Our approach is inspired by a variety of evidence-based philosophies, movements and practices. 


Democratic education

Democratic schools are characterised by democratic meetings in which decisions are made and problems resolved, generally with a broad remit that determines how the democratic school or community is run. Adults and children have an equal voice and children may choose whether and what they learn.

Whilst we are not a democratic school, we hold at least daily democratic meetings and children’s rights are at the centre of our ethos.


Unconditional approach

We aim to use a rather radical, unconditional approach at The Garden. This means avoiding using any rewards and punishments, including praise and disapproval. We believe this approach is essential for the development of empathy, a sound moral compass and the intrinsic motivation that is central not only to conventional success but also to good mental health.

There’s good evidence (especially detailed in the work of educational theorist Alfie Kohn) that when we reward “good” behaviour or perceived achievement that the focus of the child becomes the praise or reward, rather than the value or pleasure of the activity itself. At the same time, if we punish or disapprove of a perceived “bad” behaviour, instead of learning about the impact of their actions on others, the child tries to avoid punishment, rather than developing empathy necessary to make good judgements in a broader sense.


Project-based learning

In project-based education, children choose and explore an area of interest, with support from adults and other children. Out of this initial inquiry many disciplines may emerge. For example an interest in paper aeroplanes may lead to learning about aerodynamics, origami, how paper is made and many other potential areas. Learning in this way is not only more relevant to the child but relevant to the world, as few areas of work are confined to narrow academic fields.

We have been particularly inspired by the work of Lori Pickert and her Project-based Homeschooling website, on which you can find lots of information and resources about project-based learning.


Forest schools

Forest schools are a Scandinavian import that has taken root in the UK, especially in the South West. According to the Forest School Association a forest school is: an ongoing process, rather then one off sessions; takes place in a natural environment (usually a woodland); learner-centred; offers opportunities for risk-taking; and run by qualified forest school practitioners.

As forest school practitioners, the adults at The Garden can happily offer a range of activities that would be normally considered too risky in most educational and childcare settings, such as fire-lighting, tree-climbing, whittling and many more.


The Maker Movement & Hackspaces

The maker movement is a recent grass-roots phenomenon that responds to the pervasive consumer culture that blocks creativity and makes us reliant on large corporations. Maker culture uses developments in communication and technology to encourage people to be creative, self-reliant producers, rather than consumers. Out of this movement came 'hack spaces', in which groups of people got together to work on projects and usually these spaces are democratic and self-organising.

At The Garden we prize experimentation and tinkering, valuing making mistakes and understanding that failure is a necessary step on the way to success. We are very positive about the creative potential of electronic technology and believe that, as the main tool of our era, children need to understand how to engage with it safely and effectively.


Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication is based on the premise that all human behaviour stems from attempts to meet universal basic human needs and that those needs are never in conflict. Conflict arises when the strategies people use to meet those needs clash, rather than the needs themselves. Horizontal communication proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.

We use horizontal communication to help children resolve conflict at The Garden. You can learn more about how we do this by reading our Behaviour Management Policy.


Permaculture design

We are aiming to develop a permaculture approach to education; using the design principles of permaculture to enhance our practice. The three main principles that we focus on are building resilience, the interconnection of all things and drawing on local resources.

Resilience is built into our educational approach through the self-directed nature of learning here. Children develop the skills to learn, rather than relying on teachers and curricula to manage their learning for them. They therefore possess the freedom to work at the pace and level appropriate to their individual situation.

Our project-based approach, natural environment and democratic practices feed into the concept of interconnectedness. We do not learn in academic or social silos but are free to cross-polinate and develop creative and innovative ideas. Our human experience has primacy.

The Garden draws on it's stunning location within a culturally vibrant city, with many resources within easy reach. We also draw on our community of families and friends who all have interests, skills and knowledge to share with the children at The Garden.


Recommended further reading


  • Free to Learn by Peter Gray

  • Project-based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert

  • Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

  • Kith by Jay Griffiths

  • How Children Learn by John Holt

  • The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv