Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: Lesson Plans Ahoy!

When Scuttlebutt was asked to review the book, Lesson Plans Ahoy! - Hands-On Learning for Sailing Children and Home Schooling Sailors, we reached out to Nicholas Hayes, sailing dad and author of Saving Sailing, to do the honors. Here is his review:

A few years ago, while pitching early drafts of my own book, I received a rejection noteworthy for its sincerity from a popular nautical imprint. “Interesting project, but we’re only looking at 'how-tos’ in the sailing category these days.” It seemed logical at the time. The economy was in the can, and self-help books are an inexpensive and useful way to reach and enable aspiring sailors. I took note of the trend, jotting down recent titles, adapted here. I’ve seen “How-to sell everything and sail away forever,” “How-to live aboard with a large puppy,” and “How-to survive a sailing divorce (or two, or three).”

I must admit, I’m not one to read how-to books. I don’t even open the manual for my car to change the clock to spring forward and fall back. I adjust the time in my head six months out of the year. And faced with a sailing problem, I’m prone to give it a best guess first and think and apply later.

But when the book Lesson Plans Ahoy!--Hands-On Learning for Sailing Children and Home Schooling Sailors, from Slavinski-Schweitzer Press, came in the mail along with a review request from Craig Leweck at Scuttlebutt, my interest was piqued.

I daydream endlessly about casting off in a Deerfoot or a Swan to explore Patagonia or Alaska with my wife and kids. Besides small issues like not being able to afford a Deerfoot or a Swan, not having convinced my wife and kids, and needing to work to eat--the central thing holding me back is that I’m certain that I am vastly under-qualified to homeschool. I usually convince myself that we would return and the kids would be prepared for, well, nothing. And my daydream bubble bursts.

Author Nadine Slavinski was prepared. With a Harvard Degree in Education, experience teaching internationally, and a life of sailing, she took a year off to sail with her husband and their then four-year-old son in the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic.

In Lesson Plans Ahoy!, Slavinski assembles six units on subjects ranging from Earth and Space Science to Humanities to Biology. Each unit includes guiding questions and suggested materials, age-appropriate adaptations and assignments, and lists of additional resources, thoughtfully organized by a teacher for a parent. The plans neatly tie to the sailing aesthetic, as one would logically expect. And they suggest, in teacher-speak, an “integrated” curriculum, meaning that the plans are loosely related to one another. For example, in Unit 5 - Humanities, students are asked what they have in common with explorers like Columbus, and how Columbus’ discoveries mattered. A condensed history of Columbus’ travels forms the body of the work. Then, highlighting a peculiar event in which Columbus seizes on a coming lunar eclipse to con native Jamaicans into believing the darkness to be a sign from God and demanding food for the Spaniards as penance, Humanities and Science are coupled, albeit loosely and clumsily. So, I would suggest, are Religion, Philosophy and Politics, but there are not units on those.

And that’s my problem with this book. I hoped to learn about what might inform a parent’s choice to pull kids out of school and teach through sailing; the risks and the rewards for making such a bold and possibly honorable decision. And then once made, I wanted to know much more about how to navigate in the fog and around the hidden shoals of home-schooling. I wanted to use this book to build the confidence to start the conversation in the first place. I wanted more substantial lesson plans and a broader curriculum, and directions about writing new plans. I felt that I was reading a teacher’s first draft--something assembled on the fly and then reassembled for publication. And I was left pondering all of the other wonderful things that Slavinski’s four-year old had actually learned in that year on the water with mom and dad. There had to be more. Whatever it was, I’m sure it imprinted in large and meaningful ways.

So I hope this is a first draft book, even perhaps an outline for a more ambitious project. I think the foundation is great, and I sense Slavinski has the skills and the experiences to pull it off. I think the premise of parent-child blue-water sailing is fantastic, and that more people should do it. Think of the world-aware, well-rounded citizens it would make. But in terms of how-to books, well, this time, I wanted a lot more.

And I know a publisher looking for just such a thing.

- Nicholas Hayes

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