For some time, I’ve been wanting to write about why I chose to send my daughter to The Antioch School.  I just read a post on Unicyclist.com by Mike Hout about his visit to the school, and am invigorated despite not feeling I have enough time to say all I want to say about the subject.  Mr. Hout’s posts from the website noted above are pasted below.  As I read through them, I see a view of the school that is usually invisible to me.

Mr. Hout writes:

Wow, what a day off I had today. I have heard about this school many times over the years but not much recently. I used to see them in parades and such 15 or 20 years ago but, again, not much recently. Then this past weekend someone gave me a flyer about the school and the information talked about the use of unicycles in the programs. So, I drove to the school today on my day off to find out more about what was going on.When I pulled into their driveway I noticed their school sign had a unicycle in it. The “o” in Antioch was a wheel of a unicycle and they had a bear riding it. As I parked my car I saw an older garage type building and could see twenty some unicycles hanging from the ceiling. When I went in the front door there were four 5 foot unicycles and a 7 foot unicycle by the entranceway. Then I saw on the wall down the hallway another two dozen unicycles hanging on posts.

They do not have a school principal, they have a school manager. When I asked her who the adult leader was for the unicycles and who taught the kids how to ride……she said the children teach each other! This has been going on for years. Hardly anyone was around as almost the whole school was out on field trips. How about next Tuesday, my next day off? The school manager said 11:45 would be a good time to see them after lunch and during their free time. So, that is the next part to my adventure.

Meanwhile, if you get a minute. Look up the Antioch School in Yellow Springs. They are on Corry Street. Check out their bear riding a unicycle in their logo. Tell me what you think. Are their other schools like this?

Mr. Hout returned to visit, and wrote the following:

one week later…

I went back today and had a great visit. They were outside for about 45 minutes of recess and I was able to ride with nine or ten of them……..and one was on a five foot giraffe unicycle! I saw the bars all along one side of the building. Eighty feet worth of bars!!! And on the end of the building they have some taller bars for the kids to use for the giraffes. They also have a series of poles they ride to and back and forth on. It was all quite amazing.I might as well have been a unicorn. They said over and over comments like “I have never seen an adult ride” and “I cannot believe an adult can ride” and “Your seat is so high….I have never seen anyone with such long legs ride a unicycle” and “How DID you ever learn to ride?”

It was fun to show the teachers the post from chaugsby. They kept saying “Oh Christian! We remember him.”

They have a little narrow walkway around their playground and it is a bit bumpy but it provides a nice challenge for the better riders. Everyone was very welcoming and I hope to go back another time. Maybe next school year as they finish on June 1st and I have a busy May ahead of me.

Then, finally, Mr. Hout writes:

One other interesting thing is how the kids have developed their own set of words to describe what they are doing. When one saw me free mount she said “Oh! You can get on from the air.” Another one asked me if I could just “stay in one spot”. I showed her my idle and she said “Yes, that’s it!” A favorite game was when they would hold a hand together and do the “three leaf clover”….or “the four leaf clover” (depending on how many were involved). These were like pinwheels. And when one gal was riding around on her five foot unicycle she said “you are good enough that you could ride a five footer”. I told her I had a giraffe unicycle at home but it was a six footer because of my longer legs. “Ohhhhh!” she said in amazement.

The story of his visits is part of why I love that place.  As a child who went to school there in the 70s (but never learned to ride the unicycle) and as a current parent of a Nursery schooler, it’s funny how normal it seems to me when I see children riding unicycles as part of the normal school day.  I love what the unicycle symbolizes for the school.  From the brochure posted on the school’s website:

The unicycle, says Bill Mullins, is a natural tool for learning. Riding it is not subject to parental advice or pressure, for the parents can’t ride one. It does require intense concentration and perseverance, but at the same time it offers immediate reward. The child can feel him/herself making progress. It is physically demanding, yet non-competitive. Even children who have avoided athletic activity find themselves mastering unicycle skills.

Everyone at the school who has ever wanted to ride the unicycle has been able to do so. And most importantly, they have taught themselves. The learning triumph theirs, self-rewarded.

I think often about the limits of extrinsic motivation: motivation that comes from outside, vs. inside, the child.  The world is full of reasons for extrinsic motivation to seem important.  (The word “unicycle” isn’t even in WordPress’s spell checker!)  But the fire I want to stoke in my child is her own love of learning, not something I’m imposing on her.  There are many ways to foster this natural curiosity and love for learning in a child.  And many places to do it.  I’m grateful that the Antioch School exists as one of those places where the child’s emerging, essential personhood is more important than how, what, and when we adults think they should be learning.

(To be continued…)

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