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Let’s bring back imagination and adventure for our boys

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Courtesy of the Riverside Club

Three students in the Riverside Tutorial perform in a radio theater production.

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 12/03/23

Our kids deserve more from school than being bored. Here's how to bring the magic of an adventurous education to your home or classroom.
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It’s pretty funny that the person I trust most to teach my kids grew up hating school.

His name is Peter Searby, and he’s the founder and director of the Riverside Club for Adventure and Imagination, with which my son—and our whole family—are enraptured.

It’s a one-day-a-week hybrid school for boys, but I typically describe it as an “adventure camp” because the word “school” just does not capture it. 

Riverside Tutorial puts adventure and imagination at the heart of education, and the result is pure magic. 

You could see it at the tutorial last month when the boys romped and played with an English Shepherd for a unit on dog training. 

You’d see it a few weeks before that when the boys learned to kayak, each paddling his own kayak on a tree-lined creek in the autumn sunshine.

And you can see it at the incredible theater productions they create, all the boys working hard to put together a professional-quality show that wows big audiences.

Most weeks when I pick him up, my son is laughing with his friends and covered in mud, and I think, “This is what boyhood should be.”

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Students in the Riverside Tutorial act out a theater scene.

As far as I know, there’s nothing like Riverside anywhere else in the world. But the good news is that you can bring a little of the Riverside magic to wherever you are. 

The wisdom of ‘Casting Fire’

In his new book, Casting Fire: A Guide to the Adventure and Imagination of Boyhood, Searby reveals his vision of education through a series of letters for “rogue” educators to renew adventure and imagination in their own homes and classrooms. 

While his own focus is educating boys, his inspiration and wisdom in Casting Fire are invaluable for anyone who works with kids, including parents, homeschoolers, teachers, camp counselors, priests and pastors, and coaches.

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Students in the Riverside Club enjoyed kayaking on Salt Creek.

From hating school to educating boys

As a boy, Searby hated school: He felt stifled and like he didn’t belong. As he grew older, he realized that many other men and boys had felt the same way. 

“Many boys are floundering and lost in school cultures that are often not geared towards what boys need to thrive, find their brotherhood, and have their gifts come alive through meaningful and creative work,” he said in an interview. 

He turned his dislike for school around to create an education that kids would love. Riverside is the educational model he wishes he’d had, inviting boys into the exciting challenge of what he calls “the fellowship of creative endeavor.” 

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Several dogs visited the Riverside Tutorial for a class on dog training.

The boys take pride in creating outstanding creative arts, rough-and-tumble outdoor adventures, and beautiful craftsmanship projects. The results speak for themselves. 

“Boys often dislike going to school, yet at Riverside they cheer whenever we announce a new project,” he said, as hundreds of happy Riverside parents can affirm. 

What inspired him to write Casting Fire? He explained, 

I want to reveal to many educators ways to inspire boys rather than control them. I want to show how you can build a fellowship of creative endeavor, similar to what J.R.R. Tolkien experienced as a young boy, a group of friends dedicated to storytelling and the power of the imagination to create and inspire. 

I also wanted to share a way of relating to them, as guide and father figure, to be present with them in the things they love so that they can respond generously and with great spirit when you ask them to accomplish something challenging and arduous.

What it means to be an educator

The name Casting Fire comes from his mission of what an educator can do. For an educator to cast a fire means to inspire students, captivate their imaginations, and “send them on to creative endeavors that will reveal to them how they think, what their gifts are, and hopefully someday, what they are called to do to build the Kingdom in a way utterly unique to who they are.”

If that sounds like the kind of education you want for your students, you’ve got to check out Casting Fire. And if you’re anywhere near Chicago, you won’t want to miss Searby’s upcoming event, Catch the Spark, on January 13, for a chance to experience the magic of Riverside yourself. 

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Peter Searby, Founder and Director of the Riverside Club, is also a singer and songwriter.

Our kids deserve more from school than being stifled and bored, and no one understands that better than Searby. That’s exactly why so many families like my own have entrusted their boys’ education to him in the past ten years of Riverside.

His new book promises to fan into flames the spark of adventure and imagination we all have in us. Casting Fire passes the torch of all that he’s learned in his decades of teaching, giving other educators the chance to hold it high and join the epic journey. 

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BooksEducationMen’s Lifestyle
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