Schools Out... Forever

Plunging into a break from school!
Okay, not really forever, but definitely for a much-needed break. As I browse Facebook, I see friends posting pictures of their little ones donning freshly-pressed school uniforms and holding sweet signs that read “First Day of First Grade 2013”. Well, our school calendar doesn’t exactly match the conventional school calendar these days, and you know what our school uniforms consist of!

First Day of School outfit when Elizabeth started Preschool!
Uniforms on board
When we started this Field Trip, I had visions of what school would be like – the kids crouched on the beach in their sun hats and swimsuits, holding a magnifying glass, examining seashells, sketching in nature logs. Or perhaps all of us leaning over a navigational chart, plotting our course, accounting for current and wind direction, then the kids helping take a watch. Ahhh, it would be educational bliss…

But then reality set in. And here’s what we figured out…

1. SEASICK STUDENTS WHINE

Yes, even the teacher gets pretty crabby when we try to do school while we are under way. So, it was decided early on that school only happens when we are at anchor, moored, or at the dock. This also means that school days aren’t just the traditional Monday through Friday, but ANY day that we are staying put, except for Sundays – that’s church day. In order to keep up with the workload and avoid seasickness, we have to school on Saturdays, too, but that’s life.

2. SCHEDULES ARE NECESSARY EVILS

 Let me just admit this first, I am NOT a morning person. I don’t even prefer conversation before I’ve had a cup of coffee. But, we’ve all had to make compromises along this trip. So, when Mark suggested we stick to rigid school hours (8 am – 12 noon), I knew it was the right thing for everyone. I also knew that in order to make this snoozer get up and get going, I would need Mark’s help. He offered to make breakfast each day and get my coffee brewing, so I could ease into the day. This has made a huge impact on the success of our school days. The kids know what to expect, and I don’t feel like I’m alone in the morning’s preparations. Although daily schedules are rigid, we have to be flexible in our school-year schedule, taking breaks throughout the year based on our travel schedule and not necessarily starting or ending each school year with everyone else.

3. SWIMMING IS GREAT MOTIVATION FOR LEARNING


Right outside our back door we have the epitome of incentives – water. I have started setting a timer for each subject (after many a day when the kids would procrastinate and waste all day trying to negotiate – “Do I have to? Can I skip this part? I don’t want to!”) When the timer goes off, we move on, no arguments. If someone’s not done, it’s put in the homework stack and has to be done before any swimming is allowed.





4. EXTRA LEARNING IS A BONUS

In order to ensure I am teaching all the basic concepts for each age level, I use two pre-fabricated curricula. Horizons for math, reading, and phonics; Sonlight for history-linked literature units. Otherwise, I gather books and materials for more localized learning such as self-compiled units for science based on grade level standards that correspond with our current surroundings. For writing, we keep a journal of our adventures and respond to prompts that I give for specific writing tasks (i.e. letter writing, planning tools, opinion piece, fantasy, non-fiction writing, etc.) and the kids keep a reading log to track their reading progress. That is the bulk of our homeschooling ‘curriculum’. However, as we travel, extra learning opportunities are everywhere. We take guided tours, attend cultural events, visit museums, and explore, explore, explore! And, yes, there are times when school actually does resemble that of my dreams. We search for shells and organize our collections. We look at the night sky and find constellations. We build sailboats and sandcastles. But for my peace of mind, I stick to the standards set by Colorado’s Department of Education during school hours, and all the other learning is extracurricular!!

5. SAILING ISN’T INTERESTING

Before all of you throw tomatoes at me, let me explain. Mark and I took classes before embarking on this trip. We learned about plotting a course, dead reckoning, reading navigational signs and light configurations, and much more. We were excited to share all we learned with the kids…but, much to our initial disappointment, they weren’t interested AT ALL. Instead of stuffing them with knowledge they didn’t care about, we decided to wait for them to show interest – isn’t that when learning is most meaningful anyway? Elizabeth has gradually started asking questions, but Michael is still just enjoying the ride. And we’re okay with that, both of us confident that someday they will yearn to participate.  Usually, the iPad costs 10 behavior points, but when we sail over 4 hours, the iPad time is FREE!  This makes longer passages something the kids look forward to now!

         6. SCHOOLING ISN’T EASY! 

Being mom and teacher all day long can be thoroughly exhausting. And for the kids, being with mom and teacher all day is hard, too. The kids and I both have our days of moodiness, when school is last on our list of ways we’d like to spend the morning. When others are out playing on the beach, meeting for a domino game, or going snorkeling together it is hard to say, “We can’t, we have school to do.” But even then, we are all learning the importance of discipline and responsibility. Yes, it stinks, but we’re in this together – even on those trying days.

