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Wild Path

Frequently Asked Questions

Is ZigZag ALC defined as a “school?”

While some ALCs worldwide are 5 day/week “schools,” ZigZag is not. We are a 3 day/week program offered as a resource for unschooling and homeschooling families who wish to be part of a community engaged in collaborative, self-directed, joy-centered living and learning. Kids 7 and older attending ZigZag must be registered homeschoolers in the state of North Carolina, and parents are solely responsible for ensuring that all NC homeschooling requirements are met. We are a drop-off program, though parents are welcome to participate and volunteer. We do not report attendance and do not follow a standard course of study. No tests, no grades, no required classes. At ZigZag, everyone is both a learner and a teacher, everyone is fully valued for who they are and what they bring, and everyone has a meaningful voice in creating our community.

How do they learn things if you don’t teach them?

Well, teaching in the traditional teacher-student setting does happen, it’s just not forced. But we would all still learn even if it did not happen. Learning is natural and happening all the time, and when one looks at learning in a more holistic way, it turns out that the traditional classroom method is only one of endless ways in which learning happens. Babies learn to crawl, walk, and talk without being explicitly taught these things. They look at who and what exists in the world around them, copy and experiment with what they see, and practice and learn the skills they need to grow in independence and connectivity to others. In learning communities that value authenticity and collaboration, it’s inevitable that we’ll teach each other. Sometimes this happens through classes and workshops, sometimes through conversations and modeling, and sometimes through play. When humans self-direct, learning happens all the time. By not telling kids what, when, and how they should learn, they learn faster, and more deeply. Most importantly, they develop a positive relationship to learning, and keep their intrinsic sense of authentic curiosity and creativity intact. Self-directed learners are excited about life-long learning, and do not view it as something that only happens in school and is over when they graduate. 

Self-directed? What exactly does that mean?

Our friends at the Alliance for Self-Directed Education have a great answer for this. Watch their video What Is Self-Directed Education? and check out some of the resources on their site. For the must-read primer on Self-Directed Education, start with “What is Self-Directed Education?” and click on the bottom of each page to continue to “The Four Educative Drives,"  “The Six Optimizing Conditions” (which describes the environment we aim to create at ZigZag), “Why Do People Choose Self-Directed Education?,” and “How Do People Practice Self-Directed Education?”

Is there any evidence to support self-directed learning?

Yes! There is a lot, and it’s growing every day. Check out our resources page.

But how do self-directed kids learn the "basics?”

If something is actually basic knowledge that you need in order to live successfully in this world, you can’t help but learn it. The “basics” will be captured in kids’ natural learning, which happens through living. We don’t need to force or trick them into learning something basic. Basic knowledge and skills are defined by our current world. Whereas once it may have been basic to know how to saddle a horse, today it is basic to know how to open a web browser. The rich world environment in which we operate sets us up to prioritize knowledge and skills reliably and naturally based on our experiences. We are intrinsically primed to learn us much as possible about the world we find ourselves in.

Do you let the kids do whatever they want?

Yes and no. Our community has very clear expectations and boundaries that young people agree to in order to participate in an ALC. These include respecting the space, and respecting each other. Pursuits must be safe and legal. We clean the messes we make, and follow a simple conflict resolution process when those messes are relational. We collaborate to build positive cultural norms rather than lists of rules. A maxim we reference when creating new structures is “maximum support with minimum interference.” Our kids have a lot of freedom as they get clear about what they truly want to create for and of themselves. With clear boundaries and agreements, they also have the support they need to feel safe using that freedom to question, experiment, explore, and grow.

If you don’t make kids learn certain things, how will they get exposed to new things? Isn’t there a chance that they will miss discovering a passion if they don’t try new things?

Children today are swimming in a flood of information. They get exposed to a greater diversity of ideas, issues, cultures, facts, problems and opportunities in a month than most people got in their lifetimes just 50 years ago. A single Sunday New York Times contains more text than a literate person read in their lifetime 100 years ago. Humans today have access to devices with instantaneous access to almost the entire documented history of human knowledge. Yet typically we plop them in classrooms and spoon-feed them bits of information, isolated and out of context. We tell them that they need to memorize things they could look up in an instant. The assumption behind this question is upside down.


Conventional schooling cuts students off from the flow of information available to them, and divides selections of that information into little boxes disconnected from their lives (English, Math, Social Studies, etc.), then presents this information as if students would never have encountered it otherwise. Knowledge is something holistic and integrated, and kids are integrating it all the time — whether or not they’re in school. The real question today should be: In this staggering flood of overexposure, how will my child learn to filter what is important from the unimportant, to focus on their domains of passion, and to determine “good” information from “bad?” These are the important skills for a modern child .. skills they won’t get from a school board and teachers doing the filtering for them.

Can self-directed children go to college?

Colleges have been accepting students from homeschooling families and non-traditional schools for as long as colleges have existed. When a self-directed learner decides they want to go to college, they know why they want to go. Many students unquestioningly spend thousands of dollars and several years of their lives going through college because that’s what they think they’re “supposed” to do. Intentionally entering a learning environment to accomplish a specific purpose is more likely to bring about positive outcomes. Check out this longitudinal data on self-directed learning. Most of the kids who want to get into college do. Having alternative forms of record keeping and evaluation has not been an impediment for kids who want to go to college. In fact, there’s a proven advantage for people whose college applications can’t be tidily ranked by GPA and academic track: a human has to actually look at their portfolio. For one parent and former teacher’s perspective on her daughter’s journey from self-directed learning to the college admissions process, check out Karen Hollis sharing her experience in Life Learning Magazine.

Why are you age-mixed?

Segregating people into age cohorts, a practice that really only happens at school, limits their exposure to accessible role models, their opportunities to teach skills they’ve acquired, and their opportunities for social connections. In an age-mixed environment, older children and teens learn patience and compassion while supporting younger children. Younger children watch and emulate older ones. (And often older children learn new skills and interests from younger ones!) Everyone gets practice both teaching and learning from people with varying skill levels, learning styles, and attention spans. Children can connect, be inspired/inspire, and share experiences with others based on similar interests rather than just similar ages. The results tend to be awe-inspiring.

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