And this is why I homeschool….

Today every part of me felt a resounding conviction with our decision to have Jacob in a hybrid public school-homeschool. There are days when I wonder about the homeschool part of the decision. Especially those days that have been difficult because I’ve been met with “I don’t want to do that” or “I need a break” (after 3 min. of writing time) or “I want to go play instead”. I tell myself he says these things because he doesn’t yet “get” school. He doesn’t have any point of reference of what it means to be in a 5-day a week public school. Had he gone to public school for a year or two and if we would have pulled him out of that model, then he’d be more accustomed or trained to the idea of school every day. Not to mention, home has always been a place of indirect learning and a lot of play. So when he’s home with me for 2 1/2 days, perhaps he just thinks that’s continued play-time, as it has always been. Thankfully he’s now beginning to more fully realize it also comes with math worksheets, handwriting practice, reading comprehension questions and all that regular school stuff.

But today was a day that completely and fully solidified in my mind why I love love love love love LOVE that there is a homeschool aspect of his education. As my dear friend Heidi said, “today we hit the homeschool JACKPOT!!!” Indeed we did!

Jacob’s public school teacher has assigned us to “visit a community space that is related to the ocean”, have our child notice what people are doing there and write & draw about those observations in a field journal. So I picked going to the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Considering that it handles 25% of all container ships that come to the United States, I was hopeful we would observe lots of activity. Not to mention there would also be commercial fishing boats, fish markets, warehouses, cruise lines and all the other ocean-related activity going on.

At 10:15am the amazingly educational experience began!

#1: The parking lot of the Acapulco Restaurant @ Ports ‘O Call

The first thing Natalie exclaimed when we got out of the car: “Mama! Mama! I see star fish!!!!” And, yes, sure enough, there they were affixed to the rocks in the water below our feet. We stood here looking across the channel, watching truck after truck after truck heading out of the port, carrying a cargo container that had just been placed on their backs. Do trucks have backs? Okay, maybe not. But you get what I mean, right? We watched a mega forklift lift up a container off of one truck and then stack it up as though it was a lego-block. Jacob took notice that there were words on each container. Some said “CHINA SHIPPING” others said “EVERGREEN”, one said “ITALIA.” So we talked about how these containers come from different parts of the world on these ships, get unloaded here and then taken by truck (or train) to parts of the city, state or even country.

#2: The row of commercial fishing boats

Here we were met eye-to-eye with a beautiful, large pelican that was sitting atop what we thought was the lifeboat of the larger fishing boat. We observed that affixed to all these fishing boats were rows of H-U-G-E lightbulbs. Hmmmm…..why are all these fishing boats docked here during the day-time? and why do they have all these huge light sources? Hmmmm…..we asked the kids. “Maybe because they go fishing at night”. Great deductive reasoning! Okay, so that led us to the next question: why would it be better to fish at night? And that my friends is when the fun of the day really began!

As we were standing alongside these fishing boats, I noticed a suburban pull up right along the first boat (with the pelican) and a man hopped on board the boat. “Kids! Kids!” I whispered. “Let’s go see what he’s going to do on the boat!” So we all walked over there and asked if he was a fisherman and wouldn’t mind answering a question of ours.

“Is it better to go out fishing at night? If so, why?” And check out what we learned! These fishermen leave the dock at 4pm to head out to sea. They stay out until about 6am! They turn on their lights and the fish are attracted to the light, so they rise higher up closer to the surface of the water. Then the skiff, the smaller boat, turns on its lights and is used as a decoy (keeping the fish attracted to the lights). Then the larger commercial fishing boat lowers its nets and circles the skiff and, in so doing, catches all the fish that came up closer to the surface. During the day-time fish tend to swim lower in the ocean, but at night-time they are more active at higher levels. So interesting!

And get this?! This one particular boat specializes in catching squid and sardines. In one expedition they will come back with 100 tons of squid. 100 TONS!!!!??!!! Isn’t that crazy beyond crazy?!?! That is soooooooooo much squid I can’t even wrap my mind around it! But, wait, it gets more interesting! There are 40 commercial fish markets in San Pedro’s port. Each market has 3 designated squid/sardine fishing boats that sell their catch to that market. So that means there are 120 of these boats! If each one brings in 100 tons, we’re talking about 12,000 tons of squid coming in from one night of fishing!!! Okay, so he didn’t say that all boats come in with that big of a catch. He did say it’s very competitive and it’s all about which boats can get out to the best catch the fastest.

The past 3 days his boat has been docked. It hasn’t been good for squid or sardines these past few days. Get this! Fishermen have the option to pay for an information service. There is a plane that hovers over the ocean using highly sensitive sonar information. That plane can ascertain what quantities of squid or sardines there are, where they are, how deep they are, etc. which is all the info. these fishermen need to determine if it’s worth the trek out to the ocean or better to stay put. He said that when the information is released then it’s just a matter of speed. It’s a race of all those fishing boats to see who can get there first. Wow! Talk about cut-throat competition. Around 7am-8am all these boats deliver their catch to the commercial fish markets and return to moor themselves. Right now it’s really good tuna-catching in the evening.

We thanked the man for all that he taught us and started walking down the boardwalk to look at the other fishing boats. He called out after us: “Wait. Would you like to come on board the boat and see everything?” WHAT?!??!! Had we heard the man correctly?! And so we did. Heidi and her two children along with myself and Jacob and Natalie all stepped aboard his boat.

#3: On-board the Commercial Fishing Boat 

So we learned that the “galley” is the kitchen on the boat. There are 7 men that are a part of this crew. This man who was sooooooooo kind to teach us all of this and invite us onto the boat is the engineer, in charge of caring for and making sure the boat’s engine is always running well. Every man has his own specific job that is critical to the whole operation. Here were four of the bunk beds. They even had a washer and dryer in this little room! We learned about “small-mesh” and “large-mesh” nets, the pulley system they use to haul in the 100-ton catches and the refrigeration system that keeps all the fish cold until they get to the market. The kids were BEAMING! None of us could truly believe how lucky we were to be invited onto this man’s boat! We saw the bathroom and learned that not all boats have one. The big “steering wheel” is only there for looks; they use other switches and controls to move the boat. The hilarious part of this was needing to jump back from the boat to the dock without falling into the water. There was a considerable gap between the boat and dock, that somehow had seemed so much easier to traverse when coming onto the boat. My nervousness turned into unstoppable laughter. Heidi held her hand over her heart, hoping not to have a heart attack. Here we were feeling like we’d be stuck on this boat forever unless we jumped off back onto the dock. The kids jumped graceful as gazelles without a seeming worry in their mind of falling into the ocean. After a lot of mental prepping and “we can do this” talk- the grown-up mamas finally did too! 🙂

We said our goodbyes to our super fun friends the Ballards…..and our educational field trip continued.

#4: A Fish Market

It seemed to make perfect sense to make a stop and look for squid and sardines, since we had just learned so much from Mr. Anthony about these fish he goes out to catch on the fishing boat.

Which then turned into a conversation about the difference between buying a whole fish versus a fillet of fish. What does “fillet” mean? Why does the whole Tilapia cost $5.29/lb. and the fillet cost $9.99/lb. What does “/lb.” mean? How much does a fish weigh? Oh, so many great questions and great thinking going on! The man at the fish market had a big smile on his face and loved being roped into the teaching. He weighed a whole salmon for Jacob so that he could see it weighed nearly 15 lbs. and therefore cost $120. Jacob started to understand how it is that fishermen make money, with each catch. And what kind man! He filleted a fish for us and let us come up close to watch the process. It then was made abundantly clear to the kids why mama is willing to pay so much more to have a nice, clean fillet. 🙂

I asked the man if we could closely examine the gills. There we were, each carefully feeling the feathery soft gills, with blood still dripping from it.

We saw perch from the Nile River, shark, Dungeness crab, octopus, red snapper and so much more.

#5: Crossing the Vincent St. Thomas Bridge

The kids were jumping for joy on the backseat. They were soooooo excited to cross over the bridge! And to see a high-up view of the port with all of its huge cranes at all the berths, the incredible amount of cargo containers, the many train tracks everywhere……it was all an incredible vista!

#6: Counting/observing all the trucks on the 710 Fwy.

And now we have a very intimate understanding that each one of these containers that rides on a truck, once sat on a very large cargo ship that brought it here from another country in the world. So there Jacob sat looking out the car window, shouting “Evergreen! Cosco! China Shipping! Hanjin! Maersk! CMA/CGM!” with each truck that we passed or was headed southbound to the port.


And so now the fun begins of connecting all these pieces of knowledge and experience. Tomorrow we will check the labels of the items I bought, find those countries on the world map, guess the oceanic route that item may have taken in a cargo container to get to our port. I love it that IKEA has so many items from places other than China. I’m actually really surprised by the array of countries!

• Roll of art paper- Lithuania

• Candles- Poland

• Beads- Thailand

• Plastic design cards for beads- India

• Vase- China

• Cute, decorate tray- Turkey

#8- World Map & YouTube

So when we got home, I had Jacob identify the continents, where we live and think of our dear friends the Ludwigs who just made a big move and transported all of their stuff in order to live in England. They were afforded one cargo container to use to transport their possessions, furniture, toys to England. So I asked Jacob “Which way do you think the ship took to get to England?” He pointed across the United States and said “I think it went across the country in a river and got to the Atlantic Ocean.” Would have been a perfect moment to pull out the map of the United States and show that wouldn’t be possible. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow. Instead, I told him “no.” So then he motioned that the ship must have gone all the way south around the tip of South America. Possibly yes. And so the conversation began about how nice it would be if there was a shortcut.

And so began our conversation about the Panama Canal. Jacob, so keen on the learning potential of YouTube, asked with great excitement, “Mama! Mama! Can we please look up the Panama Canal on YouTube?” Sure. And so there I sat with him on my lap, watching a video of a huge ship passing through the canal, while listening to an explanation about the locking gates and how they work.

Pure fabulousness! This kind of themed, subject-intertwined, rich, first-hand learning is what I thrive on.

And the fun continues tomorrow…..

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1 Response to And this is why I homeschool….

  1. Katherine says:

    Marina- this is incredible!!! I have been thinking about what it would be like to home school and your story made me so excited for this possibility. So many great questions and information. I always wondered why the boats would go out at night also. I can’t believe I lived around the corner from the port and never even bothered to check out the harbor. What a great experience for you guys. And I love how you continued to build on the experience as you drove home and then explored cargo ship routes.

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