Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas in Fiji - by Ian

We had Christmas in Fiji this year. It came and it went. Some of our celebrations were different and some were the same as at home. This is an explanation of what we did.

On Christmas Eve, Mom and I went into Savusavu to get money and some other last minute supplies. There were extra buses all week and every bus was standing room only. The town center was more crowded than we have ever seen it. There were people everywhere especially at the ATM. The line was so long! And the post office was a disaster, with lines stretching all the way to the back of the room. The grocery store, called M.H., was so busy that we did not even bother going inside.

The Savusavu Market on Christmas Eve. (That is Dalo (taro root) in bunches in the foreground.)

The main intersection in front of the market. Check out the crossing guard.

A very busy Savusavu bus depot. They add extra buses during Christmas week. All the buses we saw were standing room only going both ways.

After some chicken fried rice for lunch, we went to the bank and got on the Nagigi bus home to Siga Siga. Then we wrapped our presents. Some of our neighbor friends, Seruwaia and Shahista, came for quick visits in the afternoon. They beaded with Tica while I clowned around.

We had dinner at the fanciest (read only fancy) restaurant in town called Surf And Turf. The menu included shrimp & pumpkin bisque, crab & fern salad, lobster, turkey & potatoes and lime ice for dessert. I wasn’t expecting such a fancy menu. I tried everything though. I only liked the turkey and the ice. The lobster was pretty good. A lot of people we knew were also there but we mostly kept to ourselves. We talked about what we were thankful for and our hopes for 2010. We didn’t really get to do that at Thanksgiving.

Our Christmas Miracle Picture: Taken on Christmas Eve on
Savusavu Bay just before we sat down to dinner.

We took a cab home and hurried to put some cookies and wine out for Santa. We had to leave the cookie bag closed to keep the ants away. We also cleaned up the house a bit. We didn’t bring our stockings to Fiji so we put Post It notes with our names on them to show Santa where to put the presents. Then we went to bed.

It was a long night for Tica and me. I got about an hour of sleep. I snuck out once to see if Santa had come. (He had!) That is a record as usually I make a few trips. We woke up for good at 6am but Mom and Dad had asked us to wait until 7. We spent the hour waiting and looking at the things that Santa had brought. Santa left a pile of candy and presents for each of us under the Post It notes. My presents were wrapped in orange paper, Tica’s in purple and Mom and Dad’s in turquoise.

The Drury "Tree" on Christmas Day at Siga Siga

We woke Mom and Dad up at 7am and went into the living room to open our presents. Just like at home, Mom and Dad had to make coffee first. Our presents from Santa had a definite theme of candy, food and Fijian crafts. They included a shark tooth necklace for me, a scuba diving magazine for Mom, pastels for Tica and lots of taco seasoning for Dad. We had a very nice breakfast made by Mom and Tica. There was bacon, pancakes and pineapples. Then it was on to more presents! Mom got a kava bowl from Dad. Tica got a Fiji pareu from me. Dad got a shirt from Mom. I got a fishing trip for when Reed, Joli, Ryan and Georgia come to visit.

While we were opening presents, our neighbors brought over some more gifts, which is the custom here. They brought Christmas cake, watermelon, candles and a box of potpourri. We gave the kids some of the pile of candy that Santa had brought us.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing pretty much. We made a lot of Skype calls to home. Dad, Mom and Tica went exploring on the reef in front of Oneva. I stayed home and watched The Amazing Race. Seruwaia and Shahista came over to play for a while. Then we sat down to a big dinner of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and green beans. After dinner, Tica and I watched a movie called Night at the Museum. We had some difficulty choosing what to watch. While Mom and Dad went to visit the neighbors. Apparently they got back at 1:30 am. And that means that Tica and I went to bed at 12:00 or something like that. We all had a huge day.

The way we celebrated Christmas here was similar in a lot of ways to the way we do it at home. We always open our stocking presents first, have breakfast and then open up the rest. We always have a nice dinner. It was weird to not have a tree and I wish we had had real one instead of our little yarn tree.

We also did not have stockings, but we made due with the Post Its. Next year if we are abroad I think we should bring our stockings and some Christmas decorations from home. Or if we are at home to be very thankful for everything we get and all of the things we already have. I would also want to send hope to all of the poor people all over the world! They need food, shelter, clean water and other necessities way more than we need more stuff!

