Ride or Die FOUR Life

Sweet girl,

You turned 4 this month. I chose this picture because it delights me and terrifies me.

It delights me that you’re silly. I honestly wasn’t expecting the silliness. You were such a serious little baby. But I guess you read the room. Silly is always welcome in our home.

It terrifies me because I know this face is the warning shot. Mad Wren is about to come out and we have approximately 3.6 seconds to prepare.

Your favorite game, all day and every day, is being The Boss. “I’m the boss today!” you’ll shout at anyone that will listen.
This has been fun. So much fun.

You are so fearless and loyal. You’re the best little sister in the world. You will not only go toe to toe with the Big Kahuna, but you’ll also defend him with everything in you. Basically, you’re your Aunt Melissa.

There are so many ways you amaze me, but mostly I’m just thankful to God for you. Thankful for the little girl you are. The one in love with beauty and power. The one that fearlessly creates and experiments. The one that gets shy when she needs to. The one that gets brave when she has to.

I love you, my little unicorn.

Submitted Christians

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve felt like I didn’t ‘belong’ and that there were certain things and activities that were not meant for me.

I remember being in kindergarten and there was a play kitchen area with dolls. Most of the little girls hung out and played in that area. But something whispered to me that I wasn’t allowed over there. That those things weren’t for me.

Even certain books felt like they weren’t ‘for’ me. And I don’t mean that I didn’t see books that had little mixed girls in them. I just mean that there was a lie being whispered that books, like Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, weren’t for me. That I wasn’t part of The Club so I should just keep walking because we don’t want your kind here.

This thought has followed me my entire life: “You don’t belong here.”

Enter Christianity.

I’ve always been horrible about the belonging side of Christianity. I remember when our family decided to walk up to the altar one Sunday to profess our belief in Christ and I felt so ashamed and bad and scared. I was embarrassed that we were asking to belong to this group and terrified that they might not want us there. I laugh now because nothing gets a group of Baptists excited like AN ENTIRE FAMILY walking down the aisle to say they love Jesus.

But feeling like I fit in has been a forever problem, and like most of our deep issues, we bring them everywhere we go. Our marriages. Our parents. Our church.

I have bopped all over the church map looking for places I might feel like I belong. The church plants. The big church. The mega church. The teeny tiny church. The Black church. The hipster church. The living room church. The time we just met at McDonald’s regularly with some close friends. I’d find people that I belonged to, but rarely did a church feel like a place where I belonged.

I’m getting better about the lie about not belonging. I recognize it for the spiritual attack it has always been. The things that grew out of the seeds it planted: “You’re not lovable” “You’re too weird” “You’re too much” “You aren’t wanted here” “You aren’t needed” These were not fruits of the Spirit. Even though I don’t belong to a church, I most definitely believe that I belong to The church. The body of Christ here on earth. The Church that has been tasked with ushering as much of God’s presence in the middle of a spiritual warzone as possible.

Spending most of my life feeling like I don’t belong and then joining an institution that, on the surface, doesn’t always align with my values means I have spent a lot of time defining what I believe a Submitted Christian is. Full disclosure: my flesh wants to tell you what a Submitted Christian isn’t. I want to tell you we aren’t racist. And we aren’t hateful. And we aren’t judgmental. I want to write an entirely too long defense of why we, actually, can’t be any of those things AND profess to be followers of Christ. But instead of telling you what a Christian isn’t, I thought I’d share what a Submitted Christian is.

What I’m about to describe is not the experience of every church going person. It is not the experience of every person that describes themselves as a Christian. It is not the experience of everyone that thinks being southern equals being Christian.

First, a Submitted Christian has had a very real conversation with Jesus about sin. Specifically, her sin. She has been confronted with the ways her behavior has consistently ‘missed the mark.’ And it isn’t just the confrontation of the ‘big 10’ sins (the lying, the cheating, the fornicating). God has shown her the ‘little’ sins. The gossiping. The jealousy. The hatred. The pride. A Submitted Christian has looked at her very human approach to the world (the looking out for #1, the unforgiveness, the anger, the self righteousness) and been absolutely horrified by her true self. So horrified that she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she needed Someone to save her from herself.

