Imagine a classroom.
The scene is very familiar – a teacher stands at the front of the room (maybe they are pointing to a whiteboard, maybe it’s a laptop) and students sit in organised rows behind tidy desks.
It doesn’t look like a group of children pulling apart a tangle of wood pallets and rope and fashioning a makeshift pulley system or using music composition to teach mathematics times tables.
While it might not look like a traditional learning environment, some alternative educators in Launceston have placed inquisitiveness and imagination at the heart of their learning process – something they say will be vitally important for the job market of the future.
Launceston is home to several alternative education options, that places strong value on the principals of imagination and creativity, through play-based learning – or learning by stealth.
Imagination is the foundation of learning, says Tamar Valley Steiner School college chair Annie Ball and it forms the foundation of the way they “teach” their students.
Tamar Valley Steiner School was established in 2016 with a grand total of eight pupils.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the school has recently lodged its development application to the City of Launceston council to develop a new primary school at St Leonards.
It’s [Steiner principles] about forming a deep relationship with learning.Tamar Valley Steiner School college chair Annie Ball
They will offer single stream and combined primary classes for up to 102 pupils once the school is established and are already taking enrolments.
Tamar Valley Steiner School is only one of two in Tasmania and has an informal partnership with Tarremah Steiner School in Hobart.
Steiner principals value imagination and aims to foster a “love of learning” in children, to help set them up for a future with an inquisitive mind.
“What we offer is education that allows them to have the time, we foster them as whole individuals and don’t focus just on literacy and numeracy,” Ms Ball said.
“It’s about forming a deep relationship with learning.”
Ms Ball said she found Steiner and its way of teaching when looking for schools for her children and said they flourished under the system.
Because there are only two Steiner schools in Tasmania, Northern students don’t have a high school Steiner option, but Ms Ball said transition was a parent’s choice.
“I didn’t find my son had any problem transitioning, in fact his teachers always enjoyed having him because he kept that inquisitive mind,” she said.
Tamar Valley Steiner School teacher assistant Ash Barlow, who was educated in the Steiner system in Hobart, said there were clear differences between the Steiner system and mainstream schools.
“I learned my times tables through music composition and I learned that a plank of wood can be many things, it can be a castle, a train or a rock depending on what you need,” she said.
Miss Barlow, who is training to become a Steiner teacher, said she loved the system as an alternative way of learning because of the value it placed on creativity at the heart of learning.
“I definitely noticed the difference; when we were building Roman shields and stilts or being outdoors learning things, when I was in high school we were inside, at the desk, learning algebra,” she said.
Ms Ball and Ms Barlow said Steiner principles were not based on telling pupils the information, but teaching them through stories or through play-based learning.
The school has grown exponentially in two years, and is outgrowing their two sites at St Leonards.
Ms Ball said interest in enrolments had grown steadily and the school had to curb its growth because it couldn’t fit any more students.
The development application is open for public comment until January 2.
The aim is to have the primary school developed and ready for students in May, 2019.
Steiner schools also place high value on outdoor learning, and hold outdoor classroom events regularly.
The benefits of outdoors learning has not been lost among other parents, some of whom don’t subscribe to the Steiner method.
A group of parents and like-minded educators at Legana noticed a need for a secular education system that valued the benefits of outdoor, unstructured play.
From that kernel of an idea, Patersonia was born; a secular long day care centre that focuses on outdoor learning and imaginative play.
Patersonia was established in September as a long day care centre with mixed age groups and has the aim to grow into a primary school in the future.
The group holds “bush kinder” at Trevallyn Reserve and regularly holds playgroup sessions at the Heritage Forest community garden.
Founder Nicole Crook said she established the centre because she saw a gap in the market and that parents were crying out for an alternative like Patersonia.
“We’re not out there to say that our system is better, or that mainstream schools are bad, it’s about providing parents with another quality alternative,” she said.
Ms Crook said Patersonia was born after she found her own son “left behind” in mainstream education.
She said it wasn’t the fault of any of his teachers but they way he learned did not fit in well with the way he was taught and that he “fell through the cracks.”
Ms Crook said her son, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, didn’t have a positive experience in the public school system, because of his difficulties in learning to read.
“We actually took him out of school and he was home-schooled; there were no structures in place to teach him how to read, when he fell behind,” she said.
Despite having a negative experience with her son, Ms Crook said she didn’t have any problems with the public system, but realised that it doesn’t always work for everyone.
“I was never a hater of public school, I happily went to school and sent my own children to school,” she said.
Ms Crook said the school was growing slowly in popularity, they had a lot of inquiries, but hoped to expand places next year.
“It’s a big decision for parents, deciding who to leave your young children with, and we are a small operation at the moment, it will take time for word to get out there about what we’re all about,” she said.
Parent and educator Niki Abel said Patersonia aimed to provide unstructured structure.
“We might have planned what we’re going to do that day, but the kids decide a bit what they want to spend their time on,” she said.
The child care has three garden beds at Heritage Forest Community Garden but they have yet to plant anything there.
But the children have spent time walking through the rows of established garden, learning all the names of the plants that are there.
Patersonia also caters for ages three to five, but only has one child care group.
“We find having everyone together gives the older kids an opportunity to lead, they learn more deeply that way,” Mrs Abel said.
“If you have to teach someone else something you form a greater connection with learning.”
Patersonia is a secular centre and does not ascribe to Steiner or other alternative principles.
“We are less structured but we really value teaching each child to their individual strengths,” Ms Abel said.
As a parent, Ms Abel found her three-year-old son Sebastian much more confident in his learning, which he has established since being part of Patersonia.
“He’s much more involved in what he’s doing,” she said.
“Because he’s more involved but he’s around other kids he’s also learning more about how he works as an individual, when he needs to take a break and when he can keep going.”
Ms Abel and Ms Crook said parents know their own children best, and most know whether or not they will benefit from a traditional care setting or those who might benefit from an alternative.
Patersonia hopes to develop a primary school in 2020 and offers long day care from its base at Legana, behind the Legana Christian Church five days a week.
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