The Three Essential Circles

When we talk about the curriculum as a whole, we are talking about everything that happens in a school. Even the English National Curriculum documents say this. The law only covers one part of the curriculum. The intention of a Democratic Free School like Prado is to comply with the law, but reduce the observed and assessed part of the curriculum. Children should be free to grow up, learn and experience the world on their own terms. 

You might think of three overlapping circles: 

In General Terms

  • Class 1 children, age 6-10, spend more time with Circle 1, in deep play 
  • Class 2 children, age 10-12+ (Veteran Children), access Circle 2 more 
  • Class 3 and Senior Students, age 13-17 increasingly spend more time accessing Circle 3.

This does not mean that free play and activity is not equally important at all stages of school life at Summerhill. It just means that the bulk of teacher time is focused at the later stages of school life. Free choice is valued at all levels of Summerhill education. 

  • Children do not need to be in a classroom to learn. Children can be in a classroom and not learn. 
  • The amount of free time, free choice and age-appropriate habitat in a free school immediately and naturally shifts emphasis on emotional and social development.
  • Emotional and social development along with democratic meetings and shared responsibility are cornerstones of a democratic free school. 

The Curriculum Circles 

Free play/Activity:

This is the part of the curriculum that is not accompanied, organised or managed by adults. Children have freedom to do what they want to do. Sometimes they find this difficult and they get bored or frustrated: that is their problem, their right. Adults rarely get involved. They do not measure or observe children’s play. They do not try to improve it. 

The Informal/ Project Curriculum: 

This lies between the formal curriculum and free play. In physical terms, there may be an age-appropriate room or area, as in Class 2 under Leonard, where children could get on with their own projects in a richly-resourced Activity Room, or read quietly in the Library.

In timetable terms, the Informal/Project Curriculum may be a time of day allocation for project work, discussion, group reading etc. in the same space that formal lessons are sometimes held. In various hands on Workshops, the Theatre, in the Art, IT and Music rooms the informal and the formal curriculum can often run at the same time in the same space.

Leonard also offered lessons in Math and English in a classroom adjoining the Activity Room.

Democratic Free Schools can have a wide variety of places where the informal curriculum is accessed, including woods, sports fields, a dining room, the meeting room etc. 

The Reduced Formal Curriculum: 

This includes all the timetabled lessons by teachers. Good teachers use a range of strategies, from project work to book work, classes heavy on instruction and others full of interaction. Teachers do not need to follow one pedagogical method. 

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