Join us on Tuesday, March 5th, 6:00-7:00pm for a talk and discussion about how to give your child the space and freedom to be a kid. Free range parenting is basically the practice of helping your child develop age-appropriate independence skills that we once all took for granted, such as biking to school or playing with friends without adult supervision. Tallgrass parent Lisa Dinesen and staff member Elizabeth Lund will share what free range parenting is, how it helps kids be happy and healthy, and how to do it safely, with time for discussion and questions at the end. We hope to see you there!
Tallgrass Sudbury School, the only Sudbury school in Illinois, is growing rapidly. We have nearly doubled our enrollment in the past 2 years, and can no longer accommodate any more students in our current space. Right now we have 31 students. In 2019, we hope to expand our space to fit up to 45 students. Raising $3,000 by December 31 will allow us to rent this additional space.
Every gift, no matter the size, gets us closer to our goal and helps ensure a strong future for our school and Sudbury education.
Tallgrass is funded 100% by tuition and donations from generous individuals. A quarter of our students come from families making under $25,000 per year.
Show your support for a student you care about by donating today!
Join us on December 11th, 7:30-8:30pm for a talk about trustful parenting. Cassidy Bradford, currently working in higher education, was raised by parents who embraced a trust-based form of parenting from the start. Join us for a discussion with Cassie about her childhood experiences and how they ultimately helped her to become a successful adult.
This event is free and open to the public. It will take place at Tallgrass Sudbury School (85 Kimbark Road, Riverside, IL 60546). RSVP by calling 708-777-1037 or emailing email@example.com.
Support our school by coming on out to HamBingo at Hamburger Mary’s in Oak Park (https://www.oakparkbeer.com/events/event/hambingo-marys-2/). Tuesday, December 4 at 8pm. Bingo cards are $15, and 100% of the proceeds benefit Tallgrass! Bring your friends and spread the word! (The show can get a little risqué, so leave the kids at home.)
*This is a cash only event.
This year Tallgrass reached a major milestone: our 10-year anniversary. Thank you for all your support over the years! We are so grateful for our thriving community of almost 30 students aged 5 to 17. As our school grows, we are more determined than ever to make Sudbury education accessible to a broad range of families.
I’m writing to ask you to make a gift to support Tallgrass this Giving Tuesday, so we can continue serving students of all backgrounds. We want Tallgrass’s unique form of education to be available to every family, regardless of their financial situation. We use an income-based sliding scale to determine tuition, and a quarter of our students come from families making under $25,000 per year. This year, for the first time, we were able to give 2 full scholarships, making Tallgrass even more accessible.
Tallgrass does not receive any government money, and is funded 100% by tuition and donations from generous individuals.
I feel so lucky to be a part of this dynamic community. To celebrate our first 10 years, last month we held a reunion party that brought together almost all our graduates along with current and past families and their friends. Tallgrass supporters from Riverside to Japan shared their memories and how the school has had a positive impact on them.
Now, we need your help to continue to make Tallgrass available to a wide range of students. Giving Tuesday is November 27 and is the perfect time to help fund scholarships for low-income students. Tallgrass is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and donations are fully tax deductible.
Will you make a gift to help Tallgrass continue to serve families of all incomes? Make a note on the donation form to donate in the name of a student or someone else you love.
Thank you for your continued support of our school and self-directed education!
Tallgrass Finance Clerk
In order to accommodate the large number of requests that we have gotten recently from people interested in visiting our school, we have decided to host a last minute Open House on Tuesday, November 20 at 4:30pm. This will be a great opportunity for anyone interested in Tallgrass to get a tour of the school and talk with staff and students before the holidays. We expect the event to run about an hour long. RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the school at 708-777-1037.
Join us on August 14, 7:00-8:30pm for a talk about "Why Kids Don't Like School: And 3 Things You Can Do About It." School should be a place for community, learning, and personal growth, but for too many students, it becomes a 12-year struggle. This event explores some of the important reasons why students don’t like school. Parents of teenagers and younger kids will learn about ways to support their child and ease the stress, and about other options to consider if they are ready to leave conventional school.
