“We don´t have normal classrooms. Our classroom is the kitchen, or a relaxing room for freestyle learning. Most of the time our classroom is our van.”
This is how Mojca Stojkovič describes her working place and her children’s school environment. Stojkovič is a self-employed primary school teacher who works in Sežana in western Slovenia. She developed her own way of lecturing, called freestyle teaching. Her teaching methods include associations, massages and creative movement with music.
“We dance what we have to learn,” she explains.
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As a “freestyle teacher” she uses these techniques with kids who have learning difficulties, she teaches parents who are homeschooling their children and other teachers how to teach. Even students of medicine or microbiology, who have trouble learning particular subjects in their faculty, attend her class. She teaches her children Emi and Niki at home.
Fun and games
“The classroom is everywhere. When they show me that they want to learn something, I’m trying to give them that.”
Both of the kids went to kindergarten but not to public school. Stojkovič is teaching them all the regular school subjects: languages, math and writing.
Stojkovič started to teach her kids at home already when they were three or four years old. She used to be a teacher in public school but after she gave birth to her kids she decided she will not go to school anymore. So she started freestyle teaching.
“It was a decision from inside. I wanted to teach kids how to learn. And nobody teaches kids how to learn in public school.”
When she was in university studying to become a teacher, Stojkovič remembers, she was not happy, because she felt that nobody taught her how to learn.
“And I said to myself: How can I become a teacher, and how can I teach others, if nobody taught me how to remember things.”
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She thinks there is always something missing when it comes to being a teacher or a pupil in a public school.
“Sitting in school and just writing doesn’t mean you’re learning or remembering.”
Another thing that is different from public school is the arrangement of school and free time. During the holidays Stojkovič has time to teach her kids.
On a normal day in their homeschool the whole family, including the kids and Stojkovič’s partner, wakes up and hugs each other. They eat breakfast together and then they drive Niki to kindergarten.
“He is the last there because we want to spend that hour together,” Stojkovič tells.
After that she has time with her daughter Emi. They play different things, they read and count.
According to Stojkovič, the most important thing about learning is being relaxed. You can’t learn if you’re not relaxed. That’s why a normal homeschool day can start with cuddling, talking, dancing and jumping around.
In Stojkovič’s classroom lessons are not taught in a traditional way. English isn’t being taught by writing assignments or doing crosswords. One method is learning through movement, with freestyle dancing. This homeschool has a different take even on physical education. They are learning snowboarding and pole dancing in their “sport class”.
“The methods that we are using at home are more natural for kids than sitting in the school and just listening. They can learn very fast if they’re passionate about the things.”
Both of the kids are fast learners. They learn mathematics in a different way than in public schools, but it doesn’t seem to bother. In the afternoon once a week they do Brainobrain, that is a program where they learn how to count fast. They use an abacus, a calculating panel with red beads. By counting and moving them they can calculate. At the end, the children check the answers with a smartphone and grade themselves.
Cuddling is important too. Stojkovič and her kids hug each other a lot. When they sit together and play some games on the tablet, they are close to each other. The connection between the mother and the children seems to be strong.
During a homeschooling day feelings are not forbidden. Emi and Niki are allowed to be upset and not willing to participate. But what happens then is something that’s usually impossible in public classrooms – the teacher has time for listening and comforting the kids until they are willing to continue studying again.
Despite the time they take to deal with their feelings. She says that in their case, with homeschooling the learning is faster than in public school. In a second grade Emi is doing the math of the fifth grade. Niki is five and half years old and he’s doing things what kids should do in second grade.
It’s not all fun and games…
Despite the benefits of homeschooling, this kind of education brings a lot of challenges and is not without struggle.
Home education allows parents to participate in the learning process of their children. In doing so they take full responsibility for the intellectual growth and emotional intelligence of their children, and are also accountable for the development of social skills, which a child must conquer to become a functional adult.
Parents must be able and willing to invest a lot of time, effort and patience in the process of teaching and learning.
“Not every parent feels responsible, or have the knowledge to teach their kids at home. That is okay, and it’s okay to put your kids to a public school. The law doesn’t say that you have to be a teacher to teach your kids at home.”
Another, for Stojkovič the biggest, problem with homeschooling in Slovenia is the interaction and cooperation with public schools. Emi had the opportunity to sit down with the primary school teacher for one hour during the school year and get to know her.
“That was very good because in the exam Emi was more relaxed”, said Stojkovič who is grateful to the teacher from public school who made an effort.
Schools can (but are not obligated to) provide literature or examples of tests as a practice for the final exam which every home student must pass at the end of the school year.
“We don’t need samples. We are faster, much faster than them. Whatever they are doing in school it’s too easy for us. I go to school three times a year to ask them what she (Emi) has to know. And I prepare her.”
Children studying at home could, depending on the school where they are enrolled, participate in various out-of-school activities, such as cultural or sports days and field trips. The school where Stojkovič’s children are enrolled does not allow them to be involved in any extracurricular activities.
“I think they (the school) are afraid. Afraid that something will happen to the child. We are sad about it, but I don’t want to force it. What is new is strange. I don’t want to push teachers in a difficult situation.”
The problem of socialization
Socialization is the apple of discord between those who defend the right of every parent to homeschool their child and those who believe that public education is the best (or the only) way to formal education.
