WRA Groups: Meet Los Castaños from El Salvador

WRA Groups: Meet Los Castaños from El Salvador

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We’d like to introduce you to one of our 102 groups world-wide in West River Academy. Los Castaños is a group in El Salvador that is committed to educating their students in an expansive way.  This year celebrates seven years of educating students and teaching the community about alternative education.

The phenomenon of unschooling can be found in various ways: families who travel and their education is based on the cultures they discover on their journeys; some families do unschooling because their children are high performers in sports; others because they disagree with traditional education and many other reasons.

Ronda

Los Castaños

If we delve even further into how to carry out unschooling, we have families that do it individually and others in a community manner. Today, we want to show you this latest modality of unschooling, which is in a group-organized way, similar to a school structure outside of the traditional system.

Los Castaños was founded by Claudia Turcios, a Salvadorian who has embraced Natural Learning and is committed to providing practical knowledge for the next generation. Her vision was put into action on November 26, 2016, when she organized a small group of families to learn topics such as agriculture, cooking, managing finances, and the list goes on. Seven years later, her dream has expanded and now provides a solution to hundreds of families. This current year, she has more than 80 students and 20 teachers who share the same vision.

los castanos 3

What is the experience in Los Castaños like?

This alternative and bilingual school consists of children ages 3-18. Claudia and her team are with them on their educational process each step of the way. This is the second year that 12th graders will be graduating and certified by West River Academy.

Their methodology is a mix of Montessori, supported by emotional intelligence with a firm foundation of ethics. This is not a school where you leave your children at the school door mindlessly. The participation of families is essential for the healthy functioning of this institution.

Among their students, they have the competence and training to receive neuro-divergent students with autism, giftedness, and Down syndrome, which makes educational life inclusive and without distinctions in terms of opportunities and activities. Everyone is equally invited to participate in the different educational events offered by the school.

In addition to life in the classrooms, Los Castaños offers field activities that are previously planned and can be seen in their annual calendars—visits to museums and local or national parks. Even everyday places such as grocery shopping for their meals provide a guided experience to cultivate practical life skills.

los castanos 4

“At Los Castaños, we educate for peace.”

Claudia shared with us what a typical day looks like for them. The idea is that the day is flexible and offers an array of subject areas they can learn at their fingertips.

Of its 20 teachers and facilitators, some are permanent for each grade and others rotate to provide different natural learning activities weekly: music, cooking, arts, Kenpo/Karate, studio arts and design, and entrepreneurship. They actively participate in the Recicla 503 program as ambassadors of environmental care. They offer swimming, coding, yoga, mindfulness, and other practical and optional activities.

One of the main priorities to them is to have a comprehensive emotional education program, which promotes “self-knowledge, management of emotions and feelings, management of tension and stress, assertive communication, empathy, interpersonal relationships, conflict management, decision making, critical thinking, and creativity.”

Graduandos Los Castaños West River Academy

Graduation 2023

As we had mentioned, 5 of their students are graduating this year. One of the fundamental requirements at West River Academy is to complete an Educational Biography, a written essay about their educational journey from as far back as they can remember until now.

Claudia tells us that this activity was therapeutic for these young adults since they were able to internalize and reflect on everything they had learned. She said that this will have a positive impact on their future as adults, in more ways than we can know.

We are very excited to celebrate all of our high school graduates on December 15, 2023!

los castanos 6

Inspiration for everyone

Now that you know these spaces exist and are a reality, we hope to inspire other families to join, organize, and form a community. Likewise, search within your local area because without knowing it, there may be a school very similar to Los Castaños near you, where your children can obtain alternative, emotional, and ethical education in their community.

All the images in this article are actual photos of Los Castaños. Here are some pictures of its facilities:

Thank you for daring to make a difference and supporting educational freedom!

Happy 7th Anniversary to Los Castaños!

Point of View on Curriculum at West River Academy

Point of View on Curriculum at West River Academy

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  Undoubtedly, a curriculum organizes and greatly simplifies the student’s life. Having a guide of what to study according to age sounds logical since humans usually evolve similarly; we do so at different rates and depths. Find out how we view the curriculum at West River Academy.

The school, as we know it, came to solve a global problem: the massification of education. Only a few had access to theoretical knowledge just over a century ago. Time and time again, entire communities came to the same conclusion in different eras, which was inefficient in an increasingly connected and globalized world.

Humanity has continued to evolve, and this problem is in the past. More and more families know that they can ask themselves the individual question: “How do I study?” At first, it is just a concern, and sometimes just an unfulfilled desire: to be able to personalize your children’s education according to their interests and time. And this is where our point of view comes from.

Pila de libros coloridos

Curriculum

In an adult-centric world, it is expected to believe that the adult should guide their children’s education. At West River Academy, we believe that adults should only act as a companion, mere observers at the service of their children. Why? Because it is the individual who knows his vocation, his talents, and his purpose. No matter how old he is.

Routines tend to develop naturally when our toddlers are not in school without an external entity dictating 100% of it. These routines are structured by the parents’ available time, the needs that arise within the family, and even shaped by the culture of the geographical location of each family.

Without realizing it, these routines are study plans. Observing that our children love art and buying materials so they can doodle everywhere or a plastic musical instrument to emulate what they play is a study plan since it is taught to them. It gives our children the opportunity to explore their abilities through play.

niños estudiando en su cocina con mantas

How does a child who doesn’t go to school study?

Then school age arrives, and we wait patiently for the institution to give us a list of materials and books, and we trust that the study plan or curriculum is appropriate for our children. It’s the way that worked for our parents and that worked for us.

As this process is foreign to our planning, we feel the impulse to create a curriculum outside of our children’s planning, acting as the institution that offers knowledge, which entails a period of uncertainty if what they are learning is sufficient. And then bombard our children with information. It’s much simpler than this.

The first year can be the most overwhelming, and doing so alone usually takes longer to unschool. When you sign up with us, you have one-hour personalized consultations. Also, we have monthly meetings with other families and monthly zooms with the WRA director, answering common questions, which makes the process much more bearable and faster.

In our article “Students who do not fit into the traditional education system,” we share several links to websites with study plans as support. At the same time, you can unschool your adult brain and create a study plan with the flexibility your children need to know themselves and achieve their individual goals at every stage.

niña usando una computadora

Study plan and workload

This is why you will not find a pre-established study plan at West River Academy because we want to keep all beings from following another’s or the mass path. We only demand that you present to us at the end of the year report what the learning process was like, what you learned, and how it went from the family experience.

With us, you will find endless tools to assemble your study plan, whether planned or emerging as your son or daughter lives. Each family is different and knows what is best for each member. That is why we encourage natural education, whether respecting an entire period of 3 months in a single activity or diversifying several activities during the week. Observe with patience and trust. Remember it as a mantra: Patience and Trust.

Portada del libro de E. D. Hirsch

BONUS: Books in English by E. D. Hirsch.

If you are still not convinced by natural education and want to be covered by what your children should know in each grade according to the traditional educational system, the author E. D. Hirsch made a collection of books that are currently only in English. These are titled like: “ What Your Second Grader Needs to Know,” and there is a book for each grade, from preschool to high school. You must replace “second grader” with the degree you wish to investigate.

We hope this article has been helpful to you and you have been able to answer your doubts about which study plan or curriculum to choose when unschooling. We invite you to read other posts on our blog to delve deeper into the unschooling topic.

Punto de vista sobre los Planes de Estudio en West River Academy

Punto de vista sobre los Planes de Estudio en West River Academy

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 Sin duda, los planes de estudio organizan y simplifican mucho la vida del estudiante. Tener una guía de lo que hay que estudiar según la edad suena lógico, ya que los seres humanos solemos evolucionar de la misma manera, solo que cada uno de nosotros lo hace en ritmos y profundidades distintas. Descubre cómo vemos los planes de estudio en West River Academy.

