It is Supposed to be Fun
"Go explore and have fun" are the last words I say to every kid (teen) after talking with them and taking notes to write their IHIP (homeschool plan) - whether they are planning to be "in-person" at one of the Centers or are one of the many kids I help through consultation.
Why? Very simply, because they need to hear that learning is enjoyable and is all about individual interests and discovery. And more importantly - most of these kids, like many adults, have had the complete opposite experience. For a large portion, it is, at best, drudgery - and at worst - excruciatingly painful (myself included).
We know that the brain shuts down under stress and discomfort - which means expecting anyone to learn under pressurized, one-size-fits-all, coercive conditions is beyond ridiculous.
Science backs up the integral connection between learning and fun. Play and the inherent joy of natural exploration - ignite creativity, problem-solving skills, and all of that pure awesomeness within each of us.
My instructions will always stand - go - explore, have fun, and in the process you will most likely learn something new today.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This coming Friday is our final day of this academic year. Both Centers will be celebrating with a field trip to my house in the woods to play and roast hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire.
Enjoy this photo dump from this past week.
A Safe Place in an Unsafe World
*Author note: This is a heavily revised and updated post from February 2019. The basic premise
has not changed in these four years - however, the state of the world is drastically different.
Beyond free-range and non-coercive, the word I use most often to describe the DRC environment is “safe.” Our student members are building a dynamic, ever-evolving community as new kids join us and others leave, where they learn and grow together. Their only formal guide is our community agreement: Respect yourself, each other, and this place.
Our kids can feel safe to be themselves here because we are all taking care of each other. This agreement is all-encompassing in its simplicity.
When they make that promise to each other at DRC, they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behaviors and actions. And within that, they embrace and celebrate all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make them amazingly authentic individuals.
Some would say, “But, how is that helping them - won’t they expect to be protected everywhere? You can’t shield them from reality.” I will argue - that isn’t the point! So often, kids unintentionally present themselves as targets because they feel inferior, defeated, or just plain sad. They emit an unconscious signal of defenselessness to those who will, without a second thought, take advantage of their personally perceived weakness.
In our role as mentors, we model curiosity, attentiveness to others, honesty, assertiveness, and confidence that are grounded in kindness, humor, and humility, unselfish personal motivation, and strength that has flexibility - but above all, we encourage them to embrace their gifts and to be gentle, trusting spirits without becoming vulnerable targets. In doing so, we teach them to take responsibility for mistakes and use them as guides. And to respond to bullying with a calm, poised demeanor – to walk away from any maliciously inspired conflict with confidence and compassion.
Then when they go out into that competitive world where some people use manipulation, retaliation, cruelty, and vindictiveness, to “win” life, they can use the lessons they have learned here and (hopefully) be unafraid to navigate (and maybe even change) the world as their purely awesome authentic selves.
* Another note: Sometimes, I worry I have not done enough to help some of the seemingly more vulnerable kids - especially the ones I never felt like I built a meaningful connection with or who never allowed me close enough to connect.
Recently, I saw one of those student members (he was job shadowing the plumber who came to "fix" an issue). I always thought I had failed him. He told me that after he left DRC - he took the GED prep class - and within a few months, passed the GED. He said, "If I had known I could get through HS that easily - I would have done it sooner." In hindsight, I realize that even though I did not directly support him in his endeavors, his years at DRC were, in some sense, valuable because he understood that he was in charge of the next step and all he had to do was take it.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Our Raffle fundraiser is still in full swing - purchase your ticket from any DRC Parent or Board member or get in touch with Maria or Karen.
The DRC year is coming to a close. We will be finishing up the week of May 22nd with celebrations at both Centers. Enjoy the photo dump from this past week.
We had a little sister visit Canton for a few days. She will be joining us in the Fall. Little Sis ate a "zebra cake" while making cupcakes, cracked the eggs for it, went fishing, and generally had a fantastic time with the crew! Let us know if you have a little one who would be interested in checking us out.
Happy Mother's Day to all who have nurtured and supported young people and will continue to do so - most especially my Mom, Sharon, my MIL, Bonnie, and all the other folks who have loved and encouraged me through the years.
"How we learn has nothing to do with how brilliant we are."
