Homeschooling is any form of learning that takes place at home, in the community, support groups or at alternative schools.
Called Ensino Doméstico in Portugal, homeschooling is the legal, flexible learning that happens away from formal Portuguese schools.
What is taught, as well as how and when, can be adjusted to a specific child or group of children. The idea is to focus on the child’s interests and rhythm, rather than on the national curriculum.
Homeschooling & Alternative Schools: Is Portugal Onboard?
Following the trend in other countries, homeschooling has become more popular in Portugal in the last decade. In 2009, there were 82 children learning at home; 338, four years later; and, over 900 in 2019.
Homeschooling & Alternative Learning: Why do Families Choose it?
Having studied a sample of 102 home-schooled children, the Association for Free Education in Portugal (MEL), reveals some interesting findings.
According to the research, families are likely to choose homeschooling for two main reasons:
1) the family’s interest in alternative approaches to education (90.5%); or
2) concerns about the local schools, such as, the social environment (78.9%) and the quality of the education (73.5%).
The core values that homeschooling families aim to instill are humility, self-direction and a sense of security. Achievement comes at the bottom of the list of desirable values, according to the study.
You can find out more about homeschooling statistics in Portugal here.
Homeschooling & Alternative Learning: What About Exams?
Despite of allowing some flexibility, home-schooled children still have to sit certain mandatory exams, together with their traditional-school peers.
There are mandatory exams in the end of each cycle – in the 4th, 6th, 9th and 12th years. These are called Provas Finais, in Portuguese.
Optional for home-schooled are the ranking exams, or Prova de Aferição, in Portuguese. Children may take these exams in the 2nd, 5th and 8th years.
Homeschooling & alternative Learning: How to Enroll
The Portuguese law allows parents to teach their children at home. However, there are a few conditions to meet.
- Enrollment – families need to request homeschooling enrollment (Ensino Domestico), in a local school
- Shared address – the adult responsible and the child must live at the same address
- Degree – since the beginning of the school year 2019/2020, the adult responsible for the child’s education must have a degree.
On top of the usual school enrollment/transference documents, you will also need:
- To fill in the request form (see document at the bottom);
- A translated, certified university degree certificate; and
- A proof of address.
The request form includes the following information:
- The name of the child to be home-schooled and the school year;
- The adult responsible for the child’s education, who must live with the child;
- Details of the adult’s qualification – a bachelor’s degree at a minimum; and
- The reason for homeschooling – this may be “preference for an alternative education”, for example.
To bare in mind when planning the family’s education strategy, are the two specific guidance documents:
Local Alternative Schools
Whilst homeschooling may be the answer for some, this is certainly not for everybody. A related option that has arisen in recent years is that of alternative schools.
Similar to homeschooling, alternative schools can offer a flexible schedule and a child-centered education. In addition this option offers, a trained tutor, a group of children with whom to interact, and a variety of activities.
The alternative schools that exist in Ericeira today, either follow the forest school model; follow the democratic learning principles; or simply, see themselves as a natural pedagogic support to homeschooling families.
Forest School – Academia da Alegria
Forest schools have been popular in the UK for the last 30 years. The idea however, was imported from Scandinavia, which has an outdoorsy educational culture.
The idea is catching on in Portugal, too. In 2017 the Forest School Association was established here.
The local forest school Academia da Alegria, opened its doors in 2016. Today, the school has 23 preschool children, plus 8 in the mixed-age group – 1st to 9th class.
On top of that, there are many children coming to Academia da Alegria for after-school and half-term activities, as well as for sporadic individual support.
Respect for the child’s individuality and an extended contact with nature, are the major strengths of this project. The children spend most of their time in the outdoors.
In Winter, the school day takes place in the beautiful Jardim do Cerco, behind the National Palace of Mafra. Through out Spring and Autumn, the children also have classes on the beach, as well as in the garden.
The classroom, where the children spend little time, is also quite unique. The students are the ones to choose the items to go there, as well as how they are arranged.
The families who join the project, usually value freedom and love nature. They believe in the methodology and are active participates in the educational project. And this makes everything easier, says the tutor.
The monthly fees are €280, with optional meals service for a €50 fee. This may be vegetarian.
Louise is the happy mother to a two and a half year-old, who goes to Academia da Alegria, three days in a week.
The family chose Academia da Alegria for its nature-based learning environment and free play. Louise comments on the fact that the toddler is now really aware of her environment. She often picks up a tiny little item and examines it with great curiosity.
For Louise and her family, the school’s strong communication with parents is also a big plus. They feel effectively involved in the educational strategies and decisions.
