The idea of actually having to formally teach my children aged 10, 7 and 4, whilst travelling aboard our 40ft sailing yacht, during our one year sabbatical, is the only thing that nearly put me off undertaking the trip. I am not, nor have I ever desired to be a teacher. I do not believe that anyone can teach. I do believe that some qualified teachers shouldn’t be teaching, and thankfully I also believe that my children’s teachers in their Cornish village primary school are excellent. I have a lot of respect for them, I could not and cannot do what they do.
I prepared as best I could given the demands I had on my time before we left home – every parent will understand the weekly barrage of kiddie commitments after school and into the evening, all after a day’s work, that culminates with the stressful, break neck speed commute back home to pick up the kids from school, all the while chanting in your head ‘I can’t be late, I can’t be late’.
I downloaded the national curriculum for all three ages, I collected age appropriate numeracy and literacy workbooks and level appropriate reading books. I invested in small white boards and flash cards, wooden letters and word puzzles. I found a great book called ‘Lesson Plans Ahoy’ written by someone who had done a similar trip with children and also happened to be a teacher, and I consulted with the children’s school teachers and my eldest daughters dyslexia tutor.
We started with good intentions…two hours a day, every day strait after breakfast, weekends off. But, quite rapidly this turned into a daily chore for everyone – as much as we tried to hide that fact from the children. There would regularly be tears, shouting, threats and bribery – everyone was in a bad mood each morning and we quickly realised that we could not continue like this. We did not want this to be the focus of our one year off.
The saving grace is that it is only one year, out of the 14 years (minimum) that my children will be in formal education. We have not up sticks and left for an endless nomadic lifestyle, if this were the case we would certainly have to follow a more formal education programme. We know where home is, we love our home and Cornish village dearly and we will be returning there, in one years time. This fact alone has enabled us to give ourselves a break…shock, horror…we are no longer spending hours as a miserable family afloat trying to replace our children’s quite frankly irreplaceable teachers. And, we are all much happier for doing less formal education (although the guilt is still there).
This does not mean that the children are not learning anything. They read aloud and are read to daily, they keep a hand written journal and they do some times tables – this was the advice of our dyslexia tutor as a minimum before we left home. We visit museums and have recently attended as citizen science lecture on whales and dolphins that we are now going to help with. When they show interest in something we follow it up – navigation, why the boat floats and the stars at night being amongst it.
So much of their young lives are spent within four walls at school. This is not a judgement on our local primary, which is in fact everything I want from a village school. Rather it is an expression of our desire for our children to learn about the world first hand, through experience and adventure, for a small part of their education at least.
Travel in itself is an education. The different countries we visit, the language they use, the culture, the history, the people we meet along the way all play a part in our daughters learning. Travel broadens minds and horizons and breaks down social barriers. When we return to Cornwall our children will be confident, sociable, articulate and well travelled young ladies and will be better students for their experiences, despite having a year off.