These Winter Park residents took a negative event and turned it into something positive by creating an organization that focuses on laughter and togetherness within their community.
Like most children, 11-year-old Liam Goodowens and his 9-year-old sister Claire Goodowens are hyperactive, talkative and likely under the dictionary definition of “vivacity.” However, unlike most children, they have spent the past six months personally corresponding with local government officials and potential sponsors to create a nonprofit program called The Game Exchange Box.
The way The Game Exchange Box program works is quite simple. Reminiscent of a Little Free Library, residents are asked to donate a board game they own but no longer wish to play. When they place the donated game into a blue newsstand box, another board game will be inside for them to take. Once that game has been played out, you put it back and borrow another.
This idea was sparked by the emotional distress instigated by a tragic incident that occurred August 2015 in their Winter Park neighborhood. The incident involved an elderly neighbor who shot a fellow neighbor’s dog in the eye after she came loose from her leash.
The Goodowens family says the whole neighborhood developed an almost palpable tension after the event, so as a means to dissipate the negative vibes, Samantha Goodowens encouraged her kids to consider undertaking a social project of their own choice as an academic learning experience.
While most kids learn about math, government, English and other academic subjects according to a standard school curriculum via textbooks and long lectures, Liam and Claire, avoid the typical drudgery of traditional schooling by learning about academic subjects in a substantially different manner: unschooling.
Akin to autodidactism, “unschooling” is an unconventional educational method that recommends first-hand learning through natural life experiences.
The philosophy behind this experimental movement holds that such a learning process increases curiosity and makes learning more personal and meaningful, thereby boosting retention of the knowledge acquired.
Despite the odds, Liam and Claire have transformed their school project into reality. After many boring meetings and nerve-wracking speeches delivered to adults about four to five times their age, Liam and Claire have finally succeeded in getting their project approved, and it is currently undergoing a test trial in three locations: the Winter Park Public Library entrance, Phelps Park and Central Park’s Sun Rail stop at the Winter Park Train Station.
With the guidance of their mother, Liam and Claire have learned about the basics of grant writing, budgeting, website creation, business letter writing formats and more.
“They learned English writing and letter writing, but instead of writing some letter for a fake English assignment, they wrote letters to the city commissioners and they met with the mayor, and they learned public relations, and public speaking, and how to write the speech and then how to deliver the speech,” Samantha Goodowens says.
With such an accomplishment at an early age, it would be hard to disagree that the future looks pretty promising for these two “unschooled” kids.