Getting Back to the Garden

Paul ScuttUncategorized

A group of kids picking pumpkins

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Babies have the best learning environment, they have a comfortable place to lie and wiggle their appendages, experiment with facial expressions and make noises. Whatever they do, it seems, is applauded by a loving grown-up. Babies learn how to become more human by instinct and by observation. When they begin to move about on all fours, or even when they try dangerous activities like walking on two legs they are encouraged and applauded. Falling down, clumsiness, making mistakes are recognized as part of the journey towards becoming bi-pedal. Natural curiosity, love, and a fertile environment are enough to allow the growth of an intelligent and happy young being who walks and talks and, by playing, continues to learn. Each at their own individual pace and essentially, driven by their own natural instincts.

Having worked in several schools over the years, I have found that, despite superhuman teachers, sensitive administrators, well-designed buildings, and stimulating classroom environments, some students just do not thrive. Many intelligent and creative people have worked hard on this problem including Maria Montessori, Rudolph Steiner, Daniel Goleman, and also Ken Robinson, Howard Gardiner, Grace Llewellyn, Alison Gopnik, among others. They all talk about providing an appropriate environment where learning can happen naturally.

Alison Gopnik especially promotes the idea of thinking of the child as a plant needing a fertile environment and access to some basic inputs (The Gardener and the Carpenter, 2016). Perhaps a garden might be an appropriate metaphor for our learning centers in Princeton, Langhorne, and Flemington?

The Learning Cooperatives provide comfortable, natural environments (sofas are ubiquitous) where learning happens in our members by the provision of time and space and opportunity to again be curious and adventurous in a fertile environment (lots of other members, adult mentors, the Internet, classes, freedom,…), where each member is known and feels safe in pursuing new ideas and even making some mistakes. A bit like growing in the sunshine, gentle rain, and fresh air.

Perhaps like a garden?

Here is a quote for all those involved with children:

…to garden—even merely to be in a garden—is nothing less than a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life, so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity…

Maria Popova, The Healing Power of Gardens