Our friends Rikka and Tuomo Meretniemi on SV Panacea (a Swan 57), a cruising family out of Finland, asked us to contribute to their book. They provided us with some questions and we responded. Since the book will be in Finish, we thought that we might share our answers with you You can find out more about Panacea at www.sailforgood.org
1. What is your approach to boat-schooling, how do you find it? Please elaborate A LOT!
Boat schooling is perhaps the hardest and most rewarding part of our lives. It is not the reason that we began cruising, but it is one of the reasons that we keep going. I want to be completely clear that we do not feel that we have it all figured out. I’m suspicious of any homeschool parent who appears to have it all figured out. I find that most homeschooling/boat schooling parents are always questioning whether he/she is doing enough and constantly looking for resources which support their children’s education. That constant niggling in the back of your mind which questions whether you are doing enough does the work of pushing you to consistently look for the best approach, the best curriculum, the best classes, the best opportunities for your child. This is true for most parents I think, regardless of their schooling preferences.
The foundation of what we do is based on a classical approach. I had a fairly mundane primary school education and I’ve taken the opportunity of teaching my children, to reeducate myself in the process. The classical approach follows the idea of the trivium, the three stages of learning; grammar, logic, then rhetoric. These stages can be radically simplified by thinking of them as such; 1) The pouring in of information as in the memorization of key facts and mastery of the mechanics of learning (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc). 2) The logic phase develops a child’s ability to research, argue, order and compose in order to reason and question. 3) The last phase, usually around high school age, develops further the art of debate, the ability to persuade and compose as well as critique.
So with this as our foundational principle, we also do a lot of what I call consecutive learning. I mix together our study of Literature, Art, History, and Science so that it is organized by time period. In this way, what they are learning all ends up relating to the other subjects and many connections can be made in the process. We study these subject starting from the beginning of human civilization and move through time on a 4 year cycle so that on the 5th year, they start back at the beginning. Because they are older and more capable, they can dive deeper, study further, reinforce and broaden what they had already worked on earlier. As an example, this year we are studying the time between the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. We are reading about Louis IV through Louis VI and the French Revolution. We happen to be in France so we are touring through Versailles and the Louvre with this time period in mind. We are learning about the scientific discoveries of that time – learning about the science behind them, and what they meant for practical life. We are reading sections together of Johnathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels and Antoine Galland’s, Arabian Nights and bits of Voltaire. I have the girls listen to music that was composed and performed during the time; we recently watched the whole opera The Marriage of Figaro on Youtube as well as Carmen. If possible when we have family movie nights, I try and find films which are set in the time period we are studying. The girls hardly know they are learning. It isn’t always structured and doesn’t always revolve around workbooks.
That said, having a guiding curriculum is handy and I’m not one to make up my own entirely (recall my earlier admission of a terrible elementary education). When we are not on the move, we sit down daily and “do school” together where the girls are required to read for an hour, progress in their math books, practice their instruments, progress in their grammar and writing books and then I’ll have another topic or two that we are working on. It may be that we read a section of our history books and write a summary, or we may go outside and do some nature journaling.
Another aspect of how I approach schooling is by taking things in blocks. You just can’t do it all, all the time. So, I think about focusing on different areas of study at different times. We were studying Latin most of last year but now we are taking a break and we are doing a typing program and French. When we get back to the boat we will be starting a logic curriculum. When we have opportunities, I try to get the girls into classes or programs that will add to their education, like French lessons while we were in Tahiti or geology study when we were driving the RV through the western National Parks in the United States. When we were home for a few months they did a tennis camp. Adelaide takes piano lessons at every opportunity, whether by FaceTime or in person with an instructor if we are settled for a few months. Isa takes violin weekly via FaceTime with an instructor in Montreal. What we sometimes lose in consistency, we gain in variety.
Of course, while you are traveling, experiential learning is such a gift. Learning about great paintings at the Met in New York or learning how to identifying dinosaur fossils on a hike through the Alberta Badlands are all amazing ways to learn. The place you are in always provides a lesson plan if you educate yourself a bit and put your kids to work discovering as well as supporting their curiosity and providing some structure.
While experiential learning is amazing, I don’t think it is enough on its own. To feel that I’m providing a rigorous and thorough education, I need some further structure that will provide them with a well-rounded look at the world and how they fit into it. Even if China is not where we are, I want them to know something of the history of that region and its people and culture. I want them to know about the great moments and divisions in Western Civilization. And, even though it is tedious and boring, I really do want them to know their multiplication tables.
The use of the internet revolutionizes the way we homeschool when we are not at sea. But, through the South Pacific and in remote parts of Mexico, there was no internet to be found, and I was very happy for my all-paper curriculum and resources. On that note, I found that my best resource for resources was a book called The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Baur. It is a great book with a philosophy which, if you are familiar with her approach, you would have recognized in much of the above.
