How My Lola Loves Me


The blog can be used as a form of cloud storage especially for people who need to be as portable as possible.   I don’t have a cloud so uploading photos onto my blog gives additional security on top of the external hard drive.  So here’s a book that I made after my grandmother passed away in February 2011.

My Lola was one of the greatest lovers I know.  She loved to love.  She lived to love.  She embodied one of the hardest things to master: unconditional love.  Sometimes it is so easy to say we love someone but what about somebody who is difficult to love, unlovable even, somebody whose redeemable qualities have all but disappeared?  What then?   Lola is a difficult class act to follow.  The challenge she gives us seems quite insurmountable at times.  But she gives us courage and she always taught me to lift everything up: “All for thee, my Lord.  All for thee my Lord,” she motions with her fingers puckered together in a kiss towards her heart, again and again, everyday, never tiring.




Other things on my blog-cloud:

My Wedding Album

English Projects by My Students

Performances by My Students in Spoken English

My Portfolio of Articles, Chinese Diary and Other Stuff

Motivation and Interest

Last October 22, the Philippine Homeschool Conference was held at SMX Aura and it was encouraging to see just how alive and kicking, thriving and healthy this movement is in this country.  For parents who are making their first steps to homeschool their kids, it must have been a reassuring sight.  It was kid-friendly too.  You can drop off your kids in an area where they can choose to paint, practice calligraphy, take on physical challenges, play pretend and be among an active bevy of homeschooled kids.  Moms and dads looking for resources had several rows of booths to wade through in between the keynote speeches and breakout sessions.

Coming all the way from the United States, Andrew Pudewa, homeschooling dad of seven children, spoke about motivation and how to help students learn well.  To save the sanity of his wife, they experimented putting some of their kids into school for some time but they realized the problem that schools tend to treat kids as if they are the same.  Andrew believes that if children have the freedom to pursue their interests, they learn more and the learning stays longer.  They need to go deeply into something rather than what schools try to do trying to cover all the bases.

Andrew spoke about three types of relevancy: intrinsic, inspired and contrived.  Intrinsic relevancy means there is a natural and innate interest in something.  Inspired relevancy means there is somebody you happen to hang out with who is interested and passionate about something and you catch that interest yourself even though it’s not something that you are naturally drawn to.  Students are driven to learn even without intrinsic interest because of an inspiring teacher, mentor or friend.  Contrived relevancy involves taking something that is not interesting or relevant and making it into a game.  Some teachers are skilled at creating games where with just a tiny attitudinal shift, the kids are moved to study because they want to win the game.

In the best “economic system” set up to motivate a student to study, Andrew recommends that there must be both a potential gain and a potential loss.  For example, if the student finds and fixes the problems in all the sentences, then he can win “x” but if he only finds half, he gets only “y” and if finds only less than half, then he owes you something.  The x or y prize may be monetary or anything that he has been hankering for and the potential loss can be a deduction from his past winnings.

Children like to do what they can do because they can do it.  As a parent, you want to give them the opportunity to do what they like to do.  However, children also want to do what they THINK they can do.  Children will hate and refuse to do what they think they can’t do.  Most children will prefer punishment to failure.  If you spend sixty to eighty percent of the time allowing them to get better at what they like to do and twenty to forty percent of the time doing what they think they can do and minimize the time on things they don’t want to do, then you have a formula for happily motivated child.

As the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew also spoke passionately about the four language arts: reading, writing, speaking and listening.  He repeatedly encouraged reading out loud to children in HUGE quantities since it is the fundamental way literacy, communication skills are created and is a predictor of good writing skills. However, there is a caveat to that: good readers don’t automatically become good writers if they read too fast and are not exposed to good books.  Good books are those written for the beauty of language, not merely cheap entertainment meant to be devoured in one gulp. Read aloud books above the child’s decoding level to build their syntax and vocabulary and pull up their comprehension.  To counteract the negativity of the modern environment overflowing with distractions, Andrew says that children need to read two hours a day. Audio books can help redeem time and so many are available free online such as from LibriVox.

