An excerpt from the document written as part of a certification by Stichting Keurmerk Thuisonderwijs in September 2016, when our kids were 9, 6 and 4 years old.
We use unschooling as the term to describe the educational approach of our family, where learning of a child is self-directed and often informal. It is supported and facilitated, although in a different way than learning in a structured educational setting.
In our family learning is viewed as part of life, so any moment could turn in a learning opportunity. In practice that is often addressed via ‘inquisitive conversations’ where questions about various aspects of a theme are asked and answers are explored together with kids. In this process we pay attention to three levels: learning about the topic, acquiring skills needed to work on it, as well as meta-learning.
As much as possible learning is self-directed: we observe and notice interests of the children and we help them in the process of goal-setting, developing the necessary skills, finding their learning style and appropriate resources, learning and reflecting on the process. We use the project-based homeschooling approach as an inspiration for addressing 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. The kids are working with each other and parents on projects at home, participate in joint activities with friends or other contacts. 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 the professionals involved to provide 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). We include the kids in our own work/projects, adjusting the pace and expectations in such a way that they can play their own role in the whole.
Bilingual and multicultural
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 and reference materials are in Dutch and Russian (with an increasing use 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, contacts in the family, friends or travel serves as a starting point for discussion about cultural practices, geography, history, religion. In addition, differences in materials and media, for example in representation of events of the Second World War in the Netherlands and Russia, are used to introduce reflective and critical thinking. Next to participation in the local events and 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.
How do we facilitate learning in this way?
The choices of facilitating learning of our children build on practices of supporting informal learning of professionals in organisations, since it gives insights into the ways of bringing together personal choices and external requirements. When translated to a homeschooling situation, activities of facilitating unschooling fall into three categories:
- bridging the gap between interests of a child and external expectations (practices in a society, formal educational requirements, job-market demands);
- making sure that contextual factors (family culture, social environment, space and resources available) support learning;
- embedding learning opportunities and facilitation into everyday life, daily routines, family activities and practices outside of the house.
In the following sections each of these three categories is described in more detail: