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March 11, 2010

The Whole World is Their Classroom

Critics Maintain Home Education Isolates Children

  • The law allows for home education, assuming the teaching adheres to the public school education plan and allows for oversight, and most counties in Sweden adhere to it.
  • There are about 200 home educated children in Sweden—approximately half due to medical reasons—compared to the approximately 2 million homeschoolers in the United States.
  • International research indicates that most homeschool children flourish and do very well. However, critics of homeschooling worry that these children are isolated and exposed only to their parents’ worldview and opinions. Furthermore, homeschooling makes it much harder to identify child abuse and other problems in the home.
  • Regular oversight of homeschooling families are much more frequent than oversight in the public school.
  • The Christian organization Maranta conducts home education allegedly allowing spanking and denial of evolution theory. When this was brought to the attention of Secretary of Education Jan Bjorklund, he considered removing any provision for homeschooling for philosophical or religious reasons.
  • On June 16, 2009 the Department of Education introduced a new bill, which according to National Organization for Homeschoolers, (ROHUS) will make it much harder to homeschool in Sweden. It is expected that decisions on this bill will take place this spring.
  • Homeschoolers must adhere to the public school education plan.
  • Most homeschooling families receive no subsidies, but most homeschool students are registered in the local school system and therefore may be able to borrow appropriate teaching materials.
  • Homeschooling families must follow the national education plan but can use alternative learning styles to achieve the same objective. Examples of these are: writing lists, receipts, detective notes, storytelling, theater, playing cards and reading for others; there are also opportunities to use educational games and internet resources suitable for the age and learning objective.
  • Many families use the unit study approach, which may begin with a visit to a museum and culminate in an article written for the homeschool magazine Appleblomman (Apple blossom). Some children take courses in ceramics, theater, art, shop, sports and participate in public school activities such as field trips, hikes, swimming, disco dancing and theatre performances.
  • “We let the various subjects blend together in a manner that suits our family, and our interests while capitalizing on knowledge opportunities,” says Cina Wallen, mother of three.

    Homeschooling is big in the United States and is well known in many other countries. In Sweden, about 200 children are taught at home by their parents.

    How does it work?

    “Sondag” (Sunday) met three families who have chosen an alternative path to knowledge. It is one of the first really cold winter days in beautiful Djurgarden, outside Stockholm. The parking lot at the Museum of Science and Technology is empty, and the only people in sight are three young teenager girls chatting outside the entrance to the museum. It is warm and quiet inside the museum, until the elevator doors open and stroller and a large group of children pour out.

    Meet at the Museum

    “Hi. The others will be here soon; we have been upstairs for a bit. The kids are having fun. Meet Ping,” says Cina Wallen and points to the little girl in the stroller. “The others” are dad Magnus Henriksson and Alva 11, Lion 7; Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand and their three children Jakob 15, Rebecka 11 and Mikael 6; and Jenny Lantz and sons Lukas 9, Beppe 6, and Frode 2. Although the families live in different parts of Sweden, they meet frequently and often at museums. It does not matter that it is Monday, since these parents have chosen to educate their children, commonly called homeschooling.

    “Homeschooling is really a misnomer” says Cina Wallen, “since we spend so much time outside the home.” She and Magnus recently moved back to their hometown of Stockholm from small Grytgol located in the south. They lived in an old schoolhouse in Grytgol, which they renovated. The large space allowed for a music studio, dance studio and a large inspiration room for the children called the Treasure Room. Now they are back in Stockholm to be closer to friends and family and better opportunities for work. There are many reasons why they are choosing homeschooling, but “we enjoy each other” was one of the primary factors for the decision. “We have such freedom, ability to make our own schedule” says Magnus, a musician and music producer. “We do not like to conform to others’ schedules.”

    Independent Lifestyle

    He and Cina, a dance teacher and wellness trainer, are both self employed and desire the same independent lifestyle for their children. The family wakes up when they are rested, travel a lot and frequently host visitors. Their strong belief that children are self-directed in their learning governs their lifestyle.

    “Children gain knowledge through experiential learning, and real interactions with people. This was lost in my own education among all the rules and regulations. We are around the children all day—even when we work—and never suffer from the guilt that many working parents do,” says Magnus.

    Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand said their eldest son’s neuro-psychiatric challenges lead them to homeschooling as they believe he is best served in the home environment. “Once we began the exploration of homeschooling, we realized we really like it and were amazed at how well it worked for our family. It was a ‘aha’ moment for the entire family,” says Jonas and adds, “it is easier to be a good parent when one homeschools. The children know we are around; they are more secure and they do not need to fight for our attention.”

    Nine-year-old Lukas climbs up the large slide while 11-year-old Alva anxiously waits at the top. Seven-year-old Lion and 11-year-old Rebecka head to the rowing machine. It is obvious that they all play well together regardless of gender and age differences. “This has a huge impact on their development” comment the parents. “Being with children of various ages enhances the learning; there is a completely different dynamic than in the classroom,” says Jenny.

