Real Talk

The Nanaimo Free Learners was born in 2015 out of a desire of families in our community to create a place where children can learn naturally, freely, and authentically. We know that children know how, and want, to learn- and all they need is the support, encouragement, and resources to do so!

2B3BF1A600000578-0-image-a-18_1439163200283Over the past two and a half years, the Nanaimo Free Learners have worked tirelessly to create this space- the one that you know as Maple Hill. We’ve held information sessions, public education evenings, open houses, and attended countless markets, expos, and community events to help spread the word. We’ve shared so many conversations with parents that had less-than-stellar experiences in school, and are looking for something different for their child. So many of you are so very excited to hear that Maple Hill is in the works. “I have been looking for something exactly like this!” is frequently heard around here, and it makes us smile every time!

Our short-term programs in thee spring of 2016 were a great success and everyone learned so much through them. We were disappointed when we had to cancel our full time programs, but we worked hard to bring them back, and we did it! Maple Hill Free School is a developing Group 3 Independent School, and we are so excited that the dream is so close to coming true.

But now, it’s time to get real. And the time to do so is running out. 13179268_1091439504251343_6023063490974514732_n

In order for our group to continue on this amazing path that we are on, we need the one thing we can’t do without… the kids! We have a number of enrolled students that are so excited to begin their free learning experience at Maple Hill this fall, but the fact is: we don’t have enough students yet. And if our numbers don’t grow quickly enough, we will be forced to withdraw our application for Independent School designation, cancel our programs for the fall, and delay our goals of making self-directed education available to the Nanaimo families that really want it.

We don’t want to see that happen!

If you’ve been looking for an alternative for your child, if you believe in children’s rights in education, and if you want to see Maple Hill Free School succeed as much as we do, it’s time to enroll! It’s quick and easy to do- the link is right here.

Registration is easier than ever! Maple Hill Free School will be a designated independent school with the BC Ministry of Education, which means your child no longer needs to be enrolled with other schools such as distributed learning schools, or registered as home learners. The time to bring self-directed, emergent learning opportunities to Nanaimo is now!






Hello, free learners!

We have been working on some pretty big things over here at the Nanaimo Free Learners Society… and we are so excited to be able to share the news with you today!

After our hugely successful short-term programs in the spring of 2016, Maple Hill ran into some red tape with governing bodies and unfortunately, had to halt our programs 13179268_1091439504251343_6023063490974514732_nwhile we worked out the fine details of being educational pioneers and creating a brand-new kind of education alternative (no school like Maple Hill exists in BC!). It was heartbreaking for us as the founders, our supporters, and most importantly, to the kids and families that had been attending and enjoying Maple Hill up until that point. We made a promise to them that we wouldn’t stop working until we could bring Maple Hill back, and that’s what we’ve been doing!

All our hard work has paid off, and the Nanaimo Free Learners Society’s application to the BC Ministry of Education for designation as a Group 3 Independent School has been approved! This means that come this September, we can open our doors and continue to provide the same great program based on respect, freedom, and self-directed learning that we so strongly believe in. This is a huge step for our organization and for our community in terms of creating viable education alternatives and providing families with support to follow their children’s lead.

13139345_1091439537584673_8003881224817475355_nHowever… the work to get Maple Hill Free School off the ground isn’t done yet! Now is the time when we need your help most of all. In order for our application to proceed, we need to secure our facility by the end of this month. We need all the help we can get to find a suitable place for Maple Hill to call home! We are looking for a small space, classroom, community hall, church basement, or likewise that we can use for the 2017/18 school year. Ideally, this space will be near a park, beach, or playground, and be available to us continuously.

We need our support team more than ever! If you have any ideas, suggestions, or can help us to finally make this dream a reality for Nanaimo families… please get in contact with us today. You can reach the Nanaimo Free Learners at or give us a call at 250-618-3676. We appreciate each and every one of you!


The landscape from here

Happy summer, free learners! It has been quite a while since we have checked in with the ole’ blog. I hope your summer has been full of fun, learning, and new experiences!

The spring season at Maple Hill was full of all of the above. We ran two short-term programs, held multiple open houses, and ran an experience day. We met a lot of great people, made some amazing connections, and were so excited to really get the dream of a non-coercive, child-focused, and ethical learning centre off the ground. 8f6135c0e78be3c76174beb1b2ed671e

Unfortunately, as is so common with semi-controversial and paradigm-shifting concepts, the Nanaimo Free Learners ran in to bureaucratic red tape with some of the powers that be, and we’ve been forced to put a hold on offering any more programs for the time being. This means that both our part- and full-time programs will not be able to go forward as planned this September.

However, there is always a bright side! We are as motivated as ever to continue making this dream a reality. Nanaimo has asked for education alternatives, and we are not giving up! As we approach the fall, we will be planning a ton of fun family activities, fundraisers, and groups to join. Our goal is to form a large community of families commited to alternative education that can gather for support, friendship, and networking. We would love to move forward towards our goal of opening our unschool by September 2017 with the full support of our “Alt Ed” community working together to create an amazing environment built on freedom, trust, and respect for children’s learning.

