Great expectations

What I love about children is their abiding optimism.

Sure they don’t like to fail and they can become very frustrated at times, but unlike adults they rarely give up hope and become gloomy. To most children, the world is full of wonders. Each morning they wake up smiling with anticipation about what new and interesting experiences the day will bring. After their basic needs for food, sleep and shelter are taken care of, they dive into the unknown with focus, energy and passion. You can observe it in a tiny, month-old baby who stares intently at something while its body is totally still, and you can feel how s/he takes the information in and learns about the world one small step at a time. How bewildering this noisy, harshly lit world must be after living in the dark nourishing womb! But the baby carries on looking, looking, looking calmly until things become familiar and start making sense. This passion to investigate and understand never lets up, and the older the child, the more capable they are in their explorations.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to watch this phenomenon in my own three children, my ten grandchildren and the many students at SVS for the past 45 years. In fact what keeps me able to cope with all the difficulties that running a school like ours inevitably entail is the joy I get from being immersed in a community of kids who embrace life with boundless optimism. This optimism is the necessary condition to give them the energy and drive to satisfy their infinite curiosity, and the desire to learn new things and master new skills. Not many adults can cope with so much newness and lack of skills. They may become discouraged and hopeless when faced with such situations and their self confidence plummets. You can observe the difference between children and adults when a sudden injury occurs and old skills are lost and new ones must be acquired. Children cope so much better and adapt to the new reality, while adults often become mired in depression and loss of hope which require a great deal of work to overcome.

It follows that the optimal environment for children during their school years is one that allows them to decide what to do with their time and energy in a safe place, with people of all ages mixing freely and exploring what they wish to explore, talk about what interests them, and enjoy the company of others they want to spend their time with.

That precisely is what SVS is all about.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.