Archive for May, 2010

Just Playing? The Value of Letting Children Be

What does it mean to play? What is the difference between play and free play? Come join us to discuss more issues and questions around play. For example, we can discuss how free play enhances creativity, imagination, the self and society. Feel free to invite your friends or any other interested folks. Hosted by Reach Sudbury School of Toronto Opening [...]

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Enrollment Update

We are in the very last stages of the necessary paperwork to finalize our
location. Be on the lookout for more details very, very shortly.

In the meantime, click here to learn more about our Admissions Process.

As most of you know, in January we began running a “Friday demo school” for
students who have already committed to enroll. Let us know if you would like to schedule a visit on a Friday. Feel free to call the school phone number (954-200-8949) so that we can talk about it.

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Many alternative paths to post-secondary

Our largest turnout yet! Homeschooling parents, educational professionals, parents with kids in traditional and alternative schools, current and former Sudbury-school parents, parents of preschoolers and one teen in Grade 11 (a former Beach School student) came to the beautiful new building of the Toronto Buddhist Church in the Downsview area of Toronto. In addition to [...]

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No Diploma? No Problem Reminder

Just reminding people that our upcoming discussion group will be about getting into post-secondary without a high school diploma — a great topic for non-traditional schoolers. Where: Toronto Buddhist Church 1011 Sheppard Ave W. When: May 20, 2010 (Thursday) 7-9 p.m. TTC: Downsview Station RSVP to reachsudbury(at)gmail(dot)com addthis_url = ''; addthis_title = 'No+Diploma%3F+No+Problem+Reminder'; [...]

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The Value Of Play (Again!)

Down the hall, young students are playing in the Kid Nook like they have been for weeks, animating piles of dolls big and small for hours . In the old building, teens are continuing their latest Dungeons and Dragons campaign. People are swinging on the playground; computer gamers are playing League of Legends. Packs of boys will certainly be waging their Nerf wars in the forest later. Play. It remains the most prevalent activity on campus. As the students say, “what’s up with that?”

A Fairhaven parent sent me a link to an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about Melvin Konner’s brand-new, 900 page book The Evolution Of Childhood that provides clues. ( Here’s a paragraph from the article:

Konner is especially interested in play, which is not unique to humans and, indeed, seems to have been present, like the mother-offspring bond, from the dawn of mammals. The smartest mammals are the most playful, so these traits have apparently evolved together. Play, Konner says, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.” It seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.

With freedom, we gravitate to play. My best writing time feels  playful and open-ended. The results of play are serious, sometimes even life-changing. As Konner documents, a habit of play balances life, and stimulates growth. We seem even to be hard-wired to do it. Here at Fairhaven, it reigns supreme, setting the table for the mysterious transformation from childhood to adulthood. Fortunately, our democratic structure at school compensates for the pervasive play. Rules, limits, and consequences  keep chaos at bay. Should the doll-players not clean up, they might lose access to the room. When the Nerfers left water balloon shrapnel on the grounds, they had to do grounds work. And so on.

Next week I travel to Sudbury Valley School to serve on their diploma committee, and in preparation I’m reading the theses of eighteen graduate candidates. The thread that runs through all of their papers? Play. Coming (and staying) to your nearest Sudbury school, it is the sine qua non of successful development, the pinnacle of human developmental adaptation.

“The true object of all life is play.”

G.K. Chesterton

“Letting your mind play is the best way to slove problems.”

Bill Watterson

“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.”

John Cleese

Mark McCaig

May, 2010

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School Bullying: A Tragic Cost of Forced Schooling and Autocratic School Governance

Let's say you are 15 years old, or 13, or 11, and for some reason--over which you have no control--you have been singled out by your schoolmates as an object for scorn and humiliation. Every day at school, for you, is another day in hell. No matter how you feel about school and how terribly you are treated there, the law requires you to be there. You see no escape. What do you do? What can we do, as a society, to prevent this from happening to you or your children? The only real solution I know involves a radical restructuring of the way schools operate.

