SCHOOLING IN PORTUGAL

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When we first left the Netherlands with its rigid school system, I was sure I did not want my kids to enroll in a traditional school ever again. Not only because of the programming that takes place in our educational systems, but also because of the difficulty to get back the autonomy over your kids, once they have enrolled into school.

Deciding what to do with the education of my children has been one of the biggest worries of the emigration process. To make the right decision for this moment I decided to work out my options, exit the Dutch school system and go with the flow. I thought I had a rough plan, but things didn’t exactly go as expected.  

Holistic Schooling

I met fellow Dutch woman who has been around the world and now lives 15 minutes from our house in Portugal. She set up the online community “Down to Earth Portugal” and is the initiator of a new holistic educational program in our area. I was very enthusiastic about her vision and team of experienced and innovative teachers, but realized she was not quite ready for opening yet. I subscribed to her platform and planned to bring my kids to her school as soon as she would be ready for opening. The expectation was September 2022, which was perfect timing for me. I would keep my kids home for about 8 months, so we could take the time together to land in our new lives, before the kids had to be rushed to school. Meanwhile I would try to do some homeschooling and look for a Portuguese teacher for the months ahead.

Home Schooling

Initially I a lot of pressure from my own programming, to home school the children as much as possible. Even though the lockdown period already taught me that I am not much of a teacher type. Since my patience is limited and my structure completely gone during the emigration process, I was constantly in a fight with myself and my kids to try and push us all in a situation that was just not working for us. I finally decided to let go of the pressure and allow ourselves the time we needed to adjust to our new situation. I figured this whole emigration is such a big learning experience on its own, I did not have to worry about my kids getting behind on development whatsoever. I did my best to find someone who could teach all of us Portuguese at home, but I didn’t succeed.

I did decide to let my kids enroll in the local football and gymnastics club, so they could get used to the language and start to integrate with the local community. But unfortunately, I noticed with my own kids, but also homeschooled kids in the area that mastering the language takes a lot of time without schooling.

A long the way I started to feel a bit overwhelmed with having a newborn baby, and three other children at home all day. Whilst at the same time trying to get a renovation project of an entire village of the ground. Taking care of a family of four is a full-time job on its own. Especially with the nightshifts of a baby. I realized I needed structure, and I needed it soon. I was also worrying about the integration of the kids with the language barrier. I felt I brought them into this new life and it was my responsibility to give them all the wings they need to fly. Meanwhile the holistic education program was running behind in its opening planning, so I decided to check out the local school, to see if this would be an option for us. Temporarily.

Funny enough the kids were also totally ready to go back to school. Something I did not expect at all, but the structure as well as the social aspect is very important to them as well.

Local School

The local school in our neighborhood is a tiny school with two classes and about 15 students.

There are kids from another Dutch family and A Scottish girl, so the international score is quite high 😉 The kindergarten for children between 3 and 6 is situated in the town hall. Compulsory education starts at the age of 6 in Portugal, so you can decide for yourself if you want to enroll your kids. Our youngest daughter is 5 and was ready to go back to school so we signed her up as well. The school and kindergarten are free of costs (except for the books and study materials). The kids eat a warm lunch every afternoon in the town hall, and are picked up and brought home by taxi service every day. After emigrating, having a fourth baby, starting up a new business, building a village and having all the kids home for 8 months, this sounded like heaven to me. I let go of my programming fear and decided once the kids properly speak the language, my options for schooling would be much greater and the kids would have the base they need to build their own social life. Also, outside of the foreigners’ bubble.

The days are very long in the Portuguese system. They start at 9 in the morning and finish at 16:15. They do have a summer holiday of 3 months and many more banking holidays than we are used to in Holland. In this phase of our lives, it is nice to have some extra time and space, but for the long term these hours are too rigid for me. I also notice that the educational style is a bit more old school than in Amsterdam. My son, who is least fit for the system, came home upset a couple of times in the first weeks. He didn’t like the tone of his teacher and had some incidents at school. Without going into detail, I was very upset about the situation and had a tough talk with the teachers. I don’t have the illusion that they will change their attitude in general, but at least they know, that I am not having certain behavior towards my children. For now the situation seems to have cooled down.

