december monthly messenger
Dear RTS Families,
As 2017 comes to a close, we find ourselves counting the blessings brought to us this year. At the same time we must acknowledge the hardships that came as a result of the Thomas Fire and extend our condolences to those who lost homes or otherwise suffered. We celebrate our resiliency as a community and the way navigating hardships together draws people closer to one another. That experience of community care and connectivity is what we would like to focus on moving towards the New Year.
2017 may be remembered as one of the most apocalyptic years on record; from the political climate to the degradation caused by Thomas Incident. Yet it was also the year that brought you all to RTS and that is something worth celebrating. With that in mind, may we all move forward into 2018 with grace, humility, and compassion for one another and the Earth we share.
Wishing you all a very blessed New Year.
** For those families that have not visited the upper valley since the fires, please be aware that the landscape has changed dramatically up the Dennison grade. If you and your children will be seeing this for the first time when coming to program, know that feelings may arise. We suggest you give your family an extra few minutes on your drive up to go slowly and respond sensitively to the experience.**
As always, Stay Curious and Be Well,
With love from the Rock Tree Sky Staff.
Looking Towards JANUARY
Friday, January 12th 6:30-8, 2nd Friday event at Makerspace: We would like to take this opportunity to connect, share our stories, and offer support to one another upon our return. Please join us for potluck snacks and discussion. Childcare will be available.
Monday, January 15th, MLK Jr. Day: Break - no program
Thursday, January 25th 12:30-3:30, Project Expo: We have rescheduled our winter project exhibition and hope that all families (whether or not you typically attend on Thursdays) can join us. Performances will start at 12:45 followed by a gallery walk-through with plenty of time afterwards to chat and share potluck snacks.
Monday, Jan 7th - Wednesday Jan 24th, Parent volunteer opportunities: One way we plan to support one another with the changes we will be integrating upon our return is to work together as a community to rehabilitate and enrich our spaces. We would like to welcome parents to join us as we work with your children in this recovery. Below is a list of a few of the projects we will be tackling. Let us know if you would like to volunteer during program hours for any of the below projects in the weeks before the winter expo. Please specify what day or days in that time frame work best and we will try to schedule the project for that time.
- Garden rehab: repair the irrigation, and get some planting done!
- Bus conversion: We finally received the quote on the insurance we would need to run the bus as we had hoped and have sadly found it to be cost prohibitive. However, we are feeling creative and want to convert the bus into a mobile indoor space at the farm. Perhaps a "tea bus" instead of tea house...or a mobile wood-working station? However the space evolves, we need to start by removing the seats and envisioning the possibilities. Wanna join?
- Wood working tables: We want more wood working spaces outdoors for the littles...can you help?
- Playground set up: We have different elements we would like help setting up including a large ariel silks rig and other elements at the farm.
Reflecting on DECEMBER
Although our time together in December was short, many of us were still able to enjoy an exciting adventure that will surely live on in our memories.
On Friday December 1st many RTS learners, mentors, and families ventured to Carpinteria State Beach to experience a rare opportunity for viewing and exploring the tide pools. We spotted sea stars, sea anemones, octopuses, crabs, and sea urchins to name just a few of the life forms that live amongst the rocks and the waves.
It felt refreshing to breathe the salty air and fun to be together as a community for the afternoon.
Then, during the second week of December, the RTS staff came together to do some deep cleaning and organizing at the Makerspace. We also have been brainstorming new features that we would like to create at both the Makerspace and New Farm in the New Year. We are excited to share our ideas with the learners when we all return to Rock Tree Sky. We would also like to invite the learners to think about any additional features that they would like to engage with at either space.
First, a poem...a reminder that our job as parents is not to simply shelter our children from distress but to support them as they integrate what has occurred As with all great and fierce events, we are changed by it - as we should be.
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to get over a life is to die,
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things,
and be then not any less pain
but true to form.
Because anything natural has an
inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing
but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without
obliterating, getting over, a
single instant of it.
