Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Hello Rock Tree Sky Families,
I cannot describe how good it feels to be sitting in the Rock Tree Sky office writing this Monthly Messenger to you all. It's been a while. Moving through the unprecedented events of the past seven months and the looming uncertainty we have been living with, I feel grateful to be writing a newsletter filled with positive messages and reflections from a month of togetherness at Rock Tree Sky.
I am not writing to dwell on what has been difficult, instead I am writing to celebrate how we are now. We are together, we are open, we've got kids on campus, we are making new friends, we are working hard to further develop our space, and we are having lots of fun.
This Messenger includes calendar updates for October, reflections from September, and a link to a recent New York Times article about unschooling accompanied by a short piece I wrote inspired by the article.
As always be well and stay curious,
With love from the RTS Mentors
Looking Towards October
Monday October 12th: Indigenous Peoples Day RTS will not be facilitating Zoom offerings.
Reflections from September
Maybe it's just me but September sure has felt like one long, hot month. By no means am I complaining! It's been great! But it has been a lot of work.
For starters, the RTS team was faced with navigating an onslaught of guidelines and regulations for operation set forth due to COVID-19. Scheming up a plan for being open and accessible for everyone in our community was no east feat and required lots of creative navigation on the part of the RTS Mentors. But, by September 1st we had a plan and were able to invited families on campus to orient folks on how we'd be proceeding with programing this fall.
By September 8th we were open with kids on campus.
And while the rhythm of the days and the staggered schedule does feel different, the juice of what we've got going on remains true to Rock Tree Sky form.
This month learners have connected with each other in play, side-by-side creation, and conversation. Just like every September preceding this one, I am noticing the apparition of friendships that are bound to last for years to come.
Learners have been able to become acquainted with the space and it's many features from old favorites like the loose-parts playground (aka the "sand-pit"), and the foosball table, to new favorites like the acrobat rings and climbing ropes.
And of course, learners have loved engaging in the range of offerings set out each day.
I'm not going to list all of the activities that learners have engaged with this month but here are some highlights:
Children have been able to stretch their creativity in the realm of visual arts by drawing and painting self-portraits on fabric and sewing these pieces into dream pillows. Learners have explored surface tension involving experiments with bubble juice. Children have crafted wooden swords and practiced safe wooden sword play (wood to wood not wood to skin! eye protection! "stop seriously means" STOP SERIOUSLY!!). Learners have planted seeds that will be the beginnings of life for the back garden beds. And, of course, children have prepared solutions to grow blue crystals on gopher skulls because that is just something that we do here.
And all of that is just naming what we've been offering to kids on campus. But Rock Tree Sky Mentors are active on Zoom too! Every Monday each mentor facilitates a Zoom offering that all children are invited to participate in. Please check-out Trello each week for links to the Zoom offerings.
The Rock Tree Sky team has also been hard at work developing the physical space that is RTS. Some of you may have seen the new loft that was built in the design room which we are anticipating will become a desirable hangout once we're able to move programming back indoors.
We also have been developing a climbing wall outdoors which we expect will be completed in the upcoming weeks.
The wood shop has been relocated to what was formerly a handball court for prior generations. We have put in a new container to house the wood shop tools and have thoughtfully relocated two other storage containers with the intent of opening up the space in the back garden.
Following the leadership of our new team member, Kelly, whose roll is that of a garden and space director, we have drafted a plan for improving the back garden to develop it into a space where food may grow and children may gather in fantasy play, wildcrafting, and more. Thus far we have had the back wall of our building painted and prepped for a mural that will be the backdrop to the improved garden/orchard. We painted the existing garden boxes, pulled out old crops and prepped soil for fresh seedlings, we hung shade sails, adjusted the chicken fence, replanted a fig tree, had storage containers moved, and began planting seeds.
I, for one, am feeling particular excited about the prospect of a more engaging, whimsical, and life-giving garden and I am grateful for the support of a team member who is able to dedicate that much attention to working on those details.
I'm definitely looking forward to what might emerge in October.
Unschooling in the News
This month I would like to share an op-ed that was recently published in the New York Times. The topic of this piece was unschooling. Now, as members of the Rock Tree Sky community, I gather that most of us are familiar enough with unschooling to have a decent picture of what it looks like whether or not we are full participants in this practice.
This NYT article was conveying the point of view that, due to COVID-19 and the onslaught of regulations and safety concerns that have emerged around schooling, there has been a great deal of buzz around unschooling. It is written, "Unschoolers, who have long occupied an obscure corner of the home-schooling community, have suddenly become intriguing, less like alien life-forms and more like your cool neighbor who managed to stay relaxed through the monthlong shortages of toilet paper and child care."
And this perspective really excites me. It is excites me that unschooling it is being written about in a mainstream media publication. It excites me that there are likely hundreds of stories about unschooling that have been published in mainstream media over the past six months. It excites me because for me it evidence that the movement towards child liberation is growing.