- Henry Winkler
Virginia G., DRC's newest board member, and volunteer at DRC-East, sent me this quote on Monday with the note that I should use it in my next blog post. So - here you go...
Mr. Winkler' observation is spot on. As individuals, we all learn differently - and as the research catches up to what those of us in the neurodivergent world have understood all along - each of us is utterly brilliant. Every single one of us excels in something (if not many things).
Education - is simply providing the resources and support each child (person) needs (asks for) to explore their natural interests and ambitions. In the process, all that innate brilliance is revealed, and intrinsic motivation is nurtured.
This brings us to the unmistakable conclusion that: School is optional simply because learning is natural.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This is another quote that requires the back story. When I am in the office, doing admin work, I can hear everything going on upstairs. On Monday, I heard E complaining and fussing about the computer she was using. It kept disconnecting from the internet for no apparent reason while she was attempting to participate in a multiplayer game with her friend P. Her grumbling got louder and more strident as her frustration grew.
I went in and said quietly, "You realize you have the power to walk away, right? You don't have to be frustrated and angry. You have options." Then turned to go back to my desk. She took that in and then, after a few beats, stood up and picked up her doll.
Not ten minutes later, I heard her repeating the essence of my message to P, who was frustrated with something in the game she was playing.
This is Free Range, Self-Directed Learning in a nutshell. I didn't demand that she stop playing - I only reminded her that she had options. And because she was able to take charge of what was making her feel icky - she was able to prompt her friend with a similar message.
The DRC 50/50 Raffle is in full swing. Reach out to any DRC family, Board Member, Karen or me to purchase your tickets.
Check us Out
And finally, a few peeks into the past week at both Centers....
The Art of Procrastination
One of the many hallmarks of neurodivergence is procrastination. Before I go any further, I want to recognize that no other five-syllable word seems to carry the same burden of judgment, guilt, and negativity. With that being said, it may be the never-ending to-do list, the anxiety about the future, or the depths of hellish exhaustion (being without my thyroid meds. for two weeks did not help that situation), but whatever the case, I recently, unwittingly, began to notice, not out of shame, just observation, the role procrastination plays in my life and my emotional health. Something just clicked. I can clearly (for the most part) identify why (when) I put off particular tasks. And it seems to present itself in two very different scenarios - one helpful and the other - not so much.
And that is where this anecdote comes in. As an employer, DRC remits payroll taxes. The forms and the taxes are due each quarter - one month after the quarter ends. So, in this case, today. These always represent an enormous financial hit for DRC, especially at this time of year when other important, weighty expenses are due. I knew we would be "borrowing" thousands from the Money Market account to cover these obligations. Therefore, I buried my head in the sand and put off the task till Friday morning, when I knocked it out in less than 30 minutes. Yes, it was traumatizing to transfer those funds - but hiding from the pain didn't make it easier. And crossing it off the to-do list lifted some emotional burden off my shoulders.
On the other hand, procrastination is arguably the most powerful tool in my creative toolbox. When I have a kernel of an idea and sit down to write or design something, and then realize I am spending way too much time wrangling and wrestling with it - I know it hasn't finished percolating in the background and needs more time to incubate - before it is ready to come out. In most cases, I just let it simmer in the depths of that juicy creative space.
The only time I force something is when I have promised someone I would have a project for them in a particular time frame. I don't normally rely on external stimuli, but in this case, it is what I need to follow through on obligations - knowing that it may not be my best effort because it didn't get enough time to develop is sometimes painful, but it is never worth making someone wait on me.
Circling back, I clearly have not mastered the art of procrastination - quite yet. I don't know why that sigh of relief and the knowledge that I can usually get whatever I dread - done in very little time - is not enough to motivate me to do them moments before the deadlines. That may be the next piece of this to figure out. I'll let you know when (if) I do.
In the meantime - let's all promise to give ourselves and others the grace to figure out how to leverage the art of procrastination to our advantage.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This quote was overheard when walking past the computer lab/library/classroom. Later, I asked R what he was talking about. He explained that he had built an intricate map inside one of the Roblox games that anyone could use, and it took him four days to do it.
This is just one example of the complexity found within the gaming world. These kids are not simply playing games - they are quite literally building/creating/designing them as they go.
I can't even begin to describe the levels of understanding it takes to delve into this world and the layers of skills being developed as they play.
