Comparing apples and oranges?

I’ve been asked to use my experience as a teacher to compare children who have hands-on home schooling experiences with “regular” kids. Are they so different? Do they have special qualities? The answers are framed in the context of sailing children, but apply equally to children who have the benefit of other non-traditional educational settings.

As a teacher in international schools, I can always tell which of my students have more life experiences through travel or unique circumstances. They are often more inquisitive, mature, independent, and often better able to balance different sides of an issue. They are less likely to get pulled into petty social quarrels and are generally more flexible and accepting of others. They have their own interests and viewpoints, and are usually very good communicators. They want to understand things, not just memorize. They can deal with setbacks and find solutions. Sailing children develop all of these traits naturally and usually do so better than “normal” kids.

Schools today put a growing emphasis on developing well-rounded, critical thinkers who can adapt to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Many schools value character-building experiences and challenge their students with special projects to help them “think outside the box.” All of these are characteristics that come automatically to sailing children. Most sailing children I know return home at a more advanced level in most subjects than their peers. They have a highly developed world view and the benefit of strong relationships with their parents and siblings. What else can you wish for your children to have?

As a teacher, I highly recommend that families expose their children to different lifestyles and allow them to take on challenges independently. Sailing isn’t the only way to do this, but it is a wonderful way to have family time while allowing children to develop into thinking, responsible people. Taking a time out (even for several years) rarely has a negative impact on a child’s education. The only caution is when older children need advanced instruction and university preparation. This is still totally possible on a boat, but more compromises might have to be made in terms of sailing schedule and regions.

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