I hope this letter finds everybody well. I am happy today to be writing to you all from a place of much needed rest and relaxation.
This fall has been exhausting at times. Between navigating the fluctuations of the Covid-19 guidelines and putting in extra work to further develop the physical space, I feel that our Fall Break at the end of November was well deserved.
Taking the time to rest and reset has also provided an opportunity to reflect on all that we, as a community, have to be grateful for. Although Rock Tee Sky has not been able to operate entirely as usual, we have not lost touch with our mission. We have been able to provide a space for young people to come together, build friendships, create things, play freely, discover new interests, and be happy and well. We have a scenic campus, we have the support of dedicated mentors and staff, and the work that we do is also recognized and supported by the greater community.
None of us can say for certain what lies ahead as we edge closer to the winter season, so for now lets celebrate all that we have to be thankful for and share in appreciating this unique learning community that we will continue to co-create.
In the remainder of this letter you will find calendar items for December, reflection and photographs from November, and a parent education piece about children and fantasy gun play.
As alway, Be Well and Stay Curious,
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking towards December:
Monday December 21st - Friday January 1st: RTS Closed for Winter Break
A Photo Journal of November:
Reflections on November:
What all did we get up to this November? After a week break from RTS I'll admit I'm having a hard time recalling all that this month held. Here are some highlights that stick out to me:
An ongoing project in the Art Zone that drew a lot of interest this month was the collaborative craft of creating mosaic stepping stones that will someday be featured in the back garden. Learners used hammers to break apart colored pieces of ceramic tile; then used an adhesive putty to hold the pieces in place on the stepping stones. The result is several colorful stepping stones, each decorated with different shapes and patterns, all of which were created by the hands of many.
Another fun activity that learners engaged in this month were weekly goat walks with Natasha. Many learners were delighted by the opportunity to connect with the animals on Natasha's homestead by taking the goats on walks up the road. Throughout the month, pods were able to take turns participating in this offering that will be ongoing.
During the past several weeks we have also seen many of the teenagers becomeing increasingly engaged in a continuous project of cultivating culinary mushrooms on campus with the guidance of mycology specialist and Ojai local, Omar Uribe. Teens have cloned wild foraged lionsmane mushrooms, set up still-air boxes for doing steril lab work, and inocultated recycled cardboard with oyster mushroom mycelium.
Keeping with tradition, our youngest learners got to participate in the making of Stone Soup during the week leading up to our fall break. Children contributed a variety of vegetables to the pot and worked together to prepare the veggies for soup. Best of all, everyone was able to enjoy a bowl of soup with lunch on the Stone Soup days.
Learners of all ages also contributed to a communal instillation celebrating graditute. Each participating child decorated a small flag with words and images of things that they are thankful for. The flags now all hang together by the entrance to our campus.
Finally, during the days leading up to our fall break, the Summit School had all new flooring put into each of the rooms. Although the mentors anticipated that this project might interrupt our daily flow, the children hardly noticed that the stacks of furniture and items cluttered outside of all of the rooms. Instead it seemed that everyone enjoyed their time being together at RTS as per usual. The giant bubbles that kids took turns blowing also served as a good distraction of the flooring project.
Parent Education: Children and Fantasy Gun Play. Is it Okay?
An awareness that was shared early this month was concern around young children engaging in gun fantasy play at Rock Tree Sky. Since questions surrounding this phenomena are not uncommon and I have often wondered about the decency of this type of play I have chosen to write this month's Parent Education piece about Children and Fantasy Gun Play.
One of the major tenants of self-directed childhood is recognizing that play is of the upmost importance. In his book, Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Dr. Peter Gray writes,
"Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others' perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives" (Gray, 2013).
At Rock Tree Sky we celebrate this truth and understand that play, along with experimentation, observation, and imitation, is how people learn. We structure our environment to be a space in which children are free to play in whatever way they choose.
After several years of being a witness to children engaging in free play at Rock Tree Sky and other similar communities, I am still surprised by the variety of ways that children manipulate their surroundings to be more playful. I've watched kids transform t-shirts into "lava free zones" during playground games of don't-touch-the-ground-tag, and I've witnessed a scarf become a wig and a singing-bowl mallet become a microphone to serve as props for pop-star fantasy, and don't even get me started on all the ways that I've seen wooden wire spools being used as play things across our campus. But what is most fascinating to me are the myriad of items that I have witnessed become toy guns for children's fantasy play. Addition manipulatives, legos, tinker-toys, Popsicle sticks held together with hot-glue, you name it, I've seen it being used as a toy gun for some child's game.
Being the peace loving, social justice oriented, proponent of "make love not war" I'll admit that my acceptance for children engaging in gun brandishing fantasy play seems a bit counter intuitive. I don't want to live in a world where grown ups carry guns with them wherever they go so, why do I allow for children at Rock Tree Sky to run around wielding fake weapons?
For starters, I understand and trust that fantasy play is truly is just play. I trust that the power dynamics, heroism, and group action that kids are exploring through their play will not directly lead to these children growing into violent adults. I also trust that this type of play exists regardless of what the children may or may not be exposed to at home. I grew up in a house that did not allow for video games or violent programs- yet my brothers and I still played World War III fantasy games with fake guns and bombs. And now, as grown ups, not a single one of us has any interest in owning a gun, joining the military, or anything of the sort.
More arguments that support the notion that childhood gun fantasy play is decent and normal can be found in the following two articles:
The first article, published in The Atlantic and written by Christine Gross-Loh, author of The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, is a narrative of a mother's personal experience of navigating permission around violent play and her examination of childhood gun fantasy play across cultures.
Keeping Kids From Toy Guns: How One Mother Changed Her Mind
The second is written by Jetta Jacobson who is a teacher and early childhood specialist. In her article, Jacobson outlines questions we can ask ourselves with regards to our kids and violent fantasy play and provides tools for supporting our kids as they learn and grow through their play.
Gun Play – Understand the Myths and Realities
My hope is that you will find these resources informative and helpful in shaping and perhaps reframing your perspective of gun play during childhood.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention all of the ways that we at Rock Tree Sky do support children's safety when fantasy play involving weapons is happening. Firstly, we require that children get consent from the others before a toy weapon is pointed at anyone else. We provide frequent reminders for kids to check in with each other and make sure that everyone agrees to the rules of the game. Often when I see a fantasy game edging towards violence I step in to pause the game and ask that children check in with one another and make agreements for the game that they are playing. I also model advocating for my own safety needs by telling the children that I do not feel safe when a toy gun is pointed at me. I state clearly that it is not okay with me if anyone points a toy gun in my direction. Finally, if any mentor is feeling like the gun play has been going on for too long, we will request that the kids take a break and redirect their energy towards other activities.
At RTS we also set boundaries around sword play. Children at RTS know, and are frequently reminded, that they are not allowed to engage in sword play unless they are wearing eye-protection. They are also not allowed to hit one another with sticks. The rule is wood to wood, not wood to skin. Sword play also has to be facilitated (aka witnessed) by a mentor. And of course, consent is the number one rule of the game. It is not okay to enter a physical game with another person if that other person has not stated out loud that they are wanting that too.
All of that is to say that I allow for children at Rock Tree Sky to run around wielding fake weapons because I am committed to ensuring that RTS is a safe environment for playing that way. I understand that the children are learning a tremendous amount through their play and I believe that the benefits of learning lessons around the themes of power, boundaries, and safety outweigh the potential costs of repression and shame if we try to tell the kids they are wrong for playing that way.