Thursday, October 14, 2004

Questions About the Sudbury Model

This is a transcript of an IM session yesterday between a friend and me. I’ve made very minor edits for clarity, but none for content. Since I didn’t ask the friend’s permission to post this, I’m withholding his/her name. S/he was curious about Emily’s school, so I gave free reign—no question was out of line. Here is the conversation:

Friend: I checked out the school's link, and I'm curious why such a school (or type of school, i.e. Montessori, etc.) is beneficial for the wee ones.

Aimee: Hmmm, that's really a gut reaction thing. I'm not sure how to explain it. Let me try: I don't want her to feel trapped or bored or stifled; I want to offer her EVERY possible opportunity I can; I don't ever want her to be told she's not smart enough or good enough; I want every single person she deals with on a regular basis to back up the notion that she's beautiful, smart, capable, and strong. Geez--I've turned into a… a… MOTHER!

Friend: Do you worry that she'll get that at school, but then outside, she'll meet the mean people?

Aimee: Sometimes, but where will she be meeting people outside of the school? ballet, soccer.... Other environments where they're encouraged to play along & be part.

Friend: How long will she go to this school? are there charter schools or other non-traditional ones that she can go to as she gets older?

Aimee: This school takes kids starting at 4 yrs 9 months & keeps them until 18 yrs. If she wants to, she can stay throughout.

Friend: WOW! That's GREAT!

Aimee: Charter schools are still "now it's 10:00 so we do Math", you know? They still have the rigid, unrealistic structure.

Friend: Yeah, but isn't SOME sort of schedule necessary? Especially for youngsters?

Aimee: In your work-day, aside from regular meetings, how much structure do you have? She gets structure where she needs it. We have regular wake-up times & routines, regular dinner times, bedtime routines, etc. But she'll be given the freedom to continue following her bliss, as it were, during the school day, without interruption. If you're totally head-into a project, don't you hate being interrupted to deal with someone else's thing?

Friend: Yep.

Aimee: I mean, for example, if she's working on a painting, she won't have to stop "art" class to go to "math" class, then stop "math" to go to "PE" or whatever, and hope she gets inspired again the next time art comes around. She can just paint until the day ends if she wants to. In a lot of ways, it looks & feels more like a daycare than a school, but the kids learn! And they all teach each other. it's so amazing! Within the first half hour of our arrival [last Friday], one of the 7 yr olds was teaching Em how to tell time. It was so cool!

Friend: How do they make sure she gets taught all the 'basics'?

Aimee: What do you define as the basics (not being snotty, just want to answer you properly)?

Friend: Well, just that. Things like telling time and reading and vocab and arts and music and math and stuff like that.

Aimee: When she expresses an interest in telling time, someone older than her will teach her. Me, or my mom or sister, or a teacher, or an older student. The way people used to learn in "village" environments. All children inherently learn vocabulary as they learn to speak. I correct her if she says "growed" instead of "grown". She'll get that... If she wants to learn another language, we'll delve into specifics. I can help with that.

As for Art & Music, she's all over that already. And she loves, loves, loves books. In a way, we've been homeschooling since she was born. She has alphabet and number refrigerator magnets that we play with on a regular basis. She informed me last night that her name doesn't start with an "M" even though it sounds like that, but it really starts with an "E". (god I was so proud!)

Friend: Okay. That works for me.

Aimee: And math will come. She knows if she has 10 pairs of panties and wears 3 pairs in one day she will only have 7 pairs left for the rest of the week. I guess that's silly, but it's our "real world" application at this point in her life.

So, am I doing an ok job explaining it?

Friend: I guess to me, it seems...unstructured, which I know is the point, but I want to make sure she gets the learning she needs, so when she is 10, she isn't struggling with Dick and Jane books, but yes, your explanations help a lot.

Aimee: Oh, no. She won't be. My sister’s son is 9. He SWEARS he can't read, but he really can. It's funny!

Friend: I have to admit, I was worried when I saw [your sister] post that comment [about her son]…

Aimee: LOL. Her daughter, 7, reads like a champ. And he can read, he just says he can't....

Friend: Whew.

Aimee: But we're such a bookish family, he couldn't escape it if he tried!

Friend: I do applaud you (and Kate) for taking the roads less traveled. Your kids are amazingly lucky.

Aimee: Well thank you! It's a hard concept to get to sometimes, but I think the kids are lucky to have this opportunity.

(Then we went on to talk about our jobs, photography, computers, fellow bloggers, Weight Watchers, and our expectations for the debate last night.)


Approximately once a month, my daughter’s future-school has an evening discussion group. Last night, we went to one about the Adults’ roles in the Sudbury model. (I videotaped the debates so I could watch them when I got home.) It was very interesting and more informative than I expected it to be. My mom is interested in volunteering at the school and she’d like to start at the beginning of the year. I hope they have room for her because not only will that help offset some of the cost, it will also give her continued space for growth with Emily. That’s an exciting prospect.

I don’t really have any answers other than what I’ve said above, but if you have additional questions, feel free to ask. I’ll give it my best shot.