In a typical Slovene school a child in first grade is faced with at least 20 strangers of the same age. Some to become close friends, others rivals, even enemies, and some who will stay only distant acquaintances and slowly fade from memory. In a classroom a person is forced to make compromises because, as later in life, society does not adjust to fit individuals. Instead individuals are expected to fit in the society.
“In public school you have to be the same as others. Later in normal life, or as an entrepreneur, you have to be better. If you’re the same as others, you can’t succeed, you have to be different, you have to be better.”
Socialization in a homeschool classroom does not come naturally. Parents must actively look for contacts outside the family household.
“I think it’s more important to be a good example. What does it mean to be friendly, what does it mean to be sociable with others? The socialization depends on the parents, because some of the parents are afraid to talk to new people. We are not.”
Stojkovič explains that Emi and Niki are not confined just to the company of their parents. They have a lot of family friends, the kids are always allowed to spend the night at a friend’s house, or host sleepovers at their home. Stojkovič teaches other kids too and Emi gets to meet them as well. Niki is still in kindergarten and he has friends there.
Both children are also in different groups of freestyle learning. In one group, they learn English and in another, they learn things that are taught in school from the first to third grade.
Emi and Niki might not go to the normal field trips with other pupils, but they have their own kind of field trips. Their teacher and mom has a van and when the kids want, they invite friends to do something fun together.
“I drive eight kids and we go swimming, or ride horses, or ride motorbikes. It’s very exciting. They love to go with us.”
An important part of socialization is not just friendly interaction, but also contact with people you don’t like. Learning how to solve conflicts is a vital part of growing up.
“We have negative contacts with doctors or teachers that don’t support our way of life.”
Besides being homeschooled Emi and Niki were also born at home and are not vaccinated.
“It’s important not to overreact, but to try and understand their (doctors and teachers) situation.”
In addition to the investment of time and effort, one of the main challenges that homeschooling parents have to face is the lack of knowledge. Sooner or later in every classroom comes a moment when a student asks the one question which a teacher doesn’t know how to answer. What then?
Stojkovič often uses tablet instead books. There’s a whole world of information just behind a touch on the screen.
“As a parent or a teacher you don’t need to know everything. Emi asked me how the world came to be. I didn’t know… and we went on Youtube and find the answer together. It’s important to teach them how to search, how to learn everything themselves. The school and the books give you answers, but for me is more important to give the kids good methods so they are responsible for their knowledge.”
“I know that it’s my passion, that’s why I do homeschooling.”
What does the law say?
When it comes to legislation, what are parents choosing to homeschool their children supposed to do? The matter is regulated by the Primary School Act (ZOsn), adopted in 1996, and in particular by Chapter VIII: Education at home (Articles 88 to 92), as well as by the Rules on the Assessment of Knowledge and the Advancement of Primary School Students (2008) and the Rules on the School Calendar for Elementary Schools (2012).
The right of parents to opt for home education is recognized by Article 5 and Article 88 of the ZOsn. Parents have the duty to notify their decision at the latest at the beginning of the school year (September 1st) for each year separately, as requested by Article 89 of the Primary School Act, but they are not required to specify the reasons of their choice. However, the homeschooled children must be enrolled within the school district of their residence and they will have the right to participate in the extra-curricular activities organized by the school they are registered to.
As prescribed by Article 90 of the ZOsn, homeschooled children must be tested at the end of every school year in different subjects. From the first to the third grade, the only subjects they are evaluated in are mathematics and Slovenian language, which, however, can be substituted by Italian or Hungarian in national mixed areas and bilingual schools.
In the second triad, the evaluation of only a new subject is introduced: the first foreign language. The obligations increase drastically in the last three years. Beside the three aforementioned subjects, homeschooled students will take also the following exams: history, national and civic culture and ethics, sports, at least one natural science discipline, one social science subject and one subject in the field of arts.
If the student fails a test, he or she will be given another possibility before the beginning of the new school year; but, in the case he or she doesn’t pass this second exam, he or she will be compelled to continue his or her primary education in the “normal” school the next school year. These exams will take place in the school the children are enrolled to and they will be assessed by a committee of usually three teachers from that same school.
More details about the exam structure and arrangement can be found in the Rules on the Assessment of Knowledge and the Advancement of Primary School Students and in the Rules on the School Calendar for Elementary Schools.
Children who study at home, in accordance with Article 91 of the ZOsn, must also perform the National Assessment of Knowledge (NPZ, Nacionalno Preverjanje Znanja) at the end of the 6th and 9th grade. In the first case, they will be evaluated in Slovenian language (or Italian or Hungarian in national mixed areas), math and their first foreign language. The latter will be substituted in the 9th grade exam by a third subject chosen by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport among the compulsory subjects of the 8th and 9th classes.
At the end of the year, the school issues a home education certificate, which has the same legal value as the certificates issued to children attending normal schools.
Homeschool teachers (who are usually the parents themselves) are not legally required to have any specific qualification or education level, as well as they do not have the duty to provide the learning plan they intend to follow, while both things are mandatory in schools. Nonetheless, parents who decide to homeschool their children can be fined from 500 to 1000 euros if the their education is not carried out in accordance with Articles 89, 90 and 91 of the Primary School Act.
Authors: Sara Harju, Giulia Pinto, Ines Kresnik