This full awareness of how disgusting she is when left to her own devices brings so much humility. Like, an avalanche of it. My absolute favorite parable, and the one that consistently keeps me in check, is the one about the man that can’t pay his enormous debt. The king forgives him. Joy! Then the man goes out to find the man that owes him. He grabs the man by the throat demanding payment. The king finds out and is furious. How on earth can I, after being forgiven so much, go out to my neighbors and demand payment for their perceived sins?

After spending some time looking down at the assortment of sin, the Submitted Christian slowly looks up. The sky looks bigger. Farther away. Almost dangerous. Then you realize that God is bigger than the sky. The moon. The sun. Anything in this natural world that has ever taken your breath away. God made it. A Submitted Christian realizes instantly how small she is. How insignificant. How absolutely powerless.

There’s something about that smallness. There’s immediate relief. You’re not the center of the universe. You know that your ability and power mean nothing and… it’s… amazing. The freedom that surges through your soul. You can’t screw anything up anymore. It’s all been fixed. It’s all been forgiven.

A Submitted Christian gets to rest.

Rest in His big and powerful hands. The hands that hung the stars and keep the sky in place and tell the ocean to stop. Those hands are holding her . She is safe in a way that transcends this world. This world almost doesn’t feel real anymore. Yes, her natural world may be a disaster. She may be sick. She may be poor. She may be heartbroken. But she is standing on something firm. Something… Someone is carrying her.

Then she realizes she is alive in a new way. A way that she has never experienced before. She has access to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which provided the power to bring Jesus out of the grave. That power is alive in her now. A very personal and real connection between her and the Source of everything has been made. This power, this electricity is flowing between her and God.

A Submitted Christian has supernatural powers.

These powers have value in a spiritual world, not a material one. A Submitted Christian has a supernatural ability to forgive. The desire to hold on to grudges and offenses begin to lose their hold when her eyes are fixed on The One That Forgives All. Submitted Christians have the supernatural power of gratitude, joy, peace. The ability to be grateful for the big and the small. The joy despite the circumstances. The peace that surpasses all understanding.

A Submitted Christian is in a relationship with God. Sometimes that relationship is close and she feels like she has the Creator of the Universe on the line ready to answer any question or thought she has. Sometimes that relationship is distant. She aches for Him or she’s running away from Him. Either way, things don’t feel right. A Submitted Christian cares about this connection. Craves this connection. Depends on this connection. She does things that keep the relationship alive and electric. She is meeting with God in His word, in prayer & fasting, and in fellowship with other Submitted Christians. She is humbled by the power of being in relationship with the Almighty, not grasping for more power (there isn’t any!) or using it to dominate others (because in God’s kingdom He reigns, not me!). She is joyfully kneeling at His throne.

I don’t fit most places. Trust me, I’ve tried. But the Church, where the Submitted Christians are, is one of the only places I’ve truly belonged. I get these people because I am these people. And I’m totally fine with you believing whatever you’d like about the church, but I just want to make it clear what I mean when I say that these are my people lest anyone try to ever put words in my mouth or beliefs in my heart.


Hi Sweet Girl,
I took this picture of you doing my nails because the Holy Spirit reminded me that these days aren’t going to last forever. You won’t always want to do my nails. You won’t always cry for my undivided attention. You won’t always beg me to join you in acting out your delightful imagination.

But today? Today I’m your best friend, favorite play mate, and your literal cup of tea (Seriously. You’re still nursing and when we point out that it must be soothing like the way grownups drink coffee you hold your hands up to the boob like they have a mug handle and I’m just like stahp.)

And I’m going to soak it up.

You are a natural lawyer and will live in a dirty diaper until the right offer comes along. It would not surprise me if you’ve read Art of the Deal a couple of times. I also think part of your “delayed” potty training is connected to the leverage you’ll lose without your trusty dirty diaper bargaining chip.

You wrote your first song “Try Together.” The lyrics are:

We’re healthy!
We’re stronger!
Try-try-try together

I have no clue where it came from, but I’ll definitely throw it in the ring as a potential campaign slogan for your 2052 presidential run.

You’re the healthiest eater on the planet, and will eat cherry tomatoes like they are actual candy. Obviously, I love you guys and encourage you to be you at all times, but… gross.

