In Denmark we have a special part of Copenhagen called Christiania. It has a history of freedom and rebellion. It also has a history of violence and drug trade. It is also a huge piece of land, with a beautiful lake. It has ecclectic houses spread out in the green flowery landscape. Most of them build by the 700 people living there. The ground was a military area, where hippies and squatters went into the area in the 70-ties and settled down.
The area has been threatened with getting closed down many times since then, but have in a magical way managed to survive.
Today we went there with our kids and a good friend, Grev Lyhne who has lived there for many years. He showed us around and we had a nice pick nick there by the water. Grev Lyhne is a royal court fool, a drummer, a performance artist and a writer.
We like to show our kids different ways of life. Different people. Different surroundings. We hope that it will help them have more ways of life to choose from when they grow up, and that they will find relating to society and people around them easier. That it will help them become more empathetic towards other people.
Through the years we have often been asked, which method of homeschooling we use. It has never been important to us to have a method of homeschooling. But we learned that to many homeschoolers it was very important to define themselves in a method. The method defined who they were. Especially with those people we met who defined themselves as unschoolers.
We don’t define ourselves as homeschoolers. Homeschooling is something we do at the moment. We may have done it for 11 years now, but it is still not our identity. It is a personal choice to us.
When we started meeting people who said they were unschooling, we heard about the method and thought, well that is what we do. Child-led and interest based learning. But the people we met said, we were not allowed to call ourselves unschoolers, because we sometimes use classic school material and sometimes teach our children classic knowledge, as learning to read, write and math.
Well, just the fact that other people saw themselves in the position to judge other peoples lives, without having lived it, made us quite negative to the unschooling method. It seemed more and more like an ideology or religion. But most of all it seemed like the main focus in unschooling, was to reject and be against all classical learning and school-like learning.
We see homeschooling as a positive way of learning, that can be merged into daily life and gives you a wonderful opportunity to get to follow your children’s learning and development. What you call that, really don’t matter to us. It is just a definition. There are already too many boxes in life.
Our homeschool is all about content, not ideology. But people around us got more and more angry with us, if we called us the sacred word – unschoolers. So I started looking into what methods there was to choose from on the market, or if I would have to invent my own word, for what we do. Well, we found the following methods on the market (I have organised them in the order of amount of discipline involved. Most discipline first, least discipline at the end):
The Classical Method
Self directed learners
One particular box we seemed to fit into, was Eclectic learning. It is a method that mixes all methods and uses it as a palette of colours as you need them. Most homeschoolers end as Eclectic learners, when they have been homeschooling for many years. It is a natural process of learning – to stay open to all methods.
So to us, confining ourselves to a method, is more of a communication tool, to communicate with particularly unschoolers, where method seems very important. We just live and learn.
If it should happen that some people that call themselves Eclectic learners should forbid us to call us Eclectic Learners, we would just call us the Pippi Longstocking and Gyro Gearloose method. It wouldn’t be a problem to us.
The United Nations building in Copenhagen is open to visitors, if you book a tour with them. So we did just that. Gathered 16 homeschoolers and had a look around the building. Before the visit we talked to the children about the purpose of UN, and how, and on what basis it was founded in 1945.
How does spare time activities work together with home schooling? Fine, actually. We see it as a kind of out-sourcing of areas, that we are not capable of teaching in ourselves. Areas that interest our kids.
Through the years, we have attended many different spare time activities. Mostly, a new activity has come around like this:”Mum, what is a scout?” (Watching a movie with scouts appearing in the story). “Mum, I want to be one”. Ok, so we started looking around, to see if we had any scout groups, near by. Non of us had ever been a scout, so we had no idea either, what it was going to be about. We then found a new concept starting, where you could attend a scout group with your family, even though, you were only 1 year old. That meant we could be scouts together as a family (our kids were 5, 2 and 1 year old at that time). That appealed to us. So we ended up being scouts for 5 years. We learned that being a scout involved learning about nature and being able to set up a fire and cook lots of food over the fire. Great fun. Loads of teamwork building stuff out of wood and learning how to use a knife and an ax. Learning morse signals has been very popular here too.
Another time, one of our children said:”I want to dance ballet!” When she had said it a few times, we started to ask into why she wanted to dance ballet. She was motivated by a friend who danced ballet and she had seen her dance. So we found a class that seemed good and she enrolled. That is 4 years ago now, and she is still very fond of dancing ballet.
One of our children have been fond of writing since she was 6 years old and have practiced and practiced on her own. When writing classes have popped up around us, she has taken part. Some has been good others not so fantastic. But it has been a learning process.
Another child has taken part in Break Dance classes.
Our oldest child has made her own writing group with another aspiring author, which she meets up with regularly to work together and exchange ideas and support each other.
One day two of our kids came to me and said:”We have found a drama school and we want to try to audition”. So I contacted the school and got them set up for auditions. It was fun for them to try, and one got in and the other child found out it was not for her to act.
We have also made use of the free offer of evening classes we have in Denmark, when the children are in 7th to 10th grade. One of our children have attended dance classes in musical dance and ended up taking part in a show. She also took part in an arts class and a physics and chemistry class through this free offer.
Recently, we have enrolled in karate classes where we can train together across all age groups and levels. Just in the homeschool spirit.
Our oldest child was researching to find a map of Copenhagen from the 16th Century, and found that it was possible to look at one in real life, in the Copenhagen Town Hall public library. She asked for help to find out how to visit that library and it resulted in us all going there on a tour of the whole town hall and the tower. It was a good way to learn about the democratic process in Denmark, and to understand the way the councils work. The Copenhagen town hall is open to the public, which in itself is quite unique, and you can pay to get a tour of many of the areas not open to the public. You can also pay to get a tour of the tower, which has a unique view over the city. Copenhagen has many towers and we want to climb all of them. We have gone through quite a few of them by now, but this was our first time in the Town Hall Tower. The Town Hall is full of wall paintings, many by famous artists. It also has a room full with unique woven tapestry, with motives from Danish history. As our oldest daughter said:”We just didn’t have enough time there” 🙂
To make our German lessons come alive, we made an appointment with the librarian at the Goethe Institute in Copenhagen to come and have a guided tour. We were shown around the library and told about the many free offers they have on their website for everyone to learn German. It was really very inspiring and showed the children the living world of German language and culture, and not just a book in front of them.
In der Heimschule der Familie Schou in Dänemark steht nicht nur der klassische Lernstoff auf dem Programm. Die Kinder lernen auch beim Gemüseeinkauf, im Garten oder beim Lesen von Manga-Comics. Und wer eine Pause braucht, geht aufs Trampolin.
Es ist 10 Uhr morgens und in der Heimschule der Familie Schou, wie sie sie selbst nennen, ist es ganz still. Die vier Kinder sind vertieft in ihre jeweiligen Tätigkeiten. Weil sie mit dem Lernstoff für dieses Schuljahr fast fertig sind, dürfen die Kinder an diesem Vormittag selbst entscheiden, womit sie sich beschäftigen.
Die 15 Jahre alte Martha zeichnet Fantasiewesen, die 12-jährige Edith bastelt an einer Tasche aus Plastikperlen, die 11-jährige Dagmar liest einen japanischen Comic. Der Jüngste, Hjalmar, schreibt Wörter in eine Reihe. Er ist sechs Jahre alt. Seine Lieblingsbeschäftigung in der Schule sei es, in seinem Arbeitsheft Wörter mit den dazugehörigen Bildern zu verbinden, erzählt er. In welche Klasse er gehe, wisse er nicht.
Mutter Vibeke Schou sitzt auch mit am Tisch, hält sich aber im Hintergrund. Die Entscheidung, die Kinder zu Hause zu unterrichten, trafen sie und ihr Mann, als ihre älteste Tochter eingeschult werden sollte.
Die Begeisterung der Kinder fürs Lernen bewahren
„Mein Mann und ich erinnerten uns an unsere Schulzeit. Und die war nicht immer rosig. Entweder musste man auf die anderen warten und langweilte sich, oder man hinkte so weit hinterher, dass man total verloren war. Ich sah mir 10 bis 20 Schulen in der Umgebung an und suchte nach einer, die ich selbst jeden Tag besuchen wollte. Diese Schule gab es nicht.
Unser Ansatz ist, dass Lernen ein großartiges Geschenk ist und wir wollen die Begeisterung in unseren Kindern bewahren. Viele Kinder freuen sich ja auf ihren ersten Schultag und darauf, etwas zu lernen. Und dann wird diese Begeisterung nach und nach ausgelöscht.“
Frau und mehrere Kinder schauen auf einen Bildschirm. (Miriam Arndts)Ihre Doppelrolle als Mutter und Lehrerin empfindet Vibeke Schou als völlig natürlich. (Miriam Arndts)
Seit zehn Jahren unterrichtet Vibeke Schou ihre Kinder zu Hause, während ihr Mann arbeitet. Abends macht er mit den Kindern manchmal physikalische und elektronische Experimente, während die ausgebildete Schneiderin Nähkurse an der Volkshochschule gibt.
Ihre Doppelrolle als Mutter und Lehrerin empfindet Vibeke Schou als völlig natürlich. „Bei uns ist es ein bisschen so, wie es zu Beginn der Menschheit war: Die Mutter bringt den Kindern das bei, was sie fürs Leben brauchen. Für mich ist Unterrichten und Muttersein ein und dasselbe.“
Bei Familie Schou klingelt keine Pausenglocke
Hjalmar ist inzwischen in den Garten gelaufen, wo er auf einem riesigen Trampolin hüpft. Das macht er, wenn er nicht mehr still sitzen kann, erklärt seine große Schwester Martha. Bei Familie Schou klingelt keine Pausenglocke. Die Kinder nehmen sich ihre Pause, wenn sie sie brauchen.
Die Zweitjüngste, Dagmar, erzählt, dass sie gerne mal ausprobieren wollte, wie es ist, in eine normale Schule zu gehen. Also begleitete sie einen Freund einen Tag lang in die vierte Klasse. Es war sehr laut, sagt sie. Zu Hause könne man die anderen bitten, leise zu sein, wenn man sich konzentrieren müsse. Hier habe man außerdem mehr Zeit, sagt die 11-Jährige. Diesen Eindruck hat sie vermutlich auch, weil nur ein Bruchteil des Heimschul-Alltages klassischer Unterricht mit Stillsitzen ist.
„Bei uns zu Hause ist ja rund um die Uhr Unterricht. Wenn wir im Supermarkt sind, frage ich die Kinder: Welche Möhren sind hier das beste Angebot? Auch wenn wir im Garten sind, lernen wir die ganze Zeit und das ganze Jahr über. Wenn wir einen Regenwurm finden, dann gehen wir rein und lesen was über Regenwürmer. Dann sagen wir nicht: Das machen wir jetzt nicht, weil Sommerferien sind.“
Der Wechsel an die öffentliche Schule steht bevor
Dagmar ist mittlerweile ihrem kleinen Bruder aufs Trampolin gefolgt. Ein Junge und zwei Mädchen tauchen am Gartentor auf. Hjalmar hüpft vor Freude noch höher. Damit ihre Kinder genügend soziale Kontakte haben, lädt Vibeke Schou oft andere Kinder zu sich nach Hause ein.
Diese drei Geschwister werden auch zu Hause unterrichtet. Deswegen ist es völlig normal für sie, sich nach kurzem Spiel im Garten mit an den Tisch zu setzen und Marthas Referat über das Weltall zu lauschen. Es geht unter anderem um den Urknall, der allen hier ein Begriff zu sein scheint, und um den dänischen Astronomen Tycho Brahe. Dagmar und Edith machen sich Notizen und heben den Finger, wenn sie Fragen haben.
Hjalmar hat sich auf den Schoß seiner Mutter gemogelt und hört gespannt zu. Auch er meldet sich: Er glaube nicht, dass Aliens Ufos bauen können, sagt er. Martha ist ganz seiner Meinung. Keiner macht sich über seine Bemerkung lustig.
Martha fängt im August in der zehnten Klasse einer öffentlichen Schule an und möchte im Jahr darauf an ein naturwissenschaftliches Gymnasium wechseln. Vielleicht werde sie Schriftstellerin, sagt Martha. Sie habe angefangen, alle Experimente, die sie machen, zu notieren, um daraus lustige Geschichten zu schreiben, von denen andere Kinder etwas lernen können. Vielleicht werde sie aber auch Astronomin.
When we set out home schooling 10 years ago, we talked a lot about what our basic ideas were. We realized that most other homeschooling families we met, had other ideas from ours, that shaped their Home School. These are our foundation, and we try to stay as true to them as possible.
We try to answer all the children’s questions, right now or as quickly as possible. We say “yes!” if we can. We try to fulfill all learning wishes set forward by the children.
Every member of the family contribute in practical chores. We are all a precious part of the team.
Our goal is to learn something new every day. To learn as much as possible, based on our present level, individually. Our level of knowledge is not static, we are all the time in a progress of learning.
We spend as much time as possible together, as a family, and prioritize time spend talking together. It is important for us to have plenty of time to eat together.
