Ever since my older kids started at Sudbury Valley, I have faced the challenge of talking to “outsiders” about the school. Most people tend to be relatively polite and merely give me a quizzical look when I talk about how the school works. Others, particularly concerned grandparents, have become more and more vocal in their opposition. A recent visit from said grandparents involved frequent suggestions that we could “work on your reading and math” and pointed comments about why they’re worried about what the kids aren’t learning. And I can’t remember a recent phone conversation with them that didn’t include the question “So, have the boys started to buckle down and learn anything yet?”
Are they kidding? Have they learned anything yet? They learn every single day - how to interact with all the different groups at school. The computer kids, the athletic ones, the musicians, the grown ups. Problem solving. Self reliance. New and colorful words.
Now that I’m a staff member, one thing that strikes me is how seriously all the kids here take their play. Not in the way that you might take a medical diagnosis seriously, but I watch them and am constantly surprised at how their games evolve and expand to incorporate new people or rules or props. They will sit with their Legos and be completely focused on the ship or structure or creature they are building, only to take them apart and start on something different the next day. Teams are formed and rearranged and argued about in extremely complex games that go on for days, even weeks. People assign one another “jobs” in the debris hut village. A group of kids write a musical (including the songs), and make sure rehearsals happen and the performers practice.
Play is so clearly the work that all of these kids are doing, every day. Work that obviously leads to learning, even if it isn't directed by adults or measured by test scores.