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day. According to Wikipedia, it is celebrated in the United Kingdom, former British colonies like Fiji and other European countries. In the old days, servants took the day off from their duties, preparing beforehand a buffet-style feast for their employers. In modern times many families will still follow this tradition by eating a family-style buffet lunch, with cold cuts rather than a fully-cooked meal. It is a time for family, parlour games and sports in the UK. Many people also use the occasion to give money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions.

Here, Boxing Day seems to be another occasion to have get togethers with family and friends. We celebrated by having a barbeque on the beach with the neighbors. There was a lot of alcohol and many flies. We had chicken, lamb, onions, apples, cucumbers, and some chilies. We played a little volleyball and a little soccer but mostly just hung out on the beach. Tica and I climbed trees while everyone else talked and listened to Indian music. Dad and our neighbor's three year old daughter, Tishali, even did some dancing.

Dad and our neighbor Tishali dancing at the BBQ.

Tishali's Dad, Subash, grilling onions on the BBQ

Here in Fiji, Fijians celebrate Christmas by having lots of parties. They visit friends and play games and have lots of fun. Businesses and shops are closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Indo Fijians go to church and have a much quieter day than we do at home.

We had a great Christmas in Fiji and I wonder where we will be next Christmas. Will we be on the road or at home looking out the window at the rain? I do not know.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Amazing Race....

We have been watching very little television while here in Fiji. Our only regular guilty pleasure this fall has been to download and watch this season's Amazing Race. The reality series involves teams of two racing around the world and competing with other teams to accomplish a series of tasks.

Ian recently came up with an idea for new Amazing Race challenges in upcoming seasons. Ben and I were thrilled to see Ian encorporating into his own mindset some of the things we've been doing here, like serving the local community. We also thought it a great subject for a persuasive writing exercise. Much to our surprise, Ian agreed to take on the job. He drafted and sent the following letter to Amazing Race producer Jerry Brukheimer about a week ago.

We are all hoping that the letter, handwritten and addressed will provide the Amazing Race staff with some new ideas. Even more, we hope that these folks will see the effort that Ian put into this project and send him a thoughtful response. I think it will go a long ways toward getting Ian to see the point of at least one of the writing exercises that his mean old parents keep assigning to him as part of homeschool. - Brooke

Here is the text of Ian's letter.......

Dear Mr. Brukheimer:

My name is Ian Drury and I am 9 years old. I am writing to you because I had an idea for a new feature for The Amazing Race, one that could make the world a better place.

Normally, my Dad, Mom, sister Tica and I live on Bainbridge Island, Washington. This school year, we are traveling to exotic places like SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Right now we are living in Savusavu, Fiji. We are doing homeschool and learning a lot about the people and places we are visiting. We are also trying to do our part in helping the community. In Savusavu, we have cleaned up litter, decorated the local hospital for Christmas and helped the local Rotary Club to raise money for community projects in our town.

We watch The Amazing Race every Wednesday and we love it. Fiji TV is showing last year’s Race so we downloaded this season’s Race off of iTunes. It is the only tv we watch.

Walking home from a friend’s the other night, I got the idea that The Amazing Race can do its part to help the communities that the teams visit. I think that on every leg of The Race there should be one challenge that involves the team actually doing something for the community, like cleaning up trash or building a library or library book shelves or working on a water project. The Amazing Race would be helping out the local community in some way and drawing viewers’ attention to that community’s needs. It would be good for The Race too because people could ask The Race to come and participate in community projects, giving you new ideas and destinations for tasks.

I think it would be amazing to see the difference that The Race can make. From my view, it looks like a lot of people in the world need help. And when we work together we can make a difference.

Thank you for your consideration.


Ian Drury

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My First Scuba Dive -- By Tica

Yesterday I went on my first SCUBA dive to a dive site called Coral Gardens. After waiting five days due to weather, we finally climbed aboard the Bligh Explorer, Koro Sun Dive’s biggest boat. Mom and Dad went diving first to a site called Dreamhouse, where you can sometimes see schooling hammerhead sharks. They saw one hammerhead but it wasn’t in a school.

Boat captain Michael drove us back to Coral Gardens and my dive began. I put on a wet suit, weight belt, BCD (buoyancy control device), mask, fins, reef shoes, tank, and regulator and slipped into the water. Colin, the instructor and owner of Koro Sun Dive, deflated my BCD and I sunk into the water. I had a little trouble with my mask at first. It started to leak a little bit. Colin kept pointing to his regulator. I thought there was something wrong with it but what he was trying to tell me was that I needed to breathe only through my regulator and not my nose. I got better about this as the dive went on.

