For Parents of Children in Progressive Schools....

Our son was going to attend Crestmont, but we moved out-of-state.  He currently attends a Crestmont-like school here in Ohio and though he had a wonderful kindergarten experience, some issues have come up this year in his new group, which is kids aged 6-9 years.  Most of these issues are in regards to physical safety, and I'd like to learn how other progressive, child-centered schools handle safety while also encouraging exploration and independence.  I'd like to offer our school constructive solutions that are in practice at like-minded schools.

The kids are given more independence than in K, and with that comes a lot more unsupervised free play.  During this free play time, we've learned of children being hit, punched, pinched, having their arms twisted, getting hit with sticks, being excluded from group play, name-calling, etc.  It is such a far cry from the nurturing and inclusive environment of K that many parents are bewildered by this shift.  When conflicts arise, children are supposed to get a teacher and hold a "meeting" between the affected parties, but not all of them follow this process.  Thus the behavior continues unchecked, and some parents are concerned that a child may get seriously hurt. When we have expressed our concerns to the teacher and school manager (it's a democratically-run school so technically nobody's really "in charge"), they have said they would keep a closer eye on the kids during free play time, but still the behavior continues.

At your child's progressive school, are there parameters on how playground equipment is used, i.e. don't stand on top of the monkey bars?  Also, are there rules regarding playing with sticks so nobody pokes out an eye or gets hit?  

Any insights you can share into how we can create a safer and more inclusive school environment while still nurturing independence would be appreciated more than I can tell you...thank you so much!

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My child went through two different progressive schools, the first being one that was teacher-run through a non-hierarchical structure (like your current school sounds). What you’re describing is not about progressive education; elementary-age children always need clear limits and constant supervision. What we saw at our first elementary school sounds in the same vein as what you’re describing. The commitment to being non-authoritarian translated into giving the kids way too much independence way too early, treating them as if they were much more mature than they were or possibly could be. It’s not developmentally appropriate. The kids were exuberant, but also could be mean, violent (as you mentioned), bullying, disrespectful; and it got in the way of learning more and more as the kids got older. We left and moved to a progressive school that was well-organized, nurturing, and safe (physically and emotionally); hierarchical, yes, but in a very functional and cooperative way. 

It takes a *lot* to make a non-hierarchical school structure work well and serve both teachers and students in the best possible way; in the absence of that kind of conscientiousness diligence, it turns into a lack of accountability and some level of chaos and dysfunction. What you’re describing sounds worrisome. I would suggest looking for another school now.

This sounds like Lord of the Flies Jr. - there is no WAY I would keep my kid in a school like that, progressive or not.