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PKM for kids?

I’ve been thinking in the last few days about a direction to organise my current experiences and thinking about learning. It always have been about an individual in a social space, in a continuum of teams, communities and networks, but at the current iteration the age went from adults to young kids, bringing a lot of new factors into the equation. There are still a lot of practicalities of figuring out how to “do” unschooling in our context, but the insights from the process call for a bigger frame to work on.

And, as always, serendipity works its way, this time starting as a tweet of Harold Jarche:
PKMkids at Twitter

Picking up personal knowledge management, reimagined as personal knowledge mastery by Harold, as a frame of reference to map current insights is an interesting idea to play with.

A quick list of things to think about in this context:

  • mapping PKM to developmental stages from a child to an adult, to expanding social circles and a variety of interactions there;
  • think in terms of four basic skills in 2020 (or in a broader context), with a particular attention to cognitive load management;
  • look into an age scale and a sliding balance between child/adult responsibility in the process (also into the specifics of parents -> other adults);
  • introduction and/vs. embedding trajectories.






A jar full of coins

While sorting stuff in the bookcases to be replaced I found a jar full of coins. Kids were happy, especially Anna, whose interest in money is pretty strong at the moment, and since I also found her Dikkie Dik piggy bank standing empty. So I told them they could have the money if Anna counts it and Alexander helps her to divide it equally between the kids.

Putting money in the pink piggy bank

So, what has happened in the next hour?

  • Anna was learning how to count money (and how not to walk around with her piggy bank especially when she is very excited with the money there).
  • Alexander was practicing checking if a number could be divided by 3, writing decimals, helping Anna without doing the task instead of her and finding the easiest possible way to do calculations when I asked him to add up the numbers.
  • Emily was very sad that she didn’t have a piggy bank, so she wanted to go and immediately buy a pink piggy to store her part of the treasure. This is when Robert came to the rescue with the suggestion to build a pink piggy bank from Lego.

[In a couple of days] All three kids have 3,15 euro of the treasure and 3,09 shared, which is not enough to buy three ice creams of 1,50. Alexander found a way to take an equal contribution from everyone, but then had 1 cent left. Of course, I told him that it was not possible, given that 3,09 could be equally divided by 3.

So now we are at: different strategies to deal with the task, importance of estimations and checking if everything adds up, division by 3, addition and subtraction of decimals.










I’m at another iteration of trying to come up with a “theory of unschooling”, or at least articulate the ingredients of facilitating learning of our kids in that way. As I wrote before, my personal choices around it are heavily influenced by my work of looking at learning in various shapes in organisation (see Facilitating informal learning and Performance improvement mindset and taking it for granted). This time, I bumped into an old post summarising research by Center for Workforce Development (1998) on ways to support informal learning in an organisation by focusing on:

  • alignment of organisational and individual goals, so individual motivation to learn is naturally focused on organisational needs for employee competency development,
  • embedding learning opportunities and learning facilitation within working activities,
  • changing contextual factors (e.g. organisational culture and norms).

From an unschooling perspective I’d reformulate those points as the following:

  • bridging the gap between interests of a child and external expectations (practices in a society, formal educational requirements, job-market demands);
  • embedding learning opportunities and facilitation into everyday life, daily routines, family activities and practices outside of the house;
  • making sure that contextual factors (family culture, social environment, space and resources available) support learning.

For a time being I’ll leave along the last two points that are very much about the mindset and the lifestyle. Here, I’d like to elaborate a bit on the first one, since I see two sides of “bridging the gap”.

The first one is about facilitating the alignment of intrinsic motivation and external expectations. Here the main work lays in exposing the child to practices in a society and helping to discover the logic that underlies educational or job requirements. For example, when Alexander had an active interest in space missions and building rockets, we talked about personal qualities needed for a rocket engineer. Those included paying attention to details in order to avoid accidents that ruin lives of people and the work of many months. I also suggested that that was the quality that he could develop further, pointing to his t-shirt that he was wearing inside out. He quickly taught himself to pay attention to it (and the source of my long-term frustration disappeared 🙂

Here I’m tempted to put a long piece with reference to theory, talking about situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation, but essentially the point is: provide children with a window onto practice (Brown&Duguid, 1992) and what they will pick up from it will be naturally aligned with that practice. In that sense it aligns pretty well with beliefs underlying unschooling, that learning comes natural for children, it is social by nature and children are capable of learning life’s essentials (for more on that see work of Peter Grey and in particularly his Free to learn book). The “gaps” and other challenges come from different views on what are those essentials, as well as when and how they supposed to be learnt.

Which brings me to the second side of “bridging the gap”. It’s about dealing with external demands in order to address personality and developmental trajectory of a specific child. External expectations, laws and practices differ between cultures and change over time. Educational requirements are often addressing “the average” student and is based on the research of practices of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies in the last couple of centuries, when learning became very different from how it happened for thousands of years before that. If we come back to hunter-gatherer societies then the demands were pretty obvious. If you go where wild animals will eat you, you will be eaten. If you deviate too much from the practices of your tribe you will need to learn living alone or find another tribe.

Now there are many demands, they are often conflicting with each other and the implications are often unclear. I see it as a job of the parents to help their child to see the implications, to make choices and to deal with possible gaps by addressing external factors as well: shielding the child from the requirements he is not ready for when legally possible, negotiating alternative educational trajectory or working on changing the demands (with all means: from gently lobbying for alternatives to moving to a location/culture/country where the expectations are more aligned with family values).


Not back to school insights

As everyone around is starting (or getting ready to start) another school year, we do too, in a sense. Reestablishing household routines after traveling, painting shelves to make a new bookcase and trying to wrap free-range learning into a plan, readable for an outsider (we are going through a quality assessment process with Stichting Keurmerk Thuisonderwijs). All that then we finally got a real summer weather, calling for reading books in a hangmat or watching kids play with sand and water… Anyway, working on the plan brings a few insights to share.

* Converging feels good, especially when all the bits are kind of ripe, but lack of an external audience leaves them fragmented and ephemeral between blogposts, notes and conversations with others. Nice to have a reason to push myself to put things together.

* It also feels good to see the effects of doing PhD, even combined with halting the work shortly after it. It’s not that much about the letters to be added to my name, although those might be handy when dealing with authority-sensitive representatives of the system. It’s not about the expertise that comes from it, although I’m glad I have it and it feels nice to go back to look up the references to theories internalised so much that I tend to forget about them. What I really appreciate now is the experience of knowing that it’s fine to use some crazy combination of methods and to invent something that works in your own case as far as you have arguments that support your choices. And the knowledge that “you are ready when you know that you are ready” and knowing that you are really there when you are able to explain what you are doing and why without getting into attacking or defending.

* And, gosh, it’s scary to see how much the fear of “not complying” sits ingrained inside. How easy it is, just by looking at external requirements, to start bending here and there, starting on a slippery slope of loosing sight of the values that are the most essential. I’m so happy to have three little reminders running around, so I stay on the track 🙂


Seasonal rhytms

I always find it amazing, seeing how the choices of our kids of what to do and where are changing with the seasons.

Spring brings everyone outside. Suddenly everything, including food and drinks have to happen under the sky. They invent countless games in the garden and around and those don’t get boring.

Autumn is different. It seems that kids get saturated with outdoor activities and sun, they are driven inside as with a strong magnet. All of the games that could be played outside are now happening inside, the dose of Lego and Minecraft increases and it takes more effort to get them inside.

Summer is loose and self-driven. There is a big dose of changing scenery, travel and events, so kids seem to “go with the flow” and reinvent “normal” in between, just enough to rest before the next challenge.

Winter is generally full of structure and creative boredom. This is when routines are important to keep everyone sane and more structured forms of keeping one busy come actively into play. Clubs, sports, board games, books, films and online, as well as Minecraft and Lego are ruling this time.

Of course, the seasons are not finely cut. As it some point in August I notice that the nights are getting colder and the leaves are getting yellower, I also see that summer lifestyle has reached its saturation point and the signs of autumn are starting to appear.

And yes, I am a bit sad to see them playing inside while it’s sunny and warm and beautiful outside. The good thing is that they are enjoying all that without my personal “summer is almost over” sadness.


Lightning and thunder

Coming from supermarket (usual after dinner shift), unloading and sorting things out, and then, on the way to play “just one round” of a board game, this. Nature, physics and math – just because it’s stormy and the delay between lightning and thunder is always amazing.

Love how it always happens.


Things to write on making

I’m longing to write, but the physical reality takes over. Two weeks in Russia with the kids, flu, Easter, laser cutter workshop and spring season in the garden, not to mention the kids, all need their share of attention. So, not to produce yet another unfinished draft I’ll make a quick list of things to be written:

  • digital threshold, early adopters, process vs outcome – useful in so many other ways
  • laser cutter workshops with kids and adults – technology on the periphery, affordances (FB)
  • process with my own kids – added value, what works and not

I’ve posted this photo of Easter celebration with our homeschooling friends on Facebook, but I feel that there is more to say about it.

Easter, homeschooling style

A lot of learning in our lives is informal, embedded, implicit. Easter lunch is not about learning, but it comes to it when a discussion gets to a question about the biggest egg. What did the parents around the table do?

