PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Eva Witsel. Hi, Eva.
EVA: Hi, Pam! Hello.
PAM: So nice to meet you. We were recently introduced through a guest on the podcast and I am really looking forward to hearing more about your unschooling experience. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
EVA: Okay. Yeah. Thank you. My name is Eva. I’m from the Netherlands. English is not my first language, so, I’ll try my best, but it’s good to know. We live near the city center of the Hague, so it’s a big city in the Netherlands. I live there with my husband and two children. My husband’s name is Arnaud and my children are Berend and he’s 15 years old, and my daughter, who is Fiene, she’s 13 years old. She will be 14 in a couple of weeks. Yeah.
PAM: Yay! So, what’s everybody interested in right now?
EVA: Yeah, well, we started unschooling when my son was four, so that was a long time ago. But, when he was 13, he decided he wanted to study aerospace engineering. And, in the Netherlands, the educational system is a bit different from the United States and Canada and lots of other countries. And it’s a really difficult study to get into without a high school diploma. So, you need to get a diploma and that’s also different than in a lot of other countries. You have to take exams for all the subjects and, so that’s what he is preparing for now.
We started that when he was 13 and last school year. He did his first exam in biology and he passed it. So, that was really great. He didn’t do any school until he was 13. And then in two years, he did the whole biology and then he passed his exam. So, that was wonderful. And then, this year, he will be doing English and history and in the next couple of years, we’ll do the different subjects and then he’ll be able to go to university.
So, he’s doing a lot of that and working on that and he’s got a couple of hobbies, too. So, he plays field hockey. He plays tennis. He does a lot of music production and playing piano. So, those are things he really likes. He watches a lot of YouTube videos and is really into playing computer games. He’s always been like that, I think. Since he could operate an iPhone or an iPad or a computer, he was playing games. So, those are the things my son is up to at the moment.
My daughter is still 13, and she doesn’t have really specific plans like that yet. She does say that eventually she might want to go to university, but hasn’t any particular interest yet that she wants to study or something like that. And she doesn’t have the goal to get her high school diploma. So, she’s still doing what we were doing before, doing the things she likes. So, it’s a lot of a scrolling through Pinterest. And she’s always finding fun stuff to do on Pinterest. She likes arts and crafts and things like that.
So, she’s into making the little friendship bracelets with the little notes in it. She’s doing lots of those. She started embroidery recently. She likes to crochet, those kinds of things. And together, we are reading a book list about the history of science. Both my children are really into science and math. I think that’s because my husband and I would really like it, too, so we’re always really enthusiastic about it. So, I think it was a little bit contagious. She does a lot of math too and history of science. We’re reading the book list. And talking to friends with WhatsApp, things like that.
My husband, he works full time and he plays field hockey, too, and tennis. Plays the guitar, does a little bit of math with my daughter sometimes. Yeah, that’s about it. It’s a lot of work. He works five days a week, and he spends a lot of time working.
And I’m at home with the children every day. So, I do lots of stuff with them. And, up until earlier this year, I was really active for the Dutch Homeschooling Association, did most of the work lobbying with our government to make sure they didn’t make homeschooling impossible in the Netherlands. That was one of their goals a couple of years ago. So, there was a lot of work, but I stopped those activities earlier this year, because I’m writing my own math curriculum for homeschool children in the Netherlands. So, that’s what I’m working on a lot. That takes up a lot of my time at the moment. And I organize lots of things for homeschooling children. That takes a lot of time as well.
PAM: Wow. I love hearing how you can see how the different interests of the people in the family weave together. Like you said, when we’re just excited about something, that is often contagious, because we see the fun side of it. And the other thing that stood out was that this love for science, what you’re looking at is the history of science. So, it’s not, oh, you like science, we need to focus on science experiments and learning facts and that kind of stuff, but the full breadth of it. We always talk about, whatever your interest is, you can hit so much of it, like the history of science, right?
EVA: Oh yeah. Well, we did lots of experiments, too, especially from a really young age. And I think that’s the way I made them a little bit enthusiastic about science.
PAM: The fun science.
EVA: Because most people are, already when they’re small kids, after the curriculum and the textbooks, it’s a bit dry. And the theory about how everything works without the wonder of science, the experiments, like the things that a homeschooler usually does with the baking soda and vinegar. Oh, my children loved it. So, we did that a million times and I had food coloring and I added lots of things and they had so much fun with doing experiments like that. So, they thought science was one of the most fun things to do.
PAM: Well, exactly. Because, it’s just about how our world works. It’s exploring that. So, it is so much fun to play with all that kind of stuff and how it can really, even if that was their only interest, you could open up the whole world. They could explore the whole world just through that lens. So, it’s really fun to see that. So, you mentioned you guys started unschooling when your eldest was four.
I’d be curious to hear how you discovered unschooling, how you came across it, and what your move to unschooling looked like.
EVA: He went to school when he was four. But if we go back a little bit before that, when he was just a baby, I needed advice on breastfeeding and baby stuff and things like that. So, I ended up on the breastfeeding forum on the internet. And there was one family, the mother was there as well, and she told us that she was planning to homeschool her children. And her oldest was just about two years older than mine. And so, it was a little bit before my son was supposed to start school and I was like, that’s actually a great idea. Most people I know and most people I speak to when they first hear about homeschooling, they were like, “What’s that? Why would you do that? Is that even allowed?” So, that was a really different reaction for me.