— Albert Huffstickler (1927-2002), from “Wanda” Walking Wounded
This month we decided it might be useful to include some resources for helping children cope with trauma such as natural disasters. We acknowledge that this work is challenging especially when considering we are all humans experiencing the pain, confusion, and loss of control that come when disaster strikes. Major crises don't occur everyday and therefore even as adults we are learning how to cope with the stress. The best that we can do is show up for each other, prepare ourselves with information, and practice strategies for helping our loved ones feel safe and cared for.
This fist link will bring you to an article published on the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center website. This article focuses on Helping Children Feel Safe. This information is useful both during and after a crises. It provides a useful reminder to reassure children that they are being cared for by staying close to them when possibly and by respectfully listening to them and holding space for them to express emotions. It also provides advice on developmentally appropriate ways to share information with children about the disaster or traumatic event.
This link will bring you to ready.gov Helping Children Cope. This article includes examples of Q&A with regards to crises and provides appropriate responses for children of different ages and stages of development.
We hope that we might all someday view the Thomas Incident as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Dear RTS Families,
It is December already and it seems that the more time we share together, the quicker it goes by. Connections have deepened in our third month together. And, the Thanksgiving holiday allowed a timely opportunity for us all to pause and take notice of all that we are grateful for.
On the Thursday and Friday afternoons prior to Thanksgiving break, we ended our days together with full group closing circles during which our learners expressed and shared ‘thankfuls’. It warmed our hearts to hear so many of our learners express gratitude for aspects of the Rock Tree Sky program including the friends that have connected with here, the freedom they are allowed here, and the beauty of this space.
During one of these circles, Jim shared an inspiring piece about expressing gratitude and feeling love for those things that often go unnoticed. As we move forward through the holiday season we would like to all to practice opening ourselves up to the capacity to love the less obvious things that surround us; things like rocks, trees, and the sky.
Be well and stay curious.
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards DECEMBER
Friday December 8th: We will be Holiday Caroling at the Gables of Ojai at 4:15 pm. After caroling around the neighborhood we will enjoy pizza and cocoa at Libbey Park.
Saturday December 9th: Makers Market at 182 S.Lomita Ave. from 10am -5pm - come support the kids' booth!
December 14th: Winter project exposition from 6pm-8pm at the Makerspace. Potluck salads and snacks welcome.
December 16 to January 2 2018: Holiday Break
Reflecting on NOVEMBER
During the month of November we really broke ground at the farm! We dug a trench and laid pipes for an irrigation system in what is to be our permaculture garden. Additionally organic matter (horse manure) has been spread and trees have been planted. We are very excited for the shape the garden is taking and the variety of outlets for engagement and learning that will naturally grow with this garden project.
In addition to the permaculture garden, learners and mentors have been vision boarding ideas for other features that we would like to bring into and build on the farm. One example is a labyrinth designed by Natasha. And this walking meditation pathway has already begun to take shape. The community is also interested in building a ropes course including a climbing net and zip-line on the premises. We would like to encourage everyone to keep the ideas coming. It feels good to utilize and celebrate the expansive space that we have.
Back at the Makerspace learners have been getting crafty this month in preparation for the holidays and the Makers Market. Soap making, hand crafted jewelry and accessories, and plush dolls are just a few examples of the creations the kids have been crafting this month. Several learners have also been focusing attention on bow and knife making with Casey. And many of our learners aided Kim in painting a larger than life backdrop that was utilized as stage decoration for a local ballet.
Other special activities this month included a field trip to the LACMA where learners experienced an inspiring exhibit from artist Marc Chagall. We all enjoyed a live jazz demonstration from our very own Paul Herder and community member Dave Anter. And we were visited by a reptile specialist who brought along several exotic reptiles for our viewing.
Yes it has been a busy month...and trust me, everything I’ve listed here does not even describe the half of it! Looking forward to lots more growth, adventures, and learning in the upcoming month!
Quotes from the Kids
In response to the question: What are you thankful for?