I just think you’re the best. Like, actual magic personified. I swear you came into this world just knowing so much. You ask for what you need. You believe in your abilities, beauty, strength, and convictions. And right now my job feels like it’s to not let the enemy lie to you and tell you your gut is wrong. And to get you potty trained.

Love you, Sweet Girl!



Making Space for Failure and Faith

If obeying God doesn’t make you wonder out loud while driving to work if He’s even real or not, you might need to come in a little deeper.

I’m sure when Abraham was walking up the mountain with Isaac he was like, “Am I sure God is real?”

I’m sure when Moses was practicing his elevator pitch before meeting with Pharaoh he was like, “Am I sure God is real?”

I’m sure when Mary had to tell Joseph she was pregnant she was like, “Am I sure God is real?”

And while Jesus didn’t question whether God was real, even He was like, “Could we go over the plan again? There is no other way to accomplish Our goals? Cool. Just wanted to be thorough…”

And last month we had to close re-imagine what Simply Sudbury would look like. And the imagination that was required made me wonder while driving to work, “Am I sure God is real? Did He really tell me to do this? Have I lost my mind? Am I looney?”

Our enrollment was low and finding volunteers was getting more difficult. Renting space for what felt like a regular play group felt wrong. Could we have forced the issue? Stretched ourselves in inhumane ways prop it up? Faked it until we maked it? Yeah, maybe.

But at my core I believed Simply Sudbury was something that God had told me to do. And I don’t think God is in the business of propping up dead things. He speaks into existence. He breathes life. He resurrects. He doesn’t deal with the dead and fruitless.

So when it didn’t look very alive or, my favorite word, sustainable, I laid the idea down. And I can’t tell you how much peace I had laying it down. How beautifully gentle the process was. All of our enrolled kids found new places to land.

But letting go of Simply Sudbury didn’t mean God was done or that I had heard wrong last summer. I kept praying. What on earth was all of that for, God? Why?

I remembered some of the thoughts I had had before the whole thing started. That all of this work was because God wanted to make space for kids that didn’t have a place in traditional schools.


When we started Simply Sudbury I had considered naming our little school The Rehoboth Learning Center. That via educational freedom God would make space for everyone. And as we wrapped up Simply Sudbury I went back to this idea and used it as a compass (something all Enneagram 9’s must do… find your compass!) to recalibrate. This is something I often pray for women that want to be moms. While you wait, I pray that you get to embody the thing you are hoping motherhood will let you experience. If you long for motherhood because of a desire to nurture something vulnerable then find someone vulnerable and start nurturing. If you long for motherhood because of a desire to guide/shape/mold/influence the future then find new ways to guide/shape/mold/influence. God is so wonderfully creative in how we get to express these deeply held desires. There is rarely one ‘right’ way. It’s a wonderful way to practice the skill of “Acting As If”. It’s also a wonderful way of entering a posture of “Not my will, Lord, but Yours.”

God had called me to make space. So how else could I make space?

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The week we closed down Simply Sudbury I received an email from Thisbe and Noah. They are building Promise Park. A park designed to be inclusive of the many kinds of needs kids have. A park that valued play. A park that valued playing together. A park that wanted to make space for everyone.

They wanted to know if I could help.

It might seem like a simple coincidence. But this email and their mission felt incredibly holy. God knew that as I let go of the dream of what Simply Sudbury could be, I would need some faith fuel. A reminder, from Him, that despite what I saw in the physical He was still working in the spiritual. That there were still creative ways to join Him in making space.

And when I met with Lindsay from Thisbe & Noah I was even more encouraged. The entrepreneurial spirit, the passion for inclusion, the excitement about play. It was everything my heart needed to know that what I was hearing spiritually wasn’t totally wacky. God was still moving, even if it wasn’t how I expected it.

This is the important thing about faith. When we make room for believing God is who He says He is, we have to make room for nothing about the process to look like how we think it ‘should.’ We have to make room for something to look like a failure in the physical sense (the crucifixion) and being a brilliant victory in the spiritual one (the resurrection).

We have re-imagined Simply Sudbury. It’s now The Learning UNstitute. Our mission to make space is refreshed and sustainable and delightfully creative. We are doing what we can with what we have, and if you’ve read enough of the Bible you know that that’s all God ever needs when it comes to faith:

Give Him what you have. He’ll do the rest.

