Trusting Children, Trusting Ourselves
"Children come into the world exquisitely designed and strongly motivated to educate themselves; they don't need to be forced to learn. In fact, coercion undermines their natural desire to learn."
- Peter Gray
Our conventional school system was developed to serve adults' needs. Both the agricultural and the industrial revolution paved the path for the current model of schooling. Large age segregated groups of children are taught by an adult who determines what it is necessary for children to know in a given grade. This model is no longer needed nor is it the best for serving the needs of children. In many education models preschool and kindergarten age children are given the freedom to play and explore their interests, with a focus on social and emotional development. There is no reason why this should change in first grade. People of all ages love to play, create, and experiment. As children move early tweenhood and adolescence they naturally develop interests they are motivated to deepen and explore. The field of exploration and study arise out of their own interests, gifts, and play. Motivation is a byproduct because we are a naturally inquisitive species. When treated with with respect, trust and autonomy, children, just like adults, are guided by a curiosity and engagement in life that comes from the heart, body, and mind.
In self directed learning, we call the adults holding the space facilitators instead of teachers. The emphasis is on the child as the leader of their education. Facilitators can inspire learners. They support learners by helping them to clarify their intentions, find the resources they need, reflect on their decisions, engage with the community, and share what they have learned with others. They work to keep the space safe, legal, and respectful. They collaborate with learners to develop a powerful positive culture. Facilitators model clear communication, collaboration, and authenticity.
In the spirit of trust, facilitators also commit to being in their own deschooling process. This involves reexamining their own ideas about childhood and education. While upholding the essential commitment to safety and respect, they also commit to being as child-led as possible.
Education Model: The Agile Tree
The soil we grow from is trust in students, in each other, in you. The four assumptions—roots—which ground us are as follows:
Learning: Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
Self-Direction: People learn best by making their own decisions. Children are people.
Experience: People learn more from their culture and environment than from the content they are taught. The medium is the message.
Success: Accomplishment is achieved through cycles of intention, creation, reflection and sharing.
Free Age Mixing
Learners are broken into age segregated groups (age 5-7/8) and (7/8 and older) for the start and end of the day meetings. During the rest of the day, age mixing is encouraged. Age mixing is seen as beneficial to both older and younger learners. Peter Grey, in his book, Free to Learn, writes about these benefits. Older learners can provide scaffolding to younger learners to help them develop new skills or attain a higher level of an activity; younger learners learn by observing older learners, and receive nurturance and support. Older learners benefit from being nurturers and leaders. They themselves learn how well they know or do not know a concept when they have to explain it to younger learners. Younger learners inspire older learners to engage in more creative activities than they otherwise would. Grey also discusses that free age mixing allows people to come together based on ability and interest rather than just age.
"Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions, and impulses, see from others perspectives, negotiate differences with others and make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.'
Play is a key ingredient in childhood and to the social and emotional health and well being of children. We live in a culture where the opportunities for free play is becoming more scarce and limited. We have lost the village where children can freely run and play, experiment, and explore. The freedom that children experienced just a few generations ago to run as a pack with neighborhood children until dusk exists rarely in our culture as we become more isolated in nuclear families and more afraid to give children the freedom they once had. This has been replaced with longer school days, more homework, and more scheduled adult directed activities. Teenagers experience immense pressure to preform well in school and get into a good college so they can have a successful life. There is a correlation between these societal changes and declining mental health among children and teens. Play is not just something that young children need time to do. It is something that all children and adolescents need to do.