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Visioning the Future

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The Law Of Attraction is based on the idea that “like attracts like.” What we put out to the world is what we will receive. When we accept responsibility for what we draw into our own lives, we can feel empowered to create the life we want to live!

Last week, while cleaning my house, I found myself in my closet staring at an old vision board I made before ALC Mosaic existed, before I even met the parents who are a part of the school today. I was brought to my knees by what I saw. Three years ago, I immersed myself in imagining what it would look like and feel like to be in a school of my dreams. Today I am living this out.

Here is a snapshot of the vision board as a whole:

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At first glance, you’ll see kids playing outside, in a tee pee, reading a book, etc. These things of course would happen in a school of my dreams. But a closer look reveals some very interesting things that have been eerily called into my life since making this years ago:

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At the time I made this board, I owned a bike that I never rode. Its tires sat flat in my shed. I would not be considered an avid bike enthusiast. Today, our school lobby is filled with bikes. @Charlotte, one of our loved ALFs, has incorporated a love of bikes and the environment into the heart of what this school is.

Next I saw a picture that may seem trivial, but it warmed my heart to see it anyway. For those who were a part of the school in the spring of 2014, you may remember a couple of teen aged girls who were with us for a few months – who loved to draw all over their shoes and jeans. Some kids brought in jeans for them them draw and decorate on with sharpies.

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Then I saw a picture that caused me to gasp out loud and yell for Charlotte to come and take a look:

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Anyone at school this year is familiar with my box animals. This fall, a parent, Melissa, left a Minecraft Crafting magazine at school. I saw a minecraft pig plush made from felt and helped the kids make these pigs. This has turned into a hobby of mine making all sorts of box plush animals! I have no idea why I would have been drawn to glue down a box picture of a pig all those years ago for a vision of my dream school. This seemingly random detail is quite spectacular in my opinion!

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The next picture I saw reminds me of this year and the dedicated group of kids in both ALC Mosaic and ALC NYC who love psychology crash course. We’ve been consistently watching and discussing the videos since September each week. There was an episode on the Rorschach test in it, and we even tried some of these tests online.

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Another little strange coincidence:

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You may not think this is a picture to note as important, but there was a young girl, @libby who enjoyed wearing a beard at school for period of time. I showed this to her last week and she thought this was pretty funny!

There are pictures of kids gardening, playing in sprinklers, reading, writing, maps – all things that I see or have seen be important parts of our school experience. However, these pictures I highlighted sparked me as being slightly unusual things to include in this vision board for a school that hadn’t yet been created.

Re-visiting this board gave me much joy. In the simplest way, it made me smile to think about where I was three years ago, and where I am now. In a deeper way, this helped me to further understand the importance of focusing on what I want to see in the world TODAY so I can attract those experiences to me. 

What’s next? #OneCampus Vision Board. We are looking for our next home, and I am imagining that it will be spectacular!

A Brief History Of Education

This post is a follow up from our incredible experience hosting Peter Gray here in Charlotte (January 30, 2016).

In his talk, he refers to a blog post he wrote called “A Brief History Of Education.” If you went to the talk, you might be curious to read a bit more about this. If you didn’t go to the talk, it’s a very thought provoking read.

I reviewed some old blog posts I wrote before Mosaic was an ALC (we initially opened as a democratic free school). These posts are no longer currently viewable on the internet, but I dug a post I wrote after reading this particular blog by Gray in August of 2013:

Do you know why schooling became compulsory? In the linked blog post by Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, he describes a brief history of education from the time of hunter-gatherer societies to today.

In the article, Gray describes how, “School gradually replaced fieldwork, factory work, and domestic chores as the child’s primary job. Just as adults put in their 8-hour day at their place of employment, children today put in their 6-hour day at school, plus another hour or more of homework, and often more hours of lessons outside of school. Over time, children’s lives have become increasingly defined and structured by the school curriculum. Children now are almost universally identified by their grade in school, much as adults are identified by their job or career.”

Are your children defined by their grade? Do they see themselves as more than a person who is “not good at math” or in the “top reading group?” Could this mindset be a contributing factor to increased depression and anxiety in the future due to a dependence on defining oneself through arbitrary standards?

It was fun for me to see that I am still just as passionate about this topic as I was then!

On Relationships

I’m finding this school year to be so much easier than the first and second years. This can be attributed to many things. I think the biggest factor involved here are relationships based in trust and love.

I made a little chart to examine the shift in dynamics between people when you have an established relationship rooted in trust & love. In my time teaching in public schools, I felt that one year was never enough for me to get to this place with my students. When I began teaching at the Friends School of Charlotte, one thing that excited me to work there was the 3 year cycle with the same teacher. At Mosaic, I can enjoy relationships even beyond that 3 years, which I love.

 

Relationship with Trust & Love Relationship with Fear & Distrust
  • New experiences are embarked on together with excitement – you are willing to embark on something you’ve never tried before with a person you trust.
  • When a person doesn’t agree with you, you are open to see their perspective. Ultimately, you believe that this person is doing the best they can in this world.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are focused on loving them & yourself. Your time is joyful and playful.
  • Coercion, shame or guilt are used to make the person do something you believe is the right thing to do. An adult who fears a child might never learn to “X” believes that without coercion or shame, the child will not do it.
  • You are skeptical and distrusting of the other person’s intentions. You are concerned that without some type of punishment or negative consequence, the person might never learn to act or think in a way you feel is acceptable.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are trying to control them or focus your conversation on little lessons that you hope will make them act/think in a way you like.

 

In traditional schools, sometimes teachers get a challenging student in the classroom, and you can hear in the teacher’s lounge, “well it’s only one year, they’ll be gone next year.” This is a mindset too, that if there is a challenging student, you just need to “put up with” them for one year. So the year is spent managing behavior because that’s really all you need to do to survive the year. To me, this is not humane treatment of children.

It takes time to build relationships. A person in a trusting relationship with another will joyfully and happily engage in something new, challenging or difficult. This is a common concern that I hear from parents, “If they aren’t forced to take classes, won’t they just do the same thing every day? What if they never try anything new or challenging?” This question exists in a different paradigm than the one I choose to live in. One doesn’t worry about something like this if you are focused on loving and trusting other people. I am personally willing and excited to do new things with people who I know love me and believe the best in me. I believe this applies to most people.

Having existed in another paradigm, I know the mindset of the other side. I have coerced, punished and manipulated children. I have been on the receiving end of this as well, having lived in a world where the common mindset is that this is the only way children can learn to be “good” adults. I’ve woken up to see that this isn’t true. A simple look at all the disheartened adults hurting themselves and each other in the world is an easy wake-up call. As I learned more, I decided to act differently. I love applying Maya Angelou’s quote to my own life: “When you know better, do better.”

I am thankful for the opportunity I have to grow deep relationships with children (and their parents) over years of time. I have the time and space to see them, know them, and love them. I am in no rush to make them do anything, ever. I can wait for moments of inspiration to leap us into new discoveries. I can listen to their perspectives on life and, with joy, smile and appreciate where they are now in their journey (as opposed to feeling anxious for where I want them to be).

