Meet Clare Caro
Clare Caro is the driving force behind Authentic Learning Environment. Linking the principles and values into a practical set-up where an education setting is somewhere children want to be, is designed for them to thrive, and holds benefits for families, the community and the environment. Clare draws on her wealth of experience, both in her own education and since having children herself.
“On reflection, my own education had a great start firmly rooted in play and attachment, my Mother and I attended our local NZ Playcentre group from when I was 2 years old until just before my 6th birthday. Then when I turned 6, I was presented with a pile of New Zealand Correspondence School books. We were in Africa. Then Mum soon saw the obvious and put the books away in favour of learning from everyday life. For the next 3 years, I had a mix of ‘unschooling’, ‘homeschooling’ and short visits to schools in Lesotho, England, Ireland and Denmark”.
As the family travelled they experienced a rich and varied education full of people, communities, cultures and social situations. They returned to New Zealand where Clare settled down into full time education at a primary school.
“I remember so clearly in that first week, it was storytime on the mat with everyone sitting with crossed legs and arms, and the teacher at the front on a chair. The characters in the story were African animals. So excited I could relate to this I put my hand up to speak. With the approving nod, I started to share my experience of seeing real Hyenas in the … cut short with a disapproving glare and sharp words I quickly caught onto the ‘relationships’ psychology within the environment, but more importantly the role the teacher and classroom have in teaching children about life outside, from inside a box.”
Her interest in school environment psychology went deeper with the school years that followed, through into high school. The topic of learning became the focus when, at age 15, Clare took part in a life-changing weeklong course called Discovery For Teens. Designed by Michael Wall and renowned leader in adult learning and accelerated learning Dr Stephanie Burns, Discovery delivered basic brain science and learning strategies that would serve her for the rest of her life.
“That week shook me at the very foundations. Why was ‘this stuff’ not being covered at school where we most needed it? ‘This stuff’ would be far more useful - and make what we ‘had to learn’ and what we ‘wanted to learn’ both easy to approach.”
In her last year of high school, Clare became an AFS Intercultural Program student in Chicago, USA for one year. There, she found herself placed with an amazing host family and attending the University of Chicago Laboratory School, established by educational reformer John Dewey.
“I went from a school run on crowd control, to a school where there were no bells, no uniform, no permission required to use the toilet or leave the school. A school where students were trusted, treated like people, where the school was set up for learning and people wanted to be there, and wanted to do the work. The difference was outstanding.”
Returning to New Zealand, Clare completed a degree in Graphic Design, before stepping into the workforce. Various job roles provided her with skills for training, public relations, team management and the ability to make things happen. In England, Clare stepped out of the workforce in 2010, leaving behind her position as Head of Marketing at a London based film & home entertainment distribution company to become a parent.
‘Education’ took on a new chapter as a parent and provider for her first daughter. With a clear vision for the 'first years', Clare started Nature Play, an outdoor group for parent and infants, providing a play-rich environment in nature without the aid of toys or activities for children to follow their own pace of development in play. Nature Play’s high-traffic website provides the theory for adults around supporting play and the groups provide the practice. Clare also offers workshops for adults on supporting play.
At the same time, The Pikler Collection was created. A website dedicated to the work of Hungarian paediatrician Dr Emmi Pikler. What started out as a way to share the extensive personal research with others, also became a place to send people who were beginning to ask what she was doing differently raising daughter Scarlett. The site quickly became popular, seeing a steady growth in traffic, it continues to grow and is used by many internationally.
“I feel very lucky to have come across Emmi Pikler and her work before I had children. Pikler had all the tools and the approach for building that important trusting relationship between adult and infant right from the beginning. A practice that is delivered in the care and when supporting play. It was in Piker’s work that I discovered the ‘preventative’ to what many parents are seeking the ‘corrective’ to. Piker’s work also complimented my work with Nature Play, especially when I realised that the relationship directly affects the quality of the play and therefore learning and development.”
The now family of four took a great step together when enrolling daughter Scarlett at Small Acres School, in London, UK. A Democratic, Place-based Education school that offered a continuation of self-directed learning at the child’s pace, within a secure, fair and plentiful environment. After two terms the family were to leave, heading out of London for the wide-open, peaceful spaces of the English countryside. A road that also led to Home Education and building up an active local group.
“I am one of a growing number of people in this country who are looking outside the state education system. While I believe that many schools don’t benefit the development of a person, there are definitely schools that do support healthy development. I also happen to see school as a great opportunity – we are a social species, and schools offer the social setting to create a healthy social environment to learn healthy social skills, at a pivotal period in the child’s development.
Imagine a school where the foundations for physiological development, healthy psychological development and a love of learning are laid down in the beginning, where the child wants to go to school, where parents see their children happy and thriving. Where the student learns how to learn and get along with others – as well as all the usual skills like reading and writing. Imagine a school where students learn to be self-sufficient in their own time, have the motivation to know and reach their own goals… I can see this is possible. Though it requires a complete shift from ‘the norm’. It draws on key aspects of existing models and combines theory backed up by research. We need to put the theory into practice – it starts by creating Authentic Learning Environments.”
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” - John Dewey