We live on a 9mx4m catamaran which encompasses three cubby holes with beds in (I wouldn’t go as far as to call them bedrooms), a tiny kitchen (galley) and cloakroom (heads), cockpit, fore-deck, swim deck, and a 1.5mx1.5m u-shaped seating area ‘saloon’ which serves equally as sofa, dining table, bar, workshop, cinema, office and school, according to our daily and nightly needs.
Today, as it happens, I find myself attempting to home-school in the launderette – our 10 days of washing taking around 2 hours to wash, dry and fold. But 15 minutes into the hot wash, my patience is already running one sock short of a full load: the tablet the boys were learning French on crashed and then both kids announced they needed the toilet, 10 minutes apart… It’s disappointing as usually our launderette learning days are the most productive – benefiting from super-fast WiFi and a morning looking at a different set of four walls that at least have head-room to stand up. A change is as good as a holiday. But today is one of those days when it’s not working, and maybe I need to throw in the (dirty) towel and make a clean start again tomorrow.
Cheap laundry puns aside, home-schooling is not the easiest of life choices. So why did we actively decide to home-school our kids?
- we moved onto a boat over the Summer of 2020
- we’d planned to return to the UK for the Winter term
- we didn’t want our children to have to wear a mask for 6 hours of the day
- after paying for boat repairs we had no money left for private schooling
- as Brits without EU residency, we weren’t sure how long we’d be allowed to stay in Spain as of January 1st 2021 (Brexit)
- My kids had often found regular schooling challenging, so it was an option I’d been considering for many years.
We have two boys, aged 7 and 10 years, and as you can imagine, home-schooling on the boat during Covid social distancing is more often than not quite challenging.
Here are some of the challenges we face and ideas on how to overcome them…
- Lack of motivation (both teacher and student!). Simply getting out of bed most mornings without a specific time to get up by is hard for all of us. Bed is so cosy and comfortable. I’ve never been particularly good in the mornings, I’m more an night-owl, and sadly both the boys inherited this trait from me. The result is that mornings are admittedly slow in our boat, and the boys need a lot of coaxing out of bed. As an incentive to get up and dressed at a reasonable time they can ‘earn’ stars for each thing they do well and without too much drama. In the afternoon said stars can be converted into screen time of their choice. Each child has a tablet set up with non-violent games and kindle books, and to my relief, Tinker computer programming, Minecraft, Roblox, and CBeebies are their games of choice. This carrot and stick technique has worked well for us because computer games have always been considered as a treat, but this may not be ideal if your home-schooling requires yet more screen time, and a different ‘carrot’ is required.
Home-Schooling Method – What is your homeschooling philosophy? For example – are you following a set curriculum from school/paid-for online curriculum/Unschooling//Steiner/Montessori/etc… Whether you are home-schooling by choice or by necessity, one of the benefits is that you can choose a teaching style and curriculum that better suits you and your child. It could be that your child is struggling with a subject, reading, writing or maths, but you find a really useful video on YouTube, or draw on ideas from Steiner, and other alternative teaching methodologies that your child connects with better. If you are looking for more information on different teaching methodology you can find out more online. Check out: educationalfreedom.org, Steiner Education, Montessori, as well as useful publications like Alternative Approaches to Education.
- Learning Resources (varied, inspiring and free). I personally find the following free online resources very helpful: YouTube, BBC Bitesize (high quality support and lesson ideas based around the UK Curriculum, if you are abroad you will need to use WiFi from a UK SIM card to view full content), Duolingo (which is available as a free language learning app and offer brilliant podcasts on Spotify), Oxford Owl (fantastic free site to help you keep your child up to date with the UK curriculum educational standards, learning resources and free e-books), and The National Academy (has a good, free virtual library). To avoid too much screen time, I also like learning from books, libraries, day-trips, nature/forest-schooling.
