Parenting Afloat
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Loree Loree Alderisio still remembers how frightening it was to pull eight year old Shannon out of school to go cruising. As she says, "There's no doubt cruising with kids can be a challenge and there's a lot to consider - nutrition, safety, cramped quarters, health, socialization and education to name a few. But if you're an involved sort of parent and like kids then the rewards far outweigh the problems." Loree and Bill Alderisio took the plunge, dropped out from regular life and turned themselves from consummate "dirt dwellers" into committed family cruisers, to live their dream with their daughter Shannon.

In this piece, reproduced here with permission, Loree looks back on what she learned about parenting afloat from the time she spent cruising with her daughter. And quite uniquely, Shannon offers first an eleven year old perspective on learning afloat and a view from later life, looking back upon the experience as an adult, wife and mother herself.



Parenting Afloat
by Loree Alderisio and Shannon Mulcahey-Wong, reproduced here with permission.
To read more about Cruising LIfestyle and Cruising with Kids, visit the website, www.cruiserslife.com

Swimming with Dolphins
Parenting afloat, literally!

Part 1: An eleven year olds take on life and learning afloat

Part 2: Parenting afloat: a parent's perspective on education and family life

Part 3: All grown up: a cruise schooled child looks back on the experience



Part 1: An eleven year olds take on life and learning afloat

This is a copy of an article written by Shannon Mulcahey-Wong (age 11) and published in Multihulls Magazine in 1988.

Shannon Studying
Shannon hard at work at her floating school

One of the most common and often asked questions is, "What do you do about school?"

Just like land based kids, cruising kids go to school every day.  However, instead of sitting in a classroom for seven hours, we work independently for two to four hour daily, possibly a little longer... depending on the individual.

My parents chose the Calvert School because of its excellent reputation and it is accredited by the Maryland Board of Education.  They also chose to use the Advisory Teaching Service, so that I would receive credit for the work I have completed - just as though I had been in a regular classroom.

I have been enrolled in the Calvert Correspondence Program since the fifth grade.  My parents and I laughingly called it at first the "fifth", then the "sixth" and now the "seventh grade in a box" because the school boxes and sends everything needed, right down to pencils and erasers.  The course includes Art, Science, Math, Grammar, History, Geography, Art History, Spelling and Reading.  The required reading books, which are also enclosed with the package, are very interesting.

The instruction manual that comes with the course is, from sixth grade on, written to ME, not my teacher.  While attending a regular school, I felt that it was the teacher's responsibility to teach me what I needed to know.  I went to school and the teacher drilled numbers, letters and words into my head, while I did my best to hide behind the guy in front of me whenever I didn't know the answer or hadn't done the work.  Since I've been cruising, I've learned that my education is MY responsibility, not my teacher's.

The only thing my Mom does is to help me with problem areas, checking my work for accuracy and completeness (I admit that sometimes I try to get away without doing all the 'homework'), and she drills me before tests.

The manual is quite easy to follow.  On the first few pages, there are instructions on how to write daily lessons, how to organize and how to send test papers to the school.  Each day's lesson is clearly marked and each subject is also clearly listed with detailed explanations of what is expected for that subject.

There are eight monthly plans per year, with twenty daily lessons per plan.  My parents make me do twenty lessons (one monthly plan) per month.  What I like best is that I can work whenever I want to, as long as the lessons get done.  If we're sailing, or when there is no one to play with, I work every day, including Saturday and Sunday.  Sometimes, I even do more than one lesson per day.  That way, when we are to a port that has kids, I can take a lot of time off - on occasions, I take a week or more at a time.

Many people also ask me what I miss about regular school.  My answer tends to be, "Nothing - and everything."  I miss: a consistent group of friends, daydreaming in the middle of the teacher's lecture without her noticing, soccer games, Girl Scouts, telephone calls to my school friends, joking about teachers' idiosyncrasies with other kids, doing school projects with a classmate, school dances and activities, and lots, lots more.

Yesterday's Dream
Yesterday's Dream, Sea school


I am also being asked what I like about cruising and being in correspondence school.  At times, usually when other children are around, I like not having to be in a classroom.  I like being able to stop in the middle of a lesson if I want to and go out to do something with the other cruising kids.  I feel that Calvert is a good school and, considering that I hate school in general, I think that is a compliment.  I like working two hours a day - as opposed to seven but I guess, what I like the most is working the hours that suit ME, not the teacher.

