Unschooling myself and project-based learning

by Lilia Efimova on December 15, 2013

In a sense it feels like starting from scratch. Like I forgot everything I knew from theory and practice under the weight of the responsibility of helping my own kids to learn. At times I feel that I’ve never learnt so intensely and so transformatively as I learn now. It’s very much true that unschooling is not only about education, but about life choices and that it starts not from your kids, but from yourself.

This is the challenge that becomes very visible with kids: I can say whatever I want, but they learn from what I do. That means that every little thing returns back to me – if I can master it, they can follow eventually. And that highlights lots of my own stuff that I would rather not to see :)))

Anyway, got a nice reminder about all of it today, reading Project-based homeschooling: Mentoring self-directed learners by Lori Pickert. That the first thing is to allow it for yourself:

If your child deserves to learn at his own pace and have his own ideas, so do you. Whatever you champion for your child, make sure you also give it to yourself: the right to follow your own path, work at your own pace, follow your own interests, make mistakes, and try again. Whatever you want for your children, you are far more likely to help them achieve it if you live it yourself.


I looked for a while for a format that would allow to add support and some structure to the process of learning without taking the ownership of it. An analogy that I am often thinking is a bit like moving from traditional conferences to unconferences: it’s not that there is no structure, but the structure is different, allowing emergence and the flow resources where the energy is. (Gosh, only by writing this I’ve realised that I was looking for formats to support learning in the complex domain of the Cynefin framework :)

First, there was what I called ‘unschooling school’. What I saw from the Sudburry Valley School model (mainly in De Kampanje in Amersfoort) was very compelling. For a while I played with an idea of starting a school like that where we live, but it wasn’t realistic for various reasons. I tried to see how this model would work for facilitating learning inside a family and couldn’t easily envision it. Between other things, it involves facilitating a relatively tightly-knit community of learners, while the practice of homeschooling is much more about facilitating at a node level in a network. (Not very surprising to end up at a “node in a network” model once again. At least my personal preferences are consistent.)

What I’ve seen from the Project-based homeschooling book so far (I am halfway through), fits much better in a situation where lots of learning happens in an environment of a family. It is essentially about organising space, time and attention to support a child in exploring what he wants to learn in a way that allows going deeper, being more systematic and developing meta-learning skills.

Questions and things to explore so far (these are notes for myself :)

  • parallels with Cynefin (safe-fail probes, boundaries and attractors, etc.)
  • multiple projects at the same time or multiple themes that come and go
  • articulating a project from the network of ideas and interests
  • studio space vs. living room (and living with the mess)
  • preferences for 3D representations
  • parent journaling – combining child focus and project focus




Do I give lessons at home?

by Lilia Efimova on November 7, 2013

Bird poking at a worm under a fallen leaveWhen I tell people that we are homeschooling our kids, they usually say something like “so, you give lessons to your kids at home, right?”.

No really :)

Like today. When kids woke up we had an idea to eat chocolate before breakfast – just because you need exceptions from the rules once in a while. Kids went to dress up and Alexander came back in a pharaoh mask. Which prompted a discussion on whether pharaohs could eat chocolate for breakfast and what from our usual food they could and couldn’t eat.

Downstairs we opened curtains and saw lots of birds poking around in a fallen leaves. So we hypothesised why they were doing that (looking for worms or insects to eat?). Alexander wanted to play with playdouch while looking at birds, so we ended up making a bird poking at a worm under a leave. In the mean time we looked at encyclopedia to see if worms could see (couldn’t find that, but looked at different types of worms and saw that they didn’t have eyes). We also have discussed that we should go outside and check ourselfs what is actually there under the fallen leaves…

That’s before breakfast. Later in the day Alexander will probably listen to the audiobook with stories about the origins of the food we eat, we’ll look at maps and talk about it. I’ll try to find time to check how worms navigate to be able to have a more scientific answer to the question about their vision. Alexander and Anna will most likely to play with letters and numbers, both in Russian and Dutch. They  will write a bit, in the context of whatever they will be playing at that moment. Probably they will watch cartoons in English and will definitely talk and sing in English, since it’s the fan thing recently, learning the “secret language” that their parents speak to each other. There likely to be some talk about the systems in a human body (Anna is busy playing a doctor) and reading either the book about the space or the one about evolution (these are the two Alexander asks to read recently). We will probably talk about ecosystems and may be draw some, since this is something that popped up in the discussion of the evolution book and in a talk about Robert’s project at work yesterday. I guess there will be some Minecraft playing later in the day (or playing Minecraft with Lego :) and talking how limiting it is not being able to make wheels, what flying gives you and how to make sure that Alexander can walk to the sea without getting lost. Probably we will be looking at the map of the Nederlands to figure out from where Robert comes back home today and for sure there will be poems of Hans and Monique Hagen before bed…

So, I don’t really give lessons. I try to be a role-model, to provide resources and to facilitate learning. I don’t remember much details about the worms from the school program, but there is a worm compost in the garden to have enough live reference, I say “lets look” and take encyclopedias and books when I can’t answer their questions and we might look online later. We talk about what the kids see and find interesting, I try to answer their questions (or to record them to come back to it later), to play with the theme, to recreate and reenact it in different ways.

