At Roots, each day will look different for every child. There isn’t a formula! The children are in control of what their day looks like; be it play, exploring friendship dynamics, getting messy in the mud, or participating in the Facilitator-led curriculum. All adult-initiated curriculum is non-obligatory, so children participate when and if they are available and engaged.
From an adult perspective, the day will follow a soft rhythm that flows like this:
We invite each family to bring a packed lunch every day for their child. This ensures that each child’s individual food preferences and allergy needs are accommodated, and also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the many different cultural and food identities and choices that come with each family. This also allows our Facilitators to be directly immersed in the programme with the children.
We also believe it is important for children to be able to self-regulate throughout the day, with their food and water available and accessible when they need or want it, rather than defined by a group lunchtime. We will host lunch-table stories at around midday each day to encourage a pause to eat, and remind individual children when necessary - but they will be entrusted to choose when they eat throughout the day.
We will offer some guidelines for what food is okay to bring, so that it becomes something to celebrate and explore rather than something used as a power play.
We will also provide a snack during Morning Meeting, and have cooking plans with the children so that they can be actively engaged and empowered by what they’re consuming (plus there’s the opportunity for integrated mathematics in there, too!).
As we are just beginning our programme, we ask that the families enrolling in Roots do so for a full-time attendance (aka: three days a week), to help us build a firm foundation and build our community.
However, this doesn’t mean that your child has to come every day! We recognise that each family has different needs, and will need to follow their unique rhythm. Sometimes that will be at Roots, and sometimes it will be at home or abroad with family. This is also why our arrival times are flexible each day; we want you to arrive without the pressure of conforming to a rigid schedule. We encourage children to arrive by Morning Meeting if possible, so that they feel included in what is happening each day - but we want Roots to work for you. We are happy to work with each family to facilitate their needs on a daily basis.
Having said this, we believe that a three-day participation in the programme gives children the opportunity to connect and build stronger relationships with the other children and Facilitators. Especially for children who are a little more uneasy in a new space and with new people, we want to help build relationships and ease the transition into the community rather than avoiding it. Being at Roots consistently will offer more of a chance to work through that process, and build trusted connections with adults to help hold and honour those feelings.
We encourage each family to pack appropriate clothing for different weather, as you can never predict what UK-skies will bring us! We want the children at Roots to feel free and able to engage in whatever plans are calling to them - from water play to mud exploration, from rain dancing to building with snow! A change of clothes (or two!) is encouraged, and an extra bag for dirty or soiled clothing is useful. In the sunnier months, sun-protection such as hats or sunscreen should be packed also.
At The Children’s Allotment, there are two large domed poly-tunnel buildings for semi-indoor play which are protected from the weather, and children will always be allowed to be inside these spaces if they are cold. We hope to have a fire-pit also, and will be helping The Children’s Allotment to fundraise for a heated indoor space to be built on site, hopefully before next winter.
That is up to them! We won’t guarantee to you that your child will learn to read or practice maths (in an academically understood way) at Roots. Our philosophy is that when children are given the space to decide when they learn these tools, they apply them much more quickly, with much more determination and enjoyment than when it is forced to happen in a particular time-frame or at a particular stage. These tools then become opportunities rather than obligations, and open up a world of lifelong learning that is motivated and fulfilled by the child and for the child.
We each learn differently; in different ways and at different speeds. In our mainstream system, children follow stages that do not necessarily fit what they need as individuals, and can therefore acquire fear and self-esteem issues that relate to someone else’s concept of ‘success’ or ‘failure’, rather than because it is right for them or because of individual interest and self-motivation.
This makes us wonder: what is education, anyway? Are we ‘teaching’ children to learn these skills because we want them to thrive and utilise them in the ways they need throughout their lives, or to tick boxes?
We also believe strongly in the power of play as a foundation to learning. There are so many areas of learning that are considered to be ‘academic’ that are so seamlessly integrated into the play-experiences of young people. Language, counting, critical thinking - these are learnt more deeply and authentically when they are felt as part of a game with a friend or in uninterrupted solo play where you are given the space to think deeply into what you’re doing and really experience it.
There are also many ways that the academic curriculum is integrated into our programme. Reading and writing names on the Morning Meeting board, measuring cups of sand into different containers in the mud kitchen, science experiments, open-ended play materials… plus the Facilitators are available and eager to help each child take their interests (including maths and literacy) as far as they’d like to go!
