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Sailing the world with kids, and homeschooling

Caroline LeakeyCaroline Leakey and husband Nigel are currently sailing around the world with their two young children, Anne aged 5 and Rea aged 4, on their 38ft catamaran Murungaru.

We sailed with them for a month, from Penang, Malaysia to Railay, Thailand, and got to experience life on board as well as seeing first hand the beauty of sailing. We were lucky enough to stop off at several small islands as we sailed, seeing dolphins, sea eagles, secret caves and stunning sunsets along the way.

Caroline explains more about their life as a sailing family and tells us about homeschooling and teaching your own children...



How long have you been sailing? Where have you been so far?

We sailed pre-kids from the UK to New Zealand which took us 4 years. We have been sailing with the kids for just over 2 years. We left New Zealand in April 2008 and have visited Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Why did you choose to sail and live on a boat?

We have both always enjoyed sailing and travelling. When I first met Nigel, he said that he was going to sail round the world and I said I would go with him, without truly thinking that it would actually happen! We didn’t know if we would enjoy living onboard, but reckoned we had nothing to lose by trying!

Anne and ReaHow old were the children when you left New Zealand?

Anne was 3½ and Rea 2 years old.

How is sailing with children different to sailing as a couple?

When we sailed as a couple, we enjoyed going off the beaten track and finding isolated anchorages, often going days/weeks without seeing another boat. Now we are constantly looking for other ‘kid boats’ so that Anne and Rea have other kids to play with.

What do feel is the biggest consideration, when sailing with children?

Safety was a huge consideration when we first set off as both of them could not swim, so establishing clear rules on where they could go on the boat and when was important. Anne can now swim well, Rea is improving but it is still something to be vigilant about.

Those who question or challenge the notion of travelling with children, may ask...

"What about staying healthy, what happens if they (or you) get ill?"

Being on a boat means that you are not very often in crowds where you pick up many bugs. None of us have been seriously ill whilst onboard and when concerned, we have never been far from medical assistance. Our experience has been that medical care has been excellent, even in so called 3rd world countries. We have a good supply of medications onboard and various medical books, so often self medicate. When living in New Zealand, we would take the kids to see our GP when ill – when you don’t have access to that immediate help, you learn to manage without it.


Anne and Rea snorkelling amongst the fish just off the coast of Thailand

"What about playing with other kids and learning to socialise, aren't they missing out?"

They do miss out on socialising with other kids which is why we are always looking for other ‘kid boats’. Boat kids tend to mix across the age range meaning that a 12 year old will often happily play with a 4 year old. They get over the initial shy phase very quickly and have learnt to approach other kids, for example on the beach, to see if they want to play. We have sailed on two occasions for about 3 months with other kid boats so they constantly had other kids to play with then.

Rea helping out with the maintenance in the kitchen onbaord"Is there enough for kids to do, what happens if they get bored?"

There is plenty for them to do onboard and they are often keen to get involved with the anchoring, navigation and general help/maintenance onboard [see photo left of Rea helping in the kitchen]. If possible, we try to get ashore every day to get some exercise. Since leaving New Zealand, they have become more and more creative and imaginative in their play. And of course there is school most mornings.

Living and being together 24/7 as a family is quite intense, but what are the benefits to you as a family?

It can be quite intense, but I think we have learnt to sense each others’ moods and know when we each need our own space. We certainly now know each other very well, through the times when things are going well and when there is a drama going on! It is a privilege to spend this much time with the kids as we would otherwise both be working and the kids at school/day care. I hope that the time onboard will strengthen our relationships and that they will continue to be strong even after we finish sailing.

At home you may have a network of friends and family around both for company and for support should you need it, how do you cope being away from people?

Both of us have always been pretty independent and private, but I miss the company of good female friends. Email and skype make it a lot easier. We are however often amongst local people or other cruisers – with or without kids, so we are never far away from other people.

Anne and Rea examining hermit crabs

Anne and Rea investigating hermit crabs on the beach.

What are the practical aspects of living on a boat, how does it work? Is it like a house?

Day to day life on a boat is very much like in a house, but more confined. We still have to cook, eat, shop, sleep, wash, do school, etc. Some things take a lot longer: shopping usually involves a dinghy ride and walk/bus to the supermarket/market and back again; laundry will be done by hand or left at a laundrette. On days that we are sailing, there is no school unless it is calm. We do have a rough routine, but it is very flexible.

You are homeschooling, can you describe how it works?

Anne has just started 1st Grade and Rea is doing a pre-kindergarten course. I usually do school soon after breakfast as they seem to function better then – the deal is that once school is finished, the kids can play. School time varies from 1 – 2 hours per day.

AnneHow much preparation do you have to do?

The course we have purchased sets out daily lesson plans and provides all the materials you need. However, I always like to go over what is planned for the following day to make sure that I am prepared, or prepare additional material, particularly to keep one child occupied whilst I am busy with the other one – this may take between10 minutes and 1 hour.

How are you measuring their progress?

You can see their progress by looking at the previous work they have done.


Anne learning about cliffs and erosion whilst walking.

Kids seeing how rubber is processed as a raw materialWhat skills do you need to teach your own children?

  • Patience, as they have their good days and bad days. Sometimes they are able to do something one day, but not the next.
  • Flexibility to change what you are doing or how you are doing something if it is not working.
  • What they want more than anything else is to succeed in what they are doing – so being able to help as much or as little as possible so that this is achieved is important.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • The ability to praise and encourage them.

Anne and Rea with dad Nigel, seeing how
rubber is processed as a raw material

What advice would you give to parents who are considering homeschooling?

Go for it – it may have its moments, but it is a challenge and very rewarding when they finally crack something or say something to show that they have retained something you said.

Can you describe the benefits of travelling for your children and the positive impact it has?

  • Time together as a family.
  • Experience of different cultures, places and languages.
  • Being away from peer pressure.
  • Whilst they may not remember everything, I believe they will build on the experiences they have had so far.

Do you envisage the children going to school (in the traditional sense) in the future?

Absolutely. We feel (at the moment) that Anne should be in mainstream school by the time she is 11 years old – to socialise with other kids; to be in a larger group of kids; to have independence from her parents; to participate in sports and to experience different teaching methods/different teachers.

What are your plans for 2010/11?

MurungaruWe are cruising the East coast of Malaysia and Borneo for another 4 months. We then fly to India for 3 weeks (a tour round Delhi and Rajasthan, and trekking in the Himalayas) and then the kids and I return to see my father in Ireland for a couple of months whilst Nigel does some necessary boat maintenance. The kids will go to the local school whilst we are in Ireland, which they are very excited about.

2011 involves a lot of sailing – from Thailand to the Med and by December we expect to be in Brazil. But….plans may change…..


Many thanks to Caroline for agreeing to share her experience, and of course for letting us live on the boat for month!

You may also be interested in our interview with Nicole Parker on homeschooling

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