The text below is what I wish I knew when we started our homeschooling journey several years ago and my Dutch was way worse than today. It have been inspired by Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network, which I loved for learning how to navigate in the academic world.
To learn about homeschooling from the first-hand experiences and to make sure your kids have contact with other homeschooled kids, you need to network first. How to you go about it if you don’t know any homeschooling families in person?
If you know nothing about homeschooling in the Netherlands and don’t speak Dutch start here (and make sure you read part of the text on the educational law). This story gives a pretty realistic personal perspective.
For searching online it is handy to know that homeschooling (home education) is thuisonderwijs in Dutch and that it is often abbreviated as TO. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t find a lot of information about practices of homeschooling in the open. Home education community in the Netherlands is small and a lot of knowledge sharing happens via personal contact or in relatively closed groups, both online and offline. Also, since there are kids involved, homeschooling events and local groups are not often advertised in public.
1. Big groups online
To make first contacts mailing lists and big Facebook groups are a good place to start (many are on this list). If you are on Facebook anyway, I’d suggest to start there – recently those groups are more active than mailing lists.
- Some of the groups are location-based, others are focused on a specific issue. It is essential to introduce yourself and to make clear why you are interested in homeschooling and what specific questions bring you to the group.
- Be prepared to do your homework (see Orientation) – choosing for educating your kids outside the system requires taking initiative in your own hands, so don’t expect that others would eagerly answer questions that could be answered with a quick online search.
- Also, because of sensitivity of the topic, asking legal questions in general groups doesn’t make much sense. If you need to discuss how to apply for an exemption letter, especially in a complicated case, make sure to do so in specific groups.
There are a few of lists/groups in English, but they often lack a critical mass of members to share knowledge and to network efficiently. They are good as a starting point to get initial contacts and information about home education in the Netherlands while not worrying about the language, but in the longer term the best thing you can do is to learn reading Dutch and join Dutch-language groups. While writing in English in those groups definitely feels a bit awkward, it is usually accepted (this is how I started before getting confident enough to write in Dutch).
2. Big homeschooling events are perfect opportunities to ask questions, to meet new people or to maintain a connection with those you might know online. Those include Not Back To School Parties (NBTSP), thematic outings (uitjes) or camping events. Dutch homeschooling association NVvTO also organises workshops and thuisonderwijs cafes where you can ask questions and meet others. In general, to benefit from more structured events (workshops or thematic excursions) you will need a good level of Dutch, while parties and kids-oriented events provide enough opportunities for talking in English.
If you don’t live in or around big cities be prepared to travel for more than an hour. It’s not easy, but often worth it. What I call now ‘my local homeschooling network’ have started at NBTSP-oost in Nijmegen, 1,5 hours away from where we live.
When you come for an event make sure you have contact numbers of organisers. They are usually available somewhere in the announcement, but if not don’t hesitate asking directly. You don’t want to run around in a park or museum trying to guess which people might be homeschoolers, as I did once after missing everyone at the huge territory of Open Air Museum in Arnhem.
While camping with other homeschooling families at TO camp is definitely a good way to get to know Dutch homeschooling scene, you can also come for a day without sleeping at the campsite. There are more opportunities to go camping with other homeschoolers in the Netherlands, but you are not likely to hear about them until your local network is established.
3. Local groups
There are many local homeschooling groups which are focused on regular activities that kids do together. Those are exactly what you need for your daily practice of home education: a group of peers for your kids to build relations with and a group of parents with whom you can go deeper than an introductory talk. Once there is enough trust, you can talk about fears and challenges, discuss things specific to your kids with people who have seen them over time, share tips and tricks, and just have a lot of fun together.
Exactly because those groups are build on trust and regular participation they are often not advertised in public, do not have online presence or are private or even secret on Facebook. To find them you will need to ask around in the bigger groups and during the events: once you are known to be trusted you will hear about them.
And if there is no regular homeschooling group where you live it makes a lot of sense to put effort in creating one. It is definitely pays back.