We swam around the reef and went under a bunch of overhangs. We saw a giant clam, magic coral, which turns different colors when you touch it, a dot and dash butterflyfish and lots of other critters. Most people wouldn’t get the chance to stick their hand in a giant clam on their first dive. I think that it is really cool that I got to do that. (I didn’t get stuck.)

Not in a jam, with a giant clam

After about 20 or so minutes underwater, Colin and I started to slowly ascend back up to the surface. It did not seem like twenty minutes though. It felt like five!

I really liked diving but some things about it surprised me. I found that I couldn’t easily move my head because of my bulky tank. That got easier over time as I got used to the extra equipment. I didn’t get to control my buoyancy this time because Colin took care of it. He wanted to make sure that I didn’t go up or down too fast. We did get neutrally buoyant eventually. It felt a lot like floating.

Diving is also a lot easier than the PADI book makes it sound. The book contains so much information that it is easy to get overwhelmed in the details. While it is good to know that stuff, it is also good to put the information into practice. Diving was a lot more fun than just reading about it.

I found that diving is a lot better and more fun than snorkeling because you get to see things up close for pretty much as long as you want. You get to see things that are really hard to see when you don’t have a large air supply, like the critters that hang out down deep and those that hang out under overhangs.

Colin and I spent a total of 26 minutes underwater, going down to 35 feet at the deepest. Back on the boat, I got out of my gear and jumped right back in again to go snorkeling with Dad. We saw a spotted eagle ray and some more magic coral. For a little while I snorkeled over Ian while he was doing his dive until Dad told me not to, saying it was Ian’s dive to enjoy.

On the way back the divemasters went fishing and caught a skipjack tuna. They cleaned it on the dock. That is something that I would not want to do!

All in all we all had a really fun day and enjoyed our dives. Colin even said that Ian and I are ready to be certified! I can’t wait.

Blowing Bubbles by Ian

Yesterday, I went scuba diving. It was so much fun. We went to a site called Coral Gardens. I went to 28 feet for 33 minutes. Tica and I have been preparing for this day for a long time. We had to read the whole Openwater Scuba textbook; we had to log at least 25 hours of snorkeling and we had to watch a very long training video. We then had to wait almost a week for the weather to cooperate. After Cyclone Mick finally left the area, we were finally ready to go.

We went with Koro Sun Dive on the boat Bligh Explorer. My buddy was Colin Skipper who is an instructor with more than 100 certifications under his BCD. He runs the dive shop. The boat captain was Michael and the divemaster was Isaac.

Before we went, Mom and Dad dove a site with Colin and Michael called Dreamhouse. They saw a lot of grey reef sharks (Charcharinus amblyrhynchos), some barracudas (Sphyraena qenei) and a huge school of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus). Much to their excitement, they also saw one scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).

We moved the boat to the spot where Colin usually takes new divers. Unfortunately the wind was blowing from the west and we could not safely tie up the boat in that spot. Colin decided upon an alternative site called Coral Gardens. It is right next to a snorkeling spot called Mumu’s. Michael drove the boat inside the reef and threw out the anchor, which hooked around a piece of dead coral and held our position.

Tica dove first. I sat on the boat and waited. I was very excited and kind of nervous. I was a little worried about how I was going to get out of the boat. I didn’t want to hit the propellers.

Tica got out after 26 minutes and said that it was really fun. Now it was my turn. While I sat on the edge of the dive platform, Isaac and Colin helped me to get my gear on. With my mask and fins and Scuba gear on, I was gently pushed into the water. Colin was there to catch me. My BCD (buoyancy control device) was a little too big so it was kind of hard to keep it in position on my body. I was wearing a weight belt to help me get down so I felt really heavy in the water. My BCD kept me from sinking until Colin was ready to take me underwater. We signaled the boat that we were okay and started our dive.

Colin Skipper, my instructor

Colin let the air out of my BCD and we slowly sank underwater. He held my hand and we started our dive. We went under an overhang and around a saddle in the reef. Towards the end of the dive, we went to the surface to see where the boat was. We found it easily and started swimming back to the boat. When we got there, we took our fins off and got back onto the boat.

