Schooling on the Move

Outside the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

These past few months have been a flurry of travel and learning all jumbled up into one big "Field Trip" along the East Coast .  The kids have walked along villages in Plymouth, visited battlegrounds in Fredricksburg, ridden the path Paul Revere's ride to Concord, watched lobstermen setting and pulling up traps in Maine, toured the Library of Congress, experienced Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and so much more.  Traveling with kids has created a much deeper travel experience.  Places come to life as we seek out learning, rather than simply being somewhere new and seeking out a place to eat dinner!

Michael touching the walls of the fort on which the Statue of Liberty stands

Learning all about the Statue of Liberty!
Kids became Junior Rangers again!
Suddenly, Mark and I are students right along with Elizabeth and Michael, and places become alive to us in a new way.  Museums tell us of the stories that created the places, people and culture of any given city or region.  In Solomon Island, Maryland, we learned about an oyster packing plant, where workers would shuck oysters all day long for minimal pay.   Then the oyster cans were shipped throughout the East Coast.  A whaling museum in Gloucester portrayed the hard life of men on whaling ships and information on the huge creatures they sought after.

Ellis Island Registration Lobby

At Ellis Island we discovered the story of many immigrants who came to America with dreams of a new life.  How they had to prove their ability to support themselves in American society, rather than be a burden to the government.  Individuals were interviewed and examined medically before being allowed to enter the country.  And we discussed why America is referred to as a melting pot.

Precursor to the US Coast Guard
In Mystic, CT we learned about lifesaving stations that preceded the US Coast Guard, and the ways in which rescuers would recover people from a shipwreck off the shore using a zip-line out to the mast.  We anchored right next to one of these old stations in Damaris Cove, that has since been turned into a family home.  The kids also learned how vital the design of the barrel was to the whaling industry and transporting goods.  The barrel design allows one man to easily maneuver the heavy load, loading and unloading ships and eventually trucks.  Then in another ship tour, the guide mentioned how important the cooper (barrel maker) is to the success of the industry, and how valued his work was.  It was a wonderful way to build upon what we had seen in Mystic Seaport.

Breeches Buoy Rescue Demonstration

Elizabeth seeing how easy it is to move a barrel

Kids built a pirate ship and got to use a glue gun!  It was a big deal!
Michael learning how to use a sextant

In Baltimore, we ducked through the tiny passageways of the USS Torsk submarine that was used in WWII.  The children (and adults, honestly) learned so much about how submarines effected the outcome of the war and how tight the quarters on a sub actually were!  It made our boat look suddenly much larger!  The kids climbed up in the tiny bunk beds and pretended to peer through the periscope to spy enemy ships.

It has been amazing to me that so many of the places we've visited offer experiences specifically geared toward children.  The mansions in Newport and many other audio tours provided versions for kids that were generally more entertaining and easy to understand.  Child characters narrate the historical events, along with talking animals or objects.

On another day, we took a train to Washington D.C., where we quickly filled up an entire day.  One of our favorites was the Botanical Gardens where they provided families a "Field Guide" complete with questions, facts, plants to look for within the various exhibits, and space to draw what they found.  It was a built-in curriculum, a welcomed reprieve for this homeschooling mom!  The current exhibit was all about carnivorous plants, and the kids were enamored by how the poisons of the Venus Fly Trap liquify the guts of the captured bugs!  One of the volunteers was explaining how chocolate is made from the cacao plant, and we were able to smell the plant at each stage of the process.  He made sure to remind Elizabeth that chocolate is actually a vegetable!!  A fact she has made sure I don't forget.

Huge steel replica of the Pitcher Plant (another carnivorous plant we learned about)
Chocolate is a vegetable!

Recently, at the Annapolis Sailboat Show, I got a chance to sit in on a seminar entitled "Cruising with Families".  During a portion of the seminar, a panel of men and women who had cruised or are cruising with their children addressed many common concerns about the experience.  I gleaned so much information and reassurance about traveling with kids, simply listening to their conversation.  I was excited to hear from one woman in particular.  She has written numerous books about cruising with kids, and she has her master's degree in education as well.   Along this journey, I have battled within about how to determine curriculum and learning.  Do I follow Colorado's standards?  Or do I do the extra work and modify things to learn about all the places we visit, integrating basic learning goals into the experience?

I asked the woman what she had done, and my feelings about her response made me realize that I had actually decided what was best for us.  She said, "Get a boxed, all inclusive curriculum so that you don't have to do anything and the kids can't argue with what you're asking them to do."  I was inwardly disappointed and saddened by her recommendation.  In her defense, I am sure that she also did a lot of exploratory learning as they traveled, along with the boxed curriculum.  But for me, I felt overloaded with educational stuff when I tried to do both separately.  I like to find ways to integrate our location learning into our studies.

