Boat-schooling Part 2 – UNSCHOOLING

The school refers to everything that takes place in a more academic form – sitting, pen and papers, teacher and boards. The rest is what we call unschooling. However, it does not mean it is effortless for the parents. Quite the contrary, to include unschooling on a day to day basis requires research and dedication of time. Here is what is part of her unschooling.

This is an unusually long blog post. Homeschooling is one of the scariest part of a project like ours. What if it doesn’t work? What if, when we come back, Salty doesn’t do well at school because she’s behind?? Cass spent months reading, researching and building a school curriculum that we feel challenging enough, yet adapted to the uniques opportunities we have on a day to day basis. Writing about them in a concise way, while having so much to say on the topic, turned out to be near impossible. So, go get yourself another cup of coffee, sit back, and let’s dig in!

Shared reading : 40-60 minutes a day

Shared reading means that adult reads to a children in our case. We read a lot of kid books of course, but we also read one novel at a time. These books are too advanced for Salty to read, but not too advanced to learn punctuation, expression, great vocabulary, develop imagination (I prefer them with as little images as possible) and develop love of reading. Let’s face it though, you are not gonna keep Salty and Mateo interested in a no images novel by just reading. I act, make the voices, sing the songs! Even make sound effects and stand up to make gestures. I comment everywhere to keep them into the story and make sure they follow. When reading Bilbo and I had to stop quite often in the final battle to remind WHO was fighting WHO. I change a lot the typical “He said” by “Bilbo said” to remind the name of the characters. Instead of “the company”, I stated “Bilbo, Gandalf, all the dwarves and their ponies…”. Even if redundant in a literature point of view, it is easier for them to follow and get attached to them. Together, we read Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s web, Bilbo the Hobbit and many others. When we read these more advanced books, shared reading time jumps to 1h30 a day – if not more. “Another chapter mom!!!”

Salty: “Mom, but why did Harry Potter isn’t staying in his bedroom!? It’s dangerous, I’m scared!”

Art : 30-60 minutes a day

Salty draws and draws and paint and love crafting. No point of doing that in school if she already does it during her own time, right? To complement her natural appeal to art in a different way, we have a book about art. It is split by disciplines: sculpture, paint, architecture, movie and photograph, dance, music etc. Salty and Matey loves to look at it.

THE HISTORY GAME : 30-60 minutes about twice a week.

(that we only call “The Game” as we don’t say it’s a History class)

“The Game” consist of role playing the History of the world. In August, we started role by being cavemen. I insisted that the kids don’t talk and only groan. They also had to walk on 4 legs. They soon thought it was annoying, so we discovered that standing on our 2 legs only was better and it was freeing our hand to do something else. We had not much material to build weapons, so Matey pretended to build a knife with a rock. Later on, when eating, we thought that uncooked meat was very hard to chew. Salty came up with the idea to make a fire! It had the benefit to keep us warm as well, because Earth started to feel a bit cold at that point in our game.

I give the kids hint on what we should do or discover by raising problems we face. For instance, “Well kids, it’s not easy to reach India. It’s pretty far by foot and horses. What are we gonna do?” “Let’s go by boat!” answered Matey. Which is precisely what Portuguese did.

What a great activity! The benefits of that game is that it gives kids love of History. It helps them understanding how things happened and why. And since we play that game in chronological order, it is really ONE big story.

Under it’s fun appearance, here are the main principles I aim for:

  • HIGH LEVEL AND CLICHÉ. Cavemen, Egypt, Greece, Roman, Middle Age, Renaissance, America Discovery and so on. Even if not perfectly accurate, the clichés of these periods helps the kids to sink in the information. For a 5 and 3 year old, there is nothing wrong to have a very simplified idea of the Egyptian era: pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphs, sphynx, and pharaohs.

