Just for fun, type “productivity quotes” into Google and see what pops up. In case you were not already aware, this provides one more piece of evidence that our culture is completely obsessed with “productivity.” We are all constantly under pressure to produce stuff, anything, to prove something to the world. What we forget it is that the process is just as, if not more, valuable than a precisely finished product.
A perfect example of this is taken from my observations when I table at events and Farmer’s Market. I always have an abundance of various art and craft materials for kids to use while I engage their parents in conversation. I used to bring examples of projects – craft stick puppets, etc., but always told the kids they are free to use any of the items to experiment and play. Oftentimes, the kids were happy to examine the resources and start randomly creating whatever struck their fancy. However, in most cases, their adult immediately latched onto the example and stepped in to “help” the child produce a reasonable facsimile of the craft. They wanted the child to have something to show for their efforts while the kid was happy to let the process be the product.
What we don’t quite understand is that being productive does not necessarily mean anything, besides the appearance it provides of being occupied or competent. Busywork looks productive. Homework looks productive. Sitting silently and staring into space does not, nor does play.
You see, we are actually confusing productivity with progress. Just because you look busy does not necessarily mean you are doing anything beyond spinning your wheels.
Progress, on the other hand, sometimes, at first glance, appears to be stagnate - like a whole lot of nothing, or even extremely messy. One step forward and two steps back. What we forget is that the process of making mistakes, examining the outcomes of those errors, and adjusting our approach are all essential parts of learning – or making progress.
Progress can be quiet and contemplative, or it can be playful and fun. It can be infinitesimal to the point of not being noticeable, except by those who are paying close attention. Or, it can be giant leaps that seem impossible until you conceive how much invisible effort and time it took to get there.
As human beings, we are all making progress in our own unique way. To judge someone’s productivity based solely on what you see and what you believe to be necessary for advancement or success, only means you are missing the amazing progress that is happening on the levels that are not clearly visible.
Do you obsess about the things that you are challenging for you, or do you focus on those that you excel at? Most of us can immediately name all the stuff we suck at – and for the most part, we know this because our deficits have been pointed out by someone else --- over, and over, and over again.
Eventually, at a fairly early age, we begin to define ourselves by our negatives. I am bad at math, I have a really bad memory, I do not comprehend anything I read, I don’t understand spatial relationships, I have a hard time relating my ideas to others, the rules of grammar are really difficult to grasp, I am clumsy and really bad at sports, I am not musically inclined, or learning another language is impossible for me.
The above list could go on forever, because, I’m going to let you in on a secret here, no one, I mean absolutely none of us, will ever be good at everything – although I understand, there are some people who might appear to be.
Our educational system is built on the opposite premise – everyone should be brilliant in all things – especially those subjects on school report cards. And, by bringing a hyper-focus to the things a student has difficulty with, they will (should) understand that they can only work on getting better at those things. This entire concept is highlighted beautifully in this article that I just happened to stumble upon this morning.
What the system has lost sight of, completely, in that equation, is each unique individual and their psyche – their feelings, confidence levels, and essential selves. This is the central reason I meet confused kids who don’t know what they like, what they are good at, or are interested in, whose self-esteem is shattered and are experiencing bouts of overwhelming anxiety, kids who have lost all sense of curiosity and have no idea how to play. It is also the main explanation for why most of us are afraid to be authentic and true to ourselves.
What if instead, we focused on and celebrated those things people (kids) are good at? What if we encouraged them and provided the resources they needed to work really hard at those to go beyond proficient to an expert?
I can tell you, there would be far less mediocrity and apathy in our world. Not to mention the fact that we would have fewer reasons to be awestruck by the stories in our Facebook news feed about kids who have had the opportunity to follow their passions to become “prodigies” because every kid would have the freedom to do the same – it would be utterly commonplace for genius and brilliance to be on display at every turn.
We had a busy and exciting week! DRC-East, in Lawrenceville opened on Tuesday, Exploration Station, the DRC afternoon program began on Monday. And, we had a fantastic article about all we do in the Watertown Daily Times! Thank you to everyone who has worked hard to get us to this place.
* Photo above and the following copy is from the article ...
CANTON — Walking up to the two-story Deep Root Center, a crafted Tin Man, from “The Wizard of Oz,” serves as a greeter. Continuing onto the porch and crossing the threshold of the front door, a creative, colorful frenzy can be observed on any given day.
On Monday, that frenzy involved a colorful birthday cake baking in Deep Root Center’s kitchen oven and a sweet aroma filling the house.
