What is a Sudbury School?
A Sudbury School is a democratic school where each member (students and staff) have a vote in the running of the school. Sudbury Schools follow the philosophy of self-directed learning, responsibility, freedom, and age-mixing. There are no fixed curriculum, homework, teachers, or schedules to follow. Staff serve as facilitators, rather than teachers. Students determine how to spend their days that most engage them in their own learning process, in community, and with the help of caring adults who recognise their innate dignity and capabilities.
A democratic governance allows all those involved in the school to be invested in it’s success. A democratic school environment protects the rights of all individuals in the school, empowers those involved and fosters a sense of purpose and responsibility. The Sudbury environment allows children to cultivate leadership, problem-solving, and goal setting.
What ages can attend?
Children from 5 to 18 will attend the school. There are no grade/class levels. Older and younger children mix in any way that they desire, often around shared interests. Older children learn compassion and patience from working with younger children, and younger children can seek out older ones to assist them in learning and growth.
Is it safe to let a young child play with a teenager?
Parents of younger children may wonder why an older child would want to play with a younger child, so when they hear about it their initial reaction may be fear and doubt. This is normal given mainstream education’s practice of age segregation. In the conventional schooling environment, it is not “cool” for older students to associate with anyone younger than them so any student who does so is seen with suspicion. But age-mixing is one of the most natural things for kids to do. Not only is it safe, it is one of the key ingredients that make the Sudbury model so successful. Young children learn so much from older students, and older kids become more confident and more responsible when they can freely mix with younger kids.
Are there fees?
Yes. The Wicklow Sudbury School is a not for profit organisation which receives no state money. For this reason we will need to charge fees for the running and upkeep of the school and to ensure a rich environment. See fees
Are there scholarships available or financial aid for low-income families?
Yes. It is important for us that the school is accessible. With this in mind we have created a nuanced grant system. See fees
What do the children do all day?
There really will be no typical day at Wicklow Sudbury. When students arrive, they will sign in, put their lunch away, and probably go look for their friends. Throughout the day, there will be children at the computers, some eating lunch, some in a yoga class, some in the art room, and some playing a board game or playing outside. Groups of students can organise a game of tag or an impromptu talent show, while one student is making a video, one will be playing the piano, one working on their maths, and another catching bugs in the garden. Each day will be rich with opportunity that is only limited by the students’ imagination and interests.
How will my child know what he or she likes if they are not exposed to it (with classes, etc.)?
We live in the information age, where knowledge is available at your fingertips. For this reason, when kids are free exposure is not an issue. Furthermore, because students are free to explore and interact with students and adults of all ages all day long, they are exposed to a wide variety of topics, more than they would typically get in an environment where only one person is delivering the curriculum. Students in the Sudbury program don’t look at learning as a set of fixed subjects to be mastered. Instead they follow their curiosity and interest, which isn’t limited to a classroom.
They will also be in an environment that is rich and inspirational. Art and craft materials, books, music, drama, science and gym equipment, computers, plenty of outdoor space with room for big games, sport, den building, gardening, indoor nooks for quiet reading, common room for conversation, kitchen for cooking, all of which will create fertile ground for great ideas and exploration.
How will my child learn if there is no curriculum, and no one tells him or her what to do or learn?
We believe that all children are born with a strong desire to learn what they need in order to become an effective adult in the society to which they are born. In fact, our species would not have survived for very long without this inner drive. Our current education system was designed to short-circuit this process in order to make people into cogs of the industrial machine. It made sense at one point in history. However, in this postindustrial, or information, age, children know that traditional schooling is a waste of time, so more and more of them are tuning out. Our community will provide your child with the time and space to get back in touch with their own natural desire to learn without being told to do so.
Children are learning all of the time. When children are very young, they are like little scientists. This natural, driven, curiosity can continue into school age if it is allowed to thrive. Children and teens are curious about their world and naturally want to grow to become independent adults–which is unique for each of them, as it is for adults. Sudbury schools foster a child’s internal motivation, which is a much more powerful driver to learning than external motivation
Why don’t you have teachers? What is the role of staff?
