We started homeschooling our 4 year old daughter in September 2016.

Both of us do not have a formal teacher’s training. Arthur’s prior experience consists of running a dive school and military, whereas I have done my share of presentations, workshops, and training at work, as well as social skills training and group therapy. On Ibo island, I started a Montessori Kindergarten. I thought out the curriculum, funding, and logistics but left the teaching to other people.

As Arthur is captain of the boat and all that goes with that, we agreed I would be the main teacher. I will share my teaching duties with extra crew, especially the years the boys sail along. Arthur will also assist. For instance with Gitane, Arthur is responsible for physical education.

Our search for an appropriate home schooling system lead to an eclectic approach, where we use bits and pieces from different systems:

We borrow our core philosophy from Maria Montessori. So far, ‘Teach me how to do it myself’ has worked for all my children. You raise balanced and confident children by creating a safe and stimulating learning environment in which the child can practise and develop at its own pace. The teacher is aware of the sensitive learning periods, she observes the child’s development and introduces new brain food and skills in accordance. The confined space on the boat does not allow us to take all the required materials along, but we use some of the ideas and methods, such as the language materials. We have already made one set of sandpaper letters to introduce the alphabet.

As a basic reference I downloaded the Flemish learning targets. These are quite comprehensive and give an idea of what can generally be expected of a certain age group. I looked at what other sailors are using, read up on homeschooling, checked out different online systems, and got pointers from my sister who is a kindergarten teacher. The first few months, I had a project for my ex-employer, somewhat limiting the time I had available for education. This made me decide for a system where Gitane could work under supervision but pretty independently.

We found an American online homeschooling system, Time4learning. We use this as a base. Prior to our departure, Gitane did one full school year in a Belgian school. She grew up speaking Flemish, a bit of Afrikaans, and understanding English. She was most proficient in  Flemish, which is of little use in the rest of the world. To give her a crash course in English we enrolled her in preschool 1, and then preschool 2.

Apart from choosing a curriculum, one of the first things we focused on was to install structure and routine. Sailing life is at times unpredictable, thus it seemed best to start with laying out a clear structure that is flexible enough to incorporate daily variability yet provide the child with the stability and predictability she needs. A calendar and a day planner with movable icons did the trick. My experience with the Ibo kindergarten was that if children know what will come next, they become much more manageable. I also remembered that it is good to have certain routines that mark the transition from one event to the other. For instance, we always start the day with the calendar and day planner. At breakfast Arthur and I run over the plans for the day so that we can fill out the day planner correctly. We don’t necessarily stick to weekdays to do schooling. It can also happen in the weekend, as the need arises.

Our online programme is supplemented by workbooks, games, field trips, outings, reading books, and lots of arts and crafts. We stocked up on Kindergarten supplies:

  • Various memory games, puzzles, workbooks to aid brain development,
  • Lots of things to practise fine motor skills (beads, mozaic buttons, playdoh),
  • All types of art stuff (paint, paper of different colours, pens, pencils, markers, glitter, scissors, stickers, glue on things, …).
  • We bought a small xylophone, shakers to develop musical skills.
  • A hoolah hoop, skipping rope and step for gross motor development and lots of outdoor time
  • Storybooks
  • The internet is full of activities and creative ideas to try out.

So, with the subscription to Time4learning settled, a teach appointed, and Kindergarten supplies bought, we were ready for it. So far it has been good and interesting for us.

When you start homeschooling you get to know your child in a different manner. I find it fascinating to see how Gitane processes structured information and goes about exploring things. I have always seen her as a very active child. She doesn’t sit still for long. But when you present something new and complex, like the online homeschooling program, it is as if all her exploring energy is unleashed at the same time. A thorough recoinnaissance needs to be done, on the spot. She needs to see everything there is to see that very day. She will get to the bottom of it, and there is no better time than now. This drive to know will make the otherwise busy child sit there for hours, absorbing knowledge. And getting highly irritated if you try to interrupt her learning curve. First time I saw this in action, I assumed the overload of input would just be deleted. She was going too fast for it to stick. Turns out I was wrong. She remembered it exactly and came back for more the next day, and the next, …

She worked through the different online themes and tools quite quickly. Within a few weeks she switched to English as main language.

But as driven as she gets with new information, new methods, as quickly does the new challenge wear off. Once she thinks she has mastered something, it is very difficult to convince her otherwise. Repetition as an educational principle does not go down well. Even if you disguise it completely, eyes roll ‘I know that already’.

My first thought on dealing with a reluctant student, was that it indicates something is not right either in the approach, the topic, the level, or the method. Or maybe there is just too much happening around the child that draws the attention away. But then I thought some more…

My own way of working is systematic. I tend to read a book from front to back, including the cover and table of contents. I work in depth, I grind away at the stuff, step by step. I have been like that as far as I can remember. Gitane’s way is to dive straight in, to take as much in as you can in one foul swoop. This made me think of the brain as a sponge. Gitane has a super flexible sponge. In her high density learning all the information gets soaked up instantaneously. Once saturated it is best left alone. Probably my sponge is semi rigid (or far less flexible). It soaks up the information stream more steadily. My sponge gets saturated a lot slower, so I can go on longer. Gitane’s is superfast and then needs some time to consolidate before she wants new input.

It shows that each person has a very different learning curve. As I get used to my new role, I’m getting to know my child’s learning style in order to provide the right type of stimulation for her needs.

Assuming full responsibility for your childrens’ education, without having a formal training background, might at times seems daunting. We are not too concerned yet about Gitane’s schooling as she is still in kindergarten, but we do consider this year the trial run for when the boys join us and I will have 3 children of very different ages in my onboard classroom.

Sure, teaching is not rocket science and we are no monkeys, but a fair amount of critical observations and trimming the sails, will do no harm. It is good to stay on your toes and query yourself.


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