“Kids learn how to seek out the information they want to learn on their own,” said Maria Corse, Deep Root Center founder and executive director. “It’s completely different than anything most people equate with education.”
Celebrating her 10th birthday, Kiana Tiernan, a student at Deep Root Center, cut into a vanilla cake adorned with rainbow sprinkles.
Deep Root is an education and after-school hub for students ages 5 to 19, where one rule is solidly enforced: respect.
Other than that, kids are encouraged to work through individualized learning plans with the help of Deep Root staff and peers.
The Center, 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, celebrated its sixth anniversary Monday, and will now offer programs in Lawrenceville — the second center will temporarily be located at the Lawrenceville Fire Department, until the permanent Lawrenceville rental space is ready.
The need to expand to a second location, Ms. Corse said, has arisen due to the Canton center being at capacity. By September 2019, 15 students were on the waiting list for the school year. The first day of programming in Lawrenceville is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Ms. Corse has 17 years of alternative education experience and believes in the playfulness of learning, that the best learning outcomes are derived from hands-on experimentation.
With learning and curricular flexibility, Deep Root operates on “self-directed learning,” and is modeled on programs facilitated by North Star Learning Center in Sunderland, Mass.
Founded in 1996 by Ken Danford and Joshua Hornick, North Star provides an alternative to middle and high school for teens, and as interest in the education style grew, similar centers started to emerge across the country.
After sharing its vision at replication conferences in 2011 and 2012, Liberated Learners, Sunderland, was built on the principles of North Star to assist local centers with organizational needs and increase awareness of the education model.
As a member of Liberated Learners, Deep Root Center fosters student development through a home school legal framework, which allows students to leave traditional school to become members of Deep Root.
To fulfill that framework, Individualized Home Instruction Plans are developed for each student with guidance from Deep Root staff.
Specific subjects, including math and English, are incorporated into IHIPs in compliance with state law, and at Deep Root, such subjects are referred to as “buckets” that are intended to be filled with classes, projects, creative activities and independent research, all in line with a student’s personal interests.
Serving kids who have previously been enrolled at more conventional public or private schools, or acting as a supplement to kids who are home schooled at their own residences, Deep Root aims to offer something for everyone. On Monday alone, Ms. Corse said, “we’ve got kids playing chess, we’ve got the bakers and the art makers.”
While the younger students, called “seedlings,” are guided with more structure, older kids and teens are granted freedom to explore their learning goals and check in with staff mentors weekly.
For Deep Root apprentice Chase Villenueve, becoming part of the Deep Root team after completing his work as a student last year was an easy decision.
Mr. Villenueve arrived at Deep Root Center as a student in 2017 from Gouverneur High school, where he was constantly concerned about time — timed classes, time to study, timed tests and a generally time-oriented schedule.
“Here, I didn’t have to worry about time,” Mr. Villenueve said. “I had time to do stuff at my own pace.”
Though transitioning from public school to Deep Root required some adjusting, Mr. Villenueve said the stress level associated with Deep Root was more manageable, and he has been proud of his role as an apprentice helping other students at the center.
All students, Ms. Corse said, are welcome at Deep Root Center — regardless of a family’s ability to pay. And with the center providing around $120,000 a year in fee reductions, Ms. Corse has looked to community partnerships and a budding after-school program to fill gaps.
“I pinch a dime until it screams,” she said.
In partnership with the Food Bank of Central New York and through the Church and Community Program of Canton and the Canton Neighborhood Center, Deep Root receives food pantry items each week to keep the center’s kitchen stocked and students fed.
As Deep Root Center grows, so does the need for continued support, which can take a variety of forms, Ms. Corse said, from registering kids in the center’s after-school care program to volunteering to share a certain skill or passion with students.
Between the chasing footsteps and experimenting, a student sat in the “chill space” quietly reading, another composed a song upstairs using a computer software program.
But all eventually convened in the kitchen when Kiana informed them, “Cake is ready.”
No, I am not alluding to the massive trucks covered in flashing lights, filled with a grainy sandy-salty mixture, and equipped with an enormous curved blade on the front and another “wing blade” off to the side (famously known for cutting down rural mailboxes), that those of us here in northern climes both rely on, and dread meeting from the opposite direction or getting behind, during our long winters. I am, actually, referring to the, less than laudable, newly minted terminology describing parents who go beyond hovering (I’m sure you have all heard of the ubiquitous child rearing style – called helicopter parenting) to actually create a barrier of protection, and actively pushing (removing) obstacles or potential disappointment out of their child’s path, before the child can encounter it.
