Homeschooling on a Tropical Island: Colleen Smith's Interview

I'm jealous of Colleen. She's living and learning with her family on the tropical island of Guam. For me, that would be the perfect situation and sounds like it is for her too.

Colleen blogs at Memoirs of an Unschooling Teacher and has recently started a resource center for homeschoolers living in Guam.

Her family has been involved in running several businesses over the years which is a great way for kids to learn from 'real life.'

Currently they run a driving school in Guam. If I lived in Guam, I don't think I'd need to know how to drive because I'd never leave the beach.

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

I have been homeschooling for over 20 years. We didn't realize we were homeschooling when we first started, and I used to count our homeschooling years based on when we pulled our first son out of public school - just before he entered 2nd grade. He is now 24.

But in reality we were homeschooling him since he was born. Or at least since he was about 18 months when he first asked me "what's that" and it took me a while to figure out he wanted to know names of letters so he could figure out how to read. He taught himself to read by age 3. All I did was answer his questions and provide him with the learning tools.

Oops...guess that was a longer answer than necessary! LOL.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Only a few examples? Oh my. I'll try to limit myself here.

Homeschooling is all about freedom & flexibility for me! My husband and I run our own business, a driving school on Guam. We've been doing this for over 7 years as our own business (14 on Guam total). It is a true family business. We live 40 minutes out of town in the "boonies" and have to drive into town everyday to run our business (except Sundays, we do honor the Lord's Day). So everyday we pack up the kids and bring them to work with us.

Our office is right on the beach on Guam ( I know, tough life we lead). Our office is our "home away from home" and has a cozy back room that the kids can hang out in and the classroom is used by the kids during the day. I only teach the driving class two evenings a week and on Saturday mornings, so the rest of the time the office/classroom area is free for the kids to use.

Recently I just took all of our homeschool books and resources (games, manipulatives, felt stories, etc.) and organized them into a "resource library" that I have opened up for all homeschoolers on Guam. (see my webpage:

My second eldest son works for the family business and runs a northern office two days a week for us. So he is either up there, or hanging out with us. It is great that our 20 year old son still lives at home and can help with the family business.

It is especially helpful for him as he is borderline Aspergers. Homeschooling was great for him and allowed him to pursue his love of music. He composes and creates wonderful instrumental music and makes his own CDs. He is also self taught in Piano and Guitar.

In the course of homeschooling we have run several businesses - a Snack shop at a daycare I worked at (both older boys manned this and learned all their math skills that year!), a website business (my eldest son learned web design and was our webmaster at 14), roof repair, various direct marketing businesses, and now our driving school. Our children have always been involved in our businesses and that has counted towards their homeschooling.

It is the freedom to be able to make your own hours that I love the best. Currently we open our office at 11am, so that gives me the morning to laze around the house, or get out there and exercise or pay bills. Kids can sleep in as late as they need, or wake as early as they want.

Oh and the biggest freedom? Homeschooling allowed us to move halfway around the world to live in a tropical paradise. We started our homeschooling journey in BC Canada and moved to Guam in 1995.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Living on a tropical island with the beach as your backyard is definitely a fun factor. When we first moved our driving school office to the beach location (18 months ago) my very blond 5 year old daughter would beg me to let her swim everyday. Often she swam in only her shorts and no shirt. She is very brown from all that sun and her hair is white blond.

There is a local legend on Guam about a girl who becomes a mermaid - Sirena. Because Cassie is so blond and because she often swam with no shirt on, in the water she takes on a very mermaid like appearance. A new coffee shop opened up down the beach and the owner told me that the appearance of "Sirena" in the waters was a drawing card for many of her clients! The first time she saw my daughter swimming she nearly fainted from fright thinking she was a real mermaid.

Aside from being able to swim year round, we have enjoyed many aspects of our homeschooling lifestyle. Our many pets are a source of joy and fun in our lives. Currently we have 2 mice, one dog and about 14 cats. Not to mention the roaming chickens who think they live in our yard and the geckos and toads in the carport. In the past we have had rabbits, guinea pigs, parakeets and finches. We've even had a snake or two, but those are not a source of joy. LOL.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one
of yours with us?

We think this is kind of funny. Not sure if others would appreciate the irony of it all.

Our eldest daughter, almost 15, decided the other day that she would attempt to spend the entire day without learning a thing. I have no idea what prompted this goal. But she was determined.

However around 11:30pm that night she was playing her Phoenix Wright video game when it mentioned potassium cyanide. Instinctively she looked it up on Google and proceeded to read all about it and then read on about some other poisons and their chemical compositions.

Suddenly she remembered her goal of "not learning anything for one full day" and realized she had blown it by 1/2 hr.

We find this especially amusing since we are unschoolers and it just goes to prove that even when given the freedom not to learn you can't help but learn!

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