Homeschooling Adventures in the Netherlands, Part 7 – Month 6 of Learning at Home

Chris passes on his enthusiasm at Leiden Observatory

Sometimes even the best laid plans, plans laid months in advance, from a far distant country, don’t work out – in this case because of the wonders of nature. Months ago, I googled ‘telescopes in the Netherlands’ and came across a few possibilities. I emailed asking if we could look through their telescopes sometime during our visit. A Dutch Astronomy graduate student in Leiden, called Chris, answered saying he would be delighted. The first couple of weeks we didn’t manage it either because he was busy writing a paper or because of poor weather. Then just when I’d got back from a long drive, from our second visit to ‘Archeon’ (which was just as exciting as the first. We covered some of the time periods we’d missed the first time and saw a ‘real’ jousting tournament! The clank of armour on horseback was an incredible sound!), Chris called and said, ‘Tonight’s the night!’ I really didn’t feel like another long drive, the return journey of which would be at 1am, but I didn’t want us to miss the opportunity of seeing stars through a real telescope, and Chris said possibly a nebula, after our telescope-less Astronomy lessons at home. During our lessons, I’d frequently said, ‘Wow! Wouldn’t it be amazing to see this in real life! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could see that in the Netherlands!’ So, we couldn’t miss out.

We found our way to the pretty University town of Leiden. We could see it was pretty even though it was dark, but only just at 11pm (it gets dark pretty late this far North). We were worried the kids would be tired because they hadn’t even napped on the car journey, but they were too excited. We found Chris in an observatory with a huge antique telescope. We looked through it with baited breath and saw…a tiny bright light, not much different from what anyone would usually see looking up at the sky. ‘Sorry’, said Chris, ‘It’s cloudy and this isn’t a very good telescope’. We tried to hide our disappointment. It had taken nearly 2 hours to get here, by bicycle and car, and the effort of many months and thousands of miles. But we were excited to find that the special chair, that is wheeled under the telescope a bit like a dentist’s chair, that the kids were sitting on, is known as ‘The Einstein chair’ because Albert used to sit on it on his various visits to Leiden to meet with other great minds. We also enjoyed hearing and watching the dome of the observatory open and close (a distinctive, slow grinding sound I’ve heard in movies) and then went to see if we would see more clearly with another telescope albeit another antique.

Chris may have mentioned that the telescopes would be antiques. I can’t remember. There had certainly never been any kind of caveat in our discussions that these telescopes may not be very good for viewing, so we were pretty gutted to find we couldn’t see through the second one either – other than viewing a nearby church spire, which really didn’t do it for us! This was because of the clouds apparently; although I got the impression modern telescopes can cope with cloud cover better than these beautiful old specimens. This one was like a giant, shiny wooden and brass sailor’s telescope. Chris and his friends were trying so hard to find us something to look at. Saturn technically was in view but behind an inconveniently placed tree. The rest of the sky was covered in clouds. They searched and searched but to no avail. We then went up to the roof to at least enjoy a pretty view of twinkling lights over Leiden. After the walk back through the University Astronomy department museum, long small-child toilet stop, we found ourselves outside saying ‘goodbye’, only to look up into that glorious sky and see it filled with stars, blinking at us mischievously. “Where were you when we were up in the Observatory?” we cried in exasperation. They simply twinkled back.

“Do you want to go back up and try again?” said Chris. It was 1am. The kids are young. Chris and his friends had been incredibly hospitable and had really tried their best for us. We admitted defeat. As Chris said, “This is the Netherlands. We always have to deal with these skies.” I refused to walk back to the car dejectedly though. We had given Edward a taste of real Astronomers, cool young people passionate about their subject, studying it at a high level. The taste of real Astronomy, as opposed to Astronomers, had been really disappointing but hopefully he saw that we had at least all maintained our enthusiasm, fascination and hopefulness! Chris talked about how he’d started his fascination with the universe from a book his father had given him aged about 12. It showed to me how you never know what comes from what you introduce your kids to. I felt the main message had been delivered; seeing the skies was something worth driving late at night for, something worth going to great lengths for, something fun to study further. Here’s hoping Edward’s enthusiasm is maintained through slightly dry unit studies and less dry DVDs until the day comes when we can see the wonders of the universe up close for ourselves through a modern telescope on a night with a clear sky.


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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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2 Responses to Homeschooling Adventures in the Netherlands, Part 7 – Month 6 of Learning at Home

  1. I absolutely think the real benefit hidden in most of our field trips is contact with people who live and breathe the passion they are sharing, as Chris and his friends did for you. All the effort you put into getting there reinforces the message that this is important. Even if you don’t follow up in any way, your children have that seed planted. Think of how many seeds your trip is sowing!

    Here’s why I think contact with people like Chris is more important than the information that’s shared:

    • Thank you SO much Laura for pointing me to your post. That’s great. I love the Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote and I though the comment from Ruth was very right, ” It is all about meeting and getting to know people who are passionate about their work and their lives! When you have met enough people, or even just a few powerfully passionate people, you no longer want to settle for “a job.”” This is an important message we want to pass on. Thanks so much again.

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