Category Archives: Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Play – it’s how you get work done

EDWARD NORTON (from an interview on NPR)
“When I’m making stuff today, I still feel like the whole enterprise—for all the money that comes into it and all the sophistication of the toys you get—you’re kind of just trying to get towards that sensation where you’re playing in an unencumbered way. You’re trying to minimize the stress of the pressures that come with getting these kinds of toys and these kinds of budgets, and get in the same headspace that you were in then when you were excited about every little idea, and trying all kinds of crazy things.”


PETER GRAY writes about the research on this exact thing:

From his book: Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

From Chapter 7: The Playful State of Mind…

“Inducing a playful mood improves creativity and insightful problem solving” (p 136) — Gray describes things that have worked in experiments: funny videos to students before working on problems, giving candy to doctors before they diagnose!

“Much of the research I cite in this chapter was conducted by people who don’t necessarily use the term “play” or “playful” in describing their hypotheses and findings. They talk instead about “pressured” versus “unpressured” states of mind, or about positive moods versus negative moods, or about self-motivated tasks and goals versus those imposed by others. But from the perspective of this chapter, all such research is about play. Play is unpressured, self-motivated activity, conducted with a positive frame of mind.” (Footnote 4, Chap 7, p 244)

On his own work: “…I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I’m focused only on the current task of researching or writing.” (p 140)

From his blog: Why Hunter Gatherers’ Work is Play

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Reading is not natural — but that’s ok

Maryanne Wolf is a “neuroscience of reading” researcher at Tufts who herself has a son who is “dyslexic”. She is comfortable with using that term as a sort of umbrella term for learning-reading difficulties.

To me that makes her uniquely qualified to speak on the subject of learning to read and I was pleased to hear that she agrees with what I have been reading on the subject which is that “dyslexia” is a brain difference that has both advantages and disadvantages, and one disadvantage is that learning to read is a little more difficult.

Her book:

An interesting interview:

Anyway, my take-away as the parent of kids attending a Sudbury school is that it isn’t useful to believe that all kids will magically “get” reading and that reading difficulties are due solely to tradtional school labels. Certainly almost automatic reading does happen with most kids. But with one of our kids (yes, surrounded by people reading and huge amounts of social conversation at home and at school) that isn’t what is happening. So reading is something that they have to explicitly work on (and want to work on!) And so we do. That’s what everything I have been reading and what Maryanne Wolf says in the video… explicit instruction and practice with decoding, etc.

I guess that is the obvious problem with traditional schooling and reading. The kids with certain brains will be fine (or bored) with the reading instruction. And the kids who are “dyslexic” to varying degrees (since the researchers understand that there are different issues involved depending on the person) then they run the risk of the labels/frustration/falling behind cycle if they aren’t able to get enough extra help.

If kids had more individualized attention (tiny classes, or homeschooling) or given the freedom to do and learn what they want (Sudbury schools) then it wouldn’t be an issue.

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Our kids at school

“During my visit I could see that most of the students at SVS are in general a happy bunch due to, among other things, the freedom and responsibility that the community affords to them. The younger students, who have never attended a traditional school, settle in quickly and embrace the freedom to move around the campus unencumbered. In particular, there were three students (aged 4 to 6), which were almost inseparable. I observed them on numerous occasions, e.g. playing in the sandbox, playing on the swings, hanging out at Monkey Tree (it is one of the trees that the students like to climb) and eating lunch together. Most of the time they were engaged in pretend-play or busily chatting, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company.”

(This was written by a person who is starting a Sudbury School in Hong Kong and so was invited to observe at Sudbury Valley for a day. It sounds like it is about one of my kids and his friends. If not, it sounds just like it as I have occasionally heard about fun in the Monkey Tree…)

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How do you stay sane with so many choices?

And I am not talking about choosing which item of dozens on the grocery store shelf or Consumer Reports review. Though that is a problem too. (All correct answers: Whatever is cheapest, most expensive, second cheapest, or weighs least.)

What I mean is… in general.

With great freedom comes the possibility of great existential angst. It’s the flip-side of the exciting possibilities.

One can do anything. Live anywhere. Youtube. Online degrees. Work from home.

Having limited or no options is no good either of course, so I think we are left with learning how to deal with this increasingly common reality. Kids have to confront this at school, and I think SVS is good because it embraces this, but I think it more comes from a culture in the family.