And I think that came because my husband and I obviously just went to school when we were young and we didn’t really like it. It was not an awful experience, but it was a bit boring for us. And what I also noticed is then, in the Netherlands you have elementary school and then at 12, you start high school, so you don’t have middle school or anything. So, the elementary school, when we finished it and I went to high school, the teachers were like, “What do they teach you at elementary school? You don’t know anything.”
And then I finished high school and I got my diploma. I was really happy with my diploma and I went to university and the teachers there, said the same thing. They were like, “They don’t teach you anything anymore. You don’t know anything.” And I was like, okay. Well, then I graduated from university. I was really proud of myself. Had my first job, had my first manager tell me, “People who just got out of university, I have to teach them everything. They don’t know anything.”
And in hindsight, I think he was a bit right. I knew a lot of things, of course, after studying for 21 years, but not very practical things that I needed in the job that I was doing. So, to me, the educational system wasn’t that good. It wasn’t really something I found very important. But my husband and I at the time both worked four days a week and my children went to daycare and they had a great time at daycare. So, I didn’t have a problem with that. And I saw school a bit like daycare. It was like, oh, he spent 24 hours in daycare per week before that, and now he will go to school for 25 hours. It’s not that big of a difference.
So, I was like, school was not really important to me educationally, but it was more like a daycare or something like that. And then he went to school and he didn’t like it. The school didn’t like it. After just a couple of weeks, they were on the phone and telling us this isn’t good and this isn’t good. Then no school, then we don’t do it, because it wasn’t that important to us educationally. And I had heard about homeschooling before, I thought, well, if it’s not working and it’s just like daycare, and if it’s not a good daycare, then you don’t bring your children there. So, we just quit.
And then we started homeschooling and I’m really a person who likes to research things before I do something. So, I read a lot of books and websites, blogs, too. There was not a lot of information in Dutch at that time. Still isn’t a lot at the moment. So, mostly American blogs. And, you had Yahoo email lists. I didn’t have Facebook yet. I don’t think it’s existed yet. So, I read a lot on Yahoo email lists like that. And I discovered unschooling and it just made a lot of sense.
I’m really an analytical, rational thinker. So, I wasn’t attracted to it, like a lot of people are, by the freedom and things like that. It just made the most sense on the level of how brains work, how children learn, and the most effective ways for children to learn things are when they’re interested in something and not when someone else sets up a planning and says, “Do this this day and do this that day,” cuts it all up into little pieces. And so, that’s not how learning works. And unschooling was the homeschooling philosophy that fits the science about learning best, I thought, at least. So, that’s what we did. And it fits my son best, because my son wasn’t that easy going when he was little. So, for him, it was best, too. So, I think that combination led us to unschooling.
PAM: Wow. I loved that story. I love the focus on learning and how learning works and setting up the environment, because there are an inordinate amount of teachers who come to unschooling, too, because when you do look at it, it is so much about building this kind of environment, where they can follow what’s interesting to them in the moment and sink into it for as long as they want. They can dive as deep as they want and then move on, versus, like you were saying, the chopped, “You do this today, or you do this this morning, you do this this afternoon.”
EVA: It didn’t work at all for him.
EVA: They tried it in school, and were like, “He doesn’t listen.” And I’m like, yeah.
PAM: Yep. Yep. Yep. That was the thing with my oldest. The other piece that I loved was your story about going through each education level for yourself, and each one saying, “Oh, they’re not teaching you anything now. That was my experience so much. And that was a piece that was super valuable for me when I was deciding on homeschooling and then unschooling very quickly after that. Because it was so much about, well, you know, I learned all of these things and you got that reaction of, it wasn’t what I supposedly needed for the next level of the track that they wanted me to go to school for.
EVA: Yeah. For example, when we went to university, then the first report I had to write, I had never done anything like that before. So, I had no idea how to do that. Wow. That’s bad. I was like, I have gone to school for so many years. Why didn’t they teach me this in school? And I had to learn it all by myself. And that’s something that I also realized, that a lot of the things that I knew didn’t come from school or university, that I learned them in other ways. So, if you realize that, then you’re a lot of steps along the way to unschooling.
PAM: Exactly, exactly. It’s the practical knowledge. And, as you’re thinking about the different styles of learning, it’s the hands-on piece. It’s following what you’re interested in and actually being able to do it, that gets you the skills that are going to be most useful. You’re not going to completely switch gears very often, even from childhood into adulthood. I’m sure you saw for your son those aerospace interests.
EVA: They didn’t drop out of nowhere. I can see where that came from. And so, that was a really interesting thing for me when I started unschooling.
I’m a planner and I like to organize things and I have lots of to-do lists and all those kinds of things. I like that. But planning someone else’s education, that’s not really possible. And I don’t know where I read something about it, but I read somewhere about this idea that you can’t control what your child is going to learn. And what outcome it will have, the unschooling.
