This is the third article in a four part series about boatschooling.
Click here for first article and here for the second.

So you’ve decided how you’ll approach boatschooling your kids (1st article in this series) and which style you’ll be using (2nd article in series). Now, it’s time to get real about the challenges of boatschool.

Homeschooling vs Boatschooling Challenges

Both land-based homeschooling and boatschooling have challenges. Some challenges are the same. Some are very different. Of course they both have their advantages too…but that’s the next article.

Challenge #1 – Finding The Right Balance

Not only will you be homeschooling your kids, you’ll also be route planning, sailing, parenting, spousing, socializing, exploring, adventuring, provisioning, cooking, cleaning, maintaining your boat, researching, destination planning, worrying about what you’re doing, worrying about what you’re NOT doing, etc. It’s a lot to manage! Yes, boatschooling is important, but it’s only one of the many things you’ll be balancing while you’re cruising.

Possible solution = Slow Down

Many families go into cruising for a limited timeframe and hope to see many miles during their adventure. While traveling is one of the many awesome things that cruising provides, there is something to say for cruising at a slower pace, especially when things are new. You do not have to be in a new port every other day. If you find a place you like, stay there for a week or two. Do school one day, then explore the next, and keep trading off until you’ve seen everything you’d like. Of course you’ll probably have boat work here and there too, which further illustrates my point…when you start feeling overwhelmed, slow down. A happy stress-free mama is what’s best for the entire crew. 

Challenge #2 – Supply Troubles 

Many land-based homeschooling families have a room in their house devoted to homeschool, like a classroom. All their books are on tall shelves, supplies in drawers, there’s a big table for the kids to work on, and maybe a whiteboard on the wall…you will not have this on your boat. Your books and supplies will be stored in ways that are accessible, but also easily stowed for seas. That table the kids will be working on is also the table that you’ll eat meals on, use as a project work space, etc. It will have to be cleared after every task to be ready for the next one. Space is a luxury on a boat and your kids boatschooling supplies are just one more thing taking up space.

Another thing regarding supplies, homeschool curriculums are written for land-based families. Writers assume there is a Walmart around the corner to pick up supplies on a regular basis. Of course, this is not the case for boatschoolers.

Possible solution = Organization

Good organization is the key to managing supplies and saving space. We have one milk crate (like these) for each kid that houses their school materials: books, notebooks, and pencil boxes. On anchor they live on a toolbox in the salon. While sailing we move them to the floor. They also fit under the bench in their room, which is where the teacher materials crate lives in mine.

Supplies are another matter. We have to plan WAY ahead. Look at your curriculum and make a list of EVERYTHING you need and stock up. Will you run out of things? Yep, (How on earth have we have gone through 5 rolls of tape in 3 months?!!) but you’ll have a fair amount of essentials onboard then restock when you find a good sale. And sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. (You need soil for your science lab? We’re in the Bahamas! Just use sand.) Easy storage solutions are key too. We have a tool organizer (like this) holding our readily available supplies: pencils, erasers, rulers, markers, colored pencils, ink cartridges (we use fountain pens = less trash), science lab supplies, etc.. We have excess supplies stored in gallon ziplocks in holds around the boat. We store paper in one of our cabinets to help keep moisture away.

Challenge #3 – Multiple children

Do you have two or more school-aged kids? How will you facilitate multiple curriculums at the same time? Perhaps you also have little ones: they need their mama’s attention too.

Possible solution = Divide And Conquer

You can ‘own’ some subjects and your spouse can ‘own’ the others. This allows you to cycle the kids through each other and all subjects so they don’t have to wait for mom to finish with their sibling before getting help or moving on. Of course, every child is different, but once most kids reach 6th grade, they can self-direct. They will require less of your attention allowing you to spend more time assisting your other children.

Challenge #4 – Sightseeing vs. Boatschooling 

Cruising is all about exploring and experiencing new destinations…but when do you boatschool? You don’t want to lose out on seeing the sights because the kids are taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to complete their work.

Possible solution = Make Concessions

Sightseeing IS learning! If you’re homeschooling using an eclectic style, your sightseeing adventure can be an engaging history or science lesson, however, if you use a boxed curriculum, you will have some decisions to make. An excursion means you’ll be a day behind with your studies, so how can you fully experience cruising without being restrained by your curriculum? Don’t become a slave to your homeschool curriculum. Do a 1/2 day – morning school work then afternoon sightseeing (or flip it). Get ahead by doing a day and a 1/2 (or more) of school when the weather is gloomy to save those sunny days for fun ‘go on land’ days. Every now and then, have Saturday school or night school to help make up the difference.  And if it takes you 12 months to finish a 10 month curriculum, does it really matter?

