Freedom for kids
Curiosity Lab is a drop-off location for ages 5-12, where kids can stay for an hour or the full day.
Short time visitors might focus on fun with our climbing walls, tunnels, massive dry erase wall, and our large outdoor space. Kids who stay longer might be interested in various self-directed learning projects, our computer lab and maker space, or just escape the energy by curling up in one of our nooks with a tablet or game.
Kids can use Curiosity Lab as a safe and engaging location for after school and weekend fun, or as a base of operations for an entire homeschooling or unschooling experience. Either way, our staff are there to keep the fun rolling, organize and curate the available resources, and keep the peace with minimal interference.
And Curiosity Lab isn't just limited to one location. Our van takes regular trips to places of interest like nature trails, museums, and businesses.
With a membership or a day pass, you can drop your kid off any time, weekdays 9AM-5PM and weekends 10AM-4PM.
We have a separate co-working space on site so you can drop your child off and get straight to it, and we offer snacks for the kids so you don't even need pack a meal.
With two different pricing plans, Curiosity Lab could be your weekend babysitter or an ongoing resource for your family's unschooled life.
We are located in Sunderland, across the street from North Star Teens and easily accessible from Northampton, Amherst and surrounding towns.
Flexibility for parents
Play room with tunnel maze, climbing walls and ball pit.
Stations and tools for independent and group projects.
Computer lab, maker space and performance space.
Lounge with lofts and cubbies for independent reading and browsing.
An 8-passenger van for daily trips.
An iPad for each visitor.
Wall-size dry erase surface.
Small selection of snacks.
20,000 square feet enclosed outdoor space.
Separate co-working space.
Quiet and well lit, fast wifi, coffee and water cooler.
How does it work?
There are two kinds of users at Curiosity Lab.
For kids who go to regular school, Curiosity Lab is a place to have fun and explore 3PM-5PM weekdays and 10AM-4PM weekends.
Rate: $150 per month, $20 day pass
Homeschooled and unschooled kids can engage rich
environments, socialize with various ages, and utilize
our staff to deepen their interests, weekdays 9AM-5PM and weekends 10AM-4PM.
Rate: $300 per month, $40 day pass
Curiosity Lab provides the optimizing conditions for self-directed education.
Learning happens every time a child pursues what interests them. When things are interesting to the child for their own sake, the motivation to learn comes from their innate playfulness, curiosity, and sociability.
Curiosity Lab is founded on the premise that an entire life's education can be sustained by curiosity and play, while also serving a productive and fruitful adulthood.
Achieving a truly robust self-directed education involves more than just freedom to do whatever you want. It includes the following conditions: open-ended time, access to the tools of the culture, age mixing, a stable community, adult support (but not intervention), and the expectation that learning is the child's responsibility.
To achieve these conditions at Curiosity Lab requires staff training to support and facilitate exploration and discovery while also taking no for an answer. It means enabling children to opt out of anything, so that what they opt into is truly done of their own accord. This requires having places to escape the action have some peace. Lastly, to avoid boredom, Curiosity Lab needs to support a diverse range of interests while simultaneously allowing learners to go deep.
Curiosity Lab is proud to join a growing number of self-directed learning centers.
My name is Aaron Stupple. My wife and I moved to Northampton MA in 2017 to practice internal medicine in the Baystate system and raise a family.
We started Curiosity Lab when we decided to unschool our three kids. We wanted an opportunity for them to socialize with other kids, but we didn't want to rely on activities that were organized and structured by adults. Unable to find a space where they could freely play and explore with others for hours on end, we decided to create our own.
Before becoming a doctor, I taught middle school and high school science for five years in upstate New York at the public school in my home town.
I loved teaching, and I threw myself into the life of young people. I directed the school play, coached sports, ran the school chess club, trivia club, juggling club, and summer theater group. And I organized dozens of trips and events. I shifted from education to medicine when I discovered that I thrive on deeper, one-on-one relationships.
With the arrival of our third child, I'm thrilled to be involved with youth again, this time on a deeper level. In particular, I can feel how hot the fire of curiosity burns in little kids, and I want to add fuel to that fire.
I have been persuaded by thinkers like Peter Gray who argue that kids thrive intellectually and emotionally in rich but unstructured environments. As such, I chose a location directly across the street from Ken Danford's North Star Teens in order to emulate his approach for children aged 5-12.
Is this an alternative school?
Curiosity Lab is better described as a center for self-directed learning. Learning is certainly the goal, but in a way that is lead by the child's innate curiosity. The staff offers various resources for kids to engage with and instruction if requested, but nothing is compulsory - kids can opt out of anything. This gives their curiosity free rein, and enables the development of genuine passion. Here is a quick introduction to this approach.
Why is there a ball pit if this is about learning?
For curiosity to drive learning, children must enjoy being in the space and feel relaxed enough to explore and experiment. The climbing walls and ball pit serve to welcome kids and facilitate trustful and collaborative relationships with other kids and staff. It signals to kids that the building is designed with their interests in mind, and fun is always interesting.
How do you control screen time?
We believe screens are at least as useful for kids as they are for adults. They are an essential tool for discovering and deepening any interest, and we think digital resources are a game-changer for independent learning. We control for sexual and graphically violent content, but otherwise encourage unfettered access and proficiency.
How does the van work?
One adult can take up to seven learners on local trips. This helps us achieve the diversity of interests necessary to stave off boredom. Destinations are generally chosen by the kids, though we don't visit difficult-to-manage destinations like open water or high vehicular traffic. We're mindful about matching the trips with the passengers' mood, time requirements, and age-appropriate safety considerations such as child seats.
What if my child is crying and upset?
Since kids can opt out of anything, that includes choosing to return home. If a child expresses a desire to go home, or is upset and we are unable to resolve it quickly, we will call the parent and ask that they come pick up their child.
Is the adult co-working space located with the kids?
No. The building consists of two separate units that do not even have a passageway connecting them. Adults in the co-working space are located immediately next door, but are completely separate from the children. We require that adults do not comingle with the children, and only make contact while picking up and dropping off.
Is this not-for-profit?
No. Curiosity Lab is for-profit for several reasons. First, we don't want to be beholden to any grant-making entities because we may be tempted to cater to their agenda rather than to the children's. Second, we see a growing opportunity for families to have a space for unstructured play and discovery. If this is truly valuable, the best way to know that we have tapped into that is if families pay to have it, and this enables us to grow and expand.
Will you teach my kid to read?
If they want to learn, sure! But we won't pressure it. Many people are sympathetic to self-directed education, but think subjects like reading, writing and math are too important to leave to chance. We see it differently - since these subjects are so important, it is crucial that we preserve children's interest and see them as useful. We'd hate for writing or math to become a chore, something that's only done to appease adults. Worse still, we'd hate for kids to decide that they're not good at math, or that they are intellectually deficient if they don't like to read.
And leaving it to chance isn't as risky as it sounds. Since reading, writing and math are widely useful, self-directed learners encounter them all the time and are eager to learn them.
I have a homeschooling curriculum. Will you facilitate dedicated time?
As in the reading question above, we do not force or even pressure kids to learn certain things. This degrades the child's trustful relationship with the staff and disrupts the open and free tone of the enterprise that we rely on to foster curiosity and creativity.
However, if a child wishes to work on material from home or a compulsory environment like school, we are happy to assist, answer questions and otherwise support the child's efforts.
Do you offer classes?
Yes. If there are enough learners interested in a specific topic, we will arrange a time to present material on the topic and answer questions. Kids are free to attend or not on their own.
Do you track kids' progress?
We don't offer awards or any kind of validation of learning particular things or graduating.
We do organize and curate learner's projects into a portfolio that they can use to demonstrate their progress.
How many kids are there at a time?
In the beginning, the maximum number will be 15.
What is the ratio of staff to children?
The maximum is eight children for each staff member. This includes van trips.
What do you do about fighting?
Our staff break up any fighting immediately. Freedom does not include the freedom to hit. If we cannot resolve recurrent fighting or disruption, we will ask the parents to bring the child home. For repeat issues, we will refund the membership and ask that the child not return.
What is the capacity of the co-working space?
The space can accommodate 8 users.
What if my kid is traditionally schooled, but wants to try unschooling. Will you help?
Just like North Star Teens, we will help your child file the necessary paperwork and craft a homeschooling or unschooling plan that will set them on the road to self-directed education. And such a shift is non-binding, kids can always re-enroll in traditional school.