I’ll end this post with some quotes on this topic from some people whom have inspired my awakening into a new paradigm of thought:

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For further reading, you can read this article, one of the best ones I’ve read that describes the leap into this paradigm in terms of “deschooling” and “unschooling,” but in the end, is really all about trust.

Changing Your Mindset, Changing Your Life

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I was looking for Peter Gray quotes to share as we get excited for his speaking event in Charlotte on Jan. 30th, and came across this one. I personally would replace the word “education” in this quote with “life. Which prompted me to reflect on a common parent question I get about the future.

“But what if after going to your school, they grow up to wish they hadn’t? What if they can’t get into the college they want to?”

And to that, I say:

“Oh my…but what if they grow up in a traditional school, go to a prestigious college, get a job they don’t really like and then work there every day, living for Friday when they can finally drink away the misery of staying in the job because they have so many student loans? And they are taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds every day to get through life?

This is a mindset, to live with chronic worry, to live out of fear for what *might* happen way down the road. Instead, I want to model for children living a life of purpose, one that is worth waking up for every morning. One that feels full of joy and love. Most schools are not modeling that for children, but instead modeling the mindset that you must suffer right now, you must get through this day in order to have a “successful” tomorrow. That you must be stressed out and worry about the future and what might happen to you if you don’t stress about it right now. But what is success? Isn’t success being thankful each morning to be alive? Or is it going to a job you hate and wishing you had a different life?

If you are focused on being concerned about how you will mess up your child, no matter where you send them to school, you will be focused on this. Perhaps, would you consider what would happen if you change your focus? You might change your life and your relationship to the world and your child. You might perhaps find that no matter where you send your child to school (or choose not to send them), doesn’t matter as much as your own mindset in life. So I actually don’t promote that people come to our school to find bliss, but that they find their own bliss first, and if it feels right, join us in our journey of like minded families. Because if you are trapped in a mindset of living in constant worry, than you will bring that here and worry about our school just as you’ve worried about other schools. Change your mindset first, then make your decisions (about what school to choose, or really, anything else) from a place of joy and inspiration!”

I have been scoffed at for leading and promoting the questions of how might we lead ourselves and teach others to have free-spirited, joyful lives NOW, and I have heard: “Well that’s because you live in la-la land. You don’t live in the real world.” Well, what if we created the world we want to live and are excitedly doing that? What if we create the world when we chose what mindset we want to have and we choose how we want to feel, and how we will respond to the world around us? What if we create the world when we choose to focus on what we want to draw into our lives rather than what we want to avoid? These are the considerations I ponder in my own head and that resonate for me to create my own heaven on earth.

 

Be The Change Check In #2

Last week, I shared about the Be The Change check-in’s that @charlotte holds coherence for and how I never get to attend any meetings! This initiative at school has motivated me to make lifestyle changing goals that I hope will make my carbon footprint in this world a little smaller. I have brought into my awareness this month that I want to also create shareable value from my goals. I have created a “Weekly Sprint” board in our Spawn Point room to make my goals visible to accomplish by the end of the week. (I’d like to state that I’m doing this because I’m motivated to, I have not pushed this on the kids. They can see what I’m up to and engage if they want, but this is not one of those coercive, “do what the adult is doing” kind of things).

Last week, my goal was to make a flier of all the farms that I try to buy meat from. It lists products that one could easily shop for in Charlotte, NC. I handed out the fliers at school for the kids who wanted them. This week my weekly sprint goal was to create a wiki page so others could add information about farms they know to my list. This way we can all be more aware of what labels to look for. It’s easy for me to go to Whole Foods or Healthy Home Market and see “Hickory Nut Gap” and know that this meat comes from a cow that has been pastured throughout its life.

If you live in Charlotte and have a farm you would like to add to this Wiki, please edit the page! I would like to know more about other farms in the area so I can continue educating myself as well.

Humane Meat Buying Guide for Charlotte, NC

If you feel connected to know where your meat comes from, please peruse the page and consider buying from one of these farms.

Be the Change Check-ins

This blog post will cover content about menstruation. If that’s uncomfortable for you to read about, click away.

Good with this? Awesome! Because I have some cool stuff to share in this post!

What is Be The Change Check-in?

This is a weekly small group offering with @charlotte where members think of ways they can make an impact on the world. They will come up with an idea for something that they can do in their own lives and talk about it at their check-ins, reflecting on if they were able to do it or not, or adding a new change of action. One student is trying to use less toilet paper. My first action was to only use my own mug or glass whenever I’m getting coffee at a store (so if I don’t have my own mug, I’m not getting coffee!). These are little doable actions that we can all make, and if we all do something, we may have an impact!

We recently hosted a really cool talk at school from a guest speaker, Linda Goodwin, about how to live a lower impact lifestyle by changing household habits. While Linda and her husband have modified their lifestyle to a point of only making 3 trash bags full of garbage a year, she encouraged us not to feel overwhelmed by that. She started slow by just thinking about little things she could do, and encouraged us to feel good about about the little things we can shift in our own lives. She left us with this quote from Maya Angelou:

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The focus of the Be the Change Check-in isn’t about feeling bad about what we aren’t doing, it’s  about thinking of what little things we want to try out doing. There are many small shifts we can make, and with a little intention and practice, these shifts become easy and simply a new normal for our lives.

I’ve actually never been able to go to a single Be the Change meeting at school. However, in a small school like this, it’s easy to know what’s going on around you through relationships. Even if you aren’t participating in a particular offering, it doesn’t mean that it’s not impacting your life. I know this is going on, it’s set at each Set-the-Week. I’m interested in going, but I have been scheduled to do something else at each check-in so I don’t get to go. However, I’m still making little shifts in my own life to live more harmoniously with the environment and checking in with some of the participants outside of the scheduled meeting times. I include this piece to help us all remember that it’s okay to not join some of the offerings. It’s impossible to be a part of every offering I want to be a part of at school. I’m still exposed to so many enriching activities by just being in the same space as them with others.

Now, Back to Menstruation

So, despite my lack of ability to attend a meeting, I did check in and reflect about my new change of action for this week: replacing my use of tampons with the Diva Cup.

Disposable tampons and pads add up to more items in landfills. According to this article, “the U.S. alone dumps 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons every year; because tampons are often flushed applicators frequently wash up on beaches (yuck).” Let’s also keep in mind that there are companies and equipment behind the making of more and more tampons and pads to keep us supplied endlessly. You can read this article for more information on that – the point is that the major environmental impact is more than just the tampons in landfills, it’s the fossil fuel use of making the plastic applicators.

After trying out the Diva cup myself, I was able to report back to a couple members of the group about how much liked using it. The benefits I’ve experienced are:

  • It’s comfortable
  • It holds more liquid so it only needs a change every 12 hours
  • It doesn’t leak AT ALL once you learn how to use it properly
  • No strings, so I feel cleaner, and this will be great for summer time in a bathing suit
  • I feel really amazing about the fact that I didn’t have to fill up my trash can with applicators
  • It’s cheaper – a one time $30 expense will last me a decade if I take proper care of my cup

You may think it’s strange for me to blog about this, and admittedly, I pondered in my head if I should do it or not. I have opted to share about it because I think talking about our bodies openly and without shame is a beautiful thing. I’m really grateful that the girls in our school can talk to older females about menstruation and our choices if they want to. The female adults in our school don’t make a big deal of it or act like it’s taboo or weird.

In addition, I was never exposed to the fact that Diva Cups or any non-disposable option for menstruation even existed until Charlotte told me about it when I was 30. It seems like it’s common knowledge for certain circles, but it’s really not talked about in the mainstream world. I’m not trying to push an agenda that everyone should switch to a Diva Cup. I think each woman should evaluate and think about their own needs. However, I would like to see environmentally friendly options like the Diva Cup become a more mainstream option that is normalized. I’m really grateful that the girls in our school have exposure to adult females who they know choose this option. These girls have the exposure to different options available so they can evaluate what’s best for them when it’s time to do so. That is something I think is awesome!

If you are interested in getting a Diva Cup, you can buy them at Amazon for under $30. Wholefoods sells them for $40.

 

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Every month, the facilitators at both our older and younger campuses gather for an informal meeting where we check-in with each other. The goal is help us feel connected as one campus even though we are apart and to share facilitation stories so we can support one another.

Yesterday we loosely followed a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” format that some of our branches kids enjoy doing. The rose is something wonderful we are celebrating or happy about, the bud is something we are excited about happening in the future, and the thorn is a challenge we are experiencing.

I didn’t get a chance to share then due to lack of time, so I thought I’d simply share my current Rose, Bud, and Thorn here in this blog post!

My Roses:

Our Change Up meetings

We’ve changed how we do change up, and it’s increased the ability of students to participate. We go through the items on our Community Mastery Board as efficiently as we can. If there is a topic or awareness that feels like it needs some creative problem solving, we pull it aside as a “focus topic.” We try to limit this to 4 focus topics, and one of those topics is usually a wish a kid or adult has made for the school. The kids work in small groups to discuss a hot topic for 10 minutes and then present a solution for the school to try out for the next week. One example of this is when small group worked on granting a wish about building connection among students. The kids in this group decided that scheduling two group games a week with everyone participating is a fun way to do this! We’ve been practicing this for two weeks now and I’m excited to continue this practice as long as the kids are too.

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At a Change-Up meeting focus group, the kids came up with a new way to choose weekly clean up jobs. After they took charge of the change, it became easy to gather the kids and select jobs – and they seem more engaged with the clean up job too 🙂

There are kids who are contributing to the culture creation at our school through these small groups that were not speaking up before when we did our Change-Up meetings as a whole group. Even though each kid isn’t a part of creating each solution, the buy-in to adhere to proposed solutions feels much higher because the kids understand how much thought it takes to come up with a potential solution. I am loving that this feels like true co-creation of the culture with kids. @tomis blogged much more deeply about this Change Up “change-up” here.

More Parent Volunteers

Two of our parents, Kristine & Melissa, have become more involved at school this year and it has been really fun to have them at school! They have been making meaningful relationships with the kids and sharing neat and unique offerings.

Melissa likes to do various crafts with the kids and take them to the library. I really enjoyed making life-sized paper versions of ourselves with her and the kids. She also brought singing songs together to our space this week, which I loved joining!

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Making life-sized versions of ourselves.

Kristine is an avid member of the girl scout troop with her daughter and is bringing neat activities to share from her experiences there. She introduced Biztown to the kids (a program run through Junior Achievement) and the kids are learning about financial literacy and how adults make, spend, and manage their money. This includes “playing” adult as they set up mock-checking accounts and apply for jobs that they will play out in the Biztown city in Uptown, Charlotte. You can watch more about Biztown below.

Amy Steinberg Theater Classes

The kids used all their left over money from last year and the money they made in the summer to hire Amy Steinberg to lead theater classes with them. The dedication they have to this 2 hour weekly class is really cool to see, as well as Amy’s direct and clear leadership of the class. While yes, we are unschoolers at heart and the kids lead their own paths, they have chosen to hire this person to instruct them. Amy has boundaries she sets around how to participate and makes those known and has expectations for the kids to meet. And they love it! They have learned some really cool games that help improve their focus, concentration and work on spacial awareness as they learn about stage directions.

What I’ve learned from seeing this is that I’d like to see the kids have more of the supply/facilitation budget to choose the classes and teachers they have at school so they 1) take complete ownership over what they get out of the experience and 2) are invested and committed to what they bring in.

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Love for Reading Flourishing and Visible

I mentioned the library trips becoming a regular thing, but we also have fun book/movie club that @Jesslm started up and the kids are really into it. What’s interesting is that I see other books brought in the space in addition to the group reading. The kids are sitting and reading other books too at school, and they also know that each week they have the opportunity to get more books at the library. What’s been fun is that I think the shared reading experience through the book/movie club has normalized the hearing of stories regularly in the space and the kids are just enjoying that and creating more experiences to engage with stories on their own outside of this as well.

Bike Love

While it is sometimes hard to simply enter the school due to tripping over bikes, I ultimately love that the kids love biking here. They learn how to bike safely and share the road with cars. They also get to go to the Recyclery weekly if they want with @Charlotte to learn about bike care and maintenance.

Ping Pong

The kids who practice are pretty damn good. They love it. I’ve been impressed with their eye-hand coordination! We have @dthomasson to thank for sharing his love for table tennis with the kids! They model how it takes practice, and a lot of practice, to get good at a skill.

My Buds

Seeing the Creative Solutions from Change-Up Flourish

Some ideas from our last couple change-up meetings that are in development:

  • Having a rotating interest station at school: We set up a display with rocks in the hallway as a test to see if kids would notice or engage with a random interest station if they were bored. It was put up and we didn’t actually notice much engagement with it. At Change Up we thanked the kids for not losing any of the rocks and respecting the station, followed with the announcement that we’d take it down. After hearing this, one of the kids raised their hands and said, “I really liked having all the stuff about rocks out there because sometimes if I was bored I’d just go over there and look at them and read about the different kinds of rocks.” This led to the kids wanting to have a focus group talk about having an interest station stay at school. The outcome was that the kids wanted to have input on different topics this station could have information about, and that they wanted it to change regularly. Some of the interests they proposed were to have the table set up with math activities, nature activities, stuff about bugs and snakes, or stuff about clay and pottery. They group took a vote from the whole school and it was decided we’d start with bugs and snakes and then work through the other interests.
  • A small group worked this week on a wish to help everyone feel welcomed at school. A student felt really passionate about having a visual board in place where people could move their names to visually show how they are feeling to others. He explained that if someone was feeling lonely, they could move their name to show this and then others could know to check-in with that person. I loved this idea, especially coming from a student who is in touch with his feelings and feels it important for others to respect each other and their feelings. This student also advocated for feelings check-ins at Spawn Points because they felt it would help people open up and share with each other more. The kids now all are in the daily practice of doing this, and at our last Change-up meeting, excitedly supported continuing this practice daily.
  • The kids have come up with a new way to track where kids are, and since they came up with this, it’s more likely they will honor it. We had a velcro system we used last year, but it’s not reliable. We need a better way to see who went out biking with Charlotte or to the library with Melissa, etc. Sometimes you are looking for someone at school but they are actually doing something off-site and we want to easily be able to see this. So we are going to hang white boards by the exit door and the request from kids was that adults taking kids off-site need to put who is off-site, and where, on the board.

