Free-choice Educational Experience with Multi-age Children


Ottawa East Summer Project was designed at the outset as an educational experiment where multi age children would interact, learn and play together in a free-choice atmosphere.

Upon obtaining a $10,700 grant from the Federal Government Opportunities For Youth (OFY) program in the summer of 1971 five staff were hired as “enablers” to work with 200 students, ages 4 – 11 years. The main criterion for hiring was the stated intention of the university students to pursue teaching careers.

Using the freely offered facilities and grounds of St. Patrick’s College in the east end of Ottawa the activities set up included sculpturing, painting, puppets, sewing, acting, woodwork, gardening, sports and writing.  During the first stages the children were able to mix-and-match their activities and were able to thus acquaint themselves with all the staff and the rest of the children of the neighborhood who during the school year attended three different schools (French Catholic, English Catholic and English Public).

The ongoing stages saw the children initiating their own projects, giving them the opportunity to expand their talents and leadership abilities.  Older children helped teach and supervise younger ones.  Parents and grandparents and local teen-agers developed into a volunteer force to help the children.

The experience was considered a tremendous success and substantiated the growing move in educational circles towards more of a community concept in education – children learning from other children, parent involvement, using the children’s own interests to teach skills as reading and writing. This, combined with the use of the total neighborhood as a learning environment, provided a meaningful setting for educational outcomes.

The children, brought up in such a setting, it is felt, develop more in the areas of independence, resourcefulness and creative thinking than children brought up in the more traditional, desk-oriented schools.

I had just graduated with a teacher certificate from Ottawa Teachers College (’71) and did the main conceptual work in preparing the proposal for the grant and coordinated the project. 

Tunya Audain

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