And I remember thinking, yeah. I thought it had an outcome, because you got the diploma and you know that you have had this education and you learned all these things. And then I thought, this is what the outcome will be. But then, I started thinking about it. You don’t have a guaranteed outcome, because you might forget things, but still pass the exam.
We have different three different levels of high school in the Netherlands. I don’t know which one he will go to. I think he will go there. But I’m not sure. I’m not sure if he even wants to. So, there are so many things that you don’t know before you start. You don’t really start, but before, you can’t predict it. And that was a difficult switch for me to make, that this is not something I can plan. This is not something I’m going to decide. He has to decide for himself. And later, my daughter had to decide for herself. And they both are on their separate ways. They’re really not alike, so they have their different interests. And it’s really great to see that developing.
For example, my son, he started playing Minecraft at one point, played Minecraft for hours and days and weeks and months and years. And then, that developed into other computer games, like the more strategic war games like Civilization and Total War and Battlefield One, and lots of different ones. And, I was always reading, because I’m really a researcher. So, every age has its new challenges.
So, I always kept reading and learning about what is important for the children that are a bit older than mine are. So, I could just have a little bit of a glimpse in the future. So, I had read about other people who were saying, if your child likes these kinds of games, you might like Kerbal Space Program. So, I went to my son and said, would you like me to buy Kerbal Space Program for you? And he had heard about it and he said, “Yeah, I’ll try it.”
And so, I bought Kerbal Space Program. I think he spent a year playing Kerbal Space Program and that’s where it started that he really liked aerospace engineering. And then, he and I did a MOOC, like the online university courses. So, there’s a MOOC on Introduction to Aerospace Engineering. So, we did that together. He knew so much about aerospace engineering and he was like 13. So, he didn’t have enough knowledge about the math to do all the problems. And I didn’t have the aerospace engineering knowledge. So, we did it together. I brought in my math skills and he, his aerospace engineering skills and together we were really good. Yeah, that was fun.
PAM: Oh, I love that. I just love that story of you guys diving in together. And that’s a more experienced unschooling thing to do. I think when people first come to unschooling, I wonder if we create a fear of curriculum, like unschoolers don’t do anything that looks like school at all, because it’s bad.
EVA: I think that’s a good thing. When you start, you shouldn’t. Because otherwise, people when they start unschooling and they immediately take textbooks and curriculum, they go off that way and they never come back.
PAM: Yeah. That’s exactly what I was getting at. Because, at first, you think that’s the only way to learn, right? So, when you’re first coming, it is really valuable to not go that route, especially as your first choice, to discover all the different ways you can learn things, all the different ways you can dive into things. And then later, it just becomes another option on the big smorgasbord of learning possibilities when you’re interested in something.
You guys could just go in to that aerospace engineering course and play with it, and you guys could play with it together, and it wasn’t about grades, and it wasn’t about we have to do this well, we have to not help each other. It’s a completely different way of learning.
I think a lot of parents would have done it differently. They would have just given it to him and say, “Well, do it yourself, because you want to learn it, and then just do it.” And if you help them, it’s considered cheating. He would never have been able to do this if I hadn’t helped him, because he just didn’t have all the math knowledge that were necessary to be able to do it. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it, because I didn’t know as much about aerospace engineering.
And also, what we did was we did the first part that was about orbital mechanics, so lots of physics and math in it, and then the last bit was about systems engineering and about safety issues and regulations and things like that, didn’t interest him. So, we quit after the bit about physics and math, and I was like, “Well, if it’s not interesting, then we don’t do it.”
And a lot of people would be like, “It would be nice to finish it.” And I was like, no. Why would we do that? If he wants to study aerospace engineering, he will at one point have to do things like that, but that’s 10 years from now or something.
PAM: Exactly. That that’s just a little seed planted that that’s a component of it.
Are there some other ways that your unschooling days are looking different now that your kids are older?
EVA: Yeah, I think so different because the thing about that he wants to get his diploma, it’s not an easy path. So, it’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of work for me, as well, because he’s 15 now, but he started when he was 13. And also, at this moment still, he’s not really able to plan it himself. So, he’s like, “I want to have this a long-term goal, but in short-term I have to make this decision to do the work now,” and that’s not working in his brain yet.
He really definitely wants the long-term goal, but then making it possible by doing the work now, I have to be his planning and it’s still a difficult decision every day. No, not every day. I don’t think about it every day. But I’m a real unschooler at heart, so I don’t want to force him to do it. So, I don’t want to go on like, “Well, we have to do it now because if we don’t, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t want to be like that.
But on the other hand, he has made it so clear and we’ve been working at it for two years now, that he really wants to get his diploma. So, me saying, “I’m not going to help you. I can help you, but I won’t because I don’t like it.” That’s not good either. So, I think that’s difficult. That’s been a difficult journey for us to do. I try to do it as much in an unschooling way, so creating an environment in which he just has to learn the things, he can’t help but learn it.
