Tagged unschooling

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.

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!

 

Back to School, Year Three!

It’s amazing to me that this is our third year of Mosaic. I’m in awe of all that has developed and unfolded. I take a lot of pride in everything I do, and embarking on this journey to create a school was a huge step for me. I am shy to show anyone work of mine that isn’t fully “finished,” for example, my writing, art, or even a complete thought! But doing something on this level means that all along the way, people are exposed to what is developing – because it’s impossible to start a school and have it be “perfect.” In the beginning, you don’t even know who your kids are. How can you develop a system that serves people you don’t know? You can lay down the foundation, philosophy, and broad framework (our Agile Roots), but the details of how it will play out are always in development based on who you are working with. And that changes. You find that you can’t serve some, but start to understand who you really can serve well. It’s been such a learning process over the years.

This week, all that hard work felt so good. I feel myself on the top of the mountain, able to look back behind me and see how every moment led up to all the understandings I have now. I can see ahead of me and the direction we are going, and it looks glorious. We had three days of school this week and they were amazing. We got into a groove right away, and @jesslm & I feel clear about acting from a place of trust for children, completely, while also understanding that our roles as facilitators at school mean that we will influence and affect the environment at school. At other free schools you may have adults pretending that’s not the case, but it’s impossible for this not to be true if you are developing meaningful and loving relationships with those around you.

Below, I’ll share some specifics about some changes we’ve made at school, my Spawn Point experience, and give a general first week reflection.

The Space

This summer we worked HARD on removing a lot of items from the school. At the end of the year, a small group of facilitators and parents met to support me and @charlotte to get a vision for what we could do with the space. Last year, it just seemed untidy a lot. I kept thinking we needed better organization, but what we really needed was simply fewer things at school. At our meeting some words came up like “simplicity” and “beauty” and those really spoke to me. I believe the space also acts a facilitator. If it’s filled with a bunch of things that we aren’t connected to, we don’t feel accountable to treat it with respect. So we cleaned house:

  • Books: we decided to opt to visit the library more with kids rather than store lots of books at school. It was hard to keep them organized, so kids really didn’t go through them very much. I think it’ll be better to go to the library intentionally to select books, and then along the way, use the library’s organization and nice displays to guide us to select a book that we didn’t intend on getting. Or ask librarians for help and suggestions! We have a library in walking distance, so this is easy to do.
  • Baskets: I tried to replace as much plastic as I could with baskets. Micheals had a 50% off sale on baskets the weekend before school started! For $40 I got a bunch of nice baskets and I feel so happy when I look at them in the room!
  • Plants: I got one little plant donation. I hope to get a few more, but will wait to see if I keep this one thriving. Jess got a bunch for her room, including a fern I can take a clipping from to grow in our spawn room eventually. Our little plant is tiny, but it also brings me joy to look at.
  • Removing cubbies from hallway and adding hooks: This has been huge! The hallway presents so much nicer now, and things are off of the floor. @dthomasson then re-used the old cubbies to make awesome shelves in the Quiet Room & Cloud Room!
  • Personal cubbies: We added these for work-in-progress, books, etc for kids in their Spawn Points.

So, our Spawn Point room just feels better when we walk into it:

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The Spawn Point This Week: Dreams & Goals

Our Spawn Points are the place that, to me, feel like a fun ALF laboratory. Here, we set the tone for the day with a couple goals in mind:

  • Reminding kids about what’s happening today (that was set at Set The Week meeting)
  • Deepening bonds – getting to know each other in a smaller group setting
  • Hearing interests from each other – allowing us to 1) learn that someone shares a similar interest to you or 2) get an idea that sparks from someone else’s interest or 3) be a cheerleader for a friend, simply encouraging them to keep pursuing their passion, even if it gets tough
  • Supporting kids to try out different ways to see what they are doing each day so they can reflect upon their decisions in a healthy way

