Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are The Barn School structure and Self-Directed Education (SDE) similar to Montessori style of learning?
Answer: We are similar to Montessori in that Montessori allows children to choose their activities from a selection prepared by the teacher/directrice. There is a curriculum in Montessori, whereas learners at the Barn School follow their own learning path as their curiosity leads them. Depending how strictly the Montessori school follows the philosophy and curriculum, the children are often learning independently though they also learn through observation of other children. At The Barn School, learners may learn independently, through observation, through play and conversations with multi-age learners, through mentors and community knowledge experts, through online resources…you get the idea.
Interestingly, by the end of “Grade 8”, most SDE learners are so skilled at teaching themselves that if they wish to transition to public school, they make that transition fairly smoothly, though they remark that there is a big difference in styles. Once they figure out how group testing and evaluations work, they are usually at or beyond grade level for required subjects and show a lot of resilience and passion in their educational pursuits.
2. Will the Barn School be outdoor, nature-based similar to Learning in the Woods or is this something totally different?

Answer: Learning in the Woods is a different location and program but the foundations are the same because both are Self-Directed Education environments. So yes, children can choose to spend as much time outdoors as they wish when they attend The Barn School. The property where The Barn School is located is designated as farm land, so the “play ground” will be amongst raised planter beds and in ground garden plots. Access to the playground will not be scheduled, so kids can spend as much or as little time engaged in outdoor activities as they wish. 

3. What happens if our child wishes to pursue post-secondary education? Would they be at a disadvantage due to lack of testing/grading?

Answer: In terms of university, kids make this transition fairly easily. There are different routes to get into Canadian universities and most US universities prefer students who have a history of self direction in their learning. (In the US, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT all tend to favor applications from this type of learner). Each school has a different process and if your child indicates that they would like to pursue college or university, we would be sure to guide them so that option can become a reality.

4. Will you have before-and-after care available?

Answer: If you require care that is outside of our hours, let us know what you are looking for.  We are a community that works together to try to meet the needs of our members.  We might be able to come up with a creative solution if we know what you need!

5. What is your philosophy and approach for children with Special Needs?

Answer: The Self-Directed Education model is built on the way humans, and all mammals for that matter, naturally learn; through play, social interaction, curiosity, and pursuing interests. Through these pursuits, children pick up the skills they need so that they can have a fulfilling, contributing role in our society. We prefer not to assign labels within this educational model, but sometimes they serve a purpose. If your child arrives with a label or exhibits behavior that fits a diagnosis or label, so long as they feel this is a good learning environment for them, we’re happy to give it a try.

*Please note that children with a medically diagnosis are eligible to receive significant tax credits if they are enrolled in a private school that addresses their learning needs. So please ask about that during your application process.

Some children with Autism find Self-Directed Education learning environments to be a good fit because, like other kids, they are free to pursue their passions and see what amazing opportunities arise from those pursuits. For kids with alexithymia, our consistent use of non-violent communication (language that articulates feelings and needs) is helpful. This is an environment that values social learning where all children are given significant time to identify and communicate about feelings. It is an important part of learning for all of us.

Gifted children tend to appreciate a Self-Directed Learning Environment because they can set the pace and direction of their learning. Their learning pursuits are limitless! They have access to a wider community of resources and can pursue opportunities with people who are just as passionate as they are. Gifted learners can sometimes struggle with feelings such as frustration or impatience and this environment is designed to offer regular support with those feelings. With the competitive aspects of traditional learning removed, it also becomes possible for learners to develop friendships outside of their age bracket.

ADHD learners have a lot to gain from a Self-Directed Education Learning Environment. With the freedom to make their own choices about how to spend their time, ADHD learners get a chance to work *with* their natural tendencies. That may mean spending significant time outdoors where boundless energy can be a strength or where the calming effects of nature can help a learner focus. This style of education encourages learners to pursue interests until they recognize their body needs a break with no judgement involved in how long they decide they need movement or time spent socializing. We know that learning happens all the time and when they feel the need, they will happily return to project-based pursuits. I’m not sure how often this happens, but in the US, many ADHD learners have chosen to learn without the use of drugs and have found the experience of discovering how their energy can be useful to be quite empowering.

We mean it when we say that we value secure attachment and that is especially important when we are working with learners who express anxiety. We believe that it is important not to push the child to participate, they are not forced, coerced, threatened, or shamed. They get to be the ones to decide what they are ready to do. (This is often contrary to advice traditionally given to parents.) A detailed and slow transition plan, created by the child, facilitators, and parents is our best bet to having a child with anxiety become a member of our learning community. A parent or caregiver may be asked to participate with their child for a significant period of time until trust with facilitators can be fully established. In fact, all children under the age of 6 and learners who request it will have a transition plan in place before starting at The Barn School. This transition plan will allow your child to make the transition confidently and by choice as opposed to being forced into this learning environment.

