For some families, “traveling the world” is a fanciful dream, something to attain after the children have grown and graduated. But what would it look like if your children’s schooling could be part of the dream? With three children enrolled in Clonlara’s Off-Campus Program, one family (“5abombordo,” as they are known on social media) has spent the past four years showcasing the reality of a highly personalized education while at sea.
João and Rute aimed to sail around the world together…in retirement; but with the birth of their children, they reimagined living their dream with their whole family. “The impact that this voyage would have on the education and growing of our kids would be so big that we had the responsibility to make it happen,” said Rute. So, in July 2019, their family began an epic journey around the world.
While living full-time onboard their 33-year-old steel sailboat, Domum (which means “home” in Latin), João and Rute have taken every opportunity to live new experiences with their children: to know more cultures, see different ways of living, and reflect on the changes they see in themselves as they go.
The World as a Classroom
One of João and Rute’s favorite parts of their journey has been the hands-on participation in their children’s learning. Literally surrounded by nature, the family has had countless hours of exploring the ocean and studying marine life with their three children, Carmen (age 7), Afonso (age 10), and Marta (age 16).
Each new destination along their route has offered the chance to get to know a nation’s people, history, culture, government, religion, economy, agriculture, cuisine, art, wildlife, terrain, and more. Long ocean passages have presented time to study basics, read books, prepare emails, play chess, and figure currency exchange rates.
“For us,” says Rute, “every place is a good opportunity to learn by snorkeling, seeing new species of animals, picking up trash from beaches, exploring mountains, visiting museums, playing with friends from other countries, and even spending hours on a crossing waiting to see a shooting star!”
This family’s trip exemplifies Clonlara’s core beliefs that the world is our classroom, and neither academic learning nor the mastery of skills is limited by the location in which they are sought, whether in a school, at a home, or, in this case, on a boat.
Life and Learning Onboard
Rute knew that living on a small boat with three kids would be challenging, but she confesses that adapting to life at sea was more difficult than she imagined. Chores take more time without a washing machine and dishwasher, and depending on the location of the store, normal grocery shopping takes much longer than usual—sometimes an entire day! Rute’s husband, João, spent two years before their trip refitting the boat, but it still needs a lot of work daily to ensure it is safe and prepared to sail.
However, enduring long ocean crossings, missing family and friends, and adjusting to cramped spaces has strengthened them all. “We have grown to respect each other’s space and read each other’s mood,” she says.
Even with the normal challenges associated with full-time boat life, the family appreciated the innumerable opportunities to learn. They have met new people, experienced different cultures, and explored both land and sea extensively. The benefits of life onboard outweigh the burdens.
Freedom and Flexibility
João, Rute, and their kids have traveled along the coast of Portugal; cruised through the Spanish Mediterranean islands; visited several Caribbean islands; hunkered down on the Columbian seaboard; passed through the Panama Canal; journeyed to the Galapagos Islands; made a 21-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean; and explored French Polynesia in the South Pacific. Living on a sailboat has given them the liberty to travel around the world, and Clonlara’s Off-Campus Program has afforded them the freedom and flexibility to meet academic standards along the way.
The helpful team at Clonlara gave the family the confidence they needed to employ highly personalized learning for each of their children. “Defining a different program of study for each child—depending on what they like to do—makes them more active in their own education,” says Rute. She has also noticed her children having more interest in learning, and they have developed new curiosities, too!
Rute notes that the engagement their children have in their own education has “given them the autonomy and responsibility that in a normal school would be difficult to learn.”
Shark Finning and Full Circle Learning
Clonlara’s Full Circle Learning (FCL) Model can be employed on every learning path, even when a student’s passions take her under the sea!
Marta the family’s oldest child has always loved the ocean, and one of her favorite aspects of boat living is the proximity to marine wildlife, especially sharks. “I have been lucky enough to dive with sharks and to see their behavior,” she writes, but her expeditions surprised her. “In some places where I thought I would see a lot of sharks, like in the Caribbean or Cape Vert, I saw none.”
Intrigued, Marta started researching. She suspected “shark finning,” the practice of removing a shark’s fins while the animal is still alive, to be the problem. Through discussions, documentaries, articles, and books, she discovered that humans kill (legally, accidentally, and illegally) almost 100 million sharks every year.
Using FCL, Marta honed and practiced skills in research, English, writing, interviewing, science, diving, analysis, persuasion, economics, and more while working on her project. Because she visited natural habitats where shark populations were absent and environments where shark populations were protected and thriving, she could see for herself that her research proved to be true. Invested emotionally and intellectually, Marta independently searched with excitement for the answers to her questions.
Learning Is an Adventure
At Clonlara, we believe family is a big part of the learning adventure. Our advisors work closely with Off-Campus Program families (even those who spend years at sea!) to understand their goals and guide them on their respective education journeys.
For the past four years, João, Rute, and their children have been living their dream. Rather than stifling or limiting their plans, schooling has fit perfectly into their nomadic lifestyle. “In our family’s case, our dream was to live this experience with our kids in a sailboat; in your case, it may be different,” says Rute. “To start living your dreams, you must take the first step.”
If you see your children’s education as an obstacle rather than a complement to achieving your family’s dream, contact us to learn how Clonlara can support your learning journey!
What is YOUR family’s dream?