Melissa Bradford, EdD, is a founder of Tallgrass Sudbury School and the mother of two grown children. Elizabeth Lund is a staff member at Tallgrass Sudbury School. They’ll share research-based and personal experiences and end with a group discussion. RSVP via Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/why-kids-dont-like-school-and-3-things-you-can-do-about-it-tickets-48564123601
Didn't have a chance to visit us during the school year? Join us on Wednesday, June 27th 6:30-8:30 to get a tour of our space and to talk to Tallgrass staff and families!
Please email email@example.com to RSVP.
Join us on May 1 at 7:00 p.m. for a talk by Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and a prominent advocate of learning through play and self-directed education. Gray will be speaking on “Self-Directed Education: What It Is, How It Works, and Why Ever More Families Are Choosing It.”
Professor Gray’s research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. He also authors a blog called “Freedom to Learn” for Psychology Today magazine. Gray has published research in developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.
Hosted by Tallgrass Sudbury School, a self-directed school serving students 5-18.
No childcare will be provided, but children of all ages are welcome. RSVP via Eventbrite.
Tallgrass will be hosting a free play day on Friday, April 13th,from 9:30 to 11:00 AM. Parents can drop off their kids in the morning and use these hours to enjoy coffee with friends, run errands, or just enjoy some time to themselves! The event will take place in the school activity room and will be run by Tallgrass staff, who are CPR certified. Attendees will also have an opportunity to interact and play with Tallgrass students who will be helping out. Toys and games will be provided, but food will not, so children should have breakfast before arriving. Attendees must be 3 years of age or older. For more information and to RSVP, open the Eventbrite link below. Spots are limited! https://www.eventbrite.com/myevent?eid=44809912655
This year the staff have been working hard to make Tallgrass more accessible to families of all economic situations. We implemented a sliding scale for tuition and held an end-of-year donation campaign to raise money for scholarships for lower-income families. Both efforts have helped us reach more families, but we understand that paying anything for tuition is still a hurdle for some. For this reason, we have decided to go one step further for next year by offering up to 5 scholarships, each for 4 years of tuition-free enrollment at Tallgrass.
Tallgrass is the only Sudbury-model school in the region and offers a unique opportunity for students to direct their own learning. Tom, one of our students who went to public school before coming to Tallgrass, said this about his schooling experience: “At my previous high school I was stressed out all the time. When I came to Tallgrass, I stopped feeling stressed and now I’m able to focus on what matters to me.” By offering this new full scholarship program, we hope that more students like Tom will now have access to this educational option regardless of their family’s financial situation.
To apply, prospective applicants must visit the school and complete an enrollment interview by July 15. Applicants do not need to submit financial aid applications, but should announce their intent to apply for the scholarship during the enrollment interview. Scholarship recipients will be chosen by lottery and notified by August 1. The scholarship is open to students 4 through 18.
If you would like more information about the scholarship program or our school, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-777-1037.
Check out this discussion between a mom and daughter about her experience with Sudbury education. The daughter started at Tallgrass at age 4--here she is reflecting on her experiences at around age 9.
"I remember going to open house [at another school's kindergarten] and seeing all these owls that looked exactly the same."
"Math can be important for your future, it can be really important. But if you *force* kids to learn it every day, they're going to forget it."
Sometimes people assume that schools like ours don’t have any rules. We do--currently, 28 pages of them! You won’t find a dress code or any rules about asking permission to go to the bathroom. You will find detailed explanations of how school meeting is run and how chores work. All the rules are voted on by the community as a whole, including the students.
Of course, not everyone follows the rules all the time. When someone breaks a rule, they might get “written up.” Anyone in the school can write up another person. Staff can get written up, too!
These complaints then go to judicial committee, or JC. JC is basically a simplified version of a court system. The committee consists of two student JC clerks, who run the meeting; four other students, who take turns serving on the “jury”; and one staff member. They meet on any day that there are complaints, which usually means a few times per week.
During JC, we look at complaints and handle them according to a process that we’ve all agreed on as fair. We talk to anyone involved in the complaint and question witnesses. We vote on whether to “sentence” the person and what the sentence should be, and the person has a chance to plead guilty or not guilty.
