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Pono Outdoor Program runs Monday-Thursday, 9am-2pm and Friday 9am-1pm, in nomatic locations on the island of Maui, 100% outdoors, rain or shine.


We believe that the greatest value of our coming together in the outdoors is for the keiki to play and socialize as nature intended. We celebrate each keiki with their unique gifts and interests. Through playfulness, they are self-directed to explore their own inquiries, learning autonomy, self-motivation, self-discipline, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and negotiation. When we trust the keiki in their unique paths of learning, they will trust themselves, resulting in healthy self-esteem, happiness, and confidence as they enter adulthood. 


Research shows that play is the best means by which humans (and mammals) learn. In a state of play, we are free and inspired to learn at our own free will the skills that are necessary to become effective members of society. Play is exploratory, open-ended, and interest-based learning, as opposed to forced studies where the actions towards a goal (i.e. getting a good grade on a test) are merely the means to an end while taking the shortest possible route to that goal (Gray, Free to Learn 143). How many of us studied for a test only to forget everything we had learned shortly afterward? Children’s innate instinctive drives for survival and educating themselves to thrive as humans are curiosity, playfulness, and sociability (Gray, Free to Learn 114). 

Self-directed learning

While children learn naturally through play and their surroundings, it is our job to provide them with a literacy-filled and numeracy-rich environment. We provide resources to spark inspiration and learning opportunities to practice lifeskills such as reading, writing, math, science, social studies, languages, performing and visual arts, physical, and thriving-skills*. Instead of separating these skills by subjects we recognize that they all naturally overlap and work on each other. We value each of these skills equally and trust that the keiki will gravitate toward their interests without judging their choices.


*Thriving-skills - as we prefer to call them - are more commonly known as survival skills such as fire-making, water purification, shelter building, knife skills, tool making, food foraging, herbalism, hunting, and regenerative farming. 


The structure of our day is built around 3 non-negotiable pillars that all students must attend – morning circle, lunch, and hoʻoponopono (see below). These pillars set the foundation with our core values as a program: indigenous wisdom, circle culture, community, health, and pono. In between these pillars, we believe that the keiki thrive when they are able to learn freely through play, based on their interests with the resources and environments available.

3 Daily Pillars


Why we choose not to follow a curriculum

At Pono Outdoor Program, we value diversity and recognize that each child is at their own pace and carries their own set of interests. Only a small portion of students will be perfectly ready for a particular lesson in a set curriculum, while the majority of their peers are either pressured to keep up or held back and limited, both of which give them the message that they’re not good enough where they are. 


Curriculum is in its origin a standard for slavery in the industrial revolution so that everyone knows the same limited information needed for the conveyor belt factory system, most importantly the inability to think for oneself. Schools are often compared to prisons as the only two institutions where the free will (human right) to opt-out is forbidden. A set curriculum also promotes age segregation, which leads to more bullying and less true learning. The no child left behind act of 2001 (passed in 2014) pushed the requirement of “Common Core”, a set standard for all students to gain proficiency in the exact same subjects. The goal of the Common Core is to have an education that is like training robots, everything the same way, everyone has the same knowledge; leading to a “excellent” education because everyone can be able to do slave work. Ultimately feeding the elite more money, through our work. 

“Proficiency, comes from the Latin word proficere, meaning "accomplish, make progress, be useful." If you have achieved proficiency in something, you have done well at gaining a skill. The 4 levels of proficiency are 1 - Fundamental Awareness (basic knowledge) 2 - Novice (limited experience) 3 - Intermediate (practical application) 4 - Advanced (applied theory)”

– Google


We can help children to achieve proficiency through self-directed learning without common core in the skills they need. Extensive research has shown that children actually learn reading, writing, and math naturally in our modern society where literacy and numeracy are so prevalent. The skill of literacy is acquired at vastly differing ages, with the average being 8 years old. Decades of case studies at self-directed learning centers, such as Sudbury Valley (established 1968) have found not a single case of illiteracy among their students despite no formal reading instruction; the ages for learning to read varied from 4 to 14 years old and often times siblings differed greatly in this regard. These case studies also show that starting to read later (10 years and older) does not hold students back from academic success and some indeed go on to become scholars (Gray, Psychology Today). Furthermore, for math skills, it has been found time and time again that 7 years of math standards in school (kindergarten through 6th grade) can be learned by students in an average of only 20 hours when they are motivated and have a reason to learn it (Greenberg, Free at Last). 


“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry […] It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” 


– Albert Einstein

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