by Nanda Van Gestel
My name is Nanda. I am married to Hans, and together we have four boys: Rutger, Stijn, Jochem, and Koen. We are a Dutch family who left the Netherlands and moved to the U.S., and later Ireland, to be able to unschool our children. We are currently back in the Netherlands.
Our oldest son, Rutger, was born prematurely, and we nearly lost him. There were medical complications, and it was three months before we could bring him home.
Rutger has been called a "special needs" child. We don't like to label anyone - all of our boys are special. My heart told me that if we wanted to make Rutger happy, we needed to focus on his strengths and love him unconditionally. We found that not only is he loving and sensitive, he is also intelligent. We helped him to follow his own interests, and he enriched and deepened our lives in ways we never thought possible. Most of all, he was a happy child.
When Rutger entered school at age five, all of this changed. In just a few months, our bright, confident son had turned into a scared and unhappy child. In school, he couldn't pursue his own interests, and because he wasn't challenged by what was going on in the classroom, he would escape into his own inner world. The teachers responded to this by putting more and more pressure on him - and on me. I spent many hours talking with them, but it didn't help. It became clear to me that they expected children to submit to the school system and sacrifice their own interests, even if that would break their spirit.
I wished with all my heart that we could take care of Rutger's education ourselves. Seeing my child suffer gave me the courage to follow my heart and keep him home; unfortunately, school attendance was mandatory in the Netherlands. We had no idea what would happen next, when the solution came as if by magic - my husband was offered a job in the U.S. On the Internet we learned that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.
We didn't need long to make up our minds; we sold everything and moved. It was such an eye-opener to us that what is illegal in one country is fully accepted and considered a human right in another. In the Netherlands, people thought of us as irresponsible for wanting to take Rutger out of school; in the U.S. we were admired for taking responsibility for his education. The change we saw in him after our move was almost unbelievable, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders. He finally had the freedom to be himself.
From curriculum-based homeschooling, we grew toward unschooling, in which we trust that our children know what they need to learn and when they need to learn it. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, "What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child."
It's wonderful to see our children's unique gifts and abilities, and to watch them grow and learn together. Hans and I have learned more in the last several years than ever before, due to all the different topics our children bring up, and all the questions they ask.
Unschooling is more than an education - it's life. In natural learning, everything is connected. Our children have gone from classical music to art, architecture, and ancient Rome, and from there to philosophy, Plato, Pythagoras and mathematics. In this way things make sense, and there is no end to what they can learn; one interest leads into another. Just as babies and toddlers constantly explore the world around them, never growing tired of it, so will unschooling children continue to satisfy their natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge.
As for Rutger, he is doing great - he
loves to read and explore, and keeps amazing us with all the
things he has learned. He is happy again, and feels proud and
confident. Unschooling has liberated us all in many wonderful
|The Unschooling Unmanual|