Bioregional School

K-12 in Multi-age Groups

Located in Victoria, Oak and Orca School is an intentionally small learning community. We offer blended programs in conjunction with our distributed learning school, and full-time schooling to about 50 students. Spaces are available by waitlist by completing an application process. You are welcome to come for a tour of the school, held regularly October-May.

Oak and Orca Bioregional School is an affordable independent alternative for families in Victoria, B.C. Canada. The school uses bioregional education to encourage students to be strong, confident, self-directed learners with an interest in sustainable communities. Children gain skills and knowledge in curriculum areas through studies based on their own unique interests. The school uses multi-age classes (family grouping) and an ungraded approach to allow each child his/her uniqueness and to support the gradual development of skills when readiness is achieved. Students are encouraged by supportive adults to reach goals and objectives they themselves have defined. Enjoyment of reading, writing, mathematics, science, art, drama, music, social studies and natural history are continuously modelled and actively encouraged. Certified teachers offer experiential learning activities and workshops throughout the day. Alternately, students may choose age-appropriate child-directed learning activities at any time. The freedom to choose to be directed by someone else or to be self-directed allows for uniqueness of character, learning style and interest.

Program Summary

Children make learning choices based on their own unique interests.

Children gain skills and knowledge in curriculum areas through studies based on their own unique interests. The school uses multi-age classes (family grouping) and an ungraded approach to allow each child his/her uniqueness and to support the gradual development of skills when readiness is achieved. Students are encouraged by supportive adults to reach goals and objectives they themselves have defined. Enjoyment of reading, writing, mathematics, science, art, drama, music, social studies and natural history are continuously modelled and actively encouraged.

Certified teachers offer experiential learning activities and workshops throughout the day. Alternately, students may choose age-appropriate child-directed learning activities at any time. The freedom to choose to be directed by someone else or to be self-directed allows for uniqueness of character, learning style and interest.

"The crisis cannot be solved with the same kind of education that helped create the problems." David Orr

Child-Centred Learning

Child-centred learning puts children at the centre of the education process. Teachers become facilitators rather than directors of education. In a child-centred environment children are valued as individuals, they are active participants in their education and their entire well-being is considered in planning and providing education.

When the child is considered the centre or focal point of the education process each child is recognized as unique. The teaching becomes more flexible and teachers aim to provide experiences that their specific children will benefit from. No longer can one plan fit all classrooms and no longer is one teacher directing the whole show. Teaching becomes less important and learning becomes key.

In summary, a child-centred education would:

  • meet the needs of individual children and acknowledge their ideas
  • have adults that act in the best interest of the child and family
  • be concerned with educating the whole child, mind, body, heart & hands
  • lead to the realization of each child's potential
  • be inclusive of all children and celebrate their differences
  • ensure that all children are tolerant of each other
  • provide a safe learning environment where children's feelings are understood
  • allow for individual expression, experimentation and risk taking
  • treat children like the real people that they are
  • offer a learning place where children are happy to attend and want to learn

Open Classroom

Open Classrooms/Open Schools = Open Education

Open classrooms and open schools are active learning environments where children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions about their own learning. Usually children are grouped with others of various ages (or grades). This is often termed 'multi-age' or 'family' grouping. Nongraded education goes hand in hand with this kind of grouping. In multi-age, nongraded classrooms, children are able to learn free from competition with each other. Learning becomes more of a personal endeavour, and children become free to learn from each other.

The teaching style in an open classroom is very flexible to individual needs. Usually, the room is arranged in an open structure without individual desks. Children are free to learn at many different learning centres about the room for much of the day. In an open classroom the room is carefully laid out to promote child-centred learning. The teacher's role is one of a facilitator. He/she knows every child, their likes and dislikes, their interests and their strengths. Using this information, the teacher gently encourages individuals to reach their potential and to expand their experience.

Experiential learning is key in an open classroom. Both the teacher's and the children's creativity drive the construction of new knowledge and understanding upon the child's growing understanding of the world. New experiences allow children to build upon what they already know or believe to be true. In this way children come to truly understand their world.

Although the curriculum objectives may be predetermined by an outside jurisdiction, how the information and skills are to be presented and learned is often up to the school. In an open classroom, the teacher maintains the responsibility for this outside curriculum but is able to pass on some of the choice and responsibility to the children. An emergent curriculum evolves out of the interests and ideas of the children. In a stimulating, active learning environment, children's natural learning instincts are encouraged. An example of natural learning is a child learning to speak. Although this is one of the most difficult learning tasks a child must take on, children learn to communicate by trying things out and receiving feedback from others. When children are encouraged to learn in this natural manner and make choices about how to learn, they retain their creativity and spunk.

Children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions in an open classroom. They are empowered to make choices about how they will learn and come to understand their own unique learning styles. When children learn to make informed, considered choices, they are self- confident individuals. When they make choices about how they learn best and what their interests are, they come to be life-long learners.

In summary, an open classroom/school is one where:

Oak and Orca School's Rain Garden

  • active learning is favoured over seat-work
  • children are taught to cooperate and learn from each other
  • grades are of minor importance (often nongraded with multi-age grouping)
  • children are encouraged to experiment and build on their previous understanding
  • teachers are facilitators of learning and know each child individually
  • an emergent curriculum stems from student and teacher interests
  • children are often self-directed and make individual choices about learning
  • a variety of ways of learning the same skill are provided
  • children move freely in a space and make choices about their own learning

"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself. "
Galileo Galilei
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."
Helen Keller
"Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire."
WB Yeats

WorkShops

Teacher-directed Workshops Inspire and Connect

Workshops usually involve slightly more teacher-directed activities than are found in the Open Classroom. Children choose which workshops they are going to attend from the choices presented to them. The workshops are offered by adults (or sometimes children) and usually involve some kind of participatory activity or activities. Workshops can vary in approach, but all follow the philosophies of the school.

