Parents often tell me that they’d consider taking their children out of school (when it’s not working) but they’re afraid their children would just want to play video games/ride their bikes/whine.  At least when kids are enrolled in school, parents only have to be the homework police. Many imagine that without school, they’d have to assume the role of all-around learning police, because it seems likely that kids would resist learning as they do during non-school hours.

But resisting learning is not a default state for children.  It can look like it is, because when they’re occupied by school for a hefty percentage of the time, they often spend the rest of their time trying to get away from adult demands.  Even if the demands are actually just suggestions (like “hey, why don’t you take out that Lego set you like building with,” or “let’s look up the answer to that question you had about osprey nests”); even when the demands are in their interest in some way.  After awhile, we’re like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons.  It all sounds the same.

You need only recall a child’s earliest years to realize that – when left (or rather, returned) to their own devices and original programming – children are endlessly curious.  They want to find out about a lot of things, all the time, and as soon as possible.  They may indeed want to play video games, and ride their bikes, and even whine.  But they also want to find out what else they’re good at, which things are the most fun and interesting to do, even how they might make a difference. It’s not unlike an adult with a boring and stressful job. You might dash off at the end of the day with an abundance of energy for other things, ready to switch gears and engage with the rest of the world.  But often that’s not what happens; what happens is television.

If you really want to know what a child might be like outside the confines of school, the best time to find out is in the middle of July – when the previous school year has had a chance to fade but the next one is yet to loom.  This is the time when children who go to school during the fall, winter, and spring months tend to acquaint and true themselves to what is most compelling and inspiring for them about the world.  It’s under those conditions that they reach for learning.

If they’re builders and designers they go deep into their explorations of structure and arrangement.  If they’re creatures of profound social capacity they get more connected to the people they love, more grounded in their friendships and family relationships.  If they’re artists, they generate new work prolifically.  If they’re movers, naturalists, outdoorspeople, you can barely get them to come inside when the sun finally goes down in the late evening.

In the course of facilitating a new experience of life and learning for young people, I find that my attention is often on September.  September has been co-opted by the tired ailing educational establishment and it’s worth any effort it takes to reclaim.  But the roots of healing, the clues we need to move children toward their best fullest lives, show themselves in July.