On Children, Education, and Vacations

Having a baby and becoming a parent is a milestone that is accompanied by lots and lots of anxiety about the future and prematurely made decisions about one’s offspring’s course of life. Or so my husband tells me. It may be the hormones, but lately I’ve been contemplating how I want to educate my children.

I have a background in education. In fact, I intended to become an English teacher for much of my undergraduate career. I’ve completed countless undergraduate and graduate level education courses on everything from reading in specific content areas to classroom management skills. I’ve observed and completed practicum hours in a variety of classrooms, both rural and urban. I was a substitute teacher for several years, often filling-in for teachers on long-term leaves that required me to function as an autonomous teacher myself. In other words, I’m not going into this topic blindly. I’m not going into it necessarily bitter either, because my K-12 educational experience wasn’t terrible and, on the surface, it prepared me for college and what most people expect to be the normal course of adult life.

Nevertheless, I’ve know for a couple of years now that I would like to investigate the option of homeschooling our children when the time comes. Cody has finally gotten used to me talking about this semi-taboo subject and at least ignores me now, which I consider to be his coming around to the idea.

The best way I know to explain why in the world I would like to take upon myself the burden pleasure of educating our children is this…


This is a picture of me and Cody at Dry Tortugas National Park, by far our favorite place in the entire world (so far) and one that we plan to continue to visit as often as possible for the foreseeable future. I’ve shared our experience at this beautiful piece of paradise before and we leave again in just a few weeks for our third annual trip.

It is a top priority for me as a parent and potential home educator to share this type of experience with my children. I firmly believe that investing our money, time, and energy into excursions such as this would reap much richer educational rewards than baseball, winter formals, and SGA elections.

Depending on the age of the child, here are some possible lessons that could be compiled into a four day trip to this magnificent location:

1. Budgeting and Math: It costs money to leave home and travel hundreds of miles into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether it be setting a goal for a young child’s spending money or allowing an older child to help me plan our family vacation budget, travel offers an opportunity for children to learn how to budget, compare prices and deals, and plan ahead. For more advanced learners, the construction of Fort Jefferson displays amazing feats of architecture and brickwork that would initiate conversations on geometry, construction, financing, advanced shapes, etc.

2. Calendars, Time, Distance, Longitude, Latitude, Speed, Etc.: Looking forward to an upcoming trip offers a chance to teach a young child to use a calendar and recognize days of the week, months of the year, etc.; planning an itinerary could facilitate a lesson on time; air, car, and boat travel could be used to compare modes of transportation and ways of measuring speed; trekking to remote locations offers a chance to use a GPS and learn about distances.

3. Geography: Most people have no idea that DTNP exists and that Key West is not, in fact, the end of the Florida Keys. Let’s learn to read a map, kiddos!


4. History- This is the biggie.

Lesson #1:The ferry ride to Dry Tortugas includes a really cool video about someone finding treasure in the Keys in the 1980s and recounts several stories of Spanish ship-faring in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (there is a museum in Key West that displays many of the artifacts that were found).

Lesson #2: Fort Jefferson was built prior to and during the Civil War but was never used in battle. What is the Civil War and why would they need a fort way out here?

Lesson #3: The physician who set the leg of John Wilkes Booth, Dr. Samuel Mudd, was imprisoned in Fort Jefferson after President Lincoln was assassinated. What events led to Lincoln’s death? What is an assassination?

Lesson #4: What are barracks, cannons, muskets, etc. and how were they used? (many of these items are housed in DTNP’s visitor’s center).

I could go on and on…

5. Science- Another biggie.

Lesson #1: What are coral reefs and how do they form?

Lesson #2: What is a cistern and how does it work?

Lesson #3: Why are some animals endangered and how are they protected? (part of the island is reserved as a bird sanctuary for a variety of endangered and formerly endangered fowl, the park has a program for capturing and destroying non-native lionfish, and sea turtles and their protected nests are a common sight)

Lesson #4: the tide and the moon

Lesson #5: How a composting toilet works.

Lesson #6: Oh my goodness at the sea life- let’s identify, compare and contrast, talk about what they eat and how we might know that, crustaceans vs. mammals vs. fish…

Lesson #7: constellations and planets

Lesson #8: How does a lighthouse work?

Lesson #9: heat, humidity, weather, etc.

Lesson #10: How does disease spread? What was medicine like in the nineteenth century?

Lesson #11: How does an airplane stay in the air?

6. Communication skills: Have an older child call and make a reservation via phone or write a confirmation email. Complete an online form for a Florida fishing license. Participate in the NPS’s Junior Ranger Program. Ask a fisherman or sailboat owner where he or she is traveling next. Introduce oneself to fellow campers. Entertain oneself without TV, radio, internet, etc. Sit quietly on a plane. Order from a restaurant independantly.


7. Life skills: (disclaimer: this is not an intro to The Winningham’s Guide to Prepping, but it is good to know how to keep yourself fed and safe in a variety of environments and situations) Transporting water, how to cook without electricity, how to pack a cooler, how to not die of sun exposure, how to stay hydrated, how to keep you body semi-clean without a bath or shower, how to catch and clean fish, how to set-up a tent, how to stay comfortable without air conditioning, how to pack a suitcase, time management and responsibility (for example: Yes, son, you may go look for the crocodile but you need to report back to the campsite in fifteen minutes. Make sure you have your watch on and keep an eye on the time.)

8. Toddler and Preschool Activities: practicing letters in the sand, identifying colors, learning to eat at a table in preparation for the exciting upcoming trip, swimming lessons, sensory play, learning to wear a hat and sunscreen (from what I have observed, these seem to be HUGE obstacles for parents with little tots- why not have literal lessons beforehand so that the child knows what to expect?)

9. Physical Education: swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, nighttime walks around the moat with headlamps, Frisbee/ volleyball on the grounds of the fort, re-enactment of a soldier’s march atop the fort

10. Reading: The visitor’s center has binders full of letters written by nineteenth century soldiers who were stationed at the fort as well as the famous Dr. Mudd. The fort’s giant windows offer cool places for independent reading during the heat of the day.

I must stop myself.

I would love to center much of our children’s education on two or three trips like this one to DTNP each year. A (traditional) semester of school coursework could easily be constructed around such an adventure and would incorporate so much more than simple math and reading skills (what much of our schools’ curriculum is focused on, despite the push for more advanced math and science). Frankly, I don’t care if my child doesn’t know the anatomy of a cell. If he or she wants to be a nurse, textbooks are available and can be read independently when they old enough, interested enough, and have the reading skills necessary to quickly absorb such information because it is pertinent to their interests. What I do want for my children is a well-rounded and insightful understanding of the world in which they live, a set of practical skills that will help them be self-sufficient and independent no matter their course in life, a general understanding of a wide array of topics so that they can participate in and contribute to conversations with people from all types of backgrounds (including adults and older children), an understanding and appreciation of nature in all its forms, and a love for learning not because it results in As on their report cards and a five dollar bill from Dad, but because it enriches their lives and excites them.

Yes, this desire to homeschool is absolutely about control over my children. I want to guide them to all the wonderful experiences, places, and ideas out there to which they would not otherwise be exposed if they spent nine months out of the year immersed in our standard educational system. Here, child, let mama buy you a book about sea life or a poster that displays bear species or a map of the constellations or a set of binoculars or a book about fashion in the Colonial period instead of a video game or a new shirt for picture day. I want a home filled with collections of five cent post cards, sea shells, and maps not Barbie dolls and Disney movies. Let us be poor. Let us be unpopular. But also let us be true learners.


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