Archive for September, 2010

We Met!

We Met! Our biggest turnout ever! 21 enthusiastic, interested, and interesting people met to discuss alternatives to the traditional system. Many were homeschoolers/unschoolers, joined by a handful of preschoolers, and folks who were in the traditional system but not thrilled. Some of us work in the public school system, and see the limitations [...]

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Check Out Our New Website!

Our new website is now up at We’ve been working on it throughout the summer, and it looks great! Check it out and share it with a friend!

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North Creek Park Outing

Last week a group of us piled into the Clearwater bus and drove up to North Creek Park. If you live in the area and haven't visited this park, it's well worth a trip. It's a wetland with a boardwalk through it, lots of wildlife and interpretive signs. The flora and fauna vary with the seasons and different wildlife are visible at different times of day.

The day we were there was warm. Although the weather was dry, there are several areas of the board walk that are prone to sink slightly below water level when a bunch of people walk along them at the same time. That was a source of amusement and challenge for several Clearwater students, who wanted all of us to walk or stand on a section, submerging it so they could have the fun of escaping the deluge or wading in it.

Heading down to the boardwalk

One interpretive sign talked about the importance of wetlands, describing them metaphorically as the kidneys of the earth. Clearwater staff member Matt thought it would be fun to talk about his own kidneys as the wetlands of the body. A little later, a student extended the metaphor further and suggested that lakes might be the bladders of the earth.

Reading about the function of wetlands

Delicate floating duckweed

Girls returning from a boardwalk spur to a peat bog

Because wetlands help clean storm water, the fact that Clearwater is downstream of North Creek Park means that the creek is cleaner when it gets to us than before it goes through the park. In fact, we noticed areas of water in the park that had an oily sheen and the appearance of sludge.

We also noticed and heard lots of birds and insects, and saw the occasional garter snake.

Fun with flooded boardwalk

Girls voluntarily trapping themselves on platform

Common Touch-Me-Not or Jewelweed (Impatiens noli-tangere)

Water Smartweed (Polygonum amphibium)

A lovely nosegay made by a student

In spite of one minor injury (a nettle sting), everyone spent a lot of time exploring the board walk and dirt trails of the park. After exploring the wetland, we all met up at the playground by the parking lot, where everyone played. Photos and information about that part of the trip will be in a post later this week.

End of post.

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Let’s Meet! Sept 27 discussion group

Calling all homeschoolers, unschoolers, freeschoolers, alternative schoolers, disgruntled-with-traditional-schoolers, potential Sudbury-schoolers and anyone else interested in alternatives to the status quo in education…. We’ve met on-line, now let’s all meet in person. Date: September 27, 2010 Time: 7-9 p.m. Location: Ralph Thornton Centre, 3rd floor room (there is an elevator) 765 Queen Street East (near Broadview) Toronto, ON M4M 1H3 Google Map: [...]

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Daily Life at Reach

It is hard to describe what a typical day at Reach will be as every day is different at this type of school, and each student has a unique school experience. For some students the day is free-flowing; others like to schedule themselves or participate in more organized activities. Without bells enforcing changes in [...]

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First Week of School

The first week of school has ended and the second week begins at Clearwater. The word that best describes the week for me is joy. Everyone is so happy about being back and hanging out with friends. There is so much to talk about, to do, to try, to experience. Everyone is a little older, more mature, more themselves. Of course, this happens through the school year, too, but the three-month gap makes the difference seem more striking and even miraculous.Even after being on staff for 15 years, I feel such wonder and gratitude to be able to know the incredible people who attend Clearwater and witness their growth.

The big news in terms of our physical environment is that a lot of sockeye salmon are returning to spawn in North Creek. The bulk of their bodies are an intense red-orange color, the head and tail are green, and the top of their snout is hooked down to enable them to dig depressions for egg laying in the silt of the creek bed. After two previous years with no salmon sightings, it is wonderful to be able to see their tenacity as they move upstream past little rapids and waterfalls.

The glare on the water inteferred with really clear photos of the fish, but the red bodies are visible even through the glare. Many salmon rest for long periods in a calm, deep pool south of the foot bridge before marshalling their energy to push upstream again.

