A Dad Gets Comfortable with Unschooling
Jesper Conrad grew up in the suburbs of Copenhagen, Denmark when he was a teenager and attended a school that occasionally used interdisciplinary learning. He says, “I had a fine school time. I don’t look back at it with anger, which some of the homeschooling parents I talk with do. Some of them had terrible school times!”
So it was no surprise when he and his wife, Cecilie, decided to send their oldest child, Liv, to a private school that emphasized self-directed learning, based on the teachings of Celestin Freinet. She was there for seven years and, though Jesper got comfortable with self-directed learning during this time, he began to worry that she wasn’t learning math. For the first few years he would ask during parent–teacher meetings, “I know my daughter is phenomenal with language, but could you please ask her to do some math as well? She was in second grade and was well ahead of her class in language, but she didn’t know her math. The teachers would look at me and say, ‘No child has finished education here and not been able to do the basic math that is needed. Just relax. She will find her way into it when it is right for her.’ It was so difficult for me to trust those words.”
“A few years later I saw it with my own eyes. Liv wanted to try public school and when she entered they moved her up a grade. Then she took chemistry and she was floundering because she didn’t grasp the math she had to use. She couldn’t accept this and decided to learn all the math she needed in less than three months. She also then excelled in chemistry. That chilled me out and gave me the confidence that when the learning is right for the child, then the child will learn it.”
Nonetheless, it was difficult for Jesper to say yes to homeschooling. He grew up in a relaxed, suburban family and community, and entering something so different from what his upbringing prepared him for made him feel uneasy. Jesper says, “Looking back now, I, as a dad I had the typical arrangement: I took the kids to school and kindergarten on my way to work and my wife collected them after. After living like that for some years and then stopping that routine it made us realize that it felt like having holidays all the time, our mornings went from routine-filled stress to relaxed, quality-time together! It was wonderful.
“If you look at how much of the morning goes into waking the kids up when they’re not done sleeping. Getting them to shower, go to the bathroom, eat, arguing. ‘Come on. You need to go! You’re going to be late.’ They sometimes started to cry and I had to hurry to work with that on my mind.
If they really cried hard we would call the institution to say they weren’t coming in. Then the kids didn’t cry anymore and started to play—and I eventually asked myself, ‘Why should you force your children not to be together with you?’ Sending your kids into a space with lots of other kids and an adult they don’t know while your kids are just crying and you’re forcing their fingers off of you, because you have to leave for work, is a horrible experience. But an experience which so many parents calls ‘normal.’
“I’m so happy we didn’t have to it with our last one. I wish I was aware of how children learn when I was younger for our first three children.”