Today, many people believe they can’t trust children to motivate themselves. As a mother, I can relate to this. It is hard to take a step back and trust that your child will do the right thing without your guidance.
From being under their parent’s wing, children are sent straight to school where their teachers are telling them what to do and keeping them in line every day. The problem with this is they start doubting their ability to accomplish anything by themselves. You see this when they start to always seek for directions and help instead of taking any initiative on their own.
Our lead guide here at Acton Academy used to work with troubled youths. He knew a 14-year old who had to wear velcro shoes every day because nobody ever trusted him to learn how to tie his shoes. It may be an extreme example, but it’s true.
Here at Acton, we trust the children in many ways. One example is that they clean the studio every day. Students do studio maintenance by putting away things, vacuuming, and wiping surfaces, and they take pride in it. For this reason, parents noticed amazing changes in their children at home, such as keeping their rooms clean.
Do you want your child to remain in an environment where they aren’t even trusted enough to go to the bathroom without asking permission? Or do you want to see self-confidence that comes only from being trusted and being able to initiate things on your own, shine through your child?
In entrusting children, we will see amazing transformations. In trusting them, they begin to gain self-confidence and learn to take control of their lives and their learning.
Have you ever heard the quote “Knowledge is power?” Since we spend 12 years of our lives in a school environment that drills learning to memorize facts as the most important thing in the world, it’s natural for us to view knowledge as power. But I believe it is the application of knowledge that is powerful.
Many students ask teachers “When will I use this in the real world?” Usually, teachers will just say “Trust me, you will use it.” However, a recent survey found that 80% of Americans never use Math beyond what they learned in 6th-grade, such as decimals, fractions, and percentages. Also, the 20% who ARE using higher-level math, such as algebra or calculus are blue-collar workers (construction, and mechanical trades).
Conrad Wolfram, one of the world’s foremost mathematicians, describes how standardized tests focus entirely on the student’s ability to do repetitive computations by hand quickly and error-free. He said, “These tests have nothing to do with creative problem-solving. They don’t assess what people do in real life with math, which is to solve hard problems by using the power of modern computers. No one finds integers or inverse metrics today outside of education in the tests they take in high school. They use a computer, a tablet or a phone.”
Did you know that today’s smartphone has 10,000 times the power of a multi-million dollar supercomputer from 1970? We also have Google at our fingertips 24/7 to answer all our questions.
The bigger question is, should our children be wasting 12 years memorizing facts? At Acton Academy, we don’t think so. Children should learn from the start how to apply what they are learning to real life. We do this through real-world projects called “Quests.”
One of our Quests is called the Sandwich Economics. The learners are tasked to figure out how much it costs to make a sandwich. We take a trip to the grocery store so they can find all the ingredients and purchase them. We come back to the studio and they re-do their math to see if they were close to the real answer. After that, they make the sandwiches and bring them to a local soup kitchen.
Do you think your child’s time is best spent memorizing facts for standardized tests, that they will most likely never use in the real world? Or do you want your child’s education to focus on real-world problem solving that requires creativity and imagination?
There is a belief in our society that children have to be told what to do. Many people think children are unable to make decisions for themselves or to motivate themselves. Unfortunately, the old saying of “children should be seen and not heard” is still ingrained in the roots of our society.
Starting at preschool, we were taught how to follow directions and obey rules. In fact, we became very good at doing everything in a way that pleased our teachers. However, if you believe that children are not capable to make decisions and be motivated, how do you explain all the successful entrepreneurial children who are crushing it in their market today? How do you explain a 10-year old girl who designed and sold her own stationery at Etsy? How about a 9-year old girl who published her own book that is now for sale on Amazon?
At Acton Academy, we empower our learners with positive thinking. We also give them the tools they need to be successful, such as learning how to set goals, overcoming obstacles, and striving for excellence.
When adults take a step back, that’s the only time you will see how amazing children can be with their creativity and motivation. Children want to do things. Their drive to accomplish things is exemplary. They are still young enough that society hasn’t impose its limiting beliefs on their minds yet. When a child believes he can be a superhero, that is his reality.
Giving children the freedom over their own learning makes them excited to go to school. It makes school mean more to them as an individual. In addition, it makes them super inspired to follow their creativity and curiosity, which then allows them to find their passion.
The question is, are you the type of person who is going to let your child be dictated to all day long, so they can be a good follower? Or are you going to empower your children to make their own decisions and become a confident leader?