La escuela, como la conocemos, vino a resolver una problemática mundial que es la masificación de la educación. Hace apenas más de un siglo solo tenía acceso al conocimiento teórico un número muy pequeño de seres en el planeta. Una y otra vez comunidades enteras llegaban a la misma conclusión en eras distintas y esto era ineficiente en un mundo cada vez más conectado y globalizado.

La humanidad ha seguido evolucionando y esta problemática quedó en el pasado. Cada vez más familias sabe que tiene la capacidad de hacerse la pregunta individual: “¿Cómo estudio?”. Al principio es solo una inquietud, y a veces solo un deseo no cumplido: el de poder personalizar la educación de sus hijos según sus intereses y tiempos. Y de aquí parte nuestro punto de vista.

Pila de libros coloridos

Planes de Estudio en Homeschooling

En un mundo adulto-céntrico es normal el creer que es el adulto el que debe guiar la educación de sus hijos. En West River Academy tenemos la creencia que el adulto solo debe actuar como acompañante, un mero observador al servicio de sus hijos, ¿por qué? Porque es el individuo el que sabe su vocación, sus talentos y su propósito. Sin importar la edad que tenga.

Cuando nuestros hijos no están en etapa de escolarización, se suelen desarrollar rutinas de manera natural sin que un ente externo dicte el 100% de esta. Estas rutinas se ven estructuradas por los tiempos disponibles de los padres, las necesidades que van surgiendo en el seno familiar e incluso teñido por la cultura de la ubicación geográfica de cada familia.

Sin darnos cuenta, estas rutinas son planes de estudio, el observar que nuestros hijos aman los colores y comprarles materiales para que hagan garabatos por doquier o un instrumento musical de plástico para que emulen que tocan, es un plan de estudios, ya que se le da la oportunidad a nuestros hijos mediante el juego a explorar sus propias habilidades.

niños estudiando en su cocina con mantas

¿Cómo estudia un niño que no va a la escuela?

Entonces llega la edad escolar y esperamos pacientemente que la institución nos dé una lista de materiales, de libros y confiamos que el plan de estudios o curriculum es el adecuado para nuestros hijos. Es la manera que le funcionó a nuestros padres y que nos funcionó a nosotros.

Como este proceso es ajeno a nuestra planificación, sentimos el impulso de crear un plan de estudios ajeno a la planificación de nuestros hijos, actuando nosotros como la institución que ofrece el conocimiento, lo que conlleva un período de incertidumbre si es suficiente lo que están aprendiendo para luego bombardear con información a nuestros hijos. Es mucho más sencillo que esto.

El primer año puede ser el más abrumador y al hacerlo solo suele tardar un poco más el proceso de desescolarización. Al inscribirte con nosotros tienes a tu disposición consultas personalizadas de una hora, reuniones mensuales con otras familias y zooms mensuales con la directora de WRA respondiendo preguntas comunes, lo que hace el proceso mucho más llevadero y rápido.

En nuestro artículo “Estudiantes que no encajan en el sistema educativo tradicional”, compartimos varios links de sitios web con planes de estudio como soporte mientras desescolarizas tu cerebro adulto y puedas crear un plan de estudios con la flexibilidad que necesitan tus hijos para poder autoconocerse y alcanzar sus metas individuales en cada etapa de sus vidas.

niña usando una computadora

Plan de estudios y carga horaria

Es por esto que en West River Academy no vas a encontrar un plan de estudio preestablecido, porque no queremos encasillar a ningún ser a seguir el camino de otro, o el camino masificado. Lo único que exigimos es que nos presentes un reporte a final de año como fue el proceso de aprendizaje, qué aprendió y cómo le fue desde la experiencia familiar.

