Since 2013, my husband, Simon and I have been sailing around the seas with our daughter, Sienna. When we started, Sienna was 3 1/2 years old.
We are what you would call full time live-aboards
For the first couple years, we circumnavigated the Mediterranean, wintering for six months in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily and at the end of 2015 we sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
The most popular question I’m asked about having a young boat kid on board is, ‘How do you handle your daughter’s education and what do you do to ensure she gets social interaction with her peer group?’ In this article I address these topics…
Over the course of our travels we’ve been homeschooling Sienna on a daily basis, aiming for at least five days a week spending up to two hours each day. When we’re sailing and the weather is rough, we take a day off. While at an anchorage or in a marina, we spend the early morning working on letters, numbers, reading, math, writing, art, music and whatever Sienna is interested in at the time.
I use a variety of materials to assist with teaching
Some materials I download from the Internet, like curriculum packs from ‘ConfessionsOfAHomeschooler.com,’ educational workbooks I’ve picked up on our travels, and educational iPad apps, books, YouTube videos and online homeschooling software.
When I first started out I had absolutely no clue on how to be a homeschooling parent nor did I have much confidence in my ability to teach our daughter. I think my husband felt the same.
Like most things in life, we start off a bit lost but over time we quickly discovered what worked and what didn’t. Through a process of success and failure we forged ahead and eventually gained the confidence necessary to find a groove and flow with our homeschooling program.
After two years of winding our way, Simon and I feel confident and actually excited about our teaching efforts. And Sienna seems in line with all the other children she comes in contact with that are in school.
Aside from homeschooling, we’ve also had the opportunity of having Sienna go to school.
Experiencing preschools in foreign countries
When Sienna was 4-years-old we put her in a full-time preschool while we were in Sicily for six months. Monday through Friday from 8am to 2pm she played with several Italian children.
Our decision to put Sienna in school wasn’t for academic reasons; we simply wanted to ensure she was playing with other kids. The fact that she learned Italian and was submerged into Italian customs and traditions was an awesome bonus.
And Sienna loved going to school. She enjoyed seeing the other children and usually she carried on playing with one of the kids at the beach, a friend’s house or back on our boat.
After our incredible winter at the marina in Sicily, we moved our boat over to Greece for a refit. Rather than stay on the boat, Sienna and I flew to North Carolina in America to stay with my brother for six weeks.
Reflecting on Sienna’s good experience in Sicily, I put her in school with her cousin, Nathan. For the first week she went for a couple days and then thereafter she went full time. Sienna made lots of new friends and had a great time. The only thing that upset her was the ‘forced’ nap. Sienna hasn’t napped since she was 6 months old – she’s so full of energy that nothing stops her from playing.
Once we returned to the boat, Sienna went back to doing homeschooling and playing with boat kids. She enjoyed being with her cousins and going to school in the States and she enjoyed being back on the boat and having Simon and I teach her.
It’s been nine months since Sienna went to school but an opportunity presented itself recently while we’ve been laid up in Antigua for an unexpected repair.
We became somewhat desperate to find friends for Sienna, now aged five
Normally we sail around from anchorage to anchorage almost always finding other kid boats. Since being in the Caribbean we’ve sailed around with one or all of the three kid boats we met in Spain (before we all crossed the ocean) or a couple other kid boats we met in anchorages. Since landing in St Lucia four months ago Sienna hasn’t gone longer than a couple days without seeing a friend.
Marinas, however, are generally not a place where kid boats hang out
Marina’s in both the Med and Caribbean are usually used for repairs, maintenance and to get a top-up of water or fuel. If a kid boat does enter a marina it’s often for a very short stay – perhaps a day or two at the most.
For the first week in the Antigua marina, my husband, Simon, our crewmember, Eve, and I took turns playing with Sienna. Fortunately we found a nearby pool that other children frequented in addition to bumping into friends anchored in the harbor.
