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.
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.
Hello RTS Families,
We hope that November has been a month filled with happiness and togetherness for you and your loved ones.
Here at Rock Tree Sky we have been deepening our connections to one another and to our space. We have been making new friends, learning new skills, and enjoying the many adventures of experiential learning.
In this messenger you will find calendar updates for December, reflections and photographs from November, some gratitudes from several of the kids, and a parent education piece that discusses the practice of happiness and healthiness as education.
We hope you enjoy reading.
And, as always,
Be Well and Stay Curious
With love from the Rock Tree Sky Staff
Looking Towards December:
Saturday December 8th: Parent discussion group at Rock Tree Sky from 10am to 12pm
Wednesday December 19th: 12pm pick up for Staff In-Service.
Thursday December 20th: Learner Exposition from 5pm-7pm
Join us for an evening of celebrating the wonderful projects our learners have created this fall!
Monday December 24-Friday January 4th: RTS is closed for Winter Break
Reflections on November:
Albeit short due to the Thanksgiving holiday break, November was certainly not short of learning, creating, or experiencing fun times.
The first week of November was particularly exciting for our youngest learners (our Roots kids). For starters or Roots program was able to set up a home base in Room 6 and several kids of all ages spent time setting up the space and decorating the room with a fabric tree and garden.
And thanks to the work volunteered by parent, Nick Wolters, many of our young learners have been able to enjoy playing with and exploring the possibilities created by a water pump feature in our side-yard sand pit.
What's more is that during the first week of November, the Roots kids enjoyed a beach day at Marina Park in Ventura. The field trip was a great day filled with swimming, sand fort building, exploring, playing, and general bonding. We feel it was empowering for our young learners to have the time and space to be free, celebrate our good fortune to live so close to the ocean, and of course play with one another. Thank you to all the parents who supported this outing! We could not have done it without you.
Back at Rock Tree Sky's Summit Space, so many wonderful creations were been made during the month of November.
From whittling wooden spoons, dolls, and boats, to creating alphabet letters out of twigs; from oil painting and holiday themed crafts, to growing crystals on animal skulls; it seems the creative drive of our learners is never ending.
Natasha and Casey would like to share their reflections of the positive impact and growth that has been witnessed as a result of of the teen seminars (particularly psychology and sex ed) that they facilitate respectively.
Kim would like to give a shout-out to all of the learners that have created production quality armor over the past couple of months and the way the kids have inspired each other to be making such creative and innovative costumes.
Throughout the month many of our learners enjoyed participating in a "trading blanket" offering during which kids were allowed to present unique objects that they either found or created and trade them with others in a respectful, structured way.
November at Rock Tree Sky also saw lots of tree climbing, exploring the natural life that surrounds our space, and excitement around practicing aerial silks.
And as a final note on November, I would like to add that it always feels pleasant to witness kids simply enjoying being together.
Quotes From The Kids:
This month our learners responded to the question:
What Are you Thankful For?
Ares (12): Lots of things. My family. That we have enough money so that we get to live in a house and get food and the things that we need. And this school. This school is amazing!
Aaron (7): I'm thankful for God because He made our world and He made us alive.
Savannah D (13): I'm thankful for a lot of things really. You know, I got a roof over my head and I get to come to Rock Tree Sky and have a lot of things that a lot of people don't have because they can't.
Penny (5): Family and friends. Because my family made me and I get to play with people.
Satia (13): Lots of things. Everything. Weekends.
Luci (14): My family and my friends because they're there for me when I need them and they support me.
Lila-Maya (7): Family and friends; I'm happy for them.
Maeve (10): I don't know. This probably, just, Rock Tree Sky.
Zuzu (11): Probably my chickens because I just love 'em.
Recognizing the Practice of Happiness as Our Education
For this month's parent education piece, I'd like to start by sharing a brief anecdote.
On Monday morning, during the Mud-Maker ('Mud-Makers' is the name chosen by my band of Roots kids) morning circle, we welcomed a pair of visiting siblings who were attending RTS for a trial day. As a way of welcoming and orienting these visitors to the culture of Rock Tree Sky I asked my Mud Makers if they could share what our Three Agreements are. After Leon said with excitement "Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and take care of the space," another child, Savannah, said "But I'm still practicing that, I'm still practicing taking care of myself and taking care of others."
To which I responded "So am I! In fact, we all are always going to be practicing those things, hopefully for our whole lives."
While Savannah's comment seemed to be made with the spontaniety common for children, I'm struck by the insight of admitting that self and community care are practices that are in process for all of us.
And that brings me to the next thread of inspiration feeding this essay. After the morning circle with my Mud Makers, I found myself re-visiting a favorite Ted-X talk linked here www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY *I encourage you all to watch this, and watch it with your kids!*
In his talk, thirteen year old Logan Lapiante poses the question, "What if we based education on the practice of being happy and healthy?" Logan goes on to remind us that it is through the experience of living that we learn how to practice being happy and healthy in ways that work for us as individuals.
Logan describes for his listeners how "hackschooling" (his term for the homeschooling/unschooling that he practices) has allowed him to learn how to be happy and healthy. He says that operating with a hacker mindset allows him to be innovative and support his own interests and education instead of getting caught up in maintaining the systemized societal norms and expectations.
I like this term "hacking," when applied to education because while it implies that innovation is happening to take care of and support the interests of the hacker, it does not reject the culture flat out. It's more of a reshaping or redefining in a way that makes sense for the individual or community.
And I see this happening at RTS and the positivity that it imparts. At Rock Tree Sky we have hacked the culture of education from one that is results based to one that is process based, from one that is competitive to one that is collaborative, and from one that is prescribed to one that is self-driven. We are not rejecting education or learning - we are upholding education and learning in a redefined way. We are practicing self-directed education in a way that holds learning how be happy, healthy, caring individuals at its core.
Take ten minutes to listen to Logan's talk and you will understand his perspective that the most important learning is about being and less about doing.
I'd like to end this by inviting you all to slow down and check in with yourselves and your kids. Think about and talk about ways in which you can move towards being happy. How can you support yourselves and each other in being well?
Dear RTS Parents,
While we are only two months into Rock Tree Sky life in our new location, this new space is already feeling like home.
While we are still navigating the flow of our self-directed days in this new space, the underlying feeling is that we are all grateful for the increased possibilities that increased space allows for.
There is something magical that happens when people are allowed to follow their curiosity, honor their inspiration, and really dig in.
Just sitting on the RTS lawn on any given day feels special.
Sounds of a child practicing the piano emanate from Hartman Hall, as a groups of kids practice tumbling tricks on the big, blue mat supporting each other and encouraging one another to keep practicing. Mentors engage children in storytelling and read alouds, as another child turn a blank canvas into a colorful landscape painting. Children can be seen climbing trees, organizing their own games, teaching each other how to fold origami shapes, creating inventions in the woodshop...
The list goes on and on but the point is that it feels special to be a part of this community. It feels like we are cultivating so much good. So that even when the inevitable challenges arise, its clear that the ultimate outcomes are positive. The kids (and grown ups) at Rock Tree Sky are learning how to participate in a dynamic community, how to honor their own interests while respecting those who they share space with. This community is alive and thriving. It's exciting and we are feeling charged up and ready to grow.
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious.
With love from the RTS Mentors
Looking Towards NOVEMBER
Thursday November 8th: Roots Field Trip (info to come via email to families of Roots kids)
Saturday November 10th: Parent discussion group 10am-12pm at Rock Tree Sky
November 19th-23rd: RTS will be closed for Thanksgiving Break
Wednesday November 28th: 12pm Dismissal, staff in-service
Reflections on October:
When reviewing all that has occurred during the month of October, it is hard to recall all that we've been creating and exploring. Some highlights however include a family campout/potluck at Steckel Park. It felt special to share food, stories, and togetherness with community members in a setting different from that which we inhabit on a daily basis.
Other highlights include the surprise birth of four baby goats at Natasha's homestead. Our learners have been loving taking care of the newest members of the goat family.
On the eve of Ojai Day, Rock Tree Sky learners had the opportunity to paint a section of the annual mandala. Some learners dedicated time during program on Friday to design what our section would look like, and others devoted time after program hours to engage engage with the greater community and participate in the painting activity on Friday night.
We have also been able to enjoy the festive pumpkin patch that our learners played in and creatively engaged with during the final days of October. It was also special to share our space with the greater community during an the Upper Ojai Relief's Fall Festival.
And of course pumpkins were carved and costumes were worn in celebration of Halloween. We also had the opportunity to celebrate Día de los Muertos with face paint and hot cocoa thanks to community members Monique, Sophia, Viri, and family.
This month several learners have been exploring logic challenges using the Turing Tumble which is essentially a mechanical computer. A simpler logic game, NIM has been highlighted in the last week.
Also a handful of learners have been assisting in the maintenance of the a Jun culture SCOBY by continually brewing and bottling Jun kombucha which is now available for sale per request for $3.00 a bottle.
Many learners have been practicing their drumming, piano playing, guitar, and singing. A group of learners even produced and starred in a music video which is featured on our youtube channel linked here.
Learners have been baking, painting, sewing, carving wands out of wood, dying wool with plant based natural dyes, enjoying Harry Potter read aloud, working on a short film script, and so much more.
We are moving into November with open minds happy to continue all that we are cultivating.
Quotes from Kids:
This month I had some meaningful conversations with learners about what self-directed education means to them and what they love most about Rock Tree Sky. Highlights from these conversations are featured below:
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Finn Porter (9): Well...before Rock Tree Sky I went to private school where you'd have a sheet of paper with all the things you had to do and then when you were done with that you could free play but only after the work things. At Rock Tree Sky you don't have to do the work things first you can free play all the time and be outside. Which feels better. I would prefer to do everything outside, because it's better...because it's outside.
What does Self Directed Education mean to you?
Well, you learn what you want to learn... You do what you want to do.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about?
Theo Kuhlmann (10): Everything. I like how we can do what we want. The freedom.
What does Self Directed Education mean to you?
Choosing what you learn, and how you want to learn it.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Elan Belgum (7): That we don't have to sit down at a desk.
What does Self Directed Education mean to you?
I just like to play with my friends mostly.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Azelie Fehr (8): I like that there's lots of things you can do. Like there's lots of choices. And also that there's a bunch of people so that you can meet new friends and also that you aren't just sitting around at a desk.
What does Self-Directed Education mean to you?
I don't really know...
Well, pull it apart...what does self mean?
Yourself...Oh! Now I know what it means. For me it means that you don't have a teacher direcrecting you, yourself is directing you.
I love that! Now what about the word education, what comes to mind when you hear that word?
Hmmmm education....I see playing.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Izy Newlow (8): Hmm hard to choose.
Well, how do you feel when you're here?
Why? What makes you feel happy?
Art. Art makes me happy.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Wiley Belgum (5) Playing, and playing with Walker and Ryder and on the playground and at the library and playing legos.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Connor Dury (14): The face painting, by far the coolest thing. The drums. Art. Magic. There's a lot.
What does Self Directed Education mean to you?
Well I can learn whatever I want when I want. Learn by playing and whatever, whenever, how to do it. Like I'm not being forced to do stuff. But when I'm here I do stuff and learn and learn about friendship and other stuff like that.
Chrissy: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?
Lana Gagne (9): Gymnastics is my favorite thing to do.
What does Self Directed Education mean to you?
Doing it by yourself
The Value of Non-directly Supervised Play
This year the Rock Tree Sky community of learners is greater than it has been in previous years and our physical space has likewise increased in area. Both by design and necessity, this means that our mentors are not watching every kid's every move. That doesn't mean that our mentors are not nearby and ready to support our learners when needed - our first priority, before any curricular offering we may make, is to support children in navigating relationships. If children (and we as a human family) can engage in healthy, supportive relationships, much of the other learning becomes available through simply asking a friend for help.
Part of making children's social/emotional learning a priority means that we allow learners to engage in play that is not directly supervised. This gives children the space they require to practice their growing communication skills while building resilience.
To support parents in trusting this process, this month's parent education piece reminds us of how valuable self-directed and non-directly supervised play is for the development of our children.
Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids (both the book and blog), offers an insightful reminder that it is through self-organized free play that children are able to develop problem-solving skills, empathy, leadership, and responsibility.
Skenazy illustrates these points in this blog post Are Our Kids Too Safe to Succeed?
Please also ready the well researched article posted on our further reading page: The Overprotected Kid
We highly recommend reading her piece for reassurance that the free play that your children are engaging in at RTS and in life outside of Rock Tree Sky is benefitting their growth and development in ways that direct instruction could never allow for.
Dear RTS Families,
I would like to open this Messenger by welcoming our new families and welcoming back our returning families to another year of learning and growing together.
It feels pretty special to be occupying such a sizable space this September. We are feeling fortunate that the Summit School building is so well suited to meet the needs of our Rock Tree Sky community. And we are practicing that gratitude by truly making the most of the "new to us" space.
Upper Ojai neighbors and extended community members have commented on the vibrancy that Rock Tree Sky has brought to the Summit. We are grateful that you and your children are all bringing and sharing your best energy. Because at the end of the day it is the people, not the place, that make the community. We are happy that you all are the people.
This edition of the Messenger will include calendar items for October, a written and photographic reflection of September, and a Parent Education piece about the "social brain".
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious!
With love from the Rock Tree Sky Staff
Looking Towards October:
Monday October 8th: Rock Tree Sky will be closed in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day
Saturday October 13th-Sunday October 14th: Rock Tree Sky Family Camping Trip. Details to come via Email
Wednesday October 31st: Halloween Half-Day. Learners to be picked up at 12pm, staff professional development during the afternoon hours.
For Halloween learners are encouraged to come to RTS dressed in age appropriate costumes. Learners may also choose to bring a pumpkin to carve. Please refrain from sending your learner to RTS with Halloween candy during the days/weeks following Halloween! Thanks!
Reflections on September:
It is quite impressive to consider all that has been created in just four weeks of being back together at RTS. In fact, we have all been creating and exploring so much that there is no way I will be able to write it all here. So in an effort to be brief I will share just a few highlights that the learners have been most excited about.
To start, it has been heartwarming to witness the many new friendships that have been created within the past month. As adults operating in this digital age I think we could all take lessons from these kids about how to make friends. For them it can be as simple as "Do you want to play with me?" and within minutes a friendship is born.
Other exciting creations include the creation of a 'culture committee.' Learners engage in culture committee meetings depending on their interest in the topics being discussed. And the purpose of the culture committee meetings is to allow learners to engage in conversations about particular issues (ie. lego set-ups) and to make decision and a set of agreements that will aim to resolve said issues (ie. respect red ropes).
And then of course there are all of the physical creations which range from the baking of cakes and cookies (always gluten free) with Kim, to making knifes with Casey. Learners have sewn accessories and garments, made boomerangs with Jim, set up an environment to grow a SCOBY with Chrissy, made cheese from goats milk with Natasha, carved wooden swords and built a stage with Spence, practiced playing music, learned new gymnastics skills, engaged in writing class and other seminars, and a couple of our learners are even directing a play together.
The list goes on but for now please enjoy these photographs as a visual journal of our creations:
At Rock Tree Sky we do not have a long list of Dos and Don'ts. Instead behavioral expectations of learners and mentors are maintained when the following three agreements are practiced.
Take care of yourself
Take care of each other and
Take care of the space.
It is understood that operating in such a way that upholds a balance of these agreements is essential to maintain harmony within communities. And living in an age in which our national and global communities are disharmonious, we at RTS feel it is vital to rear our young ones in a way that implements and integrates the practice of these basic agreements with the hope that as they emerge into adulthood these learners will contribute to a more compassionate and empathetic global community.
Therefore practicing interpersonal integration is essential. It is at the core of all that we are. And who we are and how we are is more important than what we do and what we make on the day to day.
As mentors we scaffold our learners to develop insight and empathy by reminding them to check in with their own feelings and the feelings of others.
It is widely understood that any skill can be developed with encouragement and practice. So to can the brain practice and be encouraged to develop insight and empathy.
The following excerpt taken from Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson's, Ph.D. book The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind (2011) offers more insight on how our brains works to develop relationships with other human beings.
Hello Rock Tree Sky Families,
Happy Summer Vacation!
The solstice is upon us which means we are officially in summertime.
We are hoping that you are welcoming this break from RTS as a time for relaxation, resetting, and reflection.
And in the spirit of reflection would like to use this abreviated Monthly Messenger as a platform to share some year-end reflections from our learners. You will also find a brief video full of highlights from this year together, and, as per usual, a slide-show of photographs from the month of June.
We would also like to use this space to express our gratitude to each and everyone of you. Your involvement in supporting each other and supporting the well-being of this community is not something that we take for granted. We genuinely appreciate the ways that you as parents, friends, and family members show up for community building events, for helping each other out with car-pooling, for sharing your enthusiasm for Rock Tree Sky with the greater community, and everything else in between. Mostly we thank you for trusting us to be a part of the experience of rearing your wonderful children. We have felt so inspired and humbled by witnessing their growth this year.
During the May Monthly Messenger the notion of evolution was explored as a way to define this transition from the 2017/2018 year to the next. We do not consider this an ending as much as a time for breaking away from routine to gather energy so that when we come back together we can do so with fresh excitement for learning and deepening community.
With that we will say see you soon.
Stay tuned for information and updates regarding summer camp offerings and the like.
And as always, Be Well and Stay Curious,
With love from the RTS Staff
The following are reflections from the learners when asked to share a favorite memory, project creation, or moment of learning from this RTS year.
Viola: "Meeting all my friends and learning to play the ukulele."
Memphis: "My first solder project- an electronic bug that scoots along."
Walker: "Farm! It's fun, there's lizards and stuff..."
Leon: "Everything! Playing with Elan and Walker, catching lizards...pretty much everything."
Elan: "I have silly thoughts sometimes. Like when I'm just sitting by myself sometimes I think about jokes I have with Walker and I just start laughing."
Vida: "Wilber! That's my baby goat. I got a baby goat this year and just getting to learn more about the goats this year [was my favorite part]. Also the Water Project because I got to learn more about really making a difference in this world. For next year I'm excited to be with my friends and do farm chores and just see what next year is gonna be like. And hopefully getting a water refill station at the park."
Andre: "Making things for my mom and dad. Doing pottery and building with Tara."
Mina: "Well... I did something silly today...I slid off the bench when I didn't mean to but then I said that 'I meant to do that'."
Joey: "Making the indigo tie-dye."
Aaron: "Hanging out with Kim and Chrissy."
Sequoia: "I did lots of painting and stuff this year. That was pretty cool."
Luci: "Being able to create unique pieces of work with a mix of materials."
Julian: "Building the cardboard pinball game."
Amaya: "Being with Rennix. My favorite thing I made was my hat."
Conner: "Cooking, blacksmithing, making a knife, and just spending time with friends. Next year I'm looking forward to working hard and having fun."
Theo: "Everything! Next year is gonna be fun."
Eero: "All of it. Looking forward to moving on with it."
Dear RTS Families,
Welcome to June. Welcome to our final weeks together of this RTS year. As we look closer though, we recognize that this year is not really coming to an end, but rather we are simply approaching a marked transition point.
As one of our learners reflected, "It's been cool to see how Rock Tree Sky has evolved this year and I'm looking forward to see how it evolves more next year."
The use of the word evolve feels very appropriate here. For as a learning community we are constantly growing, changing, unfolding, moving together. There is not a hard line that will separate this year from the next. Sure, we'll take a break from the schedule that we have grown accustomed to over the past nine months. We'll enjoy a couple of months of heat wave and summer adventures. And, when we do come back together in September we will be joined by some new friends and we'll be missing some old friends that have chosen to move in a different direction. But these things contribute to the evolution. Reseting then reconvening. We will continue to unfold.
