Family Cruising: A Positive Learning Environment

This the second of two well-researched articles sent to Noonsite by Ann Saitow. She spent several years cruising and teaching with her own daughter and this experience led her to do in-depth research into the effects of cruising on children. See the first article, The Effects of Cruising on Children, here

Family Cruising: A Positive Learning Environment

Researched By Ann Saitow, PhD.

Parents considering a long-term cruise often express concern for taking their children out of school and separating them socially and academically from conventional life.

Fortified with home-schooling programs that meet specific test requirements, government standards, or affiliations with higher levels of education – parents frequently approach the responsibility of teaching their own children with a degree of trepidation. From my research, I learned that cruising parents became effective teachers because of their vested interest in providing their children with an education commensurate with traditional school guidelines.

In fact, the data indicated that their ability to be flexible was highly successful in working out many of the challenges they encountered – an advantage not easily accomplished in an established school organization. Furthermore, the curriculum became more meaningful when cruising families were able to transfer textbook information into real-life situations.

Their capacity to become immersed in the local environment helped enhance their children’s learning experiences. In addition, cruising parents observed their children exhibiting more confidence in reaching out to form relationships – with an open mind to interacting with people of different ages and backgrounds. As a result, cruising parents found their initial concerns to be unsubstantiated.

Cruising can be a child’s ultimate learning experience because daily routines are driven by a unique set of values and expectations – not commonly practised in today’s advanced societies – one in which family togetherness inspires and unifies real-life inquiry. The aspects of educational travel (family cruising) that build a positive learning environment are cultural immersion, experiential learning, adaptation, the growth of self-awareness, and the opportunity to foster camaraderie. These lived experiences are indicative of family cruising ventures which can contribute to healthy child development.

Cultural Immersion
Cruising places a child within a cultural environment that nurtures family connections and responsibilities, confidence in reaching out to communicate with others, and willingness to adapt to differences in lifestyles and more. MJ Bennett (1993) studied intercultural sensitivity as a process of constructing reality by overcoming ethnocentricism (preconceived assumptions about cultures other than our own).

Intercultural sensitivities enable us to adopt perspectives that reflect our ability to appreciate unfamiliar surroundings by breaking through those centralist beliefs and becoming more cognizant of our immediate situations. Bennett’s Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) broke down the mental processes that occur while immersed in a different culture. Gradually people learn to reshape their initial convictions by becoming less judgmental of the differences between their own background and others.

Bennett’s linear representation identified a spectrum of behavioral changes that leads to an ethnorelative perspective (wider understanding and acceptance of different social groups). Aside from closer familial interactions, cruising children realize the importance of seizing an opportunity to make new friends, and learning to appreciate local customs (cuisine, language and communal behavioral patterns).

Experiential Education and Learning
Cruising creates an environment that fosters positive life-learned skills recognized by educators and psychologists. Research indicates that student experiences outside the classroom significantly impact school performance. The advantages cruising parents have in teaching their children are their abilities to balance home-schooling curricula with daily living routines. Families tend to access resources from within the cruising community, as well as the locality they are staying.

Experiential (“hands-on”) learning is an established method of instruction ingrained in educational pedagogy. With the exception of an occasional field trip, this term generally refers to simulated life-learning experiences conducted in and around controlled classroom settings. Schools attempt to recreate real situations because research indicates that healthy socializing skills are developed through authentic life encounters.

John Dewey (1902) analyzed the impact of a child’s social environment by linking his prior experience to his formal education. This theory of experience explained the dynamics between continuity (human predisposition to respond to experience) and interaction (how past experience interacts with the present). Dewey advocated a balance between established curricula and the life experiences of a child – which describes the cruising family home-schooling paradigm.

Similarly, Kolb (1984) believed that the process of obtaining knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. He identified two ways of understanding experience – Concrete Experience (CE) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC), and two modes of transforming experience – Reflective Observation (RO) and Active Experimentation (AE). Kolb’s model suggests an individual continually chooses specific learning abilities to apply in a particular situation, as well as how to transform or process that experience.

Family cruising presents novel experiences that transform a child’s understanding of his world through observation and adaptation. A cruising lifestyle provides the foundation for on-going active learning.

Cruising offers learning experiences that help children acquire the skills to adapt to settings beyond what is familiar to them. This acclimatization to new settings reflects an ability to interact confidently with people from other cultures, as well as surviving conditions different from our own background.

Sackett (1965) studied primate development and concluded that the impact of early life experience was directly related to their ability to cope with new and unfamiliar situations in the future. Sackett believed earlier experiences determined the level of responsiveness a primate will exhibit in the future. Sackett, Novak, and Kroeker (1999) created a developmental model, complexity dissonance theory. Their premise explained the level of psychological complexity that parallels the complexity of the rearing environment. These researchers concluded that “enriched rearing produced individuals of high complexity who were willing to approach new and increasingly complex stimuli, thereby providing themselves with opportunities for learning and developing problem-solving strategies” (p. 30).

Cruising families participate in a challenging learning venture that provides their children with experiences that will continue to have a favourable impact in their lives. The perspectives and emotional growth reported by family members in my study suggested that the lessons learned during their cruising experience – did, in fact, have a positive influence over their future life choices.

Growth in Self-Awareness
Children become empowered from a cruising experience because the message conveyed to them by their family and community is that they have the intellectual and emotional ability to act responsibly in a variety of situations. Hall (1976) reasoned that “self-awareness and cultural awareness are inseparable. Culture directs the organization of the psyche, which in turn, has a profound effect upon the way people look at things, behave politically, and how they think” (pp. 185-186). Cruising children acquire self-knowledge through direct contact with a variety of cultures.

Sense of Camaraderie
Bukowski and Sippola (2005) examined the significance of friendship and found that the effects of friendships shape the concept of self. The degree of acceptance within a social group can affirm a person’s self-image. Educational travel (family cruising) provides opportunities for children to form relationships with people from all walks of life in a variety of situations, which can contribute to positive personal growth.


In seeking evidence (research) that cruising can be beneficial – I learned information exists within a vast body of literature. From an interdisciplinary background, I discovered a preponderance of research supporting a family cruising experience. The fields of education, psychology, philosophy, cross-culturalism, neuroscience, biology, sociology, education law, art, anthropology, and social work revealed the clinical explanations for why family cruising can be a compelling learning experience. By casting a wider net I found the conclusions from one discipline could be applied to an entirely different perspective. Often the information overlapped and connected one discipline to another.

My study found that cruising families developed better understandings of their child’s learning needs and pursued creative ways to generate interest in home-school curricula. In many situations, their home-schooling efforts resulted in significant social and academic improvement when their child reentered school.

More important, most cruising children resumed conventional life with a higher level of confidence and a stronger, healthier self-perception than before their family’s voyage. Those children were the living proof that “the proper place and best place to learn whatever they need or want to know is the place where until very recently almost all children learned it – in the world itself, in the mainstream of adult life” (John Holt, 1982, p. 296).


Bennett, M.J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 21-66). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Bukowski, W.M., Sippola, L.K. (2005). Friendship and development: Putting the most human relationship in its place. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2005(109), 91-98.

Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hall, E.T. (1976). Beyond culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

Holt, J. (1982). How children fail (Rev. ed.). New York: Bantam Doubleday.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Sackett, G.P. (1965). Effect of rearing conditions upon the behavior of rhesus monkeys. Child Development, 36(4), 855-868.

Sackett, G.P., Novak, M.F.S.X., & Kroeker, R. (1999). Early experience effects on adaptive behavior: Theory revisited. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 5(1), 30-40.

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