- Routine Establishing a suitable routine for your household is very helpful. We aim to start at 9am, and usually begin with physical exercise or a couple of body percussion songs. Otherwise the day seems to slip through my fingers in a mind numbing haze of exercise books and screens. The kids get hungry around 11am when we stop for a snack and a short break, then we study again until Spanish lunchtime, which is around 2pm. After lunch is free-time for the boys, playing with school friends either physically or online, going to the playground, or getting on with personal craft projects (usually drawing or knitting).
- The Arts (My favourite lessons). I tend to lean heavily on YouTube channels for crafts and music- searching for videos on whatever the kids want to learn; my boys love origami and paper-crafts (we are currently learning how to make a Mandalorian helmet out of cardboard), kids singing and body percussion if you have no musical instruments. We really enjoy Draw with Rob illustration classes for younger children. Udemy also offers some great, low-cost creative courses which are often suitable for all ages.
Physical Exercise I try to build PE into our daily lives, mainly walking the dog or scooting to the park or market. It’s quite hard to get motivated during lock-down, especially here in Spain where adults and children over the age of six need to wear a mask in all public places, so I let the kids choose their form of exercise and have thus become an acrobatics, inline skating, climbing and swimming instructor, keeping me on my toes in the process. We are also enjoying burning energy in the skate park and playgrounds, whilst they remain open. Or you could subscribe to Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel for his distance learning PE lessons.
- Break-time – Don’t underestimate the importance of break-time! Snacks, fresh air, hydration and physical play really help to break up the day, for parents as well as the kids! On our break-time we usually go for a swim; nothing like jumping into the sea to help clear the mind!
Social interaction Living in Spain, AND home-schooling, we have to deal with home-sickness as well as social distancing induced boredom and loneliness. Video calls with friends and seeing other kids at the playground really help. We also make an effort to meet fellow boat families in the marina, and organise play-dates with friends from the Spanish Waldorf school the kids were attending last year, whenever social interaction is permitted. Friendships are really important. Whilst spending six months in the marina over winter we also signed up for acrobatics classes and me friends in the woods to learn woodcarving and build a treehouse.
- The Bad Days – It’s gonna happen! Try to keep perspective. Being a teacher is hard enough let alone teaching your own children, day in day out, confined to your house due to a global pandemic situation that even with the best will in the world, the kids simply don’t understand. There are days, most days I expect, at regular school when our kids learn very little; because they’re not inspired, they’re tired, they got distracted. This is normal. Your kid will have a couple of bad days or weeks settling into homeschooling, or after a holiday or illness, when they, and you, feel like throwing in the academic towel, and my advice to you would be to do just that. Simply don’t home-school those days. Take a break. go for a walk, stick a documentary on for them on a subject they’re interested in, or leave them with a pile of colouring in books, or reading, and try not to worry. There are many reasons a child refuses to study – physical ones like they are tired/ill/hungry/thirsty, and emotional ones like they are stressed, scared or feeling defeated by something. On these days, what they need most is trust, patience and a bit of TLC. Keep offering them the space and the time to learn and if one teaching method/curriculum doesn’t work for you and/or them then try again with another. You cannot replace all the teachers in a school. That is impossible. But what you can do is be yourself. Play to your strengths as a teacher, and for the lessons you find hard to teach, the internet probably has the answer. Finally, reach out to fellow home-schooling parents, and you will find that you are never alone.
Finding the Joy – One thing not mentioned that I’m really enjoying on our voyage into home-schooling is that I remembered I love learning, and now I get to learn along with my kids. I have so far become an expert in dinosaurs, the ages of prehistoric man, the Vikings, Greek mythology and Ancient Egypt. I have also had the chance to refresh long forgotten skills in Maths, French and knitting, and love joining in with kids’ singing, art and craft lessons on YouTube. In fact, home-schooling my kids has already taught me many new things, the very least of which was how to teach; that journey I am still on.
I hope that at least some of this information has been of use to you, and if nothing else to know that you’re not alone and that, quite literally, worse things happen at sea…
Probably the most beautiful and inspiring free teaching resource in the world: The Lost Words art/music/poetry/wildlife project for all ages.
(click title above for link to the free learning resource download)
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