Andrew warns that parents must not be anxious if the child is not reading.   I wanted to raise my hand and tell him I am one such guilty parent.  One of Andrew’s sons had trouble reading so Andrew exposed him to an extreme amount of audio books and he turned into a talented writer eventually.


Memorization and recitation build language patterns.  When he was studying Japanese, Andrew hit a plateau and decided he would memorize Jack and the Beanstalk in Japanese. Children can memorize poems, famous speeches, join drama, speech and debate clubs and competitions.  You can set up a network of parents and join forces to create more opportunities for these type of activities.  Influential British educator, Charlotte Manson emphasized the importance for children to narrate what they do, see, read or experience. Telling these back to you promotes fluency and attention to detail which are precursors to composition.

Listening is different from hearing since listening means to focus your attention and is an intentional activity.  People hear things all the time without listening.

Although it is frowned upon by the current education establishment, Andrew still values copywork since it builds stamina and is the equivalent of running laps.  Copying by writing is like slow motion reading.  It’s a bridge to composition.  He set up an economic system for his kids where they get money every time they finish copying a piece of literature but the kids give him ten cents every time they complain.

A mother of three and coming from Davao, Alex Hao spoke about the “Hows of Interest-Led Homeschooling.”  The unorthodox method she uses may be labeled unschooling since she does not rely on any curriculum.  People keep asking her if her children are learning anything and she believes they are but not the stuff other kids are learning in school.

People ask, “What if they don’t become interested in anything worthy?”  Alex retorts, “What is worthy?  What defines worthiness?  We don’t know what the world needs or will need.”  People ask, “Practical ba yan?  Ano magiging trabaho niya?”  Alex observes how there is a society-approved definition of terms like “practical” and if you don’t happen to prioritize the same things, then your child may end up “lacking” or “kawawa.”  Who sets these standards?

For Alex, the child is their curriculum.  Offer what’s available and fan the flames of their dreams.  Given the proper guidance and facilitation, children eventually develop the initiative to study.  Watch out for those sparks of curiosity and ride the spark.

In an online article, Alex mentioned that “Just like school is not for everybody, homeschooling is not for everybody.  There should be no coercion, fear, or shaming when sifting through one’s choices about educating or parenting one’s children. Parents are the children’s main educators and family is the smallest and most fundamental unit of our society. How a parent chooses to educate and orient his or her child is vital to the society as a whole and meaningful to the child. So to recommend one approach over all others is naive and narrow minded. We don’t look alike or sound the same, but we are people and part of the larger sea of humanity whether you were educated at home informally or in an institution with records and awards. We don’t all fit in the same mold, and that is the beauty, strength, and potential pitfall of it all.”

From the conference, my husband, Jason most liked an idea brought up by one of the speakers: that of partnering with other parents.  If one parent likes teaching English and another Science, they could link up and have an exchange. Each parent teaches the subject they love to both sets of children.  So it’s not only the children’s interests that are followed in homeschooling, the parents’ own personal passions and inclinations can also be pursued.

From Roots to Wings


What made the Philippine Homeschool Conference so special for me is that it was the first time for my husband and I to attend this type of activity.  I love attending seminars and listening to people’s experiences and insights so being able to do this with Jason meant a lot plus it showed our united effort to improve ourselves as homeschooling parents.

Homeschooled kids themselves acted as co-hosts livening up portions in between speakers.  Representing the Philippine government in the event, Senator Kiko Pangilinan shared how he played “sari-sari” store with his small daughter to get her to practice Tagalog.  The senator also acted as a “camp director” when his other daughter held a sleepover with friends and he facilitated activities such as a cooking competition between groups where only one homeschooled kid was able to successfully cook rice.

