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I tend to take for granted how much my thinking about learning has been influenced by a performance improvement mindset (which comes, between other things, from doing a master program after using learning as a mean to address various ‘performance gaps’ in practice and then going for HRD specialisation within that program).

Reading Charles Jennings discussing relationships between learning and work (see also Jane Hart) reminded me of a discussion with a friend where I tried to explain my approach to education articulating relationships between learning and work cultural practice in a similar way.

‘Taking it for granted’ doesn’t help, because the idea that work is learning and learning is the work is not so obvious. And I guess the gap to bridge is a way bigger in education, where ‘performance’ is a long-term goal rather then a pressing business, evaluation rarely goes beyond level 2 of Kirkpatrick’s model and there is legacy of learning being bound to an institution.

So, two things to think about:

  • build more on the parallels between workplace learning and education
  • articulate relationships between integration of learning into practice and the models for facilitating learning and organisational forms behind
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The text below is what I wish I knew when we started our homeschooling journey several years ago and my Dutch was way worse than today. It have been inspired by Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network, which I loved for learning how to navigate in the academic world.

To learn about homeschooling from the first-hand experiences and to make sure your kids have contact with other homeschooled kids, you need to network first. How to you go about it if you don’t know any homeschooling families in person?

0. Orientation 

If you know nothing about homeschooling in the Netherlands and don’t speak Dutch start here (and make sure you read part of the text on the educational law). This story gives a pretty realistic personal perspective.

For searching online it is handy to know that homeschooling (home education) is thuisonderwijs in Dutch and that it is often abbreviated as TO. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t find a lot of information about practices of homeschooling in the open. Home education community in the Netherlands is small and a lot of knowledge sharing happens via personal contact or in relatively closed groups, both online and offline. Also, since there are kids involved, homeschooling events and local groups are not often advertised in public.

1. Big groups online

To make first contacts mailing lists and big Facebook groups are a good place to start (many are on this list). If you are on Facebook anyway, I’d suggest to start there – recently those groups are more active than mailing lists.

  • Some of the groups are location-based, others are focused on a specific issue. It is essential to introduce yourself and to make clear why you are interested in homeschooling and what specific questions bring you to the group.
  • Be prepared to do your homework (see Orientation) – choosing for educating your kids outside the system requires taking initiative in your own hands, so don’t expect that others would eagerly answer questions that could be answered with a quick online search.
  • Also, because of sensitivity of the topic, asking legal questions in general groups doesn’t make much sense. If you need to discuss how to apply for an exemption letter, especially in a complicated case, make sure to do so in specific groups.

There are a few of lists/groups in English, but they often lack a critical mass of members to share knowledge and to network efficiently. They are good as a starting point to get initial contacts and information about home education in the Netherlands while not worrying about the language, but in the longer term the best thing you can do is to learn reading Dutch and join Dutch-language groups. While writing in English in those groups definitely feels a bit awkward, it is usually accepted (this is how I started before getting confident enough to write in Dutch).

2. Big homeschooling events are perfect opportunities to ask questions, to meet new people or to maintain a connection with those you might know online. Those include Not Back To School Parties (NBTSP), thematic outings (uitjes) or camping events. Dutch homeschooling association NVvTO also organises workshops and thuisonderwijs cafes where you can ask questions and meet others. In general, to benefit from more structured events (workshops or thematic excursions) you will need a good level of Dutch, while parties and kids-oriented events provide enough opportunities for talking in English.

If you don’t live in or around big cities be prepared to travel for more than an hour. It’s not easy, but often worth it. What I call now ‘my local homeschooling network’ have started at NBTSP-oost in Nijmegen, 1,5 hours away from where we live.

When you come for an event make sure you have contact numbers of organisers. They are usually available somewhere in the announcement, but if not don’t hesitate asking directly. You don’t want to run around in a park or museum trying to guess which people might be homeschoolers, as I did once after missing everyone at the huge territory of Open Air Museum in Arnhem.

While camping with other homeschooling families at TO camp is definitely a good way to get to know Dutch homeschooling scene, you can also come for a day without sleeping at the campsite. There are more opportunities to go camping with other homeschoolers in the Netherlands, but you are not likely to hear about them until your local network is established.