We had a very full week at both Centers. Thank you to the group of parents & volunteers who met at DRC-East Wednesday morning to begin brainstorming fundraising ideas.
And I want to take a few moments to recognize the enormous contribution the Foster/Peet crew make to DRC. The list of things they take on is endless - but the latest is these beautifully repaired steps and new hand rail.
Enjoy these photo galleries from the past week.
Survival of the fittest - bigger, faster, stronger - eat or be eaten. This is the tale (we) humans have been telling ourselves for eons - or at least since Darwin and Wallace proposed their theories. (Side note: What a perfect allegory - the "winner" - who told his "story" first - forever has his name identified with the elegant theory that explains life itself, and interestingly, Darwin and Wallace were both students of economic theory.)
This misguided, simplified, and mythical notion of survival of the fittest drives everything in society and upholds the concept of scarcity. The triumphant gets the prize - the loser is left with the scraps (or eaten alive).
The fundamental flaw in how we use competition sits within our societal perceptions, including our definition of what makes someone the "fittest." What is the determiner of our ability to survive individually or as a species? We forget (ignore) that together as a group of diverse individuals, we are far more creative and abundantly smarter than a lone "normal" (fit) specimen dominating (scamming) the system for wealth and power. By pursuing status and the "win" through the promotion of rivalry, the innate value of cooperation (taking care of one another) is completely lost.
Disproportionate inequity and injustice are the direct results of this defect. Gross surplus to the "fittest" (elite winners) and limited access to resources and support for the "unfit" (losers) will always be the default mode.
To this point, kids, from birth, are indoctrinated into this toxic culture that immerses and forces them into a competition of survival of the fittest for everything from affection to grades, wins on the playing field, and social status. And punishment and reward - sticks and carrots - are the external motivators - ultimately responsible for the death of authenticity, kindness, empathy, curiosity, creativity, and the ability to work together cooperatively to make decisions and solve problems to make the world a better place for us all.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC-East had a good week after their Spring Break. Thank you to Virginia G. and Sharon M. for coming in to spend time and share your talents with the East Peeps. Also, thanks again to former board member, Steve Hamilton - he donated a comfy couch to the East Center a few weeks ago.
We are assessing interest for bring back an Afternoon Program to the Canton Center. This is a free range opportunity for young people who attend other local schools. There is a drop-in option - you only pay for the days your child attends. Please visit this page to learn more and complete the Google Form if you are interested.
Kids (teens) are the agents of chaos. Anyone who spends time with children of all ages will understand this statement - profoundly.
Fun fact: all that chaotic energy is where curiosity and the natural desire to learn reside - where the rubber meets the road - and where a genuine understanding of universal concepts is nailed.
Because: kids (all of us) should have the opportunity to explore the world through full-on, no-holds-barred experimentation. Life and the learning process are literally never-ending science projects. (See how Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains this concept here.)
However, when you intentionally remove all the wonder, awe, and sources of curiosity and exploration to replace them with a sterile, uninteresting, and dull facility filled with predictable, pre-planned rote activities - where a well-intentioned adult directs and controls everything (even the play and creativity) to actively avoid chaos, it becomes the antithesis of a learning environment. (This is why classroom management is an "essential" skill every young student teacher is taught.)
But what do exploration and discovery look like in real-time - in authentic self-directed learning environments?
As facilitators, we take a step back and observe. (Or, more precisely, as I have said before, we get "to hell" out of the way of all the real learning). We also provide all those resources and materials and all the unconditional support - a requested hug, insight on a challenge, deep conversation about endless topics, or we are that safe person to sit in silence with. Our primary agenda is to be flexible and adapt to the needs of every kiddo, and our only concern is their overall well-being. Because, honestly, the learning will always happen - naturally.
At the end of every day, each young person understands they can rely on us to be their champion in any situation. When you actively work to build that level of mutual trust and respect - everyone feels safe in their authentic state (and varying levels) of chaos.
(This article from Dr. Peter Gray helps define the difference between Progressive And Self-Directed Education.)
Weekly Creative Meditation
This week's DRC True Story comes from an unusual viewpoint - mine, an adult facilitator. This quote came after not one but a few unnamed incidents that still have me wondering. I mean, seriously - it is a freaking miracle that I somehow squished the desire to yell, "what the hell," a few times in one day. Thank goodness DRC Canton is on Spring break this coming week. I need some downtime to rest up so I can keep up with my DRC Canton Peeps' latest free range explorations and nonstop energy!
