True North’s Search for Home


“Children, more than ever, need opportunities to be in their bodies in the world.

It’s this engagement between limbs of the body and bones of the earth

where true balance and centeredness emerge.”

~ David Sobel




True North (TN) is a place for self-directed learning in Santa Barbara, CA.  At TN, we are mindful of childhood development and the important social, emotional, relational aspects to ‘growing up’.  What largely has been overlooked by our education system as things that ‘get in the way of education,’ we value and put at center stage.  We understand that personal agency, healthy relationships, communication, and a sense of place and belonging create the rich soil where learning can grow.

We started our journey with our first group of participants in September 2020 after a couple years of visioning.  Oddly enough, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic offered us an open door to step through.  With the leadership of Heather May Young and a fantastic crew of volunteers...and eventually staff...we did just that!  We stepped through the door and showed up for what was unfolding.

Inspired by Rock Tree Sky (Ojai), the Agile Learning Center (ALC), Sudbury Valley Schools, Open Schools, and Peter Gray's book 'The Freedom to Learn,' True North is actively creating a meaningful place for children and youth to become creative, compassionate and accountable adults.

True North does this by facilitating the hunger and love for learning that children and youth naturally have.  We hold space for mixed-ages social interaction and learning (our goal is K-12 ages) in a village-like setting where every voice matters and community care is central.  We are re-imagining what education looks like by encouraging participants to direct their own learning in ways that engage and inspire them.



“Children learn from anything
and everything they see.

They learn wherever they are,
not just in special learning places.”

~ John Holt



The Great Search for a Home

After our first year in the field, we realize how much we need a home!  Currently, we are utilizing the amazing outdoor spaces of Santa Barbara until we find our home-sweet-home.  Of course, being outside 100% of the day is an ideal situation given the nature of the pandemic and truly it has cultivated positive relationships with the land and local flora and fauna.  At the same time, we are eager to find our home so that we can create a space for the continuity of projects and learning adventures.  We wish to keep that strong connection to the land while also having access to indoor space.

The facilitators of True North realize that a home-base and place-making is essential to the growth and development of TN.  We realize that this will have to be a creative and unconventional situation for our team and we are just now putting our feelers out into the community.

The staff and supporters of TN sense that finding a home base will allow our program to grow and develop in a way that supports our vision of creating a learning space for learners ages K-12 (most likely, it will be heavier on the K-8 side until we develop a solid apprentice/internship program).

Here are the basics of what we are looking for:

Ideally, we are looking for a place, some land, for children to explore and understand.
We are looking to find rhythm and relationship with a place.
We are looking for a sturdy, safe, kid-friendly, and adaptable structure to shelter in on windy or rainy days, to store our crafts, projects, and learning materials in, and to serve as a home base.
This structure can be an existing structure (like a barn or cabin) or we can build this structure (some ideas are a refurbished shipping container with shade structure, a cob or adobe structure, or a yurt).
We are looking to steadily grow larger than this 'home base' as the program evolves.  We can envision a greenhouse, a reading room, a teen space, an arts/crafts space, and an outdoor kitchen.  These spaces would each have their own character and charm.
We are looking for a place in Santa Barbara or Goleta.
We are looking for a place with a creek or moving water and with a shady spot.
We are looking for people who own land that are aligned with our vision of self-directed learning.  We could also see the following as potential ideas:
A more urban learning space with certain ‘outdoor classrooms’ that we utilize throughout the week
An aging church with facilities that they have no use for; if these spaces were near wild places, even better.  We would like to find a space by Fall 2021.  


Ideas for place-making:



“I recognize June by the flowers, now.

I used to know it by review tests, and restlessness.”

~ Lisa Asher, unschooled teen (Life Learning Magazine)



The Impact

It is apparent to us, that during these times of navigating the pandemic and post-pandemic life, we need to put down what we are familiar with and find the courage to dream and think outside of the box.  Our team feels the need to explore what it means for learning to be resilient by experimenting with ways to support our children as they grow and mature.  

With a focus on consensus decision making, conflict resolution, social-emotional intelligence, creativity, and ecoliteracy, we are creating a humble yet hearty response to challenges our education system is facing.  Currently, Santa Barbara does not have a place dedicated to Self-Directed Education (SDE).  TN aims to fill that void by offering space, tools, and support for families that wish to take this path for all or part of their learning experience.

At True North, we know we can't change the nature of this pandemic or the post-pandemic landscape (with its share of uncertainty), but we can change our response to it.  And, that response...we captured in the essence of self-directed learning in a supportive environment.


From this surprising opportunity to re-frame education, we know we will steward something meaningful and lasting for our community.




“Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time

—time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures.

That time is needed to make friends, play with ideas and materials, experience

and overcome boredom, learn from one’s own mistakes, and develop passions.”

~ Peter Gray (Free to Learn)

Risks & Challenges

Of course there will be challenges along our path.  Considering that we plan to create a new model of learning that is outside of the conventional curriculum standards in Santa Barbara, it will take time to build the community.  The right parents and families will need to find us (and they already are!).  And, it will take time to create a culture around the principles of self-directed learning.

However, we have a wonderful team of facilitators, assistant facilitators, and junior mentors who are ready for the journey of stewarding this learning center into fruition.  As well, we have AMAZING examples of schools and learning centers all over the country that have already been doing this work for years (for some, since the 1960s!). We are actively networking with staff members at these learning centers for best practices, inspiration, and problem-solving.


“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young;

it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.

If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment,

we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

~ Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods)

True North Values

We value community & continuity
We believe in mutual respect
We value agency
We are committed to self-directed learning/education
We believe in place-based and nature-based learning
We value consensus making processes and/or circle work
We care for the nourishment of our young ones
We value diversity
(Crowd-sourced from our community)

Guiding Principles from the Agile Learning Center (ALC)

The soil we grow from is trust: in students, in each other, in you.

The four assumptions—roots—which ground us are as follows:

• Learning: Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
• Self-Direction: People learn best by making their own decisions. Children are people.
• Experience: People learn more from their culture and environment than

from the content they are taught. The medium is the message.
• Success: Accomplishment is achieved through cycles of intention, creation, reflection and sharing.


Who We Are

The True North (TN) team includes lead facilitators, assistant facilitators, junior mentors, guest facilitators, specialty teachers, admin and outreach support and volunteers.  

You can read  bios on our website:

Financial Ponderings 
One idea is to create a 5-year financial agreement with a land or building owner.  Basically, if we could steadily increase the % we pay for land/building/etc each year, that would be ideal.  We would need to start at a very, very low rate as things develop and TN gets an idea of its budget.  At the 5-year mark, we could reevaluate the agreement and the long-term journey of TN.


The mission of True North is to facilitate the hunger and love for learning that children and youth naturally have.  We hold space for mixed-ages social interaction and learning.  At TN, we are reimagining what education looks like by encouraging participants to direct their own learning in ways that engage and inspire them.


Thank you for your interest in growing True North as a hearty and viable option for local children and youth of Santa Barbara.  


The True North Team