We teach our children to respect each other and other people. We accept that other people have different views to us. We are allowed to be free to be so physical that we may hurt ourselves, and find our natural limits. We may shout, scream, be unfair, tired, but always be able to say sorry and work on making things good again, with respect for the damage we may have caused. We work on finding our own limits and others.
We do not shield our children from the world, we inform and enlighten them. You can tell children about everything in the world, you just have to find the best way for them to understand right now in their level of understanding.
Teach our children to take initiative.
We limit trips and visitors to at the most every second day. We prioritize space for personal development.
Screen time is limited to a minimum. Spending time outside in the nature, time for play, movement and creativity are prioritized.
We aim for a level of learning, that is above elementary school, so our children with ease could be included in such a school, if it no longer are possible for us economically to afford homeschooling on one full salary and a part-time wage.
What a great read. I enjoyed this book so much. Having already read “School is dead” by Everett Reimer, “Hvis Skolen Ikke Fantes”, Nils Christie and “Deschooling Society”, Ivan Illich, all books from around 1970, it was interesting to read “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto. A book published in 1992. He was just as John Holt, a school teacher, who became disillusioned with the American school system. While, John Holt only stayed a brief period of time in the school system, as a teacher, John Taylor Gatto stayed for 30 years. Mainly in the New York area. He taught both rich and poor students, but his experiences with the pupils in the school system were the same.
In 1991 John Taylor Gatto was named “New York State Teacher of the Year”. On that occasion, he gave a speech. This is where he for the first time put forward his “Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher” where he describes the function of at School Teacher. In real life. Not how we theoretically want a School Teachers function to be. But how his 30 years of experience in the system, had been.
Here we go:
Confusion. A constant violation of natural order and sequence dismissed as quality in education.
Class Position. You come to know your place.
Indifference. When the bell rings, what you have learned, don’t matter anymore.
Emotional Dependency. You have to surrender your own will to the predestinated chain of command.
Intellectual Dependency. Good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do.
Provisional Self-Esteem. People need to be told what they are worth.
One Can’t hide. There are no private spaces for children, there is no private time.
He also makes a short summary of how new compulsory schooling is. In the USA it came about in the State of Massachusetts around 1850. 80% of Massachusetts population resisted, sometimes with guns, and did not surrender its children until the 1880s, when the area was seized by militia and the children marched to school under guard.
That Schools were designed to be instruments for the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce humans whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
Two institutions at present control our childrens lives: Television and Schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, nonstop abstraction. In the past our childrens lives would have been occupied by real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach you what you really want to learn.
He makes a calculus of time the Children in School must deal with: Out of 168 hours a week children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours to fashion a self. Children watch 55 hours of television a week. That leaves them 57 hours to grow up. Children attend school 30 hours a week, use 8 hours to get ready and travelling to school, 7 hours on homework – a total of 45 hours. During that time they are under constant surveillance. they have no private time or private space. That leaves them 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course, the children eat too, that takes some time – but not much, as they have lost the tradition of family dining. So we allot 3 hours a week to eating, and that leaves a child with 9 hours of private time a week.
Gatto tells what effect this has on his pupils:
They are indifferent to the adult world. Nobody want’s to grow up.
They have no curiosity. They cannot concentrate for very long at a time.
They have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today.
They become ahistorical. They have no idea about how the past has predestinated their own present.
They are cruel to each other, lack compassion for misfortune, laugh at weakness.
They are uneasy with intimacy. For their whole life they have hidden their inner self inside a larger outer personality made up of artificial bits and pieces of behavior borrowed from television or acquired to manipulate teachers.
They are materialistic, grade everything as a School teacher and copy television mentors who offer everything in the world for sale.
They are dependent and passive.
How can we turn this around? Gatto says it is not about pouring more money into a sinking ship. We have to rethink what it is we want our children to learn and why. Gatto is a fond believer in mentors. Including all groups of the community into the community again. Not separating the population into groups of parasites and putting working people on a pedestal. He did many programs for his pupils where they committed themselves to community service. Many of those pupils came back many years later and told him how that experience had changed their lives. How it had helped them rethink goals and values.
Gatto says that it is time for a return to democracy, individuality and family.
Gatto makes a sharp distinction between Networks and Communities. He believes that todays schools are called communities, but are really networks. There is nothing wrong with networks, but if we believe they have the values of communities, we are left betrayed and lonely.
To sum up the book, it is a great critical view on our current education system. We need to review how we think and understand learning. Education does not equal learning. A good life does not equal a constant march towards achieving material goods and distinctions.