shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Homeschooling Options

July 4, 2011

One of our most important jobs as parents is to ensure that our children get a good education. For some parents this means getting their children into the "right" school or program. For those of us who spend our lives wandering, however, the best school is homeschool, but the question still remains, of how to go about educating our own children.

I won't lie and say it's easy. Homeschooling our three boys was the hardest job I've ever had. But it was also the most rewarding. One product of my labors is in graduate school; one started college at 16; and the third kicked some serious ass on the SAT. I am proud of all three and proud of myself for the role I played in their successes. I did, however, have some help.

First day of homeschool: David and Nick

First day of homeschool: Garrett

When deciding on a homeschool program, there are many options. If your child is currently enrolled in "regular" school and you do not plan to travel far or for long, the school may be able to help you out. Some schools offer individualized programs for students who will be traveling extensively. There is often a stipulation that the child must pass an exam upon their return, and of course, the assumption is that they will return. For us, with an uncertain itinerary (still, after 9 years) this was not an option.

The other extreme is to create a homeschooling program on your own. There are hundreds of homeschooling books available to guide you. These references will tell you what your child should learn at each grade level; many recommend texts with lessons, activities, assessments, even complete curricula. This is an excellent option for parents of younger children. Since whether your child learns to multiply in 3rd or 4th grade is of no real consequence, you as the parent can guide your child at his own pace and present him with challenges as he is ready. If we had started homeschooling when all three boys were in elementary school, I probably would have preferred this option. It requires a lot of research, good organizational skills on the part of the parents, good family discipline and residency in a State that allows this sort of family-created homeschooling. Because our home State at the time (Maryland) is not very homeschool-friendly, and because I had one child in elementary, one in middle and one in high school, I opted not to try to create three programs on my own. I felt I needed more guidance than reference books would provide, so I chose the middle of the two extremes.

Now, a decade after I started our search for the perfect homeschool program, the options have increased immensely. At the time I found only a handful who met all our criteria. We wanted a school that:
was accredited
offered a high school diploma
did not fall under the laws of "homeschooling"
did not require home visits
allowed us to work at our own pace
offered a transcript at the end of their career
required no direct contact unless we initiated it
offered books and complete curricula
allowed us to teach evolution
was relatively inexpensive.

Needless to say, finding the perfect program was not easy. After years of research and hours spent on the phone interviewing schools, I finally decided on Pinnacle School, which was Active Learning Academy at that time. The boys are all graduates of a private, accredited school in Florida and all received Florida diplomas and transcripts. By being a "private school," they do not have to follow the laws of homeschoolers, which can be extensive and not very cruiser-friendly. We can teach any class we want, as long as by the end of their senior year they have met the required course list and credit requirements. The boys did not have to mention being homeschooled on their college applications since officially they attended a "private school." Pinnacle School offered complete curricula for all ages and books complete with teachers editions and assessments for every course. The first few years I purchased these books and curricula for a total investment of $400 a year per child. After a few years I was comfortable enough to design their programs and procure their books myself so that the annual tuition for each boy was $120 for Pinnacle School's record-keeping.

Homeschooling has its rewards: Nick's graduation l. to r. David, Nick, Connie, Garrett

Do not assume that because we continued using Pinnacle School for 9 years that we were completely satisfied with them. They are not very good communicators: it often takes several emails and phone calls before I get answers to my questions. They take extended summer vacations during which it is impossible to get a transcript sent to a university (while you sit in Guadeloupe getting their answering machine repeatedly and no return emails). But with the services they provide, they fulfilled our requirements admirably.

Upon our return to the continent I started writing lessons, curricula, and other projects for a few online schools. Online education was in its infancy when we left civilization, but now there are hundreds of choices of programs online. We never considered it an option for us because we did not have a laptop when we left and knew that getting internet access would be challenging and not always possible. Now, with wifi available nearly everywhere, I'm sure that more cruisers are considered online schools when deciding on a homeschooling program for their children. Having a bit of experience in that field, I would caution against that option.

First of all, I am a firm believer that kids need LESS time in front of an electronic device, not more. Good old paper and pencil require the use of a different part of your brain, a part that is being severely neglected in this electronic age. Also, it is more difficult to monitor what a child is doing when he sits down to a computer lesson, than when he opens a book. Homeschooling already requires more diligence on the part of the parents because it lacks the structure imposed by "going to school."

I have also experienced a good deal of frustration when dealing with the websites for these online schools. Pages are unavailable, their server is down, connections are lost, and various other inconveniences abound. As an adult, trying to complete a project, these situations are difficult. As a student, trying to comprehend a new math concept, I can imagine that the frustration may prove to be a hindrance to education. Any assistance we can offer our children in creating a stress-free learning environment will pay dividends in their education. I don't feel online schools have yet obtained the ability to offer that environment.

Whether you chose an organization to assist you or create your own homeschooling program, remember that it is ultimately your responsibility as a parent to ensure that your child learns and becomes a life-long learner. Be firm, but enjoy the time you and your child spend together, increasing his (and your) knowledge. There is no more meaningful job in the world.

While I would love to say that we'll have a post for you Monday, we are dropping the mooring lines (FINALLY) soon and may be out of internet range for a while. If you haven't already done so, click the facebook LIKE button on the right column for updates. I'll let you know when I've posted our safe, inexpensive and simple mosquito killer: MONDAY-ish.

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