Where are many ways to do homeschooling (and even unschooling :), so it’s often difficult to explain what exactly we do to facilitate learning of our kids. I can go on and on with specific examples, but also find it important to articulate a few educational principles that guide our practice.
Informal and self-directed learning
In our family learning is viewed as part of life, so any moment could turn in a learning opportunity (very much in line with the meaning of ‘mathemagenic’ 🙂 In practice that is often addressed via ‘inquisitive conversations’ where questions about various aspects of a topic of a discussion are asked and answers are explored together with kids.
As much as possible learning is self-directed: kids indicate their interests and we help them developing the skills necessary to find their learning style and appropriate resources, to learn and to reflect on the process. At this point we use ideas from the project-based homeschooling approach to address it in practice. Structured instruction is chosen when necessary to achieve specific goals. For example, workbooks are used to practice writing or math, kids are taking swimming lessons.
We practice a holistic approach to learning: exploring different perspectives on a new phenomena, looking not only at its parts, but also interrelations between them, and studying things in a broader context.
Content-wise this comes as an exploration of various aspects of a theme or a project:
- an ecosystem of elements;
- cultural, natural, geographical and historical context;
- relevant vocabulary and practical implications in everyday life;
- related technical, art, crafts, dramatic representations and incorporation into play activities.
From a social perspective we view learning as legitimate peripheral participation. In practice that means that we are constantly looking for opportunities for meaningful activities, realistic settings and mixed-age groups. Kids are working with each other and parents on projects at home, participate in joint activities with neighbours or friends. They are also intentionally exposed to a variety of practices in the society through everyday life (=we take them everywhere safe enough to go). When possible, we ask involved professionals to give an opportunity to look ‘behind the scene’ (e.g. talk with a doctor about materials and instruments in the office) or to include kids in an activity (e.g. help to pack theater decorations after a performance).
Bilingual and multicultural settings
Our family is bilingual and multicultural (members of the family come from Netherlands, Suriname and different ethnic groups of Russia), so those things come back in the learning as well. Each parent communicates with the kids primarily in their native language, learning materials are in Dutch and Russian (with a slow introduction of English), reading and writing are introduced in both languages. Comparison of languages, looking for differences and similarities in alphabets, expressions, grammatical forms, etc., as well as underlying reasons for those are often used as a starting point for a discussion about how languages work.
The same is true about cultural awareness – exposure to different cultures through everyday life, contact with the family and friends, or travel serve as a starting point for discussion about cultural practices, geography, history, religion… In addition, differences in materials and media, e.g. in representation of events of the Second World War in the Netherlands and Russia, are used to introduce reflective and critical thinking. Next to regular contacts in the Dutch society, being members of the homeschooling community exposes the kids to the people from a variety of ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.