What makes Timatanga a “democratic” school? What does “democratic” look like at Timatanga?
Democratic education is education that teaches students what democracy is, and how to live it now and into the future as citizens and changemakers. It prepares them to create, participate in, improve on and safeguard democratic forms of social and political organization, upon which thriving into the future depends.
Democracyis taught and learned experientially, both explicitly in our considerations and implicitly in our culture. The key elements of democracy at Timatanga:
1. Power is shared by adults and children:
- Children choose what they want to learn.
- Children are not trained to comply with adult requirements, requests and plans. Rather, they are supported to be authentic and to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them.
- Decisions are made by students and staff at weekly school meetings in which diverse perspectives are encouraged and shared, and everyone’s ideas and contributions are respected equally. Therefore, decisions are made by consensus by whichever children and adults are at the meeting. Voting is a last resort, almost never used.
2. Power is shared by parents, staff, the principal, and Board of Trustees, but different groups have different legal responsibilities. While we are committed to functioning in a non-hierarchical way, (as a circle rather than a pyramid structure), different groups/individuals hold different areas of responsibility and have the power to make particular decisions, on the understanding that they will consult with the whole group as relevant.
3. Democratic skills are taught to students, parents and staff via:
- Free play
- School meeting processes and discussions
- Explicit teaching of emotional intelligence, including learning about the school values
- Explicit teaching about the concept of Democracy and its various potential and actual political, social, and cultural applications
- Meaningful connections with curriculum areas (e.g. Social Studies, Health, Key Competencies)
4. Staff and parents consider what democracy means and agree on what it will look like in our processes, as an ongoing living and learning experiment. At times there is a tension between the individual and the collective. For example, someone might argue what they think should be happening based on what they have learned so far, not understanding what they could learn from the existing way of doing things. Conversely, new perspectives can illuminate invisible or normalized practices that need to be changed. Our school should provide people the opportunity to learn from the collective and the opportunity to create new solutions from authentic self, and our practices generally enable a balance of the two. These practices include:
- regular meetings
- an annual cycle of review for guiding documents, school direction, and quality of teaching and learning
- timely and transparent sharing of information and reporting of decisions taken
- principal and board oversight
Children learn from the school’s existing democratic processes, which they have a say in.
How many children are there on the roll? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the small size?
The Ministry of Education has given us a roll-cap of 30 students. This gives us a high teacher-to-student ratio because we always have two teachers on site, working alongside whichever parent helpers are there. Another advantage of our small size is our whanau atmosphere, in which children of all ages play and work together and look out for one another.
The only real disadvantage of our small size is that for some of our older students, playing team sports can be physically under-challenging. Most of these tamariki find that a Saturday morning sport meets the need; they also develop leadership capacity due to playing with children of lesser ability than them.
What is the school environment like?
We have a large school building with a kitchen, big room, loft, tech room, and library in it, as well as an outdoor quiet “pod”, a sports shed, and a dress ups shed. Our grounds consist of a cosy garden, sandpit, and fire-pit area, a large wood-chip playground with play equipment and our kaitiaki tree, a small area of bush that includes climbing trees, a sports field and concrete playground area, and a large organic orchard with wild bush and long grass.
How do children cope with the transition from Timatanga to high school?
Our children usually transition easefully because they have confidence in themselves, enjoy learning, and can relate to people of all ages, which most teachers appreciate. They also have a high level of self-management and are usually academically “ahead”. All of this usually gives our tamariki an advantage in terms of the academic expectations and challenges of high school.
However, while most of our ex-students enjoy mainstream high schools and make the most of the resources and opportunities that they offer, some struggle with getting used to unequal power relationships, meaningless rules, and rigid timetables . These children have gone on to choose a Steiner school, or a more progressive mainstream school, or to homeschool.
It is worth noting that our tamariki do very well at the tertiary level, and indeed on any pathway that they choose for themselves. Ex-students over the last 20 years have become teachers, doctors and other healers, musicians, farmers, equestriennes, graphic designers, actors, writers, successful entrepreneurs, creatives in IT, accountants, business owners, artists and amazing parents.
How do children’s academic results measure up with those of students at a mainstream schools?
Typically, our students are behind the New Zealand Curriculum expectation for literacy and numeracy until school year 3. Then through school years 3-5 they meet the expectation, and in school years 6-8 they rise above the expectation. It is normal for our Year 8 students to be a year or two ahead of the NZC expectation academically, which helps them in the transition to high school.
The reason for this difference is that our children learn when they are developmentally ready, rather than in accordance with the NZC, so they learn more quickly and with more enthusiasm. For example, they don’t learn that they aren’t any good at reading, because they are not made to do it before they are ready (and therefore naturally interested).
What does a typical school day look like?
8.30-9am: children arrive and begin their own play or work.
9.15: Whakatau tinana & whakatau hinengaro. Everyone gathers to start the day together, settling and focusing body, mind and feeling by various means, for example: karakia, waiata, chi gong, movement, brain gym, mihi ki nga atua, visualisation, meditation, group game.
9.30-12.15: “Work Time”, teacher-led in response to student interests and needs, breaks as needed (morning tea is usually 10.30-11 but children don’t have to go if they are immersed in work, they can go later when it suits them).
12.15-1pm: Lunch break
1pm: Gathering run by students, in which they plan their afternoon and share news. One day a week, this is school meeting, in which students run the school.
1.30-2.30: Child led activities (mostly free play & freely chosen activities with parents, e.g. sports, carpentry, gardening)
2.30: clean up time; all participate
2.45: story-time (read aloud) or game
3pm: home time
What does a typical school week look like?
2-5 mornings a week, teacher-led integrated curriculum: weaving different curriculum areas together in a topic that students have asked for or shown an interest in (usually in their play). Some recent examples: Dinosaurs and Volcanoes, Animals, the History of Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fantasy Novel Writing, Woolcraft.
3-4 mornings a week, teacher-led skills groups: generated in response to student needs; spelling, grammar, handwriting, story-writing, reading, numeracy
5 afternoons a week, child-led activities free play, continuance of the integrated curriculum topic from the morning, or clubs that children have asked for (e.g: cross country running, music, life-drawing)
One-on-one skills learning may be fitted in at this time also (e.g. one-on-one reading) but only for short periods and by agreement with the child.
1 afternoon a week, School Meeting in which children govern the school, making decisions on issues that they raise. Decisions are made by consensus.
1 day a week: an experiential day which is mostly held outside; for example wool-craft, bush-craft, working with fire and metal, raranga (weaving), carpentry and carving, etc.
What are the school values and how important are they?
Our school values have arisen out of our Special Character and they are an important part of our curriculum. They are reviewed regularly by parents, staff and Board of Trustees as part of the annual cycles of review and strategic planning. Currently, they are: Connectedness , Compassion, Discovery, Self-management, Resilience & Play.
We think of them as a human hand: Connectedness first, on the thumb. Then comes compassion on the first finger, discovery on the index, self-management on the ring, and resilience on the pinky. Play is the palm joining them all together because play is the primary context in which each are experienced and learned.
Our school values are taught to students, parents, and staff in a deeply embodied way, as part of the “how” as well as the “what”. Thus, while they can be taught explicitly (e.g.: “what does self-management look like in different contexts?”), they can also be learned implicitly through our culture (e.g.: children are given ample space to manage projects of their choice, and expected and supported to do so well, and to reflect on it). The values can also be used as evaluation measures by staff, students and parents; we often use them in our learning stories, for example.
How does the school support students with additional learning needs and exceptionalities?
Our method works well with a wide range of children, different ways of learning, and different kinds of neuro-diversity, because children can learn at their own pace, following their own interests. Those who find it hard to work in a typical classroom environment don’t have to, and a lot of our learning happens out of doors, which is calming and relaxing. Also, parents are welcome to stay with their children if it works for them, their children, and the school. Our connected social environment means that children are kind and inclusive, and children are not teased or shunned for “being different”.
This said, our buzzing, creative environment does not work for all neuro-diverse children. Some find that the school does not offer enough structure for their needs, others find the noise and energy too stressful, and some find the expectation of social responsibility too high.
All children visit with a parent for five full days prior to enrolment, and parents and teachers discuss each child’s needs during this time. Sometimes, parents, staff, or the child may come to the realisation that the school is not the best fit for the child, usually for the reasons listed above.
What do parents need to do in order for their children to attend Timatanga?
What do you mean by “play based learning?”
Please feel free to email the principal with any further questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, check out our Parent Guide.