The most enjoyable part of cruising is that I get to go places and see things which my land-based friends only read about.  For example, they read about the ocean and its' creatures.  Sharks, barracuda, angelfish, rays, skates, and many other fish are commonplace in my day-to-day life.  I've actually seen whales breaching within two feet of our boat; I've seen, touched, and played with... even taken a dorsal fin ride... on a dolphin.  I've seen the beauty of a coral reef, watched colorful fan coral swaying in the current and filtering food from the water;  I've seen tiny Christmas Tree and flower anemones open and close in an instant from a change in the water pressure.  I've also learned many lessons about how man has abused... and continues to ruin his environment.  I've seen bags and bags of garbage thrown into the ocean and onto deserted islands because someone was too lazy to dispose of them properly.  I've seen lobster beds poisoned by bleach, beaches spoiled with tar dumped from tankers and a whole lot more.  I have seen and learned first hand about many things I wouldn't have if I had been sitting in a classroom.

Still, I am looking forward to going to a regular high school but, as my Mom pointed out, the seven hour school day will pass very slowly for me because I am accustomed to two and three hour days.  I may have missed a lot by not going to a regular school, but I think I have also gained a lot.

Most of all, for the two and a half years I have lived aboard our boat, I have had the time of my life!

Read Part 3 to get Shannon's take on her travels and education now, as an adult and mother herself.

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Part 2: Parenting afloat: a parent's perspective on education and family life

Loree Alderisio writes about what its like for parents to homeschool afloat and also about a family cruising lifestyle

On Education...

Shannon Studies
Shannon studies with the Calvert School programme

Shannon was four when we decided to do some long term cruising.  By the time we left she was nine so we had five years to get our act together before we left.  In the late 80's, most public school systems in the US were ill equipped to handle home school situations.  Hopefully that has changed.  In one meeting my husband and I were told by a public school official that they wouldn't let us take our children out of school, to which Bill responded, "this meeting just ended."  Bill doesn't believe in mincing words.  At that point, the long hunt was on to find a school that would provide us with a viable curriculum, teacher guidance and student evaluation program for Shannon's education.  Since we were cruising with kids, failure in this department was not an option. 

We found what we were looking for in the Calvert School. They've been assisting with home schooling for over one hundred years and provide all the materials and tools needed to help the home teacher to get the job done with the least amount of fuss and bother.  Shannon was home schooled from fourth to eight grades; she then attended a private/parochial high school.  She didn't learn anything new until the middle of her sophomore year of high school, graduated at the top of her class and obtained a Congressional Nomination to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  I'm not sure she would have done as well if not for the Calvert School's programs and guidance.

Baking bread
Daily routines are life lessons too

Don't think for a minute home schooling is easy.  It isn't.  It takes dedication, hard work and a parental will of iron.  When told that she would not be going to school while we traveled (in retrospect, a very bad choice of words), Shannon was under the misconception that 'not going to school' meant not getting an education.  I was the designated teacher and it took months to get our darling daughter in the groove.  Believe me when I say she fought home schooling with every fiber of her being.  I once overheard Bill tell someone early on, that he thought only one of us would come out of home schooling alive and he was betting it would be me.  Fortunately for both of us, she finally gave in and just did what had to be done.

We tailored Shan's education around our travels and our travels around her education.  We urge all cruising parents to do the same.  There's something special about actually seeing what is left of the chain that went across the Hudson River to halt the British invasion during the revolution.  Once you've seen it, the magnitude of what our forefathers accomplished is staggering.  Walking along the battlements in Charleston where the first shots of the Civil War were fired gives a whole new meaning to our history and Shannon was as enthralled as we were.  I never knew about the close association between the Loyalists and the Bahamas.  While in the Bahamas we learned how the Loyalists actually disassembled their southern plantations, shipped them to various out islands and then reassembled them so they could perpetuate their lifestyle.  Most Bahamians today are descendants of these settlers. 


