Homeschooling … plan and approach

Our Homeschooling plan had to account for:

  • a 6th grader
  • 2nd graders

Our philosophy was to emphasize reading, writing and math for all our kids .. and to turn an informed-travel experience into education around history and culture.

We didn’t try to duplicate a “typical year of school” by covering all the school subjects.  Instead, we focused on a subset of areas which would be relevant to the places we’d visit and most important in keeping them at-pace to return to 7th and 3rd grades.  

Tools & Resources

We didn’t use any specific homeschool curriculum or packaged tools .. but we got HUGE value out of Khan Academy .. and specifically the capability to take Khan Academy offline, since so much of our time was at sea with no internet. (Sidebar: this only MOSTLY worked .. but not 100% of the time.. and was a little clunky. It’s now offered as part of a service called Kolibri).

Keep in mind that Khan Academy not only does instruction but has practice questions. The two best uses for us were (a) “Crash Course” in World History — AMAZING … and (b) Khan Academy algebra 1, which Alexander completed.

Beyond that, we built a reading-list (below) based on what their school covered, as well as “great books”, we created writing assignments — specifically blog posts and some essays, eventually we had the kids make preport presentations” in Powerpoint … and our 2nd graders did math workbooks.

Our “coursework” – more detail

We focused on:

  1. “Social studies” – History & Culture.  The top thing we spent time on with all three of our kids was a blend of history and culture as we travelled.  We visited many, many museums .. cathedrals.. historic sites … and in every situation we spent a lot of time preparing them by talking about the history or culture behind the areas.  Our kids now know/understand US history, many aspects of European history (Renaissance, French Revolution, World Wars, etc.), plus getting exposure to Asian cultures, African culture/history (Slave castles in Ghana, Townships in South Africa) and world religions.  

    After we left Semester at Sea, we adopted the practice of having our kids create “Preport” presentations, taking turns creating a Powerpoint slide deck explaining culture, history, relevant sites for each place we visited.
  2. Writing.  All our kids wrote blog posts about the trip and a number of essays, and Alexander also wrote his 7th-grade re-admissions essays for SCDS.   We probably spent more time on writing than any other single type of “school work”, and I’m confident that the amount of write/revise that Alexander spent on blog-writing was at least as high as on any typical in-school project… and probably a lot more because we cared about ‘public quality’!
  3. Reading/Literature.  We got a book-list from Alexander’s school and also added titles to it from our own experience and relevant to where we would visit.  Occasionally we’d co-read the book and then have a discussion to talk through themes, meaning, etc.
  4. Math.  We did self-study math with each of our kids,  Alexander took Algebra 1 using Khan Academy.
  5. Music.  Alexander taught-himself the ukulele and kept-up his piano for the 4+ months we were aboard the ship.

We did NOT spend any “formal” time teaching/studying:  science, foreign language, grammar/vocabulary, technology, etc.   (though Alexander used DuoLingo to keep up his Spanish, which he practiced in person a bit on the trip.)   Here’s some additional detail on each of the subjects above.

History & Culture: Scripted to match our travel

Their “history and culture” lesson unfolded in a kind of roughly “reverse chronological” experience:

  1. US History:  We began our trip in Atlanta and spent a lot of time discussing the Civil Rights movement (e.g. visiting the Civil Rights museum in Atlanta, watching “Selma”, “The Rosa Parks Story”, visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church and affiliated civil rights museum in Birmingham.) As we travelled up the coast, we went “back in time” covering US wars in particular (Vietnam, WW2, Civil War, Revolutionary War) as well as key US figures (Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson) as we spent time in Washington DC visiting the relevant museums (Museum of American History) and monuments (Mt Vernon, etc.).
  2. Semester at Sea (Asia/Africa/Europe): new cultures, geography, world religions.   While aboard the ship, Alexander became quite expert at world geography and got a solid introduction to world religions.  A significant part of the world-learning was attending the SAS program’s “pre-port” sessions, which were held the two evenings before each port stop.  The first night was a “cultural” pre-port, focused on language, religion, customs, history.  The second night was “logistical” pre-port, with more practical information on currency, getting around, food.
  3. Slavery and other Human Rights issues.  This was probably the most significant topic of our “social studies” discussions.
    • In South Africa & Ghana, which included two visits to a township, Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held, as well as two slave castles in Ghana where we got a firsthand look at the horrific conditions to which the enslaved were subjected.
    • In China, Alexander tackled a modern human rights question by putting together a Powerpoint slide deck he presented to students on the ship describing our visit to the Pegatron/Microsoft factory where young Chinese are employed at low-wages building PCs and other devices.
    • In Germany, we visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp. We had many discussions about the racism, antisemitism,  and hatred fostered by the Nazis.  We visited many other museums and sites that describe the Nazi rise as well as the rise of communism in East Germany.
  1. World religions.  Our kids got exposed to a wide-range of world religions both via talks on the ship, videos, and first-hand experiences.  We visited Shinto shrines in Japan, many Buddhist temples (Myanmar, Vietnam), the Taj Mahal,  Al Alhambra and other Muslim buildings/mosques in Africa and Europe.   We discussed Christianity in some detail and covered some Judaism to mesh with seeing historic cathedrals, churches and a few synagogues. (and “Crash Course” again came in super helpful to explain the history in a fun way!)
  1. World events: French revolution, British colonialism, World Wars, Communism/Nazi-ism etc.  In Europe we spent time on these topics via books & movies (“Tale of Two Cities”, “Marie Antoinette”, “Ghandi” ), many sites (Churchill War Rooms, Musee des Arts et Metiers and Paris War Museum, Versailles, Topography of Terror in Berlin, etc.) as well as some tours (WW2 tour in Prague).  We also visited the “American War Museum” in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to get another view of the US military operations in that country.

Alexander: 7th Grade Literature/Reading list

Below is a list of books he read during the trip:

  • Romeo & Juliet
  • To Be a Slave
  • Red Badge of Courage
  • Black Boy
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • A Long Walk to Water
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Tom Sawyer
  • Treasure Island
  • Boy in the Striped Pajamas
  • Tale of Two Cities (movie)

“Preports” – Your family should do this too

It may be summer in the US, with all your “lucky” kids finished with school and enjoying their camps, playdates and lazy-mornings sleeping in…  but out here on the road we’re still cracking the whip on the Belfiore kids!   Our travel adventure is NOT all-about-the-fun, so homeschooling ain’t over yet.

Besides reading lists, Khan-academy math, journaling, blogging, spelling tests, times-tables and workbooks.. we’ve started a new home-schooling method:

Pre-port presentations!

Hey Deans John, Victor & Lisa… we’re training some future Semester-at-Sea preport instructors for you.  Take a look at these PPTs and let us know what you think!


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Homeschooling Belfiores .. one says-it-all photo

Typical Belfiores

At one point on our trip a fellow parent teased me and Kristina by saying something along the lines of “the Belfiore kids aren’t allowed to use iPads, are they. :)”   I should have said “sure– but since we’re homeschooling, we want them to be doing creative work … writing, presenting, etc. … and there’s a better choice!

I was sitting in the airport in Dubrovnik and looked up at our family and noticed the scene above.  It’s our three homeschoolers writing their travel journals, creating powerpoints (seriously!  more on this to come),  drawing or editing pictures.  We didn’t MAKE them do this.. we just give them reading lists, pre-port assignments.. and the best tools in the world for the job.  🙂

What’s more.. beyond the 2-in-1s on their lap, I love the fact that there’s a Kindle, ukelele (thank you David Hornik) and stuffed dog all at-the-ready… and tha tthe two girls are both wearing Star Wars shirts!  Be still my beating heart! Continue reading

So… this happened in Cape Town.

By Joe.

“World-schooling” is about our kids not only learning history and culture.. but also recognizing that Bellevue, WA– as lovely as it is– really doesn’t represent what the rest of the world has to offer.   And that means everything from the socio-economics to the climate … to the foods our kids eat.

We love that the trip has caused our kids to stretch.  And we think a little suffering is a great thing.

Watch the video.  If you’re sharp-eyed, you already know how it ends…  but that doesn’t make it any less painful.  Or funny. Continue reading

Homeschooling American History

by Alexander, Piper & Sydney

Dad here.   During our trip, we visited some of the most important sites in US History, and as we went, we talked a lot about what happened at each and when.  It became a “homeschooling habit” for us to sit at dinner and go around-the-table with each kid describing one of the major events in American history, one at a time, trying to remember the order, key people, reasons, etc.

After we got home we decided we’d do one more round of this– in writing!  So, we assigned events round-robin-style from youngest to oldest and then the kids sat and wrote what they knew/remembered about each key event.  

Alexander played moderator helping the girls fix up their prose… and below is the result.  Here is “American History as told by the Belfiore Kids!!”

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