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What unschooling and unconferences have in common?

When talking with people about our choice to educate our kids outside of a school, there is a moment when I mention unschooling as the basis of our approach. And then it’s a real challenge to explain what is actually about. When I say that there is no curricula that we follow to the letter, no list of things to be done for a day of month, and that we follow the interests of our children, it looks like a chaos, where achieving anything is a challenge.

The easiest for me then is to draw on the parallels between unschooling and unconferences. With the usual idea of a conference is a structured content, unconferences might look chaotic until you experience a good one. With unconferences it’s not the content that gives structure, but shaping the environment (who, where, when) and the process (how). In this way ‘the content’ can follow where the energy is, often in ways that are difficult to predict in advance.

In a sense, unschooling is the same: we shape learning environment and processes there in a way that can follow where the energy is.

However, things are not that simple. The first thing is that I can’t easily articulate how exactly do we do that. There are good books, experienced others and even bits of research to learn from, but it’s hard to make generalisations to follow. It is still a very private ‘business’ that  has to adapt to the kids and parents in a family and to their broader context (e.g. legal regulations for homeschooling in a specific area could make a lot of differences).

The second one is that with school-age kids we deal with a shifting responsibility and a growing degree of independence. Younger kids need more structure to feel safe and nurtured and giving them choices without boundaries is often counterproductive (see also recent FB discussion). But giving ‘too much’ or ‘wrong’ structure is also counterproductive. And there are different subject areas that need different degrees of structure on a particular moment in time. In my mind I see the whole thing shifting constantly between different Cynefin domains with me juggling different management facilitation strategies simultaneously.

By now I am in the point where I have a need to articulate and to structure my experiences and thoughts on this whole thing, so I expect more will follow. Hopefully I can fix the comments that do not show up soon. If you can’t wait you can see them via http://blog.mathemagenic.com/comments/feed/ (thanks, Matthias, for the tip).

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • W.J. Pels November 11, 2015, 20:41

    OK, our kids are gone and I think you cannot compare the two ‘un’s. Two totally different audiences are at hand and kids (audience 1) are being unschoold (some kids do it themselves drivven bij a teenager-beain), where grown-ups are faciltated to un-whatever themselves 🙂 BTW remarcable how many grownups stay in ivory towers. Some support comfort zone closing; F2F in resorts, bootcamps and hackatons. Others keep kids out of school (West African kids do not learn to read / write) that should be a safe environment for learning.
    So, I think whats in common is the ‘un’ .
    And welcome back

  • Chris Corrigan November 12, 2015, 22:19

    From 2007, a conversation I had with Dave Pollard on unschooling, Open Space and so on…


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