Category Archives: Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Sudbury Valley School vs playgrounds and recess

I think the problem I have with playgrounds, especially #6 below (with the huge blue blocks) is that even the good ones (and these are rare!) are contrived and are not going to hold interest for long — like a museum. I guess I would have to see if any had much staying power vs the more real / organic / wild / natural versions of (#1) adventure playground and (#2) the campus of Sudbury Valley School (SVS) but I would guess not.

And not only because the blue blocks are less useful than real tools or artifacts the kids create from actual found objects (as at SVS), but also importantly, because (especially at Sudbury Valley School) the kids are in charge of their own time COMPLETELY. It isn’t just a 1/2 hour recess… it is their whole day that they are free to do as they wish — playing (or working… call it as you wish) outdoors or indoors.

And also importantly, at Sudbury Valley School (and other Sudbury Schools) it is within a context of a self-governed community — real direct democracy as embodied in the SVS Lawbook and executed by the Judicial Committee, the School Meeting, and the various elected clerkships and committees. Real consent of the governed is powerful.

Whereas, at a “playground” at some arbitrary short point, the whistle will blow, or the parents will say “times up” after an hour or 2.

Also, outside of school hours… playgrounds are typically hit or miss.  Unless in a safe, dense area…. it is going to mean kids need to get their via parents/cars.  Vs at SVS, there is a rich environment of “everyone is here” available.  Cohousing neighborhoods offer that possibility as well, as long as people aren’t doing too much in the way of scheduled, adult run outside activities, pulling them away from the neighborhood.


1) Adventure Playgrounds
(as noted here:

2) Sudbury Valley School
(as noted here with links to fort building and other outdoor play:

3) Power tools for kids

4) Wilderness programs for kids

5) Fat Albert — cartoon at the junkyard

6) Imagination Playgrouds (sterile version of Adventure Playgrounds)
company that makes big blue blocks:

7) How Little League sports used to be (no parents… just kids)
Excerpt from Peter Gray

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How to get a job at Google

0. coding ability (for tech positions)
1. general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly.
2. leadership ability
3. humility
4. ownership
5. expertise


MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

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“What if surgeons never got to work on humans, they were instead just endlessly in training, cutting up cadavers? What if the same went for all adults — we only got to practice at simulated versions of our jobs? Lawyers only got to argue mock cases, for years and years. Plumbers only got to fix fake leaks in classrooms. Teachers only got to teach to videocameras, endlessly rehearsing for some far off future. Book writers like me never saw our work put out to the public — our novels sat in drawers. Scientists never got to do original experiments; they only got to recreate scientific experiments of yesteryear. And so on. Rather quickly, all meaning would vanish from our work. Even if we enjoyed the activity of our job, intrinsically, it would rapidly lose depth and relevance. It’d lose purpose. We’d become bored, lethargic, and disengaged. In other words, we’d turn into teenagers.”
— NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children – See more at:

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“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

— C.S. Lewis

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Response to: A question maybe no one has ever asked you

Dave asks a great (rhetorical?) question here that begins with << Here’s a question: At what point in your life did what you think become important? >>

My response:

Hi Dave, great question. What got you thinking about this?

For me, I don’t think it was until I could vote (18). Not good!

UPDATE 12/3: I was thinking about this today and I think I’m wrong… there are actually LOTS of times when I was a young kid that I felt important. My parents were very good at giving us responsibility and trusting us. Some examples: given freedom and responsibility very young to 1) cook and make food including lunch for school, 2) walk to and from school on my own when in 1st grade or so. 3) we kids have our own bank accounts. I remember saving up to buy “FOOTBALL II” — a hand-held video game.

Other memorable experiences of “important”:
- sports: the team is counting on you to play your part. i often pitched and played goalie, so those felt especially important
- boy scouts: I was a patrol leader for several years when I was still quite young
- baby-sitting and lawn-mowing and dog-watching jobs
- In school: I went to traditional public school, but the times of feeling important were anytime I worked on a presentation or report where I knew I knew more about the particular subject than anyone else in the class, including the teacher.
- I will add to this list as I think of more

But still…

This question was so important to my wife and I that we moved so our kids could go to Sudbury Valley School ( where they can do what they want (all day long!) as long as they are not infringing on other people at school (other students or staff) or doing something dangerous, illegal, etc. The adult staff (no “teachers”) obviously have years of often valuable life experience and as paid employees they have have the added responsibility of taking care of the school. So no one is saying the kids are just little adults — but like you say, “what you think matters as much as what anyone else thinks.” So indeed, equal opportunity and one-person one-vote is embedded in the legal by-laws of the school. No puppet strings. 4 year-olds can vote if they want to. They know this, but are mostly happy to not vote until they are older.

UPDATE 12/4/13: Our 6-year old is serving his “every-other-year-or-so” duty as “juror” on the school’s Judicial Committee this month. He meets with the all-ages J.C. for an hour or so each day to hear the cases brought before them for that day. A powerful responsibility!

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Outdoors at school (also known as recess?)

Daria: What types of things do the children learn at Sudbury School?

Mimsy: Well, I think they learn every type of thing but there are some things that I think every kid has to learn here because you can’t be here and not learn them. One of those things is to love the outdoors. Kids can spend as much time outside as they want here and that’s very healthy for their minds, their hearts, their souls, their bodies. There’s not a kid who’s gone to school here who doesn’t afterwards talk about how important the outdoors was to them.

(from a radio interview transcript here)

Some typical examples of outdoor/nature play at Sudbury Valley School and other Sudbury Schools:

- Forts and outdoor play at The Circle School

- Some very elaborate outdoor pretend play that goes on for days and weeks at a time

- Outside at Sudbury Valley

- A few photo galleries: The Slate Store, Fishing, Rocks, Forts, Sandbox
more epic forts

- I regularly catch glimpses of basketball, football, ultimate, wiffleball games with kids as young as 4 and as old as 17.

- … Kids still outside doing pretend play or nerf-gun pretend battles or home-brew tag games or playing in the stream, etc. etc. even though it is a late fall afternoon and starting to get dark and is less than 40F. It’s not uncommon to arrive at around 4pm to pick up my kids and there to be 20-30 kids outside. Or to arrive and have only a few kids outside — already eating lunch at the picnic table even though it is 10am and cold.

Just depends on the day.


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Thoughts about the SVS musical

Here’s a comment from a parent about the musical that SVS students wrote/produced/direction/performed this spring…. I hadn’t thought about that, but they’re right! BTW, the musical was so so amazing. I really loved it.

“After the play, I told the writers that I was impressed they used Kurosawa’s method used in the 1950′s film Rashomon. Where did they learn about the great Japanese master and his pioneering story structures? They told me they never heard of him. I was disappointed, but then I had a revelation. These SVS kids developed a sophisticated technique behind which there is unique philosophical view on what the truth is (or is not) by searching for the most effective way to tell their story. They understood Rashomon without ever seeing or hearing about it. It is a great example of how the SVS experience stimulates high levels of inquiry and understanding(and may save some parents $200K for NYU Film School tuition.)”

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Guest post by Jess

Today Jess had a few things to say about a blog post (and comments) linked below about a new Sudbury School that is hoping to open in the Boston metro area in Fall 2014: Continue reading

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Is it a school day tomorrow?

L (age 5.9): Is it a school day tomorrow?
Me: Yep!
L: Oh good!

Enough said.

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Beware the seduction of the teachable moment

“Like most people I like to tell stories, to talk about things that I know and find interesting and to pass on my skills to others. Most of us do it all the time to the people we interact with closely: to our elders, our peers and especially to children. This makes life in a group interesting and exciting. And that is how we all learn a great deal about new ideas and new ways of thinking or doing things. Seeing others is so fascinating because that is how we enlarge our understanding of the world. It is a natural aspect of the human communal experience and it is the greatest way to acquire knowledge.
However, this is all fine until adults start to impart their knowledge to children, before they are asked for their input. While teaching works like magic when a person asks for information, it is toxic and disruptive when the adult seizes the moment to teach a child something without the child’s consent.”

from: “The Evil Of The Teaching Moment”
Hanna Greenberg, Sudbury Valley School

“At first a number of kids divided the coins into clearly unequal piles. It sparked a debate among the students about what one-half meant. Juárez Correa’s training told him to intervene. But now he remembered Mitra’s research and resisted the urge.”
“… by letting them elect leaders who would decide how to run the class and address discipline. The children elected five representatives, including Paloma and Usiel. When two boys got into a shoving match, the representatives admonished the boys, and the problem didn’t happen again.”
from: “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses”

(BTW, since this Wired article mentions Sugata Mitra and the “Granny Cloud” let me just state that I am not a big fan, at least as demonstrated in various videos I have seen on youtube. It to me seems like hype/novelty effect/a waste of money. Better to set up some sort of Sudbury School/ Library/ Hackspace sort of environment. The idea I suppose is that an internet connection and volunteer Grannies are much cheaper than doing school right? But I don’t think it has to be expensive. Let the local teachers foster the school community directly — like Sergio Juárez Correa did… mentioned in the article. Connecting with long-distance penpals via Skype… well… “the Grannies” might be fun once a week, but can hardly be thought of as a central part of the school community. But I think that’s the part that Wired is stoked about because it’s the technology part. Too bad. The kids doing their own thing is the actual interesting part, IMHO.)

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