3. Local groups
There are many local homeschooling groups which are focused on regular activities that kids do together. Those are exactly what you need for your daily practice of home education: a group of peers for your kids to build relations with and a group of parents with whom you can go deeper than an introductory talk. Once there is enough trust, you can talk about fears and challenges, discuss things specific to your kids with people who have seen them over time, share tips and tricks, and just have a lot of fun together.

Exactly because those groups are build on trust and regular participation they are often not advertised in public, do not have online presence or are private or even secret on Facebook. To find them you will need to ask around in the bigger groups and during the events: once you are known to be trusted you will hear about them.

And if there is no regular homeschooling group where you live it makes a lot of sense to put effort in creating one. It is definitely pays back.

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Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016:

1) Alternative credentialing, 2) Experimentation in new teaching models and learning spaces, and 3) Student-driven personalized learning.

I came across this article yesterday and thought that three trends are those that we are actually working on in our homeschooling practice. Of course, what we do is quite different from the learning industry, but the themes are there.

The first one and the last one are very related for me. We are experimenting with various ways to document and log learning, trying to find a sweet spot where the effort that goes into documentation doesn’t disrupt activities that are being documented. At the same time documentation is an instrument for reflection, recognising patterns and planning, all creating the ground for making choices where to go further.

There is also a whole bunch of challenges that sits under ‘student-driven personalized learning’. The biggest one is pretty much similar to what Euan Semple describes in coping with lack of structure (FB discussion):

Unless I am working with a client, or have booked meetings or phone calls, my days are pretty free-form. This is both a curse and a blessing. When I am focused and motivated it is a blessing, as I can shape my day around the things I have to do and the best times to do them. When I am down on energy and drifting it is a curse as any attempt to turn my mood around is up to me.

For me that’s currently about the search for unschooling structures that work for us and, also, dealing with my own challenges in that respect.

Another trend, experimentation with new teaching models and learning spaces, is something that sits very much at the crossing between my identity as a homeschooling parent and  my professional background (I joke saying that now I do what I did at work, but on a small scale and with not representative sample).

Playing with various learning spaces and observing their effects on learning is something that we are busy for a while now, turning our house into a one big learning space. Our current focus in this respect on access to materials and ways to organise them, as well as finding a good way to blend digital into physical.

In respect to learning models my main focus now is experimenting with various ways to bring together mixed-age group learning and the exposure to real-life practices and problems. This combination works easier at the family level: including kids in every day practices and recognising and encouraging learning during those practices is something that we just do. Bringing that beyond family, at a community level is a challenge – formal educational system separates children from adult, real-life society, so old practices of legitimate peripheral participation are lost and have to be established all over. And this is something that is very cool to work on in practice (I should write about it too :).

Those three themes are actually those that capture a lot about the essence of homeschooling for me now. Student-driven personalised learning as a main driving force for homeschooling, experimentation with learning models and environments as a mean to get something that works that way and looking for alternative models for learning assessment as a way to improve and as a mean to judge where we are in relation to the formal educational system.

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An interview-based documentary about the purpose of education, a good one to watch. It’s still very much school-centric view on education, as if it is unthinkable to question the institution itself. It also doesn’t touch on the thorny question “who controls learning?”. All of which is not bad, because “compatibility with current practices” is something that is needed for innovations to get accepted. However, personally I’d like to see things going a bit further into the networked learning direction.

I always liked an idea of “nodes in a network” model of learning (was it somewhere in e-learning domain?), but now I’m a bit further with understanding in practice of how education works from birth on. Would be cool to get a bunch of smart people together to think how educational network could look in relation to the age of a learner, without taking into account legacy or feasibility questions.

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In search for reflection formats that fit

When I stopped working, one of the things I wanted was about doing more non-digital, observable things. In other words – living a life that could be more easily shared with children, because they can observe and participate.

Today, I suddenly realised that I’m starting to miss ‘the other side’. In a contrast with the last three days – busy in a good way – I think I’m starting to miss the ‘digital’, now for the simple reason that the flow in front of the computer allows relatively easy switching between being social and being solo, writing and reflecting. I guess that is also why blogging fitted so naturally in between then and why now I’m still trying to find a niche for it in time and routine.

The good thing is that discovering yet another piece of the puzzle moves me one step further.