Math at School

Some kids have been asking to do math at school. Kristine brought in a bunch of Math-U-See stuff she used while homeschooling and met with me and Melissa to talk about offering math to the kids at school. I LOVE math because I love problem solving using logic and creativity. So it was exciting to meet with them – and the kids knew we were meeting and were curious and asking when math would start.

We decided to offer three different types of math classes – one with games geared towards younger kids, one with the goal of becoming more fluent with multiplication tables (because it really does help you calculate faster – this IS a useful math skill to gain), and one for Algebra because the older kids have specifically asked for that. We’d offer these all at the same time so that there was a larger critical mass of kids engaged and the school would be quieter.

The kids were then presented the choices and signed up. Again, this is just for the kids who have been asking for it and wanting it! I do not believe that math class is a “should” thing. It’s just one type of offering that can be fun, and the kids not wanting to do it are not (at least from me) given the message that they are missing out on anything, because I don’t believe that they are missing out (this article shares some great benefits of NOT receiving direct math instruction).

We said we’d host these two times a week through December, asking the kids to stick with it until then. After winter break, we’d re-evaluate and decide what to do next. I wrote Kristine & Melissa an email earlier today as I was getting pumped up to engage with math, here is a part of that:

For me, [math instruction] is not about teaching anything! I’ve taught math to very young children all the way through teaching math to prepare highschool students for college entrance exams (Alg 2, Trig, a little pre-cal).

I actually don’t remember anything from those upper level classes. I always loved math, and I retain very little memory for formulas. What I retain is a love for solving problems, so every time I teach upper level math, I relearn EVERYTHING with the students. So in essence, I’m rarely teaching anything, but learning with.

I take that with me when I work with younger kids, seeing everything as fun problems to solve. It’s fun to solve problems and to think logically and creatively!!

Basically, the point of learning math in school to me isn’t about learning math, it’s about learning how to think both logically & creatively. When kids view the math education and getting the right answer over the process of learning how to think creatively and logically, that’s when kids start to compete and think of others in terms of “smarter” or “better” than other people.

Kids CAN be successful in the world without knowing algebra. But what is a trait that is important for success, I believe, is to be able to solve problems and to do so creatively: innovative thinking and new ideas require creativity and out of the box thinking. Some the kids are doing this when they are playing minecraft, dramatic play, etc. And some of the kids will be doing this as they learn math with us!!

What will the kids bring in next?

The kids have already started talking about hiring Amy back in the spring because they like theater so much. I’m also excited to see who/what they decide to bring in next with their finance kids budget. They enjoyed having Mary B here last year for yoga, and some kids would like to see her come back. A bud for me here is to see what they decide to do next, and then next after that!

Be The Change Initiative

@Charlotte has had some really inspiring environmental talks with kids that are spreading in the space. She and a small group of kids have decided to try to make some small changes in their lives that they hope will make an environmental impact.

Charlotte also met a family who only takes out 3 bags of trash a year because they have limited how much waste they make as a family so efficiently. When she told the kids this at set-the-week meeting, and then told them that this family would love to share with us how they live this way. The kids were so excited! She asked for a show of hands of who would be interested in meeting the family and almost every hand shot up.

Sometimes, parents ask me questions about how the kids will learn and be exposed to new things if they aren’t forced to take classes. This above example is just one of many anecdotes of what opportunities the kids get to learn about when they are free from a pre-planned curriculum. What I want to ask parents back when I hear this question is, “Have you considered what your child is not able to learn because it’s already been determined what they should learn at the beginning of the year?”

 

My Thorns

Space

I want to have one campus. I also want the parents to have ease coming to school. I want to have more animals at school and outdoor play structures. It’s hard for me to justify putting money into developing our current outdoor area since I know ultimately that many parents would like to see the school move to a different location. I also love the space we are in and want to see a school stay there, and have considered the possibility of always having an ALC run there even if we find another location. I support the idea of many small schools happening – small schools that have relationships with other small schools so the kids can visit and mix with each other, while still have the deep relationships that come with smaller communities.

Time

Well, I just think the school days are too short. I kind of wish we were a boarding school where we didn’t have to stop at the end of the school day. I can see how this is different from at home “unschooling” where if you get into something at home, you can just stay with it until 8pm if you want. We stop at 3 for clean up and an end of day ritual, and sometimes that means we just have to stop the cool thing we are doing and then have to get re-engaged the next day or after we are at home. This part is tricky because there are times you just really want to stay doing the thing you were doing!

Regular Offerings at Mosaic – Aug/Sept 2015

It’s been exciting to see the offerings that have developed in the first five weeks of school! For this blog post, I wanted to write about some the offerings I’ve been a part of at Mosaic so far. I hope to give parents or other facilitators in ALCs a taste of what it’s like inside the Branches campus of Mosaic, as well as providing my own personal documentation for the school. Read on to see summaries of some of the regularly scheduled offerings I’ve seen develop over the first few weeks of school.

Snack Team

Q: How will they learn math skills?

A: They go into the real world and think about numbers in a way that involves problem solving that is relevant to them. Younger children need to be taught that math is logical and makes sense. Memorization or solving a problem “the way the teacher tells you to” does not do this. 

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One of the parents at our school wanted to know if there was a possibility for having snack served at school, similar to what happens at our Roots campus. We decided to try out turning this over to the kids at our first Change Up Meeting of the year. The kids were split between asking everyone to pack their own extra snack and going out and shopping for snacks themselves. We decided to try out having a team of kids plan and shop for snacks for two weeks to see how it went. The first week the kids paid for the snack out of their kids finance budget, but then found that too expensive. They tried to spend only $20 to feed about 12 kids a day for 5 days and quickly realized that was impossible. They spent about $38 that first week. Parents then stepped in to donate cash each week to keep snack team going. Parents seemed to support the idea of having the snack, and also seemed excited about some of the real-world learning opportunities for the group of kids in the snack team. The snack team found that they loved to shop and plan for snacks, and many other students at school like having a snack provided, so we have kept this going!

How Snack Team works: On Mondays at Set-the-Week Meeting, kids volunteer to be on the snack team. Some kids want to do it every week, some like to do it occasionally. We also ask who wants snack that week so we know how many people to shop for. Then we schedule when we will shop that day.