“I’m thankful for dogs and my family.” Luca
“I’m thankful for getting to pet that horse! I LOVE that we are alive!” Julia
“Making stuff.” Rocco and Julian
“I am thankful for walking around and sitting down and playing with my friends and laying down and doing yoga.” Amya
“Having such a great home. I’m grateful for the food and get and for my family of course.” Riley
“My family.” Luci
“I could never live without Raimy and Lucas.” Hunter
“My family and friends.” Melia
The following is an excerpt from Chrissy’s Honors Thesis Reclaiming Education 2016
exploring the question How Do People Learn?
“One learns to live, not by hearing of other lives, but by living…” (Neil, 1960, p.117)
In this section, my aim is provide a concise, layperson’s explanation of how people learn as understood from an evolutionary perspective. Using anthropological and biological evidence (which I will invite you investigate further), I will contend that the way in which people make meaning of the world around them is inherent in our human genetics. That is, people are biologically programmed to make meaning of the world by actively engaging with their surroundings. And, because learning occurs as a result of natural processes, I will assert that school, as it exists in Western society, stifles the capacity of humans to develop in ways that foster social and environmental justice and mutualism. Therefore, I will promote the argument that the future wellbeing of our planet and species depends on radically reforming systems of education in ways that move away from compulsion and standards and instead move towards programs that allow for self discovery and free choice.
Before I begin a discussion regarding education reform as a means for social change, I will first describe how people learn and develop as social beings. Simply stated, learning is biologically based; it is natural and it is constant. As primates, we develop understanding through the innate functions of observation, imitation, exploration, and play. Sensory perceptions of and interactions with our social and natural environments trigger emotional responses that manifest in the performance of particular behaviors. That is, we learn how to behave based on the feelings experienced as we witness situations and perform particular actions (Bernhard, 2013, p. 8).
Human beings are active organisms and members of the primate order. The ways in which we learn are fundamentally the same as those of our primate ancestors. That is, we are intuitively driven to engage with and explore the surrounding world through experimental play (Piaget, 1952). Encouraged by the novelty, pleasure, and excitement in discovering the new, young primates are internally motivated to play both alone and in groups. Explorative and experimental play is the natural way that young primates satisfy their inborn curiosity to understand the surrounding world. This motivation to experiment and play is rooted in the innate need to develop skills for survival. Children that are allowed the time and space to experiment with their natural and social environments will cultivate knowledge as characterized by the survival skills of social competency and communication, self-awareness, protection of the young, feeding and food getting, and reproductive practices (Harlow and Mears, 1979).
It is the young who still have the greatest amount of untapped novelty to explore and who are more frequently reinforced by novelty reinforcers for further exploration, play, and creativity. Hence, younger primates tend to generate a higher frequency of the explorative and playful behavior which may lead to useful innovations (Baldwin and Baldwin 1979, p. 103).
Though the intention to learn survival skills may not be acknowledged by the child, the purpose of play is to inform the child of what behaviors contribute to ensuring well being versus activities that are harmful (Harlow and Mears, 1979). For example, Jane Goodale writes of her observations of the Tiwi Aborigines of Northern Australia:
Very young children are allowed literally to play with fire, and never once did I
hear a parent telling their child, “now be careful, dear.” The maxim “experience
is the best teacher” seems to be rigidly followed…Generally parents or other
adults will only interfere in their child’s activities when they become really
dangerous to some other younger child who cannot fend for itself (Goodale, 1971,
It can be inferred that if a child’s hand happened to be burnt by the flames, that child would learn to avoid such close contact with fire in the future. Evolutionary developmental psychologist and author Peter Gray describes and positions the importance of play in our modern society as the following:
Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives, It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in the culture in which they are growing (Gray, 2013, p. 5).
In addition to active exploration through playing, human beings learn through observing and imitating the behaviors of others. Observation is the process of witnessing another being’s behavior and interpreting whether the behavior should be imitated. When observing another perform particular actions, the observer will subconsciously make inferences regarding the outcomes of the action. Does that person appear satisfied after taking that action? How have others reacted to that person’s behavior? What behaviors are rewarded with approval? What behaviors are disapproved of? Observing the behavior and actions of others may then initiate the modification of one’s own behaviors. Blurton Jones and Konner (1976) describe this type of learning as it has existed in hunter gatherer societies:
This indirect adult communication of important information seems comparable to the indirect way young men acquire information about animals and technology, which appears to be quite simply a matter of watching and listening to other people and then trying for one's self. There is almost no direct teaching (Jones and Konner, 1976, p. 338-339).