I guess I’m actually searching for a format for a regular written reflection that goes deep enough and that is possible given existing pockets of solo time as well as the energy level during those. In that sense Ton’s experience with using self reflection survey is inspiring, because it can be something at a sweet spot between a checklist (not deep enough) and a long story (doesn’t happen due to time/energy constraints).

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More blogging, less Facebook

In the last hours of 2015 the story on how Social networks are turning the internet into television by Hossein Derakhshan came to me, via Facebook, of course. He writes about striking contrast between internet as a web with its hyperlinked currency before and the television model that it’s becoming now:

Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: newness and popularity. (Isn’t this embodied these days by the real-world dominance of young celebrities?) That philosophy is the stream. The stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex and secretive algorithms.

It came just around the time where I realised how my own thinking, learning and doing are disrupted by the stream model, in particularly the one of Facebook. Thinking last few month on what I’d like to do, blogging came at a critical path of everything with an online part to it.

So, more blogging and less Facebook is definitely on the agenda now.

More blogging requires updating and fixing weblog tech and reestablishing my blog reading routine. The first one feels like a big task as I have to dig into technical issues and there is a learning curve and a chunk of time needed for that. Getting back to blog reading has its challenges as well, but tackling those is well aligned with my personal goals for this year.

Reducing Facebook’s share of attention will be a challenge as well. In a last couple of years it has become a communication tool, providing a photo backchannel with family and friends and an instrument for practically all communication around homeschooling, from networking and staying updated, to scheduling appointments and handling other logistics. And, as Johnnie Moore puts it, Facebook is “like junk food: addictive, satisfying in a quick-hit way but not very nutritious” – it’s just a way easier to add something there and to get a response (nobody reads blogs anymore, right?).

Which all comes down to a theme that I’m dealing with all these post-burnout years – how to stay focused when you can’t switch off distractions, disruptions and addictions around you. Sometimes I wish I had mindfulness training when I was 15, but then I probably wouldn’t be where I am now 🙂

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From 2015 to 2016

Those three days were a lot of fun. Improv, playing on stage and on the floor, making fire, old and new songs, Turner in Rijksmuseum Twente, skating, walking, laughing, cooking, sharing thoughts and food with friends, big and small. And knipertjes that came as an unexpected gift, just in time to celebrate the year about to end.

And then inwards, family-oriented change of the year. Tossing unnecessary, quiet and cosy followed by getting our boots seriously dirty in the mud while crossing boundaries.

In a sense that summarises 2015 for me. It was about probing, experimenting, trying, across situations and contexts, to facilitate, grow and build the world as I’d like to see it. It was also very much about discovering more of myself and starting to build resources that I’ll need further down the road.

Things that marked last year:

  • New vegetable garden and then another one. Hugelkultuur, three sisters guild, seems-to-be-infinite potato harvest, replanting mature asparagus and just those hours of grounding and enjoying the fruits of it. Applestroop, courgette taart and tomatillo salsa.
  • Unschooling. Community! Pulse of meetings. Campings and logeerfeesten. Dutch and homeschooling politics. Rhythm, embedded housework and logging experiments. Learning circle, beelddenkers and willpower. Seeds for things I’d like to grow locally.
  • Travel. Snow, space and family in Moscow. Art therapy in Berlin. Easter in Aachen. Tulip fields in spring. Two weeks of learning in Delft. Canoing and singing in Salland. Nature, archeology and family in Russia. Riding the storm and bellydancing in Flevoland. Sailing in Friesland. Lots of Zwolle in between (and enjoying the tunnel that finally got open 🙂
  • Personal. Learning watercolors. Focus instead of breadth. Getting my body back for myself after 9 years of pregnancies and breastfeeding. Building habits: mindfulness, regular yoga and natural haircare. Learning party and merging parts into a whole. Learning to slow down after premature expansion.

