top of page


Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Hello RTS Families,

As our first month together comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on what a magical beginning it has been. We want to extend a thank you to each of you for trusting and engaging in this community that we are creating together. From resolving that space issue during the first week, dancing with the rhythms of the dynamic scheduling, supporting each other with ridesharing, boosting our energy with your enthusiasm, we are truly grateful for the support. There is so much more that can be done when we do it together.

We would now like to introduce our first edition of the RTS Monthly Messenger. Through this letter it is our intention to share with you updates for the coming month, reflections from the month that has passed, as well as provide inspiring information and resources about the philosophy that underlies the work that we are doing.

We are looking forward to the upcoming months with you.

Be well and stay curious.

With love from the RTS Staff

Looking towards October

Wednesday, October 11th: Field trip to Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art and La Brea Tar Pits

Our art teacher, Kim Smith is thrilled to be leading us on a tour of the LACMA and particularly their exhibition ofChagalls: Fantasy for the Stage.The exhibition features the artist’s vibrant costumes and set designs. For those of you who have not experienced Kim as an art docent, this is a treat (kids agree)! After a morning at LACMA and lunch, students will have the option to return to LACMA to explore other exhibits, or head to La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits will be having their homeschool day where they have special programming for homeschoolers, this month featuring the mammoths. We will have our normal start time and plan to be back in Ojai at around 5pm. We need RSVPs and parent drivers!

For children not wanting to attend the field trip, we will have a few staff members remaining at RTS Makerspace.

** For families who do not attend on Wednesdays, you are welcome to meet us at LACMA.  Children must have their own transportation and supervision. **

Friday, October 13th: Stargazing campout

This is our first community building event. This will take place at Steckel Park

We will begin with a 4:30 - 6pm potluck and later we will have the telescope out for some star-gazing. Families that would like to simply attend the potluck and star-gazing are welcome to do so. We will gather at one of the ‘group areas.’ Inquire at the entrance where our party is located for the potluck. Families that would like to camp-out, please purchase a campsite for Friday night. You can call reservations at(805)654-3951. We recommend sites 29-44 or other nearby sites if those fill up so that we can be close to one another and enjoy a group experience.

Tuesday, October 31st: Exposition

This is our first of four exposition days throughout the year where children get to showcase their work from the first quarter to friends and family. This one will take place from 3pm-4pm on Tuesday, October 31st.  

Action Steps

  • RSVP for field trip and volunteer as a parent driver if you are able

  • Make reservations at Steckel Park for camp out

Reflecting on September

September ROCKED!! Seriously! The theme we’ve been exploring this month has been ROCK(S). From finding lizards living under rocks on the farm, carving effigies out of soapstone, creating our own sandstone by mimicking the conditions in nature that lead to these rock formations over millennia, to the very first word in the name of our program...RTS has truly been rockin’ it.

While all activity at Rock Tree Sky is self directed and unique to our individual interests and curiosities, it is the intention of the facilitators to invite the community to move through several inspiring arcs this year as a way of framing and unifying some of the work that we do. As we celebrate our individuality, it is also essential to celebrate our similarities. We feel the arcs will be a great tool to help us find commonalities and points of connection.

And so, our first arc is ROCK(S). We are looking forward to finding more ways to engage with that arc this season and will be excited to share all that we have discovered, created, thought about, and learned with you at our first exposition (see above).

Of course, all projects, games, conversations that have emerged outside of the realm of ROCK(S) have been wonderful as well.

Please enjoy the following quotes from the kids…

In response to the question: What is your favorite thing about Rock Tree Sky?

“I like that you have freedom of choice” -Tess 14

“All of the stuff here. All of the games. I play those a lot… and the hot glue station.” -Lucas 9

“That we don’t have to sit at a desk and do letters.” -Walker 6

“We get to PLAY! It is AWESOME school, not a boring school.” -Elan 6

“I like that you can self-study - do things on your own. I don’t learn as well from a teacher. And I didn’t engage much in public school. That’s basically why I’m here.” -Gabriel 16

“Freedom of choice.” Finley 11

“Sewing materials! And you can pretty much do what you want.” -Kingsley 10

“That you basically get to do whatever you want. There’s so much. And you’re still learning.” Azelie 7

“We don’t have to sit and do work. We PLAY!” -Julia 5

Parent Education

“Do the kids really just play all day?”

YES! And they create things, and they do science experiments, and they read books, and the list goes on. But, essentially, at Rock Tree Sky, playing is a major way that kids utilize time. And play- particularly free, child-oriented play- is a seriously healthy thing. We’re sure you know that to be true, as you have chosen to send your kids to RTS. But many adults in our culture seem to have forgotten this truth. And since it’s always reassuring to have your choices validated by the experts, we have decided to pull from some of our favorite resources and share inspiring quotes about play.

