Mein freiwilliges Jahr in Pottenbrunn

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Sophie aus Belgien war von August 2020 bis Juni 2021 als ESK-Freiwillige in der Lernwerkstatt im Wasserschloss tätig.

I started working in the Lernwerkstatt because I wanted to discover other education methods and other ways of learning. I was very curious and read many things before coming to the school. However, witnessing day-to-day life is something else and only that could bring me a good idea of what free learning is.

In the Lernwerkstatt, children can roam around the school however they please. A lot of learning material is presented on shelves and they are free to take it and to learn by themselves, or with a teacher. In each room, an adult is there to accompany them in their learning process. The activities the children spend time on vary from writing, counting, painting, sewing, playing volleyball, to building a hut or making fire. There are no exams, and the parents and teachers just trust the children to learn what they need, when they want and how they want. Of course, many will not acquire exactly the same knowledge as in traditional schools, but they will spend time developing their creativity, learning to make their own decisions, and building relationships. Observing the kids in this environment got me thinking a lot about what was really important in education. It definitely changed my point of view on school in general. I am convinced now that children need freedom to develop.

I also got the chance to make my own classes, which the kids were free to join or not. I had to try new techniques to keep their interest and make learning playful. This required from me to dig deep in my sense of creativity to come up with new ideas all the time.

To be with kids from all ages between 6 and 16, I also needed to adapt quickly and understand how each age group could behave. I also could improve my skills in resolving conflicts, as many kids sometimes fought about things that might look nonsense to us.

Working with the team of teachers also taught me how to handle relationships, planning, and setting boundaries when I had too much work. The relationships with the pupils’ parents also taught me a little diplomacy.

Of course, I greatly improved my German and I understand much more now than I did at the beginning of the year.

The corona situation also gave me a good opportunity to learn how to live with myself, without needing other people to feel happy. Not being able to meet new people, I went hiking by myself and realised I maybe liked it even more than in a group. I learnt to follow my own path, at my own speed. At the beginning of the year, I was desperately looking for people to go camping with me. In the end, I was planning my camping weekends by myself and was happy to do so. In my free time, I also did a lot of sports, went walking in nature, and learned how to make baskets with wild plants and to use a sewing machine.

All in all, this year taught me a lot about education, children, relationships, and a lot about myself. I will now stay in Austria for one more year, and I would not have imagined it when I arrived. I am very grateful for this experience and all the people that contributed to making it happen.