January monthly messenger
Hello Rock Tree Sky Families,
What a beautiful month January has been.
This month has brought nourishing rain, snow capped mountains, fresh feeling air, and just enough warmth to remind us that we still live in Southern California.
And with the favorable weather, our Rock Tree Sky community has felt particularly... glowing.
We have unfolded into 2019 with a refreshed sense of care for ourselves and each other. It's visceral; the ways in which our learners have been supporting one another, communicating with one another effectively, problem solving with compassion for each other, and tuned into the needs of fellow community members. The ways that we practice being at RTS contributes to the realization of a compassionate world. We feel lots of gratitude to witness and be a part of this learner-centered community.
We're looking forward to more goodness in February.
As always Be Well and Stay Curious
With love from,
Rock Tree Sky staff
Looking Towards February
Friday February 8th: Parent Maker Night 6pm-8pm Join us at the Summit School for an evening of making Rock Tree Sky style. Parents are invited to come and engage in activities and projects offered by our Rock Tree Sky mentors. Please bring a dish to share and a willingness to create!
We will also facilitate a movie and popcorn for kids to enjoy while their parents experience making.
Monday February 18th: RTS will be closed in observance of President's day.
Monday February 25- Friday March 1: 12pm pick up each day this week. Family conferences in the afternoons for those families who have scheduled meetings. If you are interested in setting up a meeting during this week please contact Natasha ASAP, there are limited slots available.
Reflections on January
Wow, the Rock Tree Sky community entered 2019 with high energy.
During our very first week back in action after the holiday break, Casey and Spence lead a group of about thirty learners on an excursion to a wolf sanctuary located in the Angeles National Forest.
Casey has said that this was, "One of the most impressive wolf sanctuaries I've ever been to...the women that run the space have created such a wonderful, grounded program that really connects people in wolves in such a meaningful way." The program is both educational and therapeutic and Casey said that he is looking forward to future trips and maintaining a long term relationship with the sanctuary.
Back at the Summit (and beyond) Jim has been sharing his excitement about building and launching small rockets.
This month a neighbor and friend of Rock Tree Sky donated of a new drum kit as well as professional recording studio equipment to support our music program. The new instruments and the endless possibilities for recording have made for some rocking good times this month.
Additional rocking good times include the benefit concert organized by Kim and her partner Robert. The concert featured local musicians of all ages, ranging from our very own RTS learners to some local legends. The funds raised by this concert will be to the benefit of our music department. Additionally the event truly inspired many of our learners to dive deeper into their musical interests and practice of their skills.
The rain that fell earlier in January inspired Chrissy to lead walks up Sisar Rd to explore the new plantlife and the flow of water at the creek.
The rain also inspired Spence to support learners in the creation of balloon powered boats which kids experiment in floating across giant puddles. Lots of rain also led to exploring different possibilities indoors. For instance a game of giant jenga was played using rectangular cardboard boxes.
In the art room Kim has been inspiring learners to create multimedia scenes ranging from coral reefs to miniature fantastical houses. The textile arts department also received donations of two "new to us" sewing machines that the learners have been grateful to be able to use. Also in the art room Jacklyn brought back an old favorite from her own childhood. This month she introduced the kiddos to Shrinky Dinks which have been wildly popular amongst the kids and have been fascinating for us to see the learners expanding their possibilities for shrinky dink creations each day.
Archery has also been popular this month. Casey remarked that many of learners have been excited about participating in target practice as well as making their own bows.
Over at the Big Farm our aerial specialist, Belinda, has brought a lyra (hoop) as a new feature for the learners to practice new skills on. And Casey has been continuing to lead tracking adventures on the Big Farm as well.
Each week Natasha has been hosting parent book club/discussion group which has been a meaningful and supportive way to connect with parents and talk about the work of raising free-children. Natasha intends to continue to host these conversations and invites any parents to participate in attending.
This month we also had a wonderful Saturday morning parent discussion group during which mentors and parents engaged in dialogue about the Yes Brain and reimagining success for our children.
The following photographs were taken by RTS learner Max Steckel
Quote From the Kids: Through the Eyes of a Kid
The following link is to the second episode of a new podcast featuring interviews of Rock Tree Sky learners contemplating and describing their educational journeys.
This episode features the voice of RTS Learner Vida Haring and the musical stylings of RTS Teen Carter Young.
Please copy and paste the following link in your browser or follow the button below:
For this month's Parent Education piece I have chosen to share a link to an article recently published on Tipping Points felt related to an ...issue?...subject of interest? that we experience at Rock Tree Sky. With the ever expanding music program at RTS I thought that this piece bared relevance and may be used as a conversation starter amongst those who enjoy using the musical instruments and those who share that space.
In this piece (which I urge you to read with your child) Ken Danford, founder and director of North Star Teens, the flagship of the Liberated Learners network based in Sunderland, MA, describes an "incident" that occured in the North Star common room. Essentially the issue was that a teenager was playing guitar in a common area at a volume that was too loud for Ken to focus on his work.
As I read about how this particular incident was managed at North Star, I thought about our own music making at RTS. And the way that we all, staff and learners, have differing tolerances for noise. And in a self-directed learning community there really is not a clear-cut set of rules to manage what volume instruments can be played at, or what constitutes as practicing a musical craft versus what might be reckless banging on the drums. What is one person's creative experiment might be an inappropriate use of equipment to another.
As Ken writes, "Now the youth had to consider that idea. We were no longer fighting over power and rights, but over how to use the common room together... We weren’t really fighting about rules or whether I could just enforce my will on them. We were actually debating subjective musical enjoyment and tolerance. It really was a problem with no objective solution.
Kevin pursued this topic, “I was practicing, and trying new things. I was feeling creative. You mean I can’t do that in the common room?” It was a question with no clear answer, and we agreed, “It’s a gray area. It depends on who else is present and how your playing affects them.” This was not a right-and-wrong, rules-oriented problem, and we’d all have to live with this ambiguity. Guitar playing is welcome in the common room until it is not, and, Ken will leave if he doesn’t like it as long as there is another adult present. And, if guitar playing is annoying other people, the guitar player and friends will probably need to go to another space were not the clear-cut resolutions Kevin had been seeking or expecting, but he decided he could live with them."
This notion of guitar playing is welcome until it is not is a real example of navigating the balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of others and taking care of the space (or equipment).
And to me Ken's way of navigating this incident - calling for a private conversation with the guitar playing teen- modeled a deep level of respect for that teen and his creative process while also advocating for Ken's personal needs.
That is what we strive to do at Rock Tree Sky. The mentors are not here to exercise authority over the learners or enforce rules. We are here to model respectful conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving. And not just in the music room but in all aspects of life at RTS and beyond.
december monthly messenger
Hello RTS Families,
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
We hope that you have all enjoyed a lovely holiday break with your families.
While the holidays often bring different routines and may feel chaotic, the holiday break is also a welcomed opportunity to step back from our regular schedules and take a pause. By taking the time and space to pause ourselves, we might open up space within ourselves to regain enthusiasm for the daily experiences of our lives.
We may then come back to Rock Tree Sky with renewed energy and inspiration for growth and change in the New Year.
As we prepared to leave RTS for this holiday brake, Chrissy asked the Roots kids what they were most looking forward to for the upcoming weeks. In response, many of the kids claimed that they were actually just going to miss being at Rock Tree Sky.
We are thankful for all the members of the community for contributing to the sense of warmth, belonging, and enjoyment that results in us all valuing the time and space we share together.
We want your kids to know that we have missed them over these past couple of weeks and are very much looking forward to picking up where we left off in December.
With love always,
The RTS Staff
Looking Towards January:
Wednesdays and Fridays: 9:15-10am Natasha will be hosting weekly parent gatherings/discussion groups on the Rock Tree Sky campus. This month discussions will revolve around the book the Yes Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. Please feel free to join the discussion even if you are unable to read the book.
Thursday January 10th: Casey will be leading a field trip to a wolf rescue sanctuary. If you and/or your child is attending please meet at Rock Tree Sky at 7:45am and be prepared for a 4:30pm pick up time.
Saturday January 12th: 10:00am-12:00pm Parent Discussion group at Rock Tree Sky
Saturday January 19th: 12:00pm-5:00pm Musicians for Musicians Fundraiser at Rock Tree Sky at the Summit School Campus. Lineup includes some of our very own RTS musicians as well as celebrated musicians from the likes of the StoneFly's, Rain Perry, Charles Law, Martin Young, Bernie Larson, and more donating their time and talents.
We are asking for donations at the gate, $15 for adults, $5 for kids. We recommend families bring blankets, picnics, and dancing shoes! Money raised will go towards the Rock Tree Sky music studies fund.
Reflections on December
December was a joyful month at Rock Tree Sky.
Many of our learners focused energy on creating holiday gifts, crafts, and treats. Activities ranged from baking gingerbread cookies, to making bath bombs and salts. From hand embroidering patches, to ceramic sculptures and ornaments, to co-creating an entire holiday village out of recycled materials.
During December several learners also focused on practicing dance, gymnastics, and aerial silks, and musical performances to showcase their skills at our Learner Exposition. We were all impressed by the dedication devoted to practicing these skills as well as the bravery it took to perform in front of the audience.
Throughout the month several learners and mentors also began exploring podcasting and film equipment with the ongoing intention to share our stories with broader audiences.
Learners have wrapped up long term projects and mentors cleared space to make room for more creations in the new year.
In fact, over the holiday break many of our mentors worked hard to do a bit of space revitalization.
This included swapping the locations of the several of our rooms with intention to better utilize the unique aspects of each space.
We are looking forward to more conscious space creation and revitalization in 2019.
Quotes from the Kids: Through the Eyes of a Kid
The following link is to the pilot episode of a potential new podcast featuring interviews of Rock Tree Sky learners contemplating and describing their educational journeys.
This first episode features the voice of RTS Teen Gabriel Griffen and the musical stylings of RTS Teen Carter Young.
Please copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://soundcloud.com/user-788117139/an-interview-with-gabe-rts-tek-1519-336-pm
For this month's Parent Education piece I have drawn inspiration from Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.'s book The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in your Child (2018).
Since the topics explored in this book will also serve as a jumping off point for parent discussion groups hosted by Natasha this month, I will use this space to provide a brief synopsis of the main takeaways from the text.
I will start by providing the quote defining a Yes Brain as offered by the authors;
"...a Yes Brain is more than just a mindset or an approach to the world. It's that, definitely. And as such, it gives your child an internal guide to help him or her face life's challenges with security and enthusiasm. It's the basis of being strong from the inside out. But a Yes Brain is also a neurological state that emerges when the brain is engaged in certain ways. By understanding a few basic details of brain development, you can help create an environment that provides opportunities that will foster a Yes Brain in your kids... it's about helping kids begin to realize who they are becoming, and that they can overcome disappointment and defeat and choose a life full of connection and meaning." (pg. 6)
Siegel and Bryson go on to describe what they consider to be the four fundamentals of a Yes Brain: Balance, Resilience, Insight and Empathy.
Each of these facets are described as skills to be learned and practiced. One's capacity for a balanced, resilient, insightful, and empathetic mind can be developed and strengthened with the support of caring role models and self work. It is the role of adults to be guides and models for children to practice strategies that strengthen these capacities.
A balanced brain is one that is capable of regulating emotions even when facing adversary. This does not mean that the person in question is not feeling emotions but rather that one may still be able to control and regulate behavior even when negative emotions are being experienced.
The writers illustrate this concept by describing three autonomic nervous system zones: the over reactive or explosive Red Zone, the balanced and regulated Green Zone, and the withdrawn Blue Zone.
The goal is to support children so that they remain within the green zone.
We can do this by maintaining a balance between linkage and differentiation with our children. That is being emotionally connected with our children so that we may empathize with them, and differentiated enough to not try to immediately fix what's going on.
We can also teach our children about and help them to maintain what the writers refer to as a Healthy Mind Platter for Optimal Brain Matter.
It is written that a balanced brain is one that experiences a healthy balance of sleep time, physical time, focus time, time-in or self-reflective time, down time, connecting time, and play time.
Depending on the individual and their developmental stage each person will have experience different ratios of these mind states. However each mental activity is described as essential for strengthen the brain's capacity to make connections within the self and the world outside.
A resilient brain is one that is capable of "bouncing back" from emotional adversary. That is, one that has a broad "window of tolerance" for challenges or a wide nervous system green zone.
As parents and mentors we can help our children build the skills to face challenges and move back into the green zone on their own.
We can do this by acknowledging our child's behavior and emotions and recognizing that behavior is a form of communication. Instead of attempting to extuish or demonize even those behaviors that are explosive or unwanted, we can consider what our children are attempting to communicate and then help our children to develop skills and strategies for responding to conflict in productive ways.
Siegel and Bryson describe resilience as gift we can give our kids.
It is also described as the capacity to maintain a state of equanimity or calmness. "Equanimity doesn't mean someone is always calm-- it means that they've learned to ride the waves of their emotions with skill and agility.
An insightful brain is then described as one that has "the ability to look within and understand ourselves, then use what we learn to be more in control of our emotions and circumstances" (pg. 104).
One way that we can help our children understand this concept is by describing the self as both a player and a spectator. The player part of oneself experiences first hand the emotions of any given situation while the spectator part of oneself has a broader perspective of the experience. "Insight lets you observe yourself so you're not a victim of your feelings and circumstances" (pg. 109).
One key tool for doing this is calling for a pause both within the self and the child. Pausing and taking a breath can help to regulate the pace of the nervous system.
We can teach our kids that there is power in pausing. By pausing when faced with a challenge we can bring our brains to a balanced place that is capable of making a sound decision. As opposed to immediately reacting to an emotional challenge and melting down.
The fourth fundamental of a Yes Brain is empathy. An empathetic brain is one that is capable of being connected to others, and acknowledging just how interconnected we all are. It is the capacity to care for others and feel concern for people around us.
Like the other facets that make up a Yes Brain, empathy is a skill that develops with practice and with experience.
We can help our children develop a strong sense of empathy by inviting them to practice tuning into their "empathy radar." That is inviting our children to think about what emotions other people or even characters in books might be feeling in any given situation.
When our children practice recognizing what mindstate or mood others are in, they can in turn be more understanding of how to respond to and care for others.
We can also help to teach our kids the language of empathy. Teaching them to speak in I-statements ie. "I feel..." instead of "You did..." or "You are..." can support their ability to effectively communicate emotions and resolve conflicts. And teaching them to listen and be present when others are expressing feelings rather than responding by giving advise or attempting to mitigate another person's pain.
Siegel and Bryson conclude their book by calling for a defining of the word success. They write that "This Yes Brain approach helps develop the kind of successful life that prepares our kids from the inside out, giving them a deep awareness of inner processes that will serve as a guiding compass to know their own sense of meaning and values. It's about valuing the inner journey rather than focusing on the ultimate destination" (pg. 166).
Instead of measuring success by external rewards such as gold stars, grades, or money, success can be felt when one is truly intune with their inner, authentic self.
It is my belief that Rock Tree Sky supports this definition of success. We do not impose an arbitrary assessment system on our learners. Instead we observe and witness their journey's without judgement.
In our learning community we do just as as Siegel and Bryson suggest. For us, "It's ultimately about helping a child develop an integrated and connected brain so she can lead a life of rich emotional connections, meaningful interactions with the world, and emotional equanimity" (pg. 167).
I hope that you found this synopsis helpful, and I hope that each of you are able to attend one of Natasha's discussion groups this month to further develop an understanding of these concepts.