At Summerhill students are gifted hours of time to practice freedom of choice of action in Democratic Community

When we are consulting with people, Time is the one element that people who are designing educational spaces all too often pass over. Going into Leonard’s Class 2 Independent Activity Area visiting teachers often say, “What a lovely learning space,” and perhjaps,  “We should make one like it.”  Unfortunately, the lovely learning space is not an end in itself.  If you don’t sort out the issue of time, the loveliest of learning spaces will turn into another form of tyranny.

It is easy to fill someone’s time up. All you have to do is ask experts to come up with different components of a theoretically complete education.  It will even look good on paper.  It may even be project-based and open-ended- a curriculum based on active learning.

Bug Hunting

I recently read a book by Ben Goulson called Bee Quest.  In the introduction he talks about the experiences that led to him becoming a world expert on bees, a prolific writer about them and an unapologetic advocate for their protection.  Unless you have your head in a bucket, you will know that the future of bees is intimately linked with the future of agriculture.  Modern pesticides and idiotic industrial science are putting this future in peril.  It seems like a good idea to encourage the kind of education that made Goulson an expert.

Does he talk about his school experiences?  Not at all.  He talks about his fascination with bugs and how the free time that allowed him to develop that fascination eventually lead him to hard science.

Now, if you are a science teacher you might say, “That’s great!  I want to convey my passion for bugs to kids.  I’m going to make it relevant and interesting and they are going to love it.”   The problem is that there is something fundamentally different about knowledge packaged as a curriculum and knowledge sought out because of your own interests.   I went through a bug phase, like millions of other kids.  I am a bit of a sucker so I imagined that the school biology lab would be the place to develop this interest and eyed the microscopes around the room with greedy envy.


  • there was no access to equipment outside of lesson time
  • lesson times were exclusively geared towards content that came in the textbook
  • there was so much homework that I did not want to fill my head with more stuff in my own time.

Have the courage to give children time to do things by themselves … a lot.

This is the core issue you need analyse before you start designing timetables, spaces, resources and learning materials. It is difficult to give someone the time to search.  They will flail around and may not do anything obviously useful for a long time. They may play a lot ! They may go through periods of boredom and hope you tell them what to do … Don’t. They may do activities that you might question. Goulson made pipe bombs as well as investigating bugs, for example. They may do something very simple and not at all sophisticated.

However, there is no better way for students to gain a sense of mastery and control than to do something for themselves.

And feel good about it. 

FIrst: Time

Then have available:





supervision? not so much


project advice? no

measuring/evaluating? no

self evaluation? NO NO NO

Let children think /do / be satisfied

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