What’s happening in school this week?
Settling in, slowing down, getting crafty, keeping warm. It doesn’t sound like much, maybe, but it is. It’s not easy for me to describe just what we are doing in school right now. There’s really not much of an agenda, no big issue we’re wrestling with, no ambitious undertaking. Instead, we’re hearthtending, making space for integration, and also to tend to the dust that collects in the hidden corners of our relationships. It’s a kind of work that is easily overlooked, but absolutely vital nonetheless.
On the tangible level, we’ve been focusing on making things. Last week was bamboo cups, bowls, skewers, knives. This week we had a visit from Rainbow Teplitsky to do some sewing, mending, and alterations to our clothes. I could see then that the group has come a long way in their ability to focus and follow through on a project, spending two solid hours sewing with excellent results. In Language Arts class, Mary-Hannah has been introducing the art of blessing, and the kids have written blessings for each other, themselves, and important things and people in their lives. In Math the journey continues with fractions, measurement, multiplication, and all those fascinating manipulations of space, time, and number.
All of these are vital skills, meaningful in and of themselves, and yet another kind of learning has been going on this week, more subtle but perhaps more life-changing. One thread of that learning has been our first foray into teacher student conferences. This was my first experiment with one-on-one conversations with the kids about their experience at school, so it took me a few tries to adjust the formula. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of self-awareness the kids displayed, even the youngest, and particularly at their ability to look into the future and make goals for themselves. Here’s the questions I was asking each kid by the end:
What is going well for you in school so far?
What has been challenging for you?
What are your long term goals and visions for yourself in relation to school?
What are your next achievable steps towards those goals?
Is there anything else you would like me to know about your experience at school?
The first four questions come from my Bachelors program with Gaia University, a self-directed action learning program that I completed in 2012. Applied there in a college level setting, I was delighted to discover that these questions were no less potent and relevant with 8–12 year olds! It was particularly heartwarming to hear about children’s goals and visions for themselves:
To get really good at math
Freedom and independence to travel
Get a flock of quail, work up to guinea pigs
Participate in an animal slaughter from start to finish
Do a big project with my friends, like the play, but making something
Make peace with [another child in the program] by the end of the semester
These conferences gave me a lot of insight into what was going on with each child, and it seemed like the kids really enjoyed the opportunity to share and be heard.
All that has been great, and the place where this hearthtending time has really shown its worth has been in the emotional lives of the children and what has been coming up in their relationships. On the surface, it looks like a mess, an explosion of conflict and an eruption of old resentments. We’ve heard a lot about who is always being mean to whom, and just as much about how that’s not true, in fact just the opposite. Without a big challenging topic or a complex project, the space has been opened up for these conflicts to come to light, which is good, because now we can deal with them. Better out than in has been a longtime motto of mine.
So, we’ve got some clean up to do, some long forgotten corners to sweep up and wipe down. It’s not the most pleasant work. No one (except maybe me) is really clambering to do it. And yet, the kids seem to be ready for it, perhaps even secretly eager to go there, to get into the muck, to be heard and seen, and, spirits willing, to come to the other side with a little more peace in their hearts.
What are we reading at school this week?
Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin
Some might call me crazy for imagining that a bunch of 8–12 yr olds would be interested in this strange, slow moving book, filled with quiet beauty and layers of meaning, and written in a voice that can be alien and strange at times. Perhaps, but I just can’t help myself. It’s my favorite book, and it so poignantly explores what it means to be at home, in a place, on the earth.
How can you support the school?
Get involved with the kids learning
If you live here in the village, just taking a moment to ask the kids about school and geek out with them about the things they are learning is a great way to support our work. And if you are a grandparent, relative, or friend who lives elsewhere, including the topics we are exploring in school in your phone conversations, letters, and other communications with the kids you love could be a great way to connect with them and help them take the learning even deeper.
As always, feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to come share something at school. You can take a look at our syllabus to see where we’re headed and how you might get involved.
Donate $ or Leaps
Donations of any size are always welcome. Donations are crucial to funding our operations, paying our fabulous teachers, and keeping the program affordable for all of our families.