Boatschool Program

In the spirit of back-to-school I thought I would add a blog post about our on board curriculum. Hands down the number one question that we get when people hear that we quit our jobs and are now sailing vagabonds is, "What about your kids education?". There are many many approaches to educating kids both on land and while sailing including un-schooling, packaged curriculum, and independent studies. Then there is the decision to have either online or hard copy/book study. We have chosen to put together an independent curriculum consisting of books and hard copies. Luckily for us we have lots of storage space available on the boat and the perfect set of drawers to house our school and art supplies. Since we travel to remote areas where internet is not available, online programs are not be a good choice for us. I also have a personal interest for the girls to have less screen time. Overall our boat school program resembles the CA state standards while using subjects that are relevant to our travels. I spent some time talking with the girl's teachers before we left to get an idea of where they were in school and what they would be dong the following year so that I had a good understanding of their independent needs. Malia is 12 and when we left she was in 7th grade. Malia is an advanced, accelerated learner (she has already skipped a grade and continues to work well above that grade level) so we had to take that into account when deciding what to study. Isla is 9 and when we left she was in 3rd grade. Isla is an on-target learner meaning that she fit perfectly into her grade level  (she is a little ahead in math, and needs a little work on her reading/writing).

We follow a schedule and are pretty good at sticking to it. This allows the girls to know what to expect each day of the week which helps them to stay on track. The schedule includes time for reading (free choice) and music (guitar) to make sure that those important learning items are always fitting into the mix. Sometimes music slips around to various days but we try to get them to play guitar at least 4 days per week. We spend about 2-3 hours boat-schooling in the morning and then we try to get out and play. Music and reading often happen in the evening and constitute another hour or two. Our schedule is below.

Monday: Math and Music
Tuesday: Language Arts, French, Travel Journals, and Reading
Wednesday: Math and Music
Thursday: Science and Science Journals, Reading
Friday: Math and Music

Saturday: Art, Reading, Music
Sunday: Art, Reading, Music

We are human and we did take this trip to spend time together as a family doing what we love. So when the surf is good, the diving is interesting, or we are finding ourselves drawn away from school we do school later in the day or skip a day and make it up the next day (the girls hate this as it makes for a long make up day). Once, we decided to take a whole week off and called it "Spring Break"and we recently took a one week break for "Summer". I enjoy the routine of school work in the morning and sometimes I find that it is the only way I can remember what day of the week it is.

As for Curriculum, I will describe what we are doing below. For now we are on track, I think, and the girls are appropriately challenged.


Malia is working on Algebra 1. Her math teacher said that this is what Malia would be doing next year so we decided to jump right in. After doing research on various books I decided on Saxon. I like the format of the book and it teaches in the same way that Malia learns. It is a formulaic book with a pattern that provides a narrative of the topic, example problems, and then a comprehensive problem set at the end of each chapter. The other two books included in their "homeschool" set are a solutions manual and test book. The test book lets me know when to give tests and provides the tests and solutions (not just answers but actual solutions). Each math day Malia does one chapter. She is responsible for the reading, example problems, and the odd numbered problems in the problem set (those are the ones with answers in the back). I grade the work and if she gets any wrong she is responsible for redoing them. If she does not understand what /why she got wrong, I will work with her until she understands the material. If I think she needs extra work, I give her a few even numbered problems. The same goes for her tests. I grade them immediately. She is responsible for redoing any problems that she gets wrong. If she scores less than 80% she has to go back and review, do some extra problems and retake the test. This has only happened a couple of times. I love the real time feedback and working one-on-one to a point of understanding.

Isla's math includes five grade-appropriate workbooks. We are working on Multiplication, Division, and Geometry and Measurement currently and will start Word Problems and Decimals and Fractions later in the year. I like these workbooks for fourth grade because they are colorful, fun, and the format of the books is linear and increasing in difficulty. There are simple instructions and relevant short problem sets. Since there are no "lessons", I usually start with Isla at the beginning and provide a brief lesson and then go through one or two problems with her. Isla is responsible for one lesson in each book each math day. Just like Malia, I grade the work and if she gets any wrong she is responsible for redoing them. If she does not understand what /why she got wrong, I will work with her until she understands the material.


Language Arts (LA) is a combination of reading, writing, and workbooks for both girls.

Malia has a common core 8th grade language arts workbook and she is responsible for one lesson each LA day. We are also working on various reading exercises where we try to incorporate a little South Pacific Culture/Social Studies/History. The Pacific Islands Legends book came with the boat and I think that it fits into the curriculum well. Islanders is a book about South Pacific History and its pretty dense, so Malia is slogging through it. I just found the Pacific Folk Tales book in a local bookshop and it is used here in schools as a literature/LA book, so we put that into the mix as well. Then Malia is responsible for reading at least 30 minutes per day, which is really our joke on the boat. She is one of those kids that you need to forcibly take a book from every once and a while to get her to focus on something else. She will happily read for days without coming up for a breath.