Two special notes of thanks this week -
Thank you to the Colton family for donating the duck eggs and the incubator! Hopefully, we will be successful in hatching out 10 baby ducks.
And a shout out to former DRC Board member - Steve Hamilton for donating a couch to DRC-East and for bringing DRC-Canton lots of split rail fencing. Stay tuned for the fence building project!
We hope all of our DRC-East Peeps had an awesome Spring Break, and wish all of the DRC-Canton Peeps a fun filled week of adventure during their Spring Break.
As we welcome "true" Spring (and bright sunshine) to the NoCo, I want to acknowledge the love, encouragement, and support surrounding me. I could not do "this" (all of it) without all the folks who have my back every single day. Thank you!
Happy - Ramadan, Passover, and Easter to those who observe these high Holy days. May your Spring be blessed with an abundance of moments to explore all the possibilities that openly present themselves. And don't be afraid to probe the sparkling gems of opportunity that may be hidden beneath layers of discomfort and unease.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC-East is closed this coming week for Spring Break. DRC-Canton will be in session T,Th & F this coming week and then we will be on Spring Break the week of April 17th.
A timely reminder - you are free to ignore things you don't like, make you uncomfortable, or go against your belief system.
Yes, indeed, absolutely make choices that make sense for you.
You are not allowed, however, to legislate, dictate, ordain, or judge (comment on) another person's appearance, lifestyle, decisions, or preferences.
If you find it impossible to be kind - then choose to be quiet.
Free will is for everyone, not just a select "virtuous" - few.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This quote came from when these two decided to grate cheddar cheese to put on the spaghetti they helped make for Thursday's lunch in the DRC Canton kitchen. K was trying to use the side of the grater with the smallest holes. B was trying to convince him that it works much better if you use the side with the larger holes.
This exchange perfectly highlights the comfortable family like atmosphere at DRC. They feel safe enough to jokingly "argue" all while supporting each other to be their authentic selves in their friendship.
DRC Etsy Shop
It was a busy week at both Centers this past week...
Not Hard or Confusing
I have difficulty wrapping my mind around the insanity of forcing individual beliefs, ideology, and morality on others, and deliberately misrepresenting those you "disagree" with. Sadly, we live in an era where the person with the loudest, most outraged voice gets the most attention. Whether it is a dipstick politician (you know the descriptor I really want to use) actively building their base of support or the folks in that base who subscribe to the utter nonsense they are pedaling.
Hate and divisiveness sell. Generating fear around the "other" gets higher billing than acts of generosity and kindness. People are then emboldened to be judgemental and nasty - because - the powerful and influential lead by example with their spitefulness, small-mindedness, intentional misrepresentation, and fake indignation.
When a group of young teens understands LGBTQIA+ definitions and issues better than many adults in their lives or the folks who represent them in political office - we have a serious problem.
This past week, a few DRC Canton kids decided to create a new "ALL INCLUSIVE" sign on a black poster board for our "Chill Space." They were inspired by a very cool EQUALITY flag hanging in the North Star Teens' Common Room in Sunderland, MA.
They spent Thursday in the art room planning, painting, talking, giggling, and connecting - on a profound level. Later in the day, while they painted small flags representing various LGBTQIA communities to glue onto the sign, our twenty-year-old apprentice popped into the room to hang out - for a bit. She was generally uninformed and genuinely curious about the conversation around LGBTQIA+ and began asking questions. The 12-14-year-olds were happy to respond to her curiosity - with thorough well-framed (unsnarky) answers.
These Peeps inspire me every single day. They are kind, respectful, and openly willing to include everyone in their conversations and community.
Again I ask if these young people understand that offering kindness and compassion while embracing diversity in all of its forms can only make us smarter, stronger, and more resilient, and are the right thing to do, why is it so hard and confusing for some to comprehend?
Weekly Creative Meditation
Five-year-old E told fourteen-year-old V that she plans to open a doggie daycare at Deep Root Center and that V needed to help her make the sign. V, of course, complied - cause of cute puppies and the opportunity to paint said cute puppies... E did write and color in "dog" all by herself by copying it from an interactive veterinary workbook she adores.
