How We Homeschool On a Boat, Charlotte Mason Style

Of all the leaps we took in planning to buy a boat, move aboard and travel with our children, I’m grateful that education was the least of our worries. We hear so often that the transition from public or private education, to homeschooling can be a major stumbling block for some families who want to travel, but we had been preparing to homeschool our children since our first daughter was born.

Our main family living and learning space

Living in Texas before moving aboard, we had a huge network of supportive families and groups who encouraged us in all things homeschooling. In Texas, homeschooling is common and requires no oversight from the state at all. As a homeschool parent in Texas, we had every option available to us. And there are so many options available to parents. Unschooling, radical unschooling, various co-ops, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Classical Conversation, not to mention the many Christian based curriculums we were considering like A Beka, Sonlight, and My Father’s World.

Mike and I wrestled with how we were going to educate our girls. Mike leaned toward more formal curriculums with schedules. I gagged at the thought. I loved the idea of unschooling- the child-led, play based, more relaxed approach. Eventually we agreed we could incorporate both. We rejected the idea of not requiring our girls to do any kind of formal work, but we also didn’t want school to become a chore. We agreed to nurture in our children the pure love of learning.

With a preschooler (Hannah, 3 years old) and a kindergartner (Marlee, 5 years old) on board, we know that the more intense schooling years are ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean these years of schooling little ones are unimportant. On the contrary, we are setting the tone and foundation of all the educational years to come! And we are having fun doing it!

Learning in secret

After some reading, I fell in love with the concepts and practices taught by Charlotte Mason, so we try to incorporate her theories into how we school the girls, but in reality we do a mixture of things in our daily living and schooling. We do not sit down and do “school” every day, but I know that they are constantly learning whether I observe that learning or not. The things I love most about Charlotte Mason’s methods  and what I strive for in our education style includes:

  • A love for learning, and the parent’s responsibility not to squash it
  • Educating the child as a whole person, not just as “a mind to fill”
  • Self education, through a rich environment
  • “Living books” as opposed to textbooks
  • Short lessons, the focus being the child’s full attention
  • Exposure to the natural world with lots of outdoor play
  • Incorporating good daily habits and Bible into a child’s education

While there are many, many subjects to choose from, and many good subjects Charlotte Mason recommended, right now we are simply focusing on recognition of letters, numbers, colors and shapes, reading and narration, occasional copy work, a little foreign language (Spanish), journaling, arts and crafts, and nature study. And of course we travel! Travel lends itself to all kinds of educational opportunities. Through traveling the girls are learning about different aspects of history, science, nature, weather, geography, and social sciences. We also try to keep many good books available to them on a variety of different subjects, so they can dive into material that piques their interest that we are not doing formally.

A variety of resources and their nature journal

Here is a more specific summary of what our boatschooling looks like weekly, but keep in mind, no two weeks look the same!

Recognition of letters, numbers, shapes and colors:

This is the closest thing to a curriculum we have on board. It is a series of books sold individually at the dollar store. I just love the dollar store for homeschooling! Especially at these young ages, I balk at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on something that cost me less than $10.00, and is just as adequate. Our goal is for them to recognize letters, numbers, colors and shapes, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything!) for them to reach that goal.

The girls love working in their workbooks, and we keep it child-motivated by letting them pick the one they want to work on for that week. We reiterate these recognition skills in our everyday life with them. We might see something while we are out and ask them if they know what letter/number/shape/color that is. They love pointing them out to us when they recognize it for themselves.

Copy work is also included here for my five year old, since she is learning how to copy words that she sees written in these workbooks. When she gets older, copy work will include copying a poem or short paragraph from a book. The focus is on handwriting and attention to detail, not memorizing or even understanding all the words.

Play-based learning also comprises a huge chunk of our learning in this area. For recognition of letters, numbers, shapes and colors we love using:


Although we want them to recognize letters and their sounds, we do not focus on memorizing the alphabet. My oldest is almost six years old, and she still gets a few letters mixed up when singing the alphabet song, but she can read. I saved a collection of early readers my sisters and I used when we were little and have been using them to teach my oldest to read. She took to it quickly and has easily read 10 of the 20 books by herself! Fueled by her own desire to read, it has been fun for all involved.

