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Marble runs and music machines

What started from a mesmerising video of a marble run turned into something more.

After watching a couple of videos I’ve got curious about the people behind them and the whole phenomenon of (making money from) making marble runs. So we came to an article about it. And then to the video of the music instrument made with 2000 marbles.

And then we found that the machine is retired and came to the Speelklok Museum and the new project of the machine creator, Martin Molin, where he builds a revisited version of it with the team of offline and online support.

Marble run constructionSo now we have a marble run in the middle of our living room, together with rounds of marble competitions (one of them just won a chocolate medal, I hear). And plans to build a music machine with marbles and Lego (somebody paid attention to notice Lego elements in the videos). And ideas for a birthday party.

And, since I guess it’s not going to stop there:

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Ton’s post on 15 Years of Blogging made me realise that I had reached similar milestone all the way back in June.

From all my online experiences blogging has given me the most. A habit to write regularly, a space to look back at my own progress, a network of people that I feel connected to even if we don’t interact much right now. It has also given me a benchmark of what I’d like to experience in an online social space.

That brings me to more blogging, less Facebook again. It’s not an easy target, given the addictive nature of social networks in general and easyness, access rights control and instant gratification of sharing little moments on FB. What also doesn’t help is that FB managed to get different groups of my social contacts in one place.

  • It helps to reach parts of our family in different countries in a way I didn’t managed to reach with photos on Flickr.
  • It gives me access to my friends that were previously locked in Russian social networks.
  • It slowly takes the best out of my Russian-language network on Livejournal, which is understandable, but so hard to see given the selective algorithms and lack of proper access to older posts on FB.
  • It has a lot of people from my “old times” blogging and professional network, that are hard to reach via blogs now since my RSS reading habits broke and lots of people are hardly blogging anyway.
  • And it is the primary communication space for my homeschooling networks. In a way it is my work instrument now, where lots of learning and sharing happens (behind the closed doors of Dutch homeschooling groups), where appointments and events are made, details are discussed in a chat and photos are shared without all the effort that shooting and sharing publicly accessible photo with many kids require.

A lot of it comes back to the broad reach of FB that I haven’t seen in any other platform I used so far and the easiness of having everyone accessible from one place while controlling visibility of a particular piece of content. Ton also has lots of good points on the last one:

To me FB, while certainly exploiting my data, is a โ€˜saferโ€™ space for that (or at least succeeds in pretending to be), to the extent it allows me to limit the visibility of my postings. The ability to determine who can see my FB postings (friends, friends of friends, public) is something I intensively use (although I donโ€™t have my FB contacts grouped into different layers, as I could do). Now I could post tumblerlike on my own blog, but would not be able to limit visibility of that material (other than by the virtue of no-one bothering to visit my site). That my own blog content is often abstract is partly because it is all publicly available. To share other things I do, I would want to be able to determine its initial social distribution.

So, is there a way out? I don’t know yet, but there are several things that make sense to work on and Ton’s post makes me thinking deeper on those.

  • Just blogging. Sharing something here gives me presence outside of FB, as well as reliable archives.
  • Sharing small personal things as a separate category with the possibilities of configuring visibility of it. Examples of Elmine, Ton and tech details from Ton.
  • Rebuilding blog reading habits and creating conditions that help others to stay updated with my own weblog (lots of tips from Peter Rukavina).
  • Exploring alternatives to FB such as Diaspora and Mastodon.
  • Building a semi-closed sharing space for the kids in our homeschooling network (which would have a bunch of education-related benefits) to see if we can reach momentum with that.

See also (how ironic): discussion on FB.

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Shadow puppet theater, April 2016Our shadow puppets workshop in Wowlab in April 2016 was very much focused on a puppet itself, its character and different ways to make it. This time we wanted to have a different focus, so the emphasis moved from making puppets to using them to tell a story. We tried to give opportunities to everyone to play with inventing and making own puppet, but also asked the participants to work in groups to think of a story and to show it at the end of the workshop. We also gave a theme, Verhalen van de zee (Stories of the sea) to narrow down the choice and made a poster to talk about elements of a story.

Verhalen van de zeeNext to the learning about shadow theater and storytelling there were other learning opportunities.

Structure

We noticed with the previous workshop that the creative nature of what we do and flexibility that we want to have given the attention span of different ages results in blurring the lines between socialising and working together. While the workshops provide space to meet and play with each other, we also want to make sure that it’s clear where the workshop itself begins and ends. So this time we structured the process a bit more than usual, decoupling free play and play work from each other by establishing a legitimate play moments before, during and after the workshop and adjusting the timing of those given the energy in the group.

Performance at the end of the workshop also helped to establish a moment to finish preparations, to clean and reorganise the space and to have a festive closure with the performances. All those little changes helped a lot to keep everyone on track, while still leaving a lot of space for the flexibility, personal freedom and creativity content-wise.

Own project

During the workshops kids often have their own play theme or project that goes parallel to the workshop flow, providing ample opportunities for self-organisation and doing something without adults. Several 5 years old have a running theme with treasure maps and pirates that come into play as soon as their attention wanders away from the workshop topic. Older kids also invent something to do when they are done, often involving everyone in the game.

This time playing outside before the workshop they found a traffic pawn (I had to google the word ๐Ÿ™‚ in a pond across and tried to get it out. This project continued during the break, when I saw two boys coming inside to saw and hummer a tool to get it out, and at the end, when they finally managed to get it. All pretty much by themselves, so I don’t have any photo of it. What I do have is the pawn, broken and dirty, standing in our garden, where it was transported on the back of Alexander’s bike.

Helping without overpowering

While the parents participate in the workshop by design, this time I wasn’t allowed to help in a group where my kids were: I was too assertive in trying to show them a good way to make waves, while they wanted to discover it by themselves. It was a good (and a bit painful ๐Ÿ™‚ feedback for me and an opportunity to see them taking care of drawing boundaries.

It also provided a good learning point yesterday, when Emily was unhappy of not having enough decision space and independence while our three kids were building superhero ships from Duplo. I asked the children about their feelings during the workshop, when I was taking their freedom to explore while trying to help. We talked about the parallels in their game and solutions to make sure that everyone could participate in a way that fits their abilities and still leaves enough space for autonomy and growth.

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I am glad that we have those workshops and other formats of doing things together in our homeschooling network. They provide a complex social space, with many opportunities to find out where structuring adds value (and where not), to mix different types of projects together, and to practice autonomy and cooperation in a group with different abilities and mixed levels of authority.

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Magic work

MagicianAlexander has been into magician performances for a while now. So we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see one just across the border in Muenster (and it was in Russian, which is always a bonus).

What I liked the most from the performances of Piter Bunt yesterday next to the pure magic and a glimpse of the science behind it, are the ethos of the work shared in the masterclass: the magic is for others to enjoy, you only need to know how a trick works if you are going to do it yourself and (a lot of) practice makes perfect.

Magician Piter Bunt

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What parents don’t see

Homeschoolers hear often that their kids are always supervised by the parents, that they lack time to be outside of the family to learn about other ways of doing things. Today, collecting photos of Sofia from Olaf Ondekt for her parents I realised how much they don’t see when she stays with us.

We got to know each other 3,5 years ago. Our kids clicked, we, the parents, also clicked. We see each other almost weekly at events and meetings with other homeschoolers, but since the last year Sofia also comes to stay with us for a few days.

These are not short visits. She comes with her bike, extra princess dresses and her work clothes. She has to go along with our ways of doing things, to help in the house and in the garden, to share ups and downs of our life. Her experiences get richer and ours too. It all happens without her parents being around and often they don’t even know about all the little things that happen here. And lots of moments even I don’t see, since the kids spend time with each other doing what they choose to do.