From marketing and business standpoints - this idea is spot on. Practicality is another issue. We may need to invite this child to join the DRC board; she is fiercely original!
The action was non-stop at both Centers this past week.
Some early subscribers know I received my B.A. in Anthropology as a non-trad. It is hard to believe 20 years ago this May, I walked across the SUNY Potsdam quad in the beating down sun to accept that degree.
If you look back in the archives at some of these posts from nearly ten years ago, you will find many references to my Anthro geekiness. Today, I want to stroll down memory lane to revisit one of the first papers I wrote as an Anthro student in Cultural Anthropology with Dr. Stebbins.
We had read Coming of Age in New Jersey (or, in my case, skimmed it - because I never read any of my textbooks. The fact that I don't learn from reading is a discussion for another day.) As I remember, the class discussion centered on the distinct lack of an authentic, meaningful coming-of-age ritual - in this culture. The assignment was to create one and write about it.
I decided it would be exceedingly beneficial for all young people to spend significant time (live) with an elder in their family (or an elder who played a major role in their lives). My paper centered on - the dynamic mutually beneficial mentoring relationship between the young person and their elder. To put it simply, they would learn invaluable lessons - garnering wisdom from each other. This thesis came from my childhood experiences of spending nearly every weekend with my beloved grandmother, who shaped my life in immeasurable ways. (Unimportant side note: As I recall - I got an "A" on the paper and the class.)
Why this memory - now?
Over the past two weekends, I have had the enormous privilege of spending time with an important elder, in my life. I have been here not just as a caregiver and helper - but as someone, she trusts to share her life.
I am happy to coexist in her world - her doing her things and me doing mine - connecting - occasionally with a quick glance or a few words. I love to watch (make) her giggle over some bits of silliness that we both appreciate. She has spent her entire life nurturing others, and, as we told her, it is our time to do the same for her.
I stand by my thesis of over twenty years ago. If you have the opportunity to spend extended time with an elder - do it. (This is especially true for young people.) You will learn things about them and yourself that you never understood before. It comes with the added bonus of being changed and enriched beyond measure.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This particular DRC-True Story requires a backstory. On Thursday, E proudly brought in a "million dollar bill." He was convinced it was real. He told us it was his grandma's from a long time ago. Several kids tried to explain to him that it was fake and there was no such thing as a million-dollar bill. No matter what they said, he vehemently provided another reason it was real.
Then V looked it up and read aloud to the group that million-dollar bills were never printed by the US treasury. E said he didn't believe the internet. At that point, someone said, "so you don't believe the truth." E said he did not. And that is when V responded with no outward expression - "how very American of him."
Yes - most of these kiddos are very aware of current events and the world around them.
E, however, was oblivious to the reference and happily tucked his "million-dollar bill" back into his wallet with his $3 for skate rentals and continued about his day. Those who got it may have laughed a bit too hard at the absurdity of it all.
These kiddos keep us in stitches - all day - every day.
And finally - here are the photo galleries from this past week:
A Short Anecdote and Photo Dumps
It has been a busy week. Therefore, I am sharing a short story from this past week that highlights our philosophy perfectly.
T had found a container of sight words handwritten on cards on the shelf in the Seedlings Room. He took all the cards out and copied the words onto blank cards. He was being very systematic and refused any help. (I will also note that this entire project was completed in the middle of the Seedlings Room floor while other kids were engaged and busy with their own activities.)
With no pushing or coercion on our part, T has shown a great interest in language and reading over the past few weeks - after being fairly indifferent. I anticipate huge strides over the next several months as he explores the amazingly complex world of written words and language - on his own terms.
Photo Dump from DRC Canton - lots of outside sledding action, cooking, baking, and a Kitchen Sink Science experiment making lava lamps.
And a Photo Dump from DRC- East - lots of action over there with two new members.
This DRC True Story comes from Q a brand new kiddo at DRC-East. I spoke with them via phone on Wednesday afternoon to take notes so I could write their learning plan - this quote was their response to my final question - is there anything else you would like to add?
We are happy you have joined the crew, Q. Welcome to DRC!
Two Notes of Gratitude
Thank you to everyone who stopped by our table to say "hi" and create art at the annual Kids Expo at SUNY Canton on Saturday. We had fun meeting you all.
