True North


Our Passion

Giving children a supportive and exciting place to learn

Our Passion as a learning community is to sustain engaged play and the exploration of life.  We do this by offering a space where trust, personal accountability, and relationship building are foundational to learning.  By re-creating the village with varying age groups from participants to facilitators to junior mentors and guest teachers, we offer a place of learning and 'growing up' that honors the whole person.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

― Howard Thurman


Our Values

What we believe in and why we believe in it

Our Values inform the container we hold for our learning community. What we view as integral to childhood development is play, healthy communication, a sense of belonging, appropriate boundaries, the encouragement of personal agency, the exploration of the tools of our society, and the fostering of sustaining relationships.  At True North, we are actively cultivating the rich soil of safety and accountability, allowing each person, whether facilitator or child, a chance to show and express their full humanity and offer their gifts to the community. 

With the looming environmental crises revealing themselves to the global community, we are actively weaving place-based and nature-based learning opportunities throughout our program.  As a learning community, we know that more-than-human relationships are equally important as our human relationships.  By fostering connection with each other and our surroundings, a whole person can arrive and feel secure and confident.

"Children come into the world exquisitely designed and strongly motivated to educate themselves; they don't need to be forced to learn. In fact, coercion undermines their natural desire to learn."

-- Peter gray


Our Story

The way it all started

Our Story is a confluence of narratives that came together at the right time. 


One of our community members, Lindsay Kolasa, was sent a copy of Peter Gray's book, 'Free to Learn,' from a friend who lived in Austin, TX.  This friend lived down the street from a library with a progressive Head Librarian.  This librarian had been raised in an unschooling environment and had read Peter Gray's book.  In response to Gray's book, the librarian started an all ages play day at the library that was so successful, a SDE school arose out of it, called Abrome.

Lindsay was so inspired by the book her friend from Austin sent her (along with her stories about Abrome), that she set out on her own journey to find a SDE community. She soon found Rock Tree Sky in Ojai (a center for SDE) and was so moved by what she witnessed, she knew that she wanted something like this for her own daughter in Santa Barbara. 

So, like the good conspirator that she is, she started an all ages play group in Santa Barbara, and families met once a week for about a year and a half.  She thought the SDE program would begin years down the road when her daughter was older, but
with the sudden arrival of the pandemic, things happened sooner than expected. 

Lo and behold, Heather Young, a potential Lead Facilitator/Director appeared on the scene, and True North became a real possibility.  With valuable tools in her toolkit around SDE, unschooling, program development, and childhood development,  Heather agreed to take the next steps with True North. A talented team of supporters and facilitators were gathered and a Santa Barbara-based SDE program was born. 

We base our understanding of the rich landscape of self-directed learning from robust models such as Sudbury Valley Schools, Open Schools, Agile Learning Centers, and Unschooling communities.  Having opened our proverbial doors in September 2020, we are just at the beginning of our journey of gathering our community, creating our home space, and defining our culture. We are thrilled for the learning adventures ahead!

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
― Joseph Campbell


True North

Why the name

The following essay from Julia Butterfly Hill inspired the name True North for our self-directed learning community. It encompasses so much of the spirit of self-directed learning that we felt it to be a very appropriate name to embrace.


Julia sat in a giant redwood, 18 stories above the forest floor, for over two years (1997-99) to save the ancient tree from loggers in the Pacific Northwest. You can read her inspiring story in her autobiography, "The Legacy of Luna".

                                                                                        ❖ ❖ ❖

Imagine  you and your life as a compass.  For a compass to work, it must have a  magnet that aligns  with the earth’s magnetic true north at any given  time.  If your compass has no magnet, the arrow  will spin around  aimlessly and the compass will be useless.

In a production‐driven society, we  are like compasses with no magnet.  We think the arrow on our compass  is pointing us in the right direction.  So we follow the chatter in our  minds and our lives  that goes something like, “Maybe that’s the right  job,” or “Maybe that’s the right person,” or “Maybe  that’s the right  education.”  There are so many ways we look outside of ourselves for  fulfillment,  meaning, and purpose; we are just like the arrow seeking  to find “true north.”  Then we get really  excited when we feel we have  found something that feels as close to “right” as we know how to find.


Now imagine living your life “ON  PURPOSE,” realizing that your true power does not come from  outside  sources, but rather from who you are BEING and what you are choosing.  This purpose is  like the true north that allows your life to line up  with it.  In other words: You become powerful  enough to cause your  world to line up to you!  YOU are the true north on the compass, calling  and  causing your life to match you in manifesting your life’s dreams,  passions, and purpose.


