What’s happening at school this week?
This week at school, we entered a new phase of our journey through the course of a human life. It's an important turning point, because up until now we have been exploring familiar territory. As I explained to the kids, all of our themes so far have been parts of life that they have personally experienced. Even death they have been close to, though they haven't been through that passage yet themselves. And the body, the hearth, and the home are their stomping grounds. But now, as we begin our unit on Leaving Home, we're entering into the parts of a human life that lie squarely in their future, and which we can experience only through imagination, and the experiences of others.
We opened the week with a brief discussion of puberty and adolescence, the physical and emotional process of becoming an adult. With the grand resilience and courage that is so characteristic of these village children, two kids were able to self identify as having begun the transition of puberty. It's a powerful thing to see a nine year old and a twelve year old claim their entry into adolescence openly and without shame. It was also fun to watch the spectrum of reactions and understanding, to see them attempting to look at something that was fundamentally out of reach, just over the hilltop, but somehow tangibly present.
In order to get a felt sense of the adventure into the unknown that adolescence represents, we have begun building a vehicle, a container that moves and enables a different kind of travel. We went through an exciting design process, practicing our brainstorming skills, and thinking a lot about materials, purposes, and how to bring our ideas down to a realistic level that we might be able to actually build in three weeks. We've also been learning this week about visual communication, how to use diagrams, labels, and measurements to convey and assess design ideas, and even how to use our drawings to help us "think out loud" in terms of spatial relationships and mechanical function. We eventually settled on the idea of a dairy delivery cart, basically a bike trailer that carries a cooler, which the kids plan to use for a small business delivering dairy products from the farm to customers around the village. I love how they took the project to the next level, building not just a vehicle but a whole business model to go with it!
This week has had its challenges as well of course. A school family had to quarantine because of covid exposure, and we've been operating with extra precautions. It's been a stressful time for me as program director, trying to balance the needs of the kids and the educational experience with the co
mfort and safety of our families and the community at large. On the other hand, a smaller class size for the time-being means a lot more individual attention to certain kids who have really been needing it, and masks and social distancing certainly carry their own valu
able lessons about self and other awareness, communicating and negotiating boundaries, and caring for the whole.
Today, it seemed as though the initial excitement of the vehicle building project was wearing off. Kids were having a hard time finding jobs and staying engaged, and feeling more inclined to kick ice chunks around and watch the ducks. These moments are always a challenge for me, how to redirect them and help them find a way into the project without nagging or berating them. I'm curious to see how it plays out over the next few weeks, and curious also about how to respond if they seem to be losing interest in the project. How important is it to me that they finish? What would they learn from it if I don't push, allow them to experience the results of their wandering attention? How much would they even care? On the other hand, if I do nag and berate and cajole them to work on the project, will they end up feeling a sense of achievement, or simply relief that I'm off their case? Such are the challenges of a pedagogy that shuns punishment and reward and puts a high premium on intrinsic motivation.
I suppose that question of finding one's intrinsic motivation is one of the central question's of adolescence. Just what am I going to do, care about, and be, once I'm no longer bound by my parent's directives? So maybe this will be a taste of that confounding challenge, how to create a container that carries you into the rest of your life, when the one you've relied on for so long just doesn't seem to fit any longer.
How can you support the school?
Come tell us a story!
I'd love to have a few people come tell stories of their own journey through adolescence. What was it like for you, that turbulent and strange time? Where did you go, and how did you come through to the other side? What did you learn in that time? Please be in touch if you think you'd be interested and we'll work out a time.
Share some mechanical expertise
If you think it sounds like fun to build a dairy delivery cart out of salvaged parts, then please consider coming down to join us and offering some guidance and support to the kids as they figure it all out. I think another adult offering some help could go a long way towards motivating them and helping them to engage.
What are we reading at school this week?
The List of Things That Will not Change by Rebecca Stead
Looking back from the lofty heights of twelve years old, Bea explores her memories of the time period following her parent's divorce, and recounts the challenges and triumphs she experienced as an 8-10 year old. This book is rich with useful tricks and tips for small people encountering big emotions, particularly rage and anger. Bea's relationship with her therapist is particularly insightful. In the end, Bea is able to look back on this difficult time with gratitude for everything she has learned, a soothing image for anyone struggling to see past the intensity of big feelings that seem like they will last forever.