And what’s about the new year? I have a direction to go and lots of seeds that need to grow. And between all those two explicit targets: get balance energy-wise and get back into blogging. Because those I need the most 🙂

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Unschooling structures: shape and focus

One of the things that is on my thinking radar now is what I call ‘unschooling structure’ – the things that help to shape and focus learning. In particularly I’m wondering about providing kids with an exposure to and participation in practices of the society (thinking in terms of Lave&Wenger here). For me those have an immediate connection with two challenges that I see:

Shape. Letting go predefined curriculum and learning goals kind of assumes that kids are exposed to practices essential for living in a society. However, this exposure doesn’t come by itself. That’s worth a separate post, but so far I’d like to point that strewing as an unschooling practice is pretty artificial, especially in contrast to learning of kids in hunter-gatherer societies as Peter Grey describes when talking about free learning (the book, review and discussion that touch on what I have in mind). Here I bump into the same thing that I encountered when Alexander was a few months old: a lot of our current practices are conceptual, technology-mediated and are difficult to observe for a child, also because “adults work” and “kids learn” are two different worlds.

Focus. Here I come from my personal challenge to keep focused on boring/routine/difficult parts of an interesting and dear to my hart project. There is a lot to dig out there, but one of my assumptions is that the energy (and developing a skill) for being able to persist working on your goal through real difficulties comes from observing and experiencing practices where things just ‘have to be done’, because it’s a cultural norm or matter of survival. (Here I should include a link to not written yet post about kids’ household tasks; project-based homeschooling also fits here). The other part is nested in my mind under mindfullness umbrella: doing what has to be done because of choosing it is different from pushing yourself hard through the work (which I think might lead to burnout next to getting work done 🙂

The whole thing above might look like I forgot about freedom, choice and motivation of a child in the picture – those are the ‘defaults’ in some sense, so I don’t address them here. It might be also worth noting that all attempts of theory-building here comes from practical challenges of figuring out what sort of learning environment our kids need to thrive and how to help them go through difficult patches on their paths.

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On (failure to write) well-thought posts

While my writing was derailed by Anna’s finger getting trapped in a door (almost healed by now) and the busyness of the holiday season (and here Christmas is nothing compared to the suspense of Sinterklaas), the thinking continues. Ideally, I’d like to write a well-research posts full of references to relevant material, but every time I attempt to do so, I see how my daily work – giving attention to the kids’ learning and the household – starts falling into pieces.

In a sense it’s good to realise that: as far as my own projects appear as a dotted line, I’m not ready to go back to work (which, of course, I’d like to combine with the whole unschooling endeavour). And, while the gardening season is practically closed after the heavy work of replanting mature asparagus plants last week, writing still has to compete with the sewing projects waiting for me on the attic.

So, I guess I just have to give up my own writing standards and all those “to blog about” things in my head, and just write something. And, yes, I have no idea when I’ll get to fixing the invisible comments.

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What unschooling and unconferences have in common?

When talking with people about our choice to educate our kids outside of a school, there is a moment when I mention unschooling as the basis of our approach. And then it’s a real challenge to explain what is actually about. When I say that there is no curricula that we follow to the letter, no list of things to be done for a day of month, and that we follow the interests of our children, it looks like a chaos, where achieving anything is a challenge.

The easiest for me then is to draw on the parallels between unschooling and unconferences. With the usual idea of a conference is a structured content, unconferences might look chaotic until you experience a good one. With unconferences it’s not the content that gives structure, but shaping the environment (who, where, when) and the process (how). In this way ‘the content’ can follow where the energy is, often in ways that are difficult to predict in advance.

In a sense, unschooling is the same: we shape learning environment and processes there in a way that can follow where the energy is.

However, things are not that simple. The first thing is that I can’t easily articulate how exactly do we do that. There are good books, experienced others and even bits of research to learn from, but it’s hard to make generalisations to follow. It is still a very private ‘business’ that  has to adapt to the kids and parents in a family and to their broader context (e.g. legal regulations for homeschooling in a specific area could make a lot of differences).

The second one is that with school-age kids we deal with a shifting responsibility and a growing degree of independence. Younger kids need more structure to feel safe and nurtured and giving them choices without boundaries is often counterproductive (see also recent FB discussion). But giving ‘too much’ or ‘wrong’ structure is also counterproductive. And there are different subject areas that need different degrees of structure on a particular moment in time. In my mind I see the whole thing shifting constantly between different Cynefin domains with me juggling different management facilitation strategies simultaneously.

By now I am in the point where I have a need to articulate and to structure my experiences and thoughts on this whole thing, so I expect more will follow. Hopefully I can fix the comments that do not show up soon. If you can’t wait you can see them via http://blog.mathemagenic.com/comments/feed/ (thanks, Matthias, for the tip).

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