Parents and children who have written about their home education journeys to bring awareness and encouragement that there are different ways to learn and grow.
Turning the world into a classroom with Mirjam Stam.
We are a Dutch unschooling family, currently living in Denmark. ‘We’ is my husband, our two wonderful daughters (9 and 5 years old) and myself. My husband works remotely for a software development company, I write blogs about our lifestyle on my website www.verwonderwereld.nl. This way we can live wherever we want, as long as we have a good internet connection.
We began our unschooling journey a couple of years ago when our oldest was 5. In the Netherlands it’s common that kids start school by the age of 4. Although we thought we had chosen a school that came close to our vision on how to raise children, it didn’t really work out for us. Funded schools in the Netherlands have to meet so many rules regarding curriculum, taking tests even with very young children and more things that didn’t feel right for us.
We are convinced about self directed learning and that children learn everything they need from living life itself, while being in a inspiring environment.
Home education is very difficult in the Netherlands, especially after the moment that a child has started to attend school. There is a possibility to unschool within a school. Just before our oldest turned 5, a private unschooling / alternative school opened in our town. We where so happy!
Our daughter started there as one of the first new students. We saw the school growing from about 10 students to almost 50 now. It’s nothing like school as most people know it. There are no classrooms but instead, functional spaces, all with their own goal.
Think about spaces like a kitchen, a library, a place where the kids can paint and sew and so much more. There also aren’t classes. It’s a school for kids from the age of 4 until the age of 21, all of them learning from and with each other. With unschooling there isn’t a fixed curriculum. Children follow their own interests. That also means that when they leave school they will not necessarily have learned exactly the same as children of the same age in a regular school.
I do believe that they have learned everything they need to live their lives in a way that suits them, and that they have learned how to achieve their goals if they want to do or learn something new. For example, children do not learn to read or write at a fixed age. They learn how to do it when they themselves become interested in it and when that interest comes they learn how to do it in their own way.
For a long time my oldest daughter asked about each letter which letter it was, and then, all of the sudden, she was able to read. She learned the basics of arithmetic from life itself. How many grams do you need for a certain recipe? How much money do you get back in a store? Besides that, unschooling kids learn so many other things that most kids don’t learn in a school. How to make a campfire. How to bake bread yourself. Which plants and herbs from nature are edible. They get to know their body while climbing and scrambling and learn to feel where their limits are in so many areas. They learn to take care and be compassionate for themselves and for others.
Now, a few years later, our unschooling journey continues. Although the school in the Netherlands was great, we missed being in touch with nature. Now we are settling on the Danish island Bornholm. An island where many families are home educating and unschooling and where there is a nice home educating community. We regularly meet up with other unschooling families. Also, when borders reopen, we are planning to travel a lot. That’s always been an important part of our unschooling life. I consider getting in touch with other cultures, other environments, as an important part of our unschooling lifestyle. You can read about history, but you can also visit certain places and talk about it then. You can talk about geography and topography, but going to a place where you can still see the smoke of a volcano and where the beaches are black instead of white because of the lava sand makes a much bigger impression. I wouldn’t want another lifestyle. I see two happy autonomic kids, eager to learn and soaking information like a sponge.
The Forests – Project Based Home Education.
Home Education – 25 years of Home Education with five children. UK.
It never felt natural to pass my 5-year-old child over to strangers, where they would take the best hours of the day. But we didn’t know there was an alternative. An alternative so perfect, that it would fit each individual child.
My eldest at 2 years old was so bright and creative, we knew school would have stifled him, and it did. We had many very negative experiences with the school, and at the exact same time we were struggling, we stumbled across HEd and never looked back. Ever! We took our, then, 7 and 5 year olds out of the system and created projects that they thrived on. My other 3 children were born into HEd and know no different. One of them co-wrote a blog with me about it. You can find it here – aheartfullofhoney.blogspot.com
I remember absolutely panicking how I would teach my young children in turn, to read and write and do maths. I had this ‘blank page’ and I was so anxious that I was going to mess up. Books on the subject (especially Ruth Beechick), and finding other HEd mums to talk to, helped to soothe my fears.