  • LINKS THE PARTS TOGETHER. I make sure that kids understand what lead from a part of the game to the next one. This is something I always missed younger: the links. But how exactly would you explain the end of the Roman Empire to a 5 and 3 years old? Here is how we played that part. At the end of the Roman Empire, there were no more soldiers protecting the roads. So, we started to be attacked more and more during our travels. Salty and Matey started to hate going on the dangerous roads. We decided to stick more at the same place with other people. Luckily, a rich Lord offered to protect us in exchange of crops. He built (actually, we built it for him) a castle and we were allowed to flee inside if we were attacked by bandits. And there you go; we are in the Medieval Time now. Knowing what era of the History follow the next one is not bad at all – but playing the end of an era and the beginning of another one is a great part of The Game.

  • KIDS PLAY HISTORICAL PERSONA. During cavemen, we were just that, cavemen. But when we arrived in Egypt, we were servant of the Pharaoh. And then, Cleopatra arrived. Guess what? Salty decided to BE Cleopatra. So she was surprised to know she was Greek and not Egyptian at all. We oversimplified saying that Alexander the Great (played by Mateo – really invested in his role!) conquered Egypt and then asked his sister Cleopatra to stay there and rule for him while he was heading East. Playing a role helps them to love the era and remember it better. Mateo running in the boat screaming : “COME ON BUCEPHALE!” was pretty awesome. (It’s Alexander the Great’s horse name). And since Mateo conquered a whole lot of ground personifying Alexander, he was a tad upset when we’ve briefly talked of Mongolian and I told him they conquered MORE than him. “MORE THAN ME!?” He didn’t believe it and we actually took maps to compare. I am sure he would not have been interested that much if HE was not Alexander the Great.

  • MATCHING PERIODS WITH LIFE ON PABLO. How does the place we visit and our day to day is link with History? It’s not always doable in chronological order, but most time it is pretty easy. How does Roman Empire links to Christmas? Easy – the early raise of Christianism and the birth of Jesus Christ. We don’t give religious education on Pablo as we are atheists, but Christianism is key to understand the Medieval time. Another example about Panama Canal. It’s a construction that changed the world and that came much later than the discovery of the New World era we were playing then. But, by playing the search for a road to India and seeing a cartoon about the Magellan straight with massive waves, icebergs and wrecks it started to make sense easily. I said things like : “See how dangerous it is to go through that straight! THAT is why someone later on proposed to dig through the narrowest part of land and create the Panama Canal!” Kids made the connection right away and understood how the road to India (and later Pacific) relates to their day to day next to the Panama Canal. There is pretty much always a link to find.

  • REPETITIONS AND VARIATION OF MEDIAS. Every time we play I summarize from beginning of our game up to now. “When we started we were cavemen, we discovered tools and fire and later on we started to harvest our food. It enticed us to stay at the same place. Then…” and so on. It takes 3 minutes. But that hammers the sequence in their mind. Repetition makes its magic there. Also, for every period, I look in all our kids movies and find the ones matching. Greeks? Disney Hercules. America? The road of Eldorado. Incas before Spanish invasion? Emperor New Groove. Romans? Asterix. Egypt? Asterix and Cleopatra. Cavemen? Croman. Medieval? The sword in the Stone. And so on. It is much easier than it looks. I stop the movie time to time to make links “such as : “We did that in our game the other day!” Kids understand and put images on things we’ve done. On top of movies, I go on wikipedia to show them a few images. We open all our encyclopedias and books to look at the time period covered in the game we played. Books about art is open, about invention, timelines, and we read 2 proper History books too. History books and encyclopedia reading are a bit rough for their age, but Salty and Matey LOVES being read to. And as long as I stop, vulgarize and explain, they will listen to the Renaissance and Louis XIV history as much as any Mickey Mouse tale. The last media I use are educational cartoons about History, explorers, and inventors. I find all episodes relating to our period and when in need of some relax time, I would typically choose one of these rather than a random Pyjamask episode.

  • KEY MESSAGES FROM HISTORY. History is not just a big battle and conquering saga…but it does take a big part in it. I always make a parallel with Salty and Matey’s when they fight. The key message is this one : When people cannot find compromises, there are wars and people lose. They lose things, countries, thrones and sometimes their life. The second message so far is that the Dark age of Medieval time was dark indeed because people stopped being curious, stopped learning and going to school. When History repeats itself I always say : “Ihhh boy, if only they would have learned the first time it happened during the Greek period, that would have probably not happen again now, right?” And kids to say : “Yep, they didn’t learn…”.

