In the era of standardized testing and competition, rote memory and performance targets, traditional schooling is in an existential crisis. Children are not being appreciated as they should be, and their needs are not being truly cared for. There is too much of a focus on the mind, and not enough on the body or the soul. As a response, the world has become more interested in holistic education. This model is based on the premise that each person finds meaning, identity, and purpose in life through connections to the community, the natural world, and humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.
This is the premise that Alys Robinson followed in creating Life Project. In the middle of the jungle, the school was founded as a bilingual, family-centered school offering full-time programs for prekindergarten-3rd grade. At its start in February 2015, the school was host to 8 students and a small staff. Now, they have 15 full-time students, 4 core teachers, 3 specialist teachers, 1 community volunteer, and frequent parent volunteers.
Life Project offers its students:
- Fully accredited, Waldorf-inspired “Oak Meadow” curriculum
- Nutrition education
- Yoga and mindfulness education
- Conservation science
- English, Spanish, and sign language
- Culture studies
- Arts program
- Several camps throughout the year
- Online curriculum coming soon
However, Life Project is more than just a school. It is a whole system of dynamic support for the local community. Specialized services for families in the area include private language instruction, occupational therapy, and family health and wellness plans.
I got to sit down with two incredible teachers at Life Project and ask them questions about how the school started, how it benefits the children, and what their plans are for the future.
Meet Alys, Director of Life Project
She was a middle-school teacher in California for almost 10 years, where she became really exhausted by the public school system. She needed a change, and found that change in Costa Rica. She was a TEFL teacher here for 1 year, and then started private tutoring for locals in Manuel Antonio. Her clients wanted her to start schooling their children full-time because they had such faith in her ability.
Meet Anna, Health and Wellness Director and Holistic Wellness Coordinator
Anna was an occupational therapist in San Diego, California, for 5 years. She found that there was a disconnect between the mind, body, and spirit in the healthcare system, and there was too much focus on the body. She saw children being prescribed heavy narcotics without ever talking about other types of wellness within the environment or the home. She came to Costa Rica on a yoga retreat, and that is when she met Alys. Their visions complemented each other’s work so perfectly. She joined Life Project full-time as the Health and Wellness Director and Holistic Wellness Coordinator last August.
What occurs in a normal day here?
Aly put it perfectly: “Lots and lots of joy and love. Teaching children how to say I love you, how to truly express their compassion and gratitude for each other, how to breathe, how to pause, how to be mindful, how to share, how to self-express, how to support each other – these things have to be taught.”
The students start the day with gratitude circles in which they communicate and express gratitude for their friends, family, and the world. There are two different groups at the school: younger and older. Each group has a time in the day for homogeneous grouping, when children of the same age work together. Then there is 1 hour in the middle of the day where all of the children, 4 through 10, come together and work on a themed project based on the themes they have been working on throughout the year. Alys explains, “There is vertical peer support in which the 4-year-old is next to the 10-year-old. It is a really beautiful peer exchange in which they are co-creating and working together on art and culture everyday.”
Life Project honors every single child’s individual rhythm, giving them options of how to learn, when to learn, with whom to learn, and what to learn. The children are happy, they’re progressing, they are learning, and they are blossoming. That’s my true testament. I feel really, really confident that the kids are experiencing what they need.
What’s for lunch?
School lunches are notoriously known for being terrible, with processed food and nothing nutritious. Everything that inhibits learning is what you find on a school lunch plate. Instead, Life Project created a plate that promotes learning and development, and doesn’t set the children back in any way. All of the lunches include organic vegetables that are delivered by a local organic farmer once a week. Anna promotes positive interactions with food, rewarding the children when they try new things, and never forcing them to eat anything they don’t want to. She helps the children focus on what their body wants versus what their body needs, and how important it is to give their body what it needs.
I also got to spend some time with the children at Life Project. I could tell that they really wanted to be there, if you can imagine that. There was no bullying, and the children were extremely happy and well-behaved. I realized that when children are learning in this kind of environment, in which they are constantly moving and learning from each other, you don’t see as many problems. When there are problems, they are able to have mindful conversations about their feelings, instead of ignoring them or being punished. The teachers use positive reinforcement instead. As Alys pointed out, “When kids are happy, when they feel respected, when they are honored, it brings a whole new level to their ability to learn.”
Life Project is now in its second phase of expansion, and its founders are thinking, now what? The school will likely remain on-site at the current residential property for the 2017 school year, but are searching for a permanent home. They are currently interested in connecting with possible partners, investors, donors, visionaries, and families who are aligned with their vision of expanding into a sustainable, education-driven conscious community.
Life Project is also now promoting their international program for children ages 6-12, which started this year. This program appeals to families who are vacationing, homeschooling, “road-schooling,” “world-schooling,” and “un-schooling.” Families come through Manuel Antonio and want their children to experience something really rich and educational, while also being representative of the local community. At Life Project, children have the opportunity for a learning exchange between the local students who are there full-time and the international students.
Life Project is now interviewing for the upcoming September and November internship and fellowship programs.
They are also on social media outlets (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook): @lifeprojected