  • show interest in the discussion
  • ask more questions to help kids elicit their ideas
  • look up online to check how kids’ ideas hold in reality
  • bring a magazine with an overview of different eggs
  • venture into tangential questions about bird/reptile eggs and different uses of quail eggs vs chicken eggs
  • make a photo of this whole thing

All of these was totally unplanned and uncoordinated. This is why I found it important to make a photo: for me it’s the indication of the mindset and the lifestyle that enable learning as part of life.

The mindset is about paying attention to a learning opportunity: where is energy and interest? can I enable it and how? what is fun for me in it? how far can I go without taking it over or killing the fun?

The lifestyle goes further. It’s about habits, skills and environment that enable actions around the table (you have to know where that magazine lays to be able to bring it while it’s needed 😉 and that make it a natural, seamless process.

The funny thing is that facilitation of informal learning is often also informal, embedded and implicit – we often don’t know what is there, how do we do it and what comes out of it. With both, learning and it’s facilitation, I find it important to give it attention. Noticing and articulating what is going on is the first step for many things:

  • keeping track of effort and progress – knowing where you are, what you know and don’t know, how much does it take to get there;
  • focusing, amplifying, improving (or letting go what doesn’t work);
  • reflection and meta-learning skills.



I’m trying to articulate what are the ingredients for mixed age learning that includes adults and kids as a series of posts. In the first part I talked about the importance of including meaningful activities for adults. A family-friendly environment is important as well.


When Anna was a baby we spent hours in our local library. The part for the young kids had a playspace, a mat where a baby could lay without a risk of being stepped on and a coin-operated toilet in sight of the playspace. Both of my kids had something to do there and I didn’t have to take both of them with me to the toilet because it was a few meters away from the place where Alexander would play. I could also help him to open the toilet and then he was fine on his own. And, as a bonus, books in English were close to the area, so I could pick up something for myself with a few extra minutes.

After renovation and redesign of the library things have changed. The kids area moved up, adding stairs or elevator to the path to reach it. Baby mat disappeared. Toilets were now further away and behind the corner, not directly visible from the play area. So every time one of my now three kids wanted to go to the toilet, I had to take all of them along. After walking back and forth to the toilets nobody had the energy to walk to the part of the library where I could get books for myself. Needless to say that our visits to the library became pretty unfrequent until the kids became older and could handle a few minutes of not having me (or the door where I went) in a view.


When kids are relatively small (say 0 till 10), parents spend a lot of time sorting out the logistics (getting there, food, clothes, toilets and stairs) and overheads (planning and communicating on behalf of the kids, taking care of safety of a child and people/things around her). Some parents have to juggle taking care of multiple kids of varying ages and interests. In a homeschooling settings all those tasks come next to the actual work of facilitating kids’ learning.

Designing for a family learning means creating an environment that doesn’t complicate or, better, lifts up parents’  caregiving load, so they have energy not only to get there, help their kids and keep everyone safe, but also to do something meaningful for them.

I find two things important for that: creating safe* space and facilitating independence of every family member at their own level. Those factors are usually more or less present in the houses of homeschooling families and it doesn’t take long for the guests to learn how to operate in the space. When families get together in a space that is not designed for families, the following things might be good to think about:

  • clarity and basic rules about the basics – food and drinks, accessible toilets, using space and materials, safety concerns;
  • safe place/materials/activities in sight of adults to keep younger kids busy;
  • easy access to space, materials and tools that older kids can use by themselves without asking permission;
  • time, tools and expectations that everyone puts things back and helps to clean after themselves.

* Safe might not be the right word here. Too safe kills all the fun. Something like “serving basic needs and not creating unnecessary obstacles or risks” would work.


Learning transfer

Learning is in the details.

There are things that go routinely now. Household work, reading-writing-math plain or embedded into games and activities, logging lists to document what’s going on, sport and other clubs, weekly homeschooling meetings. That’s a basis that we really pay attention to if something breaks. A good ground of sorts. However, what makes it really fun is all those things that grow around it, on it – and how learning manifests itself in action, often outside of the original context. Something what is called transfer of learning in theory.

Structure of the EarthStructure of the Earth. Between of other crafts made from iron beads I discovered square Earth*, with white in a middle. When I asked Anna about it, she explained that that was something in the center of out planet, but she couldn’t remember the word for it. She went to find a book to show it to me and made a new, more detailed version. To be fair I was more impressed with the first one, because I don’t remember all the layers without a book.

Lego boat motorBuilding a Lego boat motor that works in the water. A few weeks ago we had to dry a motor from Lego after a failed attempt to use it on a floating boat. In between Alexander started Wedo programming at Miljata’s bouwlab, practicing with different types of connections there. And then one morning I woke to a boat that could float without making its motor wet, made with a connection that Alexander didn’t use at home before.

* With so much Minecraft in the house everything can be square 🙂