Family bias and what to do about it when homeschooling

by Lilia Efimova on 30 March 2015

One of the things you see when you meet in a group of homeschooling families regularly is what I call “family bias”. While all of us aim at well rounded education for our kids, when you dig deeper it’s sometimes visible how parents’ interests and preferences shape learning environment for their kids. There is often a theme or a looking angle that flavors different learning activities. In one family there is more focus on art and music, in another – on sport and all sorts of outdoor activities… In our own family science and technology seems to be the theme that permeates a lot of what we do (which is not that surprising given two parents with a PhD :)

So, what can be done about it?

The first thing is awareness: recognising your own family bias helps to counterbalance it and to do something for the areas that don’t get in-depth coverage in a default mode of homeschooling. To find out your family preferences it is useful to document how learning is facilitated on a daily basis and what choices are made first or what is left lingering. It might also help to look at existing curricula or to compare your own experiences with other homeschooling families.

Once you have an idea what needs to be added, there are several routes to go:

Spend more time with other (homeschooling) families and ask each one to organise or guide activities that reflect their own preferences and lifestyle. Organising an activity around own interests is fun and allows family doing it to shine as experts and facilitators. It’s also interesting to see when visiting houses of other homeschoolers how “learning design” of the space, choice of materials and activities change what kids are choosing to do and their interactions. However, just spending a lot of time together with other families works well: each time kids and their parents have a chance to observe and experience different ways of doing things together, their own repertoire becomes richer.

They join me for watercolorsFocus on developing your own “blind spots” (if that is what makes you happy :). When you learn new things you diversify activities at the family level, your kids will see your learning and learn next to you. Its funny to see that when I’m busy learning improv and singing with other homeschooling parents, my kids are joining or working on performances of their own. And I immediately have all three of them around at the moment I get out watercolor materials and start practicing.

Outsource. While we spend quite some physically active time exploring nature or working in the garden, organised sports is not something that we particularly enjoy. So most of formal learning activities that our kids do outside of the house are actually sport classes – swimming, judo, yoga or gymnastics. Of course, it doesn’t have to be formal – often there are family members or friends who are happy to guide kids’ learning around their own passions. For example, between our homeschooling friends there is a family with an explicit arrangement on subject-specific responsibilities for several family members next to parents.


Things you learn while homeschooling

by Lilia Efimova on 14 February 2015

Colorful swirl :)Recognise signal in the noise
Literally. Three kids make a lot of noise – they switch activities and materials, they produce a lot of stuff, they occupy lots of space and they are just noisy even if you don’t count the media and electronics that they use once in a while. And when other homeschooling families come over it’s all multiplied.

Would be nice to ignore this chaos all together, but this is not the job. The job is observe, to recognise learning, to see when there is a moment to bring in materials, to offer help, to reinforce an emerging pattern, or stop something particularly unproductive or dangerous.

So I learn. Learn that the noise is the source of everything, learn not to be overwhelmed by it, learn to recognise those signals in the middle.

There is no escape. There was a time I could switch off email notifications, phone, internet, book a room for a meeting, close the door of my office and focus on the task at hand. Now, while the kids are still relatively small interruptions could come unpredictably practically 24/7.

Instead of waiting for a better moment, I learn to do what I want to do in between. Start a task when it’s relatively quiet, be prepared to drop it when there is a need, say ‘no’ to interruptions when it makes sense, pick it up after a break… And deal all the time with unpredictability – not giving up to it, but learning to ride whatever waves come my way.

Take care of yourself

I had a burn-out once, so I know the symptoms. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the responsibility, ‘to do’ lists or time slipping between my fingers. I’m learning to recognise when I need a break, how to help myself (with sleep, meditation, physical activity or whatever works in the moment), how to communicate it to others and arrange for help. I learn to recognise my own boundaries and to accept them. And then stretch them a little bit further :)


Of course, there are a lot of other things to learn while homeschooling, like specifics of different methods to facilitate learning reading or math, how to choose and organise learning materials without turning your house into a school or how to communicate with people around about progress of your kids. They come as part of practice, but they are quite specific to education in general or homeschooling in particular. And of course I’m very much into meta-learning and things that are easily transferable to other contexts, so I’ll keep to those three above for a time-being :)


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