In our current educational system, the concept of building a safe, supportive, inclusive, and vibrant community gets lost in the push for academic rigor. I will always argue that establishing an environment where everyone feels comfortable being themselves - (absolutely) has to be the precursor to scholarship.
I spend my days surrounded by kids who all have the agency to build their (very own) community. They understand that supporting each other with kindness and encouragement, in the end, helps them all.
In addition, DRC kids understand that the staff trusts and respects them - period - full stop - no contingencies. With that knowledge, they extend the same regard to their peers. And then, together, they feel free to explore the world on their own terms.
No, it isn't all rainbows and unicorns. You bet there are days that we get on each other's nerves and get royally ticked off. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, because the foundation of our community is solid - we talk about whatever pissed us off, and then we move forward.
This exact scenario happened this past Thursday - it was one of those bad-vibe days. Everyone was in a mood, and it felt funky all around.
E was feeling it particularly hard. He needed a fork to eat his lunch - so he stomped over to the utensil drawer and yanked it open. The force pulled the mechanism off the tracks, and the drawer fell on the floor with a crash - the front breaking off. Everyone in the kitchen stopped whatever they were doing in utter shock. It was silent for ten seconds. Then without any prodding, E bent down and started picking up the contents strewn across the floor. Without hesitation, several other kids joined him. No one criticized or nitpicked - they simply helped.
I filled the sink with hot sanitizing water while he transferred all the utensils. He swished everything through the water and placed them in the dish drainer to rinse with hot water spray. While he was doing that, we talked calmly about dealing positively with the consequences of actions - even when they are mistakes. In those few moments, he learned the people you trust and respect are the ones who will always have your back, even when you mess up - a life lesson that will remain with him forever.
Weekly Creative Meditation
As mentioned, Thursday was a crazy energy day at #DRCCanton. A came in from playing outside with the younger kiddos and pulled the snow out of his hoodie pocket with a huge grin on his face. This particular quote highlights how the DRC multi-age environment fosters content kids who happily engage in cooperative play and take care of each other - while building community.
We are trying to institute a Summer Program in Massena at our DRC-East Center that is free for the kids who live in subsidized housing. To do so, we need businesses and organizations to sponsor the program. Please share this information.
Registration for our Imagination Station Canton Summer Program - the last three weeks of August is open. Click the button to the google application form. Space is limited.
Enjoy these photo galleries from both Centers. Our kiddos were happy to be back after our mid-winter break.
And finally - one more way you can support our kiddos. Visit our Amazon Shopping List here.
I was sitting here on a day off, staring into space, thinking about at least ten ideas for blogs and social media posts over a half hour. Then when I took out a piece of paper to make a list of all those ideas, they vanished - poof into thin air - I couldn't remember a single one. Conveniently my inability to hold anything in my brain for longer than a nano-second is now the inspiration for this post.
Until June of last year, I would beat myself up when any of the six million traits related to ASD and ADHD disrupted my day, and my honest intentions of behaving "normally," not melting down internally, and not losing an entire day to time sucks.
The clues were all there my entire life - the sensitivities that overwhelm me and send me over the edge - sounds, tastes, smells (all of them), the feeling of bunched or ill-fitting clothing and socks or hair in my eyes, clipping my fingernails (OK, that is a weird one), heat or cold, disorder and visual messiness, lists of information or instructions, too many texts or emails coming in at once, anything that has a hint of suspense (I always read the end of a book first to make sure everything turns out OK), not to mention socializing and "reading" a room and feeling all of the emotions - being around people is too much, in general. Yes, the list is endless.
Masking the desire to crawl out of my skin or under a table to hide - every damn time I experience sensory overload is utterly exhausting, as is unconsciously turning on the mental "don't do weird sh*t" switch whenever I have to interact or be in public.
When I figured out (finally clued in) that I am neurodivergent during last year's Liberated Learners Conference, I no longer felt like I was the crazy weirdo who never fit in. In one neatly wrapped package, it explained everything I had struggled with for 57 years and tried to hide from the world.