The last bullet is the really the fun part for me. I have known most of these kids now for at least a year, and some almost three years. There is a lot of trust and respect already established between us, so the past three days we’ve been able to do some really neat and fun things together to start and end our day. I do feel comfortable asking them to try out some new things, but always from a place of working with them (I actually ask them for consent to try out new ideas). So I’ve been having fun asking them to try out some different ways to reflect on their day visually and set goals for themselves. They know I’m just showing them different tools – later they can decide if any of these tools work for them or not. They can ditch ones they don’t like, build on or evolve ones they do, or invent new ones as they go! All the tools serve the purpose to support them learning how to understand themselves better so they can better manage their own time and learn how to make decisions for themselves that feel good.

Gathering Activity

Each morning, I laid out mandala coloring pages as a gathering activity for kids coming into school before our official 9:30 start. @tomis shared a neat article with me about how coloring is the best alternative to meditation after he saw us coloring each morning. I shared that with the kids and they really liked hearing that what they were enjoying was good for them too! This helped the kids settle-in and the atmosphere feel calm. I also used our mandala colorings to decorate our space. I’ve got enough finished mandala colorings to make a second banner too!

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Below I break down each Spawn Point by time so I can keep a record of how long Spawn is taking and reflect and learn from the experience:

Wednesday Morning (35ish min): We focused on just getting acquainted. @jesslm made a game for the adults to play at our community meeting. Everyone loved the game, and we decided to do it with the kids in our Spawn Points. The game simply use a board, die, pieces, and question card to move a group along in asking each other questions. The only point is to get to know each other! The kids loved the game and a group asked to play again later that day – spending over an hour to play later than afternoon.

Wednesday Afternoon (20ish min): We reflected on our day and moved stickies or wrote stickies to add to our Done! column on our Spawn-ban (what we call our Spawn-only kanban). Then I asked the kids to share any dreams for their lives that they had. They added those to stickies on the board above our Spawn-ban.

Thursday Morning (30ish min): We added intentions to our Spawn ban as the kids are used to, and then I initiated a conversation about what makes a goal different from a dream. I used the example of going to the moon – was that a goal or dream? This was a dream that involved many different goals to be completed along the way to be reached. One of the students chimed in that his dad has a dream to open his own gym, but there are lots of things that he has to do in order to get there. I gave the kids the concrete example that this child’s dad might have a goal of “saving $15,000 by the end of the year” so that he could put a down payment in on a space. I wanted to help the kids think about what made a goal different from a dream, and lay the foundation for later setting some really specific SMART Goals for themselves.

After we discussed this, as a group, we read over everyone’s dreams that were written up the previous day and sorted them as either a dream or a goal. I kept this simple and did not go in-depth about SMART Goals. I just added that a dream is probably something that will take longer than this year to do. The stickies that could happen this year might be goals that one could set for themselves.

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Thursday Afternoon (15ish min): I decided to experiment a little on this day. Over the summer @leigh did this using a plate to help kids reflect on how they spent their time. The plates were divided into the categories “movement,” “understanding people,” “making things,” “expressing yourself,” and “how things work.” At the end of camp, the kids thought about everything they did that day and added a sticker to which category they felt their activity fell into. Many could fall into more than one category, the point isn’t to place it into the “right” category – there is no right or wrong in this activity, the point was to just do a deeper reflection on your choices for the day. By simply thinking about whether you were “understanding people” or “moving” during your dance class involves you to engage with your reflection for the day at a deeper level.

The kids who did the plate activity in a Spawn have already asked if we could do it again. I could tell they liked having a very visual and concrete reflection, and asking them to do a different type of visual concrete activity was easy. I asked them to fill out a worksheet that was color coded. I wanted them to think about the hours of the day and color code how they spent each chunk of time.

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I opened by asking the kids, “Do you know that all of you did the first item on this list today?” They looked confused and were quiet for a moment. Then one of them said, “Oh! Change Up meeting!” I told them that what students do at ALCs is something so important: kids here actually work together with the community to create it. We come together EVERY week and try out new things to make our school better and better – with input from everyone in it. This is not something that every child gets to do. Kids here get to learn how to create the culture they exist in, rather than how to deal with a culture they don’t want to exist in. To me, that’s way more important than sitting through history class.

