Pathfinder: For Kids, By Kids

As I was giving a tour to a family at a recent Open House, I proudly walked from room to room. It's taken me two years to dream and build this place, and finally it is full of life.


"Here's the computer room, where you can use our computers. Next, the art and food is the Rumpus Room, where you can jump around and be wild."  There is a room for painting, a room for piano and guitar, a room for books and a room for games and toys. 

A whole room for games and toys? The parents looked skeptical, but their daughter's eyes were glowing. 

We reached the end of the hallway, and the parents asked, "Where are the classrooms?" When I answered, "There are none," the family promptly left.

I think this was a good thing, because in truth, there are hundreds of schools and programs out there that are designed for children, by adults, who would be happy to serve the parent's needs for serious looking academics, microscopes, and "enriching" and orderly classrooms. But Pathfinder is not made to appeal to adult sensibilities, because Pathfinder is truly a place for, and made by, children. 

How does it work? We give the kids direct control over money.


Every month, the Discretionary Budget (or Program Supply Budget) gets a $300 deposit. The children collectively can use the money on whatever they want, provided they all consent to what they are spending the money on.

Our unique governance structure, a blend of Sociocracy and using Agile tools, allows us to be very flexible. The goal of Sociocracy is for every voice to be heard, and for everyone's needs to be met. It doesn't mean we agree on everything, just that people can live with the decisions that are made. If we don't like something, we can always change it later.

The process for discretionary spending is very simple. Members simply write down what they want on a sticky note.  Staff members take the sticky notes and research the cost of proposals. Within the larger group, we discuss all of the proposals in any given week at a Discretionary Budget meeting. If there are no objections, the proposals pass and the "fun money" is spent.

A sticky note labeled "A computer" appeared one day.  To save money, we asked around for computer donations. When a 15 year old computer was donated, a new sticky note appeared. "A GOOD Computer." 

Spring 2018 Discretionary Spending

Spring 2018 Discretionary Spending

A "good" computer is around $300, and spending half the budget was a little intimidating. Minecraft is only $24, so that was one of the first things bought. The kids really wanted a trampoline, but liability got in the way, so we invested $104 in a field trip to a local trampoline park for everyone. There was lots of discussion afterward about the price tag- we had said it was only $10 per kid! (Yes, but multiply by 10 kids, plus taxes...) The kids were also shocked at how much an experience cost that didn't leave them with any tangible *thing.* 

Many of our most popular *things* come from proposals were generated through sub-committees.

Ad hoc meeting of the Tire Swing Committee, who proposed we build a tire swing with help from a volunteer.

Ad hoc meeting of the Tire Swing Committee, who proposed we build a tire swing with help from a volunteer.

Committees can be formed around different rooms in the buildings, or different possible activities. The Rumpus Committee is in charge of the Rumpus Room, the Library Committee is in charge of the Library, and so on. Every committee can make the rules of how we use the room, and how to take care of the stuff in any given room. For instance, the Music Committee can certify members to use instruments freely at any time. The Library Committee decided the Library should be a quiet room, and so on. If you don't like the rules, you can join a committee and have a voice in changing them.

The Rumpus Committee has a lively membership (so to speak.) The first meeting, everyone was rolling around on the floor. It's OK, because one of the rules of the Rumpus Room is that rough-housing, high-energy activities are allowed, even during meetings. :)

The Rumpus Room had only a black mat on the floor, and a wall mirror. The committee was adamant. "We need more STUFF," they said. "What kind of stuff?" I asked.

"Foam swords!" 

Rumpus Room: Before (boring!)

Rumpus Room: Before (boring!)

"We'll need rules for swordplay when they come." 

"That's okay," they said.  We shopped together online for just the right swords- $15 for a set of 8.

"And cushions! Lots of cushions!"

Since members had been stripping ALL of the couches in ALL of the rooms for making pillow forts on a daily basis, I heartily agreed that the need for cushions was great within our community.

Rumpus Room: After  (the best!!)

Rumpus Room: After  (the best!!)

A week later, the foam swords arrived. I went on a shopping spree at the Scrap Exchange and got an enormous supply of cushions, and parents donated spare pillows and soft things.

Since then, whenever kids come and visit, they gravitate immediately towards the foam swords and Minecraft. Many epic battles have been fought in both the Rumpus Room, and outside. Hearing Peter Gray speak about the importance of rough-and-tumble play, I couldn't help but think of the many times I had witnessed important learning taking place in the rite of passage in the Rumpus Room.

I couldn't have knows that foam swords would be such an important program supply, or that Minecraft was an essential service. Sometimes adults don't get it, but I can see that these are things that kids *actually* want, not things that adults think kids *should* want. By working together for common goals, the kids are learning important communication, collaboration, and decision-making skills, plus budgeting and the art of compromise. At the end of the day, they are proud to show others what we have because they helped to build this community.

 I'm glad to be working at a place that is made by kids, for kids to serve their needs. I can see how confident, capable, and empowered our members feel, and that makes me feel proud.


Here is a kid's eye tour of Pathfinder. (YouTube)