For now, we are asking that you stay tuned to our blog, Facebook page, and website to keep up-to-date with what we are planning. And, as always, if you want to get involved- please let us know! Do you have an idea for an event or activity? Do you want to be involved with the organization and management of the group? Just want to chat more about it? Our email address is and we always want to hear from you!


The Top 5 Books In Your Library (Right Now!)

We often get requests for reading material from people who want to learn more about what we are doing and why changing the status quo of our education system is so necessary. The topic is so wide and varied that there are literally hundreds of books out there on education reform, each advocating for something just a little bit different from the last.

Our resource page is a great place to start, but for those looking for a good, straightforward read that reflects our philosophy, here are the top five books on learning that are available right now through your local library (VIRL).


Free to Learn, Peter Gray
“When compelled, we do the minimum necessary to meet requirements. Everyone, regardless of age, prefers freedom and self-direction to rigid control by others. It is interesting that people often forget these obvious points when thinking about children.”

Our Facebook followers will recognize Peter Gray’s name from the many links to his blog on Psychology Today where he discusses ethical education and the shortfalls of our conventional education system. Free to Learn is an easy, addictive read that really paints a clear picture of what education should look like. This book is an incredible asset to the alternative education community; if you’re only going to read one book on the topic, make it this one!


Summerhill School, A.S. Neill
“What is education? I say it is, among other things, forming character from the inside, not the dictated character of grammar schools.”

Summerhill is the oldest and longest-running democratic school in the world. It’s founder, A.S. Neill, believed that children should be free to choose their own educational path and that success is determined by happiness, not qualifications. Neill often said that he’d rather his school produce “a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.”


What Every Parent Should Know About School, Michael Reist
“We need to remember just how artificial the environment of school is. When else in human history have twenty-five ten-year-olds spent six or seven hours in a room together with one adult presiding? We take the situation as normal, and we see the child who has trouble functioning within that situation as a problem.”

Michael Reist’s book is a straightforward look at the reality of public schools. Written non-linearly with the intention of being easy to digest, this book asks the questions that need to be asked and also has a great chapter on the effects of compulsory education on a child’s mental wellbeing.


The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, Steven Harrison
“Education systems presume that children need to be fixed, but are they broken? Are they not already expressing what we say we want to get from our education system- curiosity, creativity, and communication? Are they not already building skills, acquiring information, and effectively socializing at a pace that far exceeds the adults?”

Another book full of thought-provoking questions and full of the author’s ideas on what needs to be done to not only the education system, but also on what inner work society needs to do on what it truly means to “be educated”.


How Children Fail, John Holt
“It is not the teacher’s proper task to be constantly testing and checking the understanding of the learner. That’s the learner’s task, and only the learner can do it. The teacher’s job is to answer questions when learners ask them, or to try to help learners understand better when they ask for that help.”

No alternative education/unschooling booklist is complete without some tried, tested, and true John Holt. Often referred to as “the grandfather of education”, John Holt is a classic with a touch of brutal honesty and has experience on his side when it comes to the values of rethinking education.



“So when is this all happening, anyway?”

Hello freelearners! Happy November! I am so excited about all the progress the Nanaimo Free Learners have been making towards getting our space set up and functional. Remember that if you’ve got something to donate to our centre, you can check out our wishlist here.


We have been getting a lot of questions lately from excited people who really want to know WHEN this is all happening! It has been a lot of talk, planning, dreaming, and brainstorming for a long time and I know it is really hard to wait for something that is both so desperately needed and so exciting.

The good news is that we are getting so close to the big day!

Here is the plan for the next little while:

November and December: Finish the renovation of our space, collect donations, and set up our “unschool” for optimum freedom, learning, and play!

January: We will host an official “Grand Opening”, where we will open our doors for a drop-in afternoon and the public can come see what we are all about! January will also see the start of bi-weekly open houses which will be a great way to connect with the alternative education community in Nanaimo, make friends, and ask questions.

February: PILOT PROGRAM LAUNCH! This exciting precursor to full-time attendance will give families a chance to experience life at our unschool on a smaller scale. The pilot program will operate exactly as full-time attendance will, but for only one day a week for six weeks. This is a great way to test out alternative and non-coercive education and see if it is a good fit for your family.

Also in the works are parent education courses, for adults interested in learning more about child-determined education, one-day workshops for children, and fundraising activities for the community to participate in.

So what can you do right now?

