Updated: Oct 1, 2021
I am bursting with delight to offer a warm (but not too hot) welcome back to Rock Tree Sky! Witnessing the joyful energy emanate from our learners as they cruise about campus at their leisure is a pleasure that I have missed and that I am grateful to be feeling again.
Historically at RTS, September has been a month that holds both big excitement and the inevitable rockiness of transition. And while this year is no exception to the pattern, (all transitions are a bit rocky), I will say as a five year veteran of RTS that this September has been the smoothest start we've yet. The kids are clearly just so happy to be reunited, to have the freedom to roam the campus, and to be able to do what they love the best; whatever that means for them.
In this letter you will find some calendar updates for the upcoming month as well as reflections from the month of September. You will also find photos from September and have access to a parent education piece that further extrapolates our usage of Trello (if you don't what that means please, read on) and how we hold a container for both offerings and autonomous exploration.
Be well and Stay curious.
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards October:
Monday October 11: Rock Tree Sky will be closed in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day
Saturday October 23- Sunday October 24: Rock Tree Sky Family Campout @ Rock Tree Sky Campus (Look out for an email with more information. For now just know that you do not need to RSVP or reserve a spot. The campout will take place on campus.)
Tuesday October 26: 12pm Dismissal - Staff In-Service
Friday October 29: Ojai Storytelling Festival Field-Trip (*Look out for an email with more information)
Reflections on September:
Being back together again has never felt this good! This September at RTS we have been going back to our Rock Tree Sky roots. Only this time we have quite a few more learners and a much improved campus landscape.
This September, being back at Rock Tree Sky meant gaining access to all of the Rock Tree Sky fatilities. As opposed to last years zone rotation and pod segregation guidelines, this year kids are once again allowed to and encouraged to choose their own adventure so to speak. Learners may connect with kids of all ages, get support from any mentor, and really decide for themselves...do I want to hold a chicken right now? No thanks, I'd rather see what Jim's science experiment is all about.
RTS has simply been whirring with activity. And quiet honestly, we've noticed that the most exciting part for the kids is being with other kids. Friends have been reunited after a long summer break. And new friendships are forming at the speed of light around here.
Kids have loved playing together in a variety of ways from tumbling on the gymnastics mats, to playing pick-up games of tether ball and groundies, to chasing each other in games of hide-and-go-seek-tag, to a spontaneous, campus wide conga line; Rock Tree Sky is back baby!
Of course our learners have also loved reconnecting with mentors and specialists again too.
Many learners have been making bows and practicing archery with Casey on a near daily basis. And Spence has been helping kids hand craft a whole new line of play swords and muskets in the the wood shop.
In and around the art zone, Miss Kim has been inspiring kids with the making of miniature objects (a RTS fan favorite) as well as jewelry and painting. In the afternoons the art zone is presided over by a new member of the Rock Tree Sky family, Vera. Vera has been sharing with kids her love of working with different textiles as she resurrected an old weaving project. Vera has also been a big support to kids who have been enjoying the fun of crafting model houses and the like out of cardboard and other found objects.
In the imagination zone Chrissy and Ella (another new team member who we LOVE) have supported kids with decorating cardboard "keeping things" boxes as well as life sized self-portraits. Kids have also gotten busy rebuilding lego bases and engaging in all the fantastical play that surrounds that.
Jim has been offering science experiments and lessons for all and the buzz on that is coming from the flock of flies that surrounded one experiment involving the decay of raw meat and the question of where new life emerges from.
In the garden and the kitchen, Farmer Kelly, Omar, and Natasha have teamed up to facilitate a Full Circle Cooking Club which meets twice weekly to tend the the garden and prepare a meal based on the available harvest. Conscious cleanup time happens after each meal is shared with emphasis on delivering food waste to the compost pile to be returned to the earth.
Omar has also been continuing to support teens with mushroom cultivation. You can find the teens and their oyster mushrooms at every Ojai Community Farmers Market in downtown Ojai on Thursday evenings from 3-7pm.
Chrissy broadening her scope and working more with the teens on campus. You can catch her in the apothecary on Thursday mornings working with learners to draw out medicinal properties from the herbs on campus. And on Friday afternoons you'll find her teaching a teen yoga class.
And what has been perhaps our most sought after weekly offering is Isles of the Mist. This offering is brought forth by community members Ashton and Kallie and has been a favorite for many learners since the time just preceeding the pandemic. During the pandemic learners stayed connected around Isles of the Mist via zoom. But may I just say, witnessing the level of engagement and devotion to this offering by so many learners is a joy and an inspiration. I'm not quite sure what they all are doing, but watching them gather to play together makes me happy.