Beyond creating entitled, narcissistic, and obnoxious brats, these parenting techniques go against every natural law of childhood.
All animal babies, including humans, have evolved an innate technique that beautifully uses exploration, experimentation, and, an inborn flexibility to adjust the original plan, based on errors, as the dominant method of learning. Kids are incredibly resilient – their bodies and minds are designed to play, get bumps and bruises, seek out danger to see, for themselves, how far they can safely push the limits; they are supposed to encounter obstacles, barriers, and disappointment. This is the natural means of acquiring knowledge, not only about the world, but themselves – what they like, what they dislike, what they are good at, and most importantly how they each learn best as individuals.
Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, or some combination? Do they gravitate towards logical, mathematical type thinking or are they more inclined to think about things in a more fluid and organically creative way? Are they happy to be solitary or do they feel better surrounded by people? Will they gain more information through visual and spatial cues, nature, or music and rhythm? The only thing children need to understand all of this is an environment filled with real-life stuff as well as caring, loving, and supportive adults (who are willing to get out of the way and follow the child’s lead) were they are free to roam, investigate, and explore on their own, and seek out help when needed, without hindrance or prefabricated agendas. Most of us know these things about ourselves because we have had the opportunity to investigate and test out our own preferences, throughout our entire lives – from infant-hood on.
I wonder, though, is it our culture itself that is responsible for producing Helicopter and Snowplow Parents? In our attempts to keep kids safe in what we perceive to be an unsafe world – we have attempted to recreate, carefully cultivated, antiseptically cleaned, “safe” environments that replicate everything children “need” - from “playgrounds,” retail “play spaces,” and specially designed “playrooms” in our homes, to daycare facilities, preschools, and (of course) schools. We shame the parents who actively avoid these often age segregated spaces filled with safe equipment, predetermined lessons, adult driven activities, and arbitrary rules that offer little room for exploration or outside the box thinking, and a whole lot of control.
As a culture, we have developed what amounts to unimaginative, creativity (and immunity) killing, padded cells. And, in doing so, we have effectively removed those biological and cultural mechanisms for learning (not to mention health); leaving children, as they grow older, to flounder, rudderless, without any other authentic means of seeking out information about themselves or their world. Subsequently, in our attempt to keep kids safe, we are anesthetizing them from real life, and we are also inhibiting their natural immunity (yes, kids are sicker), with (the irony of it all) toxic chemicals. You can be sure that these kids will eventually rebel!
This all means many of our kids are entering adulthood without a literal, or figurative, clue. They have no idea what they are interested in – what really lights their fire, and have no way of figuring it out, because they have been taught to fear the unknown (including the outdoors and all it encompasses - but most especially - dirt), change, disappointment, and making mistakes. They also don’t know how to solve problems or think creatively. They expect to be entertained, want everything to easily fall into their laps, and are keenly disappointed when they don’t. And, they honestly don’t know how to fix that. Instead, they blame others for their failures, seek out means of artificially removing obstacles, and often inflate their own accomplishments to appear more influential, well rounded, and smarter. I am deeply saddened to say, as a society, we are not growing people who care about kindness, or helping others - who understand empathy or compassion – we are raising people whose main objective is to get ahead, and they will use whatever unscrupulous means it takes to get there.
Opening day for DRC -East is Tuesday! Stay-tuned for photos and other developments, as we get established. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about joining us in Lawrenceville. There are limited spaces available.
The DRC Afternoon Programs opens Monday, January 6th. Register your child today!
This past week, I have been thinking about what to write in this last blog post of 2019, and, of the entire decade - no pressure there! I started reflecting on how far we have come over just the past year and the immense gratitude I feel towards the people who have invested an astounding amount of their time and talent, physical energy, positive vibes, and financial contributions - not to mention, the incredible families who trust us with their children’s education.
With all of that love and confidence standing solidly behind us, we are literally doubling our facilities and staff, and tripling our programming over the next week!
Looking back to the beginning of this academic year (as I have mentioned here before), I knew we would need to open a new facility – sooner or later. As the Fall progressed and we continued to add kids to our waiting list, it became apparent that it would have to be on the sooner end of things. Nevertheless, as with most things in my life, I trusted that everything would fall in to place, exactly when and where it needed to be. And, that is exactly what transpired – all starting with a spontaneous visit this past August.