Three girls who performed acrobatics on the spinning bar at Whistlepig last spring are continuing to refine their technique, experiment and add new moves. It is mesmerizing to see their focus, their willingness to try things even when the results look awkward. They are planning to have a whole new routine to present at Whistlepig next spring. Two of them are pictured here.

The foosball table also saw some action.

The punching bag in the basement attracted 5- and 6-year-old girls who walloped it within an inch of its life.

Several students want to learn and practice tennis, which inspired Matt, staff member and sports guru, to create a tennis/pickle ball court in the active room.

While two younger students waited for Matt and Robert to finish their game so they could take the court, they served as skilled ball boys.

End of post.

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He won’t bite the mailman: Sudbury kids and video games

Of what value are video games?  Sudbury parents sometimes worry about how much time their children spend playing videogames at school.  They wonder why they pay good money to have their children (especially boys) apparently squander their freedom on something the parents find to be so worthless.  They worry about the [...]

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Experiences of ADHD-Labeled Kids Who Switch from Conventional Schooling to Homeschooling or Unschooling

In response to my call for stories about ADHD-diagnosed kids who have been educated in non-traditional settings, I received 28 stories. My analysis of these stories suggests that (1) most ADHD-diagnosed kids do fine without drugs if they are not in a conventional school; (2) the ADHD characteristics don't vanish just because they aren't in school, but the characteristics are no longer as big a problem as they were before; and (3) ADHD-diagnosed kids seem to do especially well when they are allowed to take charge of their own education.


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Adaptation To Change: The Way We Became Human?

Whereas traditional school environments rely on stability, predictability and routine, a Sudbury school environment like Fairhaven is characterized by change and variability. To be sure, we do have our routines and structures here: just today we convened our first School Meeting of the year, where we elected students to run the meeting and record the minutes. We also elected students to run the daily Judicial Committee meeting. We decided many other issues, including purchasing a new fire alarm annunciator for $510 and authorizing a room use change. All of these were orderly, routine decisions. However, the outcomes were not predetermined; rather, they were unknown variables until the meeting voted.

Meanwhile, the activities of the students this week were absolutely unknown until they (the students) chose them. Play on the swings? Talk with friends on the porch? Play computer games? Check Facebook? Join a creative writing class? Eat now, or eat later? A Fairhaven day and education is absolutely variable. While the meetings and rules provide the bones of the school, the muscles, nerves and organs rely upon student initiative, curiosity and interest. They rely on adaptation, and there may be anthropological evidence that the most significant advances in evolution from apes to homonids came in response to climate change, i.e. adaptation.

A recent NOVA series called Becoming Human included a theory that the advance from apes to homo habilis (proto-humans) coincided with a relatively short period of unstable climate changes on the African savanna. After millions of years of constant climate, suddenly brain sizes grew, eye sockets faced more forward, and bodies walked erect, all in response to periods of drought and flooding. Here’s a quote from anthropologist Rick Potts, one of the proponents of this theory:

“Maybe this has something to do with human evolution, and it’s not the survival of the fittest in any one environment but the survival of the more versatile, the more general and flexible creatures that would really persist over time. This gave me a new insight into human evolution. The origin of stone tools, the expansion of the brain, and the complexity of social life that we see with the emergence of our own species may actually be a response not to just the dry savanna or the cold Ice Age but to the wide and dramatic variability of climate over time.”

It’s not the survival of the fittest in any one environment but the survival of the more versatile, the more general and flexible creatures that would really persist over time. When I heard this, how could I not think of the efficacy of a Sudbury environment for growth and development? If indeed we are headed into a time of climate instability, I want our young people to have experience with change, to be able to think and thrive in an environment that is not predetermined. If Potts and others are correct, we are, in fact, hard-wired for it!

Of course, both homo habilis and homo erectus became extinct prior to the emergence of homo sapiens, and anthroplogy is a complex science. Nevertheless, the conclusion that life on earth can be unpredictable is irrefutable, and schools should mirror and thereby prepare people for this unpredictability. Thankfully, ours does.

Great to be back at Fairhaven School, the dynamic savanna of Maryland school options!

Mark McCaig,

September, 2010

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