Bearing in mind the nature of our lifestyle, it probably goes without saying that Caesar, Xoë, and Roxanne are all home-schooled. Caesar once spent about two weeks at a school in St Helena, in the South Atlantic, and Xoë has sampled both the English school curriculum, as applied in St Helena, and that of a Spanish school. Two weeks of each was quite sufficient to enable her to form an opinion of The System and to stick with our DIY method.
Despite the fact that none of them has been ‘schooled’, the kids all seem to do okay, academically – and this website surely proves the point. It was built by Caesar, whose skills with the computer are legendary amongst family and friends.
Caesar is entirely self-taught in this arena. He had his first computer when he was 10 years old and built his first website, for the local Sea Scouts, at the age of 13. Besides being au fait with the various computing lingos, he also writes his own software.
Some of the writing on the Mollymawk website is by Caesar’s younger sister, Roxanne; and thus, if you want to see examples of home schooling in action then all you need to do is read her articles. Most of them are about the wildlife that we have met on our travels, but some are about our adventures.
Roxanne has also written a book. Two Gulls and a Girl is about a seagull colony which Roxanne studied when she was ten years old and about the gulls which she hand-reared on the boat.
Xoë also used to write for the website but, sadly, has now decided that she doesn’t want her childhood efforts to still be available for public scrutiny.
School of Life
My approach to the children’s education was always laid back, and as the years passed and the children grew it became progressively looser. Essentially, I have come to the conclusion that kids are largely capable of teaching themselves.
It is true that Caesar would not be able to hold a pen and write his name had he been left to his own devices, and driving him to write an essay was always like trying to persuade a donkey to trot. By the same token, Xoë and Roxanne, if we had left them in peace, would have taken a long time to discover that there are 365 days in a year or that seven sevens are forty-nine.
The three Rs, being essential elements of a rounded education, had to be hammered in, where necessary – but it is a fact that knowledge acquired in such a manner is invariably superficial. When we actually want to know about something, then the learning takes root within us and becomes part of us, whereas information scattered on the surface soon withers. Thus, Xoë and I are probably never going to be able to remember, from one week to the next, about radio waves, amps, and volts – having had these things explained to me a hundred times I am just going to have to accept the fact that my mind does not contain the right kind of soil for this kind of stuff to prosper – and Caesar and Nick are never going to paint pictures or write poems. (Despite the fact that he had always had access to paints, paper, crayons and so forth, Caesar had already decided, by the age of five, that he couldn’t draw and didn’t want to, anyway!)
Having acknowledged these facts we can get on with the business of learning about the things that our minds are suited towards studying. Caesar, at the age of ten, may have struggled to produce even one page of writing about Columbus’ Voyage Across the Atlantic, but nobody had to show the boy how to wire up a circuit and install the lights in our boat. He found this out for himself.
Meanwhile, Xoë forbore to have anything to do with maths but, by five, she could produce a three-page essay on her chosen subject in under half and hour.
All the while that the kids were growing up and learning (and, sometimes, not learning), I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. Perhaps I should push harder to get them into those uncomfortable moulds…? Perhaps I should push the square-peg-Caesar into writing essays, and push the round-peg-Xoë into learning her times tables…
What would happen when they wanted to go to university…? Was I denying them the privilege of Further Education…?
No, of course not.
When push came to shove, the kids just had to knuckle down and learn how to cope with subjects for which they had previously had no inclination. In order to gain admission to a university they needed to demonstrate an acceptable level of ability in both English and Maths; and so Caesar had to learn to write essays on demand, and Xoë had to get her head around algebra, trigonometry, and logarithms.
It’s surprising how much more a person can learn when he, or she, wants to learn. Xoë ended up scoring a B in the maths exam and Caesar actually got an A for English literature!
In the event, having got his GCSEs and A-levels, Caesar decided that he would prefer to pursue a career as a computer programmer and website designer – and sailor; but Xoë, having gained her laurels, promptly jumped ship and embarked on a course at a London university.
What Roxanne will choose to do remains to be seen at this juncture, but in any event, I think we can now say for sure that the laid-back School-of-Life method of home-schooling works.
For a fuller description of our home-schooling philosophy, you might like to look at the Sea School article.