I took a road trip with my daughters. We drove over to Suffolk, England via the overnight ferry to the Summerhill Festival of Childhood and to see grandparents, who just happen to live a few fields away!

The festival celebrated a centenary of democratic education at A.S.Neill’s Summerhill School, where kids choose whether or not to go to which lessons and have equal rights to the adults. It was also the venue for this year’s Freedom To Learn Forum, the International Democratic Education Conference and the European Democratic Education Community. People travelled from more than 46 countries to be there!

It was such an inspiring week together with so many parents, educators, mental health professionals and many others passionate in their mission to overcome adultism and enable democratic education for all of our futures.

A.S.Neill, Summerhill Festival of Childhood

“The function of a child is to live his own life—not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, not a life according to the purpose of an educator who thinks he knows best.” – A.S. Neill

A lot of thoughts to process and I have so much I’ll share in future blog posts. Here, I want to share some impressions, some of my personal highlights and resources for you to check out:

Summerhill Festival of Childhood

Meeting and hearing from Zoe and Henry Readhead, daughter and grandson of A.S.Neill, as well as current principal and deputy principal of Summerhill School. If you’re not familiar with Summerhill School, you can watch this 2021 documentary “How Summerhill Works” about life at the school.

Dr Naomi Fisher, clinical psychologist, expert for neurodiversty and author of Changing Our Minds (highly recommend if you haven’t read it already), you’ll find her on Twitter as well as on Nurturing Neurodiversity.

A long, group conversation with Peter Gray (author of Free to Learn – also highly recommend) via zoom. Peter Gray also shared his thoughts about Summerhill and A.S. Neill’s work and impact on democratice education in the US and around the world in his article A Hundred Years of Children’s Freedom.

Dr Gina Riley who writes about self-directed learning and has carried out research with Peter Gray into Sudbury schools, home education and unschooling.

Derry Hannam talking about his experiences with democratic principles in the mainstream classroom and as a former school inspector.

Hearing Pat Montgomery’s story, founder of Clonlara school.

Learning about Matthew Appleton and Jenni Meyer’s Conscious Embodiment work with healing birth trauma.

Prof. Peter Higgins quoting John Dewey that “education is life itself” and bringing together the importance of changes in education and the future of our planet.

Jo Symes from Progressive Education, an incredible resource for all things democratic and self-directed education.

A much too-short conversation on the very last morning with Justin Maroy from the Phoenix Education Trust.

And so many more conversations, talks, presentations and discussions about inspiring projects in democratic and self-directed education from around the world.

There was a junk playground for children only, no adults allowed, the STEAM bus with STEM activities, arts and crafts, music and dancing into the night with music from the House Kids and many others.

The Junk Playground, Summerhill Festival of Childhood

We were also able to visit Summerhill, which I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and hear from students, past and present. More in a new blog post soon.

It was an incredible week. So much gratitude for the team of organisers and volunteers at Summerhill who made it all possible!

Summerhill Festival of Childhood

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