From Roots to Wings is the title of the conference and the first speakers, Deonna Tan Chi and her daughter, Joy Mendoza expounded on the “roots” which refer to the firm foundation one must aim to build.  Both mother and daughter are veteran homeschooling moms of five children each and staunch advocates of the movement in the country.  Without a firm foundation, like a house, the child won’t be able to withstand the crisis and storms of life.  Modeling is the most powerful way to “teach” a child because you become the example that you want them to follow.  If you are doing things that contradict what you teach, then the child won’t be able to learn it no matter how many times you drive it into them by talking, nagging or screaming.  Deonna and Joy reminded parents never to discipline in anger and never shout.  On the other hand, they believe that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.  Disciplining children is essential but the reason is not to control them but for future good.

Prominent preacher and homeschooling dad, Bo Sanchez expounded on the “wings” and how parents can clip their own children’s wings by failing to change “hats.”  In the early years of a child’s life, parents need to put on a “controlling hat” as kids need structure and boundaries.  At a certain point, the parent needs to outgrow this hat because the “wings” won’t be able to come out and they have to exchange the hat for the “coaching” kind.  If the parents don’t distance themselves from the child, the “wings” won’t have room to stretch.  The young want to know who they are separate from their parents.  Finally there comes the appropriate time when the parents need to trade the “coaching hat” for the “consultant hat” and speak only when “hired” or asked.

Bo asks, “What happens if you don’t change hats?”  He answers his own question, “You will lose your child.  Your child won’t mature.  They won’t grow in self-esteem.  You are sending them the message, ‘I don’t trust you to make the decision.’  Don’t confuse love with need.  The only way to hold on is to let go.  If your heart is empty, it cannot let go.”  To some parents, these may be painful words uttered by Bo and to some grown-up children, they hit a home run of an often bitter truth to swallow.

There are more insights from other speakers in the well-attended conference that I’d love to share but I’ll do that in another blog entry.



It’s Now Official


Last October 17, Joshua was officially enrolled at the Global Homeschool (formerly TMA Homeschool).  It felt like a truly momentous step for us because not only was it delayed several times and unexpected hurdles threatened to thwart our efforts that day as well as some weeks back, but also because we were able to do it as a family.  The hurdles, like other obstructions in life were merely there to test our resolve.  Jason, Joshua, Jimmy and I trooped to the Fun Ranch where their office was conveniently located with a selection of activities for kids.  While Jimmy was at the playground and Joshua was taking the diagnostic, Jason and I spoke with our advis0r, Ani who oriented and gently reminded us of our responsibilities.

We signed a teaching commitment which binds us to “be actively involved in educating” our children, “teach the required subjects” and allocate “2 to 4 hours for primary graders.” Since March of this year, we have been “unofficially” homeschooling but the actual enrollment imbues it with a formality that holds us more accountable for our actions.  We have requirements to fulfill and can’t be too casual about it.  We now have quarterly power point reports to produce (November, February, May and August) and grades to give.  It pushes us to be more disciplined and less lackadaisical, more proactive and less reactive.

I am extremely grateful that our advisor, Ani is thorough and patient in following through, giving updates and reminders through emails and texts.  It feels like somebody is holding our hands through a process that can be quite nerve wracking for beginners.  Despite the now official status, Ani’s fundamental and most important message for us is to relish and enjoy the time with our children.

This coming Saturday, October 22, we’re excited to attend the Philippine Homeschool Conference where veteran homeschoolers Deonna Tan-Chi, Joy Mendoza and Bo Sanchez will be speaking.  Andrew Pudewa is coming from the United States to share his insights from homeschooling his own seven children.  As the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, he has “helped transform many a reluctant writer and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills.”  Don’t hesitate to bring your kids along to the conference because there will be an area for them to express their creative, artistic and energetic selves.