But before we get caught projecting the future, let's instead reflect on what we have already moved through. The month of May alone provided a myriad of experiences that will surely be cherished memories. In this Messenger we will recall some of the golden moments that occurred during the month of May, we will look towards the events we have scheduled for June, and we will be reminded that the work and learning that occurs at Rock Tree Sky is authentic, sincere, and truly very human.
As always Be Well and Stay Curious
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards JUNE
Friday June 8th: On Friday June 8th our Forest Friday will be convening at Lake Casitas. Rock Tree Sky learners have been invited to spend the morning on a pontoon boat on the lake. Learners will then have the opportunity to meet a park ranger and enjoy the afternoon learning more about Lake Casitas and exploring it's beauty. Please check email for more details.
Tuesday June 12th: On Tuesday June 12th a small group of learners will have the opportunity to visit the Turtle Conservancy in East Ojai from 10:30am until noon. We encourage learners to begin doing some research about turtles and tortoises and come prepared with questions for the experts that we will be meeting.
Thursday June 14th: On Thursday June 14th we will celebrate the year with a final Exposition. The learner Expo will begin at 10:30am at the Makerspace where learners will be displaying work and creative projects. At noon families will be invited to transition to the Farm for a lunchtime potluck and aerial silks demonstration.
Reflecting on MAY
The month of May was absolutely bursting with activity.
A major highlight this month was witnessing the interplay of learners following multiple threads of inspiration to generate imaginative creations.
For example, early this month community member, Sharon Damarell, offered a demo on growing crystals. Many of the learners were excited to engage in this activity. Mentor, Casey Murphy, shared in this excitement and felt inspired to learn more about growing crystals. Casey's interest captivated many learners and together they all have by experimenting with different chemical combinations and have been growing crystals on small animal skulls.
Loom weaving has also captured the interest of many learners this month. During the first week of May learners built their own looms with Tara in the wood shop. Then, Ojai local, Anna Mahar, offered a tutorial on tapestry weaving with yarn. Throughout remainder of the month young weavers have been engaging in this activity and teaching each other how to create different patterns and techniques.
This month Rock Tree Sky also began exploring lessons in sex ed. and human development. Each week we were joined by human development specialist Ellen Sanchez who offered age appropriate seminars for our younger learners on topics ranging from friendships and relationships, to human bodies and changes that occur during puberty, to awareness of sexual identity. Casey and Natasha also began offering sex ed for the high school cohort.
Another activity that has felt inspiring this month has been witnessing several learners partake in a self-regulated, self-governed judiciary system. During Forest Fridays we have noticed learners engaging in a game that has been made safer by the creation of this court of law which serves as a platform for airing concerns and making decisions about what behaviors are okay and what behaviors feel harmful. Somethings that I have heard said during these court proceedings include;
"No consensual rough housing, but consensual rough housing is okay."
"What does that mean?"
"It means no rough housing unless the two people that are doing it say it's okay and are okay, then it's okay."
"[So and so] is crowding my space!"
"That's a felony!"
Hearing these dialogues fills me with a sort of peace of mind and the sense that these kiddos are competent and caring. This judicial system has been entirely kid-created and kid-driven. And hearing them passionately express the need for affirmative consent and respect for personal space fills me with the faith that these young people will grow into engaged and compassionate citizens of the world. There is a real excitement there- evidence that while the working of Rock Tree Sky may seem unconventional, the work that is happening here is real, good work.
And of course a major golden moment, or series of golden moments this month was the Rock Tree Sky Camp Out.
During the third week of may RTS learners, mentors, and families enjoyed several days and nights of camping at Carpinteria State Beach. The week was filled with fun activities from exploring tide pools, to body surfing and boogie boarding, to sculpting a sand mermaid, to playing beach soccer. But what really made this week special was the bonding that was able to occur. As families and learners came and went throughout the week, learners had the opportunity to share time with people outside of their usual social group and deepen connections with friends. The whole experience felt like a family affair. It was peaceful, wholesome, and fun to occupy a different space together, to share three meals a day, to say good-night and good-morning, and simply be together.
The photos bellow were captured by parent, Brian Kuhlmann. Thank you Brian for sharing these beautiful photographs!
Quotes From the Kids:
The quotes bellow are Rock Tree Sky learners' responses to the question "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"
Keenan: Elementals - the ability to control all the elements. Like if it's natural, I can bend it.
Cooper: Elementals are pretty cool but I would think teleporting cause you could get out of any situation.
Julia: To have supervision. It'd be useful to look in cars to see if my keys are in it. Or to look in my purse to find my pone. Or to look in people's bodies.
Bella S.: To change probability. Because what are the chances a million dollars will fall out of the sky? I could change that to 100% - Then I could pretty much do whatever I want.
Tyler: Invisibility - you could get away with anything.
Alev: Turn myself into anything.
Hunter: Super speed - fastest man in the world.
Elan: To shoot a web out of my hands.
Ryder: Spider man webs!
Walker: Shooting lighting or a web out of my hands.
Riley: I'd be a teleporter.
Vida: To be able to move things with your mind cause then you can move yourself and also fly. And to talk to animals.
Zuzu: Be able to control other peoples minds...but I wouldn't use it a lot. Not really control but more like...mind tricks.
Savannah: To either breathe under water or fly. I think those would be fun.
Amaya: Water. Like water power. You could control water.
Lana: I don't know...To fly probably.
Sequoia: You can't just ask me a question and expect an answer! I don't know. Nothing. Nothing is my answer!
Parent Education: Exploring "normal" in our "weird" world.
As we prepare for the final weeks of this Rock Tree Sky year, we begin to reflect on the growth and learning that our children (and perhaps even ourselves) have experienced since September.
And as we transition into June and the "last day of school" buzz flutters about the air I can't help but recall memories of "last days of school" of past.
Like many, I was reared in the conventional school system. I so remember the buzz and excitement that filled the halls as the final day of confinement approached and summertime freedom was at long last on the horizon.
I also recall certain mixed feelings as I looked towards the upcoming academic year with the awareness that certain friends might be in different classes and any special bond that I had with my present teacher would likely fade away with the assignment of a new teacher for the next grade level.
There were also feelings of anxiety as final exams were administered, final projects were due, and report cards were handed out.
For on that piece of paper- the report card- my worth would be defined in single letters. My competency would be subject to be compared to and measured against that of my peers.
For many of my peers who were not as academically inclined as I was, there were also feelings of dread and fear that that piece of paper would bear the unholy judgement, the lowliest label -- failure.
And now, as I look forward to the last day of this RTS year I am so happy to report that virtually no signs of dread, fear, or anxiety can be detected within the community. On the contrary I am hearing learners express that they do not want RTS to be over. I am hearing learners say that two months of summer break is too long.
We don't have report cards or exams. When we reconvene in September we will essentially be picking right up where we left off. And the prospect of coming back together in September, picking up where we left off, continuing to grow and evolve together as a community feels wholly joyful. It feels good. It makes sense.
But I would also like to acknowledge that since we don't have report cards or exams or formal assessments some of you may be wondering How do I know if my child's growth and learning is on track? Are they learning what they are supposed to know? Is my kid normal?
And to respond to those questions I would like to say YES. If your child is happy, if your child is asking questions about the world, if your child plays or explores then they are creating their own track and chances are it is the right one for right now.
Education analyst and director of the film Schooling the World offers her perspective on what is "normal" in this talk, Alternatives to School, given at the Economics of Happiness conference hosted in Portland, OR, 2015. (GO WATCH IT!)
Speaking from years of experience and the knowledge of how a vast array of cultures from around the globe rear children Carol Black examines and critiques the conventional school system in the United States. Black makes the claim that while American's have come to view compulsory school with all of its grading, measuring, competitions, and authorities as "normal" - this way of child rearing is actually counter intuitive to how humans evolved to learn and be together as social beings.
Black explains that human beings evolved as participants in small, mixed age communities where immersion in nature was an indubitable part of life. Engaging with and exercising the natural tendencies to play, observe, explore surroundings, follow curiosities, and imitate the behaviors of others continues to be a fundamental part of life. (Sound familiar?) However these fundamental experiences are so limited in the conventional school system that children in this nation are required by law to attend.
Carol Black asserts that many children cannot adapt their natural tendencies to operate within this system. These kids are then labeled as failures (or worse) and those labels so easily become adopted by the child and carried over into the rest of their experiences. Within the confines of a conventional school it is so challenging, near impossible, for children to grow to be sincere versions of themselves.
All of this then supports the notion that what we are doing at Rock Tree Sky is more normal or more aligned with what human beings were born to do. With how human beings were born to be. And it is my belief that if we agree to continue trusting the process, our kiddos will grow to become intuitive, compassionate, community oriented, passionate, curious, and fully competent human adults.
Dear RTS Families,
We hope that April found you all well.
We certainly have had a busy month at Rock Tree Sky after an extra long Spring Break. From state mandated testing, to facintating field trips, from a new woodshop, to new wildlife on the farm...Rock Tree Sky learners have been thoroughly engaged in a range of activity. All of the spring time buzz and bustle has affirmed that our community is constantly evolving. And reflection has affirmed that our learners and mentors are always growing.
It feels exciting that, unlike experiences at more conventional schools, as RTS moves ever closer towards wrapping up our year together the energy level is not winding down. Rather, it feels like momentum is increasing. We want to build more. We want to grow more. We want to play more. We want to learn more together.
We are headed into May at full velocity and are looking forward to what this month will bring!
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious!
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards MAY
Thursday May 10th: Human Development specialist Ellen Sanchez will be facilitating sessions for K-8 graders from 9:30am to 1pm. These sessions are open for all learners - even those who do not regularly attend on Thursdays. More details to come with regards to the time slot that your child's session will take place. We are requesting that all learners attend this first session.
Friday May 11th: For May's second Friday event we have planned a parent Date Night at Boccali's. The event will take place from 5pm-8:00pm and we will be providing childcare! More details to come via email.
Thursday May 17th: Human Development specialist Ellen Sanchez will be facilitating sessions for K-8 graders from 9:30am to 1pm.
Monday May 21st- Friday May 25th: RTS Camping Trip! Regular programming will be closed during this week. We would like to invite and encourage families to join for the first night (Monday) of our camp-out at Carpinteria State Beach. Please RSVP with the dates that your child will be camping with us. Formal invite with more details to come.
Saturday May 25th: Please note, we will not be gathering for a parent discussion group this Saturday as this is directly after our camping. Instead we will gather on Saturday June 2nd.
Monday May 28th: RTS will be closed for Memorial Day
Reflecting on APRIL:
April has been busy and expansive at Rock Tree Sky.
For starters, our Makerspace has literally been expanded upon. Over Spring Break we had a tool shed and platform deck erected behind the Makerspace. Now all of our woodworking tools have a new home and our young builders have a focused space for designing and constructing projects. So far young makers have worked on projects such as building dollhouses, jewelry boxes, wooden swords, bird houses, and more. It has been inspiring to see all that can be created now that we have a designated space for building. It has also been fun to witness how young learners inspire, influence, and support each other creatively in that space.
We are especially grateful to Tara for holding down the fort, bringing so much positive energy, and teaching these young makers so much.
In other news, this month our learners have been especially busy with work towards the Water Project.
If you haven't heard, the Water Project is a youth lead initiative with the goal of reducing pollution in the form of waste produced by plastic water bottles. The Water Project is encouraging the people of Ojai to stop buying single use plastic water bottles. And to support this ask and offer a solution the Water Project is raising funds so that water filters might be installed in the Ojai public water fountains and water bottle refill stations might be installed at Libbey Park.
RTS learners have engaged with the Water Project by researching Ban the Bottle Initiatives in other cities as well educating themselves and others on facts about pollution created as a by-product of bottled water.
During Ojai Earth Day, young learners set up a booth to represent the Water Project, raise funds by selling raffle tickets for Disney Land tickets, and generate awareness about the initiative. Learners also created a short video about the project that can be found on the RTS website www.rocktreesky.org/water-project.html.
Also shoutout to Jim who represented RTS at Ojai Earth Day by giving a brief talk about the work that we do! Great job Jim!
On Tuesday April 10th some of our teenage RTS learners took a field trip to view Ojai local Vina Lustado's tiny home and office as a way to cultivate inspiration and work on design details for the ongoing project of converting our school bus into a comfortable hang out and study space for teens. Learners were also able to see the battery systems that store the energy from the solar panel layout.
Then on April 27th several RTS learners and families took a field trip to the California Science Center to view the exhibit of Ancient Egyptian relics. Folks who attended the trip felt inspired by the exhibit and the experience as a whole.
It's amazing to consider all that has happened in just one calendar month. We are looking forward to what May will bring.
An Interview With a Young Person
The following is an interview with Vida Haring, an RTS Learner who has been passionately involved with the Water Project
Chrissy Dasco: What inspired your involvement with the Water Project?
Vida Haring: I feel like I've always wanted to help the environment in some ways...especially after the fire. Now [that I know more about the Water Project] I feel like we really do need to do this. Some people think that in 10 or 20 or 30 years the world will be unliveable and I think that we can make it more liveable if we stop using plastic water bottles...and [we got to save] the fishys.
CD: What has been the most interesting aspect of this project for you?
VH: I liked Ojai Earth Day because there were a lot of different people there. I had never been to an Earth Day before and it was really cool to sell those [RTS] water bottles and see lots of people who were excited about what we are doing. I am also excited because [at Earth Day] I saw lots of other thinks that can help to protect the environment.
CD: What has been the most challenging aspect of the project for you?
VH: Speaking out and advertising...I'm not one to be like, trying to get someone to buy something. But it's still cool because I got to learn a lot.
CD: What are you hopeful for?
VH: For people to stop using plastic water bottles because we don't need it and it's hurting...the fishys!!
But can I just say something else that's been cool?
CD: Of course, please share.
VH: I liked to see the school come together and really work hard for something. I had never seen that before and it's pretty cool and I hope we can do more in the future.
For this parent education section I would like to start by proposing a couple of big questions; What does it mean to raise free people? and How do we understand and practice consent within the context of a self-directed learning community?
During the most recent meeting of the parent discussion group these questions were addressed and explored. I understand that not all parents will be able to attend the monthly discussion group meetups and therefore I would like to use this space to elucidate some of that which was discussed. I would also like to use this space as a platform for calling forth a continuation of this conversation. The exploration of these questions is bound to be ongoing. And while we might not be able to be present at a group meeting, we might be able to meet up with a friend or acquaintance within this community and talk about this stuff over coffee. We do have each other.
So, this first question, What does it mean to raise free people? is a question I have often contemplated as a mentor in a self-directed learning community. Unschooling advocate and children's rights activist, Akilah S. Richards, eloquently and passionately addresses this question in a recent episode of her podcast Fare of the Free Child. To start our meeting on Saturday, we listened to the first twelve minutes of this episode (which I encourage you all to do...and if you've already heard it listen again!) and then launched into a conversation about what pieces were particularly meaningful to us as individuals.
Essentially Akilah S. Richards states that raising free people means moving towards "liberatory relationships" with the goal of growing "emotionally stable people." She states that as parents and mentors we do this by disrupting connections to oppressive patterns and by avoiding parenting and mentoring from a place of anger, fear, and thoughts about how society thinks children should behave. Rather, Richards states that raising free people means trusting intuitive wisdom and, most importantly, raising free people means trusting children.
Richards then breaks down raising free people into a four step process. It starts with awareness, which is described as the "conscious realization of ways we learn and accept harmful relationship management tools." Next comes disruption, which Richards describes as "deliberately installing temporary barriers" to thought patterns within ourselves that go against efforts to raise free people. Then there is deschooling, which is recognized as a lifelong process of transitioning from deliberate disruption of reactionary parenting to embracing raising free people as a new normal. Finally there is unschooling which is developing confidence is child trusting, liberatory relationships.
Then, of course, there is the question of why? Why do we want to raise free people? Akilah S. Richards grazes the surface of that question in her podcast but ultimately I believe that locating an answer must come from turning inward.
For me, as a person who is not yet a parent but a person who has chosen to devote her life to mentoring children, the motivation to rear a liberated population has come from the experience of struggling with anxiety, and struggling to love and accept myself in environments where I was not free ie. the Catholic high school I attended. The motivation to raise free people also comes from a place of recognizing that I am a citizen in a nation where my values of acceptance, empathy, community care, care for the environment, and cooperation are so often overruled by greed, untrustworthy politics, and money power. I am a citizen in this nation, yet I so often feel powerless. My freedom here is illusionary.
I want the rising generation of people to be free, truly free. I want the rising generation to be liberated from oppressive relationships, so that they might not pass forward the cycle of oppression onto their children. I want the rising generation of people to know how to lead themselves so that they will not submissively turn to some authority who does not hold the best interests of the community at heart. I want the rising generation to be free to be their best selves, so that they might love and care for themselves better and therin better love and care for their friends and neighbors.
An essential tool for caring for ourselves and our friends and neighbors is consent. Which brings me to the second big question How do we understand and practice consent within the context of a self-directed learning community?
This concept is so important because as Elenor Roosevelt said,
"Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility."
It is understood that this requirement or responsibility is the responsibility to care for one other. It is in our human nature to require and achieve a sense of group belonging and experience demonstrates that if we do not care for others, nobody will want us to be a part of their group. Therefore, the freedom to be ourselves is limited by the responsibility not bring harm to others.
Living in community will not work if one person's self-determined behavior is hurting another person or causing another person to feel unsafe.
We address this at Rock Tree Sky by striving to create a culture of consent. As mentors we encourage our young people to slow down and check in with themselves and each other when engaging in activities and playing games. Rather than controlling their games, we do allow the kids to make the rules. And we encourage them to practice noticing and expressing what their personal boundaries are. We encourage our young people to make agreements about what behaviors feel good and what behaviors they rather not engage in before play begins. Agreement making is a simple and effective way to take care of ourselves and our friends when playing. Making agreements is also a practice in self-advocacy which I recognize as a form of practicing freedom to be.
We are free to choose whether or not we want to play in a certain way, and we also have to accept that sometimes certain types of play will not work for the group or the larger community.
I would like to ask parents to help us model and co-create this culture of consent both within and beyond the Rock Tree Sky community. I am also looking forward to learning more about boundary setting, body rules, and, self-advocacy practices from human development specialist Ellen Sanchez during the upcoming months. And as a final note I would like to ask you all if you know of or have any resources that can be shared surrounding the topics of consent, and balancing boundaries and freedom.
If you do have resources to share, questions to ask, or if you simply want to join in the conversation please feel free to email me at email@example.com
Thanks for reading!
Dear Rock Tree Sky Families,
Happy April! We hope that you have all enjoyed a restful, relaxing, and rejuvenating spring break.
If February felt big, March felt wet, and April thus far is feeling vernal and full of flowers.
Lots of rain during March meant lots of water, lots of puddle splashing, lots of mud, and of course lots of new growth and new life.
During March many learners enjoyed playing and swimming in the creek and exploring the fresh water that was flowing in a creek bed on the new farm. And while many of us were experiencing an unexpected extended spring break in lieu of the rain, one of Natasha's goats gave birth to two babies which many of our Farm Friday students got to enjoy holding and cooing over on our last day of RTS before spring break.
And now that the rain has past and the wildflowers have blossomed we can notice the feelings of cleansing that the March showers have inspired. All that we do not need has been washed away so that we might reset our energy and open up space for fresh possibilities.
The timely spring break offered moments for introspecting and reflecting, moments for gaining insight into how we have been moving through our experiences. And it is through times of self reflection that we might gain clarity and determine how we might want to continue to move forward on our personal journeys.
Because March was such a short month at Rock Tree Sky, this Monthly Messenger will also be abbreviated in structure.
Following this letter you will find important dates to mark on the April calendar. In the Parent Education section you will find an excerpt from the book The Self-Driven Child about a concept the writers refer to as 'Radical Downtime', and accompanying this excerpt we have included a link to an On Being blog post about the 'Disease of Being Busy.' We hope that you find these texts thought provoking and pertinent especially with regards to spring break.
We are looking forward to seeing you all again and being together this spring!
As always be well and stay curios,
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking towards APRIL
Tuesday April 10th: On this day some of our older learners will have an opportunity to meet Ojai's tiny home pioneer, Vina Lustado, and visit her office and tiny home. The intention is that learners will gain some inspiration and engage in some design work for converting our school bus into a tiny classroom/lounge space.
Friday April 13th: For April's second Friday community gathering we will be coming together for a Spring potluck at our farm location. Please bring a dish to share and your own cups, plates, utensils, etc. 5pm-7pm.
Thursday April 26th: A reminder that many of our learners will be attending a field trip to the California Science Center to view a special exhibit on Ancient Egypt and King Tut. Attending families have already signed up for this field trip. Please note the change in date.
Saturday April 28th: A third gathering of the parent discussion group will take place from 10am-12pm. Please bring a dish to share and your own plates, cups, utensils, etc.
Childcare will be provided.
The following is an excerpt from The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives (2018) by William Stixrud, PhD and Ned Johnson
We hope that you found that excerpt insightful and the find following commentary by Omid Safi thought provoking and meaningful.
Here is a link to a blog post by columnist Omid Safi titled "The Disease of Being Busy"
Dear RTS Families,
Despite being the shortest month on the calendar, February has felt big at Rock Tree Sky.
Projects have gotten bigger, friend groups have expanded, ideas have grown deeper, and there is a heightened sense of meaning to what we are creating. There is no doubt that RTS is flourishing.
Within this Monthly Messenger we will take a look at events planned for the upcoming month, share some reflections about the goings-on of February, share some quotes from our learners who pondered the question 'where do new ideas come from?', and share some thoughts regarding Rock Tree Sky's position within the global children's civil rights movement.
As always, Stay Curious and Be Well.
With love from the RTS Staff.
Looking towards MARCH
Friday March 9th from 6pm-8pm at the Makerspace: For this month's second Friday community event, we will be hosting a panel of parents and grown children who are veterans in self-directed education. We will be hearing from a parent of former Sudbury Valley Free School attendants, as well as a Sudbury alumni as a way to learn more about Democratic Free Schooling and the parent. We will also hear from a mother of three children who has been raising them as self-directed learners for eighteen years. No child-care at this event but we encourage interested students to come as well.
Sundays March 11th and 18th: RTS representatives will be at the Ojai Farmers Market offering town water taste tests and selling raffle tickets in an effort to raise money for better tasting water re-fill stations at the Ojai public parks. If you and/or your child are interested in volunteering at the RTS booth please let Natasha know.
Wednesday March 21: Human Development Specialist Ellen Sanchez will be offering a parent information session at our Makerspace. Ellen will be facilitating human development courses for our learners during the month of May. She has offered to provide parents with information about the topics that she will be discussing during her courses and answer any questions you may have. The session will run from 5-6pm on Wednesday evening. Childcare will be provided.
March 24- April 9: Spring Break! RTS will be closed.
Saturday March 30th 10am-12pm, location TBD: Natasha will be facilitating the second gathering of our parent discussion and support group. All parents are welcome, childcare will be provided. Please bring a dish to share.
Reflections on February
February at RTS was a month of implementing big ideas. Our learners have been demonstrating their abilities to advocate for themselves and to manifest their intentions and creative pursuits.
In our woodshop for example, Tara has been assisting learners who have come to her with objectives for creating more involved projects. Lucas has been working on a go-kart, Paige has been building a bookshelf, and Isabella A. designed and built a wooden box for storing and displaying her handmade jewelry (which is also incredible I might add!).
The black-smithing offering has also been a big hit and work is now being done to create a forge at the Farm.
Bella S. and Satia have began focusing effort on creating a Rock Tree Sky year book - a big undertaking to say the least.
Kim has been feeling very proud of paintings that all of the young artists have been creating. This month Kim introduced the learners to oil paints and the work has been quite impressive.
Outside of the makerspace the learners created a micro-city by building 'houses' out of found materials. Learners of all ages from our five year olds to our seventeen year olds had fun building shelters and engaging in the game. And while for the kids this micro-city situation was a game (entirely kid-created and motivated) - us mentors noticed deep work and learning. Navigating how to co-create and maintain peace within a community is one of the most human lessons to practice and engage with. It is not always easy and feelings inevitably get hurt. It has been fascinating to witness the kids engage in struggles to resolve conflicts, to practice leadership and responsibility, and to practice self-advocacy. While mentors were available for emotional support and advice though the height of challenges, we ultimately allowed space for the kids to work through issues on their own.
By engaging in big games our community of learners of all ages have been strengthening their relationships to one another.
While relationships within our Rock Tree Sky community have been strengthening, so too have our connections to the greater community we inhabit.
For instance, Natasha has been mobilizing efforts around bringing cleaner, tastier water to Ojai's public parks. Several learners have been activated by this mission and have been involved with the process by researching the story of water, collecting and testing water samples, and have even gone with Natasha to meet with the city planners to demand better water in our public parks.
And on February 22nd RTS learners attended a field trip to the Ojai Museum to view the work and meet Ojai local Dennis Shives. The work was whimsical and inspiring. We are excited to see what the kids will create based on the inspiration gleaned from this experience. It was also evident that the kids had a great time being out in the community for the day.
Out on the farm, our garden fence has been rebuilt. With the help of a parent volunteer learners were able to participate in re-creating garden beds in preparation for some spring planting.
Additionally we've been stoked to be exploring the vast expanse of land available to us on the farm. Lizard hunting (don't worry, we don't harm the lizards!) has been an exciting way to explore different corners of the farm.
And during the last week of February Jim and Chrissy lead a hike all the way up to some secret meadows beyond the water tanks.
Finally, the last Saturday of February held the first gathering of our parent discussion group. Several parents came out in an effort to cultivate community and hold space for one another to contemplate and talk though big questions surrounding themes of trust and academics. Increased parent engagement and inter-community support are big things that we have been wanting to implement and practice since Rock Tree Sky's inception. We are looking forward to exploring more big questions and growing this support network during the upcoming months.
Quotes from the Kids:
This month learners responded to the question: Where do new ideas come from?
Opal: "New ideas come from old ones combined. Like many many people tell you many many things - so you know those things- then you have new ideas from that".
Andre: "Don't ideas come from your brain?"
Mina: "Maybe they come from heaven..."
Memphis: "I think they come from when you see something new and you want it...like you want to do it or create it."
Aaron: "Reading! A chocolate factory! I don't know!"
Hunter: "People seeing something that's working. Like they look at something but not for what it is...like they see it from a different angle."
Bella S: "That's what I was gonna say...I don't know...Imagination? Humans?"
Sequoia: "That's a species."
Finn: "From trying things out."
Luci: "Experiences and imagination."
Penny: "People's minds."
Nikolai: "New ideas come from being inspired...by other ideas."
Being a parent of an unschooled or homeschooled child might, at times, feel isolating, During the month of February we kicked off a Rock Tree Sky parent discussion group in an effort to strengthen an inter-community support network. For this Parent Education piece I found it relevant to bring up the point that Rock Tree Sky is not alone in its mission to emancipate children and offer a space for self-directed education. In fact, we are part of a global movement that is using Self-Directed Education as a tool for empowerment within the context of the Children's Civil Rights Movement.
Today there is an endless stream of resources that address a multitude of questions and concerns with regards to self-directed education, unschooling, homeschooling, and the like. I have found that exploring blogs, reading articles, and listening to podcasts has helped me to feel more sure that the work I do at Rock Tree Sky is relevant, important, and valuable. I have also been inspired by the ideas shared, and have been able to use these resources to help me develop better language to describe what I do to skeptical acquaintances and family members.
A great place to start is the Alliance for Self-Directed Education website. Here one can peruse relevant articles by global contributors in the online magazine Tipping Points and access a variety of podcasts such as Off Trail Learning by Blake Boles and Fare of the Free Child by Akilah S. Richards.
Another blog with accompanying podcast that I love was recently shared with me by an RTS parent is Living Joyfully by Pam Laricchia.
I hope that you find these resources useful. And if there are any websites, podcasts, or publications that you enjoy please let me know!
Now, as I mentioned above, RTS is a part of a major social justice movement. A want for social change is what first inspired me to dive head first into the world of self-directed education. And the manifesting the intention of rearing a more caring and compassionate population is were I find meaning and value in the work that I do as a mentor at Rock Tree Sky.
After reading a recent article on Tipping Points by Alexander Khost, The Children's Civil Rights Movement, (which I encourage everyone to read) and listening to this episode of Fare of The Free Child (which I encourage everyone to listen to) I was reminded of a piece that I wrote during my senior year at UMass. I've included an excerpt from each below. I hope that you find these articles and excerpts thought provoking. I also encourage you to initiate conversations surrounding social justice and human rights with your children.
"Our political system makes sure that these children understand that they: are not full fledged citizens and cannot be trusted in their vote until they are eighteen; cannot be trusted to follow their own pursuits and so are placed in compulsory schooling along with labor laws that do not allow them to work even if they wish to do so; and do not have control over their own bodies, allowing parents to have legal control over where their image is shown, when they can walk out the door or even decide the length of their own hair.
These are but a few of the seemingly endless ways in which parents, institutions and laws strip young people of their rights on a daily basis, making such controlling actions and demeaning treatment of individuals now commonplace, mechanically followed, and unquestioningly accepted...
Since children’s legal rights are typically held by their guardians, their own representation comes from an adult perspective. And if money is power, children are helpless since any money they may possess is also handled by adults. They cannot work to raise funds in their own defense or to break free from the controlling power (and when they can start working at fourteen, they are taxed without representation because they cannot yet vote. Perhaps it is time for teenagers to dump tea in a harbor?) The skeptic may say, “But children are young, they are inexperienced. Surely they cannot be making governing decisions and controlling money. Surely they need to be reigned in until we have taught them how to be responsible.” And so, paradoxically, society obstructs children’s abilities to make decisions for “their own good” and thereby denies them the thing they need most for growing up to be responsible and self-governing: practice." Alexander Khost
"If [young people] are in supportive environments instead of being colonized in the sense of adults laying claim to who and how they are and what is best for them and how they are resource and all of these things that's when you get to see that level of brilliance and advancement..." Akilah S. Richards
"The power to initiate transformative movement emerges from the power to think. Great transformation occurs through the construction, evolution, and sharing of ideas. Education is the process through which people learn how to make meaning of thought, practice constructing ideas, and develop understandings of how the possession of knowledge manifests in power and in action. Radical thinkers and reformists have long understood these notions and hold the interwoven relationship of knowledge and power as truth. In that, radical thinkers have continually been inclined to consider the ways in which the education system creates the power relations of a particular society. Operating under the understanding that systemized schooling defines the functionality of a society, it comes to reason that transforming the pedagogy and nature of a society’s school system is essential in reforming that society (Watkins, 2005).
In the context of the United States, a nation that divides and stratifies its people by race and class, the necessity for radical reformation cannot be ignored. Since term radical refers to the root it is appropriate and pertinent to organize the foundation of societal reformation around the education of children. Just like flowers growing up from seed and root, spreading new seeds upon maturity, children likewise grow and evolve towards adulthood. In time these grown people behold and pass along the lessons and ideologies that they have been taught. A nourishing growing environment from the time a seed takes root is essential for the production of healthy flowers and the spreading of healthy seeds. A flower grown in darkness and starved of nutrients surely will not thrive. In the same way children reared in inhibiting and oppressive environments will not develop salubriously. The well-being of a population is determined by the way in which that population was nurtured during development- from root to bloom.
One must consider that the true nature, purpose, and function of the public education system in the United States is inequitable in it’s distribution of nutrients. Rather than providing for flexible and wholesome growth, the pedagogy used in public schools has been designed to indoctrinate young people with particular ideologies of the power relations, social structure, and ownership within the greater society. One must also consider the intersectionality of race and class within the context of the education system and recognize that children who are disadvantaged in life are set up to be disadvantaged in school and that pattern cycles through generations (Watkins, 2005, Kharem, 2006)." Chrissy Dasco
Kharem, H. A (2006) Curriculum of Repression: A Pedagogy of Radical History in the United States. New York. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Watkins, W.H. (2005) Marxian and Radical Reconstructionist Critique of American Education: Searching Out Black Voices. In W.H. Watkins (Eds.), Black Protest Thought and Education (pp.107-135). New York. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.