Getting Ready: Travel School 101

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.”   – Henry Ford

This summer was brilliant: chock-full of baseball, beach and lazy, sunny afternoons. Somehow, it always seems to fly by too quickly. While trying to squeeze in the sun, I also spent a great part of my summer selecting a new curriculum for the kids. This year, I have gone ‘middle-school rogue’ with my planning… Meaning, we are completely eclectic now in our curriculum for the first time. As one can imagine, I am feeling the pressure of getting it right.

While I have been watching weeks worth of YouTube book reviews and reading articles about every lesson plan option available, I have also been reminding myself not to lose sight of what works.

It feels very strange to be writing down any thoughts at all on homeschooling, as I feel like I am just getting started. This fall marks our fourth year of travel-school, during which I will have taught six different grade-years (3-4-5-6-7-8). I am still a neophyte at this, though I have learned a lot along the way and continue to learn from my children and peers everyday.

Experienced travel-schoolers: please share your sage advice with me!  There are a few things I know, which I am happy to pass on below. However, I am in no way an expert on teaching, nor do I have everything figured out. Our travel-school is a work-in-progress for us and I am humbled by how much I am learning in the process.

First things, first.

Get organized. Homeschool moms know that full-time teaching, parenting and running our homes, boats, etc… only works when we are fiercely organized. Our curriculums are purchased well in advance, photocopies made, supplies on hand and spaces cleaned.
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In our home, we have a small glass-enclosed sunroom that we use for our home-based school. It is carefully organized with all the materials and inspiration we need for the year. Because of our travel, this room needs to accommodate our comings and goings. Books, workbooks, supplies all have their place, so I always know where to put and find what I need.
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Keep good records. I keep clear plastic bins in storage with all the work completed during each school year. No mingling! Meaning, each kid has his or her own bins. They are neatly stacked by year and easy to retrieve, should I need to find something.
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At the beginning of each month, the kids make a personal monthly calendar listing all their sports games, practices, babysitting jobs, etc. This helps the kids to focus on their responsibilities and me to see where everyone is going on a given day. The calendars also allow the kids to visualize when we are leaving for our next trip and what schoolwork is expected to be finished before then. This is a helpful tool for us. At month’s end, the calendars are filed in the school storage bins, doubling as a record of our busy schedule.
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Morning Routine. In our home, we have one early riser and one late sleeper. Staggering the school day works well for us. Oliver likes (I would argue, NEEDS) more sleep, so the extra zzzz’s are important to him. Sophia wakes up early and is grateful to end her school day early with an art project or meeting up with friends after school. The important thing is to establish a balanced morning routine and stick to it. Repetition is a creature comfort and it is human nature to feel safe in our routines. 
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Keep it fun. I have learned that, in addition to choosing a challenging curriculum, there is value in mixing in a little creativity. We meet up with other travel-school and homeschool families when we can and art is incorporated whenever possible. The photo above was taken in Cortado‘s main salon – where there is always time for an indoor art project with friends.
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“Fun School” is one way we keep it light, when a low-stress day is needed. Fun-School is fashioned out of an empty coffee can, slips of paper and a pen. On each paper, I write one school subject (i.e: 20 minutes of IXL science, recite math facts, read a poem outloud) or fun activity (jump off the side of the boat, 10 min of basketball, run around the house 3 times). The kids take turns pulling a slip of paper (while I pray: “pleasepickmath, pleasepickmath”) and we do whatever is on that slip of paper. Fun School happens about once a month, usually at anchor someplace amazing or when a boat-friend is visiting …
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Board games work. Incorporate games on occasion, even if only to segue between subjects or balance out a heavy math day. This year, we will be memorizing periodic tables. So along with our textbooks, I have purchased boardgames for learning like, ElementO (Rainbow Resource, $29.95), Elementeo Chemistry Card Game (Rainbow Resource, $27.95) and the Periodic Chart Battleship game from Etsy ($19.95). Combining art or playing games with any school subject is a big hit in our house.
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Limit interruptions.  Turn off phone, don’t schedule appointments during school hours, shop ahead for snacks and lunches. This was hard for us at first, but I have learned limiting interruptions is critical to the flow of our day. Nothing is more important than keeping school time sacrosanct. Friends and family should know your school hours and eventually will know not to call during these times. I mute my phone just in case and return any calls at the end of the day. I appreciate the concentrated time and I know the kids do as well.
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Empower independence. Create independent work check-sheets so your kids can keep track of their own daily accomplishments. I marry these with clipboards and update them as needed.  The kids can track their own progress which gives them a sense of autonomy over their learning.
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Get outside, try new things. We work hard to pair specific field trips with our studies, bringing book-learning to life. When we can, we read about, study and then go to a place to get a panoramic view. Field trips expand our horizons and also provide ample footing for interesting family discussions. Seeing and doing maximizes the absorption of any topic.
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Create Lasting Memories.  Show and tell? Grandparents day? Sure! If there is a tradition that was done in your local school system that you liked, do that thing too! Just because you are homeschooling does not mean your kids have it easier, are doing less work or are missing out on social events. In Rhode Island, homeschoolers can try out for any public school sports team, so check out your options.
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Relax. I have to remind myself of this often. Teaching our children should not be stressful. Some days are more difficult than others for sure, but the experience is worth every effort.
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We do our first day of school photos on the front porch, the same way I used to do when they went to school up the road. My un-original caption from this week: “First day of 6th and 8th!”
 
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It is a privilege and honor to be able to teach our kids and to do so at home, while traveling, or on the water is a pleasure beyond description. I am grateful to all the home-school moms I have met along the way who have helped me with small bits of advice here and there. I feel a sense of kinship with these amazing women and families and our family is forever changed because of the experience.
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Are you thinking of teaching your kids at home or on the water?
What is holding you back?

4 thoughts on “Getting Ready: Travel School 101

  1. Love to see the changes in kids from one of your news letters to an other. They happen so quickly. I have to say that as much as my admiration for your thoughtfulness, commitment,imagination and commitment grows as I see what home schooling involves I can’t immagine why anyone knowing what’s involved would want to take it on. Much love Sent from my iPad

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    1. Niki, you are right and make a very good point: Homeschooling is not for everyone. Travel-Schooling is even more crazy! Not every parent – or child – is suited for it, as it takes unique relationships in the family for it to work. But when it does work, it is a dream. I love the challenge and the time with my kids, yet I don’t begrudge any mom who can’t wait for the schoolbus to come! 😉

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      1. Wow, Lynne. What dedication, what perseverance, what organization, what love! I see a “Calvert School” tag. I used that also and loved that it told me what to do, since I’m not a teacher and not good at inventing the role, as you obviously are. You can be proud.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Janis – It means much to hear from moms who have ‘been there’ … you know exactly what comes in that Calvert Box! I am grateful to them, because I never would have started, without the full curriculum option from Calvert. I would recommend it to anyone just getting started. And look at your boys – amazing and successful adults!

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