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Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains lots of questions your parents might ask...

I’ve never heard of this idea before - how do I learn more? We’d encourage you to read about unschooling and self-directed education, ask us for book recommendations, attend our information events, connect with communities like Freedom to Learn UK, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, EUDEC. If you get a chance, visit other democratic schools and self-directed learning communities. If you are transitioning from mainstream school into Bamble, you may find it useful to deschool* for a while before you enroll. *

Is it like Steiner/Waldorf, Montessori etc? Steiner and Montessori are two educational thinkers who have inspired the creation of many alternatives to traditional school. Both thinkers have inspired aspects of Bamble. Things we like: -Montessori’s notion of play as serious and important work, encouraging adults to step out of the way and allow children to do as much for themselves as possible. -Steiner’s promotion of being outdoors, connecting with nature and exploring the physical possibilities of our bodies.

How will Bamble prepare children for their future? Nobody knows what the future might hold. Even so, there are certain skills that are likely to be very important. We would argue that these skills are much easier to develop at Bamble than they are in a traditional school: curiosity and a love of learning, communication and collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, leadership and decision-making, emotional intelligence and relational tact. We have never seen a child fail to learn basic English and Maths when they have books, numbers and supportive adults around them and are allowed to discover it when they are ready.

What do the facilitators at Bamble do? Much of the time, it might look like the adults at Bamble are simply wandering about, joining in with games sometimes or having relaxed conversations with children, strumming a guitar and singing a song or reading a book quietly in a corner. In fact, facilitating self-directed education requires skill, sensitivity, self-awareness and years of practice. All learning and development stems from strong relationships. Facilitators build rapport, helping children feel safe in the equality, trust and mutual respect of their relationship. We get to know what children like and don’t like, what they find easy and what they find difficult. We create activities based on the emerging interests of children. We help restore harmony when conflicts happen without wielding adult power over children. We spend a lot of time reflecting together on children’s development, their interpersonal difficulties and their goals and needs. Think about the most transformational and special moments you’ve shared with your child. Was it obvious and visible exactly what you were doing? Maybe not, but it was surely felt!

Why the 6-10 age range? We are currently welcoming applications for children aged 6-10 years old. Please note that we will increase the age range gradually over time as we grow the community. So we expect that the first cohort of children will be able to stay until at least the age of 11.

 You can apply to join the waiting list for the wider age range of 5-11. We can consider applications for children from the September after their 5th birthday. Get in touch with us to find about more about Bamble and see if it could be a good fit for your child.

How do you solve problems as a community? It is a priority for us that children can stay in connection with their feelings and are able to respectfully assert their boundaries and express their needs with each other. Facilitators support the children by helping them (if they need it) to voice their feelings when conflicts arise. We use non-violent communication and restorative practice approaches. There are some key ways in which we do this: -Talking regularly about the values of Bamble (recommending principles such as ‘stop means stop’, asking first, looking after ourselves, others and the space around us). When you sign up to Bamble, you agree to doing your part to solve problems together as a community. -If conflict happens, we listen, observe and help those involved to: -Tell the story of what happened from their side. -Explain how the situation felt for them (and we help and expect all those involved to listen and hear this too). -To name what they need in order to move on.

What about SEN? There is much evidence that self-directed education provides the most productive and satisfying context for children with special educational needs to thrive. There is a much higher adult to child ratio than in a traditional school, with an especially relational approach co-creating an individualised learning experience. There are almost no rigid structures and punishments, which often cause symptoms of SEN to worsen in traditional schools. Staff at Bamble have some training and experience to identify SEN and adapt the environment to help children. Every child is different and brings a different dynamic to the group so we are prepared to keep trying new approaches until we find the right relational practices to make sure every child is safe, happy and thriving at Bamble. We accept new children on a case-by-case basis, and our staff consider carefully whether we feel we will be able to meet the needs of the child applying to attend.

How do you make decisions? Something that affects children will involve a conversation with children. Something that affects parents will involve a conversation with parents. There are different ways decisions can be made: - Individual conversations: asking each other how something feels, and if both people are okay with the situation, nothing more needs to be done. - Mediated discussion: if there’s more emotion, then we might have one or two mediators helping to make sure everyone can express what they’re feeling and find a solution everyone is happy with. - Informal group discussion: when more opinions need to be gathered, through an unstructured conversation. - Community meeting: an issue that affects everyone at Bamble (children and facilitators). Decisions might be made by democratic voting, sociocratic consensus, silent ballot, or referral to a smaller sub-group. - Email survey: when it’s a simple or practical question that we want to get parent’s opinions on.

Why don't you teach the basic subjects? There is much evidence that the longer children stay in school being taught basic subjects, the less engaged* they become with the activity of learning. We encourage children to follow their own interests, trusting that with the nurturing care of supportive adults, they will retain their innate curiosity and learn much more valuable information, which they then retain for longer than if they were just being taught to score highly on a test. We urge you to think carefully about whether this is the right approach for you and your family. Children who attend a self-directed setting whilst being encouraged to learn certain things at home can find it confusing. Our approach is most likely to be effective when you also adopt a child-led approach to learning at home. *

How do children learn reading and maths? Just as children naturally learn to walk and speak, children are naturally inclined to learn to read if they are able to access text materials. As with walking and speaking, there can be huge variation in how quickly children pick up these skills. Sudbury Valley school* in the United States has noticed that the children who learn to read and write later on (e.g. age 10-13) often tend to go into more academic study & on to university. Here is a perspective on reading from a parent at SVS**, and here is a perspective on maths*** from a facilitator at New York City Agile Learning Centre. *Evolutionary Perspectives on Child Development and Education edited by David C. Geary, Daniel B. Berch. p.83 ** ***