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Making Messes

“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
— Anne Lamott

Messes.  Yes, Rising Tide School gets messy every day.  Lego collections are dumped out and left, shoes and dirty socks are strewn around, an entire room is taken over by an elaborate people-trap involving all the chairs and many yards of of yarn.  And not cleaned up.    Gum is chewed and drinks are spilled.  Ink is smeared on the walls.  Furniture gets broken, accidentally and not-so-accidentally.  There are messy times between people, too, arguments and disagreements, tears, tensions.   There are knots and tangles among us that can’t be always be avoided, as we are human and bound to experience conflict and separation as part of the full palette of human emotion.

Anne Lamott’s perspective is liberating and felt right to share when I read it today.  So often I feel frustration or shame when I make a mess or have to deal with someone else’s.  What if, even in the midst of these feelings, I honor messes, trusting that they are a necessary part of our process as humans, rather than a sign of failure?   What if, instead of faulting myself or others, I say: Here are the messes I made.  Here is where I explored the boundary between me and my community.  Here is where I learn to understand relationship and how to do it better.  Here is where I understand who I am, what sort of effect I have on the world, and how I can become more skillful at having the effect that I want.  Sometimes things have to be taken apart so I can learn how to put them right.

At Rising Tide School we have rules and agreements about cleaning up our messes when they happen.   In Judicial Committee and in School Meeting, we hold each other accountable for putting things back together and restoring the balance in our community.  And yet we know that because we are human, and busy living and creating in our school, that messes will continually be made.

And fixed.  And made again.  It feels good to be a part of a school where we generally accept that this is all part of the process of  learning and growing towards greater skill, responsibility, and the ability to contribute more usefully to the world. Mess by beautiful mess.

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TED talk: What adults can learn from kids

In this TED talk, Adora Svitak (age 12) speaks about many concepts that are pertinent to the Sudbury approach: all-ages learning, creativity, trust. Your thoughts? addthis_url = ''; addthis_title = 'TED+talk%3A+What+adults+can+learn+from+kids'; addthis_pub = '';

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Small To Large, Large To Small

We often think in terms of “growing up at Fairhaven.”  This month we’ve hosted and enrolled a number of younger students, and each one reminds me of what the arc of a Fairhaven career might feel like.

To our youngest students, the school must seem big in every way. We have twelve acres, with a forest. We have a veritable forest of older students to wander among and one day comprehend. We have two buildings with some twenty-odd rooms, not to mention the six bathrooms. The lawbook is huge. Young students who pass the computer certification also have limited access to the internet.

Then, one might ask, how large is a young person’s imagination? For surely they have unlimited access to it here. Whether through play, or books, or art room supplies, even our youngest students surf the endless wave of their own minds at play. So, yes, being a student at Fairhaven must seem enormous in many ways .

As they grow , our students learn their place in all of these areas. They learn the paths in the woods, often finding their favorite spots. They might master climbing the swingset poles. They become friends with students of all ages. They learn the rules, then learn to follow them. Always, it seems, they discover the contours of their creative worlds. Their worlds sing, they might splash green across a canvas, they might dance across the Chesapeake Room floor. Often, these young people play at being older. It might be “house” and she’s the mom. It might be “school,” and he’s the teacher. Cops and robbers, war games–the mind wanders.

Then, one day, they are older. Most years, at least one senior Fairhavener explains their bad mood to me by saying, “Fairhaven’s just not like it used to be.” I look at them: they used to play in the stream and now they’re a lifeguard. Or they used to ride the scooter down the hill and now they drive a car on food runs. They used to spend most of their time as a defendant in the Judicial Committee, and now they’re a JC Clerk . You get the picture.

By the time somebody leaves, the school seems small, and the big rest of the world beckons. They leave with their imaginations intact, with their creativity still keen. Mostly, they leave with a sense of mastery, over this place, over information and how to get it, over themselves, and, crucially,  mastery over the fears about whatever awaits down the road. We can only wish them well, and look forward to seeing them when they come back to visit.

Maybe they’ll check out the newest, smallest students and remember their first days here. How big it used to be.

Mark McCaig

April, 2010

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