A Serendipitous Day of HomeschoolingJune 15, 2021
Contributed by Crystal Esteves and her world schooling family, The Culture Trotters.
I have always loved planning out unit studies. The idea of taking something as simple as an apple and sucking every single learning experience out of it as possible, and having it all come together under my nice little packaged theme, is super satisfying. We will start by going apple picking, which comes complete with learning everything there is to know about farming, how to manage an orchard, and the history of cultivating apples as a crop. Once we get home, we bake the apples into pies, which will turn into a chemistry lesson and a math lesson. While the pie cools, we will hit up the library and the internet to learn about any and every historical figure, literature figure, or geographical location that has anything to do with apples. While we eat the pie, we paint still-life paintings of the remaining apples using pigments we extracted from the peel and brushes made from the leaves. Okay, maybe this is a wee bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. I love getting as much as I can out of a topic.
Being the type of weirdo that finds unit studies to be super thrilling, just think how excited I was when one of these days came together all on its own with zero planning from me. Cue the choir of angels.
A Normal School Day Begins
Walking around Cape Town, I came across a used book store. As a full-time traveling family, we do not have much room for books in our luggage, so we tend to do our reading digitally. However, when I came across a stash of classics for only a few cents each, I felt totally fine buying up a few to read now and just leaving them for the next Airbnb guest to enjoy. Among the pile of books was a shortened grade school level version of Moby Dick. Having somehow never read it myself, I snatched it up for 50 cents.
One of the fun perks to world-schooling is joining all the hipsters hanging out in little cafes working on their laptops and sipping mocha lattelalaspressos. Honestly, my kids probably couldn’t care less, but I’m always super curious about what people are working on. In my mind, they are all writing some amazing novel about their incredibly interesting life raising orphaned baby elephants or something cool like that. Reality is probably more like they are unemployed and playing candy crush, but I prefer my scenario of believing it’s baby elephants.
One day while getting our schoolwork done in a cafe decked out in a nautical theme, I decided to pull out Moby Dick and read it to the kids while they sipped on hot cocoa, surrounded by things that made us feel like we were on board the Pequod.
After finishing the book and learning that (spoiler alert) everyone dies, we packed up our stuff and walked over to the South African Museum.
A Lucky Museum Visit
The South African Museum holds its own in the world of natural history museums. It’s filled with every kind of taxidermied animal you can think of and plenty of skeletons. Turns out, the centerpiece of the museum is a huge whaling exhibit complete with full-size skeletons of a massive blue whale, a humpback whale, and you guessed it, a sperm whale. Right there in the middle of the museum was Moby Dick himself. Around the exhibit were tons of information and artifacts, featuring everything from the history of the whaling industry to a collection of harpoons, to corsets made from whale boning. You would think this would be enough to wrap it all up and conclude a serendipitous day of learning, but hold on to your oil-skin cap, there is more.
You Have Got to be Kidding Me
As children do, Alejandro and Arabella were running about under the giant whales “oohing” and “aahing” and shouting out all their curiosities faster than I could answer them, had I known the answers, and I kid you not, standing under the skeleton of the giant sperm whale was an old man in a sailor’s hat and ascot. He was the personification of Captain Ahab himself just staring up at his white whale.
Luckily for me, this Captain Ahab was not nearly as scary as the “real one,” and was willing to help me answer all the exciting questions being thrown at me. Believe it or not, it turns out that he was a former whaler. No, really. He just happened to be visiting the museum that day and was reminiscing about his days at sea. While children never read anything into things and just believe life always comes together like this, I find myself wondering if the internet has now taken things to the next level. Instead of sending me ads for things I have Googled, it’s now sending actual people.
The Serendipitous Part…
He spent the next 90 minutes entertaining us with his extensive personal experiences as a whaler, and how his perspective changed to one of regret for being part of something that almost wiped these whales out of existence. My eyes were as wide as the children’s as he filled us in on the details that only first-hand experience could provide. He now does extensive work with conservation groups, educating people about how and why to protect these animals. He even emailed us a long article he had written about his experiences and change of heart. We were able to learn so much from him and the only reason the conversation ended was that the museum closed and the staff had to remind us all that it was time to leave.
Seriously though, what are the chances of reading Moby Dick in a cafe that looks like you’re on a ship, then coming across a museum exhibit on whales and whaling, and topping it all off by actually meeting a whaler?! All my little homeschooling mom’s warm fuzzies tingled, and I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing day of learning.
The Esteves family left the states in late February to travel the world full time. Just three weeks later Covid-19 hit and changed everything. They ended up spending 7 months in Mexico having some amazing adventures. Recently they made the jump to Tanzania, Africa where they are living more like locals and less like tourists in an effort to give their kids a more unique and in-depth cultural experience. Share in their adventures as they document both the good times and the fiascos while navigating their way around the world in these uncertain times. Their YouTube channel is Culture Trotters. Get daily photos of their experiences on Instagram @culturetrotters.