In 2011, Irish woman Martina Tyrrell and her husband Julian Scott decided to quit their jobs, sell their house in the UK, buy a boat and take their two small children, Lily and Katie, on the adventure of a lifetime. “Both my own dad and Julian’s dad died in their 50s and it was a wake-up call to us. We had always planned on travelling on retirement but decided there was no time like the present,” says Martina.
The family has since travelled through England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Along the way, the couple are homeschooling their children, Lily (almost seven) and Katie (five) who are lucky enough to have the world as their playground. Martina (42) is a social anthropologist and human geographer and Julian (41) is a geophysicist and glaciologist.
From a coffee shop on the border of Spain and Portugal, Martina speaks to Mary O’Brien about family life aboard the ‘Carina of Devon’ and the life lessons they’ve all learned on this amazing journey.
“I wanted to homeschool long before I ever had kids,” says Martina. “I did my Masters in Education, which involved researching how children learn about global and environmental issues and so on. I read some quite anti-formal education material and it got me thinking. When I did my PhD, I looked at how people actually acquired knowledge and skills, how young people learn from older generations, informal education and alternative ways of learning. This sowed a seed in my head about homeschooling, which is very different to the conventional way I was schooled. I was lucky that my husband agreed with my philosophy.”
So, when Martina and Julian decided to pack up their belongings and buy a boat, educating their children was never a concern for either parent. “I’m a social anthropologist so English is covered and Julian has a degree in math and physics, but I really do believe that anyone can home educate their children,” says Martina. “I’ve met homeschooling families who don’t have the same educational qualifications we have and their kids are doing just fine. It’s your attitude and commitment to learning that’s important.”
Martina says that one of the biggest advantages to homeschooling is that you can adapt to suit your child’s individual needs. “We see that our children have very different approaches to learning and learn in different ways.”
Time management is possibly one of the biggest challenges the family has faced when it comes to schooling. “We do struggle with committing the time to doing formal education stuff like math, reading and writing,” admits Martina. “It can very easily happen that a day goes by, nothing is done and before you know it, it’s bedtime.
“Saying that, not a day goes by when something new isn’t learned, explored or investigated.”
“One of the misconceptions about ‘home’ education is that it takes place at home,” says Martina. “That children sit at home all day, learning at the feet of their parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home education is about learning wherever and whenever, on the go, in all sorts of places, in the company of all sorts of people.”
From learning Spanish to cruising alongside pods of dolphins, Katie and Lily are always experiencing something new. “We were in Northern Spain two summers ago in the place where news first arrived back to Spain that Christopher Columbus had discovered the Americas. There was only so much we knew on the subject, so we all started learning about it together. We pulled out reference books at home and learned what Europe was like before things like coffee, tobacco and potatoes arrived. It was great fun.”
At the beginning of their trip, the family spent a wet but lovely summer in West Cork, where Martina had spent lots of time as a child. “My uncle Jim (Hicks) was Principal of the national school in Rosscarbery until his retirement,” says Martina. “He has asked me questions about homeschooling and the academic side of it but he’s of the opinion that we have the wherewithal to do it.”
Martina encourages the children to draw and learn about their experiences, whether it’s the whales, dolphins and other animals they see while at sea or the stars they look up at when it gets dark.
“If you ask either of the girls anything about the solar system, they’ll have no problem answering,” says Martina. “We made a mobile of the planets, drew pictures and read lots of books about it until they eventually lost interest and moved on to something else.”
Whenever possible, everyday tasks are turned into a learning experience, from baking and learning about different measurements and portion sizes to shopping and counting out money.
At present, the girls are attending a 30-pupil school in a little village in Spain. ‘They’re really enjoying it,” says Martina “although Lily, who’s in First Class says she finds the math boring. They’re doing simple adding and subtracting in her class at school, whereas we’ve been doing simple multiplication and fractions already at home. I have to remind her that she is learning Spanish at the same time, which is the reason they’re attending school at the moment.”
Martina keeps records and photographs of the girls work at home “It’s for us to look back on and see how much we have done and also just in case at some point some authority asks us to show proof that the girls are being educated.”
Lily and Katie enjoy lots of playtime, which Martina says is one of the biggest benefits of not being in school. “They’re free and unrestricted in their play and they have a wonderful imagination as a result.”
With the couples’ savings now running low, they are at a stage where some difficult decisions have to be made. “One option is to sail back to the UK for a couple of years,” says Martina “Another would be for me to go back teaching English so we can save some money.
“At the moment, we can’t imagine living a house again. We absolutely love the life we have right now and the freedom that having a boat and being on the sea gives us. We’ve had so many amazing experiences.”
In September 2012, Katie woke up on her second birthday in the middle of the ocean between Crosshaven and the Isles of Scilly, with 50 dolphins jumping around the boat.
“Everything is at our own pace; we decide what we do, where we do it and spend a huge amount of time with our children getting to know them really well,” says Martina.
“Whatever happens, I’ll encourage my children to do what they want to do in life and not to feel the need to follow a particular path.”
Follow the family’s blog at carinaofdevon.wordpress.com