Does Child-Centered Education work for all children?

I don't think one single approach can work for everyone. There is space for many different approaches in the world.

Child-centered education and self-directed learning represent great tool for parents and teachers who would like to help the child remain connected to their inner guidance. This respect for the will and genuine interest of the child, requires a basic believe in the good will, the intelligence and ability of the child to learn and develop as a human being.

Will children learn, or will they 'only' play?

Playing is the most natural way for children to learn. When the environment is thoroughly prepared, and children find intelligent hands-on learning materials, learning is the natural consequence.

The value of 'learning' is often determined by learning intellectual and academic skills. However, children, approximately from ages 3 to 11, also learn on the physical and emotional level. These learning processes occur consciously when parents and teachers acknowledge them - they occur unconsciously when they are ignored.

When children are momentarily not interested in intellectual knowledge, their natural development might request them to learn on a physical and emotional level.

Children need to learn how to relate to their parents, to other adults, to other children. I call this the "universal unconscious curriculum of relationships". The need to learn how to be friendly, how to express and ask for what you need, how to react to a "no", how to be/talk/walk/eat in commonly accepted ways. How to deal with rejection, competition, excess energy, anger, and sadness.

Once the physical and emotional intelligence is nourished for the moment, intellectual learning can take place much easier. The various kinds of intelligences (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual) need to be nourished in cycles, turns and also simultaneously.

You will find a chapter on 'The Intelligence of Play' in my book the "Sacred Child Companion". Send an e-mail to carmenAT to request this chapter for free.

Is child-centered education adapted for alternative schools "democratic education"?

Child-centered education as a foundational principle for alternative schools is not equal to what is understood as 'democratic education'. Sumerhill School and Sudbury Schools are usually referred to as democratic schools. There, students are given complete responsibility for their own education and the school is run by a direct democracy in which students and staff are equals. In the school meetings anyone, teachers and students have an equal vote.

In child-centered education teachers and student are equals but they have different responsibilities. Teachers / adults take responsibility for healthy boundaries at schools.
For example:
• Here we respect everybody and everything
• Here we allow people to focus on their work or play. You may ask once if you are welcome to participate
• Here we put things in order after we use them
• Here we accept a Yes or a No
• Here nobody is teased, startled, or shocked
• Here personal perceptions and individual creativity are respected
• Here nobody is laughed at or ridiculed

I believe that children need guidance in developing socially accepted behavior. Adult learning companions set boundaries respectfully, and accompany conflicts between children, helping them find their own solutions, while they feel completely protected and heard and seen. School is a safe place. I believe that children don't have the 'world knowledge and common sense yet do take decisions that involve major responsibility for the well-being of the group.
Children have power and responsibility over their individual learning process. They decide:

• Kind of activity they would like to do, including resting
• Length and intensity of their work or game within a timeframe
• Place they prefer to be, while respecting the purpose of each environment
• Company they would like to have — alone or in a group, with kids or adults
• if they would like to participate in a lesson or follow their own projects

What do you think is the downside of democratic education?

I think the downside of a purely democratic education is that children have to take on adult responsibilities at a too early stage in their lives. This can be overwhelming and distract from age-appropriate learning processes.
For example: My 13-year-old friend went to a Sudbury school. She could not find a peaceful place to read and write, because the majority of students played loud computer games.
I think we adults need to take responsibility for basic rules to create an excellent learning environment. Children cannot know yet, what we as adults know from experience.

Alternative Schools based on child-centered education have the following 'Hidden Curriculum':

- Communication is the foundation of social life.
- Problems are challenges and learning opportunities.
- Challenges are opportunities to get creative and find new personal
- Some rules are the foundation of social interaction. Some rules
have to be revisited over and over again to adapt them to the current
- Change is an inherent part of life.
- There are many choices in life.
- Personal creativity allows one to move outside a set of rules to
discover new ways of expression.
- Learning to rely on one's own judgement.
- Learning to accept other people as they are.
- Learning to say "no" and learning to express genuine needs.
- Pain and negative emotions are an inherent part of life. We give them
appropriate space, but we don’t let them rule us
- Learning to participate in true friendship.
- Living in the present is where happiness is.

Email: Carmen at NewLearningCulture dot com

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