For other books that I read to them, we don’t emphasize comprehension (right versus wrong), but rather narration, meaning my girls retell the story to me after hearing it, and I can see how well they were paying attention or how well they understood what I was reading. Narration happens, more often than not, without any prompting from me, since they love to tell the stories to themselves and to each other.

Recently, I also began a different night time routine while they are tucked in for bed. I use this quiet time with lights out, far from any distractions, to read to them harder, longer books that they may not pick up themselves. I don’t define the many words I know they’ve never heard, instead the story captivates them and they eagerly soak in many new things, not the least of which is the love of reading. While we don’t do this every night, I have been thrilled at their ability to pay attention to books without pictures and to really enjoy these longer chapter books. While traveling down the east coast, we’ve been loving this region specific book called, Stories From Where We Live: The South Atlantic Coast and Piedmont A Literary Field Guide

Other good read aloud, Charlotte Mason “living books” for their ages include:

Arts and Crafts:

This could hardly be considered a school subject for my girls, since they love it so much, and want to do it almost everyday! Marlee loves drawing and coloring, and has shown an interest in it since she was very young. Besides the coloring books, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and paper we keep on board, I also have a variety of craft supplies like: paintbrushes, glue sticks, craft glue, stamps, ink pad, construction paper, tissue paper, scissors, stickers, and colored pens.

Learning about trees and practicing cutting

Recently, Marlee thought of an idea to glue tissue paper over the shells we had found at the beach, so that was our craft for the day. I loved her creativity in thinking of this craft all by herself and they loved using the paint brushes to paint the glue onto the shells. Craft time is so much more than just exercising their creativity, it is developing fine motor skills and learning how to use different materials. It also requires their full attention, a skill which Charlotte Mason emphasized. We also practice cutting, which is a skill that definitely takes time to learn!

Tissue paper, shells and glue

At six years old, Charlotte Mason encouraged children to begin studying famous artist’s artwork. Very simply she instructs parents to show the child six reproductions of one artist’s work. They observe them over a period of weeks with the goal to simply observe an artist’s work and become acquainted with them. Since Marlee turns six in February, I am excited to soon begin introducing this aspect of art to the girls. These are the cards we’re going to be using this year:

Six Van Gogh cards (Dover postcards)

Nature Study:

Nature study is really our science subject. We learn from what’s around us, so right now we’re learning about wildlife specific to the Southeast Atlantic coast. Before we left I purchased laminated field guides for South Atlantic shells and birds plus child sized binoculars. We’ve been learning so much just from that! From Virginia to Florida we’ve seen over a dozen different species of birds, plus an octopus, dolphins and many shells! Mike and I are having just as much fun as the girls.

We plan on adapting what we learn depending on what area we are in and the interest of the girls, and buying, in advance, a few resources specific to the area we will be in.

Our favorite find!

Here’s the resources we’ve been using so far:

With our nature study we also have a blank art journal that we use for the girls to draw pictures of what they did that day, as well as nature drawings of birds and shells they recently discovered.

Foreign Language:

We want to learn Spanish as a family and are using various online resources to do that. The girls favorite is:


This is where we truly appreciate our ability to travel and the opportunities to expose the girls to many new places and people! In Virginia we visited the aquarium; in South Carolina the U.S.S. Yorktown; and in Florida, the Timucuan Ecological Preserve and historic downtown St. Augustine, plus libraries, beaches and more!

Sometimes the thought of the many years ahead of us left to educate our girls seems overwhelming, but being able to homeschool according to our values and interests has made a huge difference in the way we approach school. We’re able to have fun, and Mike and I get to participate in the molding of these wonderful little people in the way we believe is best for them and us!

The U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston, SC
Hannah at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL
A library in Norfolk, VA
The inside of the library

And finally, here are my favorite books to inspire me as a homeschooling mama!

I’d love to hear how you homeschool or boatschool! What are your favorite resources? Leave a comment below!







4 thoughts on “How We Homeschool On a Boat, Charlotte Mason Style”

  1. Thanks for sharing your awesome vision for blessing and teaching your little ones! Safe travels, Brad

  2. A real inspiration – thank you! – Great tips that i’m gonna incorporate into the time i spend with my 2 boys!
    I really admire what you guys are doing so keep safe and keep sharing your stories!

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