I know there are a lot of people anxious to get going, and it can be hard to wait! If you want to get involved now, here is what you can do:

  • Help us recruit donations. We have had a tremendous amount of support already and we are so grateful for it! While everything on our wishlist is still gratefully accepted, we are particularly looking for a large community table, bookshelves and wall-mounted shelves, computers, and craft supplies. When in doubt, don’t throw it out- we can probably use it!
  • Spread the word. Get talking to your friends, families, and neighbours about the Nanaimo Free Learners and what we are doing! If you want some flyers or business cards to distribute, please send us an email at and we will pass some on to you (free!)
  • Send us your feedback. What do you really want to see happen at our freeschool? What would make our space amazing? What are your ideas, thoughts, worries, concerns? It’s all constructive, so pass it on!
  • Prepare to ENROLL! Applications for enrollment in our pilot program  will be available in December. More information, including a tuition schedule, “curriculum” information, and dates will be made available in the next few weeks 🙂


Thank you, as always, for your continued support of education alternatives and positive change in our community.



Things are coming along quickly with the renovation of our free learning space! It is so exciting to see it come together. Sometimes I can’t help but stand there and envision the space as a noisy, bustling space full of children playing, laughing, and learning about their interests, at their own pace.

Right now, we are urgently looking for the following donations of labour:

  • a paint sprayer (and it’s operator) to come and paint the ceiling!
  • a cleanup crew to come and tidy up after the drywallers

In addition, please check out our newly updated wishlist for an idea of what we are looking for before we can open our doors. If you have a lead on any of these items- or have an idea for something else not on the list- please contact us at

Thanks so much to all of our supporters!

Exciting news!!

We’ve been digitally quiet, but wheels have been turning and I am happy to announce that it looks like we have a facility to use for our free learning centre! We are so excited to finally have a place to call home and to be able to start bringing this vision to life.

The good news: We have lots of open space to set up our indoor areas however we’d like. Our centre will be located in a quiet neighbourhood, easily accessible and across from the amazing Colliery Dam, which means lots of adventures and playing in the forest!

The not-so-good news? It currently looks like this:


We are starting from scratch!

So, what does this mean? It means we need to call on our awesome community to help us get this space usable and ready to host some amazing, authentic learning!

This is what we are looking for:

  • Donations of time from those who have experience hanging, taping, and mudding drywall
  • Volunteers who can help paint, clean, and organize
  • Donations of supplies (see our wish list for what we are looking for) to get our centre furnished and well-stocked for our learners
  • Financial donations to help in the last few stages of opening our doors!

If you, or someone you know, is able to help us out in any way, please consider volunteering for this great cause. You can contact us at

Also in the works is setting up a regular get-together of our freelearning community for support, connection, and friendship. You will hear more about this once we have our space all set up and ready to use!

My Street


We had a great- and very windy- time at the My Street event on Sunday!


We had the opportunity to speak to a large number of people about bringing ethical education to our community and we received a lot of enthusiasm and support. I am so excited that so many people feel so passionately about changing what education looks like in Nanaimo!


We asked our visitors to add to our list of what they wish they’d learned during their years of compulsory education. What would you add to the list?

If you missed the event but still want to share your ideas or questions, let us know! You can contact us through email at, via Facebook, or a comment on our blog.

The Danger of Back to School

“Imagine a job in which your work every day is micromanaged by your boss. You are told exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. You are required to stay in your seat until your boss says you can move.  Each piece of your work is evaluated and compared, every day, with the work done by your fellow employees.  You are rarely trusted to make your own decisions.  Research on employment shows that this is not only the most tedious employment situation, but also the most stressful.  Micromanagement drives people crazy.


Kids are people, and they respond just as adults do to micromanagement, to severe restrictions on their freedom, and to constant, unsolicited evaluation.  School, too often, is exactly like the kind of nightmare job that I just described; and, worse, it is a job that kids are not allowed to quit.  No matter how much they might be suffering, they are forced to continue, unless they have enlightened parents who have the means, know-how, and will to get them out of it.  Including homework, the hours are often more than those that their parents put into their full-time jobs, and freedom of movement for children at school is far less than that for their parents at work.”

Read more here: The Danger of Back to School.

Philosophy, Facebook, and a call for help

Happy September, free learners! With all the back-to-school talk going on over social media and the stores full of school supplies, I am feeling more motivated than ever to work hard on this project and create something really amazing and something parents and children can be excited and optimistic to go “back” to!

Our first open house was a success and I am continually excited by how many people share this vision and want to see it come to life. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “this is exactly what we have been looking for!” or “I’ve been waiting for something like this!”. So many people in our community are looking for an education alternative and we can finally say IT’S COMING!

One thing we’ve been working on over the past few weeks is creating a document that will outline our philosophy and guiding principles so that we can put our vision in to words and to allow everyone to know the direction in which we are heading. I am excited to say that the document is now complete and you can read it here.

The Nanaimo Free Learners is now on Facebook! You can check out our page here. Please “like” and share, so that we may reach an even broader audience!

For everyone who has emailed me and asked, “how can I help?”, listen up! We still need a couple people who are able to take on fundraising and public outreach. In order to get our project up and running and bring our vision to life, we will need both! If you have any thoughts, ideas, or if you would like to volunteer your time, please send me an email at

Thanks for checking in, everybody!