Vacuum cleaningEmily have learnt how to vacuum clean and is very proud of it. I still smile thinking of her beaming face when she told her grandmother that clean carpet at their feet had been cleaned by her.

I always say that in our family household work is an important part of the curriculum. It exposes children to an important, but often invisible, part of adult life. It helps to develop self-organisation skills, to learn to take responsibility and to experience a sense of achievement. Helping with everyday tasks provides enough opportunities to practice dealing with “stuff that has to be done even if it’s not so much fun”, in situations where the need for it and the impact are obvious (which is not always the case with, for example, writing exercises or learning tables by heart).

Household activities provide many opportunities to show how reading and writing, math, physics or chemistry are used and applied in everyday life. It is also fun to add vinegar to sodium bicarbonate while cleaning sinks, discover that polyester thread and labels do not decompose when you compost an old t-shirt or climb under the floor to help with a job where kids’ small size gives them an advantage over their parents.

So, what does it take to make household activities work that way? I’ve been thinking about our ingredients of the mix:

  • consistent and appropriate expectations,
  • accessible spaces and kids-friendly instruments,
  • guidance and scaffolding,
  • adjusting expectations of time and quality,
  • recognising learning opportunities in simple or routine tasks,
  • making household work meaningful for the kids.

It starts from consistent and appropriate expectations: everyone’s participation in daily chores in a big family is not only a matter of survival, it is part of learning how to “live the life of the tribe”, how balance own interests and those of others, how understand, follow or negotiate rules and practices. We consistently explain and let the kids see why their participation is important and how even the youngest one can contribute to the family life. A lot of reminders and encouragement in the beginning (e.g. asking kids again and again to clean their place at the dining table when they are finished) eventually turn into habits and routines, making lives of everyone in the house a bit easier.

Ironing with a small ironWe also make sure that accessible spaces and kids-friendly instruments are available, so there are no additional threshold when their help is needed. For example, we have a low cupboard in the kitchen with cups, boards and cutlery that kids use and put back by themselves – it makes a big difference not only with our kids, but with their guests as well. I also resist putting a laundry rack up high where it would be out of the way, so even the youngest one can help hanging laundry or taking it back to the closets.

We often take for granted our ability to do routine tasks: at a certain moment I’ve heard “but I don’t know HOW to clean my room” from all of our kids. Getting them to help with household activities requires a lot of guidance and scaffolding: breaking an activity into smaller steps to practice, verbal or written instructions and doing work together while gradually decreasing our involvement. I also found out how important is to focus on explaining explicitly the criteria of a properly done task: “vacuum cleaning means that there is no dust and sand along the edges, in the corners and under movable furniture”.

Learning to work on a task is often slow, messy and inefficient. Doing any of the household activities together with the kids means that expectations of time and quality have to be adjusted. Cooking or cleaning together with the kids usually takes longer than normal and comes with unpredictable outcomes. I’ve learnt to plan for the extra time it takes, to enjoy the process and to be appreciate any results that kids are proud of.

Finally, making it all work also in a broader educational sense requires articulation and exposure, letting kids see a task in its broader context and experience it as authentic as possible. It starts from an ability to recognise learning opportunities in simple or routine tasks: drawing kids’ attention to different ways we handle crystal glasses and metal bowls, to symmetry lines when hanging or folding clothes, to the times and proportions when cooking, to the uses of do to list (and the value of working incrementally) or to the reasons we find recycling important.

It might also require redesigning our current practices of doing things in a way that they become meaningful for the kids. For example, our kids had low interest in writing shopping lists when it was part of the family shopping routine. Once we suggested that they plan and make their own snacks and one evening meal per week, it all changed. They quickly learnt not only to write the lists, but also had more interest in the tasks around it: keeping an eye on what do we have in house and what is still needed, being more independent with snacks, preparing space and materials for cooking and cleaning afterwards, learning to cook complete meals instead of helping with cooking, adjusting proportions or calculating total costs of a meal.





On homeschooling quality

by Lilia Efimova on 11 September 2016

Back home after a half a day talking about homeschooling practices and politics. There was an intervision session for the parents to share and discuss their experiences and, by a coincidence, a call with a discussion of current state of negotiations about the changes in the regulations of home education in the Netherlands.