For example, for biology, we had the textbook, but I also had a lot of just normal books to read, like fiction. We read lots of non-fiction books as well, but just better than textbooks, because textbooks usually are a bit boring. So, we read a lot of books like that. We watched documentaries. watch. He really likes watching videos about all kinds of things. So, I looked up a lot of videos on every subject we had to learn about. And I had a biology club I organized, so other homeschoolers could join us and we set lots of different activities every month on the different subjects we were working on at that moment. In that way, I tried to do lots of biology-related things, that he would absorb the biology that he needed to pass his exam.
And you can’t learn everything you need for your exam like that, but you can learn a lot like that. And that’s the way he learns best. So that’s how we try to set it up. But yeah, when they were younger, it was more like we did whatever we felt like doing, and that’s not the case anymore. I think that’s a short summary of what I was saying.
And for my daughter, it feels the same that like we’ve always done. So, we do the things we like to do, and if I’ve planned something to do for her and she doesn’t want to, we do something else. So, that’s just what we’ve always done. So, that’s more similar. What I really like is that when they’re older and the things they’re learning now are a bit more interesting than when they were younger. So, that’s something that I really like with teenagers, that there’s really interesting things to learn about. And I’m learning a lot, as well. So, that’s what I really like. Yeah.
PAM: That’s so fun.
And it’s true, the things that they’re interested in and often they’re new things for us. It’s not that we’re remembering stuff that we learned, but we’re exploring totally new things. It’s so fascinating. And thanks very much for sharing your story of your son’s journey with learning, because it’s a beautiful unschooling example of helping our kids and supporting them as they’re trying to reach goals or just do things that they want.
I love that it’s not, “Okay. You want this diploma? Here’s the school path and you’ve got to follow it and I’ll just keep on top of you.” No, not at all. It’s like, I know my child. I know the way he likes to bring information in. I know the way he likes to learn and you’re supporting that so beautifully by finding interesting ways for him to bring the information in that helps him take the next step on the path that he is really interested in following.
And maybe a year down the road, you’ll get to a point where he’s like, “You know what? Maybe this isn’t worth the path that we’re on.”
EVA: Yeah. We have those kinds of conversations sometimes. “Do you still really want this, because it’s so much work and you’re not always happy about it.” And he really, he has no doubt.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. It’s just a lovely story, and you can see that in the background, you don’t have time to explain in our conversation, all the different pieces. But I can just imagine those conversations about timing and motivation and all that stuff, even going through the stress of writing an exam about it. All of that is just fodder for your conversation. And it’s very much just a dance. Like you said, it just comes up, multiple times a week, I imagine, that it’s another day. Because each day is a fresh day for making those choices. And that you’ve taken the time to find all sorts of different ways for him to engage with the stuff that he’s interested in, that’s the beautiful unschooling piece. So, thanks very much for sharing that.
PAM: You mentioned that you and your husband are involved in technology stuff and your love for math and science and stuff like that.
I would love to hear, how the different aspects of technology weave their way through your lives.
Now, you mentioned your son and his computer games and Michael loved Kerbal Space Program, and Outer Wilds. I don’t know if your son has discovered Outer Wilds.
EVA: No, I haven’t heard of it.
PAM: But anyway, yeah, I’d love to hear more about tech in your lives.
EVA: Yeah, I think there’s two things to that.
I think the one thing was when they were younger, I noticed of people having really big difficulties with anything technology-related. So, playing apps on the iPhone, watching television, playing computer games, and we really liked those things. So, I had no trouble introducing them to my children and I had no trouble at all letting them play however, and whatever, and how long they wanted, because I thought it was a good thing to do. And that’s kind of related to the parenting parts about unschooling, that those things can be really hard. That was not an area I was struggling with.
I was more struggling with the parenting, the relationship, because he’s just not a really easy child to raise. The other one is a lot easier. So, that was the problem for me, because he’s very similar to me, as well. So, the things that I can’t really handle, he doesn’t do well with, and so we push each other’s buttons often. So, that’s that that’s been the difficult part of parenting for me. But things like eating whatever they like, or whenever they’re like, and sleeping when they’re tired, those were the easy parts. And technology has been a part of that, as well.
So, we always supported them playing. We motivated them into it. Minecraft, for example, he didn’t know about Minecraft. He was seven or eight when I introduced it to him and I showed him on the iPad. “Would you like to play the game?” He didn’t like it. So, I was like, okay, put it away again. Try something else. And then, I think about six months later, I showed it to him again and I don’t know why it came up, but we had a look at it again. He was like, “Oh, okay. That’s interesting.”
And we gave him the subscription to the thing and then playing and playing and playing. I was always sitting next to him because, at the moment, I’m not sure if they had a Dutch version, but if they had, I didn’t know about it. So, we had an English version. That’s how he learned English. And that’s how he learned to read, how he learned to write.
And there’s so many things that he learned from playing Minecraft, but he didn’t just magically learn them. He was playing Minecraft and I was sitting next to him and he was like, “What does this say?” “How do you write lobby?” “How do you write spawn?” And, “How do you do this?” And that was something that I thought was really good to invest in, because it was something he was really interested in. He had so much fun with it, and I could see him learning all day, every day, and I was really happy with it.
So, I think that was also because of our backgrounds, but also because I was looking at him and seeing him do things and really not just like, oh, he’s playing Minecraft. He’s in front of the screen all day. And if you don’t look at what they’re really doing, then you don’t see the learning in it. But I did see the learning in it really so much. So, yeah, that was a good thing.
The other thing about the technology part is that, here in the Netherlands, there’s so little homeschoolers. There are literally at the moment, a little over a thousand children in the Netherlands that are homeschooled. And they’re spread out all over the country. It’s not a big country. It’s just a small country, but they’re spread out all over the country. And especially because they have this rule that you’re not allowed to start homeschooling after your child has already been to school.
So, don’t ask me how we did that, but we did. But there are some younger children homeschooling. But there are so little children in their age group. When we started homeschooling, there were about 250 homeschool children in all of the Netherlands at the time. So, that’s not a lot. So, if you want to do things without a homeschoolers, which we did, because they both really like doing things with other children, then you have to organize things that people are interested enough to drive all the way to your house to do that every month.
And I found that history and science and I started with the science club when they were 11 and 9, and I did that for three years every month. And that was something that other families really liked that their children were able to do at my house. So, they were playing with all the vinegar and baking soda and all kinds of stuff and making a big mess and it wasn’t at their own house. So, we did that at our house.
And then I always did it like that we had some time for the science club activities, and that they all also had time to just play with each other. So, it wasn’t just for doing the experiments and learning things, but it was also an opportunity for all the families that came together, for the mothers to talk together, and all the children to play together. And so that was really a nice set up.
I changed to a history club last year. It was really nice, as well, but then the pandemic and now, difficult to organize things now. But, I still do some things that you can mostly do outside. So, I still try to do things like that, but it helped that I had this science and math background, because a lot of homeschoolers are a little bit intimidated by subjects like that. And so, they really liked sending their children to me and letting me do my thing with them.
PAM: Yeah. Well, that is helpful, because you’re bringing that fun energy to it. That curiosity, that enthusiasm that you were talking about earlier, like, I love this stuff! This is so much fun and you can all go play. It’s without the expectation that they go step by step by step. So, that is so much nicer than a parent who is still fearful of it and intimidated by the topic. So, there’s a lot of homeschooling/ unschooling parents who work on their math phobia that they developed in school. That fear of the subject. So, that is an important part, to try not to pass that on to their kids. So, it’s lovely that you offered that opportunity for all the kids to come together and that it comes from technology.
I mean, for me as well, I didn’t know any unschoolers, let alone even homeschoolers, when we first decided to take the plunge. And I only discovered it through searches on the internet. Same thing, when school wasn’t working for my oldest, I was searching and searching and then one day, I came across the word homeschooling I’m like, what on earth is that? And so, technology is such a wonderful tool that helps us as parents in what we’re doing, but also just with engaging with our kids.
What you mentioned about watching what they’re doing, knowing what they’re doing, engaging with them in what they’re doing, is such a key aspect of the technology fears. Because if you’re just sitting back, you just see a screen. And everything just gets lumped into that screen, yet when you are with them, having conversations, or watching, or doing it with them, you see all the learning that’s going on constantly. Even just playing any kind of game, you can see the critical thinking skills that are in there, all those pieces, the numbers, the data management, all that stuff that they’re doing.
EVA: And the history and geography he learned from playing all those war games. I thought he would never learn geography, because it wasn’t interested at all. And then he started playing games like that, and now he knows more about it than I do. He can look at a map and say, “Well, this is now called this, but it used to be called this country. And before that, it was that country.” And he knows so much more than I do. And this was just because of the video games he played and the YouTube videos that he watched on them, because he really likes to go on YouTube and watch lots of videos made by other people about the games that he likes. And they’re so interesting.
I really like watching them together with him. He found a crash course. He found it. I didn’t find it for him. He found it himself. And we were like, this is nice and worked so many together. If you follow them a little bit, they can go another way and take it a lot further than you would have been able to do if you had to decide for them what they had to do.
PAM: Exactly. And the really fascinating thing too is when they take it someplace and you’re like, I never even thought of going in that direction. It’s seeing how many interesting things they can bring into our lives too, when they follow their path versus us trying to think two steps ahead and be directing them in places. It’s just so fascinating to see what they do with it and being there with them, it helps us see. Bottom line, it helps us see what they’re learning.
It helps us feel more comfortable with technology. And then when you get past that, it’s just engaging as human beings with what we’re curious about in the world. And then, it’s just us each bringing different things to each other. Oh, I came across Kerbal Space Program, and he came across this, and your lives are so much richer from what everybody brings to it, aren’t they?
EVA: Yeah. And that’s the relationship-enhancing thing about unschooling. If your lifestyle is like that, then your relationship with each other improves, as well, because you take each other seriously and you find an interest and you share it with someone else without the expectation that he needs to like it, but just showing them things and sometimes they are like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I want to watch it as well.” And we watch it together. Or there’s some place I’d like to go and they say, “Well, we’ll go as well.”
I really like hiking. And I’ve taken them to lots of places. And they kind of like it. They’re teenagers. They’re not jumping up and down with enthusiasm, but they liked it. They’ve done it. Let me say it like that. They like that they’ve done it.