The dive was exactly how I thought it would be. It was about 40 feet and there was lots of coral and fish. Coral Gardens definitely lives up to its name! There was magic coral, which changes color when you touch it, and plate coral and many other kinds of coral. We saw lots of peacock groupers (Cephalopholis argus), some Fiji clownfish (Anphiprion sp.) and some tomato anemonefish (Anphiprion frenatus). We also saw some butterflyfish. Among them were the dot and dash butterfly (Chaetodon pelewensis), vagabond butterfly (Chaetodon vagabundus) and the black-backed butterfly (Chaetodon melannotus). We also saw some triangle butterflyfish (Chaetodon baronessa).

Tomato anemonefish Anphiprion frenatus

Was I afraid? No definitely not. I just concentrated on the two main rules we’ve learned about diving. Rule 1 is always breathe. Rule 2 is don’t panic, relax and enjoy the dive. I might have been a little nervous at first but I got more relaxed over time. Only one thing went wrong towards the end of the dive when I had some trouble clearing my right ear. I just went up a bit and cleared it and I was free to go back down.

As if that weren't enough excitement, we went fishing on the way back from our dive. On the way to Dreamhouse that morning, we had seen some black terns. They were going after fish that was being chased by bigger fish. Colin had some fishing rods with lures and so we started trolling. We did not get anything on the way to Dreamhouse but on the way back to the dock, Colin caught a skipjack tuna. It weighed about 5 pounds. Michael and Isaac cleaned the fish at the dock. They took the guts and gills out and fed them to the fish in the marina. They took the fish home for dinner. Isaac wanted the fish head, which is a delicacy usually reserved for the village chief. We had an awesome day and I hope that we can do it again before we go home.

Oops! We forgot to take pictures of Tica and Ian's big day. I guess we were too excited. Here is a video of some magic coral from the Siga Siga reef. Pretty cool. Of course, we try not to touch the coral very much as it is not very good for it. Sometimes it is just SO tempting.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Graduation Day Fiji-Style by Ian

Last Wednesday, we went to visit two primary schools in Savusavu, Khemendra and Buca (pronounced “bootha”). We were invited because two of our friends were graduating from the schools. December marks the end of the school year here in Fiji. While we go to school at home from September to June, kids here go from March until December so now it is their summer break. (Lucky!!) We still have to go to school though.

Classroom at Buca School, Savusavu

Primary schools here have an annual Prize Giving Day that takes place right before school ends. It was to this occasion that we were invited by our friends the Roadhouse's, whose son William was finishing Class Three, which is the same as grade 3. We were also invited by our caretakers Sunita and Subash, whose daughter was finishing the Class Two or the second grade at Khemendra.

Both ceremonies started off with a prayer, which is something that we would NEVER have happen in my school on Bainbridge Island. The principal or “Head Teacher” then gave a report in which he talked about the school year, test results for the kids and dreams for the future. The Buca Head Teacher talked about building a swimming pool and hosting the Olympics!

The teachers then gave prizes to the most accomplished students. The progress prize went to the person that made the most progress in that particular class. Then there was a perfect attendance prize, then third prize, second prize, and last but not least first prize for the person who did the best in the class. My friend William got second prize for his class. I was proud of him.

My friend William getting his certificate.

Then it was time for the “dance items.” Some of the dances were to Fijian music, while others were to Indian music. My favorite dance was a Fijian war dance, which is done by boys who pretend to fight with each other. There was also a Christmas play.

A friend from the village, Miri, performing a Gilbertese dance. She is in Class 4.
(She's making a kind of funny face.)

Even though the occasion was the same at both schools, the audiences were very different. At Khemendra, where there are 730 plus students, it was very loud. We were at the back of very long room so we could not hear what anyone was saying. The students at the back of the room and the parents too seems pretty disrespectful, talking during all the speeches.

At Buca, we had a chance to sit in front and it was quite nice. The kids were well behaved and if something went wrong, they didn’t get disappointed. For instance, a little guy walked onto the stage, looked around and then tore off the mask of one of the actors in the play who happened to be his brother. Then a stray dog walked onto the stage along with the three Wise Men during the Christmas Play. The narrator said “And a dog came to pay his respects.” It was pretty funny.

Buca School: Potluck lunch before the Ceremony

We were at the schools for 8 hours in total so when we got home we were very tired. Then we had dinner and went to bed after watching The Amazing Race.

