How do they learn if you don't teach them?
We do teach them, but they would learn even if we didn’t. Learning is natural and happening all the time. Babies learn to crawl, walk, and talk without being explicitly taught these things. They look at who and what exists in the world around them, copy and experiment with what they see, practice and learn the skills they need to grow in independence and connectivity to others. In learning communities that value authenticity and collaboration, it’s inevitable that we’ll teach each other. Sometimes this happens through classes and workshops, sometimes through conversations and modeling. But it’s always happening.
How will my kids learn the basics?
If something is actually basic knowledge that you need in order to live successfully in this world, you can’t help but learn it. The “basics” will be captured in kids’ natural learning, which happens through living. We don’t need to force or trick them into learning something basic. Basic knowledge and skills are defined by our current world. The rich world environment in which we operate sets us up to prioritize knowledge and skills reliably and naturally based on our experiences.
Are there certain levels of math and reading that you try to achieve?
Children are naturally curious and capable. In a rich and stimulating environment, we don’t have to try to teach them anything: they teach themselves or ask (of each other and facilitators) to be taught. When they need math to track sport statistics, bake muffins, budget for a trip, or otherwise navigate the world, they will learn it. When they need to read and write to create stories with their friends, manage their own blogs, use community tools independently, find out what happens in the next Harry Potter book, decipher notes from friends, research dinosaurs, or otherwise navigate the world, they will learn it. Especially in an environment where facilitators model passionate learning and the community supports–rather than shames–students who learn at different paces, kids stay curious and eager to keep learning.
Do you pritortize certain subjects?
We don’t sort knowledge into traditional subject areas, as doing so discourages learners from interdisciplinary thinking and exploring innovative applications they may invent. Learning isn’t about amassing data; it’s about making connections, deepening understanding, solving problems, creating, and sharing. Facilitators support students in exploring the relatedness and convergence of learning domains, both in school and in the world around us. Sorting or prioritizing traditional subjects is rarely useful from this perspective.
If you don't make them take a variety of classes, how will they get exposed to new fields? Isn't there a chance they'll miss discovering a passion if they aren't required to try new things?
Children today are swimming in a flood of information. They are exposed to a greater diversity of ideas, issues, cultures, facts, problems and opportunities than ever before.
Another question could be: In this staggering flood of overexposure, how will my child learn to filter what is important from the unimportant, to focus on their domains of passion, and to determine “good” information from “bad?” These are important skills for a modern children - skills they may miss if we do all the filtering for them.
Also, given the nearly limitless possibilities for what a life can look like in today's world and what a person might find to be their "calling," it seems unreasonable for our program, or any program, to claim to expose children to anything but the tip of the iceberg in terms of fields and passions. It is not our goal to expose children to as much diverse content as possible. Nor can we claim to know what the most important content is in our rapidly changing, diverse culture. Rather, it is our goal to expose children to a community full of curious, passionate learners. From engaging in this community, we hope that children maintain and grow their natural love of learning and practice timeless skills such as communication, collaboration, empathy, and reflection.
How will they learn to operate in the real world?
By engaging with it…consistently. Our students recognize that the whole world is their classroom. They grocery shop for cooking project ingredients, spend time in local parks, call restaurants to ask about hours and shops to ask about inventory; they organize field trips around their interests, attend conferences and meet-ups, create entrepreneurial opportunities, and participate in community activities. They can do all these things and more on any given school day. In fact, they’re encouraged to.
You let kids do whatever they want?
Yes and no. Our communities have very clear expectations and boundaries that the children agree to in order to participate. These include productively engaging with the group process, respecting the space, and respecting each other. Pursuits must be safe and legal. We clean the messes we make and follow a simple conflict resolution process when those messes are relational. We collaborate to build positive cultural norms rather than lists of rules. A maxim we reference when creating new structures is “maximum support with minimum interference.” Our students have a lot of freedom as they get clear about what they truly want to create for and of themselves. With clear boundaries and agreements, they also have the support they need to feel safe using that freedom to question, experiment, explore, and grow.
What is the technology policy?
Technology and particularly computer/cell phone use is an understandably big concern for many families. Creating healthy norms and practices around technology use is an opportunity in which we want to engage children of all ages. We do not have a fixed, adult created policy but rather will work to create agreements which reflect our needs and values as a community.
One of our guiding values in regards to the use of technology that it is intentionally used at Shine and that these intentions are communicated. This means we do not support its use as a distraction or time filler (though we recognize without judgement that this may feel like an appropriate use at home).
We strive to model communication regarding technology use - letting fellow learners know that we are going to shift our attention for a moment to take an important call, or snap a picture of an interesting creation, and we ask learners to practice similar communication.
In short, we see digital technology as a potentially useful tool, and consider ourselves as important guides for children in navigating their use. We neither cut children out of the decision making process regarding technology use nor remove ourselves from our roles in supporting critical thinking regarding technology.
Are there Boundries?
Our communities set boundaries to create safe, legal, and respectful environments. Students commit to uphold certain agreements to participate. To the extent that this question asks whether rules and limits on individual freedom exist, the answer is ‘yes.’ But what if we define “boundaries” more broadly than just as “rules”? Then this question becomes an interesting one about priorities and opportunities to practice 21st century skills that students will need to grow into empowered individuals. In environments where students don’t get a say in their work loads, levels of physical activity, or collaboration styles, they don’t have as many opportunities to practice recognizing, setting, or holding personal boundaries. We recognize that these are vital life skills; as such, facilitators are intentional in both modeling boundary management and supporting students doing the same.
How do you deal with bullying?
In order to join in the Shine community, every student signs a contract agreeing to treat themselves, the space, and others with respect. We take this agreement very seriously; breaches of it activate a process known as Culture Committee in which a group of staff and students ,dedicated to building a safe and supportive community, gather to decide how to address the problem. Sometimes, simply hearing from their peers motivates a student to change bullying behavior. Sometimes more creative or serious consequences are needed. A student who persistently chooses to break their contract will be asked to leave the community.
How do you assess learners without tests?
Our assessment is that each student is a capable and powerful human with value to add to the world.
How do we track student growth and progress? By developing authentic relationships in which we support their self-reflection and bear witness to their journeys. Students document their reflections and projects on their blogs, where both form and content illustrate the evolution of their thinking and skills.
Will my kid be able to go to college?
If that’s the direction a student chooses, yes. Colleges have been accepting students from homeschooling families and non-traditional schools for as long as colleges have existed.
When a self-directed learner decides they want to go to college, they know why they want to go. Many students unquestioningly spend thousands of dollars and several years of their lives going through college because that’s what they think they’re “supposed” to do. Intentionally entering a learning environment to accomplish a specific purpose is more likely to bring about positive outcomes.
In terms os data on kids doing self-directed learning, most of the kids who want to get into college do. Having alternative forms of record keeping and evaluation has not been an impediment for kids who want to go to college. In fact, there’s a proven advantage for people whose college applications can’t be tidily ranked by GPA and academic track: a human has to actually look at their portfolio.