You've got to educate the kids, even if you are cruising.

First published in Living Aboard Magazine. Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.


Gene Gruender
Austin.sailor at


Nellie K. Symm-Gruender
Zachary S. Symm
Copyright 1998

As the crew of Rainbow Chaser began to plan for cruising we realized there were about a million things to consider. With one of the crew members being our son Zachary 10, soon to be 11, make that two million.

When the list of "tasks to be completed" was started, it became quickly apparent that Zachary's education was under my list of tasks. It seemed there were so many things to consider. What homeschool curriculums were available? What would the cost be? Would the curriculum be accepted if and when we did return to "regular school"? How could we best transition Zach to homeschool?

ZACH: When we first talked about the fact that I would be going to homeschool, I had a hard time imagining how we could have a classroom on the boat. I wondered if I would have to do homework, and how much. My biggest concern was: Would I get recess?

At the beginning of Zach's 4th grade year at St Paul Lutheran School in Austin, Texas, I sat down with his teacher, Ms. Lange, and talked about our plans, and my desire to have this year be a year of transition for both Zach and his class. I hoped to get the entire class involved in our adventure. I next talked to Ms.Tienert who would have been Zach's 5th grade teacher if he remained at the school. I shared with her that I wanted Zach to be an unofficial member of the class through letters, post cards, and video tapes. She agreed that this would be a wonderful opportunity for both the class and Zach.

As I began to investigate schools, one name seemed to consistently come up, The Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland. One of our friends, Richard Kilgore had attended Calvert when his family was in South America. Then Gene talked to a young lady, while on a plane trip who had never attended “regular school". Her family owned a carnival, and as they traveled from city to city she attended Calvert. Both she and Richard said that they found they were consistently far ahead of the kids who had attended regular school. I then read that Supreme Court Justice Sara Day O'connor had attended Calvert. It seemed that I had some pretty good references for the school.

ZACH: When I told my friends that we were planning to live on the boat, and sail all over the world, they all said, Way Cool ! My best friend Damon Faulkner kept asking if we would adopt him. Then one day everyone realized that I wouldn't be there for school every day, and we all got sort of sad. We decided we would really miss each other.


I was soon corresponding with Calvert, and had literature about how the homeschool program worked. Sitting down to read the material, it began to sink in just how important an undertaking this was.

During my 25 years as a nurse I had taught a Trauma Nursing class at the college level and I have lectured nationally on Domestic Violence. This, however, was much different than teaching a 5th grade class. I had a good handle on the concepts of adult learning, but for elementary school, well, I wasn't so sure. I began to consider the impact that this might have on Zach for the rest of his life, and feelings of inadequacy began to creep into the back of my mind.

ZACH: My mom seemed a whole lot more concerned about being my teacher than I about was having her for a teacher. I thought it was neat that we could be together every day, and that she would be teaching me. One thing was for sure, I wouldn't have to wait very long with my hand up to get a question answered by the teacher.

In reviewing the literature from Calvert, my questions, and some of my concerns were answered. The cost would be around $750.00 a year. This cost included the curriculum, all books, all supplies, shipping, and enrollment in the Advisory Teacher Program. By having an advisory teacher Zach would be assigned a single teacher that would grade his progress through the year, give feed back as work was sent in, and offer advice as I needed it. (advice was the clincher....! knew I'd need it) . With passing grades, it would give Zach a statement of completing the 5th Grade at the end of the year. Since the cost was less than the private school tuition that we were presently paying, it seemed like a bargain.

The literature showed the curriculum , and stated that the home teacher would have daily plans of what the pupil was to be taught each day and there were notes of advice (there's that great word again advice!) on the important aspects of each subject. As Zach and I looked over the plan we saw that he would be studying the same subjects as "regular school”. The time needed each day was between 4-5 hours, and offered a great deal of flexibility. With references, and the promise of ADVICE, I wrote the check, and mailed it in. Zach was enrolled.

ZACH: When I saw what I would be studying, I thought GREAT “normal subjects". I knew that when my friends found out I had to only go to school for 4 hours a day they would realty be jealous. Mom decided that she would add Spanish to the lessons so we could learn a foreign language together. The kids at my school couldn't start foreign language until the 7th grade.

To get Zach's class involved in our plans I went to his class as a speaker We talked about living on the boat, the routes we planned to take, and how Zach would go to school. The kids all took a great interest in what we were going to do, especially the promise that Zach would keep in touch. Our next step was to invite Zach's class to the boat for their end of the year trip. We had lunch at the marina, and took groups of kids on a sail. Zach got to do tours of the boat, show everyone (even the girls) his berth, and demonstrate his skills as a sailor. The kids were impressed with both the boat and Zach. At the end of the year Zach said many sad good-byes to all his friends with promises to write, and keep in touch.