So, there’s things you do for each other because you know that the other person is really interested in it. And that’s just because of the relationship you have together and the trust. They really trust me. So, if I say something, “I think you will like this. Let’s try it out,” they are always happy to try it out because they know that I … Sometimes, it’s not a good guess and they don’t like it, but I’m always really doing it with the intention to show them something or bring them something or take them somewhere with the intention that they will probably like it. Because I think they like it. And not with the intention that I think it’s necessary for them to do that or something like that.
Most parents have that intention in their minds. “Well, they really have to be exposed to this or that.” And that’s not really my intention when I bring something to them. I’m just thinking, I think they might like that. And then I introduce it to them. And then, there starts developing some kind of trust that they know that if I say, “You might like it,” that it’s worthwhile to have a look at it.
PAM: And you’ve been good at that, because, like you were saying, that relationship, that connection, because you’re with them and you know the things that they’re interested in, so you are making a good guess and you’re sharing it without the expectation that they have to like it. So, that’s the brilliant piece.
You guys have developed this trust and you developed a great understanding of them that they’ve come to trust your intuition when you think they’re going to like something, but they also know it’s okay at the end of it to say, “You know what? That wasn’t as fun as we thought. We’re not going to do that again.” And that is totally okay, too. That level of trust in each other in a relationship.
EVA: Yeah. Because it goes the other way around as well, because I trust them as well. If they say, “No, that’s not good. I’m not going there again.” I would say, “Oh, okay. We won’t go.” For example, my daughter, she doesn’t always have the words to explain what she’s feeling. So, especially when she was younger, she was really not able to explain things.
And she was like, “No, I don’t want to go there anymore. I want to quit this,” or things like that. And I was always like, “Okay. I don’t understand. And you’re not able to explain it to me, but okay, let’s stop.” And so, it goes the other way around as well. I trust them as well and trust their opinions and I trust that they know what they need and what’s good for them.
PAM: Yeah, I love that. And part of that trust is that they don’t need to be able to explain themselves.
EVA: Yeah, I like it when they are, because it’s easier for me to help them.
PAM: Yeah, to help them process it further. It’s nice if they can explain why, because then you can help them process through it and you get a better understanding of them. But even if they can’t explain it, they just have this feeling, it’s definitely worth it to follow that. Because it helps them learn more about themselves, too. “I’m not sure why I don’t like it yet, but I know I don’t want to go.” Not going helps them learn more. Okay, so next month they’re thinking, “Oh, I didn’t go there. I didn’t do that. How am I feeling?” And maybe later on down the road that they figure out why it was uncomfortable for them. But if you push them through that, they’re never going to learn that piece.
EVA: Yeah and I also think that it’s really important that they learn to trust themselves. So, if I overrule them and say, “Well, you can’t explain it to me, so you need to go,” then that doesn’t help them to develop that trust in themselves.
PAM: Exactly. No, that’s a great point. So, I wanted to shift gears a little bit.
You mentioned earlier that you were involved in the government discussions around homeschooling legislation. I just wondered if you could share a little bit about that experience and what unschooling looks like in the Netherlands.
EVA: Yeah, unschooling in the Netherlands, it is possible because in the Netherlands, homeschooling doesn’t exist. In our law, there is no word “homeschooling” in it. So, what we do, you get an exemption from compulsory schooling. So, you don’t have to send them to school. And then what you do with your child is up to you.
And so, you can do distance learning. You can do homeschooling, whatever you like. And there’s no oversight. So, there’s no rules or requirements or anything. That is also the problem, because the Dutch government doesn’t really like that, because they’re scared that we’re neglecting, educational neglect, or abuse, and the children don’t go to school and nobody will see it. So, the normal things that our government officials say in lots of countries, and we have that in our country as well.
And, at one time, it was in 2013, we had a government that said, “Well, let’s just get rid of it all. The Homeschooling Association had been having discussions with the government about types of oversight for homeschooling, but there was a new person and he said, “No. Let’s just get rid of it.” And the problem at that time was that there were no majority political parties that would help us. So, it was really a big risk for succeeding.
So, that’s when I said, well, from my study background did a lot of policy analysis and things like that. So I was like, okay, I’m able to help. I’m good at organizing. I’m good at talking. I’m good at policy analysis type of thing. So, I’ll come and help. So, that’s when I started working for the Dutch Homeschooling Association. Well, not working, I don’t get paid for anything, but it was a lot of work. But we were quite successful up to now that they didn’t get rid of it. We were able to talk to all the political parties and then explain to them what we were doing and why. And we convinced them that it was a strange thing to do, but not something to get rid of.
So, that didn’t work out for the government officials who thought that they would be able to do that, but then they did say, “Well, we do need some kind of oversight for it.” So, the next years were discussing about what kind of oversight it would be. And it was always getting stricter and stricter and more rules. And every government we get, we get a new person and he thinks of something worse to do to us. So, that’s where we are at the moment still discussing.
So, that’s been seven years me talking to them. And the thing was that because I was coming from an unschooling perspective, I didn’t tell those people that I was unschooling. I explained that we were homeschooling and I explained what we were doing and what it looked like for me, but I didn’t call it anything like unschooling. They don’t like that word. Most people don’t like that word. So, I just explained to them what we were doing and people, usually when I explained to them the things we do with our children, they were like, “Oh, okay. That’s kind of impressive, really.”