There is no competition within HEd community. Everyone wants everyone to succeed and an abundance of help is right there for you. My other big fear was my children having no friends so we enrolled them in sport and art classes. Once we made contact with other families, I immediately wanted to form a group and began organising days out together and playdates in our church hall.
Letting the children’s passion and interest choose a subject, was the way they learned best. Little did I know until many years later that it was called Delight Lead Learning, and Project Learning! So rather than filling my child’s educational plate and saying, “Eat up. Trust me. This is what you need,” I handed them the menu and said, “Order something that looks good to you.”
They learned organically, they weren’t just writing, they SAW, and DID things to correspond. It reinforced the subject matter in a fun way. For example in Geography – we took one country at a time and studied the customs, famous people, landmarks, history. We did map work and nature studies, visited museums and did appropriate workshops. We celebrated the end of that study by writing a menu (English), shopping (maths: Money and Weight), cooking and serving it up to the family.
We’ve been to see plays and ballets and concerts hailing from countries that we were studying. I always bought them a traditional story book from each country we ‘visited’. We made connections with other children (HEd and schooled) in various countries via the Flat Stanley Project and the HE Penpal scheme.
The children have done beekeeping, harvested lavender on a farm, learned Mandarin, taken part in workshops, been behind the scenes at world famous art galleries and museums.They have grown their own food from seed and cooked it; they have learnt about what it takes to be self-sufficient. They got to travel and experience first hand what they had been learning about. The children have won awards by taking part in competitions. They did online art and history classes with children in the States and felt like they were a part of something bigger, that they hadn’t really detected until then.
We studied Shakespere massively and while at a play, our children were the only youngsters there. The director approached us and asked if they’d like to see backstage and meet the cast, they were so well behaved he just had to come speak to us.
There are a million stories just like this. HEd is thrilling, If you just let go of the reins and let it lead you.
With regards to how HEd affected me; I was privileged to be approached to work with curators at museums, art galleries and with a classical orchestra. I actively fought for the HEd to have the same rights as school children. It was the most exciting time as I saw the prejudice being chipped away.
I now run an international pen-pal scheme for HEd children to learn first hand about other children around the world and to make that connection.
We got to be together and experience these things as a family. I was having that prime time with my children, no longer the school teacher, me! What a blessing!
I personally have found interests in things that I never even knew existed when I was at school. I have learned a lot! My childlike wonder returned! My children have learned that learning is not 9-3.30 inside a room. It’s 24/7, wherever you are, be it taking a walk at night and talking about the stars in the sky, or feeding the ducks and identifying the wildlife. It is also never ending.
Learning doesn’t stop at age 16. It’s a lifelong itch. At age 40 my husband was inspired to do a degree in Aeronautics, and at age 50 I started a chemistry degree.
I feel that HEd has given my kids confidence to talk to all ages and abilities. College has proven that they are able to work alone, to fathom out processes and work intuitively and instinctively. They were voted to be class reps and one was awarded Student of the Year.
HEd has taught them to be thorough in their planning, and most importantly, to think outside of the box. It’s been very rewarding for us as parents. Our three elder children are out in the world, doing jobs they love. They all still question everything and are confident in their non-stereotypical approach to life.
My boys are very energetic and their creativity flows freely, and classrooms wouldn’t have been for them. They like to be active and creative, to think and plan and not be told what they ought to be doing. HEd allows for this.
One has a successful metal fabricator company; custom made leather and wood branding irons, but only after travelling around the world a couple of times. He also loved to ski so went to live in Norway and France to work in the ski resorts each season.