I could go on forever about the benefits of children learning about things that they can physically see and touch.  Imagine being able to touch the sea creatures you read about.  Preservation of reefs?  There is no better teacher than actually diving into the water and seeing the beauty of reefs up close and personal or actually watching an octopus squirt its dye.  And there's no better learning experience than physically seeing the devastation that can be caused to marine life by careless people.  Socialization?  We met people from Canada, Europe, South Africa and more.  We didn't always speak the same language, but we did manage to communicate.  We were always entertaining or being entertained on other boats.  That's what cruising is all about. 

The best part of home schooling is that we learned as much as Shannon did so don't let the thought of 'cruising with kids' deter you from going.  Let it be just one more reason to do so.

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On Family...

Loree and Shannon
Loree, Bill and Shannon, a family afloat

While in a house, Bill and I were always very involved with our children, or so we thought.  In the traditional work-a-day world, your involvement is generally restricted to evenings and weekends and homework had to be squeezed into those hours.  Even with the time constraints, sleep overs and family trips were weekly events.  All of the kids were encouraged to bring their friends to 'hang out' at our house.  This way we knew exactly where our kids were and what they were up to... well most of the time, anyway. Although cruising seemed a natural extension to this lifestyle, the thought of three people living in a 14' by 33' catamaran was scary.  Where would we go for much needed 'alone time.'  What about safety... what about storms... what about communication... what about, what about, what about? 

What we found out was that very little of the extraneous trappings of civilization mattered.  What did matter was that we enjoyed a long term cruising adventure with our youngest child and extended visits with our older children.  They got to know us and we got to know them as people, something we couldn't really do in the work-a-day 'real' world.  Shannon had more responsibility at age nine than our other two had at 16.  In our family, privileges were earned and not expected or taken for granted.  Shannon knew and understood that she had responsibilities that were solely hers and that if she did not meet her responsibilities, we all could be in big trouble.  It was amazing how quickly she accepted her responsibility to monitor and keep the water tanks filled.  Within months of that assignment, we no longer had to check that the tanks were being properly monitored because it was just part of her day... like brushing her teeth and eating.  She knew that before she would be allowed to run the dinghy, she had to learn how to competently row it for long distances.  She knew that if she wanted to use the engine on the dinghy, she had to learn how to lower it into the water, check it for oil, prime the gas lead and actually be able to start the engine and then pull it up out of the water when she got where she was going.  Those were responsibilities she accepted and learned very quickly.  The basic result was that, at 10 years of age, Shannon had use of the equivalent of the family car.  One hard and strict rule was that you didn't get into a dinghy or small sailboat without a life vest.  We purchased a Boston Whaler Sailboat (great boat) early in our travels and taught Shannon how to sail with it.  While in the Bahamas, Shannon and several friends always took the boat out for sails around the anchorages.  We proudly overheard her tell her friends that they had to don their life jackets before she could untie the boat and raise sail.  She was 10.  The maturity of cruising kids is amazing.

Socialization was never the problem we anticipated.  There were always kids around, either on land or on a boat and in the few instances where we didn't find kids, there were grandparents.  As you will find, grandparents are sometimes better than kids!

We were together all day, every day and developed a bond that exists to this day.  Was it worth it?  Yes!  Would we do it again?  Yes!  Would we do anything differently?  Yes!  Had we known then what we know now, we would have left five years earlier and taken all the kids regardless of what they thought they wanted.  Every day was not sunshine and roses, but the whole experience was amazing and none of us would ever think of changing a thing.

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Part 3: All grown up: a cruise schooled child looks back on the experience

From the former kid's point of view...

Master Shannon Wong
Master Shannon Mulcahey-Wong today, all grown up, living today's dream

It's not every kid that gets to ditch school with Mom's permission, hang out with kids of all ages without an eyebrow raised in anyone's direction or have full control of the family vehicle at 10 years of age.  And yet that was me!  The year I began 5th grade at St. Peter & Paul in River Edge, NJ, we all knew the classroom was just temporary.  That was because, at some point, my Mom and Step Dad had decided we were going to get away from it all; we were going to move onto a boat and sail off into the sunset.

