"It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty." -Albert Einstein
a "typical" day at tallgrass sudbury school (through the eyes of a staff member)
It’s never easy to describe what a typical day is like at a Sudbury school. Every day is very different and activities are constantly evolving with the children’s interests.
In the morning when the first staff member arrives, we check the phone for messages and walk through the school to look for evidence of new activities. Any announcements are posted on the bulletin boards. Usually we find the start of a new K'nex creation being built in the main room somewhere. We check new motions for this week's School Meeting, and find out if there are new Judicial Committee complaints for the Judicial Committee (JC) to consider. As we continue through the building, we check out new artwork on the walls or drying on the table or see if progress has been made on new sewing projects. The chore clerk will make sure everyone’s chores were done properly the day before, and if they weren’t, they’ll make a mental note to keep an eye out for it to be completed that morning.
When other staff members arrive, we confer by looking at the "to do" list on the white board of the office and discuss what administrative duties we will try to accomplish—update the website, balance the checkbook, return phone calls, revise the parent handbook—whenever we are not tied up baking banana bread, responding to five-year-olds asking us to play with them, attending School Meeting, helping the arts & crafts corporation write bylaws for use of art supplies, certifying someone on the computer, or discussing the latest movie.
We do on occasion teach a class when students request it. Every year at least one staff member is asked by a few students to teach a class of interest. Often they’re interested in learning science, math, algebra, in addition to some more creative, hands-on topics like photography, sketching, sewing, watercolor painting and writing. We always decide together how often the class will meet, what topics they want to cover, and how they want to go about mastering the material. Being able to teach students who choose to be in class is a very different and can be a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. What can seem like an obligation to students who are forced to be in a class can be an adventure for a student who is driven to learn the material based on their own accord.
There are also many times when we observe, as staff, how unnecessary we are to a child’s natural learning process. One of our five-year-old students once put a sign-up sheet on the board to offer to teach a ballet class. Another five-year-old signed up for the class, but several weeks had gone by, so we thought nothing actually came of it. Then one day, there they were, the one student teaching the other first position, second position, stretching, pointing toes and so on. Never mind that one of our staff members studied ballet for many years. These students knew exactly how they wanted to share and acquire knowledge, and they went about doing so without any interference on the part of staff members.
Gamers discuss and share the intricate strategies involved with catching Pokemon and writing video games. We had a student teach herself how to play ukelele in a very short amount of time by watching YouTube videos. She had only been playing for a few weeks, but she had the whole art room singing, "...Let's get rich and build a house on a mountain making everybody look like ants..." This led to a yearly talent show for parents, which showcased all the creative skills the kids develop over the year. We’ve even had a student initiate running our own school café! Each of the students who wanted to participate had to learn how to make the drinks—mochas, hot chocolates, chai teas, and café au laits—and sometimes baked goods. Staff helped a lot in the beginning, but the students became more and more self-efficient, to the point where they eventually organized the café, keeping lists of supplies to purchase, set up, and cleaned everything afterwards.
Time passes by very quickly, and usually before we realize it, chore time arrives. A whirlwind of cleaning takes place at the end of the day as everyone cleans up their personal items and does the chores they have signed up for. Students leave to catch their train or meet their parents when they arrive to pick them up, signing out on the attendance sheet before leaving. One of the staff members goes through the closing procedure, and another "typical" day has come to a close.
When you visit our school, it may look like nothing is happening, something really interesting is happening, or complete chaos! There is no way to predict what might be happening on a given day since the students create their agendas based on what they’re interested in that moment, that day, that week, month and so on. One thing is for certain; you will, upon visiting, get a glimpse of what it looks like when students get to experience freedom in their education, move around at their leisure, eat when they’re hungry, use the bathroom when needed and when they get to be the ones in charge of what and how they learn. Tallgrass focuses on creating community between the children and staff so that kids are empowered to learn anything and everything they’d like, while continuously learning from their older peers, much like a family operates at home.