The following article was published in the September-October 2013 issue of HEM:
Leave My Country to Homeschool? Yes! We Did It!
I´m not very fond of mornings. This morning we slept in. Didn’t go up until 9 o´clock. We got out of bed slowly and had breakfast ready an hour later or so. We weren’t in any hurry and took our time eating, talking, reading… This is what most of our mornings look like. Because we don´t have to wake up early to go to work, school, or daycare… it´s the life we’ve chosen. It took a lot of courage to come to this, and we wouldn’t want to change it for anything.
As a child and teenager I had no thought whatsoever of home education, didn’t know it existed at all. I went to school, forced, of course, by my parents and society who both claimed that it was the only possible way to go, and that I would understand why when I got older. I loved learning new things. I loved to read and write. But I didn’t like to spend all my days in school. I never managed to fit in.
When I got older I started to think and rethink things in my life. I wasn’t satisfied with following the mainstream, doing things the same way “everybody else” did, just because it was the “right” way (or the ”only” way) to do it. Growing up, I always knew that I was going to have kids of my own, while I was still young. At age 16 I met my husband, the love of my life. At 19 we married, and 20 years old I gave birth to my first son. I was in heaven. As soon as I got pregnant I immediately bonded with the little creature inside me, and when he was born I fell hopelessly in love with him.
When our baby was about a year old people around us began insisting on him going to day care, and me going back to work. (In Sweden half of all the one year-old kids are in daycare, and 91.4 per cent of all the two year-olds… “How else would they be socialized…?”) But both my husband and I felt strongly that neither he nor we were ready for that. So we stayed home. And he stayed home. And at the age of 13 he ́s still at home, educating himself and enjoying it. As are his brothers, now 9 and 6 years old.
Now, deciding to educate your children at home is not a small issue in Sweden. We not only had to decide whether or not this was what we really wanted to do, but whether or not we could really do it. In other words, we had to deal with our own fears of not being good enough, clever enough, structured enough… you name it. The same kind of fear most home educating families says they’ve had to deal with. But, since we live in Sweden, we also had to decide whether or not it was so important to us that it was worth fighting for. We knew we ́d have to be ready to stand up for our choice every day, everywhere.
Sweden is often looked at as a mother and child friendly country with it´s long maternity leave and free health care for all children. Well, that´s one side of the story. The other side is that it is an extremely uniform society. As long as you follow standards you feel free, and safe. But, if you start making your own decisions, and they diverge from the norm, you´re questioned at once. And this is especially true when it comes to bringing up children.
Thinking it through and rethinking it again, we decided that it was worth it. We were on this great journey of life with our kids and we decided to go on as we always had. Together. Enjoying the company of one another. Every day.
So… we stayed home, spending our days the way we love. Staying up late at night, doing all kinds of stuff we like, and getting up late in the morning without missing the bus or being late to work or school. We spend whole days reading books and drinking tea on the sofa. Learning about the world the way we do it best, exploring it in our own ways and at our own pace. And, for four years we managed to keep going on this way. We got the permission to homeschool after convincing the local authorities that we could. We met the test the local school demanded, and managed to follow the curriculum of the local school only as much as we had to, in order to get the permission renewed each fall.
During this time, everyday life was great. We lived in the Swedish countryside, we spent our days together playing around, growing vegetables, enjoying nature around us, having the time of our lives. But then came the school “inspections.” Once every term, we had to appear at the school, once every term people from the school would come to our place. To test. To assess. The kids. Us. Although they were nice and friendly, and amazed by the way our kids learned all the things they did, we always got distressed, fearing that they would be dissatisfied with something, and in the end insist that our permission to homeschool be withdrawn. This made us feel controlled, dissatisfied, and unsafe.
During this time, the school law changed and the ability to home educate legally in Sweden was taken away, and during the same time, home educating families around the country were starting to face threats of fines, and threats of their children taken into custody by social service, only because of home education. One boy was taken away by social workers, followed by armed police, on an airplane on his way to India with his mother and father. Because of homeschooling. He ́s still in custody today, four years later, and hasn’t seen his parents for 2.5 years. This really upset us (as it still does) and forced us to make the decision once again. We had to ask ourselves, once again, how important was home educating for our family?
We could see three possibilities: Stay in Sweden and put the kids in school, stay in Sweden and home educate them illegally––taking quite a risk, or leave Sweden and home educate the kids elsewhere. In the end it wasn’t a difficult choice for us. Once again we found the answer was yes, this is what we all want to do, so go for it! We decided to leave Sweden. We really wanted to go on home educating, and we were already tired of fighting and worrying about authorities, which made staying and home educating illegally a really bad choice for us.
From the beginning we made it clear to ourselves that we would NOT see ourselves as victims. We always knew we had a choice. And we knew that this whole thing surely would bring good things as well as bad. And one of the things we have come to know through all of this is that we want to see more of the world. This was our first step.
In May 2011 we left Sweden in our old car and very small caravan. We decided to go to Åland, an independent island under the jurisdiction of the Finnish constitution. We had only been there once before, many years ago, and didn’t know much at all about the country. We did know that it was a Swedish-speaking society that once belonged to Sweden, and that the Finnish law allows homeschooling. That sounded good enough for us.
We went by ferry on a cold, but sunny day in early May, and we felt free. We had taken steps toward our big decision to leave and sell our house, leave our friends and family, to go to this new place, and still it felt good! We stayed all summer in a camp site, enjoying the seaside and fresh air every day. We walked the forests, went swimming in the sea (two of our sons learned to swim in the cold blue water of Degersand). We went on long walks on the red rocks, finding exciting things to explore every time: there were fishes to save, a bird skeleton discovery, rocks and stones in all possible shapes and colors. It was a fantastic summer that we will always remember.
In September we felt we ́d had enough. We wanted a proper home, a proper kitchen, a living room for movie nights, a bathroom of our own. We soon found a place we liked, and got an apartment in the north of Åland. And here we are now.
Of course we’ve had our hard times. We find ourselves feeling homesick now and then, missing living in our own house. Realizing that even though we speak the same language as the natives here, we do experience misunderstandings because of cultural differences. But still. We can live our life the way we really like it. And it is definitely worth the effort.