We’re selling lumpia to raise money for Promise Park. Let me know if you want some! We’ll be delivering it on Sunday, November 17th and need your orders by Wednesday, November 13th! Get more details on this facebook post.

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Making Space for Everyone

We just got back from Disney World, and I’m slowly posting about it on IG. We had a wonderful time and my parents really made a bunch of dreams come true and accidentally produced two new Disney freaks (you think I’m talking about Wren and Otis) (I’m talking about me and Melissa) (We have a problem, yall).

Disney is a lot of work. There’s money and planning and lines and heat and whining. And when you take a kid like Otis? Where you aren’t sure how he’s going to receive all the magic? It’s a whole new level of stress and anxiety because you want him to get what every other kid gets when they are at Disney World… but what if he doesn’t? What if it’s all too much? What if it’s all a disaster?

Now Disney ended up being great, but the truth is that the anxiety about how Otis is going to handle new situations and places, especially places that are supposed to be fun, is always around. There’s always the question of whether the pumpkin patch or the science museum or the zoo is going to be worth the extra effort it might take. When you’re a parent with a kid with different needs you are always looking at the world wondering if there is space for your kid in it…

Enter Thisbe & Noah’s Promise Park at the Nashville Zoo.


Promise Park is an inclusive playground designed with ALL children in mind. It’s going to be a place where all kinds of needs have been considered. The sensory needs, the cochlear implants, the wheelchairs. And my favorite part is that the equipment is designed so that kids with and without disabilities can play along side each other.

Right now they are raising funds to make this project a reality. And we can help! Thisbe & Noah is hosting Piggy Promises. Our kids can use their entrepreneurial spirit and come up with ways to raise money to make Promise Park happen. They are handing out a piggy bank, tote bag, and helpful fundraising information to participating families. Raise money (car wash? lemonade stand? talent show?) and turn the piggy bank in on November 3rd and get a free pass to the Zoo. The family that raises the most money will even win a year pass to the Zoo! They will have a booth at Boo at the Zoo where you can pick up a Piggy Promise tote bag and learn more about Thisbe & Noah.

I’m not sure what our family is going to do yet, but it will probably be facepaint related because we’re kind of awesome at it:

Hope the Poor Moms will join us in making space for everyone here in Nashville!!!



I ain’t doin it… but you should!

Did I ever blog about wanting to do stand up as my talent for the Mrs. Tennessee pageant that I said I would enter as part of my Esther Year?


Lemme talk about it now.

When I turned 35 I said it was my Esther Year. No, I don’t know what that means either. But basically the idea was that, like Esther from the Bible, I would enter a beauty pageant and save my people from certain genocide. There were many things that should have stopped this idea from coming out of my mouth. I was letting my gray hair out. I had not lost any baby weight from any babies. I was using Snapchat filters because I looked cuter as a Snapchat pig than I did as a tired working mom.

[Insert crying laughing emojiis here]

But the thing I really wanted to do, despite all the obvious reasons not to, was the talent portion of the pageant.

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Surprised I have a talent? My mom was, too.

I was planning to prepare a stand up comedy routine.

at first i no GIF by Lil Yachty

I didn’t really have a plan. You have to know me for, like, a minimum of 15 years before you might think I’m funny. And, also, public speaking makes me want to puke so I hadn’t really worked through the logistics of that minor obstacle, but that was what I thought would be the best part of my Esther Year. Getting up in front of strangers to point out the funny in this crazy, ugly, stressful world.

But in the end?


But do you know who IS going to do a standup comedy routine? Heather Land, the accidental comedic genius behind the viral ‘I ain’t doin it’ videos! She’ll be at The Ryman on October 4th and I am so sad that I’m going to miss it, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO. I have 2 tickets to give away to anyone that comments with something they ain’t doing or their favorite Heather Land ‘aint doin it’ topic or ‘I’d rather…’ phrase. Limit of 2 entries and I’ll stop taking entries at noon on Thursday, September 26th. I’ll announce a winner on Friday morning.

If you’re a tired mom in desperate need of a girl’s night you definitely want to enter!

Event:                Heather Land: i ain’t doin it Unfiltered Tour

Date/Time:         Friday, October 4, 2019 at 8:00pm

More info and to buy tickets here.