These schools were very different. If I had to go to one of them I would probably want to go to Buca. The kids and teachers seem nice. They had good discipline because Fijian schools use corporal punishment. I would try not to get snapped on the wrist with a ruler. I still would rather go to Blakely because I have been there before, I have a lot of good friends there and it is hard to go to a new school where you don’t know anybody.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ian's Take on the Homeschool Question

What I like about homeschool:

  1. I like snorkeling on the reef and seeing sharks and turtles.
  2. I like doing snorkeling logs because you learn about fish.
  3. I like having Mom and Dad as teachers because I know them and I think that most kids do not have their parents for a teacher

What I don’t like about homeschool:

I hate doing ALEKS!

Things that I think would improve homeschool:

  1. I think we should do different things at PE, like play a game or soccer or baseball. I want to learn about players and learn the rules.
  2. Once we finish 4th and 6th Grade ALEKS, we should not do ALEKS as much, like every other day. Or maybe we can do different, FUN projects.
  3. I would like to study a species of fish per week and go out to the reef and try to find that fish.

Tica's Homeschool Report

Tica's Take on homeschool so far....

Three things that I like about homeschool are:

  1. I think that it is really cool that we get to go snorkeling almost everyday.
  2. I like reading for 40 minutes a day. You almost never get to do that in regular school.
  3. I find if fun to see and do things in real life rather than read about them in a textbook.

There isn’t much not to like about homeschool but here are three things that I don’t like:

  1. I don’t like doing ALEKS because it is boring and always the same. The program doesn’t come up with any ways to change it or make it fun.
  2. There are only two students in our school. I like to work with a lot of people and, well, obviously I can’t.
  3. It can also get a little annoying to have your teachers with you 24/7.

Here are three improvements I think we could make to our homeschool:

  1. I think that we should do more art. I draw and do art on my own time but we don’t do much of it in school. I would like to see us learn more about art and craft making in the cultures that surround us. It would be fun for instance, to learn how to weave a mat out of coconut fronds.
  2. I also want to learn to cook. Maybe we could learn how to cook a traditional meal in every culture that we visit?
  3. I want to have a more creative curriculum. For instance, maybe we could do some more creative projects in math. I am more than half way through the sixth grade math curriculum. Once we are finished, it would be fun to do ALEKS a little less and do more “fun” math using books, games, etc.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Homeschool Status Update

As we are just about a third of the way into our experimental "Homeschool in a Global Classroom" year, I thought it worth a status update. On the whole, the team effort of educating Tica and Ian has been a good one. We four have fallen into a routine that seems to work and the kids -- for the most part -- seem to be learning quite a bit. Here is a synopsis of the experiment so far -- Brooke

Scholar working at the dinner table

The All Important Routine

We realized early on that Tica and Ian prefer a routine, so we've gotten into the habit of providing them with a To Do list of daily assignments. They receive it in an email each morning. Putting together the list has the added benefit of forcing the teachers to focus and put together a work day that is balanced, interesting not overly strenuous.

Ben and I have found it worthwhile to split our teaching roles between subjects. He will typically work on math with the kids, while I concentrate on the social sciences. We share teaching responsibilities in science. We also switch or double up roles from time to time as needed, like when one or the other of us goes on a grocery run or needs a sanity break.

The system breaks down a little when we have taken a day or two off. We all have a hard time getting back into the swing of things. The daily lesson plan helps a lot though and, barring any motivational battles, we typically manage to have our school work done before early afternoon.

Field Trip!

We try to work on a regular school schedule, hitting the books five days per week with a two days off on the weekend. We’ll tweak the schedule to allow for special excursions, such as our recent snorkeling/dolphin watching trip to Natewa Bay. Such exceptions are rare though and Ben and I stress learning on those occasions.

We honor the traditional “breaks” in the school year – like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, but we are not afraid to change the schedule around to suit our needs and travel realities. For instance, we will likely shorten our Christmas Break a bit so that we can take a few school days off in early January when my brother and family come to visit. The overall goal is to have school at least the same number of days than Tica and Ian’s classmates back home.

The Curriculum

Ian and Tica have learned countless things by just being here in Fiji. We have seen the progress ourselves, particularly in adjusting to “Fiji Time” and the realities of living in a small town with fewer amenities -- like no Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. Ben and I nevertheless take the actual homeschooling component of our trip quite seriously – perhaps even too seriously at times. We would rather err on the side of caution though.

