Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of our Cicero Voices, essays written by Cicero students reflecting on some aspect of their learning.
Homeschooling is what you make it. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your personality. Personally, I love the freedom to design my own curriculum and pursue my own interests. But, it’s not always heaven. It can be difficult to stay focused and accomplish a lot when you don’t have a set structure to follow. Over the three years that I’ve been doing it during high school I’ve developed some great homeschooling tips and tricks you can adopt to make it a success.
Because I live on a boat circumnavigating the world, I have both more flexibility with school and in some ways less. Something very different to land life is my internet access. Despite Elon Musk’s best efforts there is still no wifi in the middle of the Indian Ocean—or any other body of water for that matter. This keeps me from fully taking advantage of courses available online like so many homeschoolers; but it also lets me experience new places and tie my learning to those places. Traveling is an education itself.
Another tricky thing about homeschooling while traveling is the time difference between me and online courses. Most online courses offer live lessons that happen to be in the middle of the night for me. This was especially true during my time in Asia and Africa, where I struggled with participating in classes that required me to attend live sessions every week. Some are amenable to sending downloadable recordings; but this isn’t ideal, and if the class is challenging, I have been known to find myself on the floor of a Bali hotel bathroom participating in an AP chemistry class at midnight. Not great.
Anyway, after doing 3 years of high school from a boat, here are my top five homeschooling tips and tricks to make for a successful high school experience.
1. Have a Purpose
I think it’s important to keep in mind why we go to school. Personally, I do it because I want to go to university in order to continue learning about what I like and eventually how to apply it and solve problems in the world. I believe everything starts with education. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this in high school because you have to take certain classes in order to fulfill requirements for college applications. But, if you can keep in mind the reason that you’re checking that box it can really help.
2. Know Thyself, Make a List
Everybody learns differently. Take my sister, Stella. She’s the kind of person who can pull a good grade out of a hat, or at least it seems so to me. She doesn’t like schedules and despises lists, whereas I can’t function without either. I need to be able to see what needs to be accomplished laid out on paper or I get overwhelmed. One thing I do is make a list every Monday of the big things I’ll do that week and put it on a whiteboard that sits in the main cabin of the boat. Then, through the week I scratch things off as I do them.
I’ve recently discovered Pomodoro. It’s an app that measures your study time and break time so that you stay on schedule with your school. Sometimes I have trouble staying focused throughout the day. When I’m sitting on the boat all day with nothing but time to complete my school I tend to procrastinate. Timing myself has been a lifesaver. I’ve taken to doing three to four hours of school this way in the morning, which helps me get a headstart on each subject; and then any extra school or project work that is left over I save for the afternoon or nighttime.
Something else that helps me stay on task is a change of scenery. Whenever possible I get off the boat in order to head to a cafe, a library, even a beach.
3. Be Resourceful
Two of the six classes that I’m currently taking are with private teachers via Cicero. The other four are either with online asynchronous classes or courses of my own design. These can be a serious challenge, especially when I get stuck, because I don’t have a teacher to whom I can turn. Instead, I have to be resourceful.
In these moments the internet is your friend. When I have a math question that no one can answer I go straight to Khan Academy or Youtube, both of which are filled with super math videos. This employs another useful skill, researching. Being able to find what you need using anything you can get your hands on is a grade-saving homeschooler tip.
Even when I’m studying with a Cicero teacher like Hadley Westman there are times when I have to prepare for a book discussion or some other assignment, and I need some detail or fact immediately. Being an exceptional Googler is a great homeschooling tip and trick.
4. Do Now, Procrastinate Later
I’m not a super fast worker, and it has been a challenge to sort out my schedule so that I have enough time set aside to complete everything. In fact, sometimes I imagine that I could be an Olympic procrastinator. A key change was figuring out that leaving things to the last minute was a big danger for me. So, I’ve adopted more of a do-it-now approach where I front-load a lot of my work early in the day, week, and semester so that I don’t drown in deadlines at the end.
5. Find Balance
This leads me to the last of my homeschooling tips and tricks, which is that balance is key. This could be said about most things in life. But homeschooling especially requires forethought to pull off. For me, I personally struggle with balancing my work with my fun. Because I live on a boat I’m forever surrounded by diversions such as freediving, hiking, beach days, surfing, and exploring in general. This makes it hard for me to know when I just really need to stay home and do my school. But, on the flip side, the opposite is also true: Sometimes I need to take advantage of my surroundings, push myself to get off the boat and go for a dive, just to clear my head. Fun can sometimes make me a more effective high schooler.
One of the best things about homeschooling is that you can design it how you’d like. I’ve put in a lot of hours to make my high school experience just the way I want it to be. Sometimes this freedom makes the whole enterprise harder, and I wish I just went to a normal school somewhere with someone telling me what to do. But, I’ve had to be my own principal and school district. I’ve had to acquire my own discipline, motivation, and some of the executive function hacks described here to make it successful. The payoff has been great. My homeschooling gives me the freedom and time to do what I love. It allows me to live on a boat exploring the world.