A Place to Grow
A Place To Grow is a home-schooling annexe housed in a couple of yurts in a field just outside Stroud, Gloucestershire. Currently attended by 12 children aged between 6 and 10, it is open three consecutive days a week from 10 am to 3.30 pm.
It was founded two-and-a-half years ago by Sharon Gimpel, from Israel, and Jo Robins and Becky Koos, local parents, all of whom were home educating their own children. They are known as the core group and have the ultimate decision about how things are run. The land was donated by David Michael, a local man who is very supportive of and involved with social initiatives. The place is open for five hours a day on three consecutive days a week. Albert Lamb, the principal adult, says, 'It's just enough of an alternative to home to give the children space and time away from their parents. Home-schooled children need time away from their parents, time that is theirs.' All the children are registered as home-schoolers, but the deal is that parents do not attend or influence the shape of the day.
Albert himself was a pupil at Summerhill, and later a member of staff there, but it is his experience of homeschooling his own four children that has most influenced the structure of the day and increasingly child-led projects.
Each day begins with a short meeting, where chores are allotted, children describe what they did yesterday and what they want to do today. Then follows the only remotely formal lesson of the day, a fifteen-minute numeracy and literacy game which Albert devised when he was homeschooling his own children. Albert believes that this gives them the basic education which will enable them to pursue any course of study later on.
After that, the children decide and organise their own games or activities, although occasionally outsiders may be invited in to offer particular projects.
What the children mostly want to use their time at APTG for is fantasy play. They play at being shopkeepers, or kings and queens and like to put a lot of energy into costumes and props. Sometimes the little children will operate independently, but if the older children get a good game going, eventually it draws all the little ones in and everyone is doing it. And it may go on for weeks.
The morning meetings are chaired by children of eight and over, taking it in turns
The Thursday chair has to preside over two meetings, as at the end of the day comes the weekly business meeting which may last for up to forty minutes. Anything can be put on the agenda for discussion and miscreants may be brought up from time to time and consequences discussed. Albert brought in the meeting rules from Summerhill, which include fines for interruptions. At the beginning of each week the children deposit a small sum which is returned at the end of the week as pocket money. The fines - 1p or 2p - are taken out of these funds. Children can also be fined for not doing their allotted chores. The meeting has the power to vote out staff proposals.
Parents contribute £20 per day for each child. They pay for half a term in advance. This pays the staff wages, upkeep and materials. and children's snacks. Parents also organise working groups and twice a week provide cooked meals which are brought in and heated up on the stove in the yurt. Once a month they are also expected to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday to help cut wood and generally clear the place up.
The ultimate authority rests with the core group, who appoint staff and can veto decisions made by the school meeting.
Up until now, all children who've reached the age of 10 or 11 have dropped out of APTG to go into conventional education, either because they've wanted to or because their parents have taken the decision for them. This may be going to change, particularly because the core group parents want their children to stay on. Albert expects to have to offer a different programme for adolescents, but does not think this will affect atmosphere within the group.
Avoiding the term 'school' means, as Albert says, that they are 'under the radar.' There is no need for formal registration, inspection and reports and the only requirement is health and safety insurance which demands a ratio of one adult per seven children. This gives enormous freedom.
The rural setting is ideal. The two yurts are in a large field next to a wood with paths and dens, a playground with swings and a hut with a compostable loo. There is an outside stone circle where a fire can be lit. The yurts are heated by stoves and warm up quickly and there are rugs and cushions to sit on. The principal yurt now has a vestibule attached, built by parents, where people leave coats and shoes. The other yurt, known as the dome, contains a kitchen with a sink and running water.
Could APTG work in a city? All you need is a couple of rooms and a kitchen and ideally access to some kind of countryside. Albert feels the formula works well and could be successfully adopted by other home-schoolers wishing to start up an alternative annexe.