This week is National Education Week in the Netherlands and its focus is on learning socially. Dutch homeschoolers are participating as well, with a blog hop Thuisonderwijzers leren samen.
For me the social is at the core of learning, so it took a while to figure out what exactly to write about. Learning for a school aged kids is often associated primarily with studying in a group of peers under a guidance of a few professionals. I would like to focus on another social aspect of learning – learning from and with adults outside of formal educational settings.
I’d like to share bit of our own experiences – how our own kids learn outside of classes and sports aimed at children, and what roles adults play in this learning.
Professionals at work
When we were moving to our current house, we had kids with us through the whole process – looking at houses, talking about a mortgage, signing papers and getting keys. Alexander went around with the guy doing technical check – all the way around, climbing to the crawlspace. He drew a plan of our house to be sold and took a house broker (not sure what “makelaar” is in English 😉 for a guided tour.
And it goes like that all the time: if there is an opportunity to observe professionals doing their work, kids will seize it. If it goes further than an occasional contact, they will make friends – a fish seller at the market who chatted with the kids every time we were there (and gave a little discount :), workers who isolated our house and left wood for Alexander to work with because of his interest in making things, an osteopath who, triggered by questions about displays in his office, had long conversation with the kids about human bodies, theater performers who were happy to explain how their decorations were made so they fit in a small car, volunteers at a museum who told us unwritten stories behind the things on display and who were very happy when the kids were helping them to clean leaves in the garden…
Family and friends
When you are not in a hurry, it doesn’t take long to get to know interests and hobbies of people around you, and usually those people are happy to share their passions. Reading, arts, crafts, theater, playing golf, making music, singing and dancing, climbing, story-telling, gardening, building, hiking, English (next to Russian and Dutch of course), cooking, making countless things in and around a house – those are things that our kids do more or less regularly with family or friends in the Netherlands and Russia. It often happens without us being directly involved and always accompanied by conversations about work at hands or life, universe and everything.
What I didn’t expect when we started this journey is how fast kids build their own relationships with parents of other kids. However it’s not very surprising given that we do spend a lot of time together, in mixed age groups of brothers, sisters and parents (and sometimes grandparents).
Of course, there is learning around hobbies and interests of other parents and learning around things we do together with kids – picking berries or chestnuts, playing with telescopes or microscopes, doing crafts or visiting museums… But what I find even more important are opportunities for building trust and having regular interactions with people often very different from our own professional and personal networks and most of whom we were not likely to meet if not homeschooling. (And, as a parent and as an educator I value a lot an opportunity to have more adults who see kids and my interactions with them on a regular basis – feedback and triangulation are always good).
We do facilitate learning of our kids – that’s in the heart of homeschooling. But in the context of this post I find another thing equally important. We do spend a lot of our time with kids not focused on learning per se, but just doing things together: things that have to be done, things we enjoy or those that are part of our hobbies or professional activities. Shopping, house organisation, bushcraft, gardening, sewing, wood-working, programming, 3d printing or workshop facilitation – are all part of the curriculum simply because there are moments then they could only be done with the kids around. Hopefully through that our kids not only learn more about the world around them, but also see what being an adult entails and how to juggle (or integrate 😉 multiple identities that all of us have.
Legitimate peripheral participation
I’ve long believed in learning in a context, learning that’s not unnecessary separated from the “real world” by textbooks and classroom walls, learning that happens thought social interaction “in the wild”. For our kids, learning with and from adults is a way to become member of the society as a whole and to explore specific communities of practice via legitimate peripheral participation, starting from observing others in authentic settings and then interacting, learning, practicing with others – hopefully to eventually become experts themselves.