We also rented a car and went to beaches, plantations and other sightseeing attractions. Week two became a bit more difficult as it’s hard to continuously entertain a child, get repairs done, do normal household chores and work. Our homeschooling efforts carried on as usual, but I was starting to worry about Sienna’s lack of peer group social interaction.
By the end of week two another boat suggested that we put Sienna in a preschool just down the road
After a phone call and a quick visit to the school to check it out, hubby and I started Sienna the following day. Interestingly the school was full of children that had one parent working on a boat for the season. It seemed to be that most of the dad’s were crew (captains, skippers, chef’s) on the mega-yachts and their wives and children live on land hoping to see them from time to time.
I was anticipating that the school would be more ‘local’ as I’d like Sienna to interact with local children, but it was full of expat kids. In Italy I think she gained a lot by learning Italian and really submerging herself into the Italian culture. Needless to say, the preschool in Antigua was a brilliant opportunity for Sienna to meet new friends and get some good quality playtime in. Kids are kids – eh?!
So…based on our experience, which is limited to a child up to five years old, we’ve discovered that with young boat children, at the pre-school level, there’s often a pre-school around to take them – even for a short period of a week. Perhaps if pre-schools have the space, the extra money is probably a nice bonus?
In all three preschools we simply had to pay an appropriate fee, fill out a medical and emergency contact form and that was it
When Sienna turns six, however, and should be in ‘proper school’ I wonder if we’ll find more of a difficulty in finding a temporary spot? Perhaps we won’t want to put her in school as we’ll feel it’s too disruptive to her? Perhaps when school becomes more about learning and less about play her level of knowledge won’t match the level of the school?
The overall message of my story…as with most things when living full time on a boat, there are no set rules. There certainly are no set rules about schooling young boat kids. Just because you’ve made the commitment to be a homeschooling parent doesn’t mean that you have to do that continuously for the entire duration of your journey.
I’ve met kid boats that put children in normal schools during winter months or while laid up in a hurricane hole and I’ve also met boats that band together and create a homeschooling group having various parents teach different things on different boats or days.
Last year, Lily, from sailing vessel Delphinus spent her winter on the boat in Ipswich, England. Instead of finding a school for Lily to enrol in, Lily’s mum, Jayne, researched a local homeschooling syndicate for Lily to participate in. (Read my interview with Lily: What does happen when a 10 year old gets invited to go sailing the globe?)
There are no rules
If you are planing on wintering in a particular area or staying put during a hurricane season, check out the formal school and homeschooling options. Many countries have international schools and homeschooling syndications are popping up everywhere. You can also contact the marina you’re interested in and ask for the contact details of other kid boats that will be in the marina. Before we arrived at Marina di Ragusa in Sicily we were introduce over email to a couple kid boats, had the details of the local schools and already had play dates arranged.
And what about kid boats with only one kid?
That’s an interesting question that I get asked often. Due to the fact that we have an only child, we are very conscious of making sure Sienna has other children to play with. I wanted to have two children but it didn’t work out that way. That being said, she’s only had a few days here and there that she had to play with us boring adults. Like I mentioned above, we’re either making arrangements to travel and meet with other kid boats or we simply find other children around. For some reason it just seems to work out and has been working out for over two years now.
I have some fantastic friends that have more than one child on board and I think the need to seek out other kids is more relaxed. Like anything, there are pro’s and cons to having one child or many! My key point is that our experience with finding other children for Sienna to interact with hasn’t been an issue. A child always appears or a formal schooling situation arises.
Do you have any other questions?
Let me know. The whole area of homeschooling and travelling with a child on a boat can be overwhelming and scary. I surely felt completely out of my depth when I first left land. Fortunately I contacted other veteran sailing bloggers, like Behan from SailingTotem.com, to express my fears and receive some reassurance that I was going to survive. There’s many people out there to look to for support – me included. There are also several Facebook Groups, like Women who Sail, that can be super beneficial to gain insight from.
Make sure to check out the book website ‘Voyaging with Kids‘ too! There’s a treasure trove of awesome information on the website and in the book.