The kids did not have to use my categories, those were just examples. They could write their own. One student put color coded smiley faces in each section because she felt her items that day covered more than one category. One student felt stressed out about the whole activity and asked not to do it – to which I said, “Of course! Please don’t stress over this. I’m just trying to introduce a tool that might help some people. Some of us might never do this again. Some may like it. Are you willing do something quietly though so other could try it out? Or just listen and watch?” This felt perfectly fine to the student, who seemed quite happy to continue coloring his mandala anyway. I loved that this came up as an example for any of the kids to jump in and express their opinions or thoughts about trying this out. It builds trust to see how I react – will I get upset of someone doesn’t like my idea? Or will it not bother me? Always, I want kids to feel safe to respectfully decline an idea I think is cool!

Again, when you have a relationship with the children you are working with, you can just ask them if they are willing to try something out that may help them. They know I’ll never make them do something continually that they hate – they know I’m trying to support them in having an awesome school day and an awesome life. They respect me and seem think I have good ideas for the most part. They also know that they can just talk to me if something I ask them to try feels uncomfortable to them and I’ll respect that.

Friday Morning (30ish min): I introduced new folders to organize each individual student’s goals and dreams. The kids were asked to take down their stickies from our group board and put them in a file folder that was divided into sections.

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I introduced simple system for each child to indicate how far along they felt they were in their goals with a little bar system. They could draw a rectangle and then divide it into sections and fill it up as they go. I love this because it’s really foundational math – look at a whole, are you half way there? A quarter of the way? Can you split up a whole into equal parts? What does that mean? The time activity from the day before also hits up fractional concepts too. This is how math is concretely developed in a way that makes sense to humans. Math is everywhere. We’re always learning it. In school, many times, kids learn that math is this strange thing that simply doesn’t make sense. They learn that math isn’t all around us and can’t be related to our lives in a way that makes sense.

Not every kid used the bar system, and that’s okay. This was just a first step to breaking a dream down into a goal. In the coming weeks, I hope to really help them take each of their goals and dive into it further to make more specific and attainable steps within the goal (SMART Goals). I also hope to help them dive further into their dreams – the How and the Why? Asking “How?” helps to develop goals, but it’s important to ask “Why?” This can help a person become more connected to their dream when it gets tough following through on a goal. Or it can help them realize that this dream was just a dream but not one that’s actually a priority, and that’s cool too!

I gave the kids this example when doing my board: I had in my dreams section, “Learn Spanish fluently.” But when I asked myself, “Why?” I realized that my dream was to actually live in a foreign country for a year in the future and be able to speak to the people in it. Then I asked myself “Why?” again and realized that I want to do this because learning about how other people live in different cultures or time-periods fascinate me.

Friday Afternoon (35ish min): The kids blog on Friday afternoons. I asked kids who were willing to put a picture of their goals and dreams in their blog. Some did this so they could mark this on their first week and see how their goals and dreams change over the year. Some didn’t and just wanted to keep that private. Either is fine. The point isn’t to make all the kids do the same thing. Some of the kids really dig the extra tools and seem excited to keep trying new ones out. Developmentally, some of the kids are really doing what they need to each day through free play and spontaneity and don’t need the tools. However, they can still be supportive of the kids who do want to use those tools.

Final Thoughts

Each day, I felt energized and happy at the end of the day. That’s how I am going to continue to imagine feeling after every school day this year! It was a really fantastic week. I felt there was also a healthy and normal level of conflict that occurred as well. When you gather 25 people into one building for 6 hours this happens! Through our challenges and joys we learn to live and learn as a community together. What’s different from unschooling in an ALC and unschooling at home is that you must buy-in to being around other people and problem solving with the group to be here. This is why I so strongly support both homeschooling along side schools like our ALCs. It’s important to evaluate each child’s needs and desires to do what’s best for them.

