We seek to engage our students and their families. In the segment below you will find a sampling of frequently asked questions. Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Sudbury School?
A Sudbury School can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Basically, it is a school based on the Sudbury model which was originated at the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA in 1968.
How is Litchfield Hills Sudbury School different from a “regular” school?
In just about every way you can think of! We offer no set curriculum, no grades, no evaluation whatsoever. Instead, we expect the student to take full responsibility for her own education every day she comes to school. Some students’ days may be filled with basketball, for others it might be music or reading or exploring nature. Whatever each student sees as important, we see as being important to him, so we do not judge how students choose to spend their time.
What about the basics?
That depends on what you mean by the basics...
They will learn how to play with and get along with others by playing with and getting along with others. This will entail some trial and error, but that's how we learn.
They will learn to read by reading, and will learn how to do math by doing math, but there is no set curriculum or time frame telling them when they must do these things or what level of proficiency they need to achieve. What we know based on almost 50 years of experience with this model is that when something is important enough to someone, their innate curiosity will be piqued, driving them to dive into the search for knowledge and learning. Learning suddenly becomes fun because there is a truly personal passion, love, and motivation.
Yeah, but what about math?
Well, what about math? Math can be a lot of fun if someone isn’t making you sit down and study it in a math book every day. Who doesn’t love to win at a game of cards or checkers or monopoly? Who doesn’t love to count the money they got for their birthday? It’s fun! And guess what? It’s math.
You might wind up organizing a class with other students and a staff member, you might wind up getting tutored by an older (or younger) student, or you might just crack the books on your own until you decide you need help. Whichever way it goes, here’s what we know from all the years of experience we have at all the other Sudbury schools: You are going to learn math. You probably already know more than you even realized, but once you make your mind up that you are going to learn math - look out world! If it’s important to you, you are going to do it and you are going to do it way faster than you would even think possible. Because once something is important to you, it’s relevant to you, and that makes all the difference.
But what about college and the SAT's?
Okay, let's look at that... Let's say you are sixteen and you've never spent much time thinking about math but suddenly, your friends are starting to talk about going to college and you start to think 'Well maybe I'd like to travel first, but then I bet I will want to go to college, too. Now what do I do?'
So here's how this could go: First, you might talk to a fellow student who you think is good at math and tell her about your situation. No problem, no judgement, you're just talking to a friend about your plans. Next: You and your friend go and talk to another friend who is about to take the SATs and you find out how they got ready. Remember, there is free age mixing at LHSS, so you are going to have friends of all different ages. They might recommend a curriculum they really liked or refer you to a staff member that helped them prepare for specific portions of the SATs. And so, it goes.
How does the Sudbury School differ from unschooling? What is unschooling?
Unschooling is another way of saying self-directed learning which means that, when it comes to deciding what to learn and how best to learn it, we are our own best teachers. It's because we are each so unique; we each have our own way of learning.
Please don't get the wrong idea here; Being a self-directed learner doesn't mean you never study or that you never seek out the help of a teacher. It just means that the student does it on her own terms so, instead of the teacher telling the student what to learn, the student tells the teacher what he wants to learn and then keeps figuring out how he wants to learn it as he goes along.
What is a typical day like at the Litchfield Hills Sudbury School?
That's a question the students can best answer for you. Here's a great video from the Tallgrass Sudbury School, located outside Chicago, to help explain:
Are there any predetermined schedules or requirements?
Each student is required to sign in and out for their school day which must be a minimum of five hours long, Monday - Friday. The exact composition of those five hours is completely up to the student.
The School Meeting is held at the same time every week, but attendance at the School Meeting is not required for students.
The Judicial Committee meetings are scheduled every morning, but are only attended by those involved in an active and ongoing hearing, and those students whose turn it is to serve on the committee.
As far as required classes are concerned: No, there are none. Students are free to study anything that interests them, or not. They are free to play outdoors, or not. They are free to play indoor games, or not. In short, they are free.
What if my child only wants to play/be on the computer/socialize all day?
We do not see anything wrong with any of those things. Children have all different ways of learning and we believe learning is actually going on all the time. Just because a child is sitting at a desk with a textbook and workbook doesn't mean that she is learning anything. Likewise, just because another child is running around and exploring nature doesn't mean that he is not. We've been conditioned to believe that compulsory schooling is the only way kids can learn, but it simply is not true.
Please keep in mind that a Sudbury school is a dynamic place full of activity and opportunities for all different kinds of interaction with students, staff, and volunteers. It is a totally different prospect than being home alone and having no one to play with or anything going on.
How will my child set goals? And, how will they be measured?
Your child may or may not set goals at different times, depending on what he is doing, and we think that's fine. Furthermore, we would like to take this opportunity to assure you that they will not be measured or evaluated in any way, shape, or form. We believe that evaluation inhibits creativity and exploration, and we think that's a bad thing. We want our students to reach their fullest potential, so we do our best to stay out of their way until they tell us they need us.
How is progress measured if there are no tests or grades awarded?
Progress is best measured through conversation with the student. By regularly talking to your child about how they are doing at school, you will gain an awareness of their progress whether in academics, personal interests, or interpersonal development.
Again, we believe tests and grades (especially grades!) are counter-productive to the learning process. When a teacher assigns a test, the questions she selects indicate what she thinks is most important about the subject. What does that say about what the student thinks was the most important take away? Should the student agree with the teacher, traditional schooling would suggest he is a good student. However, should the student have a differing view than that of the teacher, traditional schooling would say he is a bad student and one that either didn't listen or understand the point of the lesson. We believe traditional schooling places too much emphasis on forcing a student to learn what the teacher decides is important and receiving a good grade on a test of that material.
Under this scenario of training toward the test, the signal we send to a student is one of punctuated learning. The teacher assigns the material, selects the questions she thinks are most important, then the student takes the test and receives a grade based on the answers the teacher thinks are 'right'. Let's say for the sake of argument you are a 'good' student and you get an A+ on the test. We think that signals to the student that he did it. He's done! He mastered the subject area and is ready to move on, but isn't there always more to know? Isn't there always more to examine? We believe grades stunt the learning process, so we don't give them.
Will my child be safe? How do you ensure safety among the varied age group?
"From a historical perspective...the segregation of children by age is an oddity - I would say a tragic oddity - of modern times." (Free to Learn by Peter Gray, Basic Books 2013 p. 182.)
First, adults are present. They may not be leading the activities, but they are present to ensure the students' safety and well-being. Second, the younger child learns how to be safe by watching what the older, more experienced children do and how they do it, and the older children learn to look out for the younger ones just by being with them. Third, the school is a participatory democracy, so everyone is made more conscious of their own rights as well as the rights of those around them. Should those rights be violated, there is a process for dealing with any infractions or disputes. Anyone can write anyone up to appear before the Judicial Committee (the JC), older kid, younger kid, staffer...anybody may be written up and everyone knows it. This system helps to ensure that all are treated fairly with the respect that is due to them.
How about higher education? How can I go to college if I haven't been to a regular school? How will I know what to do?
The Litchfield Hills Sudbury School's mission statement is creating lifelong learners by respecting children. What that means is that our goal is to help you learn how to learn, so you can go forth into the world and follow your heart's desire. One of the things that often surprises and disappoints Sudbury grads when they go on to college is that not everyone there is as psyched about learning as they are. Kids that attend regular schools their whole young lives are told what to learn and when and how to learn it. Often, by the time they get to college they are burnt out and totally lost in an environment that expects them to do a lot more on their own. Sudbury students have to figure it all out for themselves all along, so even if you have some catching up to do in some areas, you'll be miles ahead in others. You'll be fine, you'll see.