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This Is How We Learn

One of the biggest questions we get is, "but do they learn anything?" Our answer is a resounding, "yes!" Our learning looks a little different from a traditional school: we're outside all day, we are on the move, we give our Learners agency over what and how they learn, and we collaborate, a lot. There are also things that align with a traditional school: we follow the Virginia Standards of Learning, we have a school library, we have structured class times, and we have caring adults who are driven to help our Learners grow their minds.

What does a day at GAP look like? Here are the big pieces of the day:

Stewardship: First thing in the morning our Learners and Educators work together to get school ready for the day. We pick up sticks, start fires, feed the animals, tidy the library, pull green invaders (weeds), spread wood chips, pick up trash, and more to make sure we're all lending a hand to create a positive learning environment.

Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) Time: Each of our Learners has a bag of books they can choose from during DEAR Time. We spend 15-20 minutes each morning reading books for pleasure. We want our Learners to fall in love with reading, so we need to spend time figuring out what we like to read.

Morning Meeting: Each morning our Flocks (classes) come together to start the day. Each Flock has a different system for their morning meeting. We talk about the date, what's going to happen that day (and any changes), weather and layers, participate in a math challenge, review the word/root word of the week, and review our expectations. Sometimes we do some trivia, stretching, sing songs, read a poem, or talk about cool nature moments.

Exploration: We spend about 45 minutes each day exploring together. This is a child led time of the day with our Educators there to guide on the side. During this time Learners are exploring, playing games, crafting, reading, and sometimes doing some school work. We love this time of day for social emotional learning. It gives us real life practice to manage big feelings, practice communication skills, and learn how to problem solve and collaborate.

Brain Blast: For about two hours a day (a little more for our older Learners) we focus on traditional classes. This is when our Learners have English Language Arts, Math, and Science. They visit their different Educators so they're learning from people who feel passionate about what they're teaching. We work to meet our Learners where they're at academically, and help build them up from there. We do assessments in ELA and Math at the start of the year, using that information we create small groups of Learners for their Brain Blast groups. We reassess in the winter/spring to make sure our kiddos are still in the best groups for their success. Our youngest Learners also get a Social Emotional Learning class where they work on managing feelings, gross & fine motor skills, pencil grip & writing, and more. Skills from Brain Blast get reinforced and practiced during Projects and Knowledge Seekers when students write proposals, use math when shopping for supplies, analyze text through research, and create artifacts that share their learning in Knowledge Seekers.

Projects: Four hours a week our Learners are participating in Maker Days. They utilize our Design Process to help them plan out a project they choose. This time of day looks completely different for different ages, as we're working on different skills and areas of development. Projects is focused much more on the process than the end product. They get to come up with an idea, research how to accomplish their goal, make a plan, create a budget, go shopping (we have a store), and create. A lot of projects then pull in an aspect of failure, as steps feel hard or look different than expected. Incredible things can be learned and practiced throughout this process.

Knowledge Seekers: Our ultimate goal at GAP School is to support Learners becoming knowledge seeking identities. We want them to feel confident as human beings to ask questions and seek answers. Becoming life long learners is a process! During Knowledge Seekers we play brain games to help figure out how our brains work best, practice traditional technologies (fire building & bow drilling, whittling, shelter building, etc.), and focus on nature awareness. This is also where we work together on design challenges, all school projects, and more.

End of Day Meeting: At the end of the day we write down our Story of the Day, which is a journal of what happened each day, different experiences, nature observations, weather, and more. These books become like almanacs for GAP School in the future.

Each year is broken down into Big Ideas. A Big Idea is a question or statement that we will dive into as a school. We introduce each Big Idea during Knowledge Seekers on a launch day. This is where we ask the Learners to help us write down all of their questions, ideas, and thoughts. Our Educators then take that big brainstorm to help support the curriculum for the unit. At the end of each Big Idea our Learners and Educators plan a Community Event where they get to show off all of their work to their families. We love seeing how proud of Learners are of everything they've accomplished!

So, back to the original question, "but do they learn anything?" We sure do!

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