Now that I know, I am much more aware of how profoundly my neurodivergence has affected my behavior and life choices. I can (mostly) embrace all the quirks as uniquely mine and avoid or find new ways to deal with the sensitivities that would normally shut me down. I can now intentionally use those traits that were once a burden - that I felt I needed to keep hidden, as hacks to capitalize on my creativity and unique talents.
And, I realized a few days ago that the switch I used to unconsciously turn on is now very deliberate - and it is no longer about masking my weird sh*t but maximizing positive and vital connections with people.
We are each unique individuals navigating through our lives - with distinctive hacks and tools that work for us - devised from experience - whether we identify as neurodivergent or not. Additionally, accommodations and accessibility aids (every one of them) should be normalized and readily available for anyone who needs or wants them. No one should have to fight and wait years to get them.
My point is that our society tends to pathologize anything that isn't "normal," turning it into something weird that needs to be fixed. I am here to say none of us is broken - only different, which can only be good.
Diversity is the thread woven into the fibers of society designed to keep us strong, resilient, and connected to one another. Because those relationships are what bring out the best in each of us.
Weekly Creative Meditation
No photo galleries from this past week. We have been on break but will be returning tomorrow.
This quote is from a while ago. I am pulling it out now because it highlights what we mean when we say "free range learning" (and we are on break, so I don't have any fresh quotes). Kids are "doing" all the "things" all the time innately while they follow their interests. This kiddo happens to be passionate about role playing. It is unnatural to separate math from science from social studies, etc. As adults we don't do that - so why should we force our kids too?
The Value of Taking Risks
Time and again, I am struck by how incalculably stupid (yes, I said that word --- the one a five-year-old once told me I should never say) we are as a society. Anything that requires thinking outside the box and flexibility (an open mind and the ability to pivot instantly) is immediately assessed as risky. As is any new idea - that doesn't look "normal" or "mainstream."
The number people (bankers, insurance folks, and accountants), middle managers, and the folks who make up administrative policy are infamously risk-averse. Bring something fresh and new to these folks and watch their brains explode while excuses fly. "But we've always done it like this." "I am just doing my job." Or the old standard, "We have never done that before."
We are so inured in risk avoidance that even the dictionary defines risk as something to avoid: a situation involving exposure to danger: the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen: and the possibility of financial loss.
Nonetheless, follow my thinking here - without risk, there is no learning or growth, which means a zero chance for a diverse and equitable society. I certainly don't want unimaginative hacks making decisions about my future.
We could argue that resistance to risk and change is what should be classified as dangerous. Maybe even go so far as to proclaim that we will not survive as a species for much longer without taking all the risks involved in following the streams of brilliant creativity that are shot down every day.
Positive change and forward motion require us to envision all the possibilities, work together to embrace the unknown, get imaginative, generate new ideas, jump in, make mistakes and adjust (or scrap and redo) as needed, and stun the world with what we can accomplish - all by simply exploring the artistry inside each risk - one at a time.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This is a direct quote from the 7-year-old, explaining to the new 11-year-old, that she didn't have to follow everything the 5-year-old told her to do while playing dolls in the Seedlings Room. This is just one more example of kids playing freely in a multi-age setting on their own without direct adult intervention or direction - taking care of each other naturally. No-ones feelings were hurt. The 5-year-old peanut understood that she couldn't be a bossy pants (in this instance), the 7-year-old (who for the record, can be bit bossy herself) said it without malice or ill intent, and the 11-year-old was forewarned and willing to stand up for herself.
Both Centers are closed this coming week for mid winter Break. Here a few scenes from this past week:
Deep Root Center is founded on the belief that all young people deserve a safe, educational environment where they feel like they are part of a community. And where they are free to explore all the possibilities. Learning can only happen when kids intuitively understand that they are secure, accepted, and trusted to make decisions, make mistakes, and explore all their interests to achieve their ever-evolving aspirations.
When this mission statement was first articulated, I didn't quite realize how antithetical it is to what most of our kids experience in their school life.
I talk to dozens of young people and their families every year. The piece consistent across the board is the trauma these kids have experienced in school. In most cases, it is because the authorities in the school environment are not given enough freedom within the structure of the overarching curriculum and rules to be flexible and understand that one size does not fit all. Kids are not standardized, and neither should their educational experience.
Now - why I cried (again) this week.
