As COVID shut schools down last spring, so many parents began thinking about homeschooling their children. My inbox has become flooded with messages from friends asking, “What do you use for school?” I decided it was time to blog about my thoughts and resources.
This was me exactly 3 years ago…
I un-enrolled Tyler from public school in Washington State the summer before he was set to enter 6th grade. I remember this day vividly. I was so nervous and conflicted. Was I up for this mammoth task of homeschooling a middle-schooler? I was so worried that I was going to “screw up” my kid.
Evie was set to start Kindergarten that year. With a late September birthday, she actually missed the Kindergarten cut-off but I paid to have her assessed in hopes I could enroll her early. She passed her test, but barely. I truly didn’t feel that she was ready, and at the last moment decided to keep her home as well.
It was then solely up to me to provide education to both of my children. That’s a terrifying thought, right?
I had one school year in our house to use land-based resources, community advice, and unlimited access to internet before we moved aboard our sailboat… and then we would be truly on our own in Central America.
I have a Master’s Degree in Education and have taught High School Technical Theatre, Drama, and also numerous theatre camps for elementary after-school programs. I really believe that this did not help me… It probably actually hindered me when I started out. I was used to structure: Lesson Plans, Rubrics, Schedules, Homework, Grades. I have learned that you do not need any of this to homeschool your kids.
Let me repeat that…
You do not need a strict structure of any kind for homeschooling. You can do whatever you want!
Homeschool ebbs and flows, just like the sea. Some days I feel like a complete rockstar teacher, and other days it’s a huge struggle and I feel like a total failure. And I have learned that’s ok and all homeschool moms feel that way.
I believe that children learn so much more when working one-on-one, even if it’s just an hour a day. As we cruised, our homeschool schedule would look something like the following (and we have found that this is the standard schedule for most nomadic boat kids.):
Approx. 9am-12pm: School work. (I’ll post the resources we use further down this post.)
12pm: Lunch… and then it was time to swim, hike, and explore our surroundings with our friends.
We taught them to cook with us (there’s a lot of math there!), or roll sushi; we did fun arts and crafts (especially Evie); we learned a lot about geography by having a huge map of the world on our wall (this is a must! Buy a map!); we had quiet reading time (Tyler loves to read). This is all homeschool!
Our “Field Trip” days were the best. I know that it’s a bit more difficult to take your kids to museums and such right now, but things are beginning to open back up with social distancing. Our kids learned so much by experiencing art, workshops, and educational performances. There are also so many online resources to have field trips virtually, and unless you’re reading this from your boat with limited wifi, take advantage of that.
So what programs do I use for my kids?
I don’t use a standard curriculum in a box. I pieced together what I felt my kids would vibe with this most.
My favorite resource is the book, Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp. It basically lists what students are “supposed to” know in each grade, and then I find resources to teach them those things.
Evie has used a program called “All About Reading” and “All About Spelling” for the past two years, for Kindergarten and 1st Grade. Huge fans. We love it. https://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/
For Math, we tried a program called Math U See which includes colored blocks. She actually didn’t vibe with it as much as I thought she would and didn’t use the blocks much. We used all the worksheets and she counted on her fingers when she needed help. (You know, the old fashioned way… and I was totally ok with it.) https://mathusee.com/
For middle-school math, Tyler started out our first two years of homeschooling using Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/ and then switched to Teaching Textbooks for Algebra as it was recommended by a friend. http://www.teachingtextbooks.com/
Everything else I pieced together. For example, if Home Learning Year by Year says that Tyler is supposed to learn about WW1 and WW2, I would find a curriculum for that. I LOVE a website called https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/ . I can search for “middle school world war history” and purchase a complete lesson plan from a middle school teacher complete with slides, worksheets, and homework assignments. I also really love https://outschool.com/ for any time we were stationary for a bit in our travels and had reliable internet. When I first began using it for online live classes, it was brand new but I believe it’s pretty well-known now.
You know what else is a surprisingly great resource? Dollar Tree! Seriously. They have a lot of great little workbooks, writing prompts, and fun activities… for a dollar each! It’s a steal!
Some other books I love:
Summer Bridge Activities is a great assessment at the end of the year before entering the next grade. And these Scholastic Workbooks have great activities for the little ones.
The Unschooling Handbook helps take the initial pressure off homeschooling. Let your child decide what they want to learn. Or, for example, if a child needs to learn how to write a 5 paragraph essay, they can write about whatever they want. Less struggle that way. Homeschool Your Child For Free was a great resource, especially if you are land-based.
And if you do happen to be sea-based and reading this from your boat right now, Lesson Plans Ahoy is pretty awesome!
I’ve been asked a lot about our decision to stop cruising for a while so that Tyler can start public high school and whether I’m going to continue homeschooling Evie.
Sidenote: for those wondering… we are not selling Litha, we are not moving into a house. We will still be living aboard… in the winter… in New England. (Our site isn’t called “Life off the deep end” for nothin’!)
It’s not that I don’t think I could handle homeschooling a high-schooler. There’s plenty of resources to do that and options for graduation, but we had to make a decision to do what was best, in the moment, for our son. Tyler has aspirations to work for NASA someday and he spends his time reading books about physics. We wanted him to have better access to hands-on science and engineering classes. So, ultimately we made the decision to come “home” to Salem before COVID hit… and then the schools shut down. Not ideal, but full online schooling this year might be a really great way for him to transition from homeschool to public school.
COVID changed our plans in a completely different way with Evie. I planned to homeschool her, but with the school year starting remote, I figured I might as well enroll her. If she doesn’t seem to be doing well, I can always un-enroll her and continue using her current curriculum. So, only time will tell.
I hope this helped you. All of our kids will be fine. Relax and go with the flow. We won’t “screw them up” no matter which decision any of us decide to make for them this year. Feel free comment or email if you have any questions at all! I’m happy to offer advice.