and go on and on and on about how easy their twin boys were to homeschool.  Oh they tried ALL the programs and I just didn’t choose the right stuff… Oh they did what I did, but they did MORE…  While I wanted to slap this person, I also did grudgingly learn something from her.  Sometimes, for some parents and kids, it’s just not that hard.  I think it must be like those moms who say “My baby really does sleep through the night!”  All the parents who’s babies don’t, choose to believe that they are bald faced liars.  I think it has to do with self preservation.

It mainly comes down to who we all are together. Even moms who are, or were teachers sometimes face the most challenging student in their own child.  Other parents who have never taught and are worried sick about it, find it to be a breeze.  I really like how Michael Robertson summed it up in his recent post.  “In our experience, and for many others we’ve known, homeschooling challenges are rarely academic in nature, but more often about personalities clashing, about temperaments, about expectations.”  nail, meet head.

What We Did

One thing that I think we did right is, we took our time.  When we pulled the girls out of school in February of 2015, we took about 2 months off from schooling.  They had their “summer” vacation early.   It helped re-set our school life so that it wasn’t trying to emulate a classroom, or be compared to it.  It was also quite convenient since we had a huge number of jobs to get done on the boat.

By May, the chaos was taking over and it became clear that we would all benefit from a bit of structure.  We started with just reading and math.  I found curriculum that I liked, ordered it and we started easing into a more formal program.

All the way down the California Coast we did our reading lessons and math lessons daily while also having the girls plug in some writing about a trip to the Natural History museum in Santa Barbara, the Aquarium in Monterey or the snorkel experience they had that day.  We would also add in an impromptu geology lesson when banging rocks was the thing of the day, or a dinosaur lesson (Adelaide wants to be a Paleontologist).

Adelaide holding an ancient animal's tusk. She was in love.
Adelaide holding an ancient animal’s tusk (i think).   She was in love.
Show off
Show off
Messages in bottles can become school exercises!.
Messages in bottles can become school exercises!.

It was working pretty well, but we were realizing that we were hitting a wall in math with one of our students.  Actually, it was like we were going backwards.  It was as if when the math came out a switch flipped and my inquisitive, determined, open little daughter retracted, shut down and turned off.  Things would just deteriorate into tears and soon she couldn’t add 1 + 1.  I was baffled…  I didn’t understand why this was happening.  I know (and knew at the time; in the actual moments) that my frustration didn’t help… but I was at a complete loss.  All other areas were great but math was toxic and it infected everything.  I was not the only one, even Cameron’s sister, a fabulous award winning math teacher raised her eyebrows just a bit.  It was hard.

Outside help please?  We had heard great things about KUMON and it’s ability to help kids with math especially. While we were ensconced in San Diego for a month before the Ha Ha, we jumped in feet first.  We had them evaluated.  One girl did reading and the other did math.  We took UBER to the weekly lessons and we did daily worksheets.  I was absolutely floored at the level of the math worksheets.  They literally started her with 1 + 1 … two weeks of adding numbers under 5.  I thought “oh, so that’s where we are.”  It was such a lightbulb for me.

While doing the KUMON math as well as her regular math program (since KUMON is supposed to be in addition to their usual work), math just started to become overwhelming.  It would take hours to finish the work that should be done in 20 minutes.  Retention of the concepts was non existent so testing was a complete waste of time.  I was so perplexed and frustrated.  And you can imagine how she felt… she wasn’t’ shy about showing us how she felt either, it was pretty clear, I think the whole anchorage knew.

Let's smash some rocks ... and take Geology 101!
Let’s smash some rocks … and take Geology 101!
Art class was always fun. I should have taken more photos.
Art class was always fun. I should have taken more photos.
Show off :)
Show off 🙂

On a day when we had yet another horrendous math breakdown, I had an afternoon flight back to Napa to work.  I got on that plane and from 30,000 ft I said to myself “This is NUTS!”  I finally realized that my kid was going to HATE me, HATE math and be damaged for life if I didn’t change something.  When I landed I googled “my kid hates math”.

After about two hours of research I had a full Amazon shopping cart, a pile of print outs and a totally different strategy.  We stopped “doing” math.  She kept up with her KUMON worksheets but we started playing games, reading stories about math, looking at picture puzzles about math  and just talking about math through the day.  After a month and a half away from her regular math curriculum, we eased back in and wow…what a huge difference.  It can still be hard, we go slowly and we still have our moments, but the drama is so much less.  I still have a lot to learn about how she learns math, when to step back (most of the time) and when to push (never).  In  her class now she is doing fairly well, she isn’t making A+ or anything, but she is quite happy with herself, and that is half the battle… or 3/4’s or probably a minimum of 9/10ths.

Math Games - a go to once I got a clue
Math Games – a go to once I got a clue
Chess on a hike!
Chess on a hike!

Around that time in San Diego I also read a fabulous book about structuring a classical education for your child.  I loved the concept in the book and it helped me form the rest of their curriculum.  We really started more in earnest and things were much smoother.   I loved certain parts of what we did.  In fact we all really enjoyed lots of aspects of homeschooling.  It didn’t feel so much like school as it did discovering all sorts of things.  I’m really hoping that when we go back to it, I haver retained the lessons learned and it will be smoother sailing.

Since this post is about a mile long, I’ll shoot out the curriculum and resources that I’ve loved best in another post soon.  As an update, the girls have done pretty well in their Canadian school.  We have certainly appreciated a break from being their teachers.  Isa popped into second grade, a grade above where we were teaching and Adelaide knew what “alliteration” was when no one else in her 3rd grade class did (2 points for homeschool mom).  They haven’t seemed to loose any ground.  In fact I would say that from the beginning of their time on the boat they made huge strides and not just academically but in their social skills, confidence, independence and so many things that you can’t test or quantify.  So…  I’m not so worried about it moving forward.

So, what advice would I give someone starting out… aside from the totally useless advice of “don’t stress so much about the first year?”   Nope, none, no advice.  It’s like trying to tell another Mom how to get their three month old to sleep through the night.  It’s just different for everyone.  I am not yet the Homeschool whisperer… but I’m working on it.

self guided learning while exploring Isla Isabella
self guided learning while exploring Isla Isabella


    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Susie,
      Sneak peak : “A Well Trained Mind”, Singapore Math, Easy Peasy Readers, The Story of the World series – and there is more. I’ll provide links and comments in my next post. That will be much easier and faster to write than the last one:)

  1. Gary Souza says:

    I love your writing style. Entertaining, informative and witty. Can’t wait for the next one… BTW last week I found out from Kim you guys were on Bainbridge at the same time I was getting my boat ready for cruising up north. I can throw a rock on Bainbridge from my marina (not really, but you get the point) Wish I had known you were there. Hugs to all.

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