Now, I recognize that Rock Tree Sky families represent an array of educational styles. Many families have been homeschooling for years; some following curriculum that favors traditional academics, others co-creating a curriculum plan with their children. Some families opt for the support of at-home tutors, others take on the role of at-home teacher as parent. And, many families in our community identify as unschoolers, choosing not to use a standard curriculum but to instead embody a child-trusting approach to learning without walls and without assessment. Some RTS families are completely new to this world of homeschooling and unschooling, others have been fully immersed for a lifetime.
Everyone has a unique relationship to education, to learning, and to school.
And whether it is our first month exploring this unschool/homeschool/self-directed education path or our fifth year in the flow, we all find ourselves at Rock Tree Sky this September.
I first came into contact with Rock Tree Sky back in the spring 2017. Which for me was just one year after graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a self-created degree in Holistic Education with a minor in Education.
At that point, a community like RTS is exactly what I was seeking. And I was beyond blessed to I find myself fully employed and working alongside Jim and Natasha by that September.
But, if I had been asked just two years earlier where I might be upon graduating from college, I wouldn't have known that places like Rock Tree Sky even existed. I couldn't have provided you with a definitions for unschooling or even self-directed education. And I was taking a whole lot of education courses in a self-directed program!
It wasn't until my senior year of college that I began truly falling down the rabbit hole of child liberation work. (By that I mean this world of SDE, homeschool, unschool, free school, deschool, etc.) Despite the fact that I had been self-directing my way though college, it didn't fully occur to me that children could be trusted to approach their education in a similar way.
What did occur to me during my time as a college student (and, actually, these notions were apparent to me from my earliest school experiences as a child enrolled in Massachusetts public schools and teenager at a traditional Catholic high school) is that the the education system as we know it is not equitable, not conducive to allowing children and teenagers to develop their whole selves, and not constructive in offering children and teens opportunities to truly make meaning of and discover a sense of purpose in this world.
By September of my senior year at UMass I was wondering what in the world I could do to reckon my understanding of the inequities and multitude of issues that I recognized within this system that was revealing itself to be ever more flawed from the perspective of one who is orientates herself around social justice and holistic health.
Fortunately for me, an answer to my wonderings revealed itself in the form of an opportunity to take on an internship at North Star Teens. North Star is a community for self-directed learning for teenagers. Once I walked through the doors of North Star, the pieces began to fall into place. Here was a place where teens were trusted. They were allowed to come and go as they pleased, attend classes or not, teach a class, practice violin or play Minecraft, cook their own lunch, take a nap, and most importantly, be in community with other teens and adult mentors. Each of them was "homeschooled" according to the state of Massachusetts. And each of them had unique life goals that they were moving towards. For those who wanted to attend college, studying for the SAT exam and writing college applications was a part of their work. For those who wanted to join the work force, they sought internships, apprenticeships, and jobs. For those who didn't know what they wanted they had the benefit of a safe harbor to explore their interests. The dominating culture at North Star was that of acceptance and non-discrimination, trust and non-judgement.
I catch myself getting off track reminiscing about my North Star experience...
But all of that was to say that I found the world of child liberation. And I found myself not only at home in this world but absolutely immersed in the work of being a champion of this way of relating to education. I found others who shared in the mission of youth advocacy and normalizing self-directed education. The mission to bring self-directed education to the mainstream. The mission to really change the world by allowing children to grow into who they are meant to be, not into what the previous generations have deemed acceptable and productive. Because, as I'm sure you all have noticed, what has been happening out here in adulthood is (for the most part) not acceptable or productive.
Once again, I digress...
I'll bring this story back around to this September. This September the majority of children in this country are "schooling-at-home." But based on what I've heard from some conventional teacher acquaintances, the "distance learning" is far from ideal. Many families, maybe yours is among them, have opted out.
Many families have acknowledged that being made to sit in front of the computer screen for hours on end in isolation from peers is not supportive of true learning for children (or for most grown ups for that matter). True learning requires meaningful experiences, experimentation, playing, trial and error, motivation, and connection.
The expectation that school districts have been operating under is that distance learning is "fine for now" and that soon enough everyone will "return to normal".
I'm not buying it and I dream for a new normal. Reading articles like this piece in the New York Times, or hearing snippets of unschooling stories on NPRs Marketplace, makes me feel optimistic that maybe a mass culture shift is upon us.
Back in 2016 I recall hearing Peter Gray speak to this notion of the "tipping point." That is, the point at which enough members of the population would be engaging with SDE so that self-directed education would become the mainstream.
We are not there yet but, I am hopeful that as more folks share their unschool/homeschool/deschool stories, more people will be turned onto the notion that life without schooling our children is possible. When I say that I mean life without the compulsion, coercion, curriculum, and competitive nature of school.
I am hopeful that more people are reexamining their relationships to their children.
I am hopeful that more people are learning who their children are as people.
I am hopeful that more people are learning how to support their children's emotional development and interests. All without the pressure that comes with schooling. Like the pressure to nag children to get out of bed a certain time or complete certain assignments or to wear socks (yes at my high school detentions were given to children who were not wearing socks).
I welcome a culture shift. And I am hopeful that people reeducate themselves and open themselves to the possibility that there is a great deal of potential to survive, thrive, and soar when we let go of the expectation that children must attend school or the distance learning equivalent there of.
And since you are at Rock Tree Sky, it is my assumption is that you've already dropped