So, how does it work?

Two of our students making "Garden Shed Sushi" during a imaginative play session.
Two of our students making “Garden Shed Sushi” during a imaginative play session.

The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion—these are the most valuable coins of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is associated somehow with laziness.

Jerome Bruner

We often hear, “Well, if classes and tests aren’t required, how do the kids learn anything?”

The students at Grassroots School usually learn by doing. We encourage learning through play and exploration.

Each morning, the teaching staff writes a list of the classes that will be offered that day on the chalkboard in the main entry. Kids can choose which classes—if any—they want to attend. When it is time for a class, a student or staff member goes around the school ringing a bell and announcing the class. Students who are interested in the class go meet the teacher and they all get to work. Students who aren’t interested in the class keep on doing whatever they were immersed in when the bell rang.

“So, what do they do if they don’t go to class?!” you might be asking yourself.

Our students build a lot of forts, do a lot of drawing, make books, and make up games of all sorts. What might look like play to an adult just passing by is often actually a lot of learning happening. When the kids play Tiny Town, they hold elections, run businesses, establish a local economy, and do a lot of mediating and problem solving. Older students often join in and help the younger kids learn how to count or how to solve disagreements through discussion.

Our students also learn problem-solving skills during our weekly Pow-wow meetings. These meetings are when we discuss issues, propose rules,  and solve disagreements. Each person at the meeting—child or adult—has an equal vote and an equal say on all topics. The discussion can get lively and it’s a great way for kids to learn how to participate in a community.

As students get older, we encourage them to pursue their interests and support them as they take on more complicated projects. We have had students explore everything from the science behind magic tricks to the basics of computer programming.

Boy using a computer. On the screen is a stick figure.
A student uses a game in the computer lab to experiment with animation basics.
One of our students learns to milk a cow.
One of our students learns to milk a cow during a trip to the farm.

Students who are interested in farming and food preparation may have a plot in the garden, where they can plant whatever vegetables they choose. We have several adults who teach the students about organic gardening methods and one of our recent field trips was to the Redemptive Love Farm where students got to see how a variety of farm animals are raised and cared for.

Our teachers often cook with the students, using ingredients from the garden and talking about the importance of food in different cultures or the role of nutrition in healthy living.

While we currently have “no tech Fridays”, our students do use the computer lab for playing and learning the rest of the week. One group of kids has been using a building game to create maps of the school and their neighborhoods—through this kind of play, they learn about measurement, geometry, mapping, and design. They use animation games to learn the basics of physics. In the past, our students even learned about technology by building new computers for the lab.

Field trips are an important part of learning at Grassroots and we try to take the kids to as many places that offer hands-on learning as possible throughout the year, whether it is a farm where they can pet animals and taste freshly-grown produce or to the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. Sometimes, our field trips are just for fun, like our warm weather trips to Wakulla Springs (shhhhh…don’t tell them, but the kids usually learn something on the fun trips, too).

Two boys jumping off a diving platform.
Two Grassroots students take the plunge at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.