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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. *  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 🙂 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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Intuitive ‘instruction design’

It’s third season of the workshops for homeschoolers that we organise together with Wout Zweers, who works at an intersection of art, design and making. Today is another workshop and, being up early, I started to think about my role in the process.

The first part is logistical. I sort out the dates, write announcements, communicate with the participants and make sure that contributions get collected.

The second one is educational. It is a sort of intuitive ‘instruction design’ for something where you can’t really fix the sequence of steps. A workshop is a discovery environment around a theme, where exploring materials, learning techniques to work with them, producing an outcome and playing with it are mixed in different proportions for everyone.

I guess what I’m trying to do when we are preparing a workshop is something about boundaries, attractors and fitting facilitation.

Attractors are usually there – an interesting theme, materials, methods, tools, machines, Wout himself with all knowledge, skills and inspiration that he easily shares. The challenge here is to stay as open as possible without getting into a chaos (which is easy, given a multi-age group of kids that we usually have). So in a conversation with each other and tryouts with my kids we are sharpening the focus: what is essential for this particular workshop and what can be left for the others. Finding the attractors usually means removing distractors – materials, methods, tools and machines that are likely to result in too much diverging.

This is where the boundaries come into play. Time has to be set and managed, space needs to be organised in a way which helps us and the participants to stay focused, where what is needed can be easily accessed and put back, where the chances of an injury are minimised and the chances of learning and discovery are maximised.

And then comes the facilitation. For me a lot in these workshops is about a sort of apprenticeship – letting the participants to explore while being inspired by Wout and being able to learn “tricks of the trade” from him. So part of the process is creating an opportunity for everyone to “unpack” Wout’s expertise while freeing him from explaining the same thing again and again where it is not essential. The other part is creating conditions for a legitimate peripheral participation, so even smaller kids, who can’t easily do complex tasks (operate a laser cutter or use woodworking tool independently), can feel part of the group and create something meaningful within a theme. The same goes for the parents – we try to make sure that they have a chance to explore, create and learn and next to supporting their own kids.

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Making flexible structures

Making fluid structures
What happens if you design and build stuff for your kids’ rooms? They play a family where the parents design and build a room for their kid. And they are true to the details, including the division of tasks between the parents and designing something that can easily change.

So, a desk turns into a bathtub and then into a better version of a desk. The square at the back is a toilet, with a door that opens.

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Life goes on

It is always difficult to start writing again after a long period of silence. Like this time.

My mother passed away last year. She had a long history of heart problems that were not getting better, but it still came very unexpected (and seeing her writing on FB just hours before made it worse). Next to the emotions there were lots of other things to work out and no desire whatsoever to write in an open space.

But life doesn’t stay still. Grieving and all that comes with it give way. Life goes on and I start to feel that writing in me that needs this space. So, I’m back again 🙂

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My elephant in the dark

A visit from Gabriela, bringing back memories of the golden era of blogging and triggering an exploration of optics uses in medieval paintings, also brings something else. I look back at my own path and wonder how all of my experiences of work and blogging are useful now and what I’m going to do in the future with my experiences now. My PhD research and homeschooling live in the different worlds, in the same way as my current interest in permaculture has nothing to do with my professional background.

Inside it feels very different, as I’m touching different parts of an elephant in the dark knowing that they should be the same despite of being very different on the surface. Interconnected. In the last few months I saw where I build up now on my PhD and work experiences. Now I more and more see myself bringing things I’m learning in my permaculture experiments into the ways I view and design learning experiences.

At some higher level it’s all about designing for an ecosystem. Which should be a topic for another blogpost once I get to it 🙂

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