Your Child’s Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

Self-directed learning means that children are respected and given the responsibility to take control of their own education. Taking this control means students decide what they learn, how they learn, the pace of their learning, and how and if they are evaluated. TNSS aim is to support each child’s unique abilities, interests and passions. Children are innately curious and they drive their own education through these passions and interests.   We trust that children’s innate curiosity will lead them to seek out and learn what they need to know.

For more on Self-directed learning watch ‘Peter Gray – Self-Directed Learning Fundamentals’ – Click Here

Much of mainstream school is about attempting to motivate students to learn. At TNSS we believe that when given freedom students are inherently motivated to learn and there is much evidence in child development to support this. All we have to do is look at how children learn from birth to 5 years (before the age of formal education). For instance, young children are motivated to learn how to walk and talk and if not suppressed, this inherent motivation to learn does not die when the child reaches school age.

Some children may show a lack of self- motivation, but we believe this is usually a reaction to too much control and structure in mainstream school, or an indicator that the child is genuinely uninterested in whatever they are learning through an enforced curriculum. When first in an environment where they are given freedom, children may go through a period of de-schooling where they show little interest in learning. This is a transitional period and when given time and space children move through it and re-calibrate, moving on to finding their own natural love of learning.

Boredom plays a significant role in self-directed education. It indicates that the child has not found something in that moment that brings out the drive in them. It is an important feeling that encourages us to reflect and by making us feel uncomfortable it motivates us to change and find something that inspires us. Boredom is the precursor to curiosity, creativity and self-discovery. Trying to figure out what we like and what we want to do is part of self- discovery. No one can tell you what you are interested in, you must find that out for yourself, this is one of the most important tasks of growing up. Ken Robinson in his book ‘Finding your Element’ defines the Element as the place where talent meets passion, he argues that when you find your Element the thing you love to do, you will never work again. What seems like hard work to others is a deep pleasure to you. For a child, finding their Element is part of them finding a sense of direction, purpose and pleasure in their lives.

“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

The general consensus in our society seems to be that if left to their own devices children would never learn anything. They must be told what is important to learn and when to learn it. At TNSS we believe that the students are the ones who are best to decide what is important for them to learn. They are the ones responsible for choosing their interests and, eventually, their life goals. Research has found that when people determine for themselves what to learn, they retain the subject matter significantly better than if someone else determines what they should learn (Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). The paradox of achievement: The harder you push, the worse it gets. In J. Aronson (Ed.)

Find out more here by watching the Alliance for self-directed education where they explain what self-directed education is : Click Here

‘Their learning comes naturally; it results from their instincts to play, explore, and observe others around them’ (Peter Gray, Evidence that self-directed education works, 2020)

In our society we have developed a narrow view of what we think learning looks like, for instance it may conjure images of a child reading or writing at a desk. However, the reality is that learning happens everywhere and during many different activities. Here at TNSS we see learning in all natural life experiences including play, social interactions and in the pursuits of personal interests to name but a few.

“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein

Children are naturally driven to play, it is the key to their learning, development, confidence, and well-being. Here in TNSS we believe it is their True Nature! The impulse to play is so important to human development and survival it is described as a biological drive. This drive has been compared to the drive to eat and sleep, although not as strong, it may be equally important. So much so, play has been recognised by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights as a right for every child.
The value of play is often minimized by adults who sometimes view it as simply entertainment. However, play has many benefits and is vital for optimal child development. Neuroscience has found that play has positive effects on the brain and the child’s ability to learn by encouraging brain growth and improving memory. In addition, play is important to social development, a child can learn many prosocial skills through play such as co-operation, sharing, negotiating, and leadership. Play also offers opportunities for physical activities through active play. Here at TNSS we strongly believe in the importance of outdoor play where children can refine their motor development, engage in challenging physical activities, and learn to take risks. Everyday life involves a certain amount of risk and play offers the child the opportunity to take calculated risks and experiencing being brave.

Children are naturally curious and social. They are constantly having conversations with other students and these interactions lead to student-directed research, reading, activities and more conversations. Children in a Sudbury School are exposed to a variety of topics as diverse as the community’s interests. There are student and staff-led classes and activities, and access to adults who can help students solve problems and find information. Furthermore, at TNSS we believe the environment is an important teacher and should be inspiring and rich in learning opportunities. Exposure to learning is happening all the time, but it is just not based on a curriculum or set of standards written by an adult.
We live in an age of technology, where information and knowledge is easily available and when students follow their passions, exposure is not a problem.

