One of the first and most important lessons DRC student members learn is that we (all of us - staff, students, and volunteers) are allowed to call each other on unacceptable, disrespectful, or inappropriate behavior, by clearly stating, “that is not OK.”
Every kid understands that they have explicit permission, using those four little words, to express their feelings, whether discomfort, unease, sadness, or distress because this straightforward phrase gives us all authority to make an observation without blaming or escalating an interaction. Our kids come to acknowledge, after practicing, that the typical demands of “stop it”, “don’t do that”, or, even, “no”, clearly, do not have the same power as, “that is not OK”.
It works, simply, because, it invites authentic discussion and respectful debate, not vitriolic dissension or, even, retaliation.
I am extremely proud when, “that is not OK”, becomes a child’s or teen’s default response to any disrespectful behavior that they witness at DRC, because it means they are equipped to stand up against injustice, in the wider world, by offering compassion, kindness, ideas, and suggestions instead of whining, judging, or responding (reacting) in anger. And – it indicates that they have learned through direct experience that connecting via sincere dialogue creates an inclusive environment where empathy, openness, and critical thinking are utilized to solve problems.
Photo credits: Alicia and Chase
Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders
The first all day excursion to Clear Pond in the White Hill Wild Forest was a smashing success and everything we dreamed this program would be. Twelve kids headed out Tuesday morning with four adult facilitators – Trish, Chris, Glen (our weekly WW&WW volunteer/intern), and Alicia a regular parent volunteer. They hiked, explored, touched moss, climbed over huge rocks and uprooted trees, held toads, and even waded in the pond. Yes, they were completely immersed – dirty, wet, inspired, totally exhausted, and in awe of the wild wonders of the natural world! Most of them (not just the little ones) fell asleep on the drive back to Canton.
Stay tuned for tales from Martin’s Farm Stand, outside of Potsdam, where they will travel next Tuesday to explore a working vegetable farm.
Deep Root Center is available to any student in St. Lawrence County who is interested in taking charge of their education in our open, supportive, dynamic, and safe learning community. Contact Maria today to schedule an appointment.
At this time of year, I spend a copious amount of time explaining Deep Root Center and the concept of self-directed learning to potential students and their families, as well as volunteers. One of the most frequently asked questions, after they listen to the basics, is: so, you have kids from ages 5-18, they all have their own learning plan based on their interests, there is no physically separated space determined by age or grade level, and, they are each in charge of their own education – how exactly does that work?
Very simply, we all work together to create the conditions that foster a welcoming, educational community. When a young person walks into DRC they intuit the difference immediately. It feels like home. It is colorful, bright, and open. The central room (dubbed the chill space) is set up with cozy furniture as well as pillows, beanbags, and blankets, and, there are student designed murals painted directly on the walls in every single room.
It is obvious at first glance that people – student members, staff, and volunteers all enjoy being here. DRC is a positive, comfortable, non-coercive, safe, environment where everyone has explicit permission to be themselves, as long as they do not hurt anyone or anything else. Respect for ourselves, each other, and this space is our only rule.
Our students have unencumbered access to all of our facilities, resources, and materials where they are free to play, imagine, explore, experiment, build, create, and ask questions. This encourages an open, receptive, and objective mind-set that generates curiosity about new ideas and concepts, which then inspires them to ask additional questions and make future decisions based on those discoveries.
Quite predictably the second question is, “but, what does all that look like on any given day?” My answer, without a moment’s hesitation is, “to be quite honest, absolute chaos. When you take a few moments to really observe what is going on, however, you appreciate the deeply, fundamental, and natural learning that is happening on so many awesome levels.”
If you had been a fly on the wall this past Thursday and Friday, you would have witnessed these snapshots, just a few of the scenes that also included a visiting chicken in her cage in one corner, as well as DRC’s endlessly patient, resident pet, Warren the Bunny, who was the inspiration for the vignette below.
Five kids of various ages, knee-deep in a pile of cardboard boxes, designing a bunny mansion and maze – the 16-year-old wielding the box cutter and hot glue gun, while the 5-year-old spins like a top, off to one side, and the three tweens discuss appropriate habitat while directing the placement of the walls.
Three girls, ages 10 -15, repainting the entrance wall, blue, for the background of a new mural inspired by the movie “Finding Dory”, finding images on-line, and tracing them onto plastic sheets to be projected onto the wall, after they figure out how to operate the overhead projector.