  • WHOLE HISTORY CYCLE. THEN REPEAT. We WILL cover the great wars, by sparing kids horrific details and keeping the big picture. I gave myself a year to cover up to the race to the moon and cold war. When we’ll be finished, we will start over again. That time, we will review the same material, but I will also dig to find more activities linked to it. If ever we manage to stay on the boat longer than an extra year, I will then start taking 3 years to cover the same material. Year 1 of school – one full History game. Year 2 of school – one full History game. Year 3-4-5 of school – one full History game (with more details). No matter when kids would go back to a regular school, they will be able to catch up with any History class.

SCIENCE : 15 minutes – 1 hour a day

This is the place I feel the weakest. Still, we let encyclopedias open all the time and both Salty and Matey love when we sit and read in them. We have encyclopedia for older kids. I prefer having more information, it fosters the idea that there is much to learn. Kids encyclopedia sometimes gets way to simple, like the part of a tree are the roots, the trunk, the bark, the branches, the leaves. That is not bad for Matey. That is just not what we need. There will be no teacher coming up with a program to develop science in a school. We need to make sure kids are interested in knowing more on their own. The older kids encyclopedia (say teenage years) includes images of leaves cell and explains photosynthesis. Kids then points and say “What is that?”. I then have no choice but saying : “Hmmm, let me read, mommy is not exactly sure how it works.” I then explain to them what I read, we try to vulgarize, Sam joins the discussion, and they realize that the world is complex!
Our goal at their age is that they know the basics (yes, like that long vertical brown thing is called the trunk :P) But I think our main goal is to show them that it’s important to be CURIOUS and to understand that even adults don’t know everything. Knowledge is infinite. We search with them, we discover with them. By exposing the kids to more advanced type of information (with nice colored image that is) they start to be curious. It is a frequent sentence in Pablo : “I want to learn about this!!!” And boy, the nature surrounding us gives countless opportunities to dive and go discover out of books!


We let lot of spare time to the kids. A LOT. Salty always comes to us saying : “I have a project, I need glue, I need this, I need that…” Sometimes, her projects aren’t crafting and require our help. Like sewing tank tops for her friends. We try to encourage the kids by saying yes. We refrain from saying things like : “This is too hard for your age” and instead find ways to make sure she can go from A to Z with her idea. We teach her perseverance. And any other skill she needs.

I woke up one morning to find Sally in the cockpit. She had installed herself there with the firm idea of sewing a dress for Mimi, her plush. We try to foster this as much as possible with easy access to crafting material to the kids. We feel the long term benefits outweigh the few mishaps that happened with the scissors…


Sometimes we stop everything and teach children about emotions management. Once, I drew emotions on a board and kids needed to find what emotion the person was feeling. We also discuss about how to find ways to feel better after feeling stressed, angry or sad. We teach them that emotions, either good or bad, are part of life. This is how Matey started saying things like : “I am feeling impatient” rather than screaming and throwing things on the ground. Empathy is a skill that can be taught and we definitely have time to address that in unschooling.


Unschooling may seem obvious. But there will be no teacher behind us to do the core work to teach our kids. We need to seek and take opportunities to teach them. For Salty and Matey, it is NOT school. But for the parents, it is not magically done. You need to dedicate time like if you’d be teacher of a science, history, cook or whatever class you might think of. In a boatschooling point of view, if as parents we don’t force ourselves to do extra efforts, we will feel our kids are behind. On the contrary, if we stop, open up the broken toy to understand how the tiny motor works and then gets the tools to rip it apart and fix it with them, our kids should ROCK at … life in general!

Unschooling is the true key on Pablo to complete Salty’s 1 hour school program.

Learning multiplication and introducing notions of algebra on passage somewhere offshore of El Salvador. More about the ‘other’ part of school in our previous blog post here

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