How much more fun I have had (and in turn, the kids have had) when we have explored, written about, and researched our environment!  Is it a ton more work?  Yes.  Do I feel scared not to have a curriculum guide to lean on?  Yes, but I often refer to curriculum level goals as a reference rather than an end-all guide.  Will my kids love learning more?  Hopefully.  Will they meet every standard and every learning goal that kids in mainstream school will?  Probably not, but all kids have learning gaps.  Most importantly, How do my kids learn best and how do I teach best?? By experience.

Here's a few more discovery experiences...

Touring the US Constellation in Baltimore.  The last of the wooden battleships.
Ringing the ship's bell

Where the term square meal originated
Firing of the ship's cannon!
Hanging out in the crew quarters

And then more educational fun in the Calvert Marine Museum...

Lighthouse Keepers!
They dug for a fossil, then had to identify it.  Michael excavated a shark tooth!

An exhibit about the comb jellies they've been catching off the steps of our boat!

We got to watch a student archeologist working to excavate a dolphin skull.  Very interesting. 

One of the hardest things about homeschooling is finally being okay with your choices and trusting your decisions.  As I have written this post and looked back on our past few months of Field Trips, I have discovered that we have learned a lot more than I even set out to learn!  Flexibility has made room for discoveries and interests to develop that I never dreamed of!  One example comes to mind...

Last week, we were doing laundry in a laundromat in Annapolis.  While waiting for the dryer to stop, we wandered down to a nearby jewelry store.  In the window, we saw intricate silver jewelry inspired by barnacles.  We've seen barnacles everywhere along the East Coast - on shells, rocks, and unfortunately on our boat's hull!!  Elizabeth was intrigued, so we stepped inside for a closer look.  The jewelry designer was working in the back of the store, and took the time to explain to us how she gets inspired by nature, creates the molds from actual organic items , then pours the silver into the molds to create each piece.  How fascinating!  Then, the other jeweler worked with gems.  He showed Elizabeth rough stones and explained to her how he looks carefully to find the perfect cut for each unique stone.  He let her hold and touch rough stones and dazzling gems.  He even let her take one of his garnet gems to add to her rock collection!  So, since then, we have been studying all about rocks and minerals.  How the copper of the Statue of Liberty turns green and why.  How volcanoes form many of the islands we have visited.  How the earth is composed of different layers and materials.  Yesterday, we did the 'ol baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment!  And we made up a song to memorize the three main layers of the earth!

(to the tune of 'Are You Sleeping?')
There are three (there are three)
Layers of the earth (layers of the earth)
Core, Mantle, Crust (core mantle crust)
There are three (there are three)

Then we examined and munched on peanut M&Ms to see each layer! Yum!

Learning is alive and well.  I am having a blast, and my kids are learning, too!

Volcanic Eruption after learning about the earth's composition


  1. I think your instincts are spot on - I was a cruising kid back in the late '70s, way before the days of "boxed curricula" - We were cruising during what would have been 7th grade and half of 8th grade. I kept a journal - it was over 300 pages in all. We had an algebra book that I would dive into every once in a while - not at all on a daily schedule. I read voraciously - everything and anything I could get my hands on - no internet, no computers in those days. AND - we traveled the world. That's all. I returned to all honors classes in high school, and graduated in the top 10% from the US Naval Academy. Now I'll give you some advice from grown-up Jane - recent elementary school teacher and principal: In addition to doing the kind of cool stuff you wrote about in this post - help your kids experience and get comfortable with age-appropriate standardized exams. Call them bubble tests (because you have to choose an answer and fill in the corresponding bubble)- and practice time limitations and multiple choice test strategies. Teach test-taking as a discrete skill, like you would teach them how to play a new game, and make it fun and no-stress. (Thanks, your post brought back pleasant memories.)

    1. Jane, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I am visiting my sister-in-law right now, and I peeked at a worksheet her first grader was working on. It included bubbles and matching portions, and I thought, "Oooh, this might be something my kids are missing! I need to make up some assignments in this format!!" You totally confirmed that thinking. Next year, Elizabeth will have to take a mandatory test to put on record with our home school district. Better get busy with the bubbles!!

      I have chosen curricula to follow for math and phonics, but most other learning is based on our experiences. It encourages me to hear of your educational success after cruising for a few years. It helps to quiet that ever-nagging voice asking, "Is this enough?"

      Thanks again for the comments and input. I appreciate all the help I can get!!

  2. Since Sarah and Tali are pretty much the same age as Elizabeth and Michael, and go to a really good school, I think what you've done probably outdoes the vast majority of conventional schooling for kids in those grades (obviously, the older grades are a different thing)! The test-taking idea, though, is a really good idea.

  3. Replies
    1. Miss you, too! I was just watching the video of the kids swimming in Long Island Sound on that windy day!!


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