We’d also like to share these resources with you in the hopes that you find them inspirational and educational.

Summerhill School: A New World View of Childhoodby A.S Neil 1992

Summerhill School was founded in England in 1921 by a man named Alexander Sutherland Neil. Summerhill’s essence was and continues to be similar to that of our own Rock Tree Sky. Children are trusted to make their own choices of how to utilize their time. Kids are together in mixed age groups, classes are offered but no curriculum or attendance is mandated, and the ultimate purpose is to rear children with love. Summerhill has stood the test of time and A.S Neil’s writing has inspired countless others to challenge the conventions and open radical schools and learning centers where children are free to self-direct and learn through play, observation, and experimentation.

Here are some things that A.S. Neil has to say aboutplay:

“Why children and kittens play I do not know. I believe it is a matter of energy”(Neil, 32).

“Childhood is not adulthood; childhood is playhood and no child ever gets enough play” (Neil, 32).  

… “The Summerhill theory is that when a child has played enough he will start to work and face

difficulties, and I claim that this theory has been vindicated in our old pupils’ ability to do a good job even if it involves a lot of unpleasant work” (Neil, 32).

In fact, I believe that an essential distinction between childhood and adulthood is responsibility. As children mature into adults, they are learning to bring into balance care for the self and care for others. Playing with peers prepares children for maturity in a way that is not forceful, prescribed, or authoritative.

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for LifeBy Dr. Peter Gray 2013

Dr. Peter Gray  is a developmental psychologist and research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College.  When Gray’s nine-year-old son was struggling to behave appropriately within the conventional public school system (and by that I mean ‘appropriate’ according to the conventional school) Peter Gray sought an alternative. The school that they found was the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts. Sudbury Valley is a democratic free school that was founded in the 1960’s. A school where children are self-directed, self-governed, and free to be. The experience of witnessing his son grow healthfully and happily at Sudbury Valley inspired Peter Gray to focus his own studies on child development. In his book, Gray draws “on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history” and “demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient.” Gray has since founded the Alliance for Self-Directed education which also offers incredible resources worth checking out

Here are some key quotes fromFree to Learn:

“Free play” is “defined as play in which the players themselves decide what and how to play and are free to modify the goals and rules as they go along” (Gray, 7).

“Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals. There is no substitute for play as a means of learning these skills. They can’t be taught in school. For life in the real world, these lessons of personal responsibility, self-control, and sociability are far more important than any lessons that can be taught in school”. (Gray, 175).

Some beneficial lessons learned through sociodramatic (or fantasy) play that Peter Gray points out are “self-assertion, negotiation, and compromise” (Gray, 166).

“By doing what they want to do, which is play with other children, children learn to compromise and not do exactly what they want to do” (Gray, 167).

By this Peter Gray makes the point that through playing children learn to control impulses, they practice fairness, and develop ways to care for each other so that the play may continue to be enjoyable for everyone involved. This is the essence of empathy or interpersonal understanding. Wouldn’t we all like to like in a more empathetic culture? Peter Gray also asserts that these lessons will be learned naturally. In fact, he claims that adult intervention is not only unnecessary but it can sometimes be a hinderance. Kids need to learn to negotiate solutions on their own (Gray, 166-167).

“Over the past half-century or more we have seen a continuous erosion of children’s freedom to play and, corresponding with that, a continuous decline in young people’s mental and physical health” (Gray, 6).

“The decline of children’s free play since about 1955 had been accompanied by a continuous rise in anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness in young people. Related to these findings, there has also been an increase in narcissism and a decline in empathy” (Gray, 174)*.

*here Gray cites

Konrath, S.H., O’Brein, E.H., & Hsing, C. (2011) Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: A meta-analysis.Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 180-198.

Twenge, J.M., & Foster, J.D. (2010). Birth cohort increases in narcissistic personality traits among American college students, 1982-2009.Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 99-106.

Lastly, if you are interested in learning even more about the benefits of play, Dr. Stuart Brown has a lot of knowledge to share. In fact, Brown is the founder of the National Institute of Play. Through his extensive research, Brown ascertained that adults who have been deprived or restricted from play during their childhood are more likely to be violent during adulthood. Whereas those of us who are allowed more time for free play during childhood are likely to be more empathetic during adulthood. Dr. Stuart Brown defines play as “Anything spontaneously done for its own sake” (Brown, 2014).

To learn more please listen to the conversation featuring Dr. Stuart Brown on the June 19, 2014 edition of the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett.Play, Spirit, and Character



bottom of page