My hope is that the kids can stay in this school for at least one year so they learn how to speak Portuguese fluently. I told my kids as well as the teachers that that is the main learning objective for me at this moment. If the mask mandates come back, I will have to come up with a different solution, because that is a line I will not cross. Before we subscribed to the school I already mentioned that my kids cannot wear masks for their health. And asked if they were open to give them an exception. They said it probably wouldn’t be a problem. We’ll see.

Both of my girls are very happy in school. They spend a lot of time with creative and outdoor activities, and have English in school from the age of 6. My oldest boy complains the most. But that was always the case. I am happy with this temporary solution, but still hope that my kids can enroll in a different school system within now and two years. In that case we have the best of two worlds. The learned the language and built their social network in the traditional system, and with that experience can grow and thrive in an environment that I think is better for the individual development of our children.

In my research about the possibilities outside of the regular school system I learned the following.

  • Homeschooling is possible and every school is obliged to cooperate if you wish to choose for this option. Formally they expect you to follow the Portuguese Curriculum though (although some lawyers think you can argue about this). This is also an important drive for me wanting my kids to learn Portuguese as soon as possible. If my kids need to exit the system, speaking and reading Portuguese make it much easier.
  • There are several online schools that you can subscribe your kids to. International and Portuguese. There are differences in the legal assistance the schools offer in case of problems with the authority. And there are differences in the tuition fees and languages that are offered. If you want to learn more about this, I can recommend the following websites:

This is an online school based in America that is inspired by the unlearning principles. The tuition fee is 375 euro per year, and 200€ per half year. They ask 50€ per year extra per family member. This school gives the option to enroll twice a year: in September and in January.

Comparable to West river academy. They are much more expensive (around 7500 per year). They work with customized educational programs. Biggest advantage is that they have a legal team that deals with authorities if necessary. They also organize local meetups fot their community members so the kids and parents can get together.

This is the Portuguese variant of the options mentioned above. They offer tutors and support digitally to assist the kids in the learning process. This gets the pressure of homeschooling a bit of the parents. Prices are comparable to Westriver, but because this is an official Portuguese institute, you don’t have to worry about legal problems with the authorities.

In this school you have to follow the official Portuguese curriculum consisting of 3 main topics: Mathematics, Portuguese and environmental studies (pre science topics).

OTHER NEW EDUCATIONAL INITIATIVES TO CHECK OUT IN PORTUGAL

  • Winny’s Hub (www.travel2wonderland.com) is a free learning and creative hub. A place where children can be who they want to be, where they have the opportunity to grow and play in freedom, happiness, in connection with each other and nature. Where creativity and playful learning on this beautiful mother earth is central. Where the goal is not achievement but following the child and his purpose in life. Winny’s hub is based in the Algarve. I love their vibe. Worth checking out if you are living or planning to live in that area.
  • Lunar Education (https://lunar-education.com/) has been designed to complement a homeschool program with knowledge, inspiration, community building and social activities, which completes the regular school knowledge with all the skills that children can use in this new and natural world. This Educational Program is designed to inspire families to connect, celebrate, play, learn and walk together through all seasons and rhythms of the year. It values and trusts the child’s need for self-expression, right to move, unfurl and process at their own pace. The child is the center of focus. Not the method, curriculum goals, or the facilitator. 
  • Down to Earth Portugal (https://www.facebook.com/groups/3786614628065318) is an online and offline community that is working hard towards creating a new learning environment for kids around Castelo Branco. The initiator Nanette Winnubst is working together with a team of specialists, in developing a holistic educational program, of which personal development, intrinsic motivation and autonomy of the child are the central pillars. As a world traveling home schooling mother, she is convinced the world is in need of a good alternative for the traditional school system. She is working hard to extend their program in 2023 and offer an interesting range of didactic, educational and learning activities for kids in all age groups.

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