It all sounds a bit like Lord of the Flies! Isn’t Bamble just going to descend into chaos? Lord of the Flies is a work of fiction which reinforces certain prejudices towards children but doesn’t reflect the typical ways that children behave in the absence of adults*. And anyway, adults are very much present at Bamble. In our experience, children do depend upon consistent behaviour from adults, but not necessarily consistent rules. Children are born with incredible intelligence and pro-social inclinations. They will naturally adapt their behaviour if they see others being harmed or if they realise it has a bad effect for them. We encourage natural feedback mechanisms, for instance when one child explains to another that they didn’t like something they did and stops wanting to play with them. We set clear boundaries by letting children know if something they’re doing is distressing, especially if we’re worried it is unsafe. Consistency, calmness and care seems to work better for us than arbitrary rules. *

What is your policy on technology? We ask all children to either leave phones and computers at home or to place it in a locked cabinet during the day. There will be laptops and tablets available for children to use during the day, with restrictions preventing children from accessing unsafe sites. We will not control or limit children’s use of these devices (except to enable fair access) but will remain highly attentive to the impact technology may be having on individual wellbeing and group dynamics, raising concerns as appropriate. Phones, computers, social media and video games are all controversial topics for a group like ours. Many people have passionate opinions about their advantages and disadvantages. We believe that they are tools of our culture* and that banning them altogether is unlikely to result in positive outcomes. We also see the immense potential in having access to various forms of technology for research and creativity, and see them as an integral part of the space. Contact us for our full policy on technology. *

How can parents get involved? At drop-off and pick-up times, there is a 15 minute window for parents to chat amongst themselves, hear children’s accounts of their day or talk with the facilitators. Parents may also volunteer to help with practical aspects. If you have particular skills that you would like to offer to our community, please let us know. There are all kinds of tasks to help the scouts with on site from clearing brambles to preparing food for the children, fixing door handles and tree surgery. If you have particular skills that are of interest to children, we will be grateful to you for sharing them. We can negotiate a reduction in fees for in-kind contributions of help from parents. Apart from these kinds of situations, we wouldn’t ordinarily permit parents to join in with activities at Bamble. It’s important that children feel able to reinvent themselves with peers, to express parts of themselves that they might not express at home, to have a life and identity that is separate from their parents. It’s also important that children have the power to influence what happens at Bamble (nothing about you without you), and it’s a space for children, not parents, therefore parents don’t have a say about what happens day-to-day.

Can we sign up for 1 or 2 days/week? Whilst Bamble is so small-scale and new, it’s essential for all children to sign up to attend the full three days each week, so that we can build continuity and stability in our community. If you only came for one day per week, you might find that others are forming stronger relationships, working on group projects without you and you might feel less integrated into the community.

Are there any future plans for Bamble? We intend for Bamble to stay relatively small. After a few years (by 2028), we will consider whether to expand by widening the age range beyond 11 and/or increasing the number of children we welcome.

Why the name Bamble? We’re curious if the word has any associations for you? It’s not in the English dictionary, though it sounds a little like ramble, bramble or bumble. It is the name of a Norwegian coastal area where one of our founders, Danny, used to spend his summer holidays with family. For him, it has associations of freedom, adventure, love and connection. We hope that our group will create the same kinds of feelings for you :-)

What information do you share with OFSTED and the Local Authority? Safeguarding concerns will be referred to the LA safeguarding team. Otherwise, we don't have to share any information regarding individual families with the local authority. During an inspection, OFSTED (a separate entity to the LA) might ask to see our filing systems and records to check that we have everything in order, for example that we are keeping an up-to-date register of children on site, and records of accidents or safeguarding concerns. OFSTED does not investigate individual child protection cases; their responsibility is to inspect and report on us as a childcare provider. The only information we'd expect OFSTED to exchange with the LA is regarding us as a provision, not the individuals attending the setting. Registering with OFSTED as a childcare provider allows families who sign up with us to potentially access government-funded contributions towards our fees, allowing us to be more inclusive and accessible to families on lower incomes. OFSTED will inspect our health and safety and safeguarding practices as a childcare provider, so that families can be assured that their children are in the best hands.

Will you prepare children for secondary school? When children start to approach secondary age, e.g. around 9 or 10 years old, the topic is likely to come up in our ‘catch-up’ meetings. Facilitators will be keen to understand your future plans and to help children prepare emotionally for whatever’s next. If there are enough children wishing to stay at Bamble after the age of 11, then we will consider providing an ongoing service for them. Alternatively, if children are planning to go into a mainstream secondary setting, then we will carefully consider the best role for us to play at Bamble to pave the way for that culture change.

What’s your policy on equality, diversity and inclusion? Our society is full of injustices and discrimination. Bamble is committed to proactively reducing any barriers to families wishing to get involved with self-directed and democratic learning. Providing informal education to children about race, sex, disabilities, class and language is core to our mission. Please contact us for a copy of our full EDI policy, which outlines all the active ways in which we make Bamble as welcoming and accessible as possible.

Will the children be supervised at all times? Bamble has a high adult to child ratio compared with mainstream schools, of 1 adult for every 6 children. This means that children enjoy a high level of engagement and supervision from supportive adults. The site is large with lots of varied spaces, and children are encouraged to make the most of the space and resources available; we do not expect to have eyes on children at all times, but we do expect children to stay in groups of 3 when they are outdoors, to be able to run and call for help if they need it.

Do the children go on trips? Absolutely. The world around us is our classroom! We will plan these thoroughly in collaboration with children, aiming to go on approximately 2 local day-trips (within Norfolk) each term and at least 1 overnight adventure each year (the cost for the overnight trip will be raised partly by your normal fees and partly through children’s own fundraising activities)

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