November 24, 2020

Education for Self Authoring Children

Children Deserve Our Trust

Confession – I don’t send my son to school or try to recreate school at home. Despite this he has been reading fluently for several years, enjoys lively discussions about politics, physics, philosophy and other subjects, is confident conversing with adults, can mediate conflicts and plays piano whenever he has a free moment.

He isn’t the only one… my son attends a place called The Garden three days a week where children are given the autonomy to guide their own learning journey with the support of mentors. Despite the fact that free play is an option the young people who attend are enthusiastically engaged in a range of projects, HTML programing, geology, engineering – one young person even described to me the intricate plot of a novel she is writing. This increased freedom is balanced with responsibility in looking after the space, taking turns to run meetings and even making spending decisions. Both aspects help the young people develop agency and autonomy.

Learning Happens in Community

The Garden takes a whole community approach to learning, young people are not separated out into their age groups meaning that they have the opportunity to learn from each other – there is evidence that age segregation perpetuates immature ways of being as those of the same age, become primary role models (Mate/Neufeld 2019) . Young people in a mixed age setting learn a lot from older children. Dialogue is an important part of the culture both informally and in daily meetings. The part time hours also allow parents more valuable time to bond with their children. 



In a recent study at Exeter University it was found that most elective home educators regard their own ongoing learning as an important part of the process. This is certainly true for me and I find that the subjects I am researching spark interesting conversations with my son. You become part of a “rich and stimulating environment” which is conducive to learning.

Discovery and Mastery

Psychologist Naomi Fisher’s work has helped me to understand why this approach works; learning is something children naturally do – not something we need to force or impose. She talks about two main phases that children go through, the discovery phase – mainly play based and the mastery phase which begins around age nine – when a desire to apply focused attention to acquiring knowledge and skills. The mastery phase looks more like what we have culturally labeled as learning. My son gave a clear signal that he had entered this phase with the words “I want to get really good at something”. 

Play should not be regarded as something frivolous as it is an essential part of learning including experimentation, learning the limits of their bodies and the world around them, developing social skills through imitation and imaginative play where they true out all sorts of scenarios. Imagination itself is a skill to be valued, without it there would be no art, literature or technology.

Moving beyond School

A study cited by John Taylor-Gatton in his book “Dumbing Us Down” shows that children who are not conventionally schooled tend to be between five and ten years ahead of their school attending peers in their thinking. John also talks about the fact that literacy rates have actually gone down rather than up since compulsory schooling was introduced. Both of these facts are clear signifiers that education does not have to look like school and indeed it may be better if it didn’t! John’s notorious success as an educator came largely from his work around reintegrating children into the wider community and allowing them to contribute in meaningful ways. 

In 1968 Daniel and Hanah Greenburgh founded the Sudbury Valley School on the principle that knowledge is fluid rather than fixed (as the standard school curriculum might suggest) and that individuals deserve the opportunity to construct their own model of the world. Central to the school’s ethos was the notion that you can only have a meaningful democracy if citizens are educated to understand their rights and are able to have a voice in decisions which affect them. Even today, schools are largely authoritarian, not democratic – children do not get to choose whether they go there or what they do while they are there. A population trained to obey authority figures are less likely to question and hold accountable those with economic or political power.


Financial and intergenerational pressure can make it hard to make the jump into self guided learning.  At the moment there is no state support for home educators and a fundamental incompatibility with ofsted means that projects which offer an alternative approach have to be self seeded by dedicated individuals.

Future Proofing our Offspring

I passionately believe that self guided learning and valuing time when we are simply present with our children is the right medicine for our times. The way in which we raise and educate our children creates the foundations of our society. Recognising that time spent caring for our children is time spent, piece by painstaking piece, creating the kind of future we want for them and the world. It deserves to be noticed, valued and supported.


I love supporting people who are interested in taking their children out of mainstream schooling to have the courage and confidence to do so. Feel free to get in touch if this is you



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