If your child is thriving at a traditional school and you know they’re on the path to realizing their dreams, this message is not for you. On the other hand, if you feel like something is missing and you are searching for something better out there, then please read on or watch the video recap!
It might be that your child is advanced in some subjects, but he is not able to move at his own pace because he has to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. Perhaps, your child has a ton of energy and he kept on being sent to the principal’s office. He may start feeling like he is a bad child, but he is not. He just has a lot of energy and can’t sit still at a desk for 8 hours a day. After all, sitting on a desk for a long time isn’t something normal for any child to be doing. Maybe your child used to be so excited about school but the sparkle left their eyes and the motivation is gone. No matter what you say, you can’t get them to push themselves. Whatever the reason is for you and your child, there is something you can do.
Of course, there are some parents who are fine with the way things are. They may even think or feel like there is nothing they can do about changing their child’s experience in school. After all, that’s the way school is and that’s the way it’s always been done! I call these parents the Status Quo Parent. “Good” is good enough for them.
On the other hand, there are others like us who look at the status quo and think, “Can this be better? Is there something more I can do?” I call them the Inspired Parent. These are parents who are curious and always searching for answers. They know there must be a better way.
Let me teach you one powerful character-building system we use every day at Acton Academy. We have what we call “Socratic Discussions.” We have circle time in the morning where we present real-world dilemmas. The learners talk about various topics and they are called to make a stance, stick to it, and defend it. There is no right or answer. It’s all about opinions. We have amazing conversations with children ages 5-10. It’s amazing what children can come up with when you let them talk and have ideas of their own.
Today, so much of traditional schools memorize facts that have a right or wrong answer. They practice passively with their opinions and aren’t usually asked to think on their own. Imagine if you implemented a Socratic discussion every day with your children? I think a good time for this is at dinner. Do you think your family would get closer? Do you think it might spark curiosity on certain subjects? Do you think it would give your child a chance to practice taking a stance on something and defending their opinion?
My husband, my son and I have evening circles where we go over what we were most grateful for in the day and what we’re looking forward to the next day. If you’re wondering how to come up with topics or find a question, you can talk about a topic that is currently on the news (“Will there ever be peace on earth?”) or grab a coffee table conversations deck, or even use a behavior you want to see changed in your child (that one is a favorite at Acton – we just had a discussion on “It is ok to lie? why/why not?”). In case you get stuck, I am more than happy to send you a page of questions or topics to get you started.
I know that you want to see the best in your child. At Acton Academy, we believe that every person who enters our doors is a genius and they will use their passions to change the world. Our Eagles engage in their education as heroes on a journey and they are looking for the treasure within themselves.
I wish you success and a deeper connection with your own little heroes.
Becoming a mother changes everything. Your life revolves around your children and you are always in the depths of parenthood. There are no breaks, no days off and even if you are not physically with them, you are always thinking about them. It is a beautiful, rewarding, and wonderful experience, but it is challenging at the same time because knowing what is best for your children is not always easy.
When I had my son, my husband and I started thinking about school. We knew we wanted a nature-based preschool for him, perhaps something like Montesorri. In the process, I had so many questions in my mind. I love to dig into information and learn about all my options before I make a decision. My husband, on the other hand, is an engineer. When it comes to research, he takes it to a whole new level and looks at every consumer report and review before making a purchase. With that being said, the two of us did a lot of research! When it came to finding the right school for our son, we spent a lot of time listening to podcasts, reading books, and going on school tours.
One thing we found about private schools is how they offer an edge on certain things, such as sports or having smaller classrooms. On the other hand, when you get down to it, most private schools were traditional school-modeled. They still had all students segregated by age in different classrooms, with a strict schedule dictated by bells and traditional tests for competency.
As we kept on searching, we discovered a whole new world of alternative education such as homeschooling. Homeschooling is amazing if you have the ability to dedicate enough time to it for your children. However, that was not an option for us.
The moment we came across Acton Academy, it spoke to my heart so clearly. It was a dream school that I would have wanted to attend. It is a place where children can learn at their own pace and do what interests them. It is a place where they can choose different platforms for their core skills, depending on their personality. It is also a school where students work on real-world projects. As they solve real-world dilemmas at school, they also learn real-world skills and invaluable character traits.
My husband and I went looking for an Acton right away, but the closest one to us was Northern New Jersey. We decided we would either move or open our own. There were 8,000 applications in the pipeline to open your own Acton. Luckily, I was able to get our application in and we were accepted.
