The Reader’s Digest version of self-directed learning

Many of your reading this blog will be familiar with the writings of Peter Gray.  If you’re not, let us introduce you to a psychology professor, parent, and all-around great thinker WRT self-directed learning.  He recently published an article in Reader’s Digest about self-directed learning (and Sudbury Valley School in particular).

He writes….

“I’m convinced that Sudbury Valley works well because it provides the conditions that optimize children’s natural abilities to educate themselves. These include a) unlimited opportunity to play and explore, allowing them to discover and pursue their interests; b) access to caring and knowledgeable adults who are helpers, not judges; c) liberal age mixing among children and adolescents (age-mixed play is far more conducive to learning than is play among those who are all at the same level); and d) direct participation in a stable, moral, democratic community in which they acquire a sense of responsibility for others, not just for themselves. None of these conditions are present in standard schools.”
Read the entire article here:



Preparation for “The Real World”

At our recent Holiday Info Night, we spent some time talking about preparation for “The Real World”.  We know this topic comes up frequently in different forms:

How will students fare if they go back to “regular school”?

What about college or university?  They have classes and test there….

In the working world, we sometimes have to do things we don’t like or want to do.  How will a childhood spent doing only what you want prepare a child for the world of work?

This entry from The Hudson Valley Sudbury School by Matthew Gioia might be of interest. Read the blog entry and watch the video that accompanies it.

So Many Hours…..

When I think back to my years in school, much of it is a blur.
I do remember the feeling of freedom and anticipation of the endless summer ahead when the school year was done. I didn’t hate school, it was just what one did.

But when I think of how much time was spent there, it feels like a huge waste of so many years of precious childhood.

Meredith Collins writes an amazing blog ‘Each One Thrives‘.

Each blogpost gets me thinking about some aspect of childhood and respecting the learning process of each individual.

Here’s one about that vast number of hours spent in school.

And one about the vitality and joy you feel when fully engaged in a pursuit you both love and find challenging.

This is one of my very favourite blogs.


Figuring Things Out

My daughter is obsessed with the Harry Potter series. We’ve read the books aloud, she’s listened to them all again as audio books, and we’re working our way through the movies as a family. At recess she plays Harry Potter with her friends. She is always Hermione. She has a wand and a timetable and very specific ideas about how it all should go. This extends to her Hermione Hallowe’en costume, which she’s been planning for months. She has a vision of what Hermione should look like based on what she has imagined from the books. She’s described this and drawn me sketches. Recently we went to the fabric store to pick out the right material for a travelling cloak, and she’s got me tracking down a pattern. On Hallowe’en night, she might have to explain who she is to some people, because she’s not going to look like the Hermione in the movies or use a store-bought costume. She will be her unique version.

One of the central features of Sudbury education is that students determine their own activities. There are no set subjects everyone must learn in a particular way. Neither do the adults organize optional classes for students to choose (or not), as happens in some democratic schools. Students have a blank canvas of time on which to create their own education using their interests, and the people and resources around them. Some students create their days organically as they go along. Others plan more structured activities, such as classes, trips or other events. These can look quite similar to their equivalents in more traditional schools but the difference is that the students initiate them and take on a major role in organizing them.

Many kids these days get opportunities to participate in all kinds of enriching programs, whether it is at school or outside of school. They learn to play musical instruments and go on field trips to museums and take circus classes and go to computer camp. What is rarer for these kids is the opportunity to organize something from scratch. This is such an important skill. When you want to do something, you are motivated to make it happen. It might not be easy, and it might not turn out exactly the way you were planning or the way other people expect it to be. But you learn so much along the way and in the end, it is yours.

Go Outside and Play!

IMG_28301So often, one of the things which gets lost when living in a large city is a deeper connection to nature. Think of how much of a family’s time is spent in buildings, in cars/buses/subways and with a screen. It can take extra planning, energy and time to do anything nature-related since our children can’t usually just run down the street to the woods or fields to play with their friends.

We do take our children to the park, rake leaves, go for a walk around the neighbourhood and look at gardens, plant a garden….but sometimes we crave more. And more of a sense of community to go with it.

Here are a few suggestions: — the outdoor play group movement
Join an existing group, how to start your own outdoor play group. — The Primitive Integrated Naturalist Education (P.I.N.E.) Project brings the wonders of the natural world back to the urban jungle. Our mission is to inspire healthy, lifelong connections between people and nature through outdoor-based learning and play. — providing the ultimate outdoor nature experience programs in Rouge Park. Our goal is to reconnect kids to nature through adventure-play and mentoring in wild and natural outdoor spaces. — Here is where you can find the perfect trail to get out and have fun! Explore the wide range of outdoor locations Toronto and Region Conservation Authority offers for you to enjoy with your family and friends.

Acting Your Age

One of the main reasons I am attracted to the Sudbury model of education is because it doesn’t discriminate based on age. All members of the school have an equal vote in how things are run. Just because someone is younger, it is not assumed that they know less or have less to offer the community.

In a regular school, even if you play with a friend from a different grade after school or on weekends, you tend to ignore each other at recess because of the social stigma of playing with younger kids. It has been shown through the “Roots of Empathy” program, where babies are brought once a month into the classroom, that having the students interact with the baby produces a calming effect in the students’ interactions with each other. Segregating children with the same group of kids year in and year out based on their birth year is not natural. This model assumes that all children of the same age are the same intellectually and emotionally. The regular school system consistently penalizes those kids who do not “act their age”, either academically or socially. Those that are either ahead of or behind the norm are made to feel that they are problems to be fixed.

Anthropologically, it makes no sense to segregate kids into groups based on age. This environment is not like the world they will grow up to inhabit. Since we are a tribal species, children should naturally be around people of all ages. This is not just so the young will learn from the old: the older ones are keeping a vital connection with their past. Spending time with younger children can revitalize older ones. Attending a regular school is like growing up in a bubble where there is no past and no future.

Sorting kids by interests or abilities would make a lot more sense. My children unschool at home but are involved in many after school activities and camps with schooled children. They both adore drama and have taken theatre classes throughout the city. There are companies who segregate kids by age (e.g. 8 and 9 year olds) and there are those that have a broader expanse of ages (e.g. 7 to 13 years). Both children always prefer productions that include kids of many ages. They are comfortable as either the youngest in the group or the oldest, or anywhere in between. As well, my eldest daughter has taken Irish dancing for 10 years and has benefited both from practicing with older students and teaching younger ones. This mixed age environment is also more humane for the teacher as she is not put in the unnatural position of having to deal with a large group of children all the same age. The teacher will naturally receive help from the older or more experienced students.

At the Reach school, what grade you are in, or how old you are, won’t determine what others believe you are capable of. You will be the one who determines that, just like in the real world.