All week I observed kids engaged in activities like capture the flag, board games, ping-pong, biking, dramatic imaginary play, research & planning, playing Minecraft & Terraria, playing Werewolves, reading books, coloring, drawing, and more (please visit this album for pictures of our week!). I saw kids getting along beautifully, I saw kids having struggles getting along, I saw kids talking to each other, I saw kids asking for help to talk to each other. We had enough adults and kids at school so there was space to talk out problems as needed. There are still more community wide awarenesses we need to discuss as group too.

Sometimes people ask me, “What are they learning at your school? Do they actually LEARN anything?” I know that a parent asking me this is probably not ready to join us at Mosaic. Still, I do my best to write out my thoughts in blog posts like this so I can start to increase awareness of all the amazing things that kids do learn here – things I value highly, for example:

  • How to stay connected to who you are as a person
  • How to hear others and support them
  • How to constructively create solutions to problems in your own life and as a community
  • How to create culture with a group – a culture that supports values you have
  • How to reflect on your choices to inform new choices you make
  • How to manage your time
  • How to speak about what is important to you
  • How to know what you need to feel supported and ask for it
  • How to view challenges as opportunities in your life

If you can do these things, you can learn anything you want in the world. AND everything you learn will be connected to what is relevant and necessary for you to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

 

Mosaic Magic

Sometimes when we describe ALC days to parents, we will share about our morning and afternoon meetings sandwiching the bulk of our day: 10-3pm a time that we call “THE MAGIC.”

I haven’t been blogging lately, and this has been weighing on my mind! Now that I am spending most of my time directly engaging with kids, I see so much more magic and sometimes I feel like I could blog every day about the amazing things I am witness to, or a part of, each day. I’m thankful for how the school has grown beyond me: we are now a collaboratively run school, with a board & working groups comprised of staff and parents. I feel free from so many administrative tasks and decisions, and now I’m free to play with kids all day!  I am grateful for this each moment.

To this community, I want you to know that it’s because of each and every one of you together that has allowed me to release myself from prior burdens that used to weigh me down. Now I’m less anxious and more able to happily and serenely connect with myself and others, thus, I get to live and experience more of the *MAGIC* everyday. I’ll try to blog more about what we are up to at school and share the magic with all of you regularly. I’ll start right now!

The Magic Moments I’ve experienced the past week:

Math:

Oh boy! I’ve been seeing a lot of math lately, everywhere I go! I’ve been noticing the math in the most natural ways as well. Those who know me, know that I am against formal math instruction for children under the age of about 10 (if you want to know why, you may request that I write a separate blog post on that!). However, I’ve been seeing math a lot – it’s always been there, but I’m noticing it more (again, I have more time now to notice!). Where do I see it?