Speaking of things that make us happy...have I mentioned the ice cream that Jim, Omar, and several learners all teamed up to make? What better way to ring in the first day of Autumn in Southern California but by making and eating mint chip ice cream? Kids were lined up and cheering as it was being served on that hot hot first day of fall. Kids were so thrilled that we made a second batch a couple of days later- a gourmet flavor that didn't suite everyone's pallet but that was quoted by one of the more refined members of our community, Maeve Johnstone (age 6) as being, "The best ice cream in the history of Rock Tree Sky."
I think I'll leave you on that sweet note. Looking forward to more good things to come in October.
Parent Education: Trello, Offerings, and Autonomous Decision Making: How does it all work?
Time and time again, RTS mentors hear questions from parents regarding "offerings".
How does my child know when an offering is happening? Can you ensure my child attends this offering? Can you remind my child that an offering is happening? Why didn't that offering happen today? My child says they just sat around all day...?
These questions are valid and in each of these questions I hear caring concern.
We all- parents, caregivers, mentors- all of us want what is best for the children. We all want children to engage in a variety of enriching activities, to learn new skills, to discover new hobbies and interests. We want children to be surrounded by friends that are kind and polite and caring. We want children to "take full advantage of all of the opportunities that are present in the space." And trust me when I say that I know you want your children to come home bursting with stories to tell about all of the science experiments, wood shop creations, and art projects that they created at Rock Tree Sky.
I know, and I honor all of that. We all do at RTS. It sounds really great and it doesn't seem like we are asking too much of our kids to come home with evidence of these sorts of accomplishments. I mean, we are Rock Tree Sky families, we are not asking our children to sit in desks and rote memorize the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.
We are asking them to go, learn, explore, build, make music, make art, sew a gown...what child wouldn't want to do those things? And with the plethora of offerings put froth by loving mentors and skilled specialists each day in addition to the nifty Trello board that outlines the activities and the times they are being offered, how is it possible for any kids, young or old, to come home and say they didn't do anything today or that they forgot about an offering?
Children are mysterious, aren't they?
As A.S. Neil of Summerhill School writes, "Childhood is play hood." Without getting into the neurology of the matter, playing is how children learn. I would like to assure you that even if your child did not do any grown-up facilitated offerings, or did not craft anything tangible, or did not compose a moving piece of music, that by no means indicates that the day was wasted or opportunities were missed. Children at Rock Tree Sky are trusted to make choices autonomously, without coercion and each child is on their own learning journey.
For example, let's imagine that at 8:30 am at the breakfast table, your child says that they want to make goat cheese with Natasha at 1:00 pm at RTS as per the Trello Board offering. And then when 1:00 pm comes around your child is playing groundies on the playground and the game is so fun and there is so much action that even when reminded and called into the cheese making offering your child says "no thanks". So your child doesn't make goat cheese.
Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar.
Things like this happen everyday and we at RTS are here for it. We operate under the philosophy that children ought to be free to make their own choices in each moment (within reason of course; we still hold boundaries against violence... and sugar). If a child changes their mind, or would rather spend time with friends, or is simply tired and in need of downtime at any given moment, we respect that.
And, if a child is bummed out because they didn't do something that upon later reflection they wish that they hadn't missed, we view that as a very real learning experience. Disappointment, regret, and frustration are all essential human emotions. How fortunate that your kids get to experience these hard emotions in such a safe and loving harbor.
That is why we ask of parents, please, not to inflict any inadvertent shame or cast further disappointment on your child if you or they are feeling that they missed out on something. If they are authentically feeling regret, then it is likely that they will learn from that feeling and next time make a different choice. But if a child is made to feel shame there is great likelihood that they will shutdown. That playful glint might dwindle.
Instead let us redirect our attention to focus on how our kids are feeling throughout the day. I suggest leading with questions like, What made you laugh today? Did anything unexpected happen today? Tell me about something that you are looking forward to. I wonder what will happen next time...what do you think?
Initiating conversations with kids in ways that engage their inner spark will likely pave the way towards deeper satisfaction for all. If you find yourself wondering how to strike a balance between the doing stuff and feeling stuff, I gently urge you to stay tuned for some parent dialogues that we will be offering during the upcoming months that might illuminate some perspectives and offer some ease of mind.