Whenever people hear about Acton, it just makes sense to them because this is the way schools should be. There are a lot of parents out there that think everything is going pretty well, but that there is something missing. They feel there is something better out there. But what is it? We think the missing link is character development. An environment where children learn grit, perseverance, kindness, endurance and most importantly, who they are inside as an individual. They learn to value themselves and challenge themselves and they lay out and initiate a plan to follow their passions and change the world.
Today, there are 178 schools opened worldwide and we are growing fast. We are happy and excited to be part of this network where we are spreading a new philosophy of learning.
Acton Academy is a learner-driven school. To be “Learner-driven” means that when we do our core skills, the Eagles can choose their own pathway of education. This approach is beneficial for the students not just while they are young, but also when they grow up and face real-life challenges.
For instance, they can choose either Khan Academy, Aleks or Dreambox for Math. To earn badges in Math level 1, Math level 2, and so on, there are different goals depending on the program(s) they choose.
In our first few weeks of being open, we have noticed a big shift happen. Once the students had their plans in place, we noticed a lot of complaints starting to happen. Many students are drifting around the room, unable to focus and wondering what they were supposed to be doing. At one point they actually asked our Guide to tell them what to do and please set their goals for them. That was when it hit home to me that in a traditional school environment, everyone is taught to follow directions. No matter the task, they are given a worksheet or a list of step by step directions. Every moment of the day in a traditional environment is scripted.
Here at Acton, on the other hand, we do not give directions. We tell students to choose their own path instead. There are directions in the badges, but nobody is constantly reminding and asking them “What badge do you want to work on now?”
Do you think it is better for your child to struggle with learning how to set goals and how to figure out what tasks they need to focus on to reach those goals at an early age rather than after they go to college and start a career? Imagine an employer asking your child to get a task done, but your child will answer “How do you want me to do it? Can you give me step-by-step directions?” Certainly, this is not what the boss wants to hear. It doesn’t matter how your child does it (we are all individuals and do things in different ways), what matters is to simply get the task done and reach your goal. This is the real-life skill we are teaching to our students while they’re young! In that way, their mindset will change so that they know they can handle anything that somebody throws at them. They will have confidence in setting their own plans in action.
Students want specific directions, but that’s not what we do here at Acton. We only encourage and guide. We let learners think for themselves. By engaging in that process, they learn how to learn. What a priceless gift we can give our children by helping them become lifelong learners.
When I was in a traditional school growing up, a bell would always tell me when it was lunchtime or when it was time to move to a different class. The teacher would always tell me when it was time to do Writing or when it was time to do Math. There was always somebody else in control of my schedule, telling me where to be and when to be there.
Because of that experience, I struggled when I came out of school to be at places on time. You may have heard stories about students who go off to college and end up failing or dropping out because they don’t go to their classes. Sadly, they don’t have the inner drive or skill of knowing when to be at places at a certain time. They became used to having somebody else tell them when it’s time to do something or go somewhere.
At Acton Academy, we do things differently. One activity that helps our Eagles learn time management is having a Timekeeper. Each day, a different Eagle is in charge of knowing what the schedule is and wearing the watch. The Timekeeper is in charge of knowing what time it is to get his peers to the right places at the right time. He is also expected to give a two minute-notice when it’s time to move to the next thing on the schedule. The schedule is also on the whiteboard for everyone to see and there are multiple clocks in the studio, however, one person each day has to really be on top of the schedule.
This simple task teaches the Eagles to learn how to read a watch or a clock. They also learn to be responsible with time because if they forget their duty, they start losing points. Here at Acton, we have freedom levels that students earn based on the number of points they have each week. For every minute they are late to the next place to be, they lose points.
During the first week of having a timekeeper, the Eagles decided to enact the “2 minute warning” because they realized that they needed to start putting away the games, computers, books etc. BEFORE it was time to be somewhere.
Yesterday, we had a huge fail that turned into a major priceless learning session for our Eagles. It was free time, and all of the Eagles were completely absorbed in the project they were doing in the backyard. Nobody knew what time it was. The timekeeper didn’t have the watch on. The guide and I waited and wondered when they are going to figure out they should be doing something else by now. 10 minutes went by, then 15, then 20….after waiting for half an hour, we finally gave in because we knew the day would be over. Because of this one mistake, the Timekeeper lost 30 points! Instead of possibly being at the highest freedom level next week, this one mistake will probably put them all at the lowest.
After what happened, we had to have a discussion with the Eagles about making up the time lost. By having a discussion and voting together, they ended up deciding to give up their snack time and 15 minutes of going to the park to make up for the half-hour they lost. Do you think next time they would take it more seriously? We do!