Prior to our departure, we had the chance to pick the brains of a number of teacher friends, acquaintances and family members. (Vinaka!) If there one piece of specific advice, it was to stay on top of "maths" as it is referred to here in Fiji. We took this to heart and subscribed to a more traditional curriculum for math than for other subjects.

ALEKS is a Web-based math curriculum, which uses frequent assessments and adaptive questioning to teach math concepts in a curriculum tied to grade level. The course is tailored to include math standards set by school districts in different states, including Washington. Tica and Ian will have to complete a pie chart, the slices corresponding to different types of math (e.g., geometry, fractions, algebra, etc.). He/she can pick the subject to work on but must master certain skills before going on to others, thus assuring that each will have to tackle all slices of the pie at some point. The fourth grade curriculum has an additional segment called Quick Tables, which tests Ian on basic math facts using drills and games.

In order to progress, students are expected to spend at least three hours a week working on ALEKS. We assign 40 minutes of ALEKS per day, which works out to 3 hours, 20 minutes a week, although we usually round up to make each session a little longer. As I write this, Tica has already completed 63 percent of the 6th grade math curriculum. Ian has mastered 65 percent of the fourth grade curriculum. The kids seem to like (okay, tolerate) the interface and the frequent and unannounced assessments give them test-taking practice in addition to assuring their mastery of new math skills. We will continue on to the next year’s curriculum once the kids finish their current lesson plan.

If there is one criticism of ALEKS, it is that we must have a reliable internet connection in order to use it. Losing our connection, as happens from time to time, was cause for alarm at the start as we had to seek one elsewhere or do no math. We managed this problem all right while we were stateside but it turned into a real pain in Savusavu. Catching the bus into town to cram ourselves into an internet “cafĂ©” (not) just didn’t work. To remedy the situation, we picked up a couple of math workbooks used in Fiji schools. These books provide ample practice for the kids when the Internet is down or when we are traveling. It is a sad statement about Fiji’s education system though that we are using books aimed at students who are two years ahead (classes 6 and 8).

Outside of math, we have adopted a more non-traditional approach to teaching, tailoring our daily assignments to events in our surroundings or new ideas that spring up from a variety of sources. While variety rules, we try to make sure that each assignment includes work on some or all of the "Basics" -- thinking and reasoning, reading and reading comprehension, various types of written and oral communication skills (e.g., narrative, creative and persuasive) and cultural and historical studies. We often use this blog to display their work. They just love to hit the "publish" button and really seem to take pride in their posts.

Science: Close Up of Solar System Model -- Saturn and its Moons

We have had probably the most fun in our science studies. Here we have taken full advantage of proximity to the reef, leading the kids on a number of snorkeling excursions and helping them to learn about Fiji’s rich marine resources. They are also going through the book-learning it takes to gain a junior certification in openwater Scuba diving. These projects slip over into other subjects as well. For instance, walking the reef and negotiating the currents of the dropoff are major components of our daily PE curriculum.

Science and PE

Last but not least, we are all doing a lot of reading. The kids have already finished all five books in the Last Olympian Series by Rick Riordan, a Harry Potter type adventure series which offers background on the Greek mythology. They have also read various Penderwicks' titles, some Hardy Boys mysteries and The Name of this Book is Secret books, among others. We've read aloud The Lightning Thief and The Swiss Family Robinson and are currently in the middle of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We've had some school projects come out of these readings as well as many spirited discussions. It is also a great way to wind down after a long day.

Learning By Doing: Celebrating Diwali

The Gear

Having to pack up for a year's worth of travel, we had a limited weight allowance for school books and supplies. Those of you who know us will not be surprised to know that we turned to gadgets to solve the problem.

The two Mac Books that we bought before leaving have been our workhorses. I don't think we'll ever go back to a PC, at least for our personal computer. The Macs provide us with a link to the outer world as well as a format for any number of audio-visual and written projects. We rely on the weather, tide tables and international time applications to plan our daily activities. They also house Ben's growing collections of pictures documenting our journey. (Yes, we have a backup external hard drive.)

And then there are the cameras. Ben had used his new digital SLR camera every day, both to document our trip and the kids in their studies. We also brought along our old point-and-shoot with a housing for underwater shots. The kids have their own little point-and-shoots that they use from time to time. Both run on batteries though, which are hard to find.

Field Research

Our Kindle, a sort of Ipod for books, has been a wonderful resource for all of us to access any number of books and newspapers that would not be available us otherwise. It takes little effort to download books from Amazon's website and our daily subscriptions to the New York Times and Seattle Times has kept us up to speed with world happenings and (alas) baseball scores.