ZACH: Saying good-bye to all my friends was the hardest part. I knew I would miss them, even if we did write. I wasn't sure if I would get to make good friends again. I had been with this class since 1st grade, played basketball with them, and gone to camp with them.


We have now been doing home school for 6 months, and have 3 months left in this school year. It has been a learning experience for both Zach and me

ZACH: Even in homeschool some things don't change. I don't like math, reading and science, but, I've leared. to love history, geography, and art. Being the only student in the class is good and bad. Good because you get all the attention, bad because I'm the only person to get called on. I do still miss my friends, and miss playing with them. I keep in touch through e-mail and post cards. They sent me a birthday card, and everyone in the class signed it. They also e-mailed me about what each person was doing for the Science Fair. In homeschool we study things and I get to see them in real life. When we studied invertebrates we picked up a Cabbagehead (a kind of jelly fish), and looked at it. When we studied latitude and longitude, I looked at the maps we navigate from, and I could help with the navigation. Before we went to each port I studied about the area so I could have background information about it.

Homeschool is a study in dedication and patience. The general plan is to get up in the morning, and do our 4-5 hours of homeschool. The dedication comes in trying to stick to that. It's hard when the sailing conditions just aren't conducive to sitting or writing, try writing a composition when the toe rail is under water. There's also the call of the outdoors. It can be hard to spend the morning talking about congruent figures when there is turquoise water to swim in, iguanas to see, or reefs to be snorkeled over. We quickly found that it was ever so easy to get behind, with the consequences of doing double work for several days to catch up, or GASP...going to school on Saturday.

Patience comes in when either Zach or I lost touch of the teacher / pupil relationship, and slip into the mother / son relationship. Zach, on several occasions has said “Mooooom, do you have to give me so much homework?" My reply of course was “I’m your teacher, I only look like your mother.” However, being ever the mother, I've been heard to say “Zach, don't you think it would be better if you did it this way?", (better being My Way). So much for independent thinking. Control had to be given up to allow Zach the opportunity to explore options. On several occasions Gene "the principle" , as Zach likes to call him in this roll, had to intervene. I’m pleased to say that while I did hit some real highs of frustrations I never got to the point of throwing the books overboard as one mother did.

In Georgetown, Bahamas there were many “cruising kids”, and we found that most had chosen the Calvert school. One family was using its own cirrculum, and another was using matieral provided by the Canadian government. One mother faced the same challenges we did with the parent vs teacher problem. In a fit of frustration she enrolled her kid in the local school in Georgetown just to remind them of what land school was like.

Zach made one especially good friend ,David Higgs, from Royal Lion while in Georgetown. David was from Canada and shared Zach’s love of Legos. To keep things simple David’s mom, Joyce, and I would coordinate what time we planned to end school each day. This gave us some insurance that we could try and maintain each childs attention without the inturruption of that call on the VHF, about what time everyone was meeting at the beach. Since Joyce had two girls Jennifer, and Susan, she had triple school to do each day.


I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to participate in Zach's education. Despite my initial feelings that I might prove to be inadequate, with the help of a well written curriculum I feel I have succeeded. Only once when we were studying a New-New math concept did I have to e-mail the school for ADVICE. The answer was returned by e-mail within 24 hours, and we all then understood.

I certainly feel as though I have a firm grasp of Zach's many strong points, and the few weak points that need extra attention. A positive aspect of homeschooling is that the flexibility allows us to spend time working on the weaker points.

A real benefit that comes from traveling is the real life experiences go far to enhance the formal education. Seeing other cultures, talking to people from all over the world, and being in constant contact with nature is an education in itself. Zach gets to see science, geography, and math up close and personal.

ZACH: Overall I like homeschool. In regular school I never got a break to go and watch the dolphins play, or see a huge cargo ship passing by. I think I learn more because I don't have to compete with 24 other kids for attention. The other big part of homeschool is going to different places and doing different things. I've gotten to go to The Salvador Dali Museum, see what a conch looks like alive, swim with all kinds of fish, and I got to meet a famous scientist who saves sea turtles. Most kids I know don't know how to operate a dingy, a single side band radio, or a VHF radio. I learn something new almost everyday and a lot of it doesn't come from a book!

As we continue to sail, education at sea has become a gratifying aspect of our traveling. With dedication and a large dose of patience I think we've done fine. Zach got straight A’s on his last report card, and Mom got a big hug from her star pupil.

Copyright 1998
All rights reserved

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