Ikšķile Free school – holistic approach in education

Evija Rudzīte

Ikšķile Free school - teaching freedom, nature, community and Latvian traditions.

Holistic education can be considered a rather new movement, while at the same time often referring to many types of existing alternative education; Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia Regio inspired schools and others. Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. True to its name, holistic education places an emphasis on the whole growth of a learner instead of emphasizing only specific parts of the human experience. It downplays materialism while promoting growth in all areas of human experience; intellectual, emotional, social and so forth. Proponents of a holistic education argue that it promotes balanced relationships not only between people, but between people and their environment. Taken all together, holistic education emphasizes democratic learning, emotional health, and relationship growth to a far greater degree than the traditional learning environment. (Becton, 2019) Curriculum can vary in schools that use a holistic education approach, however the main ideas commonly present are: • focusing and listening to each child and helping the child to see his/her potential • helping children learn about themselves, themselves with other people and themselves in nature • keeping in balance emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual development. Ikšķile Free school in Latvia practises holistic education. Developing its own approach to education based on Latvian folklore and love for nature, the values of this school are freedom, nature, community and Latvian traditions.

I now have three children but since my first was born, the question of what kind of world my children will grow up in has been important. Along with many families, having children invited us to revise our own daily habits – what we eat, where we live, what do we use to clean our house and if some things are not appropriate for children, are they appropriate for us?

When school-time approached for my older daughter, I was very happy that close to our home was a very special school – Ikšķile Free school, which was established and run by parents. It is a private school but we rather see it as community orientated, since it was begun by families wishing to have a different experience for their kids that further opened their doors to others who also found holistic child education important. Now all of my children are students of Ikšķile Free school and I work there in helping the school to develop.

Highlighting some importance in how the school helps students and families learn about themselves, others and the world, I need to emphasise that school is not only about children learning and developing; it is also very much about parents and larger families, as we all need to grow and change our daily routines to have a healthier life, a healthier world.

In Ikšķile Free school, learning about yourself is an important part of the study process

Physical development has much to do with our physical body, and in this school all sports classes take place outside, all students have long breaks between classes and lunch outside, and they also spend time outside after classes. The school provides vegetarian and organic food and has taken the effort to become the only certified organic public caterer in Latvia. The school has its own garden

where many vegetables for our lunches originate. Ikšķile Free school in Latvia practises holistic education. Developing its own approach to education based on Latvian folklore and love for nature, the values of this school are freedom, nature, community and Latvian traditions.

Intellectual development refers to many things that students learn in school, how they make sense of the world they live in. In Ikšķile Free school, learning about yourself is an important part of the study process. Every day, for example, starts with the teacher and students of the class coming together to see how everybody is.

Ikšķile Free school is part of the Eco-School movement, which encourages young people to engage in their environment by allowing them the opportunity to actively protect it. Through the programme, students experience a sense of achievement at being able to have a say in the environmental management policies of their schools. School Eco-council consists of students, teachers and parents who analyse the practices of the school and proposes changes. This year the focus is on trash and the Eco-council is promoting the idea of reducing the amount of trash created at school and at home, supporting each family in making a commitment of some daily habit they can alter. This year many families committed themselves to eliminate the use of plastic bags when shopping; we organised several workshops for making small bags to replace plastic ones.

Ikšķile Free school is a community of learning where I grow and learn about myself and the environment

The school also pays particular attention to integrating issues of sustainability in all subjects. For example in maths, students calculate the amount of trash that is buried in Latvia, and in English class, there comes a good time to watch a movie about trash and how it affects nature.

Emotional development is primarily about encouraging students to recognise their emotions, find ways in how to best deal with and express them. Emotional development also has to do with relationship to nature. As such, the school has many activities which promote positive attitude and love towards nature, raising young people who will take care of it and who place the interests and needs of the living world on the same level as their own. Pre-school kids have a special place in the forest where they go every week, where they also love going for picnics; my four-year-old happily came back from the first one! Older kids always love classes in nature, especially to enjoy bike trips to the nearby forest.

Spiritual development refers to understanding our role and place in the world, understanding that we ourselves are part of nature, that we are connected to it. It is both about understanding our individual responsibility to act and our role in showing others, even to bring changes on a system level when necessary. Ikšķile Free school by example, is the first school to provide certified organic food to students and among the few schools that now provide vegetarian food which until 2018 was illegal, as state law prescribed how many potatoes and how much meat school children should eat per week. The school initiated a legal case to prove this requirement outdated and unethical, and changes in the law were subsequently introduced.

Ikšķile Free school is a community of learning where I grow and learn about myself and the environment. I wish each of you find your learning community and that we can all grow to see the many alternatives available!

How did your school contribute to you better understanding your place in the world?

What educational experiences helped you to see your place in the world?

How can you bring learning experiences to others to encourage them to look at alternative ways of living?

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