School­work afloat

New Zealand’s cor­re­spon­dence school for cruis­ing chil­dren.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JON TUCKER

Our ketch New Zealand Maid was al­ready O down on her marks when we be­gan load­ing the year’s cor­re­spon­dence school­work aboard – two boxes for each of our five sons. With our youngest still at the pre-read­ing stage, and our el­dest two al­ready in their teens, we were tak­ing a plunge into the un­known, leav­ing our land-based ex­is­tence be­hind.

Look­ing back on the sub­se­quent years of our semi-no­madic, wa­ter-based life­style, we have no re­grets. We had a unique op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with our chil­dren as a team, in an en­vi­ron­ment where even a 10-year-old needed to be trusted to stand watch and keep us all safe.

We had op­por­tu­ni­ties to sail to re­mote lo­ca­tions, meet iso­lated in­di­vid­u­als, and face some truly daunt­ing chal­lenges. Our boys mixed eas­ily with other chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages, cul­tures and languages, and com­mu­ni­cated as com­fort­ably with adults as they did with their peers.

Be­ing teach­ers our­selves, we weren’t par­tic­u­larly pre­cious about the ne­ces­sity of class­room-based ed­u­ca­tion for our kids. Chil­dren are pro­grammed to learn (it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent them learn­ing) and we had cho­sen a dis­tance learn­ing op­tion in­stead.

But as we cast off from the con­straints of sub­ur­bia, we were con­scious of mut­ter­ings be­hind our backs. Some ac­quain­tances even spoke their dis­ap­proval openly. In their eyes we were do­ing our chil­dren a dis­ser­vice. How could the boys pos­si­bly suc­ceed aca­dem­i­cally with­out re­main­ing in a con­ven­tional learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment?

We had cause to think of this a decade later, bat­tling a Novem­ber Tas­man Low on our way back to New Zealand from New Cale­do­nia. Matt and Sam had their im­por­tant year 11 and 13 ex­ams to sit a week later, and we had re­cently been dil­ly­dal­ly­ing on an un­in­hab­ited is­land in the Loy­al­ties with the kids camped ashore build­ing rafts.

Crunch-time was ap­proach­ing. Would the crit­ics be proven right? Years later, the proof is in the pud­ding, with Sam cur­rently work­ing to­wards his sec­ond de­gree, and Matt with three Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tions un­der his belt, and a suc­cess­ful ca­reer-mix of film-mak­ing, build­ing and avi­a­tion res­cue.

From a prac­ti­cal point of view, there isn’t as much room aboard a mod­est-sized ves­sel for do­ing school­work. In our case, the sa­loon ta­ble was barely big enough for three of our five. Dan in par­tic­u­lar – with his pas­sion for art­work – found lack of space a chal­lenge. But de­spite this he has be­come a suc­cess­ful artist/ sculp­tor in adult life.

School­work afloat is a topic of con­sid­er­able dis­cus­sion among par­ents ag­o­nis­ing over whether to de­lay their voy­ag­ing un­til the kids have left home. For those, like us, who have cho­sen to pull our kids out of class­rooms, there are de­ci­sions to be made about how best to cater for their long-term ed­u­ca­tional needs.

Some choose the home-school­ing op­tion to vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. We well re­mem­ber a sub­stan­tial Amer­i­can ves­sel which ar­rived in New Zealand with two home-schooled boys aboard. Both par­ents had left suc­cess­ful ca­reers be­hind and had in­vested much per­sonal en­ergy into their sons’ ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence-re­lated sub­jects. Their el­dest boy then spent two fin­ish­ing years in an exclusive NZ col­lege, achiev­ing Dux sta­tus.

But we know of other home-school­ers who have strug­gled, of­ten through a lack of suit­able re­sources and dif­fi­cul­ties mo­ti­vat­ing their kids or struc­tur­ing their daily rou­tines. Prevoy­age prepa­ra­tions are dif­fi­cult enough with­out hav­ing to re­search and lo­cate suit­able ma­te­rial for even a sin­gle child’s year’s learn­ing.

One ten­dency among home-school­ing par­ents is to view the ex­pe­ri­ences of life afloat as a stand-alone form of ed­u­ca­tion. While this has con­sid­er­able va­lid­ity, it doesn’t ad­dress the is­sue of deal­ing with any fu­ture re­turn to the New Zealand ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, with its cur­ricu­lum-based achieve­ment goals.

We have sailed in com­pany with var­i­ous over­seas fam­i­lies dur­ing our voy­ag­ing, and been in­ter­ested in the var­i­ous struc­tured op­tions avail­able to these par­ents. In some cases an ar­range­ment has sim­ply been made with the chil­dren’s school to pro­vide a set of text­books for use dur­ing a sin­gle year out of the sys­tem.

