The Stonebury Way

I’ve had a lot of you asking what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.  The documents are slowly being added to the website under the Small School link, but for those of you who’d like your news delivered to your front door, here’s a little light reading which will talk you through the Stonebury Way.  Free biscuits to anyone who can honestly report that they’ve read the whole thing.  Free dark chocolate drizzled flapjack at our Open Days on 7 & 14 March (you know the ones!) to anyone who shares this on their own Facebook page.

The Stonebury Way

Children, when left to their own devices, will eventually find ways of amusing themselves.  They have little need of toys or extraneous bits of ‘educational’ resources – a stick and a piece of rope can provide endless hours of creative and productive play.  The child does not need to be guided to study the colours of the petals of a daisy – this is a natural line of inquisition that will inevitably lead to other lines of inquisition which will eventually lead to some pretty big questions.  See-saws provide all the information a child needs to understand weights and balances, play is the natural exploration of the world and our interactions within it.

Trusting that children will come to inquire about and understand numbers as and when these are relevant will lead the child down the road of self-directed and motivated learning.  Real world application of new found knowledge cements understanding and sets the child up for further questioning.

The teacher is not an instrument for imparting centuries of received wisdom down the proverbial throats of our nation’s youths.  Rather, the teacher is a facilitator, an enabler and an observer.  By providing the necessary equipment at the right time (a piece of string, scissors, a questioning word) the teacher can enable the children to continue their play and exploration.  By observing and feeding back to children as they play (“I see that you are lifting up the bucket with a hole in it.”) the teacher is providing audio-feedback to children which allows them to reflect and continue to make choices in their own play.  By modelling passion for learning, enthusiasm for the natural world and fascination with the interaction of things, the teacher is providing children with the inspiration to develop their own interests and fascinations.

The family cannot be distinct from the process of education.  Too often parents complain that they don’t know what is going on at school.  Teachers struggle to communicate more than the most general feedback regarding the content of lessons, Head Teachers cannot handle the flood of questions and complaints levelled at them every day and children struggle to remember what has happened throughout their day because of the whirlwind of disconnect that occurs on a daily basis.

Parents should be welcome in schools all day, whenever they like, whenever their children like.  This fallacy that children ‘have to learn’ how to be away from their parents must not be allowed to continue.  Encouraging young children to be ‘independent’ of the most important people in their lives when they are not even out of nappies seems not only absurd, but entirely cruel.  Why must we prepare children for a life without their parents?  They will, of course, achieve a life without their parents when they are good and ready.  Parents provide vital insight into a child’s insecurities and can also inspire the best in their children.  By involving parents in every aspect of a child’s education, by welcoming parents to be a part of any school day, we are giving families the chance to participate in the learning journey of each of their child’s lives.

Separating children of different ages into rooms of their own has perhaps been one of our modern education system’s biggest failings.  When we group 30 same age children into a room together we ruin the natural and symbiotic relationship of younger and older children modelling and mimicking which has helped our species to survive and grow over millennia.  A child without role models has no way of seeing where they are going or how they are going to get there – an older child without the responsibility of acknowledging the needs of smaller children has no way of learning the patience and compassion they will need to be a good decision maker as an adult.

Learning is experiential, intrinsic to existence and a natural process through which all animals on earth develop.  We learn to crawl, to walk, to talk and to laugh without anyone sitting us down with a book or a chalkboard.  We learn to negotiate human relationships, work together and resolve our differences through being a part of a group with a common goal – not through sitting in circles talking about pre-prescribed themes.  We learn because we need to learn to survive – no one needs to force learning on children – the urge to learn, to grow and to prosper is tacit.  The only real danger is that we quash the desire to learn by trying to teach.  Trying to teach too much, too soon.  Trying to teach the irrelevant.  Trying to teach what we feel is right.  Trying to teach children to do what they will naturally learn to do when they reach the stage in their lives that this knowledge is necessary.

Like learning, discipline is inherent in human development.  Socialisation is a more complicated matter and one which requires a different approach.  First, discipline.  A young baby trying to unscrew the top of a plastic bottle is demonstrating discipline: a keen focus, a need to continue to try, the understanding of what is trying to be achieved and a desire to achieve a goal.  All humans have discipline in spades – it is the goal of our school to foster this sense of discipline by trusting that all children are disciplined and will regulate their own needs and goals accordingly.

Socialisation is a more complicated matter and is reflective of variations in society, social class and personal ambition.  Just as in some societies it is appropriate to smack a child, use foul language or coddle a screaming baby, there are massive differences within specific geographic areas in terms of what is acceptable behaviour.  We agree, using an unwritten and unspoken code, that certain behaviours are not acceptable – we have laws to lay down what is absolutely unacceptable, though this of course varies from one country to the next.  Just as in government, the people are theoretically given the opportunity to change the belief systems and laws under which we live, schools should give children the same responsibility.  Whilst we can become enmeshed in the intricacies of many different belief systems, the fundamental principle that guides our learning, our community and our interactions with the world is simple:  do no harm.

We do not use a behaviourist system of reward and punishment.  There are no gold stars for good behaviour, nor are there time outs for misdemeanors.  There is no space for lecturing, for endless lists of rules (even if they are “Do” rules) and there is no reason to believe that these things would do any good.  Time and again research has shown that the only effective way of developing passion for learning and exploration is through intrinsic motivation – that is, the motivation of the individual to think, act or believe in a certain way must come only from their own desires and not from some externally imposed belief system.  We are in the business of fostering creativity, passion and enthusiasm – none of this needs rewarding.

That children are intrinsically motivated to achieve their passions and to master new skills is the fundamental touchstone of our approach.  We face an uncertain future full of wonder and possibility.  We cannot send our children into this future with a brain full of quotations and statistics memorised to pass an examination – and why should we with the internet in our pockets?  We need to give children the space, the time and the trust to develop those most important skills: creativity, self-esteem, compassion, environmental stewardship, collaborative problem solving and the confidence to question everything.

That is the Stonebury way.
“When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.” ~ Bertrand Russell