Three weeks ago when I was supposed to choose materials to use from Global Homeschooling’s well-stocked bookstore, I had an epiphany.  This was the second time I was choosing and the first batch of workbooks that I got didn’t work well for us, so I hesitated and searched online for alternative resources.  I found time4learning which may be a good solution for certain homeschoolers who travel a lot.  After comparing it with other online programs, I paid and Joshua has been on it for more than two weeks now.  It’s proving right the positive reviews it got from actual customers.

The other resource that we love as a family is Backyard Science, an Australian TV program for kids with lots of episodes available on  youtube.

Here are some pictures of Jason doing some of the experiments with Joshua and Jimmy and us on enrollment day. 

Can’t wait for the conference tomorrow!


Where Research Takes Us


For the past seven days, we took a South Luzon road trip covering the provinces of Laguna, Batangas and Cavite south of Metro Manila and north of it to Subic and Bataan.  It was all in the name of research for the Hero’s Journey camp my friend from China, Donna and I are planning for next February.  Since Donna visited the Philippines, experienced the warmth of the people, basked in the beautiful land, she thought it would be a good idea to bring her friends over with their children who would like to practice their English.  I got excited with the idea because it’s an opportunity for my own kids to travel with other kids to fun places around the country.

It’s one thing to be excited over an idea and another thing to work towards its realization.  There are setbacks and hurdles, headaches and pains.  Websites may be attractive but deceiving since reality paints an opposite picture.  Finding clean, decent, affordable accommodation is a challenge because the ones that are good charge way too much.  Some resorts over-charge for food and make you feel that they’re trying to make money back through the meals but there were a rare few that didn’t.  Some bad resorts unbelievably over-charge for bad quality facilities and some resorts just charge the right amount commensurate to the physical conditions whether mediocre or excellent.  There’s a feeling of triumph at finding the middle ground, those that truly offer good value for money.

After going around, you understand why pricing is the way it is but there are some unsolvable conundrums like how can anyone charge that much for a piece of dump?  One man’s dump is another man’s non-dump?

I was saddened seeing beautiful areas diminished by neglect and indifference.  There was one beach cove that had around five different owners and all the facilities were sub-standard but the beach itself was beautiful.  A very rich person or big developer can buy out and consolidate the land and transform it into a superb resort.  That would take a lot of capital investment but it would protect the land.  Is there a way to protect the land without huge amounts of financial resources?  Is human capital not enough?  It should be but sadly, in this country, it’s often not enough.

This is the route that we took south and north of Manila.  We will do the February camp in the south and the August one in the north.  We had to cut our trip short at the north because of an approaching storm but since that camp is still in August, there’s time to explore early next year.


This is the proposed route of the February camp but I’m still waiting for more quotations to come in before making the final decision.


The northern route would require more strategic stopovers in Metro Manila perhaps one at the Fort and another in Quezon City because the traffic is horrendous.  That’s the pain of travelling through a city in perpetual gridlock.  Like life, despite the pain, travel has intrinsic rewards: discoveries and moments of glee, rapture in the faces of children.  The Farm Shed at the Acacia Waldorf is one such place combining a lovely café, a thriving plant nursery and you could become a swinging pendulum among the trees.

Hacienda Isabella is another gem of a find for art, architecture, design, culture and garden lovers.  My friend, Donna would want to live in this place.  Maybe the kids could have a sketching session here.

We can have a quick stopover at this church before the beach resort in Nasugbu.


Donna and Lucia will surely enjoy the history behind Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar but they will have to wait till August because it is in the north part of the tour.   The brilliance of Jerry Acuzar’s dream is quite amazing.  He bought and collected heritage homes and buildings from Manila and other parts of the Philippines and reassembled them piece by piece in Morong, Bataan to build “the country’s first and only Heritage Resort by the sea.”  People are transported back to the Spanish era with the added advantage of being by the water.  He’s built a mini-Venice meets Intramuros.  Speaking of capital investment, that’s a spectacularly huge amount that Acuzar has poured into his pet project which aims to preserve pieces of Philippine culture.  Left in their original locations, these homes and buildings will most probably deteriorate but here, new life is breathed back into them through tourism.

