Pono is the only outdoor, democratic and fully learner-directed center in Manhattan for children from the age of 2 and up. As an “outdoor” center, children at Pono spend half of their time outdoors in NYC and the surrounding counties of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island.
We currently serve children from the age of 2 to 5 years old. We will expand the age range as Pono progresses.
Parents are vital members of the Pono community. They are invited, and actually encouraged, to stay with the children for as long as they wish to. There is a myriad of activities for parents to participate in with and without the children.
“Pono,” meaning “oneness,” infuses all we do. At Pono, personal development and participation in a community of kindness, respect, and inclusion are essential.
Teacher to student ratio is 1 to 3 or better. We have at least 2 visiting teachers (from different fields) a week, interns, and volunteers.
Within our culturally diverse community, the children are exposed to foreign languages, such as Arabic, Japanese, and Spanish.
Children are offered a variety of non-compulsory lessons throughout the course of the day. Depending on the interests of the children, the areas addressed in lessons may include natural sciences, movement, ecology, health, nutrition, language arts, theatre, art, yoga, music, cultural and global studies, and others. Literacy and mathematics are embedded in all offerings.
Non-compulsory lessons; meetings (morning meetings; school meetings; and council meetings) are the only part of the school day that children need to attend; No punishment; Freedom not license; High quality of lessons; and, Policy decisions must be approved through school meetings.


Pono is rooted in the belief that:


Children are learning creatures

who are naturally curious and inquisitive, and who strive for understanding and competence. We support their basic human drive to learn and grow by providing the opportunity to direct and regulate their learning in the manner that they choose, at their own place and pace, and for as long as they want and need. The structure at Pono—whether it is voluntary classes; mixed age groupings; the absence of a pre-set curriculum, homework, tests, and grades—contributes to a fulfilling and enjoyable learning experience;

Children, no matter how young, learn responsibility

by being given responsibility. Children at Pono have the responsibility and freedom to govern not only their learning, but also their own Pono community. Each child and teacher has an equal voice in decisions that affect the daily operation of the center;

A healthy environment

is one in which Pono exists. Pono, a traditional Hawaiian concept denoting perfect harmony and equilibrium, inspires everything we do. We strive to create a learning environment of perfect harmony with our children, families, teachers, and other members of the Pono community. We make every effort so that our lessons, meals, programs and projects achieve a state of Pono among our community, bigger society, and nature;

Learning happens everywhere,

and it happens best when children are immersed in authentic environments and situations, rather than through rote or forced instruction in rigid artificial settings. We take full advantage of the riches and resources available in New York City: We hold most sessions in parks and gardens, museums, theaters, art studios and so on. We create partnerships with different educational and cultural organizations to provide and facilitate access to different events. While the learning environment we create is natural, unwired, open-ended, dynamic, and flexible, it always adapts and adjusts to the interests of the students;

Children and adults learn together

and from each other, despite presumed or identified abilities, disabilities, challenges, and labels. All members of the Pono community work together on creating a fully inclusive learning environment that is free of attitudinal, structural and physical barriers that would hinder the full participation of its members in the community;

The role of teachers is to nurture,

guide, and support the interests and natural progress of the children. More importantly, they teach by example how to be socially conscious; how to pursue learning journeys; and how to live harmoniously in a community where one’s freedom ends when it interferes with the freedom of others.