Often in my blog posts I mention activities that we’ve been doing with our Learning Circle. There has been some curiosity about what a Learning Circle is and what we do. Recently, I received an email from a friend who asked: I have some questions for you about the Learning Circle… How often do you meet? Who plans the events? What kind of people are part of the group? How do you make it work with bringing 3 kids at different stages?
Since there are probably other people who would like to know the answers to these questions I thought I’d answer them here. And, if any of my fellow Learning Circle friends read this post, please feel free to chime in below if I’ve missed any details.
What is a Learning Circle?
A Learning Circle is a gathering a people of various ages, beliefs and/or backgrounds that come together as equals for the purpose of building community and sharing knowledge and skills with each other.
The group I am part of is called the Valley of Friends (VoF) Learning Circle. We are a group of home learning families that gather with the purpose of building community and providing learning experiences for all the members.
What kind of people are part of VoF Learning Circle?
Our Learning Circle strives to be inclusive and there is much diversity among our members. Most of our members are home learning families with children of all ages (babies to pre/early-teens). There are also some families who take part in the Learning Circle that send their children to school.
How often do we meet?
We meet twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Most of ours gatherings take place during the day. Sometimes we meet during other times for special events and celebrations.
Who plans the activities?
Both the children and adults take part in planning events. About twice a year we gather for a Kids Planning Meeting. During this meeting we ask the children to give ideas and input into what they are interested in doing and learning. We record their ideas on a master list.
Three times are year (around January, April and September) there are Parent Planning Meetings. During these meetings the parents plan activities using the ideas suggested by the children and any other ideas brought forwards by adults. During the parent planning session we use a large whiteboard and plan three months of activities at a time. The parents share the responsibility for organizing each activity, this way the effort to plan doesn’t become a burden for one or two individuals.
After each planning session we post our calendar of activities on a Wikispace. This allows us to communicate with our members and alert each other if there have been any change in plans.
What kind of activities do we plan?
Our Learning Circle plans a wide variety of activities. We celebrate seasons and festivals (Spring Festival, Harvest Festival, Halloween, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Years). We take tours of various places (post office, police station, ambulance, farms, gardens). We bring in mentors to teach us about various subjects (rocks, stars, acting, singing). We encourage active living by going on hikes and doing other activities (gymnastics, swimming, skating, skiing, dancing, yoga). We make, build and create together (felting, batik, Lego).
How do I participate in Learning Circle with three children at such different learning stages (6, 4, and 2)?
Many of the Learning Circle events are appropriate for all my children to be present at. While the two year old might not be able to understand and participate in the same way as my six year old the Learning Circle values all of its members no matter their age. On occasion there are activities that we do not participate in because they are too challenging or not a good fit for us (e.g. a difficult hike). And sometimes there are activities that are appropriate for my eldest but not for my younger children. During these events I will try to arrange for a friend to take my eldest or for someone to watch my youngest.
How to start a learning circle?
I have been part of the Valley of Friends Learning Circle for a year and a half. When the Learning Circle first started I believe it was a small group of friends that met for play-dates. Over the years the group has grown and changed. A couple years ago (2012) the Learning Circle became a registered not-for-profit organization and this year we started asking that participating families become registered members. Membership allows us to apply for grants which can allow us to plan more awesome learning opportunities. The Learning Circle has also written policies and agreements which is helpful for articulating expectations around how activities should be run, conflicts resolved and diversity respected within the group.
While I was not around when Valley of Friends Learning Circle started I think it’s important to allow a group like this to grow organically so that it is sustainable and enjoyable for everyone. While it’s tempting to jump into organizing activities twice a week with a large group of people this might lead to people feeling overworked and burned out. Also, I have noticed that respect, honesty and open communication are very important if a diverse group of people are gathering and wanting to be successful in their purpose.