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Unschooling myself and project-based learning

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



{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Chris Corrigan December 16, 2013, 05:55

    Hey there Lilia…long time with no correspondence.

    This is a great post. My own experience raising unschooled kids (16 and 13 now) is that it is indeed one long probe-sense-respond kind of situation!

    Our approach for a long time was “life learning.” IN others words we used no curriculum. Instead we adopted the practices of “strewing” and “conversation.” This was our basic pedagogy. We left things lying around – books, websites, people, opportunities, trips, shows, videos – and we saw what our kids got interested in. We followed up that interest immediately with conversation which extended and deepened the things they were interested in. Sometimes this would lead us to teachers, to opportunities and all kinds of interesting stuff unfolded. Pure safe-to-fail probing!

    A couple of years ago our kids both chose to go to school, and we entered into this choice the same as all the others. It has worked out well for them and they know it’s a choice.

    In short, you’re on the right track, based on my experience. Congrats!

    • Lilia Efimova December 16, 2013, 11:12

      Chris, nice to hear from you 🙂 I always find it reassuring to hear about unschooling experiences from people in my network, since we are still in the beginning, in the middle of doubts, challenges and finding practices that would work for us.

      We have similar practices, strewing and conversations, but I feel the need for a bit more support for staying on track and going deeper. My oldest is a bit like me – generalist, who sees patterns and makes connections easily, but finds it more difficult to focus on something once there are difficult bits in there. It comes especially challenging with skills that require lots of practice, like reading and writing. I’d like to have them integrated with exploring themes he finds interesting. In project-based approach I see bits that would help me to help him to stay focused on something long enough and to integrate more written artefacts in the process more naturally. At the end it comes to ‘normal’ practices of planning, documenting experiences and reflection.

      Would also like to hear how in you case ‘conversations’ go? Is there a sort of structure or questions that you try to integrate in there?

  • Lori December 17, 2013, 20:02

    lilia, so glad you are enjoying the book. 🙂

    just wanted to make sure you knew that we also have a free forum — http://project-based-homeschooling.com/forum

    lots of nice, supportive, friendly people there (including me! ;o) to talk with and bounce ideas around with!

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