21 Sep Isa turning five in november 2020: is the adventure over?
Almost every time we share our life story and our plans for the near future, many people ask us: ‘when your daughter turns five, she must go to school in Holland. So then the adventure (life) is over, right?‘
For us, this has been a question we never liked answering, especially because it makes us a bit sad that of all the questions one can ask, this is always the first thing that people want to know. When confronted with our story of seeking freedom, adventure and a playful life with ‘a lot of time on our hands‘ for ourselves and our kids, the question remains: ‘when will your adventure end and will you start taking care of the education of your kids’? It can feel as if you are an irresponsible parent if you answer the question like we do: ‘We don’t know.’ It doesn’t mean we don’t have a vision, or an idea how we would like to see it, what we would like to give our kids, if money were no object and we had all the time in the world and if there would not be a lawful obligation to send kids to a schoolbuilding. We believe there can be a different way to learn than solely in a schoolbuilding. In the process we want to understand first before we can be understood ourselves, we will look for win-win in this situation, we hope to create synergies and definitely continue to take charge of our own lives.
Holland has one of the best educational systems in the world: why leave?
Because we don’t agree. We were not particularly inspired by Dutch primary education. Why not? It focuses on measurable output, it wishes to compare children of very young age and ‘grade‘ them to see if their development is at par. Children mostly get presented with the same curriculum, regardless of their developmental readiness to receive it. While it is almost impossible to access content from the next grade when they are ready for it but the school year isn’t. We did not see a lot of fit between the educational offer and the child. Classes are big (30 students), and work pressure for teachers is typically (too) high. There is a lot of (online) bullying and screen addiction. Schools go online (great!), use apps to invite children to learn, make homework and interact, which is great. On the other hand schools have a responsibility to help children deal with the addictiveness of a screen. 3,5 hours of screen time per day for a 10 year old, we don’t think we should want that as a society. We don’t want that to be ‘normal‘.
We believe children should spend as much time as they can playing. At least until they are 7, maybe even longer. Be outside, be surrounded by nature and animals that belong there, hear different languages in a natural way, hear music from many places, play with other children, learn how to interact with kids and adults of different cultures.
So, in The Netherlands, we started looking for alternatives: what kind of school would invite the child to follow their curiosity? To choose to do something he or she feels like doing at that moment? Teachers who are able to coach and facilitate a child, to take it deeper into a subject if it shows interest and readiness? To follow it in developing its interests, help develop social skills, resolve conflict, be assertive and inquisitive, make many mistakes, learn to experiment, and make authentic (life) decisions.
Fortunately (and surprisingly!) there are many great options in Holland doing just that: democratic schools like ‘De Vallei‘ near Arnhem, or the Agora schools in the south of the Netherlands.
For now, we decided to stay close to family and friends in the east of the Netherlands and we opted for a school right here in Haaksbergen. It is called ‘Los Hoes‘ (translates into something like ‘Open House‘. A ‘Los Hoes‘ is a type of farmhouse, typical for the region Twente/ Achterhoek.
A completely open space with no separating indoor walls: the residents shared the space with its cattle. This type of farms were first seen around the year 1100. The school adopted the shared space and is called Primary School ‘Los Hoes‘. What is very módern about this school is its curriculum translated from Steven Covey’s method ‘the leader in me‘. It emphasises that it is no longer enough for schools and teachers just to focus on the transfer of knowledge.
‘First we form our habits. And then our habits form us’
The method helps children to develop habits and based upon those habits, behaviour develops. All of this is done by starting to develop those habits based on the ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ by Steven Covey, translated to primary education. Those habits teach them to start with themselves: the only one who can influence or even change your life is YOU. So be proactive, start with the final goal in mind, and take care of important things first (important = impact). When those habits are present, other people come into play: first understand others before you can be understood yourself, seek a win-win in situations, create synergy: work together. And finally, there is a lot of time invested to show a child how to take care of itself, experiment and show how it can manage its energy in highly addictive (online) environments. This helps children to take care of themselves first, develop social and emotional skills, teaches them to communicate effectively, helps them to work together, to be self reliant and entrepreneurial and know how to maintain their energy balance properly.
Covey the classroom
So how does such a method look when applied to a school? In Los Hoes, there are no walled classrooms, all children are sharing one space, playing and experiencing together. Three times a day every child is invited to choose to spend time in a ‘learning palace‘. A smaller, workshop-like space that is a theater with a lot of space for drama, music and dance, there is a ‘construction’ area with lots of wood and tools to use, a mini shop with a point of sale, a bike shop where they learn how a bike works and see how to fix one. An area to read, a palace to learn about numbers, and a palace to write and play with letters and language. Dutch is the first language and about 10% of the time English is spoken. There is a giant gymnastics area (walled for safety and sound) in the center of the school. Kids can do sports every day, indoors if they feel like it. After every period spend in a learning palace, kids gather back in their mentor group to share what they’ve done and choose the next palace to play. They eat their lunch together, when possible, outside in the garden.
The seven habits are connected to pedagogic goals for learning, which transforms the entire school into an inspirational, effective and people oriented place.
School and travel
So, what about the wish to keep travelling with kids that are lawfully obliged to go to school in The Netherlands? In our first meeting with the team at school, we explained our desire to travel with the children, to be in the world with them, to speak Spanish and English (or Chinese for that matter), to see wild animals, to swim in the ocean, to learn how to surf, to play with other kids from different cultures, to learn to play an instrument right at the beach, to see lava in a real volcano, to explore whatever their internal fire directs them towards. Be with us, their parents, for the largest part of the day, exploring together. If money were no object and we had all the time in the world, if there was no lawful obligation to send them to a schoolbuilding: this is what we would love to give them in these first years of life.
The team loved it and said: if you can take care of the money and the time, we can take care of the lawful obligation of a schoolbuilding. The team is open to work together with us as parents while we are on the road, share materials and guide us in the used method. They’ll help Isa remotely while she travels whenever she needs it. How that will work? We don’t know yet. You think she’d like it? Absolutely! You don’t think she will get behind? Absolutely not. We believe it to be the best of both worlds, for now. And for the future? I am proud to say ‘we don’t know yet‘. 🙂 We go forward on this wide open road of life (and education ;-)) with our minds, hearts and senses wide open.