So, that’s good. That helped. And it also helped the rest of the community be a little bit reassured that, whenever there would be some kind of oversight, it would also be able to work with unschooling. Because, when you’re more like a school-at-home family and your homeschooling looks more like with textbooks and with the curriculum and following the government planning for the timeline for when you have to learn what, then it’s easier to go through any type of oversight. But if you’re unschooling, then it’s a little bit harder. So, that’s something that I always try to make sure that it would be possible for unschoolers to homeschool as well.
But for me, it was difficult, because I had to talk to these people and it was not nice to talk to them. Most of the time, especially people at the Ministry of Education, they looked at me like we were like cockroaches or something, doing something really bad with our children. And, I used to come home from talking to them and I needed a day or two to recover from it, because they have such a different view of what you should do to your children. They were like, but you need to test them. It’s not possible without testing.
And they were doing things and talking about things that were such a different world from what I was used to and what I thought education was about and the things that I thought were important. And they thought that I was crazy. And I didn’t really like that, but I did it anyway, because I really wanted to save homeschooling. And we did, up until now. So, that was a good thing.
EVA: So, I didn’t only do the conversation with the government, because the Dutch Homeschooling Association, it had existed before, but it wasn’t really an active association. So, it didn’t really do a lot of things. And I thought, well, it’s important for people, when they choose to homeschool, that they know about the different forms of homeschooling, and that they educate themselves. And it’s a bit hard to do in the Netherlands, because there’s not a lot of Dutch information. So, if you don’t speak English, it’s difficult to understand what types of homeschooling there are and what would be a best fit for your family.
So, we started workshops and things like that for people to explain. So, I was always the one explaining unschooling and there were other people explaining about Charlotte Mason, about A Well-Trained Mind, and things like that.
And, that’s what we did to try and help other homeschoolers homeschool well. And these are all things that are still happening, but other people have taken over now, so I’m really glad to see that that didn’t just fade away when I stopped doing it.
And then, at the moment, I’m trying to support the homeschool community in another way. I’m working on a math curriculum, because I really like math, so it’s a subject I like to work on. And it’s also something that, if you use the normal curriculum, it’s not really necessarily to learn math like that in the home. And with my perspective from unschooling it’s more like creating an environment where it’s impossible not to learn math and do fun activities, play games, and do things like that, and help children learn math in that way.
So, it’s kind of a strange thing for an unschooler to do, to write a curriculum. But, for me, it fits. And I’m organizing lots of things for other homeschoolers, not just unschoolers, but everyone who joins wants to join in. There are not a lot of unschoolers in the Netherlands at all. There’s just a couple of families, because a lot of people want to unschool when their children are four, five years old, but then when they reach the age when other children in our country start learning to read and write and math, then they’re like, “Oh, can’t do that.” Then unschooling is out of the window.
PAM: Oh my goodness. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. That is so fascinating, and thank you for your effort in working with the government. Because when you’re talking with people in the government, they’re not even interested in homeschooling. They already have a super negative view, so it’s not like you’re talking to people who are curious. They are not curious. They just want to shut it down, right?
EVA: Yeah. They know they know better than I do.
PAM: Yeah, no, exactly. So, thanks for taking that on. Oh my gosh. And I think, like you were saying that now that you’ve stepped back from that, you’re seeing other people stepping up, and I’m sure that’s because you were just a shining example of what can be done, that you can approach the different parties and talk to them and explain, even when it’s painful, even when you need a couple of days’ recovery after. That you chose to do this because it was that important to you.
So, I think that was just a beautiful example for them that they can rally around, so that’s wonderful. And I wanted to touch on your math curriculum. Because, that’s brilliant. I mean, it almost sounds like curriculum is just the only word that you can use, but really, like you said, it’s about creating that environment. And I think what that will be so helpful with is what we talked about earlier, so many parents with math phobia.
PAM: You’re really just working them through that and showing them how you can create a fun environment where math is just there. It just bubbles up, because math is a language of our lives, isn’t it?
EVA: Yeah. And seeing patterns and shapes and things like that. It’s really fun that you’re mentioning it, because I have two families that are testing the material I write for me to see if it works, and if the children like it, and if the parents are able to do it with their children. And they both are a bit math phobic. So, they’re really good testers for me, because if they can do it, then that’s a really good sign.
So, I’ve talked to them a lot about math phobia and things like that. And to other people in the homeschooling community, as well, especially for women. A lot of women, at my age, at least, they don’t think they are good at math, because when we went to school, there was more of a focus that boys are good at math and not girls. So, when I went to university, I went to the University of Technology in the Netherlands. There were like 25% women and 75% men. So, that’s also been different for math phobia, that it’s more for women than for fathers. And in homeschooling families, the thing is that most of the time, the fathers work and the mothers have to teach the children or do anything, do the unschooling.
EVA: But they’re the ones doing it. And then, they’re the ones with the most math phobia. I thought they could use some help. And then, when they are doing it with their children, at the same time, they learn as well. And now, they are able to see, “Well, I’m not really that bad in it. I can do it, as well.” So, at least that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.