Al­though this sounds a straight­for­ward op­tion, it re­quires con­sid­er­able parental un­der­stand­ing of ed­u­ca­tional ex­pec­ta­tions, and can lead to dif­fi­cul­ties even in ar­eas such as mod­ern maths which is taught very dif­fer­ently from a gen­er­a­tion ago. For sec­ondary-aged stu­dents this is an even greater is­sue, with some sub­jects bear­ing lit­tle re­sem­blance to those stud­ied by their par­ents.

Some coun­tries have a dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion op­tion avail­able, which re­flects the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem of the coun­try or state of their ori­gin. Many of these are ex­pen­sive, but they do have the ad­van­tage of po­ten­tially keep­ing their stu­dents in line with their co­horts.


New Zealand sail­ing chil­dren are the envy of many over­seas sail­ing par­ents. They have the op­tion of be­ing en­rolled – at no cost – at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) – the New Zealand Cor­re­spon­dence School.

This out­stand­ing fa­cil­ity caters for all NZ chil­dren who are un­able to at­tend a phys­i­cal school. This in­cludes Pri­mary and Sec­ondary stu­dents, in ei­ther itin­er­ant or over­seas gate­ways. Any Kiwi kid who is sail­ing or road-trip­ping with re­lo­ca­tions

at least twice a term is clas­si­fied as itin­er­ant. All Kiwi chil­dren in non-english-speak­ing coun­tries (or at sea) are clas­si­fied as over­seas stu­dents.

We were thrilled when our son Josh and his wife Sara de­cided to take the plunge them­selves re­cently and sail around the world with three of our young grand­sons. Hav­ing been a Te Kura stu­dent him­self, Josh was quick to per­suade Sara to utilise this won­der­ful New Zealand dis­tance learn­ing op­tion.

We have just caught up with the two ded­i­cated Te Kura teach­ers who are re­spon­si­ble for these three boys and are able to dis­cuss how their teach­ing prac­tices have evolved since our sons were learn­ing through Te Kura. Be­tween them they teach up to a dozen sail­ing kids at any given time, mixed into their ‘classes’ of nearly 30 stu­dents each.

In our five sons’ era, the year’s school­work was laid out in eigh­teen sets of work­books – each set cov­er­ing all sub­jects – roughly equat­ing to a fort­night’s work per set. It was up to us as par­ents to mo­ti­vate and man­age their time to com­plete these, and re­turn them for mark­ing. Today there is a rather dif­fer­ent ap­proach, es­pe­cially at Pri­mary school level where the buzz-phrase is au­then­tic learn­ing.

Also known as in­quiry learn­ing, this ap­proach has a flex­i­bil­ity we whole­heart­edly en­dorse. We were run­ning the fish­ing ketch Sun­niva for a tuna sea­son off the West Coast dur­ing the mid-90s, when one of the boys was faced with a sci­ence set on spi­ders. Bar­bara was quick to re-write the ex­er­cises into an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of skip­jack and al­ba­core, al­low­ing the same in­ves­tiga­tive out­come goals to be met. The teacher was de­lighted.

What im­me­di­ately im­presses us about our grand­sons’ two teach­ers, Rose­mary Dear and Chris Find­later, is their com­mit­ment to get­ting their stu­dents mo­ti­vated. Shortly be­fore our grand­kids left to go voy­ag­ing, we saw the de­light on nine-year-old, di­nosaur­mad Nathan’s face when he sneaked a look inside his box of school­work to find a T-rex cover on his first book­let.

“If we can en­gage them from the start by tai­lor­ing our book­lets to their in­ter­ests,” says Chris, “we’re well on the way to build­ing a re­la­tion­ship with them.” We nod, hav­ing once talked with an Aus­tralian par­ent who gave up cruis­ing in de­spair af­ter a con­tin­ual bat­tle try­ing to mo­ti­vate an un­co­op­er­a­tive young­ster.

“Kids on boats are al­ready in an amaz­ing learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” con­tin­ues Rose­mary. “The flex­i­ble in­quiry learn­ing ap­proach in­volves chan­nelling them to learn about their im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment, for­mu­lat­ing ques­tions about the lo­cal ge­og­ra­phy, cul­ture or even their oceanic sur­round­ings. From these come gen­uine learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences which trans­late into maths and writ­ing as they de­scribe their find­ings.”