Related: It’s dangerous to go to college far away because you might meet a spouse and then guess what, your parents/families will probably be far apart and that’s a HUGE pain.


Voluntary Simplicity

Stuck in Place

Pulling a geographic

Welcome to the Failure Age
“We are a strange species, at once risk-averse and thrill-seeking, terrified of failure but eager for new adventure.”

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Learning self-control

“Miss Sabatini, my third-grade teacher in Queens, made us sit with our hands crossed on our desks and our feet flat on the floor, all the time insisting that we ‘must learn self control.’ Although clearly if we had any real measure of control over ourselves and our lives we would be out in the playground, running and screaming.”

Barbara Ehrenreich
(Living With A Wild God, p. 42)

As seen at the SVS Facebook page

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The World is Fast

“In sum, we’re in the middle of three “climate changes” at once: one digital, one ecological, one geo-economical.” Thomas Friedman

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Thoughts on “Dreaming of an unschooling village”

Interesting article you wrote:
Dreams of an unschooling village

Our family moved to Framingham, MA to be close to Sudbury Valley School. Let me address a few points you hit on in your article:
- learning from real life
- free play
- nature

The tricky thing about this is that a lot of work today is not work that works well for kids seeing what is going on — “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”. There are plenty of hours in the day for them to see me working at my computer. But that is BORING after a few minutes… they can’t help out. And when they are older, the Sudbury model makes it easy to incorporate apprenticeships or other “real world” learning into one’s day as approprate. The idea that one can have a cohousing or other intentional community where many/most of the parents are around and doing things that are of interest to kids is slightly flawed in my opionion for a few reasons.
1) young kids are mostly not going to be interested (see FREE PLAY below)
2) the young adults could learn a thing or 2, but the chances that there will be a match between work interests is slim)
3) most adults are going to be working either offsite or even if onsite, it’s not necessarily going to be interesting to kids.

And then there is work work, but in MA (and most places I assume) one can’t work until you are 14. LINK

Much more common is finding matches in hobbies. Avocations rather than vocations. Artistic and music pursuits, sports, cooking, gardening, hiking, etc, etc. So that’s very valuable of course, but this will mostly be outside of traditional work/school hours as far as the adults are concerned. So one is still left with what would be interesting to do during those mid-day times. My answer, especially if both parents are working: SUDBURY VALLEY SCHOOL

Sudbury Valley School!
“In a survey of hunter-gatherer researchers… all said that the children in the group that they had studied were free to explore on their own, without adult guidance, essentially from dawn to dusk every day. They were allowed such freedom beginning at about age 4… on into their mid to late teenage years, when they began to take on adult responsibilities.”

This mirrors glimpses I see at Sudbury Valley School. Much of the activity one sees w/ younger (4 thru pre-teen) qualifies as “play” in most people’s definition of the word. Not until people reach mid to late teenage years (young adults) do people shift substantially into thinking about “work”… either more academically minded pursuits or otherwise focusing substantially specifically on how they plan to make a living.

Sudbury Valley School! If the trees, fields, huge climbing rocks, stream, fishing pond, pavement for basketball/4-square/scooters/etc isn’t enough, it abuts a state park which students can visit freely (age 8+ with another or 13+ by self)

Check out all those barefeet in the photos of the kids at school.

Having unlimited access to “outside” is a huge plus to Sudbury vs traditional schools.

But also don’t get too excited! It’s not like anyone HAS to go outside. What if you want to use a computer inside all day? What if you are happier in a city? You can’t predict how it will all work out. But the fact still stands… even if you are inside working and playing inside all day, it’s important to know you can go outside and there is a nice outside to go to. It’s your choice.

Sudbury Valley School (in particular) is in suburbia. And it’s the type of American suburbia which is just out of reach of substantial public transportation. Nearby downtown Framingham has some limited buses and access to a commuter rail line that goes to Boston (50min, 30min by car) and Worcester. But getting around mostly means cars (or taxis, or walking/bikes). But several families (including ourselves) have moved close enough to the SVS campus that our kids can easily walk or ride bikes to school. Some do so through the state park. Others on local roads. When our kids are older, they are maybe going to wish they had a car. And/or that they we lived in the city. And maybe that they didn’t have to help mow the lawn. Such is the flip-side of all the wonderful nature. We’ll see! I actually think Framingham is the best of both worlds. Close to shopping, and a short trip to the city, but still with all the beautiful woods and farms.

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