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The heart of what we do: Why choose Island Discovery?

Island Discovery founder and principal Allan Saugstad reflects on the heart of what we do at ILDC, starting with the beginning back in 2003 – and even further, with the birth of his children. Photo: Meribeth Deen/Bowen Island Undercurrent


Why Choose Island Discovery?   The Heart of What We Do

I have had many years to reflect on why Island Discovery was created and continues to operate as it does. How to explain what it was that drove us to create this program way back in 2003? After probably hundreds of conversations, I think I have come up with a reasonable summary…..

 As I try to explain it, I have to keep going back. Back from the present connection and playfulness we encourage in our kids today. Back past the time when our children were five-year olds, and finally “school-age”. It all really started the day our first children were born.

 It was on that day that we stared into the eyes of the most innocent and beautiful of beings, and fell in love. A love greater than we could ever have imagined. We looked into those eyes, those eyes that after awhile would stare back fearlessly, and we melted. Like all love affairs, we shed all selfishness and simply wanted to give to our little ones. We wanted to protect them and make them feel safe.

After having read so many parenting books, stirring up worry, fear, and uncertainty, all of that faded instantly away in the face of our children. We needed only to stay in the moment, to feel our connection, to look into those little eyes, in order to know what to do in each and every moment going forwards. Our love compelled us to listen and learn from them. They would always tell us what and when they needed something. It was simple most of the time, if we were attuned to them. The only time we lost our way was when we were lost in our own minds. But that rarely happened, as our love was so strong.

When one has the privilege of parenting that way, where that love has room to thrive, where it can be supported without distraction or misfortune, we can find ourselves taking an alternative path. We keep our kids close, despite others telling us we shouldn’t. We give them ample emotional freedom and safety to choose their own path. And then, after 5 years of this, when the world tells us to give up our self-led voracious learners to be taught a mandatory curriculum led by others, and deemed by experts as necessary, we hesitate.

My daughter at 5 – singing, dancing, reading, “arting” (as she called it), mucking about, laughing, prancing around all hours of the day – never stopping, always asking questions, forever talking, forever inquisitive and fearlessly trying new things – all day, all night, all weekend, all year long. I wanted her to be able to keep that love of learning and living alive. I didn’t want her following someone else’s agenda all day. I met other parents who felt the same way and after a great amount of visioning, Island Discovery was born. We are a group of parents brave enough to trust in following that love. We know it can only lead to good things, and lifelong learning.

People often ask me what our philosophy is. I used to say that our philosophy is that we have no philosophy. Philosophies, methods, charters – whatever you call them – if we follow them too closely, we lose our natural way. We lose the heart of what we do. We follow. Although they can be useful, no educational system is worth much, simply because it is a system. And systems are created by people who simply do not know you and they do not know your child. Every single child is uniquely beautiful and talented in their own special way, and like snowflakes no two are alike. Because of that, they must find their own way. And the people who can guide them best are those who love and know them best. You, dear parent, have been, are now, and will be into the distant future, their greatest teacher and mentor. Even if you are down, even if you feel inadequate, even if you are afraid, even if you screw up, you are their greatest mentor. 

Gordon Neufeld tells one of my favourite stories about a girl he saw fall down on the sidewalk. His instincts kicked in and he ran to help her. But he stopped as he got close because he knew she wouldn’t accept help from him, a complete stranger. Even though he had his Ph.D in child psychology, even though he had 30 years experience working with kids and families, even though he wrote a book on attachment, he knew he was not the right person for that child at that time. The only people this child needed were those she was attached to, and that’s all that mattered to her.

Island Discovery is built on the intuitive knowledge we first learned when our children were born. Our teachers who teach classes work first and foremost to create an attachment. We don’t create strict agendas or strict curriculum, either in our classes and in how we work with you at home. We encourage and support you and your child to find your own way, not our way, because there really is no other way. And as you do that, we know you will find peace, success, and deep happiness.