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Old 02-20-2003
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Doreen Gounard is on a distinguished road
Homeschooling in the Tropics

 
On board Imani part sailboat, part classroom, the Pacific syllabus unfolds to the homeschooling crew.
 
Our family of four continues to explore and learn on board Imani, our 33-foot Roger Simpson-designed catamaran, that has taken us from Sausalito, CA, to the reef-fringed lagoons of the Society Islands in French Polynesia over the last six months. Now surrounded by coconut palms, Banyan trees, and incredible flowers, our boat also functions as a classroom for our children, Maya, age 12, and Tristan, age six. 

What better way to learn about the world, its geography, people, plants, and animals than to experience it firsthand? The Society Islands are a French archipelago 450 miles long that are part of French Polynesia in the central South Pacific. They create the illusion that one of the high islands of the Marquesas has plopped down into the middle of the Tuamotu Atoll breaking into several smaller islets. White foam of crashing waves can be seen on the fringing reef circling the islands under a southwesterly breeze. One of the biggest differences here is that there are many more people and thus less fish in this region than in the more remote islands. We haven't seen a shark since we left the Tuamotus; on the other hand, tourists and tourist-industry workers abound here in this chain of islands, Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora.  Large Love Boat type cruise ships often share anchorages with tiny cruising boats. The lesson plan of voyaging under sail and its destinations unfolds a little differently each day. 

Homeschooling aboard is a continuous process, one that ebbs and flows. In the company of other boats with children, homeschooling becomes more formal and takes place in the mornings. With the enticement of play all afternoon with good friends, these sessions progress quickly and with focus. On their own, Maya and Tristan find themselves swimming, diving, and exploring the underwater world. Identifying sea life and observing the characteristics and behavior of various fish, plant, and other sea life occupies hours of fun learning.  
 
 
Sometimes it's hard to tell who's teaching whom as kids learn from each other about the natural world at large.
 
The children also teach each other. Tristan is learning dinghy sailing with cruising kids Laurel and Jocelyn from another cruising boat, Flyer. Maya has taken on her own astronomy tutorial, having absorbed much about the stars in the night sky. She can locate and identify major constellations and enthusiastically explain Greek and Roman myths associated with each. 

In fact, our children have never been to school. We have homeschooled all along in preparation for the cruising life. We do not use a packaged curricula, such as The Calvert School, which supplies books and curriculums for grades one through eight. Instead, we make our own curriculum by perusing through catalogs like The Education Connection, John Holt's Bookstore, and Tobin's Lab, and use them all in our selection of materials. This year we brought a chemistry set with us and have had a fun and informative time doing experiments and learning about the 'scientific method.' 

We also read a lot, as most cruisers tend to do. Tristan loves to be read to, and for the last six months has become totally obsessed with The Adventures of Tintin from the 1940s by Hergé—

  
"Homeschooled children and their parents quickly realize that they are learning together, and that learning is something most people do their entire lives."
stories rich with colorful language presented in comic-book style that he asks us to read to him repeatedly. Tristan now recognizes more and more words and is reading these books to us. It's evident that it's just a matter of time before he will be a fluent reader. 

The cruising lifestyle helps our children understand that the learning process is theirs. The rewards, discoveries, and insight foster more motivation to learn. As our daughter Maya so eloquently puts it, " Who wants to be stupid?" Certainly not us parents, although homeschooling can make us adults feel like we don't know much when our kids ask questions to which we don't have the answers. But the beauty of being a learning facilitator is knowing when to say, "Let's figure out how to find the answer to that question." This usually sends us to our laptop to open the Encarta Encyclopedia in search of some answers. Homeschooled children and their parents quickly realize that they are learning together, and that learning is something most people do their entire lives. 

 
Repairs in exotic locations are likely to make their way into the lesson plan in any sailing classroom with thousands of miles beneath its keels.
 
And of course learning about boat maintenance also enters the curriculum from time to time. We just completed a haul-out at Raiatea Carénage that went very well. Workers there know how to haul multihulls and the yard readily accommodates do-it-yourselfers. We repaired a small crack in the skeg that supports the port rudder and added another coat of bottom paint. The total cost for the four-day haul out brought some interesting economic comparisons since we paid a similar figure to what we would have paid in the San Francisco area—about $550—although $210 of this figure was for a gallon of bottom paint. 

We decided to haul out now because we will not be in New Zealand during this winter's cyclone season like most of the other South Pacific cruisers, but instead plan to stay in the tropics and avoid cyclones by staying close to the equator. We have also considered spending winter in this part of the world in the Marshall Islands, just north of the equator. The Marshall Islands, a former US territory still affiliated with the states, are next on the syllabus. There, we're looking forward to the US Postal Service and flights to Hawaii. As we venture farther west into the Pacific, we'll continue to research our options, and are certain that en route the learning process will continue for all. 



Homeschooling Resources

 The Calvert School (complete K-8 curriculum and supplies)
105 Tuscany Road
Baltimore, MD 21210
410-243-6030
email: inquiry@calvertschool.org 

 

 The Education Connection ( for general materials and books)
Box 91037
St. George, UT 84791
800-863-3828
www.educationconnection.com 

 

 John Holt's Bookstore/Growing Without Schooling (for gen. materials and homeschooling info)
2380 Massachusetts Avenue
Suite 104
Cambridge, MA 02140
617-864-3100 

 

 Tobin's Lab (for science materials and some history)
P.O. Box 6503
Glendale, AZ 85312
800-522-4776



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