  • Geometry Dash. Wow, all the kids who play this game have a firm grasp of the fact that 100% means they are done the WHOLE game. First of all, this game is incredibly hard and takes many attempts to pass each level. Each session of attempts that you make and fail, you see that you have only completed “35%” of the course, or however much you have completed. I was playing with a student this week and she looked at the level I was playing and said, “Oh, I’ve only completed about half of that level, I’ve made it to 58%.” This is a child that struggled with math in school, and one that, since she’s left school, has been gaining more and more of a solid sense of numeracy through natural interactions with her environment. If she had been given a percentage question on a test, there is a big possibility that she would have frozen up and not been able to remember that percentages just tell you a part of a whole. But she knows this now, and through an experience that made complete sense to her. After that moment, I began listening to all the kids as they play and realized that they were all receiving the basic foundation of percentage that will help them learn more about percentage, fractions, and decimals at a faster rate if they want to dive into that when they are older. My hope here? That they won’t have the “freeze up” effect or the “I’m just not a math person” attitude.
  • Finance Club: Giving the kids a budget of money to spend has been incredible, and I’m sorry I didn’t think to do this sooner! Budgeting money is a very practical and important skill that I don’t see taught in a real and relevant way to students in school. Giving fake budgets about “John mowed lawns for 5 weeks and made $10/week. He has to buy…blah, blah blah” on a worksheet does not motivate kids to actually figure out how to spend, save, and account for money. The kids are excited to have real money to spend on items that they can then use at school, and they are doing so very responsibly. Check out our finance meeting club minutes here!
  • Shopping! The boys have been into playing “store” with me, and I love it! We dish out coins and their favorite thing to “shop” for is wands. Ayan has been really into Harry Potter, so he loves to browse the wands and ask me for their powers. Their favorite was when I sold one wand to James that could turn adults into children, and another to Ayan that turned children into adults. They enjoyed “turning” me into a baby and then back up into being old! They get their coins to shop with by doing “jobs” in the store. I might have them wash imaginary windows, pick up and put away real items in the room, or restock the store shelves in order to earn shopping money. It’s really fun how we mix in the imaginative play with a practical buying/selling and monetary activity.
  • Career Planning: I’ve been working on this project with Alona, and it’s quite interesting. We’ve picked careers, looked up their average salaries in NC, used online tax calculators to see our Gross vs. Net pay, and then budgeted out where we will live, the cars we will drive, and all our monthly living expenses. We’ve made Google Spreadsheets and have shared them with each other. Each week we get to make a change to the other person’s sheet to mimic the unexpectedness of life so we can see how this changes our finances monthly in this role play (RP) activity. Each real life week simulates a month in the RP. So, last week, I made Alona’s dog get diarrhea on her carpets in her house and she had to spend $250 on hiring a professional carpet cleaner – blowing her typical $40 budget a week to buy pet food & supplies. I am having so much fun doing this! Perhaps if I had practiced this type of planning as a kid, I would’ve been able to do much better with the school finances last year…

Saying goodbye to Daniela:

Last Thursday was Daniela’s last day with us, and it was a tear filled afternoon as we gave her a parting gift and said goodbye. Daniela came to visit us from Bogata, Columbia to experience our school and practice her English. We did a whole group spawn point in the afternoon and shared about our experiences with her. We all felt her calming and loving energy here and know that this is the beginning of a long friendship, not a forever goodbye. Isabella and I will definitely be in touch with Daniela through Skype and one day I hope to go visit her and her family one day.

 

Inspiring Videos That Were Shared With Me This Week:

I shared this one on Facebook with the following message: “I can understand this feeling. While I am so proud of my work and love what has been created, there are many days where I am overwhelmed by what I can be doing better.

And yes, there were times – especially in year one of opening the school – that I thought maybe I just wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or capable enough to do it. Those thoughts happen. But then, like this video says, I just worked more. I worked more because the reason I wanted to create the school was so valid, so awesome, so “killer.” I know I’m in the beginning years of making something incredible.

Just like the space I’ve worked on creating room for children, I need space to fail. There’s no better way to develop a healthy relationship with failure than to go out and try to something you’ve never done before. Even if it scares you.”

After posting, I had some really encouraging messages posted to me, which went straight to my heart! Most were from parents, but then one was from my old co-worker from the Friends School of Charlotte. It’s amazing how Facebook can re-connect you with others based on a certain message. I was so touched and felt all warm and fuzzy from this sharing and the feedback!

One day last week I had three different people share this video with me on Facebook! I really appreciate the lyrics. It’s a message that I hope many hear – and I’m grateful that the kids leaving our school will not leave with this same problem of not having time and space to learn practice skills they need in their life.

Our students also practice how to listen to each other, how to create their own schedules, how to take an idea and turn it into a reality. They learn how to solve their own problems and how to make requests of others when needed.

After spending several years teaching in public schools, I watched how much the kids forgot from what was “taught” to them year after year. It’s wasted time in my opinion. They could be living their life and having a childhood instead – filled with learning practical skills relevant to leading a happy and successful life.