Con nosotros encontrarás un sinfín de herramientas para que armes tu propio plan de estudios, sea de manera planificada o vaya surgiendo a medida que tu hijo o hija vivan. Cada familia es distinta y cada familia sabe qué es lo que más le conviene a cada uno de sus miembros. Por eso aupamos a la educación natural, sea esta respetar un período entero de 3 meses en una solo actividad o sea diversificando varias actividades en la semana. Observa con paciencia y confianza, recuérdalo como mantra: Paciencia y Confianza.

Portada del libro de E. D. Hirsch

BONUS: Libros en Inglés de E. D. Hirsch.

Si aún no les convence la educación natural y desean estar amparados de lo que sus hijos deben saber en cada grado según el sistema educativo tradicional, el autor E. D. Hirsch hizo una colección de libros que actualmente solo están en inglés, estos llevan por título: “What Your Second Grader Needs to Know” que en español sería algo así como: “Lo que tu hijo de segundo grado necesita saber” y hay un libro para cada uno de los grados escolares, desde preescolar hasta bachillerato. Solo hay que sustituir “second grader” por el grado que deseen investigar.

Esperamos les haya sido útil este artículo y hayan podido saciar esa duda sobre qué plan de estudios o curriculum elegir a la hora de desescolarizar. Les invitamos a leer otras entradas en nuestro blog para ahondar más en el tema unschooling.

How is unschooling different from homeschooling?

How is unschooling different from homeschooling?

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Many times you have read on our blog and throughout our website the word “Unschooling,” and it is possible that you approached us to do “Homeschooling.” You may have thought that they are synonymous. They are not, and each one has its particularity.

Homeschooling is usually the first approach to changing the traditional educational system to adapt to their lifestyle. This does not leave aside the subjects, grades, and evaluations. The content is dictated by the educational system, with a mixture of interests. All this is learned at the student’s pace and from home.

As we go through homeschooling, it is normal to lose a bit of the structure and the rhythm to become more and more lax. We start to worry if our children are being educated correctly. This period of family readjustment can be very uncomfortable for all family members, and the fear of the future and doubts about having made a good decision settle in family dynamics: Conflicts begin.

At this point, some families ask for outside help and hire tutors to help them maintain the pace with which they came, others return to the traditional educational system, and others opt for unschooling. All options are valid since only families know what is best for their children’s education.

Dos puertas de dos colores distintos

Homeschooling and Unschooling

Unschooling is about education without the curriculum established by the traditional educational system, without grades. At West River Academy (WRA), we feel comfortable with both systems and even dual enrollment if the family decides to continue with the traditional educational system and certify their other activities with us.

The fundamental pillar of unschooling is natural learning. This speaks of the promotion of the innate qualities of the individual, expanding the space for experimentation without rigorous study plans or excessive care. Giving rise to the spontaneity and curiosity inherent to the human being.

For many years we have been told that it is impossible to have a functional life if we do not have the same schedule every day; we share with a number of people and that someone else must bring us knowledge in a structured way. In reality, this type of education is one of the many that there are to offer. 

Choosing the traditional educational system is an option, but other alternatives can be accredited. At WRA, we pride ourselves on welcoming all those who do or do not fit into the established educational system. There are as many ways to be educated as there are families!

dos tipos de paredes, una de ladrillo y otra frisada

What is the difference and similarity?

The fundamental difference between homeschooling and unschooling is that in homeschooling, the school is transferred to the home, with all its elements. In contrast, unschooling is based on natural learning, and there are no subjects or evaluations but life. This is why our slogan is: “Turning life experiences into academic credit.”

In both systems, education is considered, one in a schooled way and the other in an unschooled way. It is common to confuse education with schooling when one contains the other, and they are not synonymous. Unschooling doesn’t mean being uneducated.

We hope we have clarified all the doubts regarding these two concepts with this brief explanation. Now that you know if you are homeschooling or unschooling or plan to try it, you know the difference.

Setting limits in parenting and in everything else is necessary.

Setting limits in parenting and in everything else is necessary.