Of course! One of the reasons we have so many adults at Roots is so that we can be available to help offer many different aspects of the programme. From leading plans, to inviting specialist collaborators along to Roots to help a child learn more about an area of interest, to visiting museums and exploring our local community, to offering resources, to listening to feelings, to facilitating conflict… there is a lot of learning happening in so many ways. The freedom that a flexible schedule gives us allows for reaching into what each individual child needs - and helping them take that as far as they’d like to go.
We also want to be clear that there is no pressure for children to expand into these areas at Roots. We believe, given the space, trust and the foundation of free-learning, children find their way to more ‘academic’ subjects in their own time.
The possibilities are endless! Throughout all activities, your child will be given space to find their agency in their learning. We encourage our Facilitators to bring and share curriculum which inspires them, while also covering a wide range of curricular interests and needs. From foraging to tree-house and fort building, from measuring objects with measuring tapes and rulers to storytelling, from paint mixing to woodworking, from fermentation to pounding clay with mallets, from safe fire-building to science experiments - the plans will be informed by interest and engagement of the unique children, the passions and gifts of our unique Facilitators, as well as a diverse curricular foundation.
All feelings are welcome and supported at Roots. Our Facilitators are available to support and engage with all of the feelings a person may be experiencing; from their full arc of sadness to the frustration coming up in play, we will be there to help hold the feelings without judgement or distraction, while making sure everyone is safe. We believe that each person’s full emotional experience should be honoured, so that we can know ourselves deeply. In our anger, our sadness, our excitement, our disappointment, our frustration. And in so doing, we develop the resources within ourselves to experience those feelings safely, to self-regulate, and to articulate clearly and reflectively with compassion. Once we feel heard, it is much easier to hear others; and children need the opportunity to process their feelings in order to safely develop an authentic empathy rather than one influenced by fear of punishment or judgment.
Feelings can be messy, and each individual will express their needs in different ways at different times. Some of those will be verbal, some physical. We have many different integrated practices to support these feelings in whatever ways they come up, met always with non-judgement and ‘unconditional positive regard’. This practice includes helping to facilitate empowered, child-led dialogues between children (and adults!) when hard feelings impact on each other.
At Roots, we meet each child with ‘unconditional positive regard’. This means that we show up to each feeling and behaviour with love and non-judgement, rather than by deciding what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We help the children to find a resolution that works for both of them, that includes developing empathy for others as well as advocating for self, and helping this process to happen through the power of reflective listening and neutral facilitation.
The term ‘bullying’ is loaded in our society; it comes with connotations of bad behaviour, and of punishment. We would like to reframe and untangle this language in terms of feelings and empathy; feelings can be messy, and make us react in big ways that can be exclusionary or triggering. Instead of shutting down the behaviour, we want to explore where it is coming from as well as keeping everyone safe physically and emotionally, and access the root of the cause so that each child feels heard, held and understood. That is the way that the behaviour will truly, authentically change - not through the fear of punishment or authoritative judgement, but through the power of understanding, of compassion, and of empathy.
At Roots, we follow an anti-bias curriculum. This means we are striving to be actively anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ablist, anti-classist, anti-ageist, anti-homophobic - anti-bias throughout all aspects of our program. We want Roots to represent the beautiful diversity of our world, and to be a space where children are developing the confidence and resources to challenge these injustices actively - both in their immediate relationships, and in the world at large.
Children naturally notice differences of all kinds, and will sometimes process this through their play and friendship dynamics. This is part of their process of understanding the world. When situations such as these arise, we use the dialogue between the children as an opportunity to open these issues up with curiosity, rather than shut them down with judgement. We want children to feel safe to explore and understand the complex and often intimidating social and societal dynamics that are structurally and emotionally discriminatory. We want to raise powerful changemakers who are ready to engage in a complicated world filled with injustice, senseless discrimination and hurt - rather than to ignore or internalise these dynamics due to shame or uncertainty. We believe we have a responsibility as educators to address this proactively, with curiosity and with openness.
In so doing, this curriculum is both reactive and proactive; in meeting the emergent dialogue with the children, but also in supporting a more proactive exploration of identity and embracing of difference as a part of our integrated curriculum and progressive social inquiry. This includes using culturally and historically responsive resources and pedagogical approaches that consider the individual child’s identity and lived experience, as well as the family and culture from which they come. As Facilitators, we also remain conscious of the way our own behaviours can model stereotypes (ie. “mama hates spiders, they’re scary!”, “dada is strong and mama isn’t”, “women don’t have hairy legs! gross!”), and actively counteract these.
It is so important that we are encouraging our children to be engaging in difficult dialogues - whether in their own conflict situations, or in facing and challenging injustice on a global level.
