My 6 year old pulls a face and insists that 5 more minutes of play won’t make him too sleepy to wake up in the morning. I pretend to grudgingly give in. His “play” is learning about how a laser works. He takes his chalkboard and writes a question. He then flips through his encyclopedia and looks under “L” for info. “Not enough facts”, he says tersely, and goes to his computer to google for more answers. A full 15 minutes later he is drawing a sketch of a laser saber, determining that reflective surfaces, a stable energy source and a method of intensifying and focusing the light would be necessary to “create the Star Wars effect”. “How many reflective surfaces do I need?” I shrug. “What are the shapes and material that I would need mommy? – wait, I will look it up”. He flips through various books in his room, geometry, a pre-school book of shapes, and a physics book. He looks at the illustrations, picks out the words that he can read and writes his findings on his chalkboard, asking for help to spell “intensify”. He then yawns and demands a story.
Is this learning? It depends on who you ask. Blake attends Sunset Sudbury School where his interest in physics, biology and art is not only encouraged, it is indulged. He spends his school day asking questions, exploring a garden and flipping through books. His learning is effortless, organic and spontaneous. Since Blake has started the school, his appetite for knowledge has exploded. Why? I believe it is because he has learned that curiosity is his right and that it is a necessary part of his “job” as a child. His “job” is not to fill out paperwork (worksheets), or sit at a desk and be spoon-fed what he ought to think and believe. His job, as an individual growing into an adult is to attempt to make sense of the world around him, asking questions and exploring the wealth of resource around him. When at home, Blake has become not only more comfortable with learning as it is now, in his mind, free of judgement, but he has become an active recorder of his own acquisition of new knowledge. He has also learned to respect the way his unique learning style. “I do my times tables with pictures”, he tells me. “Some people do, some people don’t. I like it that my school doesn’t say I should know something if I don’t. I just have to learn it right?” It is my joy, and my privilege to send my son to a school that allows his young mind the freedom that it requires to develop a thirst for knowledge and the confidence seek answers to his questions, using his own methods. Is my child learning every day? – yes, but not just 6 hours per day, it is continual. Has his reading improved? Immeasurably, both in confidence and in speed. Why? He learns all day in a judgement-free environment, so his ability to analyze and solve problems is unhindered by negative labeling. He has the emotional strength to tackle a difficult word or life problem without feeling like, as he said “someone will write a big red number that says you’re dumb on your paper and make your mommy sign it.” Ranging from reading to conceptual math, Blake now picks up books and teaches himself, summoning mommy for limited help and then pushing me away because “I am my own teacher”. I believe Sunset Sudbury’s model can work for any child – what is required is the courage to raise not accountants, publicists or senators, we must seek to raise human beings first, and careerists second. My son will grow to determine his state of being, his method of learning and eventually his career. He will see himself as the direct actor in determining what he believes and what path his life will take. This, to me, is the most important part of my child’s lifelong learning experience.