We so often live our lives from a  very small place.  We look only at what we think we can control,   manipulate, coerce, or deal with.  We so rarely give time and attention  to what lights us up, what  would enable us to have miraculous lives,  and would have us be a contribution to the world in a  way that amazes  even ourselves.


Can you imagine what our world would  be like if we all walked around asking each other these  kinds of  questions instead of the kinds of questions we so often limit ourselves  to?

My purpose is to live a life of  integrity and loving joyous service.  Yet, I only clarified and  articulated  this purpose very recently.  I reflect back to when I  lived for two years in an ancient redwood tree named Luna.  Sometime   between the day I climbed up into the tree—planning to stay there for  two or three weeks—and the  day I declared, “I am not coming down until I  have done everything I can to save this tree and make  people aware of  the plight of old growth forests,” my  “true north” kicked in.  I was  overtaken by a  desire and calling far more powerful than my own  limitations.


When I first climbed Luna, I just  knew that I had to do something—because our inactions make just  as big a  difference as our actions do—even though I was not quite sure what I could or would do.  I  started with the first step and trusted that the  higher force that was calling me would lead me in the  right direction. I trusted that there was a purpose  for me—one I could not even begin to imagine—and followed it  through my  fears, hesitancies, and reservations.  There is a beautiful saying that  speaks to these  moments when we must trust in a very profound way.  In these moments we will walk to the edge of the cliff and leap, knowing we will either land safely or grow wings and fly.  There are no assurances in moments  like these; only a deep and profound knowing that our  purpose is like a river for our soul.  It has a path.  It has a power.  And it has a  direction calling it  forward.

While in Luna, I realized that  service, integrity, love, and joy were core to who I am as a human being.  But I didn’t yet know this was my purpose. I climbed a tree because it was the  first thing that came to me as a way to serve the beautiful ancient   redwoods.  Then I began communicating about what was happening because I  realized the trees  needed someone to speak on their behalf.  So this  was how I could be in service.


People began responding to what I  had to say and the way in which I was saying it.  Then people  began  interacting with me as a speaker and a leader.  Somewhere in the midst  of all of that was  when I began to lose my purpose and my joy started  to leave like air from a leaky balloon. I started taking on the role and  responsibility of leadership because that is what people seemed to  need  from me.  Without even realizing I was doing it, I started acting out of a sense of obligation  instead of inspired purpose.


Eventually, I found myself dreading every event and interview.  I tried altering the way I was doing   events, tours, and interviews in hopes that this was what I needed to  find my joy again.  But fixing  and changing it didn’t work.  The final  wake up call was when I realized I was wishing I would get  extremely  ill, so I would have an excuse to not have to keep being so responsible  for everything.  Then I realized how out of that purpose I had  become.  Nothing—no changes, alterations, or fixes— could solve the  problems I was experiencing as long as I was out of my purpose.  I could create  temporary bandages, but sooner or later, I would find myself  feeling wounded, sad, and cynical all  over again.

I realized that a key part of my  purpose is SERVICE and I had allowed that to be transplanted with  LEADERSHIP.  One of my friends said, “Julia, It’s like you are a  strawberry, but the world said it  needed banana bread, so you put on a  big cumbersome banana suit.”  This so perfectly summed up  what I had  been feeling and experiencing for years. Yes, I had developed a gift for  sharing what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing in ways that   inspired and motivated others.  Yes, I have the capacity to be a strong  leader.  But my purpose is to  serve.  Sometimes that shows up as  leadership, sometimes it shows up as cooking breakfast for a  friend,  working on an art project to auction off, climbing a tree to help save  it, or writing a story for  this group. Returning to my purpose, I  rediscovered myself—the self I had lost, but had been there all along  waiting for me to remember and reclaim.

One of the beautiful gifts of living  my life as my own true north is that I find myself not only feeling   more joyous and alive, but I also find myself manifesting things I  never could have imagined when  living within the self‐made confines of  obligation.  When we get clear on our purpose, we get in touch with the true north that has always been inside  of us,  waiting for us to discover it.  We realize that our happiness, power,  and dreams do not rely on  outside forces to manifest, even though we  spend our lives searching for the job, person or product that will once and for all fix our lives.  We learn that hiding inside of us is a  person who is even more  powerful and more magical than our minds would  let us believe.

May you come to see that your life  is a gift and a contribution bigger than your wildest dreams.  May  you  experience the miracle that you are.  May you discover the reason that you are here on this  planet at this important time in history.