Children with medical diagnoses may require a uniquely structured learning environment so that they can receive treatments or heal at a pace that is natural and easy. If your child requires an environment that is less stressful so that they can get healthy, we are happy to discuss if our learning environment might be a good fit.

6. What ages are you accepting or registering?

Answer: We run as a learning center.  Some families choose to use our center daily, others use it weekly.  At this time we have limited unlicensed childcare spots for kids under the age of 6, so we accept children ages 1-18 years.  You will have to inquire with us directly to find out if we have any positions available that work with your family’s needs.

7. Does The Barn School provide sports, physical education, and extra-curricular opportunities for the students?
Answer: One of the big advantages to The Barn School is that learners will have unlimited time to pursue activities of their choice including individual sports, multi-age team sports and games, and recreational activities. Let’s say a group of learners would like to learn sailing, horseback riding, parkour, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, or cross country running…these pursuits could easily be made available to the group during learning hours. Perhaps your child has a passion and would like to offer to teach the group? If your child is looking for age level, competitive team sports that large, traditional, public schools and larger private schools offer, it will be tricky for us to offer those sorts of competitive age-level sports teams in our micro school of less than 50 multiage kids. However, if your child is interested, we could look into what opportunities might be available in our larger community.
8. Are there options for part time attendance?

Answer: Yes.  If your child is under the age of 6, we’ll accommodate your schedule as long as there is space. Children who are over the age of 6 can choose how often they attend with the minimum attendance being one day a week.  Learners sign up each term, so if a family is travelling or children who are working as models, actors, or training in athletics can decide if it makes sense to sign up or take a term off. We are open to exploring other possibilities too! Let us know what you are looking for! Learners who attend public or catholic schools will not be able to attend The Barn School during school hours, as required by the Ministry of Education but we are opening on Saturdays for families looking for a playborhood environment.

9. Are scholarships available?

Answer: It is our hope to offer scholarships in the future.  Please let us know if you need scholarship assistance.

10. Do you offer transportation?
Answer: This is something we would be willing to consider exploring further. Please let us know if this is something you would be interested in.
11. What makes The Barn School unique?
Answer: We are a community interested in creating a paradigm shift. We believe strongly in the values of freedom, trust, community, and love. That may sound cheesy but those are the tenets that guide us! We are committed to a culture of peace, where the adults in particular, are consciously working towards an environment of “power with” as opposed to “power over”. That is unique considering that we live in a culture with many layers of hierarchy. We do our best to offer The Barn School as a space that values young people as *people* to the fullest extent possible. It is our belief that our safe space encourages young people to be self-awareness, confident to voice their requests in the world, and respectful in their interactions with others. We like to think of ourselves as offering young people a think tank environment where they can hone their skills, explore the world, and then, when they are ready to leave our school, they do so with passion and excitement.
12. For younger children, do you do time out? How do you handle discipline?
Answer: To us, time outs represent leaving a child without the support to move forward in a positive way. Time-outs often involve shame and judgement and we’re not about that. Nor do we have time-ins actually. To us that is an adult deciding where a child will be and what they need in a moment when they are in pain. If a child is struggling to express their feelings, needs, and requests in ways that others cannot understand, we offer to step in and help using Nonviolent Communication techniques. We stay with feelings as long as the person feels like expressing them. We celebrate those feelings actually, as they give us clues so that we can better understand our needs and help us figure out what we really want. We believe solutions to problems emerge when opposing parties connect, so we spend our time helping learners to connect with themselves, communicate their thoughts to others, and trust that they will find a solution.
13. What is your take on technology?
Answer: This is a hot topic for many families and I can understand why, but we make a concerted effort to give children the opportunity to explore the technology that interests them without being fearful of it. Technology also includes hand tools, sewing machines, rock tumblers, kitchen tools but I have a feeling you are referring to computers, tablets, and phones. These devices help us connect with people we may not otherwise have access to in our daily lives, learn, and provide joyful entertainment. There can be negative aspects too, which provide useful opportunities for in-depth discussions about values and critical thinking. We love those conversations! Bring ‘em on! We refrain from making technology a reward or a scarce commodity, to avoid a heightened desire to use it. We keep it neutral and offer options, flexibility, and time for reflection so that learners can make choices around technology that work well for them. We encourage everyone to find their individual balance.