On homeschooling, integration and Dutch

by Lilia Efimova on 16 September 2015

Netherlands, thank you and goodbye – This one came on FB and on It’s written by Kai-Ting Huang, a Taiwaneese user experience designer who left Netherlands after four years on study and work. She reflects on the things that made it challenging for her in the Netherlands – about language as a barrier, risk averse professional environment and a need for a sense of belonging that’s difficult to find in a foreign land – all of which resonate deeply with my own experience.

I don’t know where I would end up living if I wouldn’t have family and kids in the Netherlands. It have changed everything, even professional choices. It was not only the burnout: after finishing my PhD I had a feeling that there were few opportunities in Europe to do what I wanted to, but it was already clear that we didn’t want to be a continent away from all of the grandparents. However, it’s a choice for homeschooling that have really changed my relationships with Dutch society, Dutch people and the language itself.

Kai-Ting Huang writes:

…honestly speaking, in most cases, my relationship with locals can only be skin-deep. It’s not because we are not willing to get to know each other, but because the language gap make the price of knowing each other too high.

Yes, while everyone can speak English pretty good, you can’t get get deeper without speaking Dutch. And, in a country which is very internationally oriented and in an English-rich professional environment (which IT-related research definitely is) learning it was a challenge. At least for me, because I prefer to learn a language in a natural settings, from people and with people. At work I slowly became better in Dutch, but there my primary focus was on getting things done, not on learning the language. Also, at that time switching to Dutch with family members and friends would be a challenge: communicating in English gave the safety that comes from understanding each other and the sense of belonging that I needed then. I was working with a teacher on my Dutch at the end of my time at work, but it’s only really picked up when the most of the burnout issues were sorted out and I started to network actively in a Dutch homeschooling community. This is where I found a new sense of belonging, lots of shared challenges and goals, the need for each other, as well as enough reasons and opportunities to practice Dutch.

For me homeschoolers are a bit like expats or third-culture kids, who are often drawn together regardless of their origins and initial languages because they share the experience of establishing a life in another culture. Making a choice for educating our own kids outside of the formal system pushes homeschoolers closer than it might be otherwise.

Like in an expat community, where you are likely to expand your knowledge about very different corners of the world, homeschooling community provided me with an entrance to very different Netherlands then the country that I got to know in 10 years before that. I feel that in the homeschooling community I have contacts with “a more representational sample of Dutch society” compared to the contacts that I had at work, where shared educational and socio-economic background defined a lot. Also many things that I have to deal now are closely related to practices and expectations in the society, so there is a lot of place in my interactions with Dutch homeschoolers for figuring out the nuances of certain cultural practices, local politics or appropriate language use.

And, of course, hanging out with homeschoolers helped my Dutch at lot.  The good thing is that there is enough practical reasons to speak it: our kids share Dutch language between themselves; legal documents, homeschooling politics and activism are in Dutch; physical resources for learning (people, books, materials) are more easily available in Dutch than in English or Russian. And in communication with other homeschooling families the price of not getting your message 100% through is lower then in a professional environment (and most of the communication with the authorities I happily outsource to my husband, who can do it in perfectly native Dutch :)

UntitledSo, while the common view might be that homeschooling is “hiding from the society”, in my case it is pretty much the opposite – it provides me with reasons to learn more about Dutch language and culture, an environment to do so safely and lots of helping hands on the way.


The magic of connecting the dots

by Lilia Efimova on 22 August 2015

What I like the most about facilitating learning is the magic of connecting the dots. Or, better, being patient enough to see the kids connecting the dots by themselves.

At Troitsky excavation site in Veliky NovgorodJust a small thing today, seeing how the eyes light up when a book description of how paleontologists study dinosaur fossils matches what we have seen at archeological excavation in Veliky Novgorod a few weeks ago. Precious.

And then, of course, we had to do an excavation ourselves, which still have to be finished and properly documented (because it was interrupted by an applestroop project, also to be finished). And it’s all started from one very round stone that looked very much like a dinosaur egg and an innocent question about the actual size of those eggs.


From butterflies to pie charts

August 18, 2015
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This is how learning usually happens in our family: we start at one point and end up somewhere totally different. This time Anna wanted to draw a butterfly and we ended up with making graphs.

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On reading

May 29, 2015

You recognise an unschooling house by its space and materials… This time I pick up ‘How children learn’ from a shelf and start reading on reading. Between other things Jonh Holt writes about the complexity of a language that children learn by themselves and how reading compares to it.

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Using Cynefin for learning design?

April 26, 2015

I’d like to play more with using Cynefin framework when designing/facilitating learning experiences, so I’d be very happy with pointers to relevant reading and experiences.

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Holding the space

April 25, 2015

I often find it difficult to pinpoint in traditional terms what exactly I do. As I read about holding space it becomes clear that this is the biggest part of my job in facilitating unschooling.

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Scaffolding on a slide

April 18, 2015

I posted this on Facebook, but want to have it here, because FB is new email, where knowledge goes to die together with memories, classification and ability to find your own stuff back. *** Anna was scared to go sliding. So those two boys had built a sand ‘dam’ for her to shorten the slide, […]

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Learning to read: full sentences and whole books

April 16, 2015
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Witnessing how reading can come without formal instructions is magical. It shows that learning that comes from within can go way beyond our expectations. Especially if we let expectations go and let it unfold while holding the space and giving a hand when needed :)

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Learning highlights: March 2015

April 1, 2015
Learning highlights March 2015

Eventually I’d like to get into portfolios that kids make for themselves, but that is still ahead. So I’d start small with keeping monthly “learning highlights” posts and then see where it gets us.

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Family bias and what to do about it when homeschooling

March 30, 2015
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While homeschoolers aim at well rounded education for their kids, it’s often possible to observe what I call “family bias” – traces of parents’ own interests and preferences in learning experiences of their kids. So, what can be done about it?

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Things you learn while homeschooling

February 14, 2015
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You learn a lot while helping your kids to learn 24/7. Those are from my “top 3” list: recognise signal in the noise, focus and take care of yourself.

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Educational innovation: schools vs homeschooling?

February 10, 2015

It’s a pity that with the current educational climate there is often either/or situation where school system and homeschoolers do not want to do much with each other. At the end it is not that important where educational innovations appear as far as all sides are open to learn from it.

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Learning is everywhere

February 7, 2015
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Learning doesn’t necessary take a lot of time. It takes a mindset of recognising learning opportunities and going for them. And a bit of practice – of observing, improvising and not making a duty out of play :)

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Facilitating learning of our kids

February 3, 2015
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Where are many ways to do homeschooling, so it’s often difficult to explain what exactly we do. I can go on with specific examples, but also find it important to articulate educational principles that guide our practice.

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