We love it so much when our Eagles are soaring and accomplishing amazing things. However, we also love it when they fail because that is where the real learning and growing occurs.
In a lot of traditional environments, children are mostly trained by having them read textbooks and memorize facts. At Acton Academy we believe that it is more important to teach learners how to get to the answers – where to look for information, how to dive deeper into a subject that you are interested in, and once your put knowledge in your “tool box”, how to use that information in the real world. This method empowers children and makes them take ownership of their education; which we believe is a great first step to taking ownership of their lives.
One of our main philosophies here at Acton Academy is similar to a quote by Dr. Seuss, “It is better to know how to learn than to know.” There is an important life lesson in this simple statement.
At Acton Academy, we get to the core of what will engage a student as a learner. We focus on what will drive them and spark the passion in them to find more information on a topic. That’s the reason why we are constantly asking questions and trying to inspire curiosity. We want to see the Eagles soar and discover how to expand their knowledge on their own because that’s what they are going to do for the rest of their lives.
There is a key difference between giving someone fish and teaching someone how to fish. Instead of telling children what they need to learn all the time, it’s beneficial for them to be able to learn and do research on their own. Isn’t it amazing to see the students being self-driven and not being driven to just memorize and take a test? Isn’t it amazing to see them truly care about what they are learning because they can choose what they want to learn?
If we keep on giving students the answers, we only provide them temporary solutions. If we teach them principles on how to arrive at the answers, we help them find lasting solutions.
At Acton Academy, we strive to inspire the Eagles and remind them that they are on their own Hero’s journey where everything and anything is possible. If they choose to grow their brain just as fast as they want to, they have the tools to do it!
When asked to reflect on what the students had learned over the past year, one 11-year old’s answer was this: “I thought that my biggest lesson learned was not to procrastinate. But now, I realize I was actually not procrastinating. I was just giving up every time something was difficult.”
It’s insightful when the Eagles are given the power to think about who they are and reflect on what has happened with their daily experiences. Here at Acton, we have a circle time every morning called our Morning Launch. It is one of the best ways to give the Eagles time for reflection. It is where everyone can share their feelings, listen to others, ask simple questions, and dive deep into answers.
During this time of the day, the Eagles learn to be encouraging and vulnerable at the same time. They create a safety net for each other so that everyone can share about their realities, character development, strengths, weaknesses, regrets, mistakes, and everything else. However, it doesn’t happen right away. It takes time to build this community. Sometimes, it even takes a year for others to be comfortable. But once it happened, it’s truly beautiful.
There was one time when a guide overheard two Eagles talking to each other during Writer’s Workshop and one learner said, “How can I challenge you to be better?” Hearing that was so amazing for us because it’s what we strive for at this school.
People do better when they are challenged and motivated. That is the culture we are instilling to the Eagles – to challenge each other to be the best version of themselves and do better than they have done before. The goal is to always be better today than they were yesterday, with a plan to become even better tomorrow.
Here at Acton Academy, we believe that project-based learning is an effective way to master the skills children need to solve real-life situations. One of my favorite quest stories is the Medical Quest Exhibition.
Most schools have Biology. But here at Acton Academy, we have Medical Quests. For 6 to 7 weeks, the Eagles will learn how to read blood scans, read x-rays, set a broken bone, treat diseases, administer first aid, and many other medical tasks. At the end of 6 weeks, there will be a public exhibition where the Eagles will be role-playing as doctors. Parents, Guides, family, and many other guests become patients.
The so-called “patients” will arrive with index cards that have their ailments and symptoms on them. The Eagles will have to diagnose and treat every patient based on his or her symptoms. The group who correctly identifies and treats the most patients wins the quest.
Interestingly, there is another variation of this quest. The lights will eventually go out and an announcement will be given that there is no electricity. The hospital is still open so they have to continue treating their patients without relying on computers or the internet.
After some time, the light will come back. But all of a sudden, there is another announcement! There has been a plane crash 2 miles away from the hospital. All survivors are being rushed in all at once, which means the hospital will be swamped. They can no longer see patients one at a time, but have to deal with several people all at once. Many of them have broken bones and life-threatening injuries.
The Medical Quest covers not just biology, but all the basics of life in one simple project. Having the Eagles face this real-world scenario is amazing. They learn how to perform medical tasks and do them under pressure. They also learn to control their emotions in the process.
Studying Biology in a textbook is not our style here at Acton Academy. It is way more fun and powerful to learn biology by applying real skills that are needed in the real world.