7. STAY POSITIVE! 

 This is a tough one. I can easily get into my Negative Nelly mood, saying things like, “If you don’t stop that…” or “Go to your room…” or “How many times have I told you…” I try to catch myself before my negativity spreads like the Black Plague. In our micro-environment, my attitude deeply effects everyone’s attitude. The teenager in me wants to roll my eyes and reply, “that’s not fair! It’s my party and I’ll scream if I want to!” but alas, I am the adult. So, I take a deep breath and try a more positive approach - most of the time, anyway. Mark and I read a parenting book a while back that suggested the use of a point system for rewards. At the time we were desperate for anything that would help our family, and it has become a vital part of our parenting. The basic idea is to give the children a point for specific behavior depending on which misbehaviors you’re struggling with. For example, we were getting frustrated with having to ask the same things over and over before our kids would listen. So, one of the behaviors our kids earn a point for is “first time listening”. They keep track of their own points (and usually each other’s points, too!) and can use them to buy iPad time, a movie, a treat, or even a simple piece of gum! The rewards each have their own point price, so the kids learn that saving leads to greater rewards! Gum or treat = 5 points, 30 minutes on iPad = 10 points, movie = 20 points, souvenir under $10 = 10 points. By far, the hardest part of this system is the parents remembering to give points consistently. But it never fails, when I get into that negative cycle, acknowledging good behavior and giving out a few points is all that is needed to turn us all around. An unexpected bonus to this system is that when we are in the checkout line at the supermarket and the kids ask, “Can we get some candy?” my response is always, “How many points do you have?” Perfect cure for begging!!

For the past few weeks we have been enjoying learning in some not-so-traditional ways. One night at 8 pm (usually our bedtime), we took a taxi to a beach on the north end of the island. As we stood beneath a blanket of stars, we watched a huge leatherback turtle lay100+ eggs in the sand. We got to reach out and stroke her back and feel her strong flippers as she huffed and puffed, working hard to protect her eggs with a thick layer of sand. It was a remarkable experience, and we all were in awe of this glimpse into the circle of life. It was a late night, getting us in bed around midnight, but a ‘can’t miss’ opportunity.

This weekend, we attended Kiddie Carnival celebrations at the national stadium. The event is the kickoff for Grenada’s lively Carnival. Children from age one to age 16 were dressed in elaborate costumes telling the story of the emancipation of slavery. Groups paraded on stage in different outfits to dance and chant in front of local judges, hoping to win the grand prize! Other kid-friendly activities made for a fun day. Elizabeth felt beautiful with her sparkly face paint, and Michael jumped in the bouncy castle and wore a silly balloon hat! And of course, no carnival would be complete without some treats – ice cream and cotton candy anyone?? Don’t mind if I do!



For the past 2 weeks, Elizabeth has become quite the sailor girl! At the local yacht club, she joined a sailing club. From 9 am – 2 pm daily, she is out on the water, learning to sail a little Optima. The first few days were overwhelming and scary for her, but she pressed on and has really figured it all out! It is wonderful to see her so proud of what she’s accomplished. Maybe she’ll be a sailor after all!




Meanwhile, Michael and I have traveled north to the small town of Fontenoy to help with a Vacation Bible School. We had the chance to meet many local children and learned some fun, new songs! Michael faced his own set of challenges there, with many children enamored by his blonde hair and dimples. He was very embarrassed by all the attention, but by snack time on the first day, he had calmed down and adjusted.


One of our other field trips was to explore an underwater sculpture park. Some friends from neighboring boats hopped on board, and we motored up 3 miles to a marine park where large sculptures have been placed on the sea floor. As we snorkeled along the underwater museum, we saw people frozen in time - a man riding a bike, kids holding hands, a man at his desk, and various other pieces of art all covered in coral and surrounded by fish! It was the first underwater museum we have ever seen, and maybe one of the only in the world!



Our school on board may look very different from the traditional classroom. It may present a new set of challenges. It will have to continue to be tweaked and adjusted as our needs change. I definitely don’t claim to have found the holy grail of education, but it works for us… for now!

Thanks to all my dear friends far and near who helped me celebrate my birthday! What fun it was to get emails from friends and family who seem worlds away. Then to have a Birthday Breakfast Party cooked by Mark and shared with a few of our neighboring boats, complete with a banana bread birthday cake! A great way to start my day!!




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