Monday, March 6, 2017

Back to School Days
By Windy

Frances just celebrated her 11th
birthday. One thing about this cruising
adventure we embarked on is that
it marked time like nothing else,
 there's our lives before cruising and
our lives after cruising, nothing else is
like that. So the span of Frances's life
from the 5-year-old we sailed away with
to the 11-year-old we've got today is
clear as a bell, and I've enjoyed it
very much.
Having made the choice to raise our kids outside of the traditional school/home environment, cruising parents expose their families to an unusual level of scrutiny. We get kudos from fellow cruisers who perceive the education our kids receive while cruising to be ideal: "Cruising kids are so way ahead of their peers." And non-cruisers' perceptions, positive or negative, typically are a product of their ideas about homeschooling: Grandparents worry the grandkids will fall behind academically, family friends give pop quizzes mining for gaps, and total strangers take note when our kids make or do not make eye contact. And we, the cruising families, we are the harshest critics, or the staunchest advocates, or somewhere in between; sometimes it depends on the day.

The litmus test is re-entry. What happens when boat kids finally start or return to school? Are they socially awkward? Are they behind? Do they excel? Are they overwhelmed? Competent? Resilient? Bullied? Bored? Confident? Disorganized? Different?

Well, we now can speak from experience and the answer to all of those questions is: Yes.

Our kids started school three months ago in Ajo, Arizona. Prior to attending, Eleanor (13) had completed half a year of kindergarten and Frances (11) had never attended school. For the last 7 or so years we have homeschooled or boatschooled. We have not followed a set curriculum. We have not followed U.S. Common Core grade standards. Our kids have not taken standardized tests. We have provided support and materials according to their interests (art) and encouraged them to build skills at their own pace (writing). They have been expected to progress in certain subjects they might not love (math). And of course they are cruising kids and have benefited from a diversity of experiences that, when I look back over the years, is incredible.

Frances getting an academic
award from the principal and
So, based on our sample of two, I am going to make some generalizations about what happens when cruising kids attend school. Many of these observations may apply to long-term homeschoolers entering a classroom.

First, if your kid is disorganized in the cruising life, she will be disorganized in regular life. If your kid typically forgets her sun hat, she will forget her backpack when leaving for school. Seems obvious, but people are who they are, cruising doesn't change that.

Boat kids spend a lot of time with adults. They have adult friends. So the teacher/student hierarchy typical in classrooms is more blurry to them. For better or for worse, cruising kids are not reluctant to engage teachers.

Cruising kids are accustomed to mostly respectful interactions between and among adults and kids, and so the behavior they sometimes witness in the classroom will be shocking at first: teachers pushed to despair, kids treated like toddlers, bullying, profanity, cheating. That said, it will be shocking and it will be interesting. (To be fair, these are exceptions, their school here is great.)

Cruising kids, especially those whose families lean toward unschooling, will be out-of-sync academically. They have had more time to pursue their interests, and so will be ahead of their peers in the subjects close to their hearts (we are an arts and humanities family, all the way), and they might be behind in other subjects. But to a degree, that's all kids, right?

Cruising kids (particularly those who started young) will suck at team sports. Just yesterday Eleanor asked, "What's softball?"

Sometimes cruising kids will appear stupid to their fellow students. They will sit in the wrong seat. They will not respond to bells. They will not know the Pledge of Allegiance. They will turn in work they shouldn't, and their name will not be on it. They will ask what a "homeroom" is. They will ask if a 'B' is good, and what will happen to them if they get an 'F.'

The girls releasing one of
several pack rats we've caught
around the house.
Cruising kids will be surprised at how much of their day is eaten up by school and homework. Some kids will be so heartsick over their loss of free time that they will want to quit school. They will stick it out because their parents encourage them to give it a chance and ultimately they will come to a certain peace, but they will long for the hours spent in their berth buried in stacks of comics and sketchpads. Just saying.

So what happened when our boat kids went to school? A lot of different things. At the very beginning one of the girls experienced some trauma, some tears. The other was gleeful and fascinated from the start. Their response to the transition had everything to do with their individual personalities and very little to do with cruising or homeschooling. Academics have not been a big deal. They've either jumped right in, or they've learned what they need to know to be where they need to be. They've caught on to the ins and outs of school, classroom etiquette, schedules, and homework. They are different than their peers. They dress differently and they speak differently. They can't swing a baseball bat, but they can pick up a mooring ball. They have hiked to Trapper's Cabin, swum with sharks, and run from a hurricane. They have known the isolation of long ocean passages, and said goodbye to friends again and again. It all seems to have prepared them pretty well for school.

Frances with the Kindle reader she was awarded
by the Ajo librarian for the bookmark contest she won.
In the display to the left is Frances's bookmark,
featuring a picture she drew of Charlotte and Wilbur.

Here are the girls with another pack rat. I think they'd
have liked to keep each one we've caught. "Eye
on the prize, girls, no pets, we're headed back to Del Viento."

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