Although we hope our enrollment will be representationally more diverse, we also recognise that our founding board is largely dominated by white voices. We feel discomfort about this, and have explored this as a consequence of the privilege given to white people in making seemingly radical, risky and out of the box choices for the education of their children. This privilege is supported by the structural inequality that surrounds the system we live in. We are actively engaging in conversations about our own unconditioning; facing our own biases and trying to build allyship with other local and global organisations who are doing this work throughout many communities, to lead and guide us in our own processing. We will continue learning and are determined to make space for individuals representing a broad diversity of voices and experiences in all aspects of our programme; our parent and student demographics, our staff, and all other contributors, in order to make Roots a space that feels safe for everyone.
Yes! Roots is part of a long lineage of movements fighting for an alternative vision of education; not built on principles of social control and conformity, but instead on developing strong, self-directed and empathetic human beings. Looking ahead to a future with many unknowns - the climate crisis, the struggle for racial and social justice, more authoritarian governments - we need to empower future generations with critical thinking, social-consciousness and knowledge and insight into self, that will help us to build a just and hopeful future.
Roots is informed by many of these movements, yet has taken direct inspiration from Play Mountain Place in Los Angeles, California. One of the longest-running alternative schools in the world, it is based on a foundation of understanding and embracing each individual person - our feelings, our thoughts, our ideas, our problems, our personhood. Informed by Carl Rogers’ humanistic psychology, children are respected and heard, and there is a non-authoritarian and non-punitive nature to all curriculum and communication.
From A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School to the Irish Hedge School movement; from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to the Transcendentalist thinkers; from the outdoor nature immersion of Forest Education to Sudbury Democratic schools; from Montessori Schools to the Reggio Emilio approach; from Agile Learning Centres to the home educating community; from Steiner to Pikler; this movement is vast and expansive. Yet so many of the roots of these practices - trusting children’s innate wisdom and encouraging them to learn by experiencing life in colour - are inspired from many indigenous cultural practices. From these roots, there is a profound inheritance led by many global struggles for righteous liberation through education and empowerment.
There is also a growing Education Revolution around the world. Many organisations such as the Alternative Education Resource Organisation (AERO), International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) and the Freedom to Learn Forum are all current conference spaces built to expand the conversation about radical approaches to learning and unlearning.
Alternative approaches to learning are not only linked to a broader historical movement for educational transformation. They are also intimately connected to the current worldwide movement for change, which includes activism in the realms of the environment, anti-racist, anti-bias, social justice and LGBT+ advocacy, as well as attempts to overturn traditional institutional hierarchies and address inequities in many other realms.
Educational alternatives are not always recognized as being part of worldwide movements for change because even progressive thinkers and activists tend to consider work with young children to be beyond their mandate, or activism as something that children engage in only after they graduate or enter the “real world”.
However, for Roots and other radical learning projects, the “real world” is not a space that children are invited to enter at 18: it’s a part of every child’s life, learning experiences and human encounters from the day they are born.
We believe nothing could be more relevant to the current wave of progressive movements sweeping the world than supporting a generation of children who have been allowed to:
For these and other reasons we feel that the approach Roots takes to children, families and the community is deeply linked to broader movements for change, and aims actively to make space for children to meet global challenges on their own terms, in free exploration of big questions and in community with people who are willing to come share their wisdom and experiences.
At Roots, we are fully committed to providing a safe environment for all those who attend.
We believe in the value of risky play; giving children the freedom to explore and expand their physical ability while building confidence, without lots of adult limitations. We strive, however, to honour this valuable process while finding a balance to ensure the children are making safe choices throughout their day. Tree climbing, being barefoot, doing woodwork, building forts and treehouses - we support these plans by approaching with curiosity rather than shutting them down. How can we make this plan happen in a safe way? If a child is climbing a tree, we will check from below to make sure the ground is clear and that there are no dead branches. We will ask the child what they notice, to help them risk assess and problem solve alongside us, and in so doing developing the skills for themselves. The Facilitators at Roots will have an attitude of continuous reflection regarding site safety, and will do daily site safety checks in the morning and afternoon to make sure that the site is free of hazards and ready to receive the children each day.
Additionally, all Roots staff and board members will undergo the recommended level of Safeguarding training for their role, as set out by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board (OSCB). These recommendations will also be integrated into our Safeguarding Policy, which will be updated annually and is available for you to take a peek (*read here!).
Our Roots Facilitators will each have an Enhanced DBS check, and will be First Aid trained. We aspire to be trauma-informed in all our communication. We also have aspirations to train our team in mental health first aid and autism awareness.
