Monday was a big day for our oldest, Marlee. On Monday she turned 6 years old! For several weeks prior to February 27, she had told us what she wanted for her birthday: a mermaid doll. What could be more perfect than a mermaid birthday for a little girl on a boat?
Since it’s not always easy or feasible to run to a store the night before a birthday for balloons or a cake, I tend to plan our families birthdays and holidays a couple months in advance. I want to make sure that no matter where we are, I’ll have a few goodies to make a certain day extra special. I had already bought both girls a little mermaid doll (one for the birthday girl and one for Hannah, to play with her sister) a couple months in advance, but what else could go with a mermaid themed party? I didn’t want to spend a lot, but I wanted it to be special. Here’s what I came up with, with plenty of help from Pinterest and Google!
I already had sparkly mesh ribbon in my sewing supplies, so I cut a runner for our table. I laid out some shells (we have so many!) and a silver beaded necklace on top. I put the girls presents in colored paper bags with colored tissue paper. I finished setting the table with small clear glasses and purple striped party straws plus pink polka dot napkins. I hung up a small string of Christmas lights (battery powered) in the cabin and voila! A mermaid themed party all ready for her to see when she woke up!
For her birthday breakfast, I added metallic blue and purple sprinkles to the pancake batter and cut up a carton of strawberries. Even though I keep cake mix and frosting on hand, I don’t tend to make it for our birthdays because there’s just not enough of us to eat a whole cake (even one made in an 8×8 pan). So we are creative in finding something to put a candle in. Marlee’s birthday pancakes were the perfect fit for her number 6 birthday candle.
She adored her blue mermaid doll! I also tucked in her bag a package of gum, sparkly blue and purple nail polish and the My Little Pony doll she got in the mail from her grandma.
Marlee’s birthday day was all planned out. We needed to go to a few stores, so we took a ride to a dinghy dock attached to a restaurant. We split up to go to a couple of stores then met back at the restaurant for lunch.
Of course, their new dolls had to join us for the fun! By the time we were both done shopping, we were starving. The restaurant served fresh seafood and also burgers, hoagies, hot dogs and fries. It was a popular place.
We had one more surprise for Marlee before going home. Just a few minutes walk from the restaurant was Funderdome, an indoor playground for the whole family. The girls were thrilled!
Since it was a Monday afternoon, we practically had the place to ourselves. There was a section for older kids and a designated play area for children three and under. Perfect for little Haven! It really was a treat for the whole family!
We went back to the boat ready to rest, but I still had a few more surprises up my sleeve. For dinner we had “Mermaid macaroni and cheese” with tropical fruit and “ocean juice” (blue Gatorade).
Marlee just loved her mermaid birthday and goodies. We loved being able to lavish on her, our beautiful, bright and curious 6 year old!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
We want to learn Spanish as a family and are using various online resources to do that. The girls favorite is: OnlineFreeSpanish.com
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!
And finally, here are my favorite books to inspire me as a homeschooling mama!
How do your kids like living on the boat? It’s the one question we get asked more times than not. Before we left, when we were seriously considering making this leap with our three girls, ages 5, 3 and 9 months (although the youngest wasn’t even born at the time we were considering this lifestyle) we read, with great relief, that as far as cruising goes, the younger the children were, the better. We heard from others what our common sense had already confirmed: young children adapt well to the cruising lifestyle.
However, for me it wasn’t just about if my children would adapt to living in a smaller space (not an issue) or if they would enjoy traveling (I knew they would) but for me, the choice to live and travel with my children on a boat went much deeper. The truth is, in the months before we began considering changing our lives and the lives of our girls, something was growing in me. A jealousy, born from love, for my children’s time and for their hearts began growing in my own.
Back on land, we had a rich network of neighborhood friends and a faith community for the girls to grow up around. We lived in fact, with one of those families. Friends were literally, just a few steps away. Weekends were incomplete without an evening at a friends house, sharing a meal, sharing our lives well into the night, and without these days and weekends and families we would not be who we are today, but still…there was this growing yearning to have my children, my family, all to myself.
It seemed a bit selfish of me. Why would I want my kids all to myself when they have this healthy space of friendship and activities to occupy their days? And what about “me” time? I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, not at all, but when I began to look into the Father’s heart, my longing started to make perfect sense.
You see, God, the Father, wants his children all to himself, he loves them so. He takes pleasure in them. He delights in them. He wants their affection. He wants their hearts. He wants your affection, your heart. He is jealous for you. He wants to keep you close.
And so we are made in his image.
It is so easy for our children’s affections to stray- to electronics, to friends, to other parents, to toys, to the next latest-and-greatest. There is so much in this world grabbing for their hearts, and far from innocently at that. In fact, this world is trying to pull our children just a little further away so mamas and daddies won’t be the strongest influence over their lives. So when Mike and I discussed traveling with our children, the thought of being on a boat with my family all to myself, with our time to all ourselves with little to vie for their attention, sounded like the perfect path for us.
Is it always easy? Not at all. This life is not always picture perfect. There are times they are literally bouncing off of these small walls and the space seems like it’s closing in on me. We are in each other’s lives and spaces 24/7 and that sometimes makes for short words and hurt feelings. Sometimes I need a moment to just be alone, and that isn’t always possible or easy. But we have to talk and reconcile. There is no room for pretending here, so at the very least, my children will learn what it means to be real. They will learn that mama and daddy are real, and that we love them. They will witness the ins and outs of daily life and relationships, and not be excluded from it.
Cruising with us on a boat, they will have the world at their fingertips, their sisters as their best friends, and us to be there to guide them through everything they will see, hear and experience. We will guide them through school, through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships and through every exciting milestone in their young lives; we will be their witness, their guide, teacher, cheerleader and friend.
So how do my children like living on a boat? My children are amazing. Already Marlee is stepping out and learning how to make friends fast, not being as shy as she was as a toddler. Hannah is growing up, little by little, and learning how to do all sorts of new things. They are meeting all different kinds of people. They get to see beaches, ships, boats and wildlife all around and in the water. They get to visit museums, parks and playgrounds. And they get us, all to themselves, reading, learning, talking, playing.