Complaints can range from the mundane (“Elizabeth left her lunch out”) to the serious (“Paul hit me.”) Sometimes newer students are scared of JC or lie to the jury. But after they’ve seen that people are treated fairly, and especially after their first turn on the jury, they start to tell the truth and let go of ideas like “So-and-so ratted me out.”
If JC thinks that a case requires a suspension, or if the person pleads “not guilty” for something JC thinks they did, the case can get referred to school meeting. There, everyone can state their case and we all vote on the result.
Often, the threat of writing someone up is enough to get that person to stop doing whatever they’re doing. JC takes time out of everyone’s day, so people don’t want to resort to it unless they have to. An alternative to writing someone up is to use mediation to work out things like interpersonal conflicts, either with one of the school’s trained mediators or informally, by asking staff or another student for advice.
Sometimes kids will ask, “Why do we have to have JC?” We don’t have to have it--but JC is the fairest way Sudbury schools have figured out to enforce rules. The details are open to change and debate, and someday, someone may come to school meeting with something better. While no justice system is perfect, JC helps students understand why the process is necessary by being a part of it themselves.
Morgan attended Tallgrass for 5 years. Here's his story.
Current age and occupation: 21, college student
Before Tallgrass: Morgan unschooled before attending Tallgrass. He never went to a conventional K-12 school.
What are you doing now?
I’m in the nursing program at Joliet Junior College. I just finished my first semester. Prior to that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think in a way that was really good for me, because I got to search for what I was interested in. I was a martial arts coach for a very long time. I still coach that, and a variety of other things. Having the opportunity to really be open with my time, I was able to discover what I liked about my job, and how I can translate that into my education and a future career.
How did you spend your time at Tallgrass?
I hung out with my friends all day, every day, and played video games. I maybe did a total of 6 hours of academics throughout the time I was here.
I was school meeting chair for a year, and that assisted me in taking initiative, but also in being more open to listening to what people had to say. As the school meeting chair, your job is to manage the meeting, to make sure that each person gets their own opportunity to talk, that they are able to talk about their opinions without being interrupted. There’s this unspoken rule that you don’t want to provide that much. You don’t want to be taking up all the dialogue within the meeting, so you have to be better at listening and managing time and being more concise.
A lot of the school meetings were really enjoyable. I found it incredible the way that everyone works together to solve different problems within the school and make changes.
Were you planning to go to college while at Tallgrass?
When I thought about it, I was terrified to move to college. I had no idea what it was like, and I had heard from friends what school was like.
How did you get into college?
I ended up starting at Joliet Junior College. I was taking classes, but I focused too much on friends initially, and ended up stopping for a little bit. I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I got into nursing because I've been a martial arts coach since age 12. Currently, I teach gymnastics, parkour, free-running, and martial arts. I've been working with people for so long, and it's something I love to do. I translated that into nursing, where you're working with people a lot, and you're really helping them.
How did your Tallgrass education affect you once you started college?
A lot of my basic courses focused on critical thinking. At a Sudbury school, there’s no getting away from situations like there is in public school. When something happens in a public school, it’s some higher up, some adult, that just tells you what’s going happen, and that’s what happens, and when you’re in such a big school, too, you may not even see that person again. All those issues just go away and you don’t really see the repercussions.
In this kind of school, you’re part of the decision making of what’s going to happen to the other person, and you know that you’re going to see that person every single day, so you have to be a little more fair. You don’t want to do something unreasonable to them because you know it could happen to you too. I think that a lot of my problem-solving skills initiated from Tallgrass. Having that critical thinking from my Sudbury education made a lot of the other content easier to understand, I always knew which questions I needed to ask and what information I needed to further my progress through school.
Another thing is time management. When you have so much free time and it shrinks all of a sudden, you realize quickly that you need to order things in a way that’s going to benefit you the most. You learn to allocate time properly to manage your schedule in the way that you need.
I’m also able to work with all ages. A lot of my friends growing up had no idea how to talk with adults, and now that I’m older, a lot of people don’t know how to talk with kids. That’s one thing that I've never had a problem with, because I've always been around such a large range of ages.
Would you send your child to a Sudbury school?