Not at this time. We do not believe that the academic pressures and expectations of Ofsted value the individual needs of children, nor does the examination culture encouraged by a tick-boxing approach facilitate an authentic learning journey. As we are currently a programme running under 18 hours a week, we officially do not need to register with Ofsted. Even so, our policies, including safeguarding choices, will be to the standard of expectation raised by Ofsted.
We are in the midst of an educational transition worldwide - a recognition that self-directed learning is deeply valuable, and that we need children who can think for themselves, know who they are fully, and not strictly be taught to conform. Hopefully this will soon be reflected in the Ofsted process; if there is space for the value of our programme to be recognised within that system, we will consider joining in the future as a way to facilitate more inclusivity, a full-time programme, and access to more funding. We will be consistently reviewing this so that we can provide the strongest program possible, while remaining true to our core philosophy.
We aspire to create a programme that is free, accessible, and inclusive to every family, without the added strain of financial obligation. Unfortunately, because we are a radical programme functioning within a system that does not support alternative approaches to educating, we are forced to find alternative approaches to funding also.
Please know that we have tried to keep fees as low as possible, that we are running not-for-profit and are simply aiming to cover the costs of the program in the start-up phase. All the development and building of Roots has happened by a small team of individuals, all working in a voluntary capacity. We are equipping our site with donated and/or second hand materials where possible, and have built a system of parent participation and voluntary board membership to cover administrative duties to keep our costs to a minimum.
We hope to never have to turn a family away from Roots - we are offering a sliding scale of enrollment fees, and once the programme is established we will be more able to source funding and therefore access more financial security in order to offer scholarship or bursary spaces. Please reach out to us directly to find out more in terms of how we might support you with your personal financial circumstances in relation to Roots.
We believe every child is unique; and want to offer the best support possible for all of the children enrolled in our program. One of the valuable opportunities of having more staff is that it allows us to meet each child at their level and need, and to be able to engage deeply in conversations about difference, about community, about support and about feelings.
We also believe that the best support comes from an holistic approach; we are committed to working with each individual family in order to learn about how to reach each child and help them grow, and to foster a triangulation between Facilitators, Parents and Child - so that school and home both feel like safe spaces for the children in the programme to blossom and become.
We are also a small programme, and are eager to build and learn from and with your family. We will make every effort possible to accommodate any physical and/or emotional needs, while remaining true to the philosophy that grounds and guides us in our approach. We hold a trust that this way of communicating can reach and support children with many different behavioural, physical or emotional needs, and will work with your family closely to assess whether Roots is the best space for your child to thrive. If you feel your child has special physical or emotional needs, please contact us to open up a conversation about how we might be able to support them at Roots.
First, we ask that you fill in the Roots Enrollment Application Form (*add link) and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will host enrollment windows that will last for a pre-advertised period, during which all applications will be considered equally. Places at Roots will be offered based on philosophical alignment, commitment and to ensure a balanced spread of ages. Following this window, remaining or emerging places will be offered on a first come, first served basis.
After this, you’ll be invited to a meeting with one of our Facilitators and a member of our Board. This is a warm opportunity for us to get to know you, hear about your child(ren), discuss any special educational or health needs and ask questions in both directions, making sure that Roots feels like the right fit for your family.
Absolutely! We plan to expand our program each year, both in the age group and size of the community. We are starting with the age group of 5 years to 8 years, but will plan to grow upward each year so that the children will not age out of the program until age 12.
We are taking the threat and fear of Covid-19 seriously, and want to acknowledge the global trauma that has been experienced - emotionally and physically - over the last couple of years. As we build our programme, Roots will be actively risk-assessing with respect to Covid-19, and will be following government, World Health Organisation and NHS Foundation Trust advice to ensure we are doing what we can to make our setting covid-secure in line with recommended guidance.
In the case of another lockdown, a portion of Roots fees will need to be retained in order to support our staff who would otherwise lose their income. We will work hard to maintain engagement through distanced and virtual means for your child, while recognising that this educational philosophy relies on social and emotional intimacy and connection. We will strive to find a fulfilling balance between safety and maintaining the gifts of what Roots and its community brings.
Government guidance for out-of-school settings can be found HERE.
We are striving to have a high ratio between staff and students, so that adults are available to help support individual children’s needs both emotionally and intellectually, in all sorts of ways. Currently, we have 1 full-time Facilitator for each 4 children (compared to the national guideline of 1 adult to 6 children of this age range), plus a parent participant each day, bringing up the ratio to 1 adult to 3 children each day.