PAM: Yeah. It seems it’s for the family. It’s not a math curriculum for the kids to follow. It is for the family to play with. So, that sounds awesome.
EVA: Yeah and I’m having so much fun with it. It’s a bit daunting as well, because what I did was I thought it was most important that the children that are at the age that they might go to high school, that there’s a program for them to do that gets them up to speed so they can go to high school if they want to. So, I’ve made something that is for 11- to 14-year-olds. And it does all of the math that you learn in elementary school in one year.
So, that’s a bit of an ambitious project to take on. But it’s also that there are so many different subjects to do. And I was like, oh! Sometimes when I’m working on it, I’m thinking it’s too much. I’m not sure if I can make it. And also, when you put it out there, because I finished the first half of the year, so I put it on my website and it’s selling at the moment. And then I’m also like, I hope they like it and I don’t know yet. That’s a bit nerve wracking, but it’s a good thing to do.
PAM: Yeah. But it sounds like it ticks so many of your buttons. Your love of math, your love of systems, just how creative that act is, of trying to pull that all together and do it in fun and interesting ways without that pressure of a school kind of curriculum and without that step, step, step, but still getting them through those pieces, because they’re choosing to move through that, if they’re thinking that high school is a possibility, something that they’re interested in pursuing. So, I can see how that can be so much fun, and stressful, because you want to know, is it actually helping, working out for them? So, that’s really fun.
EVA: Yeah, because I know it works for us, because there’s a lot of activities in it that I’ve also done with the math clubs I’ve been organizing for the last couple of years. So, a lot of the activities, I know they worked for us, but then I also know that a big factor in that is that I know how math works and I really like math.
So, the enthusiasm we were talking about it before, that plays a big part in it for the other children, when they do it with me, that they get it. But are other parents able to do it as well? So, that was the test with the testing families and they’re able to do it. But now the test is, other people, are they able to do it? So, maybe I’m just a bit too insecure about it because I’ve tested it myself and I’ve let other people test it, so I should be able to say that it works. It’s an exciting thing to do at the moment. I’m planning to do the last part, I’ll finish it around Christmas, New Year, and then, up to new projects. But this one should be finished by then.
PAM: So fun, so fun.
So, I would love to know, what is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
EVA: Oh, right now. Yeah. It’s a lot of hard work. So, that’s a difficult question, because it’s so much work at the moment. It’s so different from when they were younger, but I think the thing that I really like is that, I think I mentioned it before, that the learning is really interesting to me as well at the moment. So, for example, the book list we’re reading with my daughter, it’s so interesting. The books are really, really good and we’re having so much fun with it. And it’s a subject that I really like, and we’re watching videos and documentaries, and I’m like, oh, so that’s how this all fits together. And it’s really interesting.
We watched a documentary on Ancient Greece, and you usually learn about different parts, and this documentary did a great job of fitting all these pieces together. And I was like, oh, this is wonderful. So, that’s something I really like.
And I think the other thing that I really like is that my children, I read to them every day, still. So, the reading aloud, that’s really nice, too. So, we’re reading books every morning and evening, before we go to sleep, we read books. So, I think that’s a really nice thing as well.
PAM: Yeah. I’d be curious, so you mentioned the book list with your daughter, and you mentioned them earlier as well, with your son. So, in the book list, are you guys mostly reading those separate? Or are those the books that you’re reading together in the morning and the evening?
EVA: I read together with my son and daughter at the same time, so, the book list, we read together in a different part of the day. She doesn’t like to read them by herself. We read them together. And there are lots of books she reads by herself, but not these ones. She reads Percy Jackson books by herself, lots of Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. That’s very fun. And I’m sure people are going to ask, so maybe you can shoot me the link or information about that documentary, too.
EVA: The documentary, yeah. That was a good one. I liked it.
PAM: Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today, Eva. I had so much fun. Thank you.
EVA: Yeah, thank you, too. It was really interesting and really nice to talk to somebody about unschooling. Yeah. It’s a great subject. I really like talking about it. Thank you. Thank you for having us.
PAM: Yeah, me too. Unschooling is not something that comes up in conversation face-to-face very often, right? So, it is so much fun to connect with people who love it as well as I do. So, before we go, where can people connect with you online?
EVA: Yeah, it’s only in Dutch. So, I have a blog. It’s called berefien.blogspot.com. So, that’s the blog that I have for what we are doing, just the home things. And I have a website that I sell my things on and I write. But I just started. It’s called, zeestrandacademie.nl. So, that’s a website that I have started and I’m having a blog on that as well. And I’m writing more homeschooling-related blogs on that. So, more about homeschooling and not about what we’re actually doing.
PAM: Yeah. Well, no, that’s great. I will share those. Because you know, some people from the Netherlands may end up coming across our conversation at some point. So, the links in the show notes will help point them in that direction as well.
EVA: Thank you.
PAM: That is wonderful. Thank you again so much for chatting with me today and have a wonderful evening, because you’re already well into your day.
EVA: Thank you. You, too. Have a nice day.