As mentioned, I speak to a ton of kids every year. I write all of the NYS-required documentation for kids who come to the Centers and for those whom I consult with. To do that, I need to have an in-depth conversation with each child. For everyone who does not come to the Canton center, they are via phone call.
This past Tuesday afternoon, I was curled up in my cozy chair at home talking to a very cool and sweet 12-year-old who was joining our DRC East crew. His mother had explained earlier that he had recently been diagnosed with low-needs autism and had fairly severe anxiety and depression. This year he was punished with in-school suspension - and expulsion, too many times to count. The school authorities did not know how to interact with him (within their framework) and ended up escalating every interaction to the point where he was overwhelmed, frustrated, and became "violent."
This kid was extremely articulate - he knew what he wanted to explore for each subject. He was engaged and super happy to be switching to DRC. The conversation was natural and free-flowing and went longer than most. As I was winding things up, I asked, per usual, "is there anything else I should add to your plan?"
Que the heartbreak... he whispered, "can you put in there that I just want to make friends?"
I mean, &*#@, how do I respond to that question? Through the ginormous lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face, I barely spit out - "oh, buddy, I don't think you are going to have to look very hard to find friends at DRC. The kids are really going to like you."
For some reason this kid really got to me. The remainder of the week emotions lurked just below the surface. On Friday, I sat in the office with another teen in personal crisis - that extended conversation ended with a mutually needed long hug and more tears.
The DRC mission is lived every single day in every single way. Most importantly, our kiddos quickly comprehend that they are each a valuable and unique component of the whole. Their differences are what make the community strong, and together, they are pure awesomeness.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC True-Story - fifth in the series
A few weeks ago we instituted a "tip jar" in the "chill space." Kids can add suggestions and ideas, at any time, and when I see a note inside the jar, I pull it out and read it to the group during our daily morning check-in. The quote from today's DRC True Story was inside the tip jar on Tuesday. The 11 year old who put it in volunteered a story about a time in her life when she felt that way every day. From there a five minute conversation ensued - with several of us adding tidbits of our own experiences.
I hope her willingness to share something so real, raw, and poignant with the group will instigate more philosophical questions inside the tip jar that get us all thinking and connecting on a deeper level.
It was a happening week at both Centers this past week.
Sh*t happens. In my experience, it often hits with no provocation or even explanation. In many cases, we simply happen to be in the way - literal innocent bystanders covered from head to toe in splash-back. Other times, no matter how hard we try to avoid (escape from) drama, it finds us and pulls us dead center into the stinking heap of someone else's histrionics.
Unfortunately, I have found myself in both scenarios over the past few weeks - trapped and covered in other people's cr*p. It does not matter that I was not responsible for any of the circumstances. I dealt with it all professionally and calmly (hopefully, no one could see or hear my thumping heartbeat and splitting headache), with an extra large portion of empathy and kindness.
Did I keep all the raging tantrums internalized and hide my desire to throw up my hands in utter despair? Did I feel like my head and heart were going to explode? And was my smile pasted on the entire time? You betcha!
I can assure you I went through all of that and more. But in the end, I know my integrity and reputation will always rely on my thoughtful, compassionate response more than anything else. If I pitched fits, accused, retaliated, and smeared the person responsible for each situation or even took a stance of the victim, I would not be farther ahead, and no one would be served.
No matter how you find yourself in unsavory circumstances, you are fully accountable for your response - and it is what will be remembered by you and others.
Time reveals true character - good, bad, and ugly. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.
Weekly Creative Meditation
* To learn more about supporting DRC through our Sponsorship Program please get in touch.
The fourth DRC - True Story in the series. This quote can't be attributed to any one child. I hear, "are you OK?," asked several times a day. It is older kids asking younger kids, but it is also the five or six year olds checking in on the teens.
When people ask, "how is it possible to integrate 5-19 year olds in one space?" I am able to pull upon millions of examples. DRC creates a family like atmosphere. There is no hierarchy - everyone takes care of each other. And - "are you OK" - is just one of the many ways they do that every day.
And as you can see, the kiddos at both Centers are happily cruising along - connecting with each other through their individual interests.
I had a blog post written and ready for today's posting on Thursday evening. Since then, the news cycle has exploded with more sh*t. Therefore, I feel compelled to save the piece entitled Sh*t Happens for another, more appropriate time...
I am absolutely sickened that we