Joshua and Jimmy always enjoy butterfly farms and this one in Subic is no different but this is the place where they were able to catch the most and have the most number land on their hands.  The attendant at the farm had an eager attitude showing us many facets of the butterfly world.  I didn’t know that the mariposa butterfly only lived for three days because they didn’t eat or drink.  It’s God at one of His finest exhibitions of temporal beauty.

Pottery Peace and Green


We’re on the fifth day of our journey of South Luzon looking for places to include in the Hero’s Journey camp.  The WiFi situation has been a wellspring of frustration so it’s only now that I can finally blog again.  There are way too many pictures to share from a hyper-filled route that covered two towns in Laguna and Quezon, two beach areas in Batangas, three team building camps, several stopovers in Tagaytay and Cavite.  This first batch of photos are from two pottery places: Ugu Bigyan’s home in Tiaong, Quezon and Cornerstone Pottery in Silang, Cavite.

I don’t know if these sites would be included in the final itinerary of the camp but visiting both were a joy. What is it about a potter’s life that inspires serenity, always involving lush greenery?  Is it something in the motion of making pots that leads one to calm contemplation and an abiding love for a living environment?

Ugu Bigyan’s home in Tiaong has a number of garden gazebos at the back where people can dine in a true artist’s sublime garden.  Read about the sumptuous food served at Ugu’s from Our Awesome Planet.  Sadly, we didn’t get to try the feast because we just walked in that day.  To eat there, you have to make an advanced booking.

I researched about Cornerstone Pottery Farm because I wanted to find a pottery place closer to Manila than Tiaong.  The place is a lot smaller than Ugu’s but quite a delight, too.



Limbo to Leap


That’s my sister and I feeling like we’re on a roller coaster ride but actually we are sitting on a most comfortable, chic rubber sofa.  That’s analogous to life.  We think we are falling off a cliff, screaming for help but actually something sustains us in a sea of calm.  We are anxious in limbo but actually we can take a leap of faith into an unknowable unknown.

For some people, unknowns in life are scarier than death because death is something known if one has faith.  But unknowns in life can be trickier, can hound you like a dog that doesn’t stop yapping and can fool you into doing things you shouldn’t be doing.  There are some people comfortable with unknowns.  All the endless x’s and y’s don’t faze them. They don’t churn out infinite permutations to assure themselves that they are prepared for each and every possibility.

What happens when the chill meets the un-chill?  The un-chill tries to fake enjoying the ride until it becomes real.  Never mind the reasons not to because they may just be overdone rationalizations.  Never mind what other people say because where did that ever get you.



Simon is Stoked


“Thanks so much for asking.  I can’t wait to come.  Talking about democratic education to help people understand it is pretty much THE thing I want to do with my life!”  thus Simon Robinson responded eagerly to our invitation for him to speak in Manila about democratic education.

My friend Donna and I have a ridiculously crazy dream of setting up a democratic school either in the Philippines or China or both.  It seems ridiculously crazy because of factors too lengthy to explain in this article because this blog entry should be about Simon and his contagious passion for democratic education.  In fact, after reading Simon’s answers to my questions posted to him on Facebook, I instantly wished I could send my children to Okinawa Sudbury.  I opened coinmill and plugged in the tuition fee in Japanese yen and converted it into Philippine peso.  It wasn’t as astronomical as I feared but how are we going to live in Japan?  Or for that matter, how are we going to live in another country with an existing democratic school?  It’s been bugging my mind these past few days but let me give way to Simon’s musings.

Simon is from England and has lived in Japan since 1997. He has worked extensively in education in Japan and England, and believes that Sudbury-model education provides the best start in life for young people. In his free time he enjoys going to the ocean with his family and drawing comics. (From the introduction of the staff from the Okinawa Sudbury School )

How did you “fall” into democratic education?

