The whole idea of taking an extensive break from sailing in Panama was to have a homebase for a while that facilitates exploring and getting to know a new country and its cultures, yet enables to establish a sound, more sedentary routine. As many sailing families, we want to alternate long sailing sessions with times where you stay longer periods in one spot. Being on the road is great, but if you keep up with it for too long you do get weary and end up not appreciating the novelties as much as you should. Staying for several months to a year in one spot, remedies this and ensures other priorities can be pursued. After all, our lifestyle does not finance itself nor do we believe in kids raising themselves.
Our new routine better approximates a normal working week, in that all weekday mornings are allocated to work and school, and afternoons to household/ shopping/ exploring. Gitane does jiu jitsu in the Bocas fight school and is learning how to ride a bicycle. On weekends we take Exodus out to new or known spots where we can snorkel/ dive/ spearfish.
It takes a village
Our longest time in one spot since moving onto Exodus and starting our adventures has been the 4 months in Marina Cayo Carenero. Even though our acquaintance with the marina and its residents wasn’t under the happiest circumstances, we bear a warm heart towards the place. Mary, the owner, is a colourful person to say the least. Having been a cruiser herself, raising her kids on the boat and far away locations via homeschooling, she constructed a marina well-suited to cover the needs of long-term cruisers. There is a well-equipped kitchen, a ‘computer’ room, workshop, laundry with washing machines and handwashing facilities, showers with hot water and so on. She has a fair deal of residents, ranging from pensionada’s living on their boat, Brazilians (the people, not the trim) hanging out waiting for the right wave, to single-handed sailors. In some cases the boats never leave the marina, yet a fair deal of the pensioners stays remarkably active. That active, you would never guess their age and rate them at least 10 years younger. Every day at 5 p.m. a ‘happy hour’ transpires in the communal kitchen, which means the sailors get together and bring whatever they want to drink, and talk about boat and other issues. Under our captain’s influence a downwards slide was noted towards a ‘not so happy hour’, and soon this was converted to ‘conspiracy hour’ where the current state of the world is discussed.
As Arthur’s trading requires enormous concentration and focus, we moved the homeschooling off the boat for the time being. Since end of August we have an arrangement with marina Cayo Carenero to use their computer room from 8.30 to 12.00 every weekday. Over the months, several kids have joined us either for short or extended periods. The longest has been Igor, a Brazilian 8 year old boy that lives on the boat Allegro. We also hosted Boomer, a Colombian-American highly intelligent 5 year old, and we have done projects with the girls from the Canadian cat Maple and the girls from the Brazilian cat Bella Luna.
Even though the pupil constellation can change on a daily basis, we stick to a similar routine. We start the day with kayaking to shore. In the marina, first on the list is reading and math. If the internet is good, we make use of www.time4learning.com (offers a complete 1st grade curriculum with certification), www.readingeggs.com (for reading, writing, spelling) and www.khanacademy.com (has math and language modules for 1st grade which we use for repetition and practice). This is complemented with working in workbooks, on paper, playing games. A bit after 10 we take a break. After break we continue practicing math, reading and writing, or we do projects involving science, social skills, … Once a week we have art. Once or twice a week we practice Spanish.
At this stage, the focus has been on teaching Gitane how to read and write and getting the basic understanding of math across. The passing of general knowledge on the world happens on a much more intuitive way, as occasions present itself, as interests are peaked, and we are in the most conducive environment for that. We have gone on fieldtrips to learn about plants and animals. We have observed the brooding pelicans. We researched the marine forms that capture Gitane’s interest (starfish, jellies, needlefish, nurse sharks, black tip sharks, …). We have studied maps, gazed at stars with one of those great star apps, learned about space and so on…
Having class in the marina has its pros and its cons. It has enabled us to work together with other kids and sometimes their parents, which makes class more interesting and dynamic. For the teacher, it offers a not unwelcome challenge to find tasks and things that can easily be done over different age groups and education levels.
Being part of the small marina community, sitting close to the social/ kitchen area, does mean the class activities don’t happen in a void and we frequently receive visitors. But that is all part of the charm, as we try to employ the talents of each one in the school proceedings. Mary assigned herself to giving the occasional reading/ spelling lesson and tried to install some sense for music in the kids. Doug has been given the role of school inspector. Karol (+) used to instill school discipline. Shelley can be counted on for introducing some naughtiness, wackiness, and invention of new games. Debbie is instructing the kids on how to walk the dog. Manuel taught them how to catch the cockroaches on his boat…
All in all, the homeschooling is running pretty smoothly. The pupils are learning at their pace and doing well. As often with these things, the sole concern (if we should name one) is what is inside the teacher’s head. Missing the comparison between peers you have in a standard classroom, it is difficult to gage how far or hard you must push to get something across (how much math, language, science must be done every day?). And how do you balance your own likes and dislikes versus what is necessary for your child? For instance, if you have a natural aversion for repetition, and lack a formal teacher’s training that instructs you on how much you must drill something in before you get the expected result, it takes a concerted effort to find the middle way between what you consider to be pleasant and a good speed versus respecting the human need for repetition… But anyway, all is well and we are all learning. Just the way we like it!
Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution
Schooling only forms a small part of the larger education we wish to offer our kids with this lifestyle. Gitane is growing up to be a self-assured and out-spoken 6 year old, who interacts with people from all ages and cultures in the most natural manner. As her brothers have been put behind the helm each time they are around, she now insists to drive the boat as well. Likewise, the floating devices were abandoned bit by bit and she now swim confidently and insists on ‘diving down’ (bum in the air, head under water or making an underwater summersault) like everyone else in the family.
One question though is: What happens if a child grows up with parents that only listen to bad ass music and systematically reject the superficial soulless music of the 21st century?
Some of her favorite songs are: ‘The girl’s got a ribbon’ aka AC DC’s ‘The girl’s got rhythm, back seat rhythm’ and ‘There’s a bathroom on the right’ aka CCR’s ‘Bad moon on the rise’. And by the way, did you know that Elvis sings about a ‘genoa’ in ‘suspicious minds’? ‘We’re caught in a trap, we can’t get out, because I love you too much baby… Genoa (Don’t you know)’
And try and convince her otherwise…