Back in 2008, Tash (Owner of Inspired EC) and I spoke at the Connecting Children with Nature Conference in Perth. Although one of the highlights was undoubtedly hearing the amazing Claire Warden share her passion, it was Bold Park Community School that had a profound impact on me and it’s one I find difficult to explain – so bear with me!Perhaps I should start by saying that mainstream schools really disturb me. I do not cope with the concept that all children need to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way – education is not one size fits all! To really explain my issue with mainstream education I would need a 24 hour block of time, so let me summarise the key problems I have:· Homework – seriously, is 6hours of structured learning not enough? Is it really necessary to spend more time at home, eating into precious family time?· Stencils – walking into a classroom and seeing 25 pictures that all look the same makes me want to throw myself on the floor like a tantruming toddler! Surely children are capable of drawing for themselves and even if the result isn’t a perfectly formed duck – does it really matter? Isn’t the process far more important? · The lack of wonder/curiosity – the answers just seem to be there and there is always a right answer. How nice would it be for children to hypothesise and then investigate and maybe not even find a definite answer?!· The environment – a sterile room with tables, chairs and not much else! Where is the home-like feel that we value so strongly in early childhood? Surely school age children deserve that too. And don’t even get me started on the outdoor environment…concrete and plastic L· A lone teacher – I think there is so much to be said for team teaching. If there is a personality clash between a child and their teacher (and let’s face it, it happens) it’s just too bad. Having two teachers means there are two different adult personalities in the room, two different perspectives and lots more creative ideas bouncing around!Okay, I could go on but I think I’ve made my point and it is clear why I remain in Early Childhood! Getting back to the amazing Bold Park Community School… Everything I just wrote about above was not an issue at Bold Park. The classrooms were light filled, home-like environments that clearly said “you are valued.” Rather than rows of tables and chairs, the rooms were set up in interest areas/stations. There were science areas where children could find facts, share their ideas and test theories. There were art spaces filled with quality, open ended materials that just seemed to invite children to come and express themselves. It was clear that play was valued. I couldn’t find a stencil no matter how hard I looked, instead the walls featured beautifully presented documentation of the children’s learning. I walked away from that school wishing that I didn’t live on the other side of the country!There are many other independent schools throughout Australia….just none here in Newcastle, which breaks my heart. In my constant web trawling I have found a few that take an approach more in line with early childhood education:· Kinma – Sydney NSW· Candlebark School – Victoria (Run by Author John Marsden)· Fitzroy Community School – Victoria· Collingwood College – VictoriaI look through these sites and others and daydream about sending my child to an amazing place like this. I spend my days at work wishing that we could keep our kids in that rich and inspiring environment forever. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that this type of education is what every parent wants for their child. I’m simply saying that there needs to be options! In the Newcastle area the options are mainstream public education, private education (which tends to be taught in a similar way to the public system) and the Newcastle Waldorf School and I just don’t believe it is enough – our children deserve more.So…what to do? We need a bunch of passionate people to come together and get an independent school off the ground in Newcastle – people who are not afraid to say “I want something better for children.” If they can do it in Perth, Sydney and Victoria, surely we can do it here. Who is with me??
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