What do the kids think about it?
What's Happening at School this Week?
Well, between last week and this one Spring seems to have settled in to stay. Daffodils are blooming, and more days than not its been warm enough that we haven't needed a fire. This is the time of year that I remember so clearly from my own school days, spent largely sitting at a desk with my chin in my hands, staring dreamily out the window and longing for summer; freedom, cut grass, clouds moving across the sky, and swimming. We'll be in school for the summer, but we'll be outside, soaking up that sunshine and getting our hands in the dirt. It's hard for me to even imagine the difference that would have made to me as a young person, just to be outside and feel the wind on my face.
This week we've been working on our final projects, using all the skills we practiced in our last project to make an even more complex and beautiful gift for a randomly chosen villager. The kids are interviewing adults to learn about their chosen person and their unique gifts, passions, and abilities, and designing a gift to make for them that reflects what they've learned about who they are and what they love. The stakes feel high, and there has been some anxiety, and also a good deal of excitement and inspiration.
Some of my favorite moments from this week have had nothing to do with this complex project, however. The first was at Kid's Council on Monday. The day before I had taken minutes for Grown-ups Council, and there had been a juicy conversation about personal feedback, the value and importance of integrating personal feedback as an opportunity for growth and learning and how to balance that with the responsibility to give feedback in a respectful manner. This has been a huge theme with the kids, as they navigate the often bumpy territory of how to say "Hey, what you're doing is really distracting" or "Ouch, that hurt my feelings" in a way that can be gracefully received, and how to respond gracefully when someone says those things to you. So, we took up the conversation during Kid's Council.
I started by explaining what we had been talking about the day before, how we had been working on the wording of an "Enabling Action" in the Strategic Planning Framework, the document that outlines the goals and visions of the Earthaven experiment. Each enabling action is a kind of instruction, a thing that we can all do that will help to move us towards our goals. I explained to the kids that the one the adults had been word smithing at Council the day before started out as:
"We remain open and attentive to respectful feedback from other community members."
"What do you think?" I asked, "does that seem like a good agreement? Is it missing anything, or is there anything wrong with it?" They generally agreed that it was pretty good, but something was off. The word "respectful" was problematic. What if people disagree about whether the feedback was "respectful" or not? If I don't think it was "respectful", can I just ignore it? This happens to be exactly the same line of questioning that happened at Grown-ups Council. In fact, at every step along the way, the kids followed the same line of reasoning as the grown-ups had the day before, and came up with an almost identical result. Willow was the one to put the final agreement into words:
"We try to give feedback in the most respectful way we can, and also try to receive it in the best way we can"
I'd be hard pressed to argue that the grown-up's solution was any better. We had split the agreement into two, "We strive to deliver feedback in a respectful manner" and "We remain attentive and open to feedback and use it as an opportunity for growth". Same result, but with more words.
I know that the explanation above was a little complicated, so I want to make the point clear. This group of 7 to 9 year olds was able to have, with only a little guidance from me, the exact same conversation, about the complexities of feedback and the importance of giving and receiving it in a good way, as the adults. If they had been the ones sitting in Council the day before, they would have come to the same conclusion for the same excellent reasons, quite possibly faster and with less contention! What would they say about the rest of our Strategic Planning Framework? What might they notice that we have overlooked? I am excited to go through more of these conversations with them, to continue to bring topics to them that have been addressed in Grown-ups Council, and to see what they have to say. Who knows, maybe someday there will be a designated role for children in Earthaven Council, a way to integrate their voices and opinions. Honestly, I think we all have a lot to learn from them.
My other favorite moment from the week was simpler, but just as profound. For weeks now, I've been struggling with our contributions time at the end of the day. This is the time where each kid has a task that rotates each week; gathering tinder, splitting kindling, folding blankets, sweeping, etc. Its been a rowdy and unfocused time, and I've been resistant to it, not wanting to nag, not knowing how to hold the container. Yesterday, I had an inspiration at the last second, and went for it. I explained the discomfort I'd been having with how contributions had been going, and that I felt that I hadn't been holding a strong enough container. I explained that this was a mini-ritual, an opportunity to practice dignity, composure, and careful tending of our shared space and belongings. I explained that from now on, we would be doing our contributions in silence, and that I would play guitar to hold the space while we worked. The result was profound and beautiful. I played, they worked quietly, and when the work was coming to an end I moved into the song we have been learning together. Without words, the group noticed the change, and began to clap along, keeping time on the off-beat, a tricky and deeply satisfying rhythmic accompaniment to my guitar playing. It ended the day on an unprecedented note of unity and grace.
How can you support the school?
Let me peruse your library
I'm always on the lookout for inspiring and amazing pieces of writing, both for my own inspiration and enjoyment and to share with the kids. If you ever have a recommendation of something to read that touches on the subjects we are exploring, feel free to let me know, and if you're open to me coming to check out your selection for myself that would be wonderful as well.
Come tell us a story!
In this unit on adulthood, coming into our gifts and finding our unique path of service in the world, it would be wonderful to have some personal stories from villagers about their unique life path so far. If there is a story bubbling in you about where life has called you that you may not have suspected, please get in touch and we'll make a time for you to share it!
Donate money or leaps
Donations are always welcome, in any amount. Financial support is needed in order to ensure that the program remains affordable to all of our hardworking families here at Earthaven. Donating is easy and satisfying! Consider signing up as a patron with a monthly donation, as this predictable income is especially valuable in supporting the financial health of the school.
For our upcoming summer session, The Village School is in need of the following items. If you have any to donate they would be greatly appreciated. Please get in touch with me and I can come pick them up!
Farming and gardening tools of all kinds: Pruners, hoes, rakes, shovels, pruning saws, wheelbarrows, etc...
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What are we reading at school this week?
Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Told in the voices of three generations of the fictional Little family, this recreation of African American oral history tells a story of resistance and cultural transmission in the face of sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the white conservative backlash during and after the Civil Rights Movement. Based on members of the authors own family, the Littles tell their story in a voice and style all their own, and convey not only the history, but also the lived experience and the creativity and generative "soul-force" that grew and blossomed through the generations in their family, both out of and despite that experience.
What's the teacher reading this week?
The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
Where would I be without Wendell Berry? And how did it take me so long to find his work? In this long essay, Mr. Berry eloquently traces the connections between the degeneration of agriculture and human culture, with his characteristic blend of moral clarity and dense, multi-layered prose. As always, he argues compellingly for the importance of staying put, of living out a meaningful relationship with a particular piece of land. I dearly wish that Mr. Berry could come here, to sit on our porches and look out at our fields, and witness our fledgling, sometimes bumbling, but very often sincere and so far at least somewhat successful attempt to take this plea seriously, and put it into practice.