We go to Healthy Home Market at our set time. I have been taking 6 kids each time. We meet outside the store and review our shopping boundaries:

  • How much money was donated this week? (It varies!)
  • How many kids signed up for snack? (So we know how many to shop for!)
  • How many days of school are there this week? (So we know how many different snacks to get.)
  • What items are off-limits? (Junk food, gluten, dyes, dairy, almonds, peanuts, meat, gelatin – these are taken given food sensitives and family preferences from the students)
  • What is on our “Do Not Like” list? (There are some foods kids just don’t want snack team to get anymore, so at one Change Up meeting a person regularly at snack team said they would start a list of foods that kids don’t like so snack team doesn’t buy those anymore.)

The kids break up into groups of three. I stay up front and let the groups go around and scope out what is available and the prices. After about 10-15 minutes, they meet me back up front. Each team shares ideas for what to buy. Conversation over prices happen (ex. “We can’t buy 15 cups of dairy-free yogurt at $1.49 a piece because that’s over half our budget!). It’s magical to see so many math concepts covered – lessons the kids will remember without drilling and worksheets!

After the kids narrow down what they want to buy, we choose a person to handle the money and the kids go and shop and buy the food on their own. I just remain at the front, letting them do this without me!

At 2:40pm each day, snack team members help distribute the snack. I also let them figure out on their own how to distribute or portion the snack fairly to the kids.

 

Spanish Skits

Q: How can you improve a skill without a teacher who is highly knowledgeable in that area?

A: Instead of waiting for someone to teach them, students can practice resourcefulness and use the tools they have to gain new skills and knowledge when they need/want it. This lesson allows them to be self-reliant. In the 21st Century, obtaining knowledge is not hard – you have all facts at your fingertips. Learning how to find what you want to know and then learning what to do with all the information that’s out there is a skill that will really help a person navigate powerfully in this world. Learning how to find people or develop experiences to support an interest is also a lesson in resourcefulness.

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A script that is read by a beginning reader – her older friend has broken down the words phonetically so she can read the script. Notice the “bow” for bonita. The 3 circles is a symbol they developed on their own to represent the sound “ah.” So bow-neat-ah makes up the world “bonita” for pretty.
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We do a brief review of words and phrases, and when ready, introduce a new concept before breaking out into pairs for scripts. This review was about greetings and colors.

Some of the kids love to do a weekly “Spanish Skits” practice where I have seen some really magical experiences develop – all without having an actual Spanish teacher!

Spanish Skits has been going like this:

We meet as a whole group and review some phrases. We have three intermediate Spanish speakers in the group who support beginners. We’ve started with greetings, colors, and a the difference between Soy and Estoy. The kids then break into pairs or a group of three and work together to develop a script. What’s been fascinating for me to see is the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the kids through writing their own scripts. Each script is so unique, some covering words I thought they forgot from last year, but clearly hadn’t (last year a group did a lot of pretend shopping in Spanish, so I’ll see shopping scenes pop back in the scripts). I’ve seen our youngest students ask clearly for the support she needs in order to be able to remember her parts since she’s a beginning reader. You’ll see the picture above of one part of her script that is phonetically broken down.

I also watch one beginning Spanish student use her phone app and google translator to independently write scripts. This to me represents what is possible for 21st Century education. Students can look up almost anything to learn and when they are excited and motivated, they will figure out what they need to figure out. Students can learn that there is nothing stopping them from learning new skills or content. They just need to have the desire and motivation to do so.

 

Classes At Parks & Rec

Q: How can they learn science? What if they want to learn something that no adult at the school can possibly teach in a hands-on way? The internet can’t teach them everything!

A: Use the city as your classroom. Our city has amazing resources, one being the classes offered through Parks & Recreation. 

Last year, I found some really neat classes for kids through Parks & Rec. The teachers our outdoor enthusiasts and share what they love with the kids without giving them grades. Most classes are outside. Some kids are taking Biology, Cycles of Nature, and Kayak Fishing this fall. Each term I send out a new list to parents to look through for their kids.

For the most part, the kids love the classes. If I have a small group taking a class, I invite other students to still come to the park so we can go hiking around outside while others are taking a class. It’s pretty fun!

 

Gardening for Community Service

Q: How will they learn the basics? 

A: Let’s expand our definition of what the basics are. Put in a society that requires reading and basic math to function, kids will learn to read and write and do math that is relevant to their needs in life (if they learn how to learn, they can learn advanced math they need for college, or perhaps they don’t need to go to college and learn the math that is relevant to whatever career they choose). What if the basics also included knowledge of plants and growing your own food? What if the basics included knowledge of food deserts and how that impacts the lives of people who live in them? What if the basics included serving your community? Honoring yourself? Identifying your needs and learning to ask for support or help? What if we really included our socio-emotional health as part of our basics?

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This summer, I had an intention to look for ways for our students to get out in the city to do a service project that felt like we were giving back to our community. I wasn’t sure where to look for this opportunity, so I decided to release the idea of me searching or forcing a connection to happen to just opening my mind to see how the school year started. I wanted to just be present and open to seeing an opportunity when it came up.

That happened much faster than I thought! I took a yoga class over Labor Day weekend and ended up being the only student who showed up. The instructor was the manager of the Little Sugar Creek Community Garden, and she loves children and needs help maintaining the garden. We are now making weekly trips to help maintain and beautify the garden. Watch the video to meet Nadine, the manager of the garden, and to learn more about her mission:

The kids love the garden and have so much fun there! It’s wonderful to have the land only a mile away, which gives us the opportunity to have more outdoor space for our kids regularly. We are also planning to build a Pop-Up Adventure Playground there for children in the community. Not only do we feel good helping take care of this garden, but we reap the benefits of learning about gardening and having another outdoor area for our kids to experience and feel connected to.

 

Psychology Crash Course

Q: How can they pursue their interests on their own?

A: For a student that wants to explore a topic like Psychology, Astronomy, Algebra, History, there are online classes, videos, articles, books, and so much more available. They can explore any area and ask for adults or peers in the space or at any ALC to join them in their learning. Blake Boles has written a great book called The Art of Self-Directed Learning that describes to teens how they can take charge of their learning in fun & creative ways. That’s a great one to read if you’re feeling stuck. 

There is a teen in a homeschool ALC four hours away from here that really wanted to explore Psychology this year. She planned to watch all the Psychology Crash Course videos, but wanted to have others to talk about the content with. Her desire sparked the creation of our InterALC Offerings where students from different ALCs can meet via Google Hangout and explore topics together. We have a couple students from Mosaic meet with her and one student from NYC each week to watch and talk about the videos assigned (two a week).

The videos are super fast as they cover A LOT of content. At first I thought I would be overwhelmed, but by video 8 I’m seeing how some content is carried over and really enjoying them.  One of the early video sparked an interest in our group to conduct an experiment on people. It was really fun to talk about different things we thought we could do in school – and some that we knew we couldn’t. In one of the videos we saw how caffeine affected lab rodents in mazes and one of the kids wanted to caffeinate students at school to see if it helps them improve on doing mazes. We thought that might not go well with parents, so then one student thought about giving them Melatonin each afternoon to see if it helped kids be calmer for afternoon Spawn Point. That felt less harmful then caffeine, but I ultimately pushed us to think of something we could do that didn’t involve having anyone ingest a substance at school to alter their behavior.

We decided to take a short-term memory test from Harvard and exercise for 30 minutes a day for a week to see if it improved our memories. We read an article from Harvard that said exercise would improve memory so we decided to see if it helped us. We did this for a week and didn’t really get conclusive results – but we learned about how different variables really affect an experiment, and learned that our experiment would need to be conducted with more rigidity or for a longer period of time to really demonstrate if it had an affect on our memories. We did learn that we liked jogging at school and getting outside together!

One thing I let go of when we first set up the experiment was using my “adult” mind to dominate how the experiment would go. I could see how certain aspects weren’t perfect in our approach or documentation, but I released all that and just went with it. After we finished our week of work outs, it was easier to use the experience we had to discuss what could be better. For example, we learned more about what a variable was. The participants could see how taking the memory test in the beginning in a quiet space and then taking the after test in a loud space made it hard to see if our experiment told us anything. So we had fun and we learned through doing!

 

Other Regular Offerings

The above offerings are ones that I have been a part of, but there are other offerings happening weekly that I am not a part of! One thing that both facilitators and students need to learn here is how to prioritize their time and decide how many offerings feels good for them to be a part of. The adults also need to have an awareness of spreading out and not having all the adults together in an offering. There are many offerings I have wished to be a part of, but I must release because I have too much going already! Two offerings I wish I could do, but have not been able to join are:

Weekly Hikes

@jesslm has been offering hikes every Thursday, and rotating between “everyone can come” hikes and “strenuous & challenging hikes.” It was pretty neat to hear kids coming back from last Thursday’s hike feeling really proud of themselves for going almost 6 miles!

Bike Repair & Maintenance

@charlotte takes a student every Friday to the Re-Cyclery to learn about bike repair and maintenance. Charlotte volunteers there every week and this is a way for kids to get a unique inside look at bicycles and how to care for them.

We’ve also started Children’s Theater with Amy Steinberg, continued a love for Ping Pong, Minecraft, sewing, soccer, and more.

Again, this post is mostly about what I’ve been a part of with kids and loving, so that’s what I can speak to! I hope you have enjoyed getting a sample of some of the offerings happening at Mosaic and invite you to comment below.

 

 

Tone-Setting Camping Trip

One huge benefit of adding @jesslm to our ALF team here at Mosaic is all of her camping experience she brings from leading boyscout groups. Once she made the decision to quit her job and focus on developing a career with us, one of the things she jumped right into planning was camping trips. We did a mini-trip last spring and then decided we wanted to offer a bigger camping trip at the beginning of the school year to build connection and deeper bonds between us right away.

We took 11 of our students (about half of the school) to Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour away, from Wednesday – Friday last week. It was a pretty amazing trip, and we can’t wait to do another!

Before the Trip

We set guidelines for attending the camping trip that we made clear with the kids. In order to attend, you needed to agree to:

  • Play one group game each day
  • Participate in a team building exercise each day
  • Sign up for a duty on the duty roster
  • Participate in a community meeting about developing the tone for our school year
  • No electronics, except for cameras on phones (put on airplane mode – but this ended up not being an issue as we got no cell service there!)

The kids interested in attending met during the first week of school and those wanting to camp and able to agree to those terms were put on the list to go!

The Tuesday before we left, we had another meeting where the kids decided on tent assignments, picked out duties for the duty roster, and helped us plan the meals. Jess took a few kids out to shop as well that day for the food we needed to bring.

 

During the Trip

We were all so excited to go! We met Wednesday morning at school and piled into cars. We got to Morrow Mountain for lunch and then set up camp. After setting up camp, we had a first group activity – playing “Yes, Let’s!”

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Explaining the game “Yes, Let’s!”

This is a game/team building exercise where someone suggests we do something (like jump on one leg) and then everyone yells “Yes! Let’s!” and does it. I was reading @drew’s blog about facilitating at the Communities Conference and how he played this game with participants, and I thought it was a great activity to do with kids too. I told the kids that as a community, sometimes we can just dive in and try out something new or different and just join in with joy! We did things like act like a bear, hop on one foot while rubbing our belly & patting our heads, pick up litter, give high fives…and then someone suggested “bite Jess” and that led to a fun game of chasing Jess around! (Don’t worry, no one actually wanted to bite her, it was just for fun).

We reminded the kids of the agreements and then we all walked down to a really neat shore area that ended up being a really special spot for the kids the entire trip. On the way there we found a hawk feather. We left it where we found it because we know it’s illegal to take and possess them. The kids built a fairy village there that first day, skipped rocks, and made mudballs. We visited the spot again every day to check on our village & add to it, and to build our skipping rocks skills and even try out fishing!

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We came back for dinner, smores & a story time. It was a beautiful and fun first day!!! Then…nighttime hit…

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That first night was a huge test for all of us! We had POURING rain and lightening & thunder. Kids I have taken out on trips before became so homesick – but were able to communicate that the massive thunderstorm was what was really pushing them over the edge. I could totally understand! There was a lot of compassionate listening happening – by me and from the other kids. I was amazing to see the boys crying together and talking about their families and just lovingly supporting each other through the homesickness/thunderstorm scariness.

The girls had a whole other issue. Their tent started leaking so they tried to sleep in the van. The van fogged up so bad they thought they were going to suffocate. They all wanted to go home! Finally Jess and I rigged a tarp above their tent to stop the rain from coming in and the girls found towels to dry out the inside. They were able to sleep in it and stayed dry the rest of the night.

The amazing thing for me to see was how happy and positive the kids were in the morning! When I got out of my tent, I saw the kids in a circle outside the bathroom comparing their night horror-stories, but laughing about them. It was a pretty neat bonding experience for all of us to go through. The kids who were wanting to go home the first night now just wanted to have a great day. I just thought to myself, “What incredibly supportive & resilient children!”

After breakfast that morning, the kids organized a game of Capture The Flag – using two other campsites as their field. We were the only group there so the kids had free reign. They loved it and were able to play 4 games.

That afternoon we decided to go on a hike to see the Kron House, what I considered to be our team-building activity as a group. It was hot & humid and a rigorous outing! We walked & sweated until we finally reached the house. You can read about the Kron House here. A bunch of the kids are interested in how people lived in the past, so it was neat to see the old house, doctor’s office, well, and greenhouse. There were even some edible grapes growing on a vine!