Louise finds that the school is good value for money, offering a wide range of activities, with few children and plenty of room.
Community Based & Democratic Learning – Enraizar
Enraizar follows the Escola da Ponte model, which is based on democratic learning principles. This means, self-determined and community-based learning. Children aged between 5 and 12 years old learn together, in a group of about 30 children.
This is a Private Institutions of Social Solidarity (IPSS) based in Monte Bom, Santo Isidoro, only a 10-minute drive from the center of Ericeira.
The building is the former primary school of many local parents and grandparents. Nowadays, the school welcomes the new generation, and operates a completely new educational model.
In addition to the main school building, the project also includes nearby agriculture and forest land, in Pucarica. There, the children learn about nature, science, ecology, survival and permaculture.
Sustainable local development is an idea at the core of the association. In line with this, learning can happen in a vegetable garden, library, forest, or anywhere else in locality.
Decisions about rules, and many other subjects, are made in student assemblies, which are only moderated by an adult. Whereas, for dealing with conflicts that inevitably happen, children have the assistance of a Help Commission. This is a group of children that come together to think about potential problem-solving strategies.
School fees from €330 a month. Lunch is not included. Thus, parents are encouraged to send food from home.
For more information, you can check the school’s website or contact the school via email, on email@example.com
Fernanda, who is an experienced educational consultant, shares her daughter’s excitement about education in the alternative school. The 7 year-old highlights that, unlike traditional schools, where children are enclosed behind walls to focus on learning, in Enraizar, all she needs is nature.
Fernanda mentions that Enraizar sees children as thinking individuals, capable of independent thought. And that, the relationship with others and with nature are a priority. The plurality, the emotions, the connections, the desires, the choices, responsibility, rules, conflicts… all of these matter to this school.
In Enraizar, children can learn through their own actions, in a variety of settings, helping each other. What is more, as children of different ages learn together, there is the opportunity to see different perspectives. Fernanda concludes that, when these children solve a problem, their self-esteem grow.
Pedagogic Support for Homeschooling Families – Skool
Skool is a project created by a group of parents with a vision.
These parents believe in a natural learning style, which is focused on the child’s own interests and individual rhythm.
The environment is also important, as the place where the child can learn and grow in harmony. Again, this is mainly outdoors.
Having opened its doors in 2018, today, Skool has 19 children, between 4 and 10 years old. For the time being, the spacious sports hall Polidesportivo in Sobreiro is home to the project.
In Skool, the child’s interest is the starting point for every single project. This also means that each child is entitled to manage their own learning plan, with the support that they need to do so available.
The favorite activities at Skool are outdoors and artistic ones, as well as the children’s own projects, of course.
The group encourages diversity rather than repetition. They are exposed to a range of materials and experiences and encouraged to pursue what appeals to them.
The language spoken with the children is Portuguese. Although English may be spoken to non-Portuguese speaking parents when necessary.
Monthly fees are €245. Lunch is not included. Parents are encouraged to send packed lunch from home. There is however, a homemade optional service for €3.5 per meal.
Families are welcome to join the project any time of the year, but the preferred time is between May and July.
You can book an informal visit just by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
For Ying Ying, whose 4 year old daughter goes to Skool, nothing matches the power of an inspiring tutor. This is someone who is capable of keeping the curiosity and the excitement of learning alive. That is exactly what the family found in Lidia, Ying Ying’s daugther’s tutor at Skool.
Homeschooling Support – Under The Grapevine
Having a preschool child myself, I have always been interested in finding out about our local education options. As a result of this search, I have become familiar, and kept an open communication with the three alternative schools above. But I have also come across a few other options.
One of these options is called Quinta da Pedra, in Carvoeira, a few minutes drive from the center of Ericeira. Claudia is a pedagogy- and psychology-trained tutor, as well as the project founder. I am looking forward to the informal visit we have arranged, back at the beginning of March (2020).
Saltarico is another homeschooling project-name that popped up in a parents’ conversation thread, on Facebook. There are also, of course, online courses, as well as informal groups, meeting locally for homeschooling support. You can find out more about this on the Facebook group page Expats in Ericeira.
“It has a mix of Portuguese and foreign kids. There are kids from 1 to 14. They do homeschooling. Beautiful place, a little paradise”. About Quinta da Pedra, from Facebook group Expats in Ericeira.
Frequently Asked Questions
Since January 2021, you can join the recently created Facebook group Homeschooling in Portugal. This is a valuable, free source of information and support to parents considering this route.
On top of that, the Facebook group admin Svetlana Dimitrovska, has compiled and shared the frequently asked questions on the topic.