While I was a student, I thought I was going to send my kid to public school, because I was so nervous about what I was going to do with my life, and I didn’t entirely see the benefits. There were a lot of things that I loved about the school, but I didn’t really know. Now that I’m in college and I’m a little older than I was when I was here and I’ve learned a lot of different things, there’s no way I wouldn’t send my kid to a Sudbury school. I’ve realized how invaluable this education is. I couldn’t possibly see myself sending my kids to public school. The only way is if they really wanted to, then I would absolutely send them to public school. Otherwise, there’s so much value to this system of education, and I don’t think you really get it anywhere else.
Hear more from Morgan and from other Tallgrass alumni in our alumni panel discussion video.
Ready to take the next step towards enrollment? Email us or call us at 708.777.1037 to schedule a tour for you and your child.
One of the first rules in our lawbook is “No one may knowingly infringe on the right of any person to exist peaceably at the school, free of physical or verbal harassment.” Basically, this means if someone asks you to stop doing something, you need to stop.
When this rule is broken, we take it seriously. Everyone understands that bullying and harassment are destructive to our community. No kid wants to go to a school where they have to worry about being attacked.
If someone breaks this rule more than once, they will often be suspended by school meeting, with a strong warning that continuing this kind of behavior may lead to an indefinite suspension. “Indefinite suspension” means a student can’t come back to school until they can explain to the community how they have changed.
Our school has never had to indefinitely expel someone for bullying. Once or twice we’ve had a younger child who still hits people instead of talking--in which case we say, “Let’s try again next year.” I have never seen an older student seriously hit someone. In six years at Tallgrass, I have also never seen someone be made fun of for looking different, for their interests, or for an unchangeable characteristic like race or sexual orientation. Even new kids who are healing from previous bad school experiences don’t do that kind of teasing.
People do get left out sometimes. If they’re left out in a way that seems intentionally hurtful, it might go to judicial committee (which you’ll learn more about in the next email). An ongoing personal conflict might be dealt with through mediation. Other students and staff can end up informally mediating when friends argue or when a group is having trouble getting along.
Why does Tallgrass work so well to prevent bullying? Bullying is a natural response of children who feel powerless in some other part of their lives. It’s not hard to see how this plays out in mainstream education: teachers and other staff tell students what to do and when to do it, even if when they don’t want to. Some kids, especially those with emotional problems in other parts of their lives, react by finding ways to create their own power in whatever way they can. But when kids are given real power, they don’t need to resort to bullying.
We talk to many parents who want the benefits of a Sudbury education, but wonder if there are less extreme options. Can you “do Sudbury” at public school? Can they attend Tallgrass some of the time but supplement with at-home or online academics, to make sure the student gets “the basics”?
To us, the most important thing is listening to what your child really wants. And sometimes that’s hard, because it may not be what you want to hear.
I remember hearing a girl of 8 or 9 talk about her current school--the typical story of how bored she was, rules that didn’t make sense, and what she would really like to be learning instead.
“But you don’t hate it that much, do you?” her mom asked.
“Not THAT much,” the girl said.
It was painfully clear to me how much the mom needed to hear that her daughter didn’t hate school “that much,” and how much the daughter wanted to make her mom happy. Kids pick up quickly on cues that show them what you want them to think.
Some kids thrive in conventional schools--they like classroom learning, the curriculum lines up closely enough with their interests, and the social atmosphere is positive or at least not harmful for them. Public schools often have lots of resources, support for special needs, and have a diverse student body. But to get those benefits, kids have to sign up for the hidden curriculum of passivity, coercion, and boredom.
Some freedom is better than no freedom, so we support all options that give kids more control over their education. But there is a limit to how much good can be done by, say, allowing kids to choose the format in which they do their 8th grade report on the Civil War. The students are still forced to be in that particular class, with no choice on whether they would rather spend that time learning about the Incas, or playing the violin, or practicing how to talk to someone they’re attracted to.
At Tallgrass, we don’t think the benefits of mainstream schooling outweigh these costs. But if a traditional school seems like the best environment for your child overall, or other options just aren’t practical, you can try to offset some of the damage through support at home about what you think is important (critical thinking, creativity) and what isn’t (their scores on standardized tests, “busywork” homework).
