Play, Learn, Grow

“By nature, people are learning animals. Birds fly; fish swim; humans think and learn. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing, or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we NEED to do – and all we need to do–is to give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for, listen respectfully when they feel like talking and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.” — John Holt, How Children Learn

Last Fall, I floated the idea of starting a reading group that would explore alternative approaches to education. You can read that post here.

I was unable to follow through with that stated intention primarily because the demands of ReUse Action took over my life. While I’m grateful that our business thrived through the Fall, it did make it difficult to carve out the hours to launch this new effort. As I look forward to 2019, there are some projects that are pushing themselves to the top of my personal priority list. Most notably, my desire to create a vibrant, child centered learning community.

While education has long been a focus in both my professional and personal life, my daughter, Lavinia, has created a more intense desire for me to coalesce energy for this dynamic physical space.

Its not exactly clear to me how exactly this project will evolve, but I’m kicking off this year with a vision for a space where anyone is welcome to attend a musical event, art project, or theatrical performance with their children. A place where kids can play freely and parents can network, socialize, and relax. A place where you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a chill, playful, goofy, educational, and enriching experience with your family. A place where community and kinship with others provides comfort when the challenges of daily life may seem overwhelming. And most importantly, a place where the intentions of young people are respected and their individual desire to learn is embraced, encouraged, and nurtured. Where they can develop a strong sense of personal identity, where they can explore and soak up knowledge, where they can be inspired by the amazing resources of the collective, and where they can freely pursue life and learning.

On any given day, evening or weekend, you can expect to find intensive learning activities for all ages, workshops and presentations by local resource people, theatrical performances, open play activities, dancing, music, art, song, the endless flow of ideas and opportunity and so much more. It’s how I’ve always envisioned the education of the whole person could occur. This vision inspires me as I consider a context for learning for Lavinia and the community that I feel will enrich my own life and the lives of others here in Buffalo.

The plans for the physical space are already well underway. We have identified the land and the purchase agreement is underway with the City of Buffalo. We have a 6,000 square foot building, deconstructed by our ReUse Action team, that’s patiently waiting in storage to be reconstructed. This building will be a central base and surrounding green spaces will provide opportunities for open play, performance, and exploration. So a lot of the BIG physical space details are falling into place.

The reading group is intended to articulate a philosophy and program that will guide the creation of this unique community. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life exploring various learning philosophies and I’ve been collecting ideas, strategies, models and best practices that I’d love to discuss, share, and explore with others. If you have an interest in being involved in our reading/discussion group or if you’d simply like to stay connected to the progress of our group, support our efforts financially, or simply be an encouraging voice, please send an email to You’ll receive regular (but not overwhelming) updates of our progress and invitations to get involved and support the project.

So excited for others to be involved in this creative process!


Michael Gainer