It’s a strange experience to have those things next to each other. Two thoughts that I took out of it, next the experience of facilitation in Dutch and appreciation of the trust and openness of the participants.

1. As part of the intervision process we talked about “tips” that could help a homeschooling parent to do their job better. However, it seems that all of us also need “tops” next to the “tips” – a positive feedback and an appreciation of the things that work. There are enough challenges and insecurities, but they all grow on a foundation of something that goes well. And that something is to be proud of.

2. It’s a pity the whole discussion about the quality of homeschooling in the Dutch politics seems to be mainly an excuse to make it less accessible. The best thing that could be done to make homeschooling better is to remove all the barriers for starting it. Then the “socialisation” issue is not an issue anymore, there is a critical mass of people to do things together, there is a market for methods and materials, and the people who want to invest in educating their kids at home can do that instead of spending their energy on dealing with barriers and problems that exist only because of the current regulations.

And, on the meta-level this is all about “choosing my battles”, working on the improving things that work instead of being frustrated with the politics. [More on in friends-only FB discussion]


PKM for kids?

September 8, 2016

I’ve been thinking in the last few days about a direction to organise my current experiences and thinking about learning. It always have been about an individual in a social space, in a continuum of teams, communities and networks, but at the current iteration the age went from adults to young kids, bringing a lot […]

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A jar full of coins

September 4, 2016

While sorting stuff in the bookcases to be replaced I found a jar full of coins. Giving it to the kids turned into math, construction, cooperation and ice-creams.

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Facilitating unschooling: bridging the gap between interests of a child and external expectations

August 29, 2016

I’m at another iteration of trying to come up with a “theory of unschooling”. In this post I draw parallels between facilitating unschooling and supporting informal learning in an organisation, and then discuss the challenges of aligning interests of a child and external expectations.

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Not back to school insights

August 24, 2016

As everyone around is starting another school year, we do too, in a sense. Reestablishing household routines after traveling, painting shelves to make a new bookcase and trying to wrap free-range learning into a plan for a quality assessment process with Stichting Keurmerk Thuisonderwijs, which brings a few insights to share.

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Seasonal rhytms

August 18, 2016

Seeing how the choices of our kids of what to do and where are changing with the seasons is always amazing.

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Lightning and thunder

April 15, 2016

Nature, physics and math – just because it’s stormy and the delay between lightning and thunder is always amazing.

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Things to write on making

April 9, 2016

I’m longing to write, but the physical reality takes over. Two weeks in Russia with the kids, flu, Easter, laser cutter workshop and spring season in the garden, not to mention the kids, all need their share of attention. So, not to produce yet another unfinished draft I’ll make a quick list of things to […]

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Facilitating informal learning: mindset, lifestyle and paying attention

March 27, 2016

Easter lunch is not about learning, but it serves as a good example to talk about the mindset and the lifestyle that enable learning as part of life. It also helps to see why noticing and articulating informal, embedded and implicit is important.

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Designing for a family learning: safe space and facilitating independence

February 19, 2016

I’m trying to articulate what are the ingredients for mixed age learning that includes adults and kids as a series of posts. This time talk about safe space and facilitating independence of every family member at their own level.

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Learning transfer

February 16, 2016

Learning is in the details. There are things that go routinely now. Household work, reading-writing-math plain or embedded into games and activities, logging lists to document what’s going on, sport and other clubs, weekly homeschooling meetings. That’s a basis that we really pay attention to if something breaks. A good ground of sorts. However, what […]

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Designing for a family learning: meaningful activities for adults

February 13, 2016

I’m trying to articulate what are the ingredients for mixed age learning that includes adults and kids as a series of posts. This one is about the importance of including meaningful activities for adults.

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Performance improvement mindset and taking it for granted

February 9, 2016

I take for granted how much my thinking about learning has been influenced by a ‘performance improvement’ mindset. It’s time to deal with those tacit assumptions explicitly, especially given that in education the gap between learning and ‘work’ seems to be bigger than in L&D.

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