I shared this video and the Hackschooling Makes Me Happy video in my presentation for the Camp Luck Conference!

Camp Luck’s 5th Annual Conference:

Melissa Mulligan, Evan’s mom, is the coordinator for the annual Camp Luck Conference for parents of children with Congenital Heart Defects. She asked me to present at the conference because she strongly felt that parents of children with CHD needed to have their minds opened to how their child could live life outside of school. Melissa and I discussed how we especially felt that kids who spend lots of time in hospitals should then spend their time living their life and savoring each day rather than doing homework or studying for tests that clearly neither of us feel is a good use of time for humans.

Melissa helped me prepare the description of my talk, “A Childhood They Deserve: Parents want their children to live happy lives filled with purpose and independence, but aren’t most schools preparing children to be compliant and obedient, always being told to chase the next carrot? What type of schools do children really need to lead fulfilling and empowered lives in the 21st century world? In this presentation, you will learn about self-directed learning communities that work together and share best practices, and strive to give children a childhood they deserve.

In preparation for speaking at this conference, I spent a lot of time re-visiting the first time I met Rachel and her story for how she came to enter into the “unschool” paradigm of education. I spoke to her on the phone, and then I went and re-read every single blog post she wrote on the Keep Nate Great blog she made during his cancer treatments. During this reflective period of conference prep, I learned more about Rachel’s story:

  1. After reading all the blogs, I chose an excerpt from her last blog post to share during my presentation about her wanting Nate to live a life where he could just be and enjoy each present moment (as opposed to worrying about what was ahead in the future). This blog post written in January of 2013, the same month I opened The Mosaic School, LLC. Several months later, I met Rachel and she joined our community with Nate and Gabe. Last week, Evan, Melissa’s son told me, “I believed everything is connected.” Yeah. I believe that too.
  2. Rachel not only wanted this community because she wants him to love life and every moment in it, she also noticed that as a child who needed heart surgeries and needed cancer treatment, Nate was being treated by others as “that poor kid.” People would dote on him and give him gifts, trying to be nice, but Rachel wanted Nate to know that he is a person outside of heart surgery and cancer. She wanted to see people connected with him by asking him, “Hey, what do you like to do? What interests you?” rather than just being sorry for him all the time. She wanted him to just be a kid, and she feels so grateful that at Mosaic, Nate can be Nate, not the poor kid who needs sympathy.

I shared Rachel’s story as the opener for my presentation, and shared that our school has primarily grown through word of mouth – with each family coming to the realization that they wanted a community like this for their children in their own way. This was Rachel’s path, which was a very emotional one. I see Nate and Gabe here at school every day, and through this re-connection with her story, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that they are here. I see Gabe write in his trello almost every day “had an AWESOME DAY :D” and I smile and love that they have a happy and loving childhood experience.

I then shared some of the outcomes of the research I have done on the history of public schools and why they started, and then moved on to sharing from the work of Peter Gray, Alfie Kohn, John Gatto, Daniel Pink, & Carol Dweck. Finally I shared how we as a community have take our ideas and use Agile tools & practices to turn them into a reality, describing each of our T&Ps with pictures and anecdotes from school. I really like the slides I put together to share this and hope to write another blog soon that shares about this more in detail!

 


 

 

So, last week was FILLED with MAGIC and I can’t wait to start another week at school tomorrow!

 

FAQ Question 1: How Will My Child Learn To Read?

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting on this blog answers to frequently asked questions I receive from parents interested in having their child attend ALC Mosaic. I’m inviting feedback to help make the responses to these questions clear & concise, yet also thorough enough to feel adequately answered. If you have additional links or information that you think would be valuable to include in the response, I welcome your replies so I can make this FAQ page awesome!

The intent of the FAQ page is to send to parents before they attend a Parent Interest Night at our school so we spend less time discussing these answers in person and more time answering questions about Agile Learning Centers and ALC Mosaic specifically.

So here goes the first question I tackled:

How Will My Child Learn to Read?

