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Learning by Doing: 12-Year-Old Takes on a 'Tiny House' Construction Project

Students at the HoneyFern School are joining a revolution in housing that believes smaller is better and tiny is king.

We all grew up with forts: tiny spaces to read, to dream, to hide. Some of us grew out of forts, and some of us just grew taller. My daughter Sicily Kolbeck, a 12-year-old student at HoneyFern School in Marietta, Georgia, is not quite done with forts. This year as her project for school she is building a tiny house, joining a revolution in housing that believes smaller is better.

Sicily decided to build her tiny house after discovering Deek Diedrickson's Tiny Yellow House and Relaxshacks YouTube channel, as well as Kirsten Dirksen's We, the Tiny House People documentary. These videos inspired her to look more deeply at the tiny house movement and eventually led her to use the tiny house as her entire school curriculum in the fall of 2012.

"I am building a tiny house to wake up in a place that I have built with my own two hands; I am also trying to be more independent and live on my own, and to show others that we can live more simply," says Sicily. Her tiny house will be built on a trailer and will be 128 square feet with a 30 square foot loft, full bathroom, solar panels and full kitchen. "I thought about what I needed, and I don't need a lot of space. Mostly I need a place to bake cupcakes, to read, and to hang out with friends," she says.

Not many students in this country get the chance to explore their interests so deeply. Sicily is one of six students attending HoneyFern, a private, non-profit school I founded in 2010 to escape a test-based culture of public schooling. Each student at HoneyFern works intensively with their teacher to identify their interests and design a project that capitalizes on their strengths and remediates their weaknesses. Every part of their curriculum is designed around their project.

This intense focus on each individual student is a far cry from the national standardization of schools sweeping the country—the school believes that the learning is in the doing, that students need to have a voice in and responsibility for their education, and that true learning happens when students are engaged, creative and collaborative.

Sicily is learning physics, design and engineering, and math—all related to her tiny house. Additionally, she keeps a blog on her process and has written guest blogs for several websites, including Tumbleweed Tiny Houses and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution site, and has been a guest on the Tiny Revolution podcast with Andrew Odom. Four of her classmates are also design/builders of a go-kart, a chicken coop, a hydroponic greenhouse and a 3D video game.

The collaborative nature of the school sees the students asking thoughtful questions about design, materials and use of space. To get used to the tools needed for their projects, each student has designed their own small living space and will be building it entirely from salvaged materials, creating a tinier tiny house village; this process prompts many discussions on the nature of "stuff," how our society works as a group, and what really matters to people.

"Being able to freely work on my own time and on my own project helps me be creative and learn the way I should learn," says Sicily. "Maybe people have forgotten what it means to educate students, but this is the way to go. Who wouldn't want to follow their dream and set their own course? This experience gives me knowledge and skills that will last forever."

Click here to add helping Kolbeck build her tiny house through an indiegogo campaign to your GOOD “to-do” list.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user nicolas.boullosa

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