The New Learning Culture school model (NLC model) can be used as a template for alternative schools based on self-directed and hands-on learning. This model is adaptable to any budget and culture. It can be used for home-schooling and classroom environments, from preschool to high school.
Rebeca and Mauricio Wild spearheaded this school model in their preschool through high school learning center in Ecuador. The Wilds shared their experiences in parent circles during their annual visits to Europe during the 1990s and 2000s. In fact, in Europe these schools are called Wild-inspired schools. Carmen Gamper is adapting this school model to the needs of the educators and families in the United States. She calls her personal development of the model the New Learning Culture Model. From her experiences in the European schools, she learned that the adult’s sacred child within needs to heal and learn together with the children. Deepened awareness of personal childhood conditioning prevents us from transferring personal wounds onto children and onto each other. Adults, just like children, need companions and willingness to honor their emotions.
Today, there are approximately one hundred and fifty schools adapting this model to their community’s specific needs. Schools have emerged especially in the German and Spanish speaking parts of Europe; Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, South Tyrol (Italy), and Spain. Many of these parent-initiated schools were established in family houses with between five and thirty families participating; some schools serve over hundred families.
Preschool and kindergarten-aged children learn together in prepared environments. Elementary school children share their environments with middle school kids. In addition, middle school kids also have environments that are designed for them.
These schools offer intentionally prepared indoor and outdoor learning environments that change with the needs of the students. Each room is prepared for self-directed, hands-on learning. Each provides a great variety of hands-on materials developed by educators such as Montessori, Seguin, Nikitin, Steiner, Freinet, and many others, including new materials developed by the
parents. These materials cover the traditional elementary and middle school curriculum and more. In addition, children find ready for their independent use: tools from daily life, games, toys, art supplies, countable and uncountable objects, natural elements such as gardens, sand, dirt, water play, and more.
The hands-on materials are presented in structured environments. Depending on the size of the house, there will be a room or corner for math, language, foreign languages, history, geography, science, arts and crafts, music, imaginative and block play, theatre stage, wood shop, full kitchen ready to use, eating areas, as well as outdoor areas for academic study, play, free movement and more. The whole property may be designed according to the principles of permaculture. Children can move freely throughout these learning environments and decide spontaneously what they would like to do in the present moment. Everything a child does is seen as part of a learning process: movement, play, emotional processing, experiencing and resolving conflicts, resting, and of course working with the hands-on learning materials.
Teachers and/or parents, known as “learning companions,” are always present. They facilitate, inspire and assist learning processes. Learning companions make sure the children are not interrupted in their play or work, that healthy boundaries are respected, and that all things go back to their places. Through healthy boundaries and rules, we can allow the children as much freedom and independent movement as possible while everybody feels safe.
Guided lessons are provided as additional learning opportunities by the learning companions. Invited experts, such as a baker, policeman, or architect, guide lessons as well. Children can choose if they would like to participate in specific day-long or recurring weekly lessons. As children grow older, excursions to the adult environment are offered. Learning companions accompany children to the bank, doctor’s office, nursery, farm, and the like.
The whole school is structured to fulfill the child’s genuine needs for safe exploration, healthy boundaries, movement, play, hands-on and intellectual learning, communication, timelessness, emotional safety, tension release, and time in nature. The need for being witnessed and making personal choices is honored. Learning companions take responsibility for the environment and make sure that authentic needs can be fulfilled to the greatest extent possible.
Children learn in self-directed ways. Their spontaneous activities, curiosity, and genuine interests are regarded as the inner guidance that leads to appropriate learning opportunities needed in the moment. Learning companions respect the children’s genuine interests. All lessons and offerings are based on free choice.
Children feel safe to be who they are. In this way, disciplinary problems are minimized. Companionship and trust can develop between adults and children. With their respectful presence and the principles of non-violent communication, learning companions offer to accompany personal emotions as well as conflicts between children. In fact, some schools offer specific areas for these authentic internal growth processes. For example, a cozy, beautiful place for sadness, silent spaces for resting, a structured and safe place for friendly rough-and-tumble, and a place for chatting and eating.
Since children co-determine their learning process actively, these schools do without a pre-set curriculum. Children have a folder with a check-list of all topics and required skills of the curriculum. They cross a topic off the list each time they have mastered a subject. There are no involuntary tests, nor comparative grades. Educators give each student feedback on their personal progress. Goals can be reached within five to eight years.
These schools acknowledge that parents are deeply connected with their children. Learning companions share responsibility, concerns, and ideas with the parents. Parents are invited to participate in the school in many ways. Parents can choose to be learning companions on a regular basis at most of these schools. All situations, conflicts, and joyful events are received as opportunities to grow in understanding, awareness, and caring for all the children, parents, and learning companions involved. These schools are aware of the importance of providing a central point for community development. Community members are invited to share their skills at the school with the children and other adults. A community-based school like this fosters peace and productivity while eliciting the very best each participant has to offer.
Let’s bring this school model to the US. It responds to the genuine needs of many families looking for an educational environment that embraces the whole child and the whole family. We are currently planning a school K-5 in the S.F. Bay Area, Marin.
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