    Does Public School Slow Down Learning?

    Jenny and Nicklas, Lukas’ parents, were concerned that the hunger for learning that they saw in their son Lukas would be hampered by the public school. They feared his curiosity would be squelched as he approached school age. Jenny and Nicklas met a couple of homeschooling families and marveled at their cohesiveness and family unity. “We have always been very close in our family, and we wanted to continue this closeness,” says Jenny, who makes clothes and together with her husband runs a company that focuses on theater and music. They live out in the country, in Vadsbro, in Flens County. They have a duck pond, a small yard and a large forest to play in. They visit Stockholm monthly and are frequently in Nykoping to meet friends for coffee, go to the library, and to attend evening activities. “The picture of the isolated homeschooling family does not fit,” says Jenny. Public school doesn’t necessarily guarantee appropriate socialization, and frequently create the opposite, according to Jenny and other homeschool parents.

    “It is not uncommon for people to comment on how social our children are, and how independent they are, self-sufficient and supportive of others. It is not the quantity of people around that matters, but the quality of the interactions,” says Jenny.

    Cina adds: “It is much more common that children in school feel isolated and alone. Children in public school seldom develop meaningful and sustainable relationships with others. I am a perfect example of this: how many of my former classmates do I keep in touch with? Not many.”

    No Whining

    Approval to homeschool is given by the local school board. If permission is granted, there is constant follow-up and oversight by a pedagogue. Homeschoolers must adhere to the state-mandated education plan, but parents and children are free to choose how to spend their time.

    “We do not need to perform the same experiments or read the same textbooks. We constantly try new learning methods. Obviously, the children cannot just run around; self-discipline is extremely important. We have found that we need to work extra in math, but it is never hard to get the kids to do their work. There is a spirit of cooperation between parents and children; everyone takes responsibility. There is no whining in our family,” says Cina.

    We Don’t Go to Thailand

    Freedom is costly. The earmarked school funding does not extend to homeschooling families. The local county can choose to provide financial subsidies for food and books, but it is not automatic. “Sometimes we have a lot of money, and other times we have to tighten our belt drastically, but is our choice and we like it,” says Cina. “We don’t do Christmas in Thailand, renovate our house or purchase a new car every few years like many others. But what we get instead cannot be bought with money,” says Jonas Himmelstrand, educational consultant working from home.

    It is lunch time, time to gather up the nine children. When asked what they think about homeschooling, Lukas 9 and Alva 11 answered: “I would be bored to tears in school, because I have a hard time sitting still. My classroom is the whole world. If there was a school where children could decide for themselves how to spend the day, and all lessons were voluntary, I would want to try it for a week or so. I like being in charge of my time, and do my own things by myself and with other homeschoolers,” says Alva.

    “I would not like sitting still all day. It is so nice to be home with my family. But if I had to go to school, healthy food and excellent teachers would be important to me,” says Lukas.

    A Typical Day in the Wallen Household

    “We do not really have a typical day, other than that we sleep late, until nine at least. We like a slow morning. Most of the time, the children choose what they want to work on. Later Alva either spends time in the tree house or heads to the library. She is so independent now that she is older. She is taking an English conversation class, and both she and Lion have several other extracurricular activities that they participate in, such as shop, theater, art and dance. They also play the violin. We have taken full advantage of the Kulturskolan (this is akin to youth programs offered by local municipalities) it is fabulous! We have a good working relationship with the principal and the children have many friends.”

    Just an Ordinary Day for the Himmelstrand’s Family

    “We have a pretty structured schedule and do most school in the mornings. Before lunch we will do math, social studies and languages. We have a distinct advantage in that Tamara’s first language is English, and she also speaks French, German and some Italian. The activities after lunch are a bit more relaxed. We may visit friends, go to the library, a museum, go for a hike, take a jazz dance class, playing music or just hanging out pursuing own interests. Rebecka likes Swedish history and drawing, and Jakob likes to spend time on the computer and do translations from and to English from Swedish.”

    A Normal Day at the Lantz Home

    “We are very slow in the mornings. Before Christmas we all gathered around the radio to listen to the Julkalendern (this is a tradition in Sweden, a series that run during Advent season, rarely if ever connected with the true meaning of Christmas, unfortunately, but simply a fun, interesting and engaging story that has an accompanied Advent calendar that most children get.) Then we usually read the paper, well, everyone but Frode, of course. Next we head outside to take a hike or a walk in the neighborhood. Back home, the children play while we prepare lunch. We do a lot of play and figure that education comes through play mostly. Lukas is learning math with the help of games and English using his Pokemon cards. Our most creative period is in the evenings. If we need to do something together that is when we do it."

    Editor’s Note: This is a rough translation of an article published in Aftonbladets Sondag’s Magazine. A greater understanding of the Swedish culture would further illuminate some of the comments and reasoning by these parents, but the overall message is clear—homeschooling is a viable alternative to public school. It is equally clear that these families take great pride in being unique.