What parents do not see

So, these are just a few moments from the last year that her parents didn’t see. Straws made from garlic chives. Princesses before breakfast. Eating strawberries. Learning to read Russian with Anna. Helping to cook. Playing with electricity. Digging potatoes. Teaching Emily to play piano. Going to Xperimenta science lectures with Alexander and Anna.

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Learning highlights: October 2017

LearningHighlightsOct17

Internet of things with Robert. * Video: playing with a tripod and learning making videos together with Lilia. *ย  Stamps and graphic art workshop at Wowlab. * Observational drawing, 3d art and recycling art. * Watching Nederland van boven: geography, nature, culture and data visualisations. * Building: ceiling-high towers, flexible child room, parkour for remote-controlled tanks, (ticket) office, Lego sailboat with an electric motor, mindstorms snake that bites. * Playing school. * Girls starting judo lessons. * Schat van Dalfsen: archeological excavation with other homeschoolers from TO Oost. * Buratino, the book, the movie, the art and the play that followed. * Inktzwammen: inspiration by Sofia, working with index books and Wikipedia, fruitless search in Enschede and finding luck in Zwolle. * Alexander independently: assisting Wout during a laser cutter workshop in Wowlab (here and here on FB) and Maker Fair in Hardenberg, DJ workshop, sewing black cape. * Leiden by train. Drawing. History of art at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden: Greece. Hortus Botanicus: carnivorous plants, planets and play. And more photos at Olaf Ondekt. * Rups Marieke, Anna’s caterpillar pet. * Money: bank cards for Alexander and Anna, Eurowijs workbooks (via Olaf Ondekt) and play.

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Black cape

Black cape

It was fun to teach him the art of ironing seams. And, with a little advice here and there, he could do the rest. But what I admire the most is the determination.

He planned making a black cape for a while. We’ve got a fabric somewhere in the summer and the ribbon a couple of weeks ago. So, on a day without any plans, he just went for it.

It’s not the first sewing project of Alexander. We practice hand and machine sewing for a couple of years. I sew. Their grandmother does as well, and frequently helps the kids to work on own little projects. But it went off once I brought a second sewing machine especially for the kids. First, it was a police dog harness and now this cape.

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Convergence and unschooling

Unschooling, as a way to support your children interests feels for me as a very divergent practice. There is a lot of informal learning, exploration, following one’s curiosity and seizing the moment. Lots of bits pieces and sometimes even a big part of a puzzle. What worries me the most is convergence, creating conditions for documentation, systematisation, reflection that would be aligned with the values of unschooling.

Thinking of that today I realised that it might be useful to look at it in terms of knowledge work framework from my PhD (gosh, that post is almost ten years old by now).

Knowledge work framework

In a formal school environment most accent lies on the tasks part: learning specific things in a specific moment is a task. From an unschooling perspective learning is more of a process, while driving force for it could be a “task”, a need to make something happen, as an own project (build alarm system that rings a bell when somebody enters your room) or a real-life need (being able to write your name) and could be an interest that doesn’t really have a goal. When there is a goal (that bull’s eye on the picture) then lots of convergence happens. Otherwise, it depends. Some kids (and some parents ๐Ÿ™‚ are naturally skilled in diverging, so making sure that all of it comes together is a task by itself.

To be continued…

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Schat van Dalfsen

Schat van Dalfsen
Although we missed public archeological excavation at Dalfsen with our homeschooling friends, there was another chance to do it. A couple of years ago we had a guided tour at an excavation in Velikiy Novgorod. In Dalfsen kids could not only look, but participate guided by archeologists. I always appreciate those opportunities to get close to an apprenticeship relation with a professional. To see the work from inside, to marvel at their expertise (seeing a difference between bronse age and iron age techniques on a 2×2 cm ceramic piece), to see for yourself not only the glory of big finds, but also the routine work of digging and sifting without knowing if and when anything valuable comes out of it.

It was a fun experience to share with the kids. And, as it was the last really warm day and the excavation was closing in a few days, we could linger there longer, kids happily playing around the huge sand hills and their parents enjoying conversation in the sun.

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