Frequently Asked Questions
What does a typical day at Little Lake look like?
A typical day varies as much as the individuals vary within our community. That being said there does tend to be a flow that occurs which is directly influenced by our ALC tools and roots.
Our doors open at 8:30am. Students start arriving soon after. At 9:15am we gather at our “Spawn Point” where we set our intentions for the day. Currently this looks like the entire community sharing together. This is especially helpful when a learner wants to request participation from another learner for an activity that day.
On Monday we have our Set-The-Week meeting which is a time to schedule offerings, workshops, trips, projects, and meetings that will take place during the week. These opportunities come from students, staff, parents, and community members.
Once intentions are shared, we end the meeting, and every learner begins their day. Most ALC’s describe the time between Intention Setting and Clean-Up as simply “magic.” It changes monthly, daily, weekly and can be full of trips, classes, games, discussions, stories, creation, collaboration, and surprises. It’s all work and it’s all play. Every learner in the community has autonomy to learn however and whatever they think is important at that time.
How are decisions made? What rules are there?
Our communities set boundaries to create safe, legal, and respectful environments. Students commit to uphold certain agreements to participate in an ALC; communities meet weekly to review cultural patterns and create new agreements together; parents may put limits on their students’ off-site travel permissions. To the extent that this question asks whether rules and limits on individual freedom exist, the answer is ‘yes.’
But what if we define “boundaries” more broadly than just as “rules”? Then this question becomes an interesting one about priorities and opportunities to practice 21st century skills that students will need to grow into empowered individuals. In environments where students don’t get a say in their work loads, levels of physical activity, or collaboration styles, they don’t have as many opportunities to practice recognizing, setting, or holding personal boundaries. We recognize that these are vital life skills; as such, ALFs are intentional in both modeling boundary management and supporting students doing the same.
Decisions are made using our “Community Mastery Board” to physically and visually track our community’s problems, determine what rules we have, and to share ideas for how we want to be together in this space. Any community member, including parents and volunteers, are welcome to attend these meetings, but they are typically composed of students and staff. Anyone can facilitate a morning meeting, and the role of facilitator rotates daily.
What do the Agile Learning Facilitators (ALFs) do?
Facilitators hold the space.
Facilitators support students in clarifying their intentions, getting connected to the resources they need, reflecting on their decisions, engaging with the community, and sharing their learning. They work to keep the space safe, legal, and respectful. They collaborate with students to develop a powerfully positive culture. Facilitators model clear communication, collaboration, and authenticity. They embody our Agile Roots, and they are grounded in trust.
How do they learn if you don’t teach them?
We do teach them, but they would learn even if we didn’t. Learning is natural and is happening all the time. Babies learn to crawl, walk, and talk without being explicitly taught these things. They look at who and what exists in the world around them, copy and experiment with what they see, practice and learn the skills they need to grow in independence and connectivity to others. In learning communities that value authenticity and collaboration, it’s inevitable that we’ll teach each other. Sometimes this happens through classes and workshops, sometimes through conversations and modeling. But it’s always happening.
How do students learn things like reading, writing and math? (The Basics)
If something is actually basic knowledge that you need in order to live successfully in this world, you can’t help but learn it. The “basics” will be captured in kids’ natural learning, which happens through living. We don’t need to force or trick them into learning something basic. Basic knowledge and skills are defined by our current world. Whereas once it may have been basic to know how to saddle a horse, today it is basic to know how to open a web browser. The rich world environment in which we operate sets us up to prioritize knowledge and skills reliably and naturally based on our experiences.
What if a child wants to do “nothing” all day?
It is common for learners who switch from a controlled schooling environment to a self-directed learning environment to go through a period of “deschooling,” which often looks like doing nothing. It is a common understanding that for every year of schooling a learner will need one month of deschooling before becoming self-directed. This, of course, can differ with each person. After this time, learners will often ask, “What do I do now?” Or start to say, “I’m bored.” However, unlike conventional schooling environments where boredom is usually rooted in feeling disengaged with what someone else is making you do, when boredom arises at Little Lake, it offers an opportunity for students to figure out for themselves what they find engaging.
It is the role of the staff to be patient and wait for that sign, and then be ready help facilitate the learner in following their own instincts. Staff also works to make learners aware of all of the opportunities at Little Lake without forcing them to participate in anything they don’t want to do.
What if my kid just wants to play video games all day?
Currently, Little Lake has an student-organized council that discusses and approves different screen usage in the space. This group meets as need to talk about anything that they see as a problem, and to set shared agreements for how screens can be used. However, there is so much to learn from video games! They might improve their reading and spelling skills, practice problem solving, or exercise their creativity. They might learn to collaborate with others, develop the ability to track multiple moving objects more accurately, or practice reading maps. Maybe they’ll be inspired to study programming so they can design their own games. Or to attend indie game conferences and write reviews of games in development. Or become interested in a period of history or social justice issue that is explored through a game.
Where is this question actually coming from? Sometimes, a parent notices that their kid becomes cranky or easily frustrated after spending a large portion of the day playing a video game. In that case, it’s valuable for the parent to speak with the student, helping them recognize how their choices impact their mood. Other times it is the interruption of a child’s flow that causes them to become angry. Sometimes the issue is that a parent feels like their tuition money is wasted unless their child tries one or two offerings each week. Sometimes the parent has anxiety about their own screen-use habits. Facilitators recognize that it’s important to help parents identify and voice their specific objections to their kids. The parents and students can then make agreements around screen use, which facilitators will not enforce but are glad to support both parties in keeping.
Arthur Brock has an excellent blog post for those concerned about kids’ screen use
What if a child wants to play all day?
We recognize play as an educationally valuable activity. In fact, a lot of the learning that happens at Little Lake happens through play. In play, students practice all sorts of skills from communication and problem-solving, to math, reading, and writing (often making game-related signs and notes)
What if a student needs routine to thrive? Wouldn’t a freeform day leave them feeling ungrounded?
Our freeform environment leaves space for every student to use their time in a way that works best for them. If a student knows that they find routine really helpful to accomplish their goals, they can make a routine customized to their interests that they can stick to. Staff members are always willing to help students develop a routine, and can help keep them accountable to whatever schedule they decide on, but staff will not impose any routine onto a student.
Are there field trips?
Yes! Field trips are usually student-initiated, however, any community member can propose one at any time. Oftentimes these proposals occur during our Set-The-Week meeting on Monday mornings. Trips are not planned for students, they participate in the logistical process of planning when we go, how we get there and even the budgeting involved.We are located in downtown Ypsilanti, adjacent to a park, and near the public library and other community organizations and businesses, so impromptu adventures off campus are also available to us with little coordination needed!