Even with all this techy stuff, we did bring a few must have books we didn't think we would find here. (We were not mistaken.) These include a couple of fish identification books, the PADI openwater diver certification textbook and an atlas. A handful of books proved to be less useful so we will leave them behind when we leave on our next leg of the journey.


As with any education, there are admittedly gaps in Tica and Ian's schooling this year. We could be doing more creative arts work -- music for instance, and art. We have also chosen to travel destinations where English is very commonly spoken, thus putting off foreign language instruction for another year. I find this one particularly troublesome. We could also probably do a little more work in the area of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

We brought along a set of books about ancient civilizations -- Egypt, Mesopotamia and, of course, Ur. While in San Francisco, we managed to take the kids to see part of the King Tutankhamen exhibit that we saw as kids. Since coming to Fiji though, we have done little work on these topics. We'll need to address this lack at some point.

It only natural that there will be some gaps, just like there are at regular school. These problems can be addressed with a little imagination and new materials. We may explore Rosetta Stone software for foreign language, for example. (Then all we'll have to decide is "Which One"?) We are also getting selected books from helpers at home. I'm afraid to think of what I'll do when entering a good bookstore in Australia or New Zealand!

One other disappointment so far lies in the realm of volunteering. When we originally thought about homeschool, Ben and I envisioned a much larger public service component than we have been able to execute in Savusavu. Our association with the Rotary Club of Savusavu has been enjoyable and to a certain extent useful in that context. They do amazing work but the time frame is slow. Our Rotary Activities have been limited though to a clean up of Savusavu and some fundraising projects. We would like, in the next legs of our journey to try and do a little more. It may be that we have to just take a week or two and work full time on a project, like what some friends did in Thailand working/teaching in a school. We'll have to keep exploring.

Finally, working cooperatively has been a challenge. Tica's class last year did a lot of group projects and she misses that. Working with different groups and being able to manage with different personalities is a key job skill in today's world. We would like to do more but working cooperatively with your brother and your Mom and Dad gets old at times.

Community Service Project -- Savusavu Clean Up on October 9th

Aside from the weaknesses in parts of the curriculum, we have run into the occasional knock-down, drag-out battle of wills. Ben and I have handled these situations with varying degrees of success. We have found that the key is to remain calm and to repeat the mantra that the project, whatever it may be, is part of "school" and must be finished. It helps tremendously if we can get across the notion that Mom and Dad are trying to get them ready for the next grade and not just trying to get them to do busy work. Making projects fun is also a great motivator.

Next Steps

Before leaving Savusavu, we will put all that marine biology and snorkeling know how the kids have mustered to one final test when we embark on an ambitious survey project. We will take advantage of an upcoming change, the removal of a tabu or closure to fishing, to determine the effect of the practice on the reef's butterflyfish population. This will require the kids to use all the snorkeling and science skills they've learned over the past few months. We may even be

Ian is also working as we speak on a letter to the producer of The Amazing Race, trying to convince him that it would be good to add a public service-related task to each race segment. No kidding, he came up with the idea himself. We figure it a good way to practice some persuasive writing in a real world context. We'll let you know how it turns out.

These are just two examples of some of the projects we plan to undertake in the coming month. I'm sure that other ideas will spring up from our wealth of experiences as we get back out on the road.

We will continue more or less as we have so far for the rest of the year of homeschool. We will tweak what needs tweaking and revise curriculum based on new materials and new teaching opportunities that may arise. We will face the additional challenge, I think, of doing school while on the road. To date we have been firmly settled in our little burg of Savusavu with no car. On our next leg of the trip -- Melbourne/Tasmania, we'll be moving around a lot and living in hotels and a very small campervan so we'll see how that goes.

In a Nutshell....

Speaking as one of the teachers, homeschooling is exhausting but fun. It has given me even more of an appreciation for my kids and their talents. It also makes me appreciate even more what teachers go through on a day to day basis educating our kids. We have it a lot easier than they do!

We by no means regret our decision to homeschool. Will we continue with it once we get back? I doubt it. Never say never though. For now we are continue to continue with our program, with more confidence than not that Ben and I are succeeding at preparing Tica and Ian for the next grade level and, much more importantly, the world they will face as adults.

Thanks for reading and following along. We love comments and suggestions!