The adults at Wicklow Sudbury chose not to call themselves teachers because everyone and everything is a potential teacher. We do, however, recognise our special role in the community. Some of us are generalists, some of us are specialists. We will all be elected for one year at a time – there is no tenure – and what we’re elected for will be a combination of who we are and the value that we can bring to the community. Most of us will do some work in areas in which we have expertise. It’s just that that’s not necessarily how we’re going to be spending most of our time.
Staff members are ultimately responsible for the administration and smooth functioning of the school. On a day-to-day basis, staff members focus on holding the space in which children can be free within the boundaries of safety and respect. Although we will practice non-interference as much as possible, we will always be available to help students if and when they ask.
Is it legal?
We have looked very carefully into this question and taken advise from legal experts. We feel the Irish legal landscape is very favourable to setting up a Sudbury model school. For a fuller explanation see this page.
What if my child just wants to play all day?
“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein
Play is exactly what your child should be doing! There is a reason that nature has endowed children with an intense need to play in their earliest years of development, at a time when they are learning the most and the fastest than at any other point in later life. Not only do children make meaning and construct models of the world through play, they also practice their physical, intellectual, social, and emotional skills.
Students at Sudbury schools spend a lot of time playing. A common misconception is that play is mindless activity. It is not. Curiosity and play propel each other, they both involve exploration of the unknown. The means by which people advance is through investigation and manipulation of that which is not yet known. Play is key to children’s learning and understanding of their world.
What if my child doesn’t want to do anything all day?
Depending on how many years your child has been in a traditional school setting, they may go through a period of de-schooling when they first arrive at our school. This may include long periods of what might appear to doing nothing at all. We, however, see this as a valuable and necessary transition time in which the student gets back in touch with him or herself. Your child may also be testing the adults around him or her to see if they are serious about not interfering with their choices. All of this is completely normal and parents have to be prepared to accept this as part of the process before enrolling their child.
What if my child spends all day on the computer?
It is quite possible that your child will spend all day on the computer. With all of the negative media attention surrounding screen time, it is not surprising that many parents are concerned about this. Some parents see the computer, including video games, as a mind-numbing activity that “rots your brain”. But as John Holt points out, computers are the tools of their culture, so it makes sense that they want to spend time using them (as we all do!). 60% of jobs being advertised today did not exist ten years ago, and who knows what is ahead another ten years down the road, and computers play a vital role in this. Furthermore, computers and gaming are very social activities in our community in which students engage with each other, learn from each other, and constantly problem-solve together.
So how do the children learn to read and write?
When a child is ready and willing, the basics like reading, writing, and maths are quite easily learned. Traditional schooling forces children to learn these at the same age and at the same rate, often before a child is ready or interested. Thus, the process seems to be difficult and time-consuming. The fact is that other Sudbury schools, and Unschoolers, have seen children teach themselves to read, some at the age of 4 and some as late as 12, with absolutely no instruction. By age 13, you can’t tell the difference between the child who learned to read at 4 from the child who learned to read at 12. Reading just happens to become necessary at some point during the childhood of Sudbury students, and so they all learn to read eventually.
As for maths, it has been proven over and over again that all of the maths content for primary school age can be learned in just 6 weeks when the child is ready for it. Imagine all of that time saved for valuable play!
Other examples of learning skills naturally out of real world necessity, rather than because of coercive instruction, can be found outside of Sudbury schools. For example, babies learn to walk without being taught to do so through “walking lessons”, and people tend to learn a new language quickest through simply living where the language is primarily spoken rather than being forced to take lessons about the language. Just the same, students at Wicklow Sudbury will not be forced or coerced into attaining any skills or information, so they can learn things as they become necessary, fun, or interesting in one way or another.
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Will my child be safe?
