stephanie jones

Everyone ready for the slow school movement?

In creativity, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, justice, NCLB, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, social action, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources on February 7, 2011 at 12:35 am

Yep – that’s right. I’ve coined a new phrase, or at least I’ve never read or heard this phrase before, but it’s exactly the sense I get when I’m at my daughter’s new school.

It’s slow.

There are no rigid beginnings and ends to anything. The day ebbs and flows with the children’s interest in and commitment to what they’re doing – or what they need to do.

When they need a snack or a drink, they get it.

When they need to move to a different place to be more comfortable, they do it.

When they need to use the restroom, they go.

When they are finished working on their current project or task, they move on.

And they are nice.

When children or adults are talking, they listen – at least mostly – and they respond thoughtfully.

It’s slow.

It’s quite relaxed, actually.

I never get the sense that any of the children or the adults are anxious about time.

They get anxious about other things: how will we make our projects work? When will we get the details about the next fieldtrip? What questions should we ask the University intern who wants to work with us? How can we help one of our friends make better decisions so she or he doesn’t get into physical confrontations with others?

Time – however – is not an anxiety-provoking concept.

Just the opposite of what I always felt in my daughter’s classrooms in the past: we have to go here; we have to cover this; we have to go there; time to line up; time to go in; not enough time to read; not enough time to play; not enough time to talk; not enough time to think: go – go – go – go – go – go – go!

How can one be thoughtful in such a fast-paced place?

How can one grow to consider many different perspectives?

How can one acquire a repertoire of conversational practices?

How can one focus on something so deeply that they truly gain an insight and fully embodied understanding of it that it changes the way they experience the world from then on?

These things happen in my daughter’s new school – a school that doesn’t have “tardies” or “absences” – a school where you can begin dropping off children at 8:15, the community meeting is held at 9:00, but anyone is welcome to arrive whenever it is best for the child’s and family’s schedule or mood that morning.

FYI – I’m no longer Devil Mommy on school mornings.

Yes, I’ve become a better mother because of this slow school approach. I don’t spend my mornings yelling, “Let’s go! You’re going to be late! If you miss the bus you’re in trouble!! Hayden, NOW!”

And guess what? 99% of the time we arrive before the community meeting, and 90% of the time I drop her off at 8:15.

In other words, we manage to get to school in a timely way – but the experience of getting there couldn’t be more different from the time-tied and punishments-based-on-time system. In the fast-school-time-rules-everything-else system that turns me into MONSTERMOMMY and lots of teachers into monster teachers…just because they’re trying to be on time or cover things on time, complete the paperwork faster, and as soon as we try to rush things, children will frustrate us.

A slow school movement could parallel the slow food movement and might:

Assume children are learning all the time, regardless if they are in a formal school or with family members and friends;

Recognize the significant value of informal learning and its links to greater educational goals;

Move at the pace of children and families with built-in flexibility in schedules, routines, responses, education goals, social goals, emotional goals, physical goals;

Provide space for contemplation, deep study, long-term projects, and flexibility;

Focus on place-based learning that emphasizes human and nature relationships through outdoor education and deep academic inquiry;

Aim for a consciousness-raising education that centers all humans’ responsibility for other humans;

Meet the needs of individual children and families through long-term listening and response;

Strive for a holistic education for confident, socially-conscious, generous, contemplative, physically agile, and academic children live mindfully and creatively in the world for the benefit of themselves, others, and the natural world.




  1. […] Continued here: Everyone ready for the slow school movement? « engaged intellectuals […]

  2. It’s not an entirely new idea but you get precious few worthwhile hits for it on a search. Apart from being an approach to primary education, I feel it also aligns to life long learning and to the way informal learning works- read Harold Jarche’s blog on that. As a lecturer, I’m more interested in the adult/life long end of it. I do worry about how kids who attend a progressive primary school will fare when the end up in an old style school in their teens.

  3. I am overjoyed to hear about this, and I just googled slow school movement, and your blog came up!

    A few years ago I took a picture of what Marcello wrote in magnet letters “Stop Go Slow down” that spoke to me about the kind of experience we were having.

    This school year is better for him. Although the teacher just wrote N/A on his report card for reading assessments, he refused to respond to the DIBELS assessment questions. We are not so worried about that, but I could go on at length about how the school continues to use these timed assessments that unfairly penalizes the most marginalized children (those labeled as ELLs and with language delays etc).

    I heartily congratulate families who find ways to get around the pervasive discourses and settle into rhythms that are more conducive to deeper learning opportunities! I am happy for you and for others I know who have forged the path (I guess that metaphor is still a fairly linear time narrative)! Here is to creating new learning arrangements!

    All the best!

    • Wonderful to hear from you Lori! And Marcello must be absolutely brilliant of course – stop. go. slow down. I couldn’t agree more! And good for him for refusing to engage in practices that might produce anxiety and be counterproductive to his experience in school – already demonstrating tremendous agency.

      We are in our second year now of what I call ‘slow schooling’ and couldn’t be happier or healthier. Hayden is more creative and productive and busy than ever, and that has everything to do with the rhythms you refer to in your comment. One small example – she has been building furniture for her dolls out of recycled materials at home and took the beginnings of a new piece today into school to work on it (and she will absolutely have all the time she wants/needs to work on that project today, no questions asked and no advance “permission” needed). There is nothing better than having her continuously engage between home and school without even a hiccup. We are so fortunate that Teri decided to forge her own way as a teacher rather than continuing to work in a setting where she was forced to do unethical and many times meaningless things to/with/for children. If you’re interested, here’s the link to the website:

      I wish, I really, really wish that a public school district would take a chance on this kind of approach to education. The slow-school movement is well underway in tiny spaces all over the country like at the freedom to grow UNschool, but the opposite approach is being used and even intensified in so many public schools – definitely headed in a dangerous direction if you ask me…

  4. […] I have written before about what I see as some of the basic rewards of a school school movement, though it’s far from being fleshed out in any kind of productive way. This notion of time, though, and the life-changing decision about how to “teach” time in schools, how to “use” time in schools, and how to “expect” time to play out across one’s life is a provocative way of exploring a slow school movement. The word slow, alone, signifies a use of time that is in contrast to something else already in place – something fast. And the notion of bodies, too, should be a central part of moving this idea forward. How do we teach, use, and what do we expect of bodies in schools and across one’s life? How do bodies and time come together to create meaningful living and learning and being? […]

  5. […] be engendered with time.  We are sacrificing a vision of what it means to be human.   P.S.  See this for an interesting take on the “slow school movement.” Like this:LikeBe the first to […]

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