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Guiding Principles

The Small School has six guiding principles which underpin the school’s philosophy and guides the development of both the Learning Program
and the school culture. 

Relationship Focus


Our approach to learning and to our school culture is guided by our commitment to relationships with ourselves, each other and our environment.


Our small size creates a nurturing environment for students where each child can know and be known in their learning community. Participatory processes in daily Circle Time, Special Circles and Whole School Meetings are aimed at developing skills in building relationships, collaboration and conflict resolution.

Children’s relationship with the local environment will be nurtured through place-based learning projects. Developing a connection to their local environment through place-based, environmental education is important to children’s propensity to be in relationship with and think sustainably about the environment in the long term. We believe deliberate immersion in nature-based learning is also important to bring balance to the dominating effect of technology in contemporary life. We take every opportunity to learn outdoors, on excursions and on overnight camps in the rich and diverse northern rivers region.

Although we have a plan for growth, staying a small school where relationships are given priority and where we can achieve flexible, responsive, human-scale solutions to problems is central to our philosophy. 

democratic education
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Relationships with each other and with the environment
are of paramount 
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Learning is
(integrated and emergent curriculum) and real-world focused

Theme-Based Learning

Our approach to learning is theme-based (integrated and emergent curriculum) and real-world focused (experiential). Each term a theme is identified in a collaborative process by the teachers. This forms the basis of the central learning unit for the term. 

The selection of the theme is based on the richness and diversity of the subject matter allowing for an emergent curriculum within the theme which will provide for each child’s individual interests. Children can engage in both individual and collaborative, project-based learning of their own selection within the theme. As teachers and students across the school will be working on the same theme each term, theme-based learning is central to creating a school culture based on collaboration.

By using a theme-based approach, learning is integrated and holistic. The separate disciplines (Key Learning Areas) are experienced together, and the broad nature of the themes is designed for learning opportunities to emerge from the children themselves (an emergent curriculum). By choosing only one theme each term we are aiming for children to experience depth in their learning. Teachers prepare their knowledge base and educational resources for the theme to provide a rich platform from which children’s projects can emerge.

As much as possible our learning is real-world focused or experiential. We want children to experience learning in a hands-on way, to build and create as part of their learning experience, so the learning process comes alive for children through their concrete experiences of it. 

For more information on thematic learning click here.

Democratic Education

Democratic education involves children in class and school meetings, creating the environment for them to have a say in some aspects of how the school is run and what they learn. Children also have responsibilities in caring for the school. Across all school contexts, we create opportunities for children to express themselves.

Democratic education is also child-centred education
as children are engaged in learning exercises in which they have a say in choosing and defining, i.e. self-directed learning. In consultation with their teacher, children choose their learning vehicle (within the school theme). This is part of the democratic education process and is seen as the right of the child to learn according to their own needs.


Practice in reflective discussion and decision-making in democratic, participatory processes gives children the opportunity to learn how to explore their own thoughts and feelings and to gain experience in articulating them. We want children to understand how they think and why they think in a particular way. This is the precursor to children’s ability to think critically. We believe it directs children toward a meaningful life and it underpins our educational philosophy.

Our willingness to hear children’s voices is at the heart of our school culture. Its deepest purpose, along with empowerment and critical thinking, is to create a feeling of being valued and of belonging. When children feel this, they have ownership and agency in their world of learning.

Read more information on The Mind Program here.


We truly welcome parents and community members to participate in our school. We want children to experience being at school and learning at school in connection with their families and wider community as much as possible. 

We acknowledge and value the important role of families as children’s co-teachers and have designed our Learning Program to allow space for family participation in everyday school life, learning and assessment, as well as in school events and celebrations. Read about becoming involved here.



Central to our school philosophy is to create a non-competitive environment for children in our approach to learning and more generally across the school culture. Collaboration is considered a core skill and children will be encouraged to work collaboratively in problem-solving and project-based learning. Assessing how children are progressing with their education is done in a non-competitive way, without ranking students comparatively with each other. Read more about assessment and reporting to parents here.

Play and Exploration 


We believe playing and play-based learning is vital to development in childhood. The need for play extends beyond the preschool years and into and throughout the primary school years and it is an entirely appropriate developmental activity for children. 

The evidence is clear about the crucial role of play in physical, social and emotional development. It is also fundamental to how we learn. Our innate drive to explore and create, expressed through play in children, is our innate drive to learn. 

Without sufficient autonomous, unstructured play children’s curiosity, creativity and ability to find joy is developmentally compromised. 


Play is not always about free play. For teachers it also means taking a playful approach and being willing to experiment and to enter children’s worlds this way, a child-centred way of teaching. Playing with children and bringing a playful attitude to teaching is deeply valued by children and builds trusting relationships between teachers and children. 

Many of the things we want for our children’s future, to be able to solve problems, to be willing to experiment, to be self-aware and imaginative, to know how to take measured risks and to get along well socially, are all things that children learn through play.

Children thrive
when they have some say in how they spend their day and what they learn
play & exploration
are part of
the school
We learn
cooperatively not
Playing is learning
too (free play and play-based teaching and learning)
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