Three teens playing Scrabble and then Battleship on the coffee table, with the “assistance” of a rotating group of “cheerleaders” on the couch and recliners, a Seedling filling in a green Lego platform with individual Lego pieces, and, two other teens watching a video on a phone. Four Seedlings, ages 5-9, sitting at the classroom table collaboratively building a space ship with Legos scooped by the hand full from the big bucket of Legos. One of them decides to grab the postage scale from the science shelf to begin weighing the large container along with individual components of the space ship and then the entire thing – adding and removing pieces to generate changes on the scale. Three students, ages 10-16, working together with brushes and rollers to paint a large wall in the maker room one solid color, so a new mural could be designed to replace the mishmash of abandoned pieces. Six kids, ages 7-16, jamming on keyboards, guitars, drum machine, and mics in the music room. Five Seedlings sitting in a circle on the floor listening to a story and then discussing it with an adult. A five-year-old placing and removing different items in the balance scale. Eight students, ages 12-17, and a facilitator at the classroom table investigating on-line pre-algebra and algebra classes considering how to work together and help each other, even though they are each learning different skills at various levels. And, the 16-year-old lounging on the beanbag with earbuds firmly inserted, quietly playing a game on his iPad, while designing the panoramic timeline, in his head, that will depict all of the world’s history from Big Bang to now, which he intends to paint along the ceiling of the classroom. As you can see, at DRC, we are continually inspired by each other, because, we celebrate independence, eccentricity, collaboration, creative ingenuity, and kindness. We expect that every student will take charge of their education, as well as participate positively in our community. Within that, they each understand explicitly that we will support them in any, and, all of their endeavors, and, that we trust them to follow their instincts to do what makes their hearts sing.
As the new academic year begins, many parents are besieged with the agonizingly familiar refrain that reverberates across the country, as well as from generations past – “I hate school”.
This emphatic statement is incredibly tragic. I think we can all agree that the acquisition of knowledge should absolutely not induce so much misery, distress, or anxiety, or, for that matter, incite such venomous, revulsion. Learning is a process that is eminently natural and should be enjoyable, fun, challenging, and inspiring.
School does work for some; the regimen is exactly what they need to feel secure. For those others, it is a drudgery that simply has to be endured. School feels constricting, contrived, unnatural, and unsafe, and, no amount of cajoling, convincing, or rationalizing will convince them to like it.
There is a viable and exciting educational alternative for those kids: self-directed learning empowers young people to discover their interests and passions. It gives them permission to take the time and space to explore the world and ask important questions. It allows them the opportunity to take on responsibility and work on solving important challenges. Yes, self-directed learning can be hard, because it places each individual in charge of their own education. Each student has access to an abundance of support and guidance; however, they are the ones who ultimately make the decisions, and, if something does not feel right, (instead of complaining) they have the power to fix it.
Learning can be fun, exciting, dynamic, and a lifelong pursuit. It is never too late, or, too early, to choose a different educational path. Deep Root Center for Self-Directed Learning is another option, right here in the NoCo, and we accept new student members throughout the year (yes, even on the first day of school).
DRC NEWS Our first day of the academic year is Tuesday, September 5th. We are thrilled to welcome 18 student members – 12 of whom are brand new! Assembly Woman Visit Addie Jenne will be visiting DRC on Thursday September 7th, at 11 am. She will spend time touring our facilities and talking to our students. We will also be discussing two pieces of legislation moving through the NYS Senate and Assembly that are related to Home School law. Summer- Thank You Thank you to all of the participants in our three weeks of summer programming. We had a ton of fun and look forward to providing this service, again, next year. A huge shout of gratitude to Karen Wells for producing a fabulous theater week and to Christopher Raymo for facilitating the music and art weeks while I “hid” in the office to write IHIPs and work on behind the scenes “stuff”.
A few days ago, I had a 'tween look me directly in the eye and say, with deep sadness, disappointment, and frustration in his voice, “I think I am being too nice”. My heart, quite literally, broke into a million little pieces when I realized, upon hearing that short, emphatic statement, that this child felt that he could no longer allow his innate goodness to shine through.
When our view of the world is predominately influenced by the news media’s obsessively intense magnification and sensationalization of hatred and division --- is it any wonder that our kids perceive the world to be a bad and dangerous place, where everyone has an agenda, and, no matter what you do, you will get hurt? They clearly comprehend that the expected and called upon response to all of this “badness” is fear. Especially, fear of the other.
My immediate and spontaneous reaction, of course, is to prove to this kid, and, to every single child I encounter that there is no such thing as being too nice. Being thoughtful, agreeable, and pleasant does not require becoming a doormat. You can set boundaries and limits without being mean, and, you can stand up for what you believe in without being wishy-washy, or, for that matter, a bully or a jerk. Being kind involves recognizing another person’s humanity without judging, blaming, or fearing them. This is my expectation for all of my students at DRC. It is modeled by every staff member and volunteer who spends time in our space. Niceness (in all its perceived blandness), very simply, is the foundation for all we do, because building community demands respect from and for every unique individual.