Yes. The students and staff will make the school’s rules together, and any student can report staff or students for violations of the rules. If someone is written up they must attend the Judicial Committee where the conflict is investigated and reviewed by their peers and a staff member to decide on appropriate action. Having a small student to staff ratio will also contribute to safety.
What are the rules and what happens if someone breaks them?
Our law book will contain all the rules of the community, as well as procedures for handling rule infractions. The rules will be decided democratically by students and staff. In general, the rules will provide for the protection of individual rights while maintaining an atmosphere of safety and respect. Anyone in our community will be able to “write-up” anyone else in the community. A student-led judicial committee will gather to investigate all complaints and determine sentences as needed. Sudbury experience is that students find the system to be the fairest way of handling discipline.
How does your community handle bullying?
Like at most other schools, bullying is taken very seriously at Wicklow Sudbury. But unlike most other schools, in a Sudbury school, the adults won’t automatically take care of it. Instead we will encourage students to use the student-led justice system. This has been shown to be very empowering for the “bullied” student, who learns to take care of him or herself against any bully in the future and is less likely to see themselves as a victim. And it is often a transformative experience for the “bully” who gets firm but respectful treatment from his peers.
How do you measure or evaluate progress with no exams?
“All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” ~ John Holt
A big leap that any parent must make before enrolling their child in our program is the willingness to trust them. You must trust that they will learn what they need to in their own way and in their own time. Once you shed the notion that real learning can be measured, you will begin to see your child in a different light and trust your own instincts about whether or not they are growing.
Do you accept children with autism or other special needs?
Prospective students will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. As with all of our students, a decision about whether Wicklow Sudbury is appropriate for a child would depend on the child’s ability to learn to take responsibility for his or her actions. Our program is not equipped to handle a student who experiences severe difficulties in learning independently or in self-correcting negative behaviours.
Is there a specific “type” of child that would benefit more from a Sudbury model school over a conventional school?
Sudbury schools have welcomed every ‘type’ of child – from the highly academic student to the traditional school ‘drop-out’. Students who are best suited for Sudbury type schools include: bright, highly motivated kids who want to surge ahead and challenge themselves; kids with unique learning styles who want to move at their own pace; kids who are ‘different’ in some way and want an atmosphere of tolerance and friendliness; social kids who want to be part of a democratic community; little kids who are passionately engaged in exploring and creating; high-energy, restless kids who want to be active; frustrated kids who are sick of schooling; shy, sensitive kids who want to pursue their own interests; and self-directed kids who are ready for responsibility.
Will they do the leaving cert?
Today’s higher education landscape is rapidly changing and there is now a wide array of options available. We encourage students to research and pursue the option that works best for them in reaching their goals. If after they have done so, they wish to do the Leaving Cert. they will of course be facilitated to do so.
Will they be able to go to college?
Students who attend Sudbury schools are usually extremely well-prepared to go to college. They’re quite knowledgeable, very articulate, and very motivated. Sudbury students are able to learn all they need to know for college entrance, often in a very short time. Colleges are not as different from Sudbury schools in that students are expected to know themselves and take responsibility for their own education. 85% of the students from the original Sudbury Valley School attend college. Others pursue their vocations in a variety of ways.
Many students do choose to enter traditional 4-year colleges and universities. The history of Sudbury graduates is that 80% get into the college of their first choice. They do so because they stand out to any admissions counsellor in that they usually know what they want to study and can articulate why they chose this institution over others. Once they arrive, they have already had so much experience with freedom and choice that they are more prepared for college life than many of their peers.
A 48-year history of graduates from Sudbury Valley School has shown that the vast majority are living lives that are congruent with their values. In other words, graduates know themselves, know what they want, and know how to get it. Sudbury graduates don’t just settle for a paycheck, they seek out meaning in their work and in their personal lives. They are happy and content with the life they create for themselves. Sudbury students are also particularly prepared for a fast-changing world in which self-initiation and lifelong learning is a must.