As with the families who come to Roots, we have found Facilitators that believe in this philosophy with heart, rather than coming with a specific prerequisite qualification. All our Facilitators have experience working with children in a child-led way, and will bring their own unique contributions to the program. Our Lead Facilitator trained and worked for many years at Play Mountain Place in Los Angeles, California; one of the longest running alternative schools in the world. This Humanistic Free philosophy has been a major influence in the pedagogy at Roots. The Facilitators will be training before Roots even opens in creating a consistent approach to child-led, compassionate communication and learning. This training will continue once Roots begins in an ongoing capacity.
As we are not a school in a traditional and mainstream sense, we feel it’s more important to have people who are aligned with the philosophy at Roots and available to the children in their emotional and intellectual needs, than to hold a particular qualification. The Facilitators will all have their own gifts; some may be forest-school trained, some may come with bushcraft or woodworking skills, some may have a background in psychology and emotional support, and some may have an inclination towards deep empathy. All Facilitators will be there because they are chosen for the unique and aligned perspective that they bring to the team, and will be engaged in a continuous process of unconditioning and deschooling themselves, so that they are present in helping support wholeheartedly the needs of the children.
Each child is different, and we want to be there to support whatever needs a child may be having at times of transition such as separation. When a child first starts at Roots, we will request that a parent or close caregiver be available to stay with them for about two weeks from the first day of school to help them settle into the space. Some children may need this, some children will not - but we request availability so that each child is able to take their time in building a strong and non-pressured relationship to the environment and the facilitators. The adult will hopefully work closely with our Facilitator team, building up to leaving the child at the programme over the course of that time on a trajectory led by the child; an example being to go from supporting play close by, to sitting back and watching but not engaging, to leaving site for a coffee, to leaving for longer periods of time. This process will include building strong relationships with one Facilitator, so that the child can relate directly and share their feelings should separation be difficult. If you or another close caregiver is not available for two weeks from the start of the school year, the Facilitators will work closely with you to tailor a plan that works for both you and your child.
Additionally, we are hoping to have an open session once a week sometime before the programme begins where parents, children and Facilitators can come together before the March start date to meet each other, develop familiarity, and play! This will be relaxed and would not be a drop-off space, but is intended to build relationships before Roots officially begins so that separation and setting in are more gentle.
Separation can be hard for children when first settling into a new environment; one of the reasons we have so many Facilitators is so that we can best support each child in their times of transition and big feeling. If those feelings of sadness, frustration or fear come up around separation, we will be there to support them in their process with empathy and compassion, and without judgement or distraction. Our role as Facilitators is to help foster relationships, listen to feelings and help each child feel safe as they expand into their unique personhood.
At Roots, we are committed to a holistic approach to every child. That includes keeping families updated about how the child is experiencing Roots, and the many ebbs and flows of that. The Facilitators will be available to schedule phone calls with parents when particular dynamics are activated for a child, or to talk through how things are going at home and how that might relate to the child’s experience at Roots. We aspire to create a consistent approach between home and Roots, so that the child can feel grounded in both.
Having said that, we also want each child to feel that Roots is a safe place to explore who they are without judgement - and the messiness and inconsistency that this might bring! We will share with you important dynamics, either with the child’s permission directly, or at a later time as a part of a phone call or private check-in, but we ask that the parents also respect and honour the privacy of the children when at Roots.
We will also be hosting Parent Meetings regularly, where the parent and staff community can all come together to hear about what’s happening in the programme more generally, and to discuss and explore our own experiences with the philosophy and how to approach difficult dynamics that are happening at home.
Additionally, we will have more official Parent/Facilitator conferences twice a year, where we will have a specific and expansive time to talk more directly about your child and the dynamics and feelings they are working on at home and as a part of the Roots programme.
Although we haven’t yet developed the capacity for time travel, we’d love for you to be involved in Roots as an adult! There are many ways to be a part of our community. We see growth and development as a holistic process; this work is not done simply between educator and child or parent and child, but by honouring a child’s whole community and fostering connection between the different parts of it. We hope to develop strong connections between Facilitators and Parents to help this process happen.
We also invite parents to join us as active members of the community, as a part of our Parent Participation programme! From helping with fundraising, to a monthly site cleanup, to joining us one day a week as a part of the Facilitator team, there are many ways to get involved and help us build a strong community.
We will also be hosting workshops at The Children’s Allotment to expand into different aspects of the philosophy we are using at Roots, to open up these dialogues around shifting expectations about education, actively doing our own unconditioning work as adults with support, and to ensure this work is accessible to people beyond the immediate Roots community. We want our programme to not just be a radical choice for children; but also to act as a conduit for generational healing and radical unlearning within the wider community.