Workshops are attended by multi-aged groups of children - sometimes the age difference is as many as 9 years. This presents challenges in the provision of the workshop, however each child will take something different away from a workshop experience, depending on their own unique needs and prior knowledge and understanding.

Multi-Age Grouping

Multi-Age Grouping Without Grades

Multi-age, mixed age or family grouping is a classroom situation where children are not segregated by age. In most situations, the school will separate into groups of similar age, but the group will span several 'grades'. The multi-age approach fits nicely with nongraded schooling, where children are treated as individuals and their skills are built from the starting point of where they are at, rather than what grade they are in.

Because of the variety of ages, it is natural for children to be observed as individuals, and not compared to their classmates. Children in any class vary in skill level a significant amount. In a multi-age group it seems normal for skill levels to vary. As a result, each child's self confidence is retained as each of their strengths is cherished. Cooperation amongst children to meet their learning needs is a natural consequence of this environment. Learning becomes a celebration.

Children's strengths in various areas are acknowledged when they teach other children. Special needs can be met individually and in small groups without harsh feelings. Children can remain creative and strong and can look to each other for support and help.

Children in a nongraded situation need not depend on others for recognition. They become self-reliant, self-motivated learners. Most importantly, they learn how to learn (the best way for them) and retain that knowledge for life.

In summary, multi-age grouping in a nongraded context involves:

teaching kids how to fix bikes for an Oak and Orca School fieldtrip

  • the education of more than one age group in one place
  • younger children looking up to older children and wanting to know what they know
  • children teaching children and working together for mutual benefit
  • each child's strengths and individual needs being acknowledged and addressed
  • children being self-reliant, self-motivated learners
  • cooperation and collaboration outweighing competition
  • grades and grading being unimportant or non-existent
  • children's creativity being encouraged to flourish
  • a celebration of learning within a natural community of learners

"Good schools, like good societies and good families, celebrate and cherish diversity."
Deborah Meier
"Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing."
Madeline Hunter
"Education is... Hanging around until you've caught on."
Robert Frost

Self Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is the ideal educational situation because the learner is truly in control of the process. Self-directedness ensures that the learning is of high interest to the learner and that he/she is getting the most from the experience. Some children find it easy to be truly self-directed, others have more difficulty and require more guidance and help.

A child, whether in school or out, should never be discouraged from learning in a self-directed manner. The school should be structured so as to encourage self-directed learning when it occurs naturally as well as to teach strategies for self-directedness to all students. These strategies include motivation, goal setting, time management, research, critical thinking, interviewing, discussing, self-assessment, etc. The most important skills children need to learn are those which will allow them to enjoy learning for the rest of their lives.

a student cyclist takes pictures on a school field trip Pre-school children are self-directed by nature. The challenge of schools, is to never allow children to lose these positive attitudes and learning skills they come with. Curriculum can emerge from the interests and ideas of the students. Many students need only suggestions and encouragement from available adults and a carefully stocked learning environment that supports and motivates on its own accord.

Older students can become almost completely self-directed. They can be given curriculum outlines in child-friendly language and can create and choose their own activities to suit their interests and learning styles. The amount and kind of guidance required depends on the child's needs. Teachers need to be flexible in order to provide enough, but not too much, guidance for each student. By age 12-15, many students are able to be completely self-directed in their studies and still fulfil curriculum requirements.

In summary, encouraging self-directed learning involves:

  • allowing each child the opportunity to be naturally self-directed
  • encouraging children to ask questions, and helping them answer them
  • providing a quality learning environment that encourages self-direction
  • encouraging 'copying', risk-taking, mistakes and thoughtful 'guessing'
  • teaching the skills of motivation, goal setting and persistence
  • teaching the skills of successful learning, experimentation and research
  • providing time for students to try new things out without judgement
  • bringing to the forefront skills that people use to learn
  • encouraging students to observe and discuss the techniques and work of others
  • helping students to research adult lives, careers and ways of doing things
  • allowing space for students to be actively involved in important decisions at school

"Education is not a form of entertainment, but a means of empowering people to take control of their lives."
Unknown
"I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it ."
Vincent Van Gogh
"Do not judge my intelligence by the answers I give, but instead by the questions I ask."
Mark McGranaghan

Affordable Choice

Oak and Orca receives funding from the provincial government because we meet their criteria for a group 1 independent school. Our funding is equivalent to 50% of the operating grant provided to public schools (per student.) This funding covers only 1/2 of our operating costs, so we must supplement our income in order to pay for our capital and operating costs.
Because we are committed to including all families in our school, it is always a challenge to come up with the rest of the funds. We keep our tuition fees very low, and provide options for low income families to be included. We ask families to participate in fundraising activities.

Tuition for On-site Programs

Tuition is paid prior to the first of each month.

While we understand that this is a significant cost for some families, it is necessary in order to provide quality programming with a low student-teacher ratio. If tuition is a barrier for your family, please contact us.

Take a Tour

Tours are held regularly. Please contact us find out when you can take a tour of the school. Since we are so very different from other schools, a tour is the best way to get a good grasp on how things work at Oak and Orca.

Unfortunately at this time we have a rather large waitlist for most age groups in the full-time program. Part-time blended learning programs have shorter waitlists. Families are notified if a suitable space becomes available for their child. Please note that it is very difficult for us to find space for all children in a family at the same time.