There were basically four key moments:

The first was in 1998, in my second year working as an Assistant Language Teacher in a Japanese junior high school. I was teaching a class and spotted three girls sitting together at the back who were completely ignoring my lesson. I realized I was faced with a choice: either I could insist that they participate in the lesson and they’d probably hate me and thus not learn any English, or I could respect their disinclination to participate and have a fun little chat with them instead, and then they’d like me and then maybe at some point they’d learn a little English from me. I chose the latter, and that approach has shaped my approach to education and children ever since.

The second was in 2001 when I got the chance to work at a (now closed) international school in Okinawa that in part modeled itself on Sudbury Valley School. I was only at the school for a short while but it was a fascinating experience and I learned hugely from it. I returned to working in Japanese junior high school but I now had a lot of questions about conventional schooling. Then one fateful day I googled the term “democratic education” and the floodgates opened to an intense period of reading (John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Alfie Kohn, Grace Llwellyn, Chris Mercogliano, Jerry Mintz, and A.S. Neill, among others) and reflection on the nature of compelled learning and its effects on children.

The third was in 2005 when I spent a week as a volunteer at Summerhill School. As I said to my mother when I got back: “Finally I’ve found a school I actually like!”

The forth was in 2009 when I went along to Okinawa Sudbury School’s first public discussion meeting. For some time I had been feeling that I wanted to start a school, but I had no idea how to get started with that – suddenly here was a group of people to work with! I enthusiastically signed up on the founding committee and as staff and have been there in various capacities ever since!


Why do you want to dedicate your life to promoting democratic education?

I work in democratic education mainly because I really enjoy it – I love working with children and young people in a democratic learning environment. I really enjoy having the chance to get to know children and young people, talking with them about life and sharing my experience – in a free and respectful environment they really listen, and I’m happy to be someone they feel they can learn from.  I also learn a great deal from them, though I am aware that one of my flaws is that I am not as good a listener as I want to be (sometimes I talk a little too much!) so at a personal level that’s something I’m working on.

My particular specialism is the democratic meeting process, developing and maintaining a culture of mutually-respectful discussion to solve problems (both structural i.e. how we run the school, and interpersonal i.e dealing skillfully with the inevitable conflicts that arise). I am also very interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which to me are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit – people (of all ages) are at their best when they experience what they are doing as play and so get 100% involved in it, entering into a state of flow and forgetting even themselves (for more information on this see Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi’s book “Flow”).

I also really enjoy the day-to-day rhythms of the work, in particular the variety. My work is divided between talking: about theory and implementation, and addressing human relations issues in the various meetings, with parents, and also in casual chatting with the kids; and physical action: playing dodgeball, making a treehouse, organising the art supplies, and taking kids out on a trip – all of which are great fun!

And now I’ve got to a stage in my learning about democratic education where I feel I have something of value to share not just within my schools but outside in the wider community – not just working in, but also promoting democratic education. I started a blog, helped a school startup establish democratic meetings, made some presentations at APDEC2016, and I’ve recently started posting videos on social media. All these have been very well-received so I’m now looking forward to the prospect of being able to share my experience with a wider audience, both in person and online. This is all incredibly exciting, and I think this is really what all of us want: the opportunity to develop (and perhaps share) mastery in our chosen field – mine just happens to be democratic education. I’m very grateful that life has given me the chance to develop an expertise in something I love doing, and now the chance to share that expertise.

In your experience, what’s the best way to make people understand what democratic education all about, especially those who have difficulty understanding it?