I want them to know that there are tons of positive things happening on this planet. There are more ethical, morally grounded, responsible, dedicated, outstanding, capable, inspired, imaginative, and, yes, simply, good and kind people in this world, who are working hard to make it a better place for everyone, than not. And, I want them to fully understand, as humans, we are much more alike than our individual and/or tribal ideologies would allow us to believe.
It is my greatest wish, that every child (everywhere) has the opportunity (and reason) to recognize, on a deep level, that each of them have an extensive network of support, which will always be there to provide steady and nurturing, encouragement and love. When we can achieve that simple goal – I truly believe that our reality (true stories) will reflect the good in all of us.
DRC NEWS Art and Craft week is our last week of summer programs before the academic year begins. Register today. On September 5th, we are thrilled to begin our 4th full year with new programs, facilities, and resources. The following experiential offerings are in addition to our Seedlings Program and regular schedule which feature a full range of classes and activities that have been specifically requested by our student members. Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders Every Tuesday our student members will have the opportunity to spend the entire day outside Water. Woods, & Wild Wonders immersed in our natural world. Our September schedule includes: canoeing on the Little River, exploring the Clear Pond Wilderness, visiting Martin’s farm stand to spend time in the fields and learn about local food, and working with Nature Up North with their MOW the Grasse project to monitor the Grasse River at Heritage Park. DRC Workout Room Yes, we have a gym filled with equipment, including: free weights, a heavy punching bag with boxing gloves, a stationary bike, treadmill, balance ball, and yoga mats. We are looking for a small size (not flimsy) basketball hoop that we can attach to the wall. If you have that or any other gym equipment you would be willing to donate, please let us know. Maker Room Our hands-on space has been enhanced this summer with a long project counter as well as a nearly full service kitchen. Thank you to Lenore VanderZee and Sean OBrien for donating a FULL-size refrigerator! We are excited to offer our kids the opportunity to learn how to cook and bake. Music Room The DRC music program has taken over the old office space. It features more space and a door! Our students have the chance to try out a large variety of instruments on their own or during a class. We also have engineering and sound equipment that allows them to record karaoke, original pieces, and soundtracks for films and animations they are creating, as well as podcasts. DRC accepts new student members throughout the year. Please contact Maria to learn more.
When a kid says, “I am bored”, with a long drawn out sigh, I usually say, “good.” I do not and will not automatically seek out activities that will keep them amused or entertained. That was not my job as a parent and it would certainly not support my deep belief in the empowering philosophy behind self-directed learning.
Even with that explanation, you are probably asking why I respond, “good”, to any child’s (teen’s) pronouncement of boredom. It is very simple. When you are bored, your brain goes into overdrive to create a diversion from the stupefying symptoms of lethargy and restlessness. Boredom, in other words, directly leads to some of the most intensely creative ideas and solutions you will ever have. (Have you ever wondered about the old axiom: idle hands or minds are the devil's workshop?) To get all technical and biological about it - tedium is our evolutionally guided response to staying alive. (I know, I know, some incredibly stupid and dangerous ideas have also come out of boredom - this is where I say - "please use your brains and remember past consequences, before implementing something that can and will hurt you!")
I started pondering all this when one of the kids I was hanging out with, during this past week’s theater workshop, told me a story about building sand castles on the seashore. He spent a fair amount of time and energy figuring out how to stop the big waves from wiping out his creations. Through play and experimentation, he discovered the solution. As he related this story to me, he explained that building indestructible sand castles was no longer fun and actually got tedious, because it was no longer challenging.
Bam! Why do kids get bored? Because - they are constantly examining new ideas and concepts while learning and growing! Once they figure something out – they need some down time to mentally process what they just learned before they can move on to the next trial. Once that rest period is over, however, they are ready to actively dig in and discover an enterprising solution to the next problem. I should be very clear – these are not problems presented to them by a teacher or parent – these must be puzzles sought and encountered through their own investigations while playing, exploring, and experimenting.
Which brings us back to - learning is natural. Children are intrinsically driven to seek out opportunities to learn. If adults will simply stand back, (Yes, I quite literally mean get to hell out of the way!) and, be prepared to provide the necessary resources, materials, and support (NOT advice), kids (teens) have all they need to develop really cool, creative, and innovative answers for some of our biggest challenges.
DRC NEWS Summer Programming: Thank you once again to the fantastic Karen Wells for providing a supportive, professional environment for kids to participate in real theater experiences. It was a privilege to watch seven kids learn theatric skills while developing caring relationships with their fellow thespians. Music Week with Christopher Raymo begins this Monday. We are looking forward to creating some awesome sounds. There is room for one or two more participants, if your musician would like to join us. Register here. Art and Craft Week starts Aug 28th. This program is filling up quickly. Register here.