Forcing some things but not others is, if anything, even more problematic. The true benefits of self-directed education come from the practice your child gets making their own decisions and learning from the results of those decisions. Saying “you can make a few decisions, but not the ones we think are important,” sends the wrong message. Saying “we trust you to be self-motivated in art, but not in math,” teaches kids that math is something that people have to be forced to do, making them value math less.
We know a Sudbury school isn’t practical for all families. They don’t exist in all communities, the commute may be too far, or you may not be able to convince a partner to go along with the idea.
So is there another way? Yes and no. We think the most important thing is giving your child choices. Depending on your family, those choices may include a neighborhood public school, a private school, homeschooling/unschooling, or a Sudbury school like Tallgrass.
What does a typical day look like at Tallgrass? The real answer is there is no typical day, but we know that’s not very helpful! So here’s a rough picture.
Students arrive between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. When they arrive, they sign in, both to show that they’ve met the school’s attendance requirement and so that staff know they are there. Since students move around our space freely, this helps us see who’s here at a glance.
On Mondays, students sign up for three weekly chores. Near the sign in table, they can also check whether they have any JC sentences and look at the school calendar to see if anything unusual is going on.
Mornings at Tallgrass often start quietly, with just the staff and a couple of kids eating some breakfast and talking. At almost any time of day, you can walk into the art room and find a free-flowing conversation going on, one that anyone is welcome to join and that can cover almost any topic.
By 11, all the students have arrived and things are in full swing. If there are any JC complaints, JC meets at 11, with many students involved either as clerks and jury members or as witnesses. JC usually meets a few times a week, and the length varies from just a few minutes to an hour (usually the maximum, unless JC votes to extend so they can finish a case).
After JC, students often visit the grocery store and do other off-campus activities. Students can get certified to go off campus alone, or they can try to persuade a staff member or a student with a higher certification to take them. When the weather is nice (good snow counts as nice), certified students may disappear for hours at a time, after signing out on a sheet that records where they are going.
Students eat when they like. There’s usually a rush around midday, but you’ll also find students eating much earlier and much later--as long as they eat in designated rooms and clean up after themselves.
Our school doesn’t divide students up by age, but you’ll usually find a “teen group” and other groups that roughly align with age--the computer room group, the “little girls.” There’s a lot of fluidity and a lot of overlap, like some students spending more time with the older teens as the year progresses, a jock realizing he likes spending time with the computer room kids, or a teen suddenly getting pulled into the little kids’ activities when they get interested in a playset she used to like.
Since students can spend their time how they like, it’s hard to generalize about what they do. Here’s are some common activities I saw this past year:
- Playing (especially younger kids)
- Talking (especially teens)
- Art--we have several students who are very serious artists
- Making videos
- Playing video games (Minecraft, Roblox, Animal Jam, many others)
- Making pillow forts and other structures and playing house
- Showing someone something you just found on the Internet
- Arguing (conflict resolution takes a lot of practice!)
- Classes or other academic activities
Activities can change quickly throughout the day. Small arguments and mishaps are common, but serious problems are rare, and JC handles them well when they do happen.
By 2:30, a few students start to leave. 3:00 is chore time for anyone who has a chore that day. Students leave by 4:00, sometimes gently pushed out the doors by staff members who are eager to get started on some after-school administrative responsibilities!
Want to see the school in action for yourself? Email us to schedule a tour.
Will attended Tallgrass from age 16 to 18. Here's his story.
Current age and occupation: 25, master's student
Schooling previous to Tallgrass: Will unschooled (a type of homeschooling) before attending Tallgrass during its first two years. He never went to a conventional K-12 school.
What are you doing now?
I’m currently a master’s student at Roosevelt University. I’ll be getting my MA in Economics in May of this year. I got my BA in Economics, also from Roosevelt, a few years ago.
How did you spend your time at Tallgrass?
A lot of the time at Tallgrass I was hanging out with my friends, but also talking about stuff, and generally trying to figure out what to do with my time, what I enjoy most. I played less video games after I came to Tallgrass than before. I tended to play much more nerdy strategy games, that fit into that whole economics thing, but they’re much more solitary games. When I was at Tallgrass, I wanted to be with people and talk to people, not type numbers in.
