I’m at another iteration of trying to come up with a “theory of unschooling”, or at least articulate the ingredients of facilitating learning of our kids in that way. As I wrote before, my personal choices around it are heavily influenced by my work of looking at learning in various shapes in organisation (see Facilitating informal learning and Performance improvement mindset and taking it for granted). This time, I bumped into an old post summarising research by Center for Workforce Development (1998) on ways to support informal learning in an organisation by focusing on:

  • alignment of organisational and individual goals, so individual motivation to learn is naturally focused on organisational needs for employee competency development,
  • embedding learning opportunities and learning facilitation within working activities,
  • changing contextual factors (e.g. organisational culture and norms).

From an unschooling perspective I’d reformulate those points as the following:

  • bridging the gap between interests of a child and external expectations (practices in a society, formal educational requirements, job-market demands);
  • embedding learning opportunities and facilitation into everyday life, daily routines, family activities and practices outside of the house;
  • making sure that contextual factors (family culture, social environment, space and resources available) support learning.

For a time being I’ll leave along the last two points that are very much about the mindset and the lifestyle. Here, I’d like to elaborate a bit on the first one, since I see two sides of “bridging the gap”.

The first one is about facilitating the alignment of intrinsic motivation and external expectations. Here the main work lays in exposing the child to practices in a society and helping to discover the logic that underlies educational or job requirements. For example, when Alexander had an active interest in space missions and building rockets, we talked about personal qualities needed for a rocket engineer. Those included paying attention to details in order to avoid accidents that ruin lives of people and the work of many months. I also suggested that that was the quality that he could develop further, pointing to his t-shirt that he was wearing inside out. He quickly taught himself to pay attention to it (and the source of my long-term frustration disappeared :)

Here I’m tempted to put a long piece with reference to theory, talking about situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation, but essentially the point is: provide children with a window onto practice (Brown&Duguid, 1992) and what they will pick up from it will be naturally aligned with that practice. In that sense it aligns pretty well with beliefs underlying unschooling, that learning comes natural for children, it is social by nature and children are capable of learning life’s essentials (for more on that see work of Peter Grey and in particularly his Free to learn book). The “gaps” and other challenges come from different views on what are those essentials, as well as when and how they supposed to be learnt.

Which brings me to the second side of “bridging the gap”. It’s about dealing with external demands in order to address personality and developmental trajectory of a specific child. External expectations, laws and practices differ between cultures and change over time. Educational requirements are often addressing “the average” student and is based on the research of practices of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies in the last couple of centuries, when learning became very different from how it happened for thousands of years before that. If we come back to hunter-gatherer societies then the demands were pretty obvious. If you go where wild animals will eat you, you will be eaten. If you deviate too much from the practices of your tribe you will need to learn living alone or find another tribe.

Now there are many demands, they are often conflicting with each other and the implications are often unclear. I see it as a job of the parents to help their child to see the implications, to make choices and to deal with possible gaps by addressing external factors as well: shielding the child from the requirements he is not ready for when legally possible, negotiating alternative educational trajectory or working on changing the demands (with all means: from gently lobbying for alternatives to moving to a location/culture/country where the expectations are more aligned with family values).


Not back to school insights

by Lilia Efimova on 24 August 2016

As everyone around is starting (or getting ready to start) 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, readable for an outsider (we are going through a quality assessment process with Stichting Keurmerk Thuisonderwijs). All that then we finally got real summer weather, calling for reading books in a hangmat or watching kids play with sand and water. But anyway, working on the plan brings a few insights to share.

* Converging feels good, especially when all the bits are kind of ripe, but lack of an external audience leaves them fragmented and ephemeral between blogposts, notes and conversations with others. Nice to have a reason to push myself to put things together.

* It also feels good to see the effects of doing PhD, even combined with halting the work shortly after it. It’s not that much about the letters to be added to my name, although those might be handy when dealing with authority-sensitive representatives of the system. It’s not about the expertise that comes from it, although I’m glad I have it and it feels nice to go back to look up the references to theories internalised so much that I tend to forget about them. What I really appreciate now is the experience of knowing that it’s fine to use some crazy combination of methods and to invent something that works in your own case as far as you have arguments that support your choices. And the knowledge that “you are ready when you know that you are ready” and knowing that you are really there when you are able to explain what you are doing and why without getting into attacking or defending.

* And, gosh, it’s scary to see how much fear of “not complying” sits ingrained inside. How easy it is, just by looking at external requirements, to start bending here and there, starting on a slippery slope of loosing sight of the values that are the most essential. I’m so happy to have three little reminders running around, so I stay on the track :)


Seasonal rhytms

August 18, 2016

I always find it amazing, seeing how the choices of our kids of what to do and where are changing with the seasons. Spring brings everyone outside. Suddenly everything, including food and drinks have to happen under the sky. They invent countless games in the garden and around and those don’t get boring. Autumn is […]

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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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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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Homeschooling in the Netherlands: how to start networking

January 31, 2016

To learn about homeschooling from the first-hand experiences and to make sure your kids have contact with other homeschooled kids, you need to network first. How to you go about it if you don’t know any homeschooling families in person?

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Three learning and teaching trends in 2016 and the essence of homeshooling

January 27, 2016

Those three themes capture the essence of homeschooling for me at this point. Student-driven personalised learning as a main driving force, experimenting with learning models and environments as a mean to get something that works and looking for alternative models for learning assessment as a way to improve and as a mean to judge where we are in relation to the formal educational system.

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Wat is het doel van onderwijs? and networked learning

January 24, 2016

  An interview-based documentary about the purpose of education, a good one to watch. It’s still very much school-centric view on education, as if it is unthinkable to question the institution itself. It also doesn’t touch on the thorny question “who controls learning?”. All of which is not bad, because “compatibility with current practices” is […]

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In search for reflection formats that fit

January 14, 2016

When I stopped working, one of the things I wanted was about doing more non-digital, observable things. In other words – living a life that could be more easily shared with children, because they can observe and participate. Today, I suddenly realised that I’m starting to miss ‘the other side’. In a contrast with the […]

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More blogging, less Facebook

January 5, 2016

In the last hours of 2015 the story on how Social networks are turning the internet into television by Hossein Derakhshan came to me, via Facebook, of course. He writes about striking contrast between internet as a web with its hyperlinked currency before and the television model that it’s becoming now: Even before I went to jail, though, the power […]

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