Nashville’s Future Classrooms

Nashville's Future Classrooms

Y’all know that I’m a big fan of alternatives to the traditional classroom, especially for kids that really aren’t made for sitting still or performing developmentally inappropriate tasks or high stakes testing.

I’m also a big fan of women. Like, such a big fan of women. In Nashville’s underground world of alternatives to traditional school women are such bosses. All over town there are women starting small communities of families that aren’t quite convinced that being kindergarten-ready is the most important thing for kids. Women that are pouring themselves into creating and running schools so that there are options, especially for the kids that need options most.

Most people don’t know how many alternative learning options there are out there so I decided to reach out to some of my faves (more are coming, but this gets it started) and learn more about their schools and the needs they fill here in Nashville. Below are interviews I conducted with these schools so that y’all can learn about the many options available to Nashville and surrounding areas:

A New Leaf of Nashville – Elle is the founder of A New Leaf of Nashville. A New Leaf is a pre-school based on the Reggio model. In a culture obsessed with making sure kids are kindergarten ready, there is something really beautiful about what she has grown at A New Leaf.

Acton Academy Nashville – Carrie is the founder of Acton Academy Nashville. So excited about the growth that they are seeing, and think the Acton model is an impressive blend of the entrepreneurial and Montessori spirit.

Simply Sudbury Microschool – This one is mine. I just love the freedom within community that the Sudbury-model provides. In a nutshell, Simply Sudbury prepares kids for adulthood by letting them actually practice adulthood.


Nashville’s Future Classroom: A New Leaf of Nashville

NASHVILLE’S FUTURE CLASSROOMS: Many kids will not thrive in a traditional classroom so I wanted to highlight some alternative classrooms available to families in Nashville.
It is so exciting to know that these options exist because of passionate women that saw a need and met a need [insert all the heart eye emojiis].

Elle Harvey is the founder and director of A New Leaf of Nashville. A New Leaf offers a variety of Reggio inspired programs including a preschool (2-5 years old), Triangle Play (1-5 years old), and summer camps (3-10 years old) at their location on Charlotte Pike.


1. How did you learn about the Reggio model? What made you fall in love with the model?

At the All Austin Cooperative Nursery School in Austin TX when we moved there with our 2.5 year old. Parents had to spend a day a month as a teacher and I was there every day. The image of the child is very strong and the project approach is the best way for humans to learn.

2.  What ‘hole’ do you think A New Leaf fills in Nashville’s childcare and educational landscape?

We support families as they become new parents and scaffold social-emotional learning as we interact as a community during Triangle Play. We empower children to explore and learn from “100 languages” in the environment around them. We provided a much needed education during a very formative time for children’s development. There is a shortage in Nashville of preschools and child care centers, parents are desperate to have a place for their children to spend the day, let alone be meaningfully engaged and happy. We are the only ones to offer an education based on nature and only a handful of us apply the Reggio philosophy.

3. I love the idea of nature being one of the teachers at A New Leaf. How much time do kids spend outdoors at A New Leaf? What kind of difference do you think this makes for the kids?

We spend more than half of our time outdoors in clement temperatures and up to 100% of our time.  In cold weather we spend 1/2 to 1/4 of our time outside. We help parents find the best clothing. “There isn’t bad weather, only improper clothing” we often say. It makes a huge difference as they become part of the environment. They are nature too, animals are not just cute, they have life cycles, growth, needs, and fears. The plants and animals are respected for their own life and rights as well as all the gifts that they provide us.

4. Straying from the traditional model of education is scary because we wonder if alternative methods will properly prepare our kids for the future. How does A New Leaf prepare kids to become life long learners?

Research on development and neuroscience points to our approach as best practice. We aren’t so much alternative since constructivist theory of education is about 100 years old and  education for all is a fairly young concept as well. I believe we will converge towards best practices for respectful upbringing together as a world in the next 100 years.

5. What kinds of kids thrive at A New Leaf?

All of them!  If we have difficult cases, as long as the parents are engaged with us to assess problems and that we work together for individual solutions, everyone is successful.


Love what you read? Learn about Nashville’s other alternative school options: Simply Sudbury Microschool and Acton Academy Nashville.