A few things that I’ve learned over and over:
1) Don’t push too hard. When you feel that your face is getting hot, stop, ease up and come at it again from another angle in 20 minutes or maybe tomorrow. Half of the time I find that the girls tackle it again on their own if I just step back.
2) Each child is SO different and usually needs an individual approach and may need a whole different curriculum.
2. How have the kids changed during your travels?
Our girls have always been a bit on the more timid side in public. They would never run out into a group of kids and say “let’s play.” They are just not that forward. Traveling has forced them to get closer to new friends faster than they would have at home, and it has provided them with so many more opportunities to make new friends. While traveling, they have to stretch their friend making muscles and reach out more.
I believe that traveling has made them much more connected to family and connected to their own thoughts and desires while making them less connected to pop culture and the many distractions of our modern world. While our girls are sliding into their teens, and they are showing clear signs of that special time of life, they are not retreating into themselves and don’t yet have fights about phones or the length of their skirts or their need to spend money on the latest widget. Our girls have developed a strong sense of self, they have their own style and can be very frugal. That’s not to say that more challenges aren’t on the horizon, but from what I’ve seen from other cruising families with older kids, I think we are doing the right thing.
3. Do you work while cruising, if so, how would you advise future cruising families on the matter?
We departed the San Francisco Bay in 2015 with the intention of Cameron not working while Annie was doing some casual consulting. In 2016 we were both pulled into almost a year of full time consulting in Canada while we left our boat, Banyan, in Mexico. This replenished our cruising kitty and led to a couple of years of part-time with occasional full-time consulting. It’s been great for us as it has taken a 5-year budget and stretched it to 10+. Since we started consulting we’ve been more relaxed with our budget and it afforded us the opportunity to return to see family. It’s also made us feel more comfortable to spend that little bit more so that we have the highest safety standards.
We would say that if you enjoy your job and you can do it while cruising then why not. Why not make this a lifetime and not just a short time. The time that you spend with your family while cruising is amazing. If you can extend that experience, and you enjoy it, then we see no reason not to do it.
4. What has been the hardest thing for you as a family during the long-term cruising?
Paying taxes and keeping up with family ashore.
In all seriousness, paying taxes and banking have always been difficult. It seems like something is always due at a time when you have no connectivity, or you can’t do it over the phone, or you can only do it on an app… or you have to sign up at a different website then get a text with a code verifying who you are (hard to do without a cell phone or wifi!!!). Of course, it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality in advance. It is amazing how difficult it is to exist today without streaming WiFi and a cell phone. The logistics of sending an international wire transfer from the Tuamotus in French Polynesia almost broke Annie. Thankfully these days we are working with a wonderful bank with whom we have a personal banker and we have a Google Fi world phone (ahhh).
The challenges of connectivity make staying connected to family hard too. Added to that is the sometimes huge timezone differences which make it harder to just pick up the phone when you think of a loved one or BFF. Many times in Europe the girls wanted to call their friends at 3am their time.
The next hardest part is either preparing a boat to be left for a long time or returning to a boat that has been left for an extended period in a decommissioned state. It is just hard work and not a fun part of the cruising life.
5. What have been the ultimate high lights you have experienced?
Dad – Sailing under the Golden Gate in 2015. I had envisioned that moment daily for 5 years and when it came true it was awesome and intimidating at the same time. Arriving in the Marquesas after crossing the Pacific in 21 days, arriving safely in New Zealand after 7 months in the South Pacific, spending days walking beaches and cities, hand in hand with my daughters and my wife are all my highlights. I probably spent more time holding hands with my family in the last few years than I had in all the previous years put together.
Isa – Time with family
Adelaide – visiting new islands and getting to know the locals
Mom – The #1 thing that I absolutely love about cruising is meeting the other families and cruising couples that we find along the way.
6. What would you say to people thinking about going cruising?
Not to steal from Nike but “Just do it”. Don’t wait for the right time in your career or the right amount of money in your bank account or for all the stars to align. It’s never enough and it’s never the right time. Make a plan today and then stick to it. Buy the smallest boat you feel comfortable and safe on, refit it as best you can afford, learn as much as you can from others and then, cast off! As you cast off, be conservative, take your time and be safe. Always err on the side of caution and remain within the constraints of your weakest crew member. Once you’re out there, relax and enjoy yourself. Being handy with engines and rigging is great, but more important is the willingness and confidence to learn and the ability to be resourceful. \
7. Your motto
Photo Credits go to Tuomo who snapped some shots of us during our time together on Mo’orea in the Society Islands of French Polynesia during the cruising season of 2018