• My husband and I homeschool our son, which allows us to travel. 
  • In addition to his homeschooling curriculum, he has attended schools in different countries. 
  • We've noticed differences — and similarities — between the schools he attended in Europe and the US.

My son has been homeschooled, essentially, his whole academic life. Because of this, we're able to travel multiple times each month without worrying about him missing school. I am a writer and my husband is a film and TV composer as well as an investor, which also makes this possible.

Not only can we take my son's work with us, but he has also been able to experience schooling in various countries by joining classrooms and homeschool groups throughout our travels. His curriculum is based in the United States, but integrating local schools helps him learn different languages, culture, and of course, make friends.

Because we have spent extended periods of time in Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy, we have been able to experience how a few schools in these places approach education more intimately. While we've experienced some similarities across the schools he's attended, like classroom size and curriculum structure, we also noticed distinct differences in approach.

School was low-stress in the Netherlands

Where we lived in the Netherlands, children as young as four years old often happily walked themselves to school. The school my son attended in the Netherlands was run like a well-oiled machine, yet they still maintained a playful and innocent atmosphere.

The school administrators were strict about timeliness — I often witnessed that if students arrived even one minute late, they were considered late, with no exceptions. However, discipline for kids was simply a stern talking-to from teachers. Teachers told us that if children had issues with each other, they were expected to sort it amongst themselves, while the adults observed from a distance.

Friends who had kids at other schools in the Netherlands confirmed that this focus on independent conflict resolution with minimal adult intervention was common. Play was the central focus of the day for children until they were about seven years old. The primary focus during those early years was on children learning to coexist with one another rather than academics.

Learning to swim was also a significant focus in the early years in the Netherlands and considered more critical than learning to read by many locals we spoke with. Once compulsory, now only some schools integrate swim classes into the curriculum. Given the numerous canals everywhere, this emphasis is understandable.

Children at my son's school spent a large portion of their day outdoors, regardless of the weather, which parents said was typical. The Dutch often say, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." At school, my son assisted in preparing daily vegan meals, and occasionally brought home crafts to do.

Friends who had older kids in the Netherlands told me that the homework increased once they hit middle school, where there was more of an emphasis on academics. I truly appreciated this low-stress setting we encountered during our son's primary school years.

Lana Katsaros says that homeschooling allows her family to travel without worrying her son will miss schoolwork. Foto: Courtesy Lana Katsaros

We saw more emphasis on collaboration than individual performance in Portugal

In Portugal, there was an emphasis on projects that children completed together to enhance their collaboration skills, and praise was often based on the collaboration itself rather than individual performance.

We noticed that children rarely had packed schedules filled with extracurricular activities like in the US, and often stayed up very late at night with their families, based on our own observations and talking to Portuguese parents.

While I adored the genuinely "crunchy" vibe of the schools my son attended and the kindness of the teachers, I believed our son would benefit from more structure and consistency in his routine. So, for a time, we supplemented even more than our usual load of schoolwork at home to provide more academic consistency during his short stint at a Portuguese school and eventually transitioned to only homeschooling again and met with a homeschool group for field trips.

We noticed less encouragement of competition in Italy than in the US

At the school my son goes to in Italy, it was immediately evident that food and dining is treated as an important part of the school day. Students are given a proper dining experience with formal table settings. The primary schools get a full two-hour break in the middle of the day including lunch and free time, known as riposo, lending to a much longer school day overall.

Football (soccer) is also taken seriously, so most schools we visited have specialized schedules specifically for children who play and perhaps want to pursue it as a career. Participation in the arts, football, and music is encouraged, but football is by far the most popular activity at our school and in our region.

As for the emphasis on the curriculum, so far, it seems far less rigid than in the US. Cognitive and social skills appear to be the primary objectives, rather than a heavy focus on testing. There is almost no encouragement of competition that we witnessed, as collaboration seems to be the focus until middle school.

My son is not yet in middle school, but from what I've heard both in preliminary conversations with schools, open days, and from Facebook groups with other expat parents, it sounds like middle school takes a more rigorous academic approach across Europe. For example, some countries, like Italy, expect children to know their primary focus of study by the time they enter high school, and then are placed in a specialized school program geared towards that interest area. Middle school seems to help form this decision by focusing on more specific subjects like robotics, engineering and anatomy, as they are already expected to know how to work together.

The unifying theme we observed throughout the schools in Europe that our son has attended, regardless of the country, was to allow children to be children and let the serious learning come later. At almost all the schools my son attended or toured, more importance was placed on children's ability to coexist together, work on projects and tasks collaboratively, than on core subjects like math, science, and history in those early years.

Each country had something we cherished and something we had to learn to adjust to. Overall, compared to our group homeschooling experience in the US, I would say that the primary schools in the European cities we joined were far less stressful. The academics seemed to get prioritized more as the kids got older. This makes me really appreciate how the lower grades focused on collaboration and coexistence.

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