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.
Dear RTS Families,
Happy New Year!
Wow! It sure feels good to be together as a community again. Through fire and flooding and a ferocious outbreak of the flu, the strength of our community has certainly been tested. But, unlike the the monotonous tests administered by the conventional school system, it is through enduring these real life challenges that we actively strengthen our resilience.
When hardship strikes we become stronger and wiser. Together we compassionately hold each other and develop strategies that support community care.
During the month of January, we noticed a positive shift in energy amongst Rock Tree Sky community members. A sense of enthusiasm and motivation has been infections. We also sense an attitude of appreciation for our community and the space we share amongst learners and families.
The excitement for learning, want for togetherness, and general feeling of gratitude have all been inspiring reminders that there are blessings to be found even in fires, floods, and flus.
We are looking forward to continue to expand in this new year together and are hopeful for the potential that it holds.
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious.
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking towards FEBRUARY
Friday, February 9th: 6:30pm-8pm This month's 2nd Friday event is a parent Makerspace experience! Join for an evening of community engagement making with drinks, snacks, and different activities hosted by our mentors.
Childcare will be provided for those who need it.
Monday, February 19th: President's Day - No program
Saturday, February 24th: 10:30am-12pm Join Natasha and Chrissy for the first gathering of a monthly parent support/discussion group. We are looking for a volunteer to host this event. If you are interested in hosting please let Natasha or Chrissy know!
Reflecting on JANUARY
January has surely been a month filled with newness. Each week of January has presented a different flavor, a different surprise.
RTS started up after an extended holiday break on the second day of the New Year. And in addition to reopening the doors to the Maker Space and the gates to the Farm, we also opened the doors to an old school bus that we have began converting into what will be a new classroom/hang out space for our teenage learners.
Out on the farm we have manually erected a new arial silks rig that has allowed for increased participation in our bi-weekly arial silks classes. And, after two days of steady rainfall during the second week of January, a new carpet of green grass has sprouted on the farm. The changes in the landscape caused by the fire have opened opportunities for the creation of new ways to engage in the space such as building new forts. On the farm we have also worked to relocate our labyrinth and are excited to report that the final stones have been laid! This labyrinth was created with the intention of providing a meditative space for community members and it was lovely to see children silently and intently walking the path last Friday.
Back at the Maker Space we have new weekly offerings including blacksmithing and cooking classes. We also have installed some new computers and drawing tablets.
In other news, Natasha and Chrissy have announced the launching of a new parent discussion and support group. The intentions of the group include increasing community engagement by participating in a continual dialogue exploring a variety of questions in regards to self-directed learning.
Finally, to celebrate our togetherness and all that we have created together, the RTS Learners hosted an Exposition of work on the 25th of January. Learners entertained community members with creative performances as well as a display of their work in an open gallery walk.
As a community, Rock Tree Sky is delighted to discover what is to come in the forthcoming months and to experience even more new energy, new ideas, and new possibilities.
Quotes from the Kids
In response to the question: What are you hopeful for looking towards the upcoming year?
Zuzu: "I'm hopeful that the trees will grow all back. And that the baby chicks and chickens become friends. They sort of interact right now but there are also sort of in separate flocks right now. I'm hopeful that we will see more green leaves this year."
Vida: "I'm hopeful that it gets more like spring was last year; more green, more baby animals...I hope something big happens this year...I think it's gonna be a good year."
Helen: "I hope that everybody gets their wishes...And I hope that whatever happens will be a surprise."
Sophie: "I hope everyone has fun and I'm hopeful that everyone is kind to each other and cheerful and all sorts of things like that."
Elan: "I'm hopeful that we move the goats to new farm. Then we could milk them and stuff and that would be nice."
Luca: "I hope to have an awesome and exciting year full of adventures."
Gabriel: "Thats a hard question. I could think on this for while."
Quinne: "I'm hopeful that I'll get my screenplay made."
Kingsley: "Nothing. Life is a downward spiral. No -- I'm perfectly content. I guess I want things to be different but to still be good..."
Well, it is now 2018, and for this month's Parent Education piece we would like to address one web of questions that most parents are continually grappling with. That is the web of questions regarding the role of technology in the lives of their children.
I think that in 2018 most of the concerns that parents have with regards to technology and their children have to do with specifically with 'screen time;' i.e. social media, gaming, entertainment, etc. The main concern being the disconnection and isolation that might result from extended time spent behind a screen. Which actually is a concern that some kids have for themselves despite their affinity for technology - to quote Hunter "[Technology] is an amazing thing -- I couldn't live without it." But when I asked Hunter to define technology he said, "Technology is something that disconnects people or makes them separated from the natural world."
I myself have many opinions about the role of technology in my life and the lives of my peers. Yet, I do not have any concrete answers for what is optimal screen time allowance or what are appropriate media to engage in. And instead of provide answers that I do not have I am sharing the following link to a recent episode of On Being with Krista Tippett: The Universe is a Question. During which Krista Tippett converses with Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WEIRD.
I find this conversation relevant and useful for puzzling through my own relationship to technology and I am sharing it in the hopes that it might offer a useful perspective for puzzling through the role technology might play in the lives of your kids. (Though I must say that Kevin Kelly does not provide any answers to the questions of optimal screen time allowance or appropriate media engagement either...in fact these things are hardly mentioned in this conversation).
According to Kelly, technology is defined as anything that is made. And, he says, technology ought to "generate surprises."
In this conversation, Kevin Kelly also speaks about the perspective of technology that is upheld in the Amish tradition which is in essence that technology is only introduced and allowed by the community if it is communally determined that the technology in question will help to enhance community connectivity.
So instead of asking how much time is too much screen time? I am offering the following list of questions; Does this technology increase connectivity to others? Does this technology allow for increased creative potential? What is the motivation for using this technology and is that motivation sincere? Will this technology aid in generating surprises? Why, how, and what will we reap from that?
Please enjoy these photographs from our day at the tide pools shot on 35 mm film by mentor Chirssy. If you would like a copy of any photographs of your child just let Chrissy know, she'd be happy to email and/or have prints made!
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.
Hello RTS Families,
We hope this second edition of the Monthly Messenger finds you well.
Moving through the month of October together has been a treat enjoyed with minimal tricks. It seems that as we become more rooted in our routine we also are unfolding and expanding our potentiality together.
Friendships have deepened during this month, as have our curiosities and excitement for trying new things. We have wrapped up our first thematic arc, Rock, and are excited to explore our next arc, Farm. Along with our own farm related explorations that we share with learners, we are also supporting learners in being co-creators of the space we call the new farm. Kids have begun vision boarding for that space and we look forward to how inspiration unfolds.
We would once again like to take this opportunity to thank you - the parents - for all that you do. Without your support, faith, and willingness to engage in this community this community would not be. In that vein, we are learning how to ask for more help and want to encourage increased parent participation to enrich the experience for all of us and streamline processes. Please consider volunteering in one of the following ways:
With love from,
The RTS Staff
Looking Towards NOVEMBER
NOV 10 6pm-8pm: On Friday, November 10th we will be hosting our 2nd Friday of the month community gathering at our Makerspace. We have adjusted the event activity to address a current need of the community: This will be an evening to further orient parents to Inspire Charter School. We will offer information and advice for making working with Inspire a fun and painless process. Adult drinks and pot-luck audurves will be shared from 7-8 - feel free to join us for just that segment if you do not use Inspire. And we will also offer a childcare option in our back room if you choose to bring your little one along.
Nov 20-24: Thanksgiving Break! Enjoy this time to celebrate family, togetherness, and love.
Nov 28: Tuesday, November 28th we will be taking a field trip to the LACMA (we will see Chagall’s exhibit without fail this time). Kim has once again offered to be our docent for the day. This outing is geared towards older students that are particularly interested in spending a full afternoon viewing the art at the museum. Learner who would like to attend the outing but do not regularly attend RTS on Tuesdays are welcome to meet us there with independent transportation and supervision. Expected departure time will be 10 AM. After the afternoon at LACMA we will go out to dinner and will be back at the Makerspace later in the evening.
We are looking to call in a parent coordinator for this trip and ask that families PLEASE RSVP sooner rather than later.
DEC 1: On Friday December 1st there will be a rare opportunity to experience low tide tide pools at Carpinteria State Beach. This outing is open to any learner interested in spending the afternoon at the beach and exploring marine life. A learner does not need to regularly attend RTS on Fridays to join us for this trip (again, independent transportation and supervision is required for learners who do not attend on Fridays). We are looking to call in a parent coordinator for this outing as well and ask that families PLEASE RSVP sooner rather than later.
Reflecting on OCTOBER
The month of October has been fantastic!
It has been awe inspiring to witness growth that occurs as we move through time together. Though the calendar claims that Rock Tree Sky has only been in session for two months, the experiences that we have had as a community are so much greater than that relatively short span of time.
There is a spirit of unfolding in the air. Looking back it seems that September was a time to become rooted in the RTS community. Now that we have taken root, October has manifested as a time for stretching limbs and reaching towards new discoveries.
As a community we ventured out on our first outings together; a field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits, an overnight family camping trip, and some of our American Sign Language students attended an ASL read aloud. At the close of this month our learners also had the opportunity to share some of their work and creative pursuits at our first Exhibition.
Through these experiences and the experiences in our makerspace, farm, and homestead, we have noticed relationships with one another deepening. And it is also evident that individuals’ self-knowledge has been expanding.
For some of our learners, reaching towards the new has meant playing with a new group of friends. For others it has meant developing the woodworking skills to build a special box. For other learners reaching towards the new has meant practicing acrobatics on aerial silks, while for others it has manifested as mastering new concepts in mathematics.
The range of possibilities is vast and we will continue to delight in the excitement of exploring our potential together as a learning community and as individuals.
Quotes From the Kids
Here are some words that our learners have shared about their experiences at Rock Tree Sky
When asked the question, “What have you learned this month?” this is what they had to say…
Violetta: “I learned to stand behind the goats... If you stand in front of them they could walk into you and knock you over... [Also] don’t stand behind horses...they could kick you.”
Bella West: “I learned the benefits of kombucha and how to make it.”
Vida: “I learned how to write my name in hieroglyphics.”
Raimy: “I’ve learned that Hunter and Lucas can be very good friends. And I’ve learned to make websites.”
Hunter: “I learned how to go on Weebly and make websites.”
Maddie: “I’ve created some things with Kim like rocks shaped like teardrops.”
Theodore: “I learned how to build a lot of things like the castle [on the farm]. And learned lots of safety things with the go-karts.”
Amya: “ I learned how to make new friends.”
Rennix: “I learned how to carve pumpkins.”
Lucas: “I learned to be more careful with hot glue guns. I burned myself twice!”
Lana: “Painting is fun! I painted a sunset and a fountain with acrylic paint.”
Quinne: “I learned six topics in math. Slopes, graphing, and techniques within that...Negatives, positives, the number line...This is a good day!”
Luci: “I learned more about my friends. I got to know my friends better.”
Satia: “I made a dress and figured out how to make a bonnet with the sewing machine.”
Avery: “I learned how to sew with the sewing machine.”
Nathan: “A lot!!”
At the core of self-directed education is the intent to develop responsibility. This we understand as the ability to be accountable for caring for oneself in a way that does not hinder or interfere with another person's well being. In other words take care of yourself, take care of each other, take care of the space.
At At Rock Tree Sky, we aim to cultivate this sense of responsibility, not by instructing kids on how to behave, but rather by trusting them to behave responsibly.
As Dr. Peter Gray writes, “Responsibility does not grow in a vacuum. If you want responsible kids, you have to allow them the freedom to be responsible” (Gray, 207-208). And on the flip side, “by depriving children of freedom, we deprive them of the opportunities they need to learn how to take control of their own behavior and emotions” (Gray, 209).
Gray encourages parents to practice trustful parenting, and at RTS we encourage our mentors to practice trustful mentorship. We do that by creating a culture of freedom and autonomy of choice making.
The following is an expert from Free To Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (2013) in which Dr. Peter Gray describes just what it means to practice trustful parenting. We hope you find his words inspiring...
Trustful parenting is the style that most clearly allows the self-educative instinces to blossom. Trustful parents trust their children to play and explore on their own, to make their own decisions, to take risks, and to learn from their own mistakes. Trustful parents to not measure or try to direct their children's development, because they trust their children to do so on their own. Trustful parents are not negligent parents. They provide not just freedom, but also the sustenance, love, respect, moral examples, and environmental conditions required for healthy development. They support, rather than try to direct, children’s development, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested. This parenting style predominated through the long stretch of human history when we were hunter gatherers (as discussed in Chapter 2).
Thrustful parenting sends messages to children that were consistent with the needs of children in hunter-gatherer bands, but are also consistent with the real needs of children today: You are competent. You have eyes and a brain and can figure things out. You know your own abilities and limitations. Through play and exploration you will learn what you need to know. Your needs are valued. Your opinions count. You are responsible for your own mistakes and can be trusted to learn from them. Social life is not the pitting of will against will, but the helping of one another so that all can have what they need and most desire. We are with you, not against you (Gray, 210).