There are lots of ways to explain democratic education and I’m still experimenting to find the best “elevator pitch.” One way I seem to have been using quite a lot recently is to say that we’ve all had the experience of being in a learning situation that was boring – maybe a lecture or lesson where we found it really difficult to concentrate, maybe even getting sleepy. That feeling is your brain – the learning machine in your head – slowing down, and if your learning machine is slowing down then you’re not going to do much learning! On the other hand, we’ve all had learning experiences where we got really excited and couldn’t wait to find out and do more – that’s your learning-machine brain revving up to a thousand rpm, and it’s going to learn and remember very, very well! So we should set up our society’s learning (and living – we are all learning all day every day!) environments so that our brains get to rev up to a thousand rpm as often as is optimal (i.e. also acknowledging the need to calm down for peaceful reflection and rest).

Another way to explain it is to point out something we all know: that little children are insatiably curious about everything. They really are amazing learners who master such difficult activities as language and walking without any coercion whatsoever. I explain that this instinct to investigate and understand their world doesn’t suddenly stop once they reach school age, so instead of putting them in classrooms to make them learn what and when we say (which they will learn very inefficiently because they are not curious about these things) we should instead continue to allow them the freedom to follow their curiosity and thus learn very efficiently (though in a very individual way that can’t be predicted in advance or controlled by anyone but the child herself).

Another analogy that I often use is to point out that we adults learned to use computers and smartphones in a very chaotic, informal, need-to-know basis (in school I never had any lessons in how to upload a photo to twitter!), learning from friends, the internet, or sometimes from a teacher. This process is exactly the same for children – they learn what they need when they need it in the way that suits them and the situation best.  All we adults really need to do is help them when they ask for it (and perhaps if they are looking lost also make suggestions for how they might move forward).

Finally, I often point out that children, although young and inexperienced, are fully human: they have the full range of human experiences: their own perspectives and their own needs, including the very human needs to be listened to and accepted, and to be in control of their own lives. I ask adults to reflect on how they felt at a time when their perspective was being dismissed, ignored or rejected – that’s how children feel when you dismiss, ignore or reject their perspective! And I ask adults to reflect on how they felt at a time when they were forced to do something they didn’t want to do (including if it was being done to them “for their own good”) – that’s how children feel when we compel them to do things!

And this point is really the core of democratic education. It’s not really about deciding things by talking (and in some schools, voting) or granting children the right to play freely and to learn by following their curiosities. The core is that we recognise that children are fully human: they hurt and they feel joy, they get excited about some things and turned off by others, and they need to be listened to and to have control of their own lives – just like us adults! Everything else in a democratic learning environment (the play, the meetings, the school rules, the staff, the music and books and bicycles and computer games and treehouses….) all flows from that one central kernel: children are human, so we need to treat them as human: with respect, in freedom. This same point is also true of wider society: democracy isn’t about voting or governments, it’s about the understanding that the people with whom we share this world, no matter their race, gender, social status, sexual orientation, politics, philosophy, religion, life choices, and (in this particular case) age, are first and foremost people, and so we as a society need to grant them the same fundamental rights we would grant ourselves.

Of course, this is not how most of us adults grew up, so treating children with respect, in freedom, as fully human feels very new and strange, and so can be very difficult. In particular people new to a democratic approach to childhood either:

1) fear giving children control and respect and so don’t do so (which causes a lot of problems….);

or else:

2) embrace giving children control and respect so enthusiastically that they end up reversing the power-relationship so that the children are in the position of greater power (which also causes a lot of problems….).

I’ve had a great deal of practice at steering a course between these two extremes so that adults and children can live together in a genuinely equal, mutually-respectful relationship where both get what they need. I’m very happy to now be in a position to be able to share my experience to help other people achieve the same balance.

What’s a typical day like in Okinawa Sudbury for you?

There are a lot of very exciting changes going on at Okinawa Sudbury right now, but I’ll describe the day as it is at the moment, on the understanding that it might be different a few months from now!

Our school has no specific time that we require the children to arrive by, so one staff member will come in by nine o’clock (the official opening time) to open the doors for the early birds, and the other staff will come in by ten (though often earlier if they have work they want to take care of while the school is quiet). We also use this early-morning opportunity to chat informally about the school – issues we are facing or new developments we’d like to try.