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When we think of setting limits in parenting, the first thing that comes to mind is the negative connotation that has fallen socially on the word “limit” and its derivatives: limitation, limited, and so on. This article will clean all the external emotions of the word and associate it from today with Freedom.

Limits never speak of being an obstacle or locking an individual into an idea. It talks about boundaries and that space that belongs to each individual or group of people and that not only helps us to respect others but also to respect and make our personal space respected.

Once this parameter is established, we can realize that limits are necessary, not only in parenting but also in the healthy development of any group of people of any age and any field.

Two fundamental factors for the limits to be effective are setting and enforcing them. It is only helpful to set limits with sustained accompaniment. Setting boundaries is not pleasant when the situation reaches a hostile point. It is always possible to do it.

niños jugando libremente en el bosque

Norms and limits in parenting

When we place limits on our children from an early age, these limits are usually given in a more conciliatory way. Another word associated with boundaries and with negative emotional charge is “authority.” We must also clean this word to make more helpful use, and we will do it in another article. We want to clarify that limits do not have much to do with authority. They have to do with Freedom and Respect.

To place healthy and practical limits, these have to be drawn from the natural consequences and not from the whims or fears of our wounded inner child. We have a guide to spot the difference. Once detected and healed, setting limits will be the most coherent and straightforward thing that has happened to you.

Practical exercise in understanding limits

In respectful parenting, the fundamental pillar is always to put yourself in the other’s shoes. It is based on empathy. That is, place ourselves at the same height as our children and do the exercise of feeling what they would experience, of being in the same place.

Today we bring an exercise that will change our perspective on how limits look, feel, and are needed and how they bring us a healthy coexistence.

mujer le habla a un hombre con mochila al aire libre

Let’s play with the imagination. First, we need you to get into character:

You decided to spend this year backpacking from one country to another. You don’t know what to expect from this first meeting with your host. You have never met them in person. 

 

Let’s play!

You arrive in the town with all your luggage, with the typical exhaustion of a train journey of hours and a walk to find your destination. When you finally find the address and knock on the door, your host opens with a big smile, but you can tell he’s in trouble. He quickly explains that an emergency arose, and he was waiting for you to come out. He hands you the keys to his house, tells you you’re at home, and leaves. He doesn’t give you the opportunity to accompany him.

Please take some time to reflect on how you feel and what your next step would be.

What could you do while your host is away? What would you do while you wait?

BREATHE — IMAGINE — FEEL

esperar

Possible answers

  1. You enter the house, visualize the clearest corner to leave your things, and disturb as little as possible, you hang around the house a bit, but you always end up next to your things and entertain yourself with your things to pass the time.
  2. You enter the house, leave your things at the entrance, and since you have the keys, you decide to go out and see the surroundings and come back when you think there will be someone at home.
  3. You enter the house, leave your things and go straight to the kitchen. You decide to please your host by receiving him when he returns with a typical meal from your country, plus you are hungry from the trip.

What is behind each answer

  1. You placed limits within ignorance and uncertainty, which made you fall prey to the situation. Much of your freedom is paralyzed until the host returns. Counterintuitively, someone else has control, even though they told you you are at home with the best smiles and intentions. This scenario benefits the one who does not set limits.
  2. You decided not to belong to the group, to continue until you could adequately interact with someone individually. In the best scenario, you arrive a few minutes before your host and start over. On the other hand, in a not-so-nice scenario, your host returns to look for something quick to return, he had given you the only key, and you are not there. The host seems aggrieved and shifts the blame to you.
  3. You are at your peak of freedom, happy with the surprise that your host will get, and when he arrives, you find out that some of the ingredients you used, he was going to use for something that he promised to bring the next day, and it is too late to replace it. Although your intentions were good, you added something else to your host’s day of emergencies. You feel responsible for the discomfort.
familia de tres integrantes, uno señala mostrando algo

Transferred to parenthood

The world of unschooling can be overwhelming at first, and one of the reasons is precisely not knowing how to set limits, confusing freedom with the absence of limits when in reality, it is the other way around.

