Homeschooling on the high seas: Texas family gives new meaning to ‘real world’ education

A homeschooling mother took ‘real world learning,’ to a new level when her family sold their Texas home and bought a sailboat, committing to a life on the high seas.

“My kids meet people from all over the world, different languages, different cultures,” said Renee Whitaker, a mom of five. “It’s a very global education.”

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Around 353,000 Texas students withdrew from public school to homeschool between 1998-2018, according to the Texas Education Agency. Following a homeschooling surge post-pandemic, there was a 40 percent increase in students pulled from public schools for homeschooling in spring 2021 compared to the previous year.

Whitaker homeschooled her children from the start, but in 2016 her husband, Keith, sold his Texas oil and gas businesses. The family set sail with the intention of spending two years at sea, but seven years and nearly two tours of the globe later, they are still going. 

Whitaker told Fox News it took time for the kids time to warm up to their new way of life.

“They didn’t love it at first,” Whitaker said. “As the years go by, they’ve started to really come into the life. They’ve started to love it. They love the adventure.” 

Homeschooling family at sea

A Texas family of five set sail seven years ago for an education at sea. Whitaker says they saved up enough before they left and make money through their YouTube channel to keep up with their ongoing travels.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

The Texas parents took four of their five kids on the boat when they set sail in 2016. The oldest daughter was in her twenties and didn’t join the family’s travels, and their second-oldest daughter has since left the boat to go to college. Three kids remain on the high seas – ages 16, 17, and 20 – and two are still homeschooling.

The Whitaker family is not alone in their travels. A Facebook group made to connect boat families called Kids4Sail partnered with NoForeignLand to unite more than 7,000 families signed up worldwide. The parents have posted their locations and their kids’ ages to plan play dates and share lifestyle tips as they travel the world.

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“They’ve met people from other cultures,” Whitaker said. “They love arriving at a new country. What language are they gonna speak and what’s the money gonna be?”

Texas homeschool family on the high seas

A Texas homeschool mom teaches her kids while they travel the world on the high seas. She alters her kids’ lesson plans to follow their interests, but also lets them experience real-world learning through their travels.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

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Whitaker uses textbooks and online courses to teach her kids. The lessons mainly focus on core curriculum topics, but the Texas mom has altered instruction to follow her kids’ interests. 

“Our goal in home-schooling is not to get them to know everything and pass these tests and have all the knowledge that I got in the public school that I don’t even remember … but for them to find their passion and be able to make money or make a living at whatever that passion is,” Whitaker told Fox News.

Sailing on the high seas with a homeschool family

Whitaker says her kids’ have learned more on the high seas than in the traditional classroom.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

Whitaker’s youngest son has taken an interest in video production and social media marketing after being inspired by his family’s YouTube channel called Sailing Zatara. The 17-year-old made his own YouTube account, integrating advertisements to build revenueNow, his academic lessons focus on how to run a business.

“We do a lot of financial studies, a lot of money management, how to balance your bank account, how to take out a loan, how to buy a house [and] things like that,” she said. “There’s practical things that you need to know about money and finances that you don’t get in traditional school.”

The Texas mom has spent a few hours a day teaching her kids and then lets “real-world learning” step in, she said. For example, the family recently stopped in Greece for a few weeks. 

A homeschool family travels around the world

The traveling homeschool family meets people from all around the world in very different cultures.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

“We went to all sorts of museums, and learned all about … biblical history in Greece,” Whitaker said. “I wouldn’t call it unschooling, but it’s just kind of natural learning.”

Critics have posted on Whitaker’s YouTube channel accusing the two Texas parents of depriving their kids of a normal childhood with a lack of socialization. But Whitaker argues that poor socialization is a homeschooling misconception, as her kids interact with other boating families and people of all ages in their travels. 

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A homeschool family gets an education at sea

The Texas homeschool family travels all over the world. The family goes on adventures at many of their anchorage stops and on one occasion, they went swimming with sharks off the coast of Australia.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

Some of their travel adventures have included swimming with sharks west of Australia, underwater cave diving near Fiji and bungee jumping in Africa. The high seas homeschool family spent the last six months traveling the Red Sea and visiting areas in the Middle East, where they met with other boat families and played sports with kids on land that didn’t always speak the same language.

Her kids have learned so much “just because we’ve gone to these places,” Whitaker said. “You can’t get that back in a traditional school.”

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Kids learning at sea

The Texas homeschool kids learn about navigation through squalls on the high seas.  (Courtesy: Sailing Zatara)

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