The Great (Home)school Debate

The perfect time for an adventure is NOW! There will always be a reason to stay home…make the adventure more important

We started sailing when River was 7 months old. Pretty much from the start, we have been asked what our plan is for him once he starts school. “Oh, get your fun in while you can!” they say. Or- “Uh-oh, get ready to be tied to school and sports for the next twelve years!” We just smile and nod, and move on. We have been chasing this dream for a while now; River is five, and ready to start the dreaded Kindergarten in just two months’ time. Our dream is by no means complete; It is only getting started.

Baby River’s first boat-school: learning the ropes on our first sailboat, and his first 4-Wall classroom: one that happened to fit perfectly into our cockpit!!

When we set out to live on a boat and travel and sail, we specifically wanted to do so with our kids. A big part of the dream, for me, was to be able to give this traveling childhood to my boys. I wholeheartedly believe that a childhood spent sailing the world will be filled to the brim–overflowing, really–with learning and, most importantly, real life.

Listening intently to life lessons from big kid Parker

I’m typing this from the local skate park on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. They are currently following their new 14-year-old friend Parker around as he teaches them some skate tricks. I think that by bringing our children on adventures in the world, letting them explore and meet people, they will learn valuable lessons that no classroom can teach. Our fellow humans and the ocean and Mother Nature provide the best possible classroom that I can imagine. What is this world we have built that sends children into a 9-3 system, only to spit them into the next system, the 9-5? That is not living, and the most important thing I want my boys to learn is to really live.

Learning first-hand the importance of caring for our oceans
Nap time at sea

That said. ahem. The days have been LONG lately. Being almost constantly in flux with three small boys in tow is exhausting, of course. We are not able to fully commit to the life we want just yet, due to work and other parenting commitments. That is ok, it was all part of the plan, of course. The other kids and the business did arrive first, after all, and our crazy plan, second! Instead of being full-time on board our sailboat, we are half-time. Honestly, this is amazing, and far far better than sitting around on our suburban couch, waiting for the adventure to be perfectly ready for us. There is no time like the present, and NO SUCH THING as the perfect time to set your dreams into motion.

Nina getting a feel for sail trimming

Just because life isn’t completely as “adventure-ready” doesn’t mean the adventure can’t get started. Which is why we set out pretty much the day this dream took shape. (It was more like 3 days later…if you know my husband, you’ll know I’m being serious!!) But being half-time here, half-time there, and everywhere in between begins to wear on every family member. Once we are fully in a traveling routine, that will be an amazing homeschool experience. Until that point, however, I want to get a little bit of “real” schooling in, if only for my own sanity. I also want to give them a real home base; somewhere they can look at as “home” and an answer to the persistent question they get–“where are you from?”

Clamming in Cape Ann
Helping steer us off the coast of North Carolina, en route to their second big ocean passage

As it is, we don’t get in a good homeschool routine, because we are always packing up and heading to the next place. The next place is a vacation, naturally, and by the time it dawns on me to get them in a good routine, we are on to the next place. Rinse and repeat. Putting the boys in some sort of school will, I think, help us put a little structure into our yearly plans. It will not be for an entire school year, but probably for most of the fall semester, followed by homeschooling for the rest of the school year. I have been looking into several options for our “next 5 years” plan. (I honestly cannot even type the word “plan” with a straight face. The last time we planned something, we ended up on a totally different island for 8 weeks. Third time that has happened, actually!)

After a lot of soul-searching, we have come up with a few options for the next phase. Our criteria for the next few years are simply that Jonathan is able to access Boston fairly easily, and that there is a good and reasonably-priced private school nearby. Most importantly the school must be willing to let the boys leave for a good chunk of the winter, as we plan to continue sailing and living aboard for the winter season.

Three years old and completely in charge of the dinghy
First time at the helm

Option 1: Live in our Vermont house. There is a wonderful school in Stowe, VT, called the Mountain River School that agreed to let River homeschool during the winter, while still corresponding and working with his teacher and classmates. This is a 3-hour drive from Boston, but we would just “suck it up” and make it work.

Option 2: Buy a condo in a Boston neighborhood that we like, such as Charlestown. River would homeschool when home in Boston, and possibly supplement it with independent study options that the city offers. During the winter season he would attend the much-lauded Montessori school in Grenada, which we would therefore have to make our home base for the winter.

This option allows for the most flexibility. When thinking about homeschooling, I really do not want to be doing it in Boston–whether that is rational or not, it’s just my feeling on the matter. I guess my idea of homeschool is more “Travel school”! However, if we spent the shoulder seasons homeschooling and living in Boston, right near Jonathan’s work and their older siblings’ schools, that could make things both easier AND allow for more flexibility. We could decide to spend a spring in Africa, for instance. Or surfing in Costa Rica. Or hiking the Southwest. Or attending full-on Italian first grade for a semester. Because, why not?! This sounds very appealing to me, but I worry that it won’t accomplish the added structure I’m looking for.

Option 3: Buy a house somewhere we love that has reasonable access to Boston. We are both fundamentally opposed to the Boston ‘burbs, but there are some really special areas to consider. I love Essex and the whole Cape Ann region. I have wanted to live in Yarmouth, ME (don’t ask) since I was in college. Jonathan and I both like the seashore towns south of Boston, and those even have ferry service to downtown Boston. Jonathan is never going to be a commuter, slugging out the hour-plus of traffic morning and night, but he is ok with a longer drive once or twice per week, or an easy flight in order to live in a place we truly love. That will mean getting a small corporate apartment in Boston for the nights he has to be there, but that is ok, too.

I do realize the hilarity of the situation–we are only two months away from “go time” and we are still looking at options as far-flung as Africa and as mundane as Boston’s own back yard. But I also fully believe that the right situation will find its way to us, or vice versa. One thing that has been true since meeting Jonathan is that we generally agree on the path forward. We find that path largely by what feels right, and that has worked for us so far. I trust that “once we know, we’ll know.” And once we know what is right, we jump in together with no hesitations. What would you do? If you have children in the school system, do you ever wish you could cut ties and just do it your way? Or do you love the structure and the ready-in-place system that school provides?

Nina and Leo quarry jumping in Maine

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