Tonkinson's (1978) studies of the Mardudjara people of Australia also supports the importance of observation and imitation as a means of developing social survival skills.
[Children] see the system in action and thus learn both the ideal and actual patterning of social relationships as part of growing up. They absorb the system effortlessly, learning the primacy of kin category as a behavioral guide.... Having learned the system, children begin conforming to it in early adolescence without any specific directives from their elders (Tonkinson, 1978, p. 45).
Children that do not live separately from adults but participate in group activity and witness adult reality will learn to carry out the responsibilities of adults upon maturity. Furthermore, as active participants in the community, children recognize their own value, and they trust that their wellbeing will be protected and supported by other group members. In hunter gatherer societies, learning to live was learning to achieve group belonging in equilibrium with a sense of self-identity. The survival of the group was based on mutualism and reciprocity and one’s status was measured by one’s capacity to contribute to maintaining the wellbeing of the group as a whole. Gary Bernhard describes this living as simple, natural, and inevitable.
Becoming an adult, for most of human existence, has meant coming to an understanding of how the need to belong to a group and the need to have personal identity fit together. In the social environments in which our species evolved, these needs coexisted in a dynamic balance, so the young found their fit with others and themselves as a normal consequence of living. This discovery process also promoted an understanding of how to subsist in the physical environment, how to choose and live with mates and friends, how to live with relatives, how to raise children, how to dispute with others, how to resolve disputes, and so forth (Bernhard, 2013, p.8).
The survival of the group depended on each individual’s capacity to live in mutualism with others and with the natural environment. In his book Free to Learn (2013) Peter Gray expounds on this point, framing the value of reciprocity “from an economic point of view,” Gray writes, “People [in hunter-gatherer bands] share their skills and efforts freely as they cooperate in obtaining food, defending against predators, and caring for children (2013, 24-25).” A community system based in mutual cooperation and sharing was absolutely essential for group survival. A community system based in these tenants, naturally allowed for the children growing in the community to cultivate community supporting social relationships and perform the ideals of the society as the young mature.
In an age of rapid communication and information transfer, diverse cultures and a world of varying belief systems and customs, it is not possible for the humans of the world today to revert to the hunter/gatherer existence. But it is possible to maintain and enjoy the conveniences of modernity in a way that harkens back to the old value of maintaining mutualistic relationships within social and natural surroundings. In our Western culture there is a false assumption that “the survival of some must come at the expense of others” (Bernhard, 2013, p.12). Really, our species’ survival has largely depended on the capacity of people to live with each other in community systems of sharing and reciprocity. When, how, and why did the myths of competition, desire for ownership, and the dream of dominance replace the way of life that sustained our primal ancestors? And is it possible to unlearn these myths in the twenty-first century?
Baldwin, J. D., and J. I. Baldwin. 1979. "The Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Variables That Shape Behavior and Social Organization." In Primate Ecology and Human Origins: Ecological Influences on Social Organization, edited by I. S. Bernstein and E. O. Smith. New York: Garland STPM Press.
Bernhard, J. Gary. 2013. Primates in the Classroom: An Evolutionary Perspective on Children’s Learning. 2nd Ed. EvoEbooks
Gray, Peter. 2013. Free to Learn. New York: Basic Books.
Harlow, H. E, and C. Mears. 1979. The Human Model: Primate Perspectives. New York: Wiley.
Blurton Jones, N., and M. Konner. 1976. "!Kung Knowledge of Animal Behavior." In Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers, edited by R. Lee and I. DeVore. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Piaget, J. 1952. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. Translated by M. Cook. New York: International University Press.
Tonkinson, Robert. 1978. The Mardudjara Aborigines: Living the Dream in Australia's Desert. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.