Chapter 4: Out and Room
“Out was awesome. Anyone that never attended Sundance can’t quite grasp the concept. What an amazing little hippy school. Bring the old days back!”
I think it was primarily two offerings, Out and Room, which made us an “unstructured” school.
One of the unique features of Sundance was “Out.” This was probably the most visible sign of how we were an alternative. At any time of the day, except Family Time and Whole School Meetings, a staff member would supervise the offering known as “Out”, in order to make it possible for kids to play outside if that was what they wanted.
As Becky writes:
An everyday memory is the offering called “out”. This was a choice made by many of our kids for many of their days at Sundance. It became a controversial issue in the later years at the school but in the early days it was a “core” subject. It was totally unstructured outdoor play gently supervised but completely self-directed. Many experts today point to lack of outdoor activity as a contributor to everything from ADD to childhood obesity to lack of concern for the environment. We seemed to know instinctively that children need to GO OUT AND PLAY. I still see many of the young people who spent many an hour “doing out” and they are to a person independent, thoughtful, successful adults. Those “wasted hours” seem to have paid off.
“Out” was one reason Sundance was such a happy school. Any little boy or girl who had energy to burn off could run around outside and play. There were very few behaviour problems at offerings since the student always had the option to go to “Out” if they couldn’t go to another offering, and therefore very little teacher time was spent negotiating with a misbehaving child who just wanted to be somewhere else.
Krista Amyotte recalls Out. She writes:
And yes, being able to sign up for “out” all day was kinda loco, especially if your parents (like mine) let you fill out your own timetable…..heeheehee.
Dylan Fry recalls signing up for Out. He writes:
One of the daily options was called “Out” and was simply going outside to play. I remember more than one occasion, I signed up for “Out” all day long. I can imagine my eight-year old brain thinking, “I have a feeling on Thursday I am really going to feel like being outside all day long so I better make that a concrete plan”.
Thinking back, I imagine parents probably had a hand in making sure the kids didn’t sign up for the same thing all week and made sure they got the full gamut of activities.
As Katlyn Holland writes about her experiences:
I think I was there from ’83ish to ’91ish. Yes, those were good years indeed. You could have Out all day long. Things changed after Paul left.
Marhya Evans, who attended Sundance from 1982 to 1983, recalls:
I remember getting the teachers to change my schedule to “outside time” when my mom had picked math! HA! Boy was I shocked when we moved across the country to Nova Scotia and I had to go to a Catholic school!
During most of each day playing outside is offered on the timetable. This means that a child could choose to be outside all day – something many parents fear will happen. But spending time in the program you observe children balancing their time well. You also notice that teaching spaces do not have inattentive, frustrated children in them as these children will have opted not to be there that day. In fact the time children spend in academic offerings is quality time without a great deal of a teacher’s time spent on classroom management. All the learners are there by choice.
“Room” was another unstructured choice. We tried to keep one classroom available for kids who wanted to “hang out” and talk, do their own crafts that they brought to school, teach their friends something, read, draw, anything they wanted as long as it was safe and didn’t disturb others. A staff member would supervise, and would sometimes bring some craft, game or other material to the room and make it available. It was free choice time.
For several years the children played “Dungeons and Dragons” at Room. This game fostered creativity, since whoever was Dungeon Master usually wrote the scenarios. The students playing “D & D” practiced Reading and Math skills as well as the skills necessary in playing games, like taking turns, good sportsmanship and teamwork. My son Jason was an avid D&D player, who was able to express his creativity by writing complex scenarios or adventures.
Jeremy Turner writes:
What I remember most fondly about Sundance was the sense of limitless freedom when it came to role-play experimentation.
Later the school moved to the Bank St. location. I remember Brooks and his friends got heavily involved in Dungeons and Dragons. They used to use the small room upstairs that was also a learning assistance room and played for hours, inventing characters, reading complex manuals and building their vocabularies and ideas of coöperation.
When, in the 80s, we finally got a few computers, we would sometimes combine Computers and Room, and the kids could make the educational computer games one of their choices
Seen from an adult perspective, having Out and Room makes perfect sense. We believed that children would learn when they were ready, that people want to learn and would learn if the opportunity was offered.
I know from my own experience teaching in the “regular” system, that precious time is spent on motivating unwilling learners and on “classroom management.” At Sundance, motivated learners walked in the door. They managed their own behaviour, for the most part, because they were interested. What teacher could ask for more? What parent could ask for more? What child could ask for more?