Her com­ment brings back a mem­ory of our own, when our el­dest son Ben once sur­prised us by iden­ti­fy­ing 50 sig­nif­i­cant nav­i­ga­tional stars, and fol­lowed it up by plot­ting a four-point star fix, all to­tally self­taught. (He later left home at 17 to study for his For­eign-go­ing Mate’s ticket in the UK, and now teaches nav­i­ga­tion and ship­board safety.)

“But don’t get us wrong,” adds Chris. “We still pro­vide a core of cur­ricu­lum-based ma­te­rial to keep our stu­dents up to a level

com­pa­ra­ble with their peer-group back in NZ. Their read­ing, writ­ing and lit­er­acy goals are catered for in the book­let work we as­sess, as well as ap­pro­pri­ate nu­mer­acy and math­e­mat­ics goals.”

This leads us into a dis­cus­sion of the dif­fi­cul­ties of send­ing and re­ceiv­ing as­sess­ment work from a voy­ag­ing ves­sel. Our youngest son, Matt spent half his school life be­ing cor­re­spon­dence-ed­u­cated, and we have mem­o­ries of pack­ages missed in tran­sit. Satel­lite coms were a rare op­tion a decade or two ago, and we re­mem­ber the thrill once of re­ceiv­ing exam re­sults through a neigh­bour­ing yacht’s HF link while an­chored at a re­mote is­land.

These days, it seems, tech­nol­ogy has made the ex­er­cise some­what easier. Wi-fi is avail­able for up­loads and down­loads in many ports of call, so much the ex­changes are reg­u­larly pos­si­ble via the web. “We can still post work to mari­nas if given suf­fi­cient no­tice,” says Chris, “but we pre­fer to nom­i­nate spe­cific pages of their work­books and other as­sessible ma­te­rial to be sent as scans or even as pho­tographed images – it’s amaz­ing what can be sent on mo­bile phones these days.”

But there may be a flip-side to the speed of tech­no­log­i­cal change at Te Kura. The school is com­mit­ted to tran­si­tion­ing to­wards on-line learn­ing, rather than up­dat­ing the older pa­per­based work­books. For fam­i­lies opt­ing for a low-bud­get, low tech­nol­ogy cruis­ing life­style, this could be a po­ten­tially neg­a­tive gamechanger.

The ra­tio­nale be­hind on-line learn­ing is cer­tainly jus­ti­fi­able. There is a host of high-qual­ity, web-based learn­ing pro­grammes which can be utilised by any web-linked school in­clud­ing Te Kura; Google class­room, Math-buddy, Read­ing-plus have all helped rev­o­lu­tionise mod­ern class­rooms.

Even the early child­hood plat­form Sto­ry­park is now be­ing utilised at pri­mary level as a valu­able dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion tool. But this as­sumes a level of in­ter­net avail­abil­ity which comes at a cost. The high cost of data trans­fer via satel­lite links – or even via wi-fi in many un­der-de­vel­oped lo­ca­tions – will pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge for bud­get con­scious voy­ag­ing fam­i­lies.

We are some­what com­forted by Chris’ part­ing words. “We’re still go­ing to have op­tions for those stu­dents who can’t ac­cess the web ad­e­quately and we’re com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing them with the best ed­u­ca­tional out­comes pos­si­ble in their cir­cum­stances.”

This evening, as we write, an­other Face­book post ar­rives from Josh and Sara’s 50-ft Rogue. Josh is apol­o­gis­ing for the lack of posts re­cently (“the wifi is pretty dodgy here!”). Our three grand­sons have been snorkelling in crys­tal-clear Mediter­ranean waters and ex­plor­ing a thou­sand year-old cas­tle. One photo shows them at the sa­loon ta­ble, hunched thought­fully over their work­books. What an ed­u­ca­tion they are hav­ing! BNZ

New Zealand sail­ing chil­dren are the envy of many over­seas sail­ing par­ents. They have the op­tion of be­ing en­rolled – at no cost – at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) – the NZ Cor­re­spon­dence School.


RIGHT The en­tire Tucker tribe – at var­i­ous stages of cor­re­spon­dence teach­ing and learn­ing. LEFT Af­ter a morn­ing ashore it’s back to the books.

RIGHT Te Kura teach­ers Rose­mary Dear (left) and Chris Find­later.

BE­LOW Meet­ing other cruis­ing fam­i­lies al­ways turns into an oc­ca­sion.

ABOVE If the bo­sun’s chair is not avail­able, use the rat­lines. ABOVE LEFT A mo­bile, float­ing class­room of­fers life ed­u­ca­tion.

TOP RIGHT When cor­re­spon­dence kids get to­gether there’s plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence to share.

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