Nashville’s Future Classroom: Acton Academy Nashville

NASHVILLE’S FUTURE CLASSROOMS: Many kids will not thrive in a traditional classroom so I wanted to highlight some alternative classrooms available to families in Nashville.
It is so exciting to know that these options exist because of passionate women that saw a need and met a need [insert all the heart emojiis].

Carrie Kinsley is the founder of Acton Academy Nashville. Acton Academy is a hybrid educational concept for kids ages 5-11 years old, located on Franklin Pike. Acton Academy Nashville blends Acton Academy principles, Growth Mindset, Montessori and other hands-on, self-directed models.


1. How did you learn about the Acton model? What made you fall in love with the model?

I came across Acton in 2015 when I was considering kindergarten options for my oldest daughter and did not feel Nashville had exactly what we were looking for. I was searching for something that incorporated a Montessori-like foundation but with a more modern approach. I also liked the idea of a homeschool hybrid for our family since we are self-employed, value spending as much time together as possible, and love the idea of utilizing the world as our classroom. The Acton approach works well for a five-day model as well as a three-day hybrid which is the option we decided to open.

We fell in love with the idea that education centers around the Hero’s Journey. The idea that we are all heroes and that life is an adventure in which you will encounter trials and tribulations, mentors, people who will challenge us, and a variety of learning experiences that shape our lives and that our response to these things and what we create for ourselves ultimately determines who we are. It is an empowering way of living and learning and an incredible foundation for success in all areas of life.

2.  What ‘hole’ do you think Acton Academy Nashville fills in Nashville’s education landscape?

I think our niche is we offer an empowering method of 21st-century education that prepares children for life much more than most typical schools but is tailored for families who also want to hybrid homeschool. The children come together three days a week for an incredible program that is self-directed but also built upon a strong sense of community with the flexibility of using the rest of the week to pursue personal passions, homeschooling in whatever method they prefer, extra family time, and travel.

3. I love the idea of the Hero’s Journey, and how it gives students control of how they see themselves and how their community sees them. Is there a story you can share that captures how the “Hero’s Journey” has worked for one of your students?

I reached out to our founding Guide, Lisa Florence, on this one. She shared, “We see this in all the Eagles (what we call students), every day. I think the way we most often see this come through is that they’ll recognize their challenges and successes as part of their story. They know failure or success isn’t a moment that determines who they are, but rather a moment in their story and they choose how they walk through. This is seen in moments like Core Skills, Team Building, Quest, or even learning how to be a good friend or leader.

We have one student who came into our program speaking in a very direct and sometimes judgmental way toward himself and others. It is through his awareness of his Hero’s Journey that he began to see that the challenges he runs into with communication are opportunities to learn about himself. It’s a way that allows children to step back from the emotion of a situation and see challenges and success as opportunities and growth. They become aware of their part and ask themselves questions to move forward. Life switches from ‘What makes a person right or wrong?’ to ‘What kind of person do you want to be and what does that look like?’ They know they are the creator of their story.”

4. Straying from the traditional model of education is scary because we wonder if alternative methods will properly prepare our kids for the future. How does Acton prepare kids for adulthood?

I think Acton Nashville provides a great balance. We incorporate Socratic discussions, self-directed Core Skills (reading, writing, and math), rotating Quests (hands-on, real-world projects), apprenticeships, and Exhibitions of Learning. Growth mindset and mindfulness activities are woven throughout the day and are the defining feature of Acton Nashville. Having a solid foundation in who you are, how to interact and participate in a genuine community, and practicing daily skills of mindfulness, growth mindset, and goal setting starting at age five is an incredible way to prepare for adulthood. We believe the combination of all these things along with what each individual family values in their homelife prepares children for adulthood in a much broader and balanced sense than most methods of education.

5. What kind of kids thrive at Acton?

We find that Acton works for most (but not all) children. Although we offer structure within our freedoms, some children may need more structure or the help of a learning specialist. Also, parents must be fully onboard. If you are concerned about test scores and traditional achievement, you will not thrive here. If you do not believe failure and mistakes are opportunities for growth, we are not the right fit. Our parents sign a contract with us and the Heroes sign a contract that they create with each other.