Were you planning to go to college while at Tallgrass?
I was already thinking about college when I started at Tallgrass, but didn’t have any firm plans. I knew I wanted to study economics, so a lot of what I did at Tallgrass was directed at that one way or another. I went to a community college as a stepping stone to a 4-year university. I ended up taking economics classes at night while I was at Tallgrass.
How did you get into college?
I think I had to take a placement test to start at community college, and then when I went to Roosevelt they transferred my credits. Somehow I managed to do all this without ever taking a standardized test, which could be good thing or a bad thing, but I like to think of it as a good thing. If you can’t stand standardized tests, you can still get a master’s degree. I think taking one class to start with really did help, because I know when I signed up for that class, I didn’t know what to do, but it turned out that class wasn’t too difficult. Building step by step really helped. With math, I went from taking prealgebra to calculus in less than two years.
Would you send your child to Sudbury school?
Yes. It obviously depends on what the child and my partner would think about that, but I think it’s a great option for a lot of kids with varied interests. All sorts of kids can benefit from going to a Sudbury school.
See more from Will and from other Tallgrass alumni in our alumni panel discussion video.
Some parts of our school intuitively make sense: parents can see that their kids would be happier in a model like ours, that their children are naturally curious, that kids learn better without piles of homework and endless standardized tests. But then the anxiety kicks in--do the kids really turn out okay? Can they go to college? Can they function in the workforce after spending their student years in an unstructured environment like Tallgrass?
It takes a lot of trust to send your kid to a school like ours. But when it comes to outcomes, you don’t have to take our word for it--you can look at the history of this type of education and the results reported by other Sudbury schools.
The Sudbury model started in 1968 with the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. In the almost 50 years since then, they and dozens of Sudbury-influenced schools have graduated thousands of students.
Sudbury graduates are:
- Successful: Sudbury graduates go on to many types of careers and many types of postsecondary education. For graduates of the Circle School, a Sudbury-like school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the most common field of work is in science and technology (33%).
- Independent: The Circle School also reports that about 13% of its graduates are self-employed, compared to a national average of 6-10%.
- Happy: 80% of Sudbury Valley graduates reported that they are happy with what they are doing now, whether that’s employment, school, or another activity, like full-time parenting.
- Satisfied with their education: In a study conducted by Prof. Peter Gray, 67 out of 69 respondents indicated they were “very” or “moderately” glad they went to Sudbury Valley School.
Sudbury graduates go on to college at equal or higher rates to those who attend more conventional schools, according to studies conducted by the Circle School and Sudbury Valley School. You can hear from some of our school’s graduates in this video featuring alumni who decided to attend 4-year colleges.
Sudbury students learn about real life by practicing real life. They make real decisions with real impacts. They learn about time management by managing their own time. They practice conflict resolution, learn to be part of a community by forming relationships with people of all ages, and work out the problems among themselves. And for our graduates, that translates into success at college, in work, and in life.
Want to see our school in action? Contact us to schedule a time to tour the school for you and your child.
For much more on the topic of college, check out clips from our alumni panel, where Tallgrass graduates discuss the details of how they got in and address hot topics like playing video games at school. We also did a one-on-one video interview with alumnus Claire Harper.
1. Circle School Graduates in 2015: College Attendance, Academic Degrees, and Occupations.
2. Greenberg, Daniel, and Mimsy Sadofsky. Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience (Sudbury Valley School Press, 1992).
3. Gray, Peter, and David Chanoff. Democratic Schooling: What Happens to Young People Who Have Charge of Their Own Education? American Journal of Education 94(2), 182-213.
Free Range Parenting: A talk and discussion about how to give your child the space and freedom to be a kid
Tuesday, August 22, 6-7 pm (time afterwards for questions and discussion)
Hosted at Tallgrass Sudbury School
82 Woodside Road, Riverside IL 60546
Free range parenting is basically the practice of helping your child develop age-appropriate independence skills that we once all took for granted, such as biking to school or playing with friends without adult supervision. Tallgrass founder and parent of two Melissa Bradford will share what free range parenting is, how it helps kids be happy and healthy, and how to do it safely.
We hope to see you there! Feel free to comment below or email us at email@example.com with any questions!