This is something that was in drafts for a while and I hesitated about publishing it – it is personal and about difficult things. Yesterday we had a discussion with other homeschooling parents about “everything is cool and easy” picture that you usually get from the social media profiles of others and the importance of talking about the reality which is challenging enough. And I thought that I should start with myself and share a bit more of the “difficult” stuff that we have to deal with.
The original text is two years old and comes from the document written as part of a certification by Stichting Keurmerk Thuisonderwijs in September 2016 (more from it is at Facilitating unschooling). We are much further now and I have more things to say on it, but that would take more time to put into words.
Alexander is visual-spatial learner. Grasping a new concept, recognising patterns and relationships, keeping an overview, all come in a natural way for him; attention to detail and routine tasks that require automatisation do not. He is a natural builder, who uses construction as a way to explore the world and to process and internalise new knowledge.
He has a strong motivation to explore subjects he finds interesting and a resistance to those that don’t make sense to him, even when extrinsic motivational factors are brought into play. He has a strong preference for learning that is embedded into real-life tasks or obviously related to them.
From an early age language was not Alexander’s strong side, complicated even more by multilingual environment of our family. At the moment, his main challenges lay with the written language and language use in situations with high expectations/significance (e.g. reading aloud when somebody sits next to him). In informal settings, Alexander rarely has a problem grasping new words; he is often asking questions and explaining his point of view. Alexander uses language functionally. For instance, he is not afraid to communicate with foreigners in English to explain a point, even though he is aware of his level in English.
All these personality traits make learning to use written language particularly challenging: it’s a process with a lot of sequential steps that require automatisation and there is lack of meaningful practical applications for intermediate outcomes. In addition, at some point difficulties with reading and writing begin to serve as a barrier, preventing independent use of written materials as a reference or for self-assessment.
We use several strategies to address those challenges:
- Decouple practices for developing persuasion with routine or boring tasks from “difficult” domains. Practice dealing with “stuff that has to be done even if it’s not so much fun” in situations where the need for it and its impact are obvious (e.g. helping with household activities). Provide opportunities to take end-responsibility and develop ownership of a task (e.g. responsibilities for timing and preparation for judo or swimming lessons).
- Create an environment where use of written language has visible practical outcomes and rewards: navigation in the computer programs, lists and instructions essential for carrying out an activity, digital communication… Take care that language requirements lay within the zone of proximal development and do not become detrimental to working on a task.
- Create opportunities to practice tasks that require automatisation in playful and engaging way, through meaningful activities, board games, computer programs and free play. Draw attention to “practice makes perfect” attitude and value of intermediate results when the progress is slow.
- Provide low-text alternatives that build on Alexander’s strengths for independent exploration of new domains, practicing and self-assessment: hands on learning; making, building and experimenting; story-based communication; use of videos, visual material and infographics; games and computer programs with built-in feedback.