Isla's teachers said that she could use some extra help with spelling so I found both a spelling specific and Phonics books to work on reinforcing those skills. Both have been really good for Isla and she is getting much better at understanding word structures and variations. The reading book promotes working to reinforce her reading comprehension. There are short passages/stories and then questions and exercises. All of these books are also very good at teaching the reader to read direction and follow them. Sometimes she completes the work but when we go back she realizes that she did not follow the directions exactly. So she is getting more diligent about that, which I think is a good life skill. We have her fourth grade books ready but since we started in January she is still working through her 3rd grade books. Isla is a bit of a reluctant reader so she is responsible for reading in 30 minute blocks 4-5 times per week. I sometimes find her staring off into space or she will ask me a million questions about things which have nothing to do with what she is reading but I try to roll with it. More frequently there are days when she is fully engrossed in a book so I think that this is progress. Right now she is reading Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief. I am always looking for suggestions for books for Isla. Got any?


I told the girls that they had to pick a language and offered to them one of two that I am vaguely familiar with, French or Spanish. I studied French for 3 years about a century ago when I was in high school and studied Spanish for 2 years in college, also an eternity ago. That is to say I am not fluent or very skilled in either, but I understand the fundamentals of Latin-based language. The girls picked French and I have been enjoying dipping back into the language again after such a long break. They each have an age appropriate book that they do independently, a small coloring book/phrase book that they do together, and the Everything Kids book that they do as a team. They will quickly get beyond my abilities but then maybe we will switch to an app or program so they (we all) can hear proper pronunciations.


For science, we are doing a mix of earth science and life science. We also do a lot of practical hands on science and write in science journals each week. The science journal can be about anything science related and can involve some internet researching to learn more about the topic of choice. Some examples of what the girls have written about include 'symbiotic relationships between Clownfish and Sea Anemones', 'effects on coral reefs from a crown-of -thorns outbreak', 'I saw this cool thing in the water and wanted to know more about it', and other (mostly ocean related) topics.

We just finished a module on weather and I am happy to say that the girls have a much better understanding and appreciation for the concerns and constraints that weather creates for our sailing adventures. They can look at the clouds and know which type are indicative of  upcoming winds or squally weather. I am glad that we started with this module for our trip. These are mostly reading books but the Everything Kids book (bottom one in the  photo) has fun puzzles and exercises. The girls do these books together and take turns reading out loud. This gives Isla a chance to work on her reading and allows Malia to be 'teacher" and help Isla with words or concepts that she needs help with. For sure, there are sister fights about this approach so from time to time I either sit quietly with them which usually stops any bickering or sometimes I will work one on one with them.

We are currently working on a life science module and we are using Marine Biology as our subject material. I really like these Marine Biology Coloring Book. The language can be advanced at times but I like how the book is structured. The girls read a topic, then color an image on the adjoining page. The book provides instruction on what to color, what color to use, etc. In the end there is a picture that is completed along with the reading. This is another book that the girls do together. Malia has her own common core 8th grade science book to keep her up to speed with more typical science topics. We have not gotten into the Sea Life Marine Biology text book yet. For now we are using it as more of a reference but I envision having Malia use it as a reading science book at some point.

Isla has the same Marine Biology coloring book that she works on together with Malia. They take turns reading paragraphs and then work together to complete the coloring. Malia helps Isla with complex words and concepts. We are just starting to incorporate reading from the Seashore Naturalist and the Eyewitness Seashore book as a compliment to the Marine Biology subject matter.

This module has been so fun because we can do studies and then dive straight into he water and see what we are learning about. We also carry a detailed South Pacific Fish Identification book along with a shell identification book. We do lots of observing and then looking up various marine organisms in the ID books.

 Our next Module will be Astronomy! I am not sure exactly how I will do that module. I will have to dig into the books a little to see how to best approach it with a 4th and 8th grader together.

And then there are all of the things that the girls are learning that are not in books. They are learning acceptance, tolerance, compassion, and giving. They see the human impacts on our oceans through the plastics and trash that they see on the beach and in the water every day. They are learning that if they don't pick it up and take it to a garbage, no one will.  They have seen the unhealthy, bleached corals and entire reefs that may be beyond saving. They are learning about local culture and language here in Fiji, boat mechanics and maintenance, sail trim and sailing tactics, how to care for and maintain their clothes/cabins/gear/etc. The list of things that that our girls are learning is endless. We are so blessed for this time and all of this learning!


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