Sometimes I have panic attacks that they will miss something superimportant because there are not enough triggers for it in our life. Then I think about my own old blogging lesson: if it’s important it comes back. They can’t miss reading, writing, math and internet. They can’t miss figuring out their own interests and learning how to follow through on those. They can’t miss finding resources and learning how to ask others for help or guidance (and when not to). They can’t miss negotiation, persuasion and presentation skills… And for the worst fears I look at a school programs (Dutch and Russian mainly) once in a while to check where we are :)

And, please, don’t ask me about “the socialisation” – I’ll write about it another time. Today is a socially slow day, so it’s just a small multi-age group of three kids and one adult (two in the evening :) and whoever we might bump into when going for a walk.


Family sabbatical

January 16, 2013

With the last blogpost published more than a year ago I guess the time is right for an update. So here it is :) Although I shamelessly stole the title of this post from a very nice book, it’s not about an extended family travel. I like how the meaning of “sabbatical” is described in Wikipedia […]

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Not bloging, identities and Happy New Year :)

December 31, 2011

I go to Nancy’s blog to look for the Pear & Cranberry Chutney recipe to cook for tomorrow and then remember that I have a blog too and that it had been silent way too long. So here I am :) The truth is that I feel a bit like a caterpilar in a cocoon […]

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A long due update

May 5, 2011

It’s hard starting after a break – there are way too many stories to tell and way too many thoughts that came in between. So I start somewhere. I had a burnout – going on and off after my PhD defense and not very obvious behind the usual “not feeling normal” during my pregnancy. But […]

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An afterlife of a paper tea box

February 7, 2011

Paper tea box that’ve been at Alexander’s play kitchen for ages went into recycling. A few days after he founds a lid of it and then realises that the box is not there anymore and can’t be brought back. The tears of loss come and then I embrace him in my arms to tell a […]

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While it looks still…

November 18, 2010

…there is a lot of turbulence underneath. I’m trying to figure out if I had a burnout (looks very much like it) and what is a way out. Still rethinking work-life balance. My professional values and parenting values align quite well, but the realities of putting them into practice do not mix well. Looking at […]

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The first dress

September 23, 2010

They grow so fast. Of course I knew it. But to know, theoretically, and to feel time slipping away from you are two different things. The box with baby clothes, first sizes, just-in-case-there-will-be-one-more, is almost ready. And there is that first dress that doesn’t fit anymore. I just can’t put it in the box – […]

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What I’m doing these days

July 19, 2010

…learning how to live life with two kids …building forts …washing diapers …growing tomatoes and trying to eat berries from our garden before birds eat them …observing practices of online parenting communities …suffering from the hot weather (well, at least diapers dry fast :) …enjoying summer evenings …reviewing reports …allowing email backlog to build up […]

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June 4, 2010

Our Anna is here! One more little hand to hold, one more little person to learn from, one more life full of discoveries… Tired, happy and loving every moment of it. 2 June 2010, 18:13

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May 21, 2010

I’m on maternity leave, which this time happens to coincide with a strong need to sort out offline things (like accumulated mess in the house, nothing too scary :))), so I’m quiet pretty much everywhere online. If I get to online backlogs I might post some work-related things here, but in the coming few months […]

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Being there together via presence and activity traces

April 15, 2010

I’ve been playing with this idea for a long time and it’s far from having any definite shape, but, as usual, writing about it should help. [This post is another round of thinking on What a coffee corner provides, how to call it and a research agenda and an attempt to integrate bits of thinking […]

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3 KMs and 4 SMs

April 9, 2010

A while ago I came across by Patti Anklam‘s 3 KMs, which I found very useful to think about my own experiences in the knowledge management field: Big KM (strategic, enterprise-wide) Little KM (“stealth” KM: specific KM practices applied where needed, often without the KM label on it) Personal KM My dive into KM started […]

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Talk at IBM: Blogging for knowledge workers

March 23, 2010

Today I’ll be talking to social software evangelists at IBM about some of the insights about blogging from my PhD research. While there are many things that I would love to fit in there, most of the presentation is focused on “what’s in it for me?” questions, explaining how blogging helps to develop ideas and […]

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