Let’s switch roles. You are the host, and your son is the backpacker. Only now, you are the mother/father/tutor, and the child or adolescent is himself. In most cases, kids who have dropped out of the school usually start with option three, and if some punishments or rewards do not obey natural consequences, they turn to options 1 and 2.

The absence of limits could cause a lack of creativity due to fear of failure. Distance from the family so as not to disturb them. And three, in confusing behaviors, which are done with the best intentions, only the results are not harmonious with the family group. Does it sound familiar to you? Once this is known, everything is repairable. Limits are fundamental.

How to set boundaries in parenting

Following the same line as the backpacker, let’s play imagining again. You are again that person who travels and arrives at a stranger’s house, and your host receives you with a big smile, even though you notice he is in trouble. This time the situation has something different:

This person explains that they have an emergency, that everything is ready in your room, which is the one with a red and black duvet, and your bathroom is the yellow one on the right when you leave your room. He gives you a copy of the key and tells you that everyone has their own, that there is food already made in the kitchen, and that you can walk around the house except for the room in the back, which is blue and, above all things, you can’t touch the law books on the shelf. He says goodbye and leaves.

What could you do while your host is away? What would you do while you wait?

BREATHE —- IMAGINE — FEEL

esperar

You likely sit in your room, rest, bathe, eat, and feel completely free since you know the rules and how far you can go for the good of family life. We still can’t read minds, nor can your son or daughter.

Compared with situation 2, if your child understands the rules, he will be able to move freely and be authentic, without fear, as long as those limits are consistent and protect personal and group well-being.

Another important aspect when setting limits is that once established, the reason behind them is explained, but when reminded, they should be directed without needing further details. A long argument in a risky situation can lead to confusion and loss of the sense of limit.

As they demonstrate responsibility by taking specific actions, the boundaries will loosen as their purpose will be understood. Sometimes the limits will still exist, but we will no longer be responsible for enforcing them because it will not be necessary. Our children will understand and use them. 

This does not imply that in the future, we will once again have the responsibility to enforce it, remember that the second important factor of the limit is implementing them.

Don’t be afraid to set limits again

When we repeat behaviors that we were told are part of the role of a mother or father and do not question them, we likely believe that it is a weakness to set limits again since it is a lack of authority. How many times did you listen to others or hear yourself say? How many times do I have to repeat it to you? ”; the answer is: as many times as necessary, and it will also be done in the same way as the first time, calmly, in a conciliatory and firm manner. Click here to read about an exercise that avoids repeating behaviors without question. 

An example of this can be seen in the field of cooking. When we start teaching our children to cook, a straightforward and typical rule is that they do not use sharp kitchen utensils. These are reserved for adults only. Over time, this rule is relaxed, allowing them to use them under adult supervision until they reach the point where they can handle the cookware without supervision.

However, at some point, they invite their friends over and, excited by the visit, begin to take the kitchen utensils as toys. In that case, it is necessary to take back the responsibility of setting limits and explain to them that their behavior was not responsible or safe for themselves or themselves. For this reason, “you will not be able to use the utensils again when there are visitors since you have shown that you cannot handle the situation with an additional variable.”

Over time, they may be able to use utensils with complete autonomy, but it is crucial ALWAYS to set limits. This is the way to accompany and care for our children.

madre colocando limites verbales a su hija en la cocina

Setting limits applies to children, adolescents, and adults, whether they are our children or not, as long as we are in a group with a common goal. This applies to a backpacker and host, at work, with friends, or in a sports team where you perform. In short, in every group of your life.

Setting limits and respecting the limits that others establish are essential to coexistence as long as they safeguard your safety and that of everyone. With this in mind, you can prepare your children to know how to act when faced with unfair rules that only benefit a particular group or person.

The key is to be consistent and live how we want the world to be.

I hope this walk through the limits has served you and knowing what to do lovingly and naturally.

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