At ten thirty we have the daily meeting, which is a free-to-attend-or-not opportunity to talk about the day ahead. Children and staff might announce activities they want to engage in, or trips out they want to take (e.g. to the store to get some art supplies, or to one of the local parks), and we staff will also check on any administrative issues and let each other know what we are hoping to work on today (I say “hoping to” because our best-laid plans often get derailed by the free-flow of the day – sometimes I intend to work on the treehouse and end up playing dodgeball….).

After Daily Meeting has finished, if there’s nothing we staff immediately need to do then we often take advantage of the fact that we are all in one place to further discuss problems or developments we are hoping to implement, but we try hard not to spend the whole morning simply talking (in a democratic school there is always SO MUCH to talk about!) and instead get on with some actual implementation. The mornings are a good time for this since the children often pretty much occupy themselves. However, if there is a trip out planned then often a staff member will leave with a bunch of kids and not come back until School Meeting.

Lunch happens whenever we get hungry (for staff and children alike). Sometimes lunch is also an opportunity to talk amongst the staff, though again we are aware of the danger of spending too much time talking to each other, so we’ll often instead spread out to sit and eat with groups of children.

After lunch is when the children will often approach staff with something they want us to do – maybe get out the paints, watch a performance they’ve been preparing all morning, help make a campfire, or join in their dodgeball game. After a morning spent on more work-like activities, this is often when the staff get to spend time with the children – engaging in activities with the kids builds relationships, which as well as being of value in itself also means we are much better able to solve problems together. (It also gives us staff the opportunity to observe the children at play – if there are any interpersonal problems going on then we will be much better placed to address these if we have seen it ourselves). However, other days we will get on with some other projects while the children play – as staff we try to balance these two draws on our time.

At three o’clock we have cleaning time – everybody is assigned to a particular area (which is changed by lottery every month – a fun activity in itself!) which they tidy, wipe, sweep, and on Fridays also mop. After cleaning we sit down in the main room for the School Meeting, which (unlike the voluntary Daily Meeting) everybody attends. This is where we make decisions regarding the running of the school, for example buying some new equipment, making a new rule, having a party, or allocating budget, and we also address interpersonal issues such as a disagreements or conflicts. It is also an opportunity for staff and students to share what they have been doing today (children may show the pictures they painted, and a staff might explain how she’s rearranged the library shelf), to make people aware of problems (mentioning that one of the rooms was left very untidy today) and to make any necessary announcements (“Tomorrow we’re going to the rock-climbing gym so if you’re coming don’t forget your entry fee, water-bottle, and socks!”).

The School Meeting/democratic process is one of my particular areas of interest, so I take a key role in making sure that the meetings are respectful, constructive and working effectively to solve problems and reach decisions. In particular I keep an eye on efficiency – although it’s important for the discussion to evolve and everyone to have a say, the children get discouraged by very long meetings so I want to keep the process short enough that they willingly engage. We recently agreed on a guideline that we try to keep the School Meeting to half-an-hour or so.

Once School Meeting is finished the children may start up another game, a group may leave early to go to the local park together before heading home, and all the children leave the school by five o’clock, our official closing time. After School Meeting is another time of the day when the children have relatively few requests from us, so we staff usually get on with some admin matters or have an informal meeting to discuss an issue or reflect on the day. Once a week we sit down for a formal Staff Meeting. This is also the time when we schedule any meetings or chats with parents. Around quarter to five we try to make sure we are in the main room to say hi to parents and goodbye to kids as they leave. On a not-to-busy day we may leave shortly after five, though there is often SO MUCH to talk about (and do…) that we often find ourselves staying later.

And that’s pretty much how we spend our days at Okinawa Sudbury School!


Here are some links to articles from Simon Robinson’s blog:

Children’s Independence

Initial Thoughts on APDEC

Real Learning Comes from Curiosity