Challenge #5 – Finding A Boatschooling Community 

Boatschooling can be a lonely, frustrating job, and trying to figure out how to do it on your own….sucks. On land, homeschoolers join homeschooling groups which provide activities, support, and camaraderie. Cruising is a mobile adventure which limits participation in such groups.

Possible solution = Swallow Your Pride And Find Your People

Almost every kid boat is boatschooling. Reach out to other family crews and seek advice. When kid boats are scarce, reach out online. Kids4Sail and Boatschooled are two excellent Facebook groups worth joining. We worry about finding other kid boats for our kids to make connections, but we ALSO need to find other cruising moms to commiserate with and provide support too.

Challenge #6 – Uncooperative Child 

Every child will, at some point, be difficult during your boatschooling adventure. Whether it be struggling through the transition from land-based schooling to boatschooling, digging their heels in about a particular assignment, or the lack of motivation to get out of bed and start the day, every kid will resist something. It’s part of growing up.

Possible solution = Take A Deep Breath Then Dig In And Solve The Problem

Of course, every kid is different, and you know your kid best, but here are a few things to try when they are being uncooperative. 

  • Talk about what they’re struggling with. Sometimes their issue has nothing to do with the situation that manifested the problem.
  • Let them help create the solution. For example, if they don’t like an assignment, with your guidance, let them tweak it. As long as their assignment meets the curricular goals = mission accomplished.
  • Lack of motivation is a homeschool/boatschool killer. So…what IS your kid motivated by? Water sports? Going on land? Tech time? Use that! For example, one of my kids loves watching movies but doesn’t love reading. If she wants to earn tech time, she has to read. It’s what motives her and so we use it.

Challenge #7 – Unrealistic Expectations

You’ll meet family crews whose boatschooling routine appears to be flawless: no struggles, everyone performs exactly as expected, the kids excel and are well above grade-level, and they’re finished before noon – free to play the rest of the day. You’ll also meet crews who seem to be doing nothing but boatschooling: working from sunup till sundown with no time to experience the sights. On the other hand, you’ll also meet crews who don’t appear to be boatschooling all at: no routine, minimal learning, and math only being practiced when figuring out the best value at the grocery store.

Possible solution = Beware Of Believing The Myth, Over-Scheduling, And Under-Scheduling Learning

Of course the above examples are extreme, yet true. No homeschooling routine is perfect. Don’t compare yourself to other boatschoolers – every boat is unique – but if you like something that another crew is doing, try it! It may or may not work because you are not them and they are not you. Eventually you will find a routine that works best for you and your crew.

Challenge #8 – 24/7

Cruising with your family means that you are with your family 24/7. This is usually a wonderful juxtaposition to the rigors of land life; however, during stressful times, whether it be from boatschooling or otherwise, 24/7 can become a bit much. If you need alone time to keep your sanity, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll find it.

Possible solution = Down Time

Designate an afternoon quiet time. Whether they’re 4 and napping, or 16 and listening to music with headphones on, everyone disperses around the boat (in cabins or otherwise) and unwinds for an hour or so. This helps everyone have some alone time, decompress, and refresh. If you still need to ‘get away’ to clear your head, go on a solitary walk on the beach. It works wonders!

Challenge #9 – Internet Connectivity

When you’re cruising, especially in isolated locations, internet connectivity may be limited. Some curriculums embed online content into their lessons: video clips, formative quizzes, interactive labs, etc. This can pose a problem. Some homeschool programs demand a constant connection for instruction, others require consistent communication through the sending of work samples and tests. Land-based society, who usually are connected 24/7, have difficulty understanding that there truly are places where a cell phone connection isn’t reliable.

Possible solution = A Good Cell Plan And Signal Booster

People are connected across the globe, so, chances are you’ll be able to purchase a SIM card for your phone just about everywhere. You can get a plan that includes a hotspot connection (tethering is a cruising Godsend – we love our Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan), a cell phone signal booster, or other service, like GoogleFi, to stay connected almost anywhere. Sometimes the signal isn’t great, and often it’s not cheap, but if you don’t want your cruising grounds to be dictated by your internet connection, know that you have options. Of course you can choose a curriculum that uses zero technology, but having an internet connection is good for more than boatschooling.

Again, remember…your boat…your choice!

Don’t let these challenges worry you. For all of these, there are many possible solutions beyond the ones suggested. Of course, there are other challenges too, but these are the ones mentioned most often in boatschooling circles. Don’t forget there are also many advantages to boatschooling your children too! That article is coming soon.

The next article in this series will be about boatschooling advantages.

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More Homeschooling Challenges Resources: