Arts & Ideas Sudbury School is modeled after Sudbury Valley School, the first school of its kind, founded in 1968. At A&I, students and staff run the school together through a democratic structure in which every staff and student has one vote in every decision made by the School Meeting. With no curriculum, no required academics, no testing and a daily schedule left up to each student to decide for themselves, students at A&I are free to learn, explore, and reflect at their own pace in a way that works best for them.

Authentic Democracy

Students looking at photos together
The power to be responsible

Arts & Ideas believes that children are equally deserving of the respect and trust that adults experience in this country. When the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are extended to children, responsible choices arise from the sense of duty that that power naturally entails.

As such, students and staff make the rules and manage day to day activities together. Students and staff have equal democratic access to draft and amend rules, take part in supporting those rules, and share in the administration of conflict resolution and judicial processes. Placed in a community, children are as conscientious and compassionate with their entrusted authorities as we hope adults are.

Charged with the responsibility to make meaningful decisions for themselves and the wider community, children rise to the occasion.


Students writing together beneath a tree
Structure, not schedules

All growing children look for meaning and order; a child's demand to understand pushes the way ahead. In this way, they actively construct a rich understanding of the world. We believe students learn best at their own pace, unencumbered by compulsory lesson plans.

By choosing each step, students own what they know. They explore around them in just the needed fashion in order to make sense of what they are interested in. They master what they need. This is learning how to learn.

We recognize learning pursued in this manner may not always appear linear, sequential, or useful. By design, the methodology will be unique to the learner. We are convinced that this is the hallmark of a deep, personalized, authentic education and is the gold standard for our culture. We see how free choice leads to discipline and commitment, awakened from within, as a natural outcome of self determination and respect.


Older and younger students eating lunch together
Learning by teaching

Children, like adults, thrive in diverse, interesting, and challenging environments. One of the most important factors in creating this kind of environment at a Sudbury school is age-mixing. When younger and older students freely associate with one another, learning accelerates.

Younger students engage in, sometimes by simply observing, more complex activities. By being around older students, younger students are motivated to take on big challenges, often with the compassionate help of those older students. The younger students gain exposure to more advanced skills and knowledge while learning from a diverse set of role models. Students that are only a few years older represent ways of being that the younger students can readily play at being.

Older students also benefit deeply from being around younger students. They not only develop leadership, nurturance, and a sense of responsibility for others, but are also able to enjoy a lengthened childhood themselves by playing and engaging with younger kids without fear of judgement. Teenagers at Arts & Ideas are free to move back and forth between the joy of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. By teaching others, they solidify their own foundations even as they challenge themselves to learn the intricacies of adult skills.

Learning through Play

Three students riding a tree swing at the same time
Exploring the (Im)Possible

The main work at Arts & Ideas is play, which we think of as any activity without a known outcome.

Play looks different for the various ages at A&I. For younger children it means radical experimentation with reality using games and make-believe. Left to their own devices, young kids make up rules, settings, characters, and scenarios that produce stories which can only be told by playing them out. In this deeply stimulating and constructive work, kids explore their own personalities and play at performing roles in the culture around them, experimenting with what kind of person they might be.

For older children, play is a continuation of the work of discovering possibilities, but which tends to be more grounded in social and material reality. Older kids discover and build on those realities through communication. At A&I, talk is encouraged. From debates over whether a hot dog is a sandwich to serious emotional conversations, the play of conversation is the means by which kids build awareness of those around them and learn to act effectively towards their social goals.

Real Work

Four girls embracing in the snow
Real Results

Our school offers a very demanding education because that which happens within our walls is authentic. This includes things perceived as kind, agreeable, and easy, but also necessarily includes those things that are difficult, disagreeable, and perhaps that conflict with one’s sense of self. We believe that these challenges are appropriate for children and, in fact, are the only means by which they can learn to tackle problems more generally. Our students, like the adults they must become, are ultimately responsible for negotiating these challenges.

If students’ interests clash, adults are not expected to establish a regime that is “fair”. They must work out a solution for themselves (either on their own or through the school’s systems for conflict resolution) or face the consequences of inaction. Working through real life as it comes prepares students to succeed in resolving difficulties as the stakes rise with age, be their problems practical, interpersonal, or existential.

We like to say that it is better to go through a “midlife crisis” when you’re still a kid than when you’ve got kids of your own!