Land of Treasure
Ola Matyska has lived all her life in Łodz , a large industrial city in the centre of Poland. She has been involved in education her entire working life. In the early 1990s she helped found High School 44 in Łodz, which was run as a free school for several years from its inception. She taught until the authorities withdrew permission for this ‘educational experiment’.
Since officially retiring several years ago, Ola has been working tirelessly to set up a democratic school in Łodz. She decided the best strategy would be to start a nursery, partly because she wanted the first students at her school to be children who had already experienced a free environment but also because setting up a nursery was formally and administratively much less demanding. The nursery has now been running for two years, and Ola hopes to open her primary school this year.
The Land of Treasure (Wyspa pelna Skarbów) has been promoting and offering education in freedom since March 2009.
After observing and being with 2- to 5-year-old childdren on an everyday basis, I came up with a few questions about contemporary education.
1. Where does the idea come from that a child only becomes a fully-accepted person after receiving compulsory education which is planned and organised by adults in a school-based system?
2. Why is so much said about people’s rights, while compulsory education based on a planned, rigid curriculum is forced on children? Children love learning. They want to do everything adults do, and do it as well as they can. They have an inner need to assert their own identity. Let’s give them the right to do it, in the same way we give all adult people the right to be themselves and develop freely.
Children know what interests them. Let’s not take away children’s right to freedom, which means the right to choose to do what interests them.
If children have to follow a curriculum someone else has constructed how will they ever discover what their talents are and what they are interested in?
Compulsion is discouraging.
The activities we offer in the Land of Treasure came about after observing children and talking to them. We are limited by our premises and occasionally by not having the people to run the activities the children suggest. The children who come to the Land of Treasure aren’t forced to take part in any activities. They are encouraged to, but not forced. They are aware of their right to make independent decisions – and take advantage of it enthusiastically.
After a year in an atmosphere of freedom and respect for their individuality, they have become able to decide what they want to do. They have an astonishing ease in expressing their opinions. They ask lots of interesting, independent questions. They are creative. They aren’t afraid to put their own ideas into practice.
And each child is different.
They learn that everyone has the right to be different.
Marysia, 4 1/2 She knows that painting is the most important thing to her. She paints and draws every day. Occasionally with music on. She occasionally says the music distracts her. She knows a lot of words and uses many of them correctly. She doesn’t have any problem with mathematical concepts. She loves taking part in activities leading to reading and writing. Not only enthusiastically, but effectively. She likes to use words which are sometimes difficult for adults. Her understanding of them is growing all the time. She’s recently begun playing ‘house’, and most often plays the role of a child or a wife.
Patryk, 5 He’s good at mechanical things. He’s always ‘repairing’ something. He loves watching films which involve tools, cars etc. Diggers and cranes fascinate him most of all. The other children looked on enviously as he ‘drove’ a big yellow – and, most importantly, real, digger around the park with the driver. He loves to solve problems, especially technical ones. He made up the phrase, ‘Let’s think how Pat and Mat would have done it.’
He also loves cooking. He says he’s going to be a brilliant cook. He was the first to be able to use the computer. He rarely asks for help with the computer. He recently decided it’s worth learning to read and write.
Amelka, 4 Amazingly dynamic, brave and physically able. She learned to ride a bike without stabilizers at the age of 3½. She likes doing what the other children are doing. Because of her, our children are often involved in physical activities, since she often initiates games involving movement. She is always very focused when she does manual activities. She can model, stick and cut out for 2 hours without getting out of her chair. She’s got a very good musical ear. She learns songs quickly, and loves ‘organising shows’. At the moment she doesn’t say what she’s going to be in the future.
Tybek, 3 He can easily be persuaded to join in activities. He’s disciplined and very ambitious when he takes part in various activities. He started joining in in activities when he was 2. He has his own method of developing his speech. When he watches films, he often repeats the entire dialogue aloud. Recently the only toys he wants to play with have been cars. He often plays with building bricks, like Lego. He teaches his younger friends how to build aeroplanes. When he’s not being successful with an activity, he gives it up. He occasionally returns to it after some time. He did that with using a laptop without using a mouse.
Jas,3 He plays, sleeps and goes for walks holding a hammer, screwdriver, and occasionally a saw. Whenever it’s time to watch a cartoon he always votes for Handy Manny. He can be persuaded to paint.
Robert, 2 ½ He only recently began to use words. For around 2 months he has been able to distinguish between English (his daddy’s language) and Polish (him mummy’s language). When his father is there he speaks to him in English, and then often repeats the same sentence to us in Polish. Considering his age it’s an amazing ability. He loves to paint and cook. He likes group activities very much.
It’s worth creating an individual learning programme for each child – with the child. ‘With the child’ means allowing the child’s interests to play a part in creating the programme.
However, adult experts do not recognise the rights of children to unhindered personal development or to assert their identity. They consider learning should take place in a large same-age group using a previously prepared standardised programme.
From adults, we demand independent thinking, a range of skills, and the ability to design their own development.
Wouldn’t it be better simply to allow our children to take advantage of their right to freedom, which in this case means the right to choose to do what they consider interesting to them?
I answer that question with an absolutely definite ‘YES’.