There is no doubt that children’s use of screens gets a lot of negative attention in the media and it’s not surprising that many parents are concerned about this. However, there is no denying that computers are one of the most important tools of modern society and that they are not going away. Here at TNSS we believe there are many advantages to playing computer games and other types of screen use. While engaged with computers children are learning many things like problem solving, diving into personal interests, developing fine motor skills, building relationships and developing communication skills. Furthermore, it is likely that computer skills and a knowledge of technology will benefit children in their future, with a variety of future careers where technology plays a vital role.

For more information on Children & computers see the article written by ​Dr. Peter Gray from Psychology Today Here

TNSS is a secular school, we are not affiliated with, or teach any particular religion. However, as our students engage in self-directed learning children may choose to study a particular religion or religions. Students may also choose to celebrate particular religious festivals within the school environment and community.  

No, our school has adults known as staff members. Our staff members have varied backgrounds, qualifications, skills and interests which they bring to our school community. Staff may at times share their knowledge/ skills through workshops or lessons at the request of students or as a response to student’s interests.  Any lessons or activities offered to the students will be optional and staff will cater their approach to students learning styles and needs. In addition to staff members, students may also share their knowledge/ skills with the community and offer activities / lessons they have organised. Students or staff may also make a request at the school meeting to have an outside expert provide activities/ lessons on a particular area of interest.

Staff’s main job is to ensure the smooth running of the school and be a resource to students. They hold the space so students can have freedom within the boundaries of safety and respect. Staff members will always be available to help students if and when asked and will (along with students) care for the environment, ensuring it is rich with learning possibilities, providing opportunities for curiosity and inspiration. Staff at TNSS consider themselves helpers not judgers which creates opportunities for respectful relationships with students.  Additionally, here at TNSS we have a key worker system. Each student will pick a staff who they would like as their key worker. They will meet with them each week (or more frequently if needed) to provide a private space for the student to reflect on their time in school, explore learning goals, talk about their relationships with others in the school, and any other issues that may be important to them and their school life.

No, not necessarily, although they may be qualified teachers. TNSS staff come from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of qualifications, experience and training. Most importantly they are adults who believe in the democratic educational approach, enjoy working with children and young people and are life-long learners themselves, passionate and inspired.

All TNSS staff will receive training in First Aid, Child Protection, Respectful Communication and Restorative Practice and will be Garda Vetted before taking up their post at TNSS.

All staff will also have an annual review, where students and other staff will offer feedback on their part in the school community. This is intended as a reflective tool and to give students a voice by seeking their opinions.

‘Schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning’ – John Dewey

TNSS does not follow the Irish National Curriculum or any other curriculum but supports each student to learn by following their own interests. Here at TNSS we believe that deep and powerful learning requires a personal interest in what is being learned. We believe that the type of learning dictated by a curriculum may provide short term memorisation of subject matter, but does not always constitute meaningful and long term learning.

‘Our kids will forget most of what they learn in mainstream school and we know this because we as adults have forgotten most of what we learned in school’ Will Richardson (author and speaker on educational technology)

However, students at TNSS may decide they would like to follow a curriculum which interests them, and being responsible for their own learning they are free to do so, if they please.
Classes in specific subjects are offered when students request them, however nobody is required or encouraged to join a class. Classes have no formal status and only lasts as long as student are interested.

There is no same day at True Nature Sudbury School. Students have the freedom to decide what they wish to do with their time. Their day is what they make of it and there are endless possibilities.
There is no experience that is the same, just as there are no people the same. There may be students creating clay sculptures in the art room, while some students are getting their kitchen license for baking. Some students may be having an interesting debate in the common room, as there is an impromptu tournament of Chess happening in the games room.
TNSS enables students to go with what motivates and drives them on a day to day basis

“Just as eating against one’s will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

When a child is ready and willing, the basics like reading, writing, and math are quite easily learned. Mainstream school operates on a system where children 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. When there is a desire to learn it has been reported over and over again that children learn these skills quickly and easily

Sudbury Schools have seen children teach themselves to read, some at the age of 4 years and some as late as 12 years old, with absolutely no instruction. By age 13, no one can tell the difference between the children who learned to read at 4 years from the child who learned to read at 12 years.

Also for maths, it has been proven that all of the maths content from Irish Primary School Level can be learned in just 6 weeks when the child is ready for it.

Lastly, children in Sudbury School learn in a holistic way, through meaningful experiences. For instance, think of all the maths they might learn when baking a cake, learning about measurement, fractions and volume. They may also be following a recipe in a book or online, reading and following instructions or developing their verbal reasoning skills by explaining to friends what to do next.

For a different perspective on the value of math in education, watch the TED video 

Why Math Instruction Is Unnecessary

You may also be interested in the following articles:

Children Teach Themselves to Read

Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning