The power of first-hand experiences - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

The power of first-hand experiences

Written by on June 11, 2015 in Happiness, Learning, Young People with 0 Comments


“When you’re ready your teacher comes,” John Marsden says.

After meeting a narrow-minded Australian man in his 70s on a train in Canada, he spent a great deal of time wondering, “How can you live so long and learn so little?”

“We’re all born at the station called ignorance,” John says. The journey towards knowledge, wisdom or awareness seemed to be a journey this man on the train had never made.

John started thinking about his long-held ambition to start a school, in the hopes that people would learn both knowledge and wisdom.

“Our school is half-way between Steiner and ‘The Simpsons’,” he jokes.

One of the principles of Candlebark School is that first-hand experiences are better. John had noticed that conversations with young people were becoming increasingly boring. He hypothesised that they weren’t having their own experiences – they were just watching things on TV.

Young people these days can be very limited in the freedom they have to explore their environment. John gets kids at his school out on hikes, visiting orange juice factories, having sleepovers at the school and going on other excursions.

“We’re hoping to give children a rich databank of experiences that they can draw upon for the rest of their lives,” he says. These foundations, established in their first twelve years, will make a great contribution to their lives.

John chooses staff for the school that have had wonderful life experiences. One teacher went to Iran and caught a train into the interior of the country, met lots of people and took amazing photographs.

He doesn’t want to sit in a staff room where teachers are discussing the colour of a dishwasher they want to buy. “I look for teachers who have interesting things to say.”

The motto of Candlebark is “Take Care, Take Risks,” but John jokes that the ‘take care’ part is just for the bureaucrats.

John wants kids to have a trusting attitude towards the world, “to treat the world as a friendly place.”

Candlebark often has backpackers often staying at the school. “They play chess, they play basketball with the kids. In talking to them, young people will understand the many possibilities in life.”

“If you don’t know the doors exist, you’ll never open them,” John says.

“They roll down hills, they have stick wars – which has been going on for about seven years, and which I still don’t understand.”

The school has had very few injuries despite the children being encouraged to take risks. Graduates of the school have also performed very well academically, although they spend less time in class than children at other schools.

John says the experiences children have at Candlebark “stands them in good stead for the rest of their lives.”


John Marsden is a popular, award winning author and visionary educator; Founder and Principal of Candlebark School, Victoria. This is summary of his presentation at Happiness & Its Causes 2015.

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