One of our parents, happened to meet a friend at the local gas station. The friend was commiserating about how miserable her kids were in school. This parent said, “come with me, I have to show you this place that my kids love!” They showed up with kids, a grandparent, and a puppy in tow, during our Summer Programming. I gave them a quick whirlwind tour and then got on with my day of facilitating projects with the Summer Peeps – and in the process completely forgot the friend’s name.
Flash forward a couple weeks – Loretta, a Grandma (Mema) called to check out DRC for her grandchildren. We were full at that point, but I offered to meet with her to discuss options. Two amazing, in person, conversations, of marathon length, later, I discovered that her son owns a home in Lawrenceville that is massive, and upon inquiring, is open to having DRC use it as our permanent facility (we will use the Lawrenceville Fire Station short term until, it is ready for us). But the kicker of this whole story is, a month later, after finally putting the pieces together, I realized that the friend (Erin) who came by with the parent in August, is the one who told Loretta about us. And, after listening to Loretta expound on her many talents, I offered Erin the After-School Staff Position, which, I am thrilled to say, she accepted. I am excited to see how she, and our After-School apprentice, Ryan, bring this new program to life.
In this round about and inextricably, wondrous and serendipitous way, we now have a new center, an after-school program, and a lead staff person for each (not to mention, several more student members) all from that one spontaneous gesture!
This all would not have been possible without Chris. I really can’t begin to express my appreciation for my “sidekick” Christopher Raymo, who, like all well-respected sidekicks in the super-hero world, is the backbone and, let’s be honest, the magic behind the daily functions of DRC- Canton. He is the main reason I have been able to sequester myself in the office to focus on these expansion plans, as well as all the other admin. “stuff,” and the, essential, mentoring sessions with members. He, quietly and patiently, holds everything together, including the physical space. There is a reason I "secretly" refer to him as the “kid-whisperer.”
I am also thankful to have Chase Villeneuve as our apprentice at DRC- Canton. He has learned a ton over the last couple months and I anticipate awesome things from him, when we rely more heavily on him during the remainder of his tenure.
Trish Pielnik, has agreed to be our new lead staff for DRC-East in Lawrenceville; however, she is no stranger to DRC. After randomly picking up a DRC brochure from the Potsdam Food Co-op and “cold calling” one day, in February or March of 2017, to inquire about volunteer opportunities, she started spending one full day at the Center each week. Trish’s passion for the outdoors led us to begin the Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders in Sept. 2017, with her as our volunteer coordinator of that program. I am beyond grateful to Trish for not only making that initial phone call and her friendship, but for the amazing levels of empathy and compassion she brought to our kids each week in that role, and her leap of faith in accepting this position. I am super excited to witness the growth and accomplishments, as both she and our student members at DRC- East explore all the possibilities, and find their footing in that new facility.
While this post has been focused on the DRC staff, please know that this note of gratitude extends my deepest thanks to everyone (see the list above) who has had a role in getting us to where we are right now! I am beyond grateful and forever in your debt.
I look forward to exploring, with an open heart and mind, the many new serendipitous adventures and friendships this New Year (and decade) will bring! Onward!
* You will find the official bios of our inspiring staff (all 6 (!) of them) by following this link. *
Happy New Year to you all!
Two days left in 2019. Don’t miss out on tax-deductible contributions this year. You can donate online here.
Over the millions of years of human evolution – we, modern Homo sapiens, have only recently, lost our propensity for hibernating. No, it isn’t that the physiological or psychological needs went away – we are simply forcing our bodies to live as if it is perpetually summertime to keep pace with the modern world and expectations for busy-ness.
Nevertheless, our DNA carries that ancient memory of hibernating. Increasing darkness and colder days trigger that intense desire to curl up in a snug lair and sleep – just drowse away the days. Only waking long enough to fuel the body and the fire. We physically need those intervals of dormancy to allow for spurts of intense growth and renewal. In this crazy world of GO - GO - GO, we forget that new ideas, concepts, theories, and creative ingenuity are born in the still and quiet darkness.
On this day after winter solstice, I bestow upon you the gift of permission (not that you need it) to join me in hibernation. Pause - take a nap (or two, or three). Slow down, feather your nest with the coziest of blankets and pillows, a few books, (in my case, a Macbook) and a cat (or dog) or two, let go, allow your mind to meander wherever it chooses, be with your deepest self, and dream! Take as long as you need to replenish the reserves of mental and bodily strength and creativity that you will need to continue on your journey of growth, as you pursue all your aspirations. Rest well!