Another has also headed-up his own companies in web design, where he was pitching to boardrooms. He first travelled 400 miles away at age 18 and had a great 12 months working in forest management with the UK based National Trust where he achieved qualifications such as his chainsaw licence. This made him a valuable employee and he was asked to work for the prestigious Chester Zoo where he sat his tractor-trailer licence. Now a qualified arborist, he took the opportunity 2 yrs ago to emigrate to New Zealand with that skill, after chatting with one of the interns at the Zoo who was from NZ. Again the outdoorsy need in him is met. In his spare time he climbs mountains, and is part of a yachting crew.
The third child was happiest around her horses and leading disabled riders. Being HEded, she was able to spend time at the stables and do work experience. But she excels at all things academic. Studying is her bag. It was natural for her to go to university. She is now on the career path to joining the Police mounted section. At age 10 she discovered Anime during our study of Japan. She taught herself basic Japanese and at age 14, taught herself Korean and practised via Skype calls to a friend in Korea. She designed her first Anime costume for a Convention at age 12. This was the perfect outlet for her creativity. Had we not been HEdding, we’d have not studied Japan, she’d have not found her love of Anime and not learned basic Japanese. The drive to learn for themselves has been evident in all 5 children. When I bought my daughter a Japanese textbook Level 1, she told me to return it as she had completed all those basics already and needed Level 2!
Any hobbies or businesses that the children went into, they were quite the expert by the time they’d done their research. The 16yo twins have plans and ambitions yet to fulfil. One of my twins plans to go out to NZ and one plans to work in biochemical science. Again, they too are creative and think outside of the box.
Art has always played a big part in our home, both fine art and creative. They have learned there is no glass ceiling when it comes to HEd. Only your imagination holds you back. They all have enjoyed every single, individual day!
I think we did our job encouraging them to explore, not to be chained to one place, and to always swim against the flow if that’s where you want to be. HEd is a holistic way of life. It satisfies the body, and soul as well as the mind.
My tip would be to keep a backpack with ID books and notepad and binoculars and paints, so at any point, you can dive out the door and be with nature. And don’t stress about milestones. They’ll all get there in the end.
HEd v Classroom – It’s like giving someone a holiday brochure and looking at the pictures, or actually feeling the sun on your face and the sand between your toes. It’s that different! None of our children want their children to go to school. I think I’ll let that speak for itself. Hoorah for free range kids!
We have just completed 25years of HEd and our youngest children (the twins), are set to attend full time college, like their siblings did before them.
I possibly ‘forfeited’ a career to give my whole being to educating my children but I cannot imagine any career being as rewarding as this. We have expanded and explored our boundaries, and met people from every continent and every walk of life.
Please stop by our blog – aheartfullofhoney.blogspot.com The Forrest Clan.
Mrs Delia Aldescu Ciobancan, Psychologist, Romania
In Romania, after the revolution, private education developed in parallel with state education.
Parents can choose to educate their children through alternative education systems starting with kindergarten (Step by Step, Waldorf, Montessori, Homeschooling would only be some of them).
We chose for our son to enrol him in a kindergarten with the “gifted education method”.
Because the staff at the ordinary kindergarten were not stable and we could not check the extent to which the educational procedures were followed, we decided to transfer the child to a Montessori kindergarten.
Today he is in the third year of school. The Montessori method was developed in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, based on her scientific observations on children’s behaviours. The first time I heard about her was at the psychology college I attended. At that time I had no children but I set out to document myself to choose what is best for children’s education.
The Montessori method encourages the child’s natural impulse to let himself be absorbed and to learn from what surrounds him.
For us, the parents, it mattered a lot to take into account the individuality of the child and his ability or his native rhythm to research, to ask questions, to learn alone and in a practical way, and not through forced accumulations of theoretical knowledge.
We are happy and satisfied with this type of Alternative Education because it meets our philosophy as parents and we see our child thrive and much more happy than they used to be at the previous school, and we are also happy and satisfied with the people who teach him, the methods of education and the results that the child brings home. He is not only a smart child but also one who develops a perspective of respect and responsibility towards people and nature.