For most children, they will learn to read just as they learned to walk and talk – through living around people who walk and talk. Most normally developing children are extremely motivated to walk because they see adults getting places faster than they are. They are also very motivated to learn language skills because it helps them get what they want and need more effectively.

In our school, a child who reads is much more independent than a child who does not read. The same goes for the world, and our school likes to model what is currently important in today’s world – literacy being one of those things.

What we observe with the children at Mosaic is that they all want to read because it increases their ability to do things on their own. If they can read the schedule board on their own, they are able to figure out what’s going on, and when and where the activity is taking place, without getting someone to help them. They will able to play many more complex games because they are able to read.

We have not encountered one child yet that simply does not want to read here. We do encounter children who simply teach themselves to read in a way that works for them. This can look like a child suddenly showing up and just reading one day all at once, or like a child really interested in reading and sounding out words for months, dropping it for few months, and then coming back to intensely until they are fluent. You can think back to how your child learned to speak – first sounds, playing with sounds, repeating sounds, saying the few words they know over and over again. It looks like that, but with the words they can read and write. They write the words they know repeatedly and acquire more and more.

If they want extra support to speed up the reading process, we provide it. Otherwise, we see them teach themselves. Humans are incredibly intelligent – especially when they are motivated they pay very close attention to what it is that they want to learn. A child learning to read will be carefully studying letters as someone read to them aloud.

Through his research, Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Research Science at Boston College created these principles of how children learn to read without schooling:

Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling

1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
3) Attempts to push reading can backfire.
4) Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
5) Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
6) Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
7) There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.

In this article, Gray expands on these principles in much detail and also describes how they came from a study of Sudbury students – students who were never told to learn to read or forced to go to any class or course. From this study he also writes, “What they found defied every attempt at generalization. Students began their first real reading at a remarkably wide range of ages–from as young as age 4 to as old as age 14. Some students learned very quickly, going from apparently complete non-reading to fluent reading in a matter of weeks; others learned much more slowly. A few learned in a conscious manner, systematically working on phonics and asking for help along the way. Others just “picked it up.” They realized, one day, that they could read, but they had no idea how they had learned to do so. There was no systematic relationship between the age at which students had first learned to read and their involvement with reading at the time of the interview. Some of the most voracious readers had learned early and others had learned late.”

 

Extra Reading on Reading

 

Rudolf Steiner, who created the Waldorf educational model, felt it was an injustice to a child’s imagination to teach them to read before the age of 7.  Schools in Finland (these schools have gotten US press for their excellent school systems, read about that here and here) do not have children start school until 7. In addition, one can really begin to learn to read at any age. There is also a need for ones eye muscles to build during normal play as a child before they are ready to read, and this development can widely vary.

The point is that a child’s time to be ready to read will occur at many different ages, and it’s ridiculous to try to make all children be on a particular level at one age. Still, all traditional schools are expecting every child to begin some type of literacy instruction by Kindergarten or 1st grade. Many children are not ready at this time and then develop anxieties over why they are not good enough, smart enough, etc. This becomes a labored pattern that, for many, keeps them in the low reading group or self-identifying as a non-reader. We don’t believe in doing that to children here.

John Taylor Gatto has done extensive research on the effectiveness of public schools throughout his 30 year career as a teacher. He is also a public speaker and author on the topic. In this interview (as well as in many of his other essays and books) he debunks the myth that children need school to learn to read:

“By 1940, literacy as a national number stood at 96 percent for whites and 80 percent for blacks. Four of five blacks were literate in spite of all disadvantages. Yet, six decades later, the Adult Literacy Survey and National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a 40 percent illiteracy rate for blacks – doubling the earlier deficiency – and a 17 percent rate for whites, more than quadrupling it. Yet, the money spent on schooling in real terms had grown 350 percent.”

 

If you would like to read more on this topic, Lisa Nielson compiles a very comprehensive list of links here to help you learn more about how children learn to read without teachers.