Pretty much everyone in our lives told my parents that they had gone completely insane.  I have a strong suspicion that most of them were just jealous.  When my Mom tried to get some co-operation from the local public school system to get home schooling curriculum, they refused, saying that it was a horrible idea, and she would be stunting my emotional growth by removing me from normal school.  (You can decide at the end of this story if I'm stunted or not, but I certainly don't think so!)  Mom, being the consummate researcher, and never one to take no for an answer, found the Calvert School.  They have been providing home schooling curriculum from Pre-K to 8th Grade for over 100 years, so Mom enrolled me.  They had already spent a couple of years learning to sail and chose to buy a 31 foot Gemini Catamaran, which they appropriately christened "Yesterday's Dream".  My parents sold their business, the cars and the houses; we had the boat, I had school and the trigger was ready to be pulled... so in November of 1985, we climbed aboard and started our sailing adventure.

Shannon on board
Shannon before, onboard Yesterday's Dream, living the cruising life

It was quite different, living aboard the boat.  I mean, I'd done it for weekend stints, probably as long as a week, but this was the first extended cruising that we did.  It took a little getting used to.  Land-bound people have a tendency to take up a lot more space then boat people do.  It's amazing, actually; in a 31 foot catamaran, we could fit about 10 people aboard for dinner, and all be comfortable so long as they were all boat people!  Land bound people?  Okay, now we're talking maybe 4 or 5.  Boat people aren't smaller than land people, they just seem to be better about fitting in tight places.  We met a man on our travels who was a forest ranger in the Arctic Circle.  He was about 6'5" and had sailed down from Canada in a 19 foot Lightening sailboat!  It wasn't very long after we left the real world that we began collecting people... people that still are a part of our lives today.

I want to go back to the 'she'll be emotionally stunted' part for a sec.  I would like to point out that it was ME who found our first set of people.  We stopped in a little town in the Carolinas, called Elizabeth City.  They have a town dock for travelers and once we tied up, I went looking for kids.  The general method I chose to employ was quite complicated, just  go knock.  I didn't find any kids.  No, wait, let me rephrase that; I didn't find anyone my chronological age!  But I did find Jan, Michael, Bobby and Diane.  I also found Carl and Doris.  Now, I know those names don't mean anything to you, but to us, they are irreplaceable people in our lives.  People that we never would have found, if not for cruising.

I certainly found my share of boat kids, too.  We tend to be an outgoing bunch, us boat kids.  By the time we were a few months into our trip, I had earned the right to use our inflatable Avon dinghy, the one with a seagull engine on it.  I first had to learn how to row the Avon (not my favorite past time,even now, but I am darn good at it!) and sail our Boston Whaler Sailor; then I could use our dinky little 2hp Seagull engine on the Avon and Whaler Sailor.  A year later, we upgraded to a Novamarine dinghy with a 15hp engine.  We called it the 'go fast' boat, and 'the family car.'  I was so proficient with the Avon and Whaler Sailor that I was then allowed to use the Novamarine.  And, in case you're wondering about the sturdiness of the equipment we had, Boston Whalers can survive capsizing, and Seagull engines can survive being dumped into the harbor with flying colors,  but those are stories for another day!  So, as I was saying, I eventually got to use the Nova, and that made getting around much easier for me and I didn't even have to wait until I was 16 or 17 to use the family car!  And, for the most part, I was the kid with the best dinghy.  Iti's always nice to have a sports car at your disposal.

We met so many wonderful people and saw so many amazing places during our travels.  I was actually learning about the Civil War while we were doing things like sailing past the Mason-Dixon Line and visiting Charleston.  Instead of being cooped up in a classroom, I got to go out and experience life first hand.  If any parents of younger kids are reading this and are questioning the wisdom of taking your kids out of school to do something like travel, stop stalling and just DO IT.  It was an experience that I wouldn't give up for the world, and I wouldn't be the person I am without it.

And, for the record, I am now in my 30's, the wife of the most amazing man on Earth, the mother of an equally amazing 4-year-old boy, and the soon-to-be owner of an already fabulously successful Martial Arts Academy with well over 100 families in attendance.  So, what do you think?  Am I stunted?  I don't think so... at least not in THIS life!

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Article and Images © Shannon Mulcahey-Wong, Bill and Loree Mulcahey.
Our sincere thanks to Loree, Bill and Shannon for permission to reproduce this feature.


To read more about cruising lIfestyle, cruising with kids and Bill and Loree's current cruising adventures, visit their website, www.cruiserslife.com  


 


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