When my life partner Anne and I started out on this little adventure called Champ Libre, we had little experience working with and accompanying kids on a daily basis (except with our own 9-year-old son, of course). We had no idea how children would respond to the self-directed educational environment we wanted to provide for them.
We were especially concerned with how kids who had been in the school system would react and adapt. Would they respond positively to their new environment, which for all intents and purposes, is completely opposite to the one they were used to in school?
A case in point was 6-year-old Dalia. Her mother had pulled her out of school. Dalia was not doing well—in addition to suffering from extreme stress of performance, and anxiety over constant evaluation and competition, she was being bullied.
On her first day at Champ Libre, Dalia entered the premises on her guard, not knowing what to expect. During the opening circle, she didn’t speak, and when we would ask her basic questions, she would respond in a fragile, almost inaudible voice, as if she were afraid to talk. A classic sign of the damage adult domination in school can create: a lack of self-confidence and avoidance to express oneself (out of fear of being “wrong” or giving the “wrong” answer).
But then something wonderful happened.
By offering her trust and space to explore the world as she saw fit, manage her own time, and do things at her own pace and rhythm, Dalia soon began to bloom. She started asserting herself in many different situations and became adept at clearly expressing her needs (and emotions). She now demonstrates affection toward us many times a day by grabbing and hugging us. Receiving her trust is a tremendous gift for us.
Kids Crave Freedom
Kids crave freedom (don’t we all?). Without it, the spark of light inside their hearts begins to fade. The world of children is wondrous. It is a place of constant learning and discovery. A child’s every act is shaped around mastering the world around them. Every movement and every sound is designed to explore, discover, and learn. Kids do not need adults to tell them what to learn or when to learn it. Every child learns at their own pace and in their own unique way. Self-directed education gives young people the resources and the freedom to walk their individual learning paths.
We strive to create just and free societies in the world, yet when it comes to our kids, why is it that we strip them of their freedom (they have virtually no rights in school), shut them away behind concrete walls and fenced-in courtyards, and doom them to seven-hour days glued to a chair? Why would we want to dim their flames by placing them under constant adult evaluation (and supervision) and force them to compete for “grades,” attention, and friends?
Anyone who observes children from even the youngest of ages can tell that they are passionate about life. A child’s many questions are proof that they yearn to understand their environment. Their joy in play demonstrates their vitality and zest for life.
When we are present with children at Champ Libre, we are instantly brought back to that place we all were as young children, when the world was magical and filled with unlimited potential. How wonderful it is to see their shining personalities bloom, their natural exuberance allowed to express itself, and witness real passionate learning take place.