We opened in September and have been amazed by how much each child has grown socially, emotionally, and academically as well as a community who truly respects, honors, and loves one another. It has been a beautiful first year to witness and I look forward to what our second year brings as we double in size!

Love what you read? Learn about Nashville’s other alternative school options: A New Leaf Nashville and Simply Sudbury Microschool.

Nashville’s Future Classroom: Simply Sudbury Microschool

NASHVILLE’S FUTURE CLASSROOMS: Many kids will not thrive in a traditional classroom so I wanted to highlight some alternative classrooms available to families in Nashville.
It is so exciting to know that these options exist because of passionate women that saw a need and met a need [insert all the heart eye emojiis].

Marie McKinney Oates is one of the founders of Simply Sudbury Microschool. Simply Sudbury is located on Haywood Lane and is based on the Sudbury-model of education. Learners, ages 5-18 years old, have the freedom to spend their time as they would like and the responsibility to govern their community via a school meeting and judicial committee.

1. How did you learn about the Sudbury model? What made you fall in love with the model?

I learned about Sudbury after reading Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn. I was already sold on the idea of unschooling, where kids learn via life instead of formal curriculum, and his book introduced me to the Sudbury Valley School where kids essentially run their school community via a school meeting and judicial committee. I really clicked with the idea that the Sudbury-model lets kids practice being a free, voting member of a democratic community long before they are an actual voting member of their community. Everything about it made sense to me.

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2. What ‘hole’ do you think Simply Sudbury fills in Nashville’s educational landscape?

I think there’s a lot of unnecessary fear and focus about test scores and evaluation in education so we took all of that away and let our kids focus on simply learning. There are few places for kids to just be themselves and explore their unique strengths and weaknesses. Simply Sudbury really is a place for kids and teenagers that are ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’ for traditional schools. We really believe this freedom is great for their mental health, and it gives them the opportunity to see where their gifts can serve the community at large.

3. I love the idea of kids ‘running the school’ and making the rules. Have any stories to share about what it looks like for kids to run the school?

Our school is small and new so we don’t have tons of stories yet. But here’s a neat example. One of the rules at the school, for right now, is that we can’t go down to the big playground because the structures aren’t particularly safe and there was some kind of wasp nest. Everyone agreed in school meeting to just stay away until we made repairs. Well, one of the staff members didn’t remember this rule and headed down to the playground with a couple of the kids. Another kid saw this and immediately wrote the staff member and her entourage up for breaking the big playground rule. The staff member ended up getting the most severe punishment because ‘she should have known better.’ It was beautiful to see kids empowered to ‘write up’ a grown up and to see them enforce rules they created.
Also, I think all of the staff was impressed with how seriously each of the kids took running the school. At the last school meeting they all agreed that the work they did, coming up with rules and enforcing them, was really hard.


4. Straying from the traditional model of education is scary because we wonder if alternative methods will properly prepare our kids for the future. How does Simply Sudbury prepare kids for adulthood?

I think Simply Sudbury’s entire mission is to prepare kids to be adults. Without anyone standing above them telling them what to do or what is important to learn, they start wrestling with some really deep and important questions almost immediately: What matters to me? What am I interested in? What am I good at? What do I want to get better at?

And I think the school meeting and judicial committee prepares them for being a good citizen. They have to regularly ask themselves and each other if the rules they are creating are good for everyone, are they fair? They have to come up with systems that create order and protect communal property. They have to manage the school’s budget and make hard decisions about what’s best for the community, not just what’s best for them as individuals.

It really is a small community that they are given the freedom and responsibility to manage. I think this level of responsibility is grounding and build confidence for many of our learners (and staff!).

5. What kinds of kids thrive at Simply Sudbury Microschool?

It takes time to thrive, but I think all kids can and do thrive in the Sudbury-model. There is no mandatory curriculum or adult-driven agenda, so kids and teens really are free to listen to their own unique needs and then act on respecting those needs. However, you do need to have parents that trust the model and trust their kid. None of this works if the parent is unable to trust that curiosity is sufficient fuel for learning. But if a parent is either filled with trust or simply exhausted from trying to make their kid fit into a mold, the Sudbury-model could be a great fit!

Love what you read? Learn about Nashville’s other alternative school options: A New Leaf Nashville and Acton Academy Nashville.