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That evening, we planned on having our community meeting and doing s’mores after dinner. However our plans got interrupted by yet another thunderstorm! We were able to eat dinner and play a few games of human knot (which we successfully completed a couple times!), but then it was raining so much everyone was in their tents by 8:30 for bed-time. We decided to have s’mores for breakfast dessert since we couldn’t make a fire that night! The kids (and adults!) were pretty tired from little sleep the previous night, so bed-time was smoother. Smoother meaning, easier than last night, but still not great!

In the morning, the kids were yet again happy and wanting to have a great morning before we went home. We had breakfast together and broke down camp. Jess taught us about how to leave a fire pit safely at a campsite and a few other Leave No Trace principles. Some of those we learned while hiking – like to always travel and camp on durable surfaces. Some kids didn’t know that when you go off the trail you are actually impacting the land. You never want to crush new growth in nature, so it’s important for humans to stay on the trails so we lessen our impact on the land. We also always practiced “leaving nature a little better than we found it” by bringing trash bags with us everywhere we went and picking up litter.

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Then we headed out to the top of Morrow Mountain to eat lunch and have our community meeting.

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At our community meeting, each of us shared a wish we had for the school and an action step we could take to make it happen. I’ll share what I can remember:

  • “I wish to see many amazing fieldtrips happen this year at school. I can make that happen by helping plan them.”
  • “I wish to see more boys and girls playing together rather than separately. I can make that happen by inviting girls to play with me.” This was seconded by another student.
  • “I wish to see children feeling confident in themselves and their decisions. I can support that happening by being confident in myself and my decisions to model that for children.” (This was my wish)
  • “I wish to see everyone in the school being really connected to one another. I can make that happen by being connected to everyone myself.” (This was a student wish, btw!, and seconded by another student)

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I can’t remember all the wishes right now, but we will check back in on our wishes with the whole school when we are back together. Our wishes can become part of our “What Kind of School Are We?” statement list that we use to support our Change Up Meetings. If we are the kind of school that has boys and girls playing together, than this is something we can check in on at our meetings to see if we are actually doing this or not. You can refer to this blog post for the inspiration behind that activity.

 

Final Notes

I am so happy that this trip happened and I can’t wait to go camping with the kids again! I loved being out in nature with them and just BEING. I felt so happy, light, and peaceful the whole time – even during the thunderstorms! The kids seemed to love it too. The kids are able to voice what they want to experience and then have support in creating that. The message they get every day is that they are empowered to create amazing lives for themselves, and that if they are having a challenging moment, there are people around to listen and support you. There are also so many other great pictures to share, and I hope you’ll check those out here!

However, there was one member of the trip that seemed to be pretty unhappy the entire time…Daisy. At almost 14 years old, she was not amused that I took her camping with the school and waited by the car for most of the trip. I could hear her thinking, “Hey mom, I know this car brought me here, and can take me away. I’m ready to go whenever you are. I’ll be right here…waiting to leave.”

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What’s Behind Our Dreams & Goals?

We’ve wrapped up our second week of school! This week we had my dear friend Mariusz & and his wife Maya come visit from Poland. Mariusz started his own preschool in Poland, Zielona Wieza, currently serving between 50-60 children ages 2-6. He is now planning to open a school for the graduates of Zielona Wieza and has been doing quite a bit of research over the past few years to get ready. He’s visited many democratic schools, including one of the oldest – Summerhill. It was really great to have Mariusz attend our week one ALF summer program and then come back to see our Agile Learning Center in action. The kids loved having them visit and @libby tried to learn some Polish words and phrases from Mariusz as well. I love having the kids exposed to many different cultures and types of people!

This week we had many exciting things happen: we got our school pet, Buns the bunny; the band Fish Out of Water came to lead us in a drum circle, perform, and then try out their instruments; some went on an Uptown adventure to Romare Bearden Park to meet Roots, ping pong continued to be a huge hit; our Minecraft/Terraria gaming culture blossomed with teamwork, collaboration, and joyful play; we started our InterALC Psychology Crash Course with @cammysherbert in Wilmington; and so much more. Please visit our September album on Facebook to see pictures!

Review: Why Do We Spawn?

The focus of this blog post, like last week, is to dive into and record what we’ve been up to in our Spawn Point. Our Spawn Point at the beginning and the end of the day are our times to coach, mentor, and connect with the students. It’s also a really important time for the kids to connect with each other and hear the interests, goals, and intentions that other students have. I believe that carving out this time together is crucial to create positive culture in school. While we do our best honor the individual needs and differences of each person, the fact that remains is that if you are choosing to come to our ALC, you are choosing to “live” with a community of other people for a portion of the day. This means that time spent to know each other has to happen so we can learn how to navigate the day in harmony despite our many differences. Learning about each other will help us act more compassionately toward one another and allow us to see situations from perspectives outside of our own. So the buy-in to attend ALC Mosaic is that we take time each day to connect as a group.

Meeting whole school each morning would be counter productive, however. We have too many students to do this. Trying to hear each other with respect and honor with 25+ people in one room would lead to frustration and probably have more of a negative impact on our culture than positive. So at our ALC, we split into two Spawn Points to start and end each day. Each group was chosen by the Lead Facilitators at the school to create balance groups that have mixed gender and age groups. We spend the first 30 minutes of our day in our respective Spawn Points. At 3pm the kids clean up and then go to an end of the day Spawn Point which ends up being about 10-20 minutes depending on when we finish our clean up jobs.

One interesting observation Mariusz shared with our staff after attending our older campus for three days was that the kids here seemed really connected and able to work out their needs and problems with each other through communication. He felt that there was less conflict here than in the other democratic schools he’s attended and that perhaps that was because the kids had such a strong bond to each other. I agree with him that our students are really connected. What’s interesting is, that at times, their deep connection can actually lead to conflict at school when they act as if they were all brothers and sisters (think about how siblings bicker)! However, the kids ultimately seem to really love and support each other and we can work out most conflicts through communication. This year there has been a lot of intentionality on the part of the Lead Facilitators to cultivate peaceful and connective Spawn Points to start and end our days, which I do see reflecting in the general flow & feel of the rest of the day from 10-3.

This Week’s Spawn Point Focus: What’s Behind Our Goals & Dreams?

Last week my blog post contained a detailed breakdown of what happened in my Spawn Point each day. At the beginning of this week, I thought that we might dive deeper into our goals, perhaps even breaking those goals down into SMART goals with more specific, measurable, and time-constrained steps. However, as we got into the week, I felt that this wasn’t the place to go. I did have a breakout goal setting work session with two students, but I didn’t feel that Spawn was the place for this right now. Instead, I felt it important that we dissect what was behind our dreams.

The most important thing I believe an adult in an ALC can do is to model knowing oneself truly. This means connecting to who we truly are and using our inner guidance and intuition to guide our actions with intention. This is how we can support the kids to do the same. One of the reasons I felt guided to not dive into deeper goal setting this week is because I realized that doing so was missing the most important piece: Who are we and why do we have the the dreams we have? To just jump into goal-setting setting is just an outcome based approached, an approach that is typically found in schools to make adults feel better: Oh look at those kids doing so much! Isn’t that just wonderful! They are busy and look at the outcome of all they have produced! But the work of the kids learning to listen to their inner guidance and intuition has been overlooked and disregarded – instead, they are just busy doing things that make us feel better. We don’t do that here!

Inspiration from Marie Kondo

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I am reading a book this week that has become pretty popular lately: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This book was a part of my inspiration to try to support the kids in Spawn Point this week to focus on who they are rather than what they want to produce. Kondo’s approach is different than any other tidying method I’ve come across: rather than focus on rules, like “If you haven’t worn it in a year, donate it,” Kondo focuses on first examining why you want to tidy up your home and asks you dig into that question. She suggests asking yourself “Why?” at least three times so you can get a specific answer to how you want to feel in and experience your home. Her process is mostly focused on teaching you to know yourself and listen to your intuition of whether or not an item sparks joy in your heart. All things that don’t, you get rid of.

According to Kondo, “Follow your intuition and all will be well.” Her point is that if you follow someone else’s guidance for how to tidy up your home, you’ll rebound because the criteria set most likely will not match what you need to have in your life to experience joy. She writes, “only you can know what kind of environment makes you feel happy…To avoid rebound, you need to create your own tidying method with your own standards” (page 126).

Reading her book, I felt alive with joy at how she applied something I believe to be the most important skill a human can learn to tidying up: How to listen to our intuition (or inner guidance as I sometimes refer to it). To Kondo, when you hone this skill you can create magic in your home. I believe honing this skill will lead to joy and magic to your life as a whole. Teaching kids to create their own standards for what they need in their life is the starting point for them to create and build their own lives. Telling them our standards to live by is not the same as supporting them to discover their own.

Practical Application of This Concept to Our Spawn Point This Week

At the end of the day, I asked the kids to partner up with a buddy with the Goals & Dreams folders they made last week (see last week’s blog post about that). I showed them the book I was reading and told them a little bit about Kondo’s “Why?” questioning she does with clients before they even begin the tidying process. I asked the kids to do the same with their buddies: they were asked to switch folders and then interview the other person, picking a goal or a dream listed in the folder and then asking them “Why?” they have that dream at least three times. I reviewed my example of the goal, “I want to practice Spanish.” When I asked myself “Why?” the first time, I answered, “So I can speak fluently.” Asking “Why?” again, I answered, “Well, I think it would be really neat to live in a Spanish speaking country for a year at some point.” But why do I want to do this? “Oh…learning about different cultures and how other people in the world live is absolutely fascinating to me!”

I told the kids that if we examine the “Why?” behind our goals and dreams, than it can help us stick with challenges or obstacles that come up if following their dream or completing their goal gets tough. If you aren’t connected to your personal motivation for completing a goal, it’s easy to just stop and not complete it. This is why it is so important to not just give kids busy work and then chastise them when they are “lazy” or don’t complete it. The lesson for the child in that situation is that they are lazy. But if person hasn’t had the opportunity or coaching to understand who they are and what inspires them, then they might not have the opportunity to learn that they are actually a motivated and driven person.

The kids seemed to have fun with this buddy activity and I hope to repeat it for the next couple Mondays. I also think it helps build connection and support – with the buddy learning more about the other person as you learn about yourself.

A New Experiment

I built on this concept by then asking the kids to do a little experiment with me for a week. I was reading some goal setting literature I was given over our ALF Summer Program by @drew’s mom, Lorna. Part of the process was to identify your core values in order to get to a place where you’re ready to set goals. This felt really aligned with the “Why” activity – know yourself before jumping into setting goals.

As I looked over the list on the adult handout, I had an idea. I would write some values down on slips of paper and ask the kids to identify their top 5 core values. As I looked at the values on the sheet, I realized that not all of those listed would make sense to younger children (the ages in my Spawn range from 7-12), so I added some simpler categories that might just cover types of activities kids enjoy, like math and science. I also left slips blank so kids could write in their own values or categories for how to spend their time.

The slips had words like Peace, Making Things, Service to Others, Understanding People, Community Building, Science, Math, Physical Activity, Solving Problems and a few more.

I told the kids: “Now I’m going to ask you to do something really, really tough. If you’re up for it, I want you to look through the stack of words I handed you and ONLY choose 5 words that feel really, really important to you. These 5 words should represent who you think you are and ways you feel are really important for you to spend your time at school. If you don’t see any that move you, please use the blank slips to write in something of your own choice. But remember, no more than 5 can be chosen!”

Some of the kids seemed to like the challenge of only picking 5 – saying “this is hard!” aloud but with smiles on their faces as they sorted through the words. Each student had their own stack to sort through. Below I have pictures of the pages they made, which we hung up in our Spawn Point room:

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Note: Again, as I wrote last week, I don’t force the kids to do this. A couple didn’t want to do it, and that’s totally okay. Some people really want to see how something goes before they try it themselves. Some simply learn by watching and absorbing. Some kids really, really like activities such as these and find it exciting and fun, while others go along with it just because. The most interesting cases are those that always refuse in the beginning and then ask to do the activity a different day. This happened with one of the students who said no the first day, but then asked me if they could chose their words the next. 

The next day, I prepared envelopes for each of the kids with the values/ways to spend their time they selected with boxes. They color coded the boxes and the experiment we are currently embarking on is one where they color code the ways they actually spend their time to see how it aligns with the selections they said are important to them. At the end of the day, they take their intention sticky notes from the morning and color on them to match the category it fits in, if it fits in one at all.

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I asked the kids to do this for a week and then we’ll check-in and see if this type of reflection gives them information that is useful for how they make decisions and if it helps them better articulate how they spend their time:

1) Making decisions: Are you making decisions that are aligned with values or interests that are important to you?

2) Articulation: I find that kids in our schools are told by kids in traditional schools that they aren’t learning anything. I think it is important for a school setting such as ours (with pedagogical ties to free schools/unschooling) to help kids build their vocabulary for how they describe what they learn at school. Can we support them to say to the neighborhood kids, “Oh, at my school I learn how to make decisions that reflect my values, passions, and interests. I value peace so I help others solve conflicts or problems. I also really think physical activity is important to me so I organize an active game with my friends every day.” My heart hurts some when I hear stories of neighborhood kids telling kids at our school that they just play all day and don’t learn anything (which is impossible – we are always learning!). Play is how we learn, and through play we can explore our values. The trick is to support our kids to articulate that so they can feel confident and great about what they experience and create for themselves each day at an Agile Learning Center.

I enjoy hearing at the end of the day how the kids sort their activities. One child said when they play ping-pong it brings a feeling of peace to them as they hear the “ping-pong” of the ball back and forth. Another child said when they play ping-pong it helps them understand people because she has to think about what the other person is going to do when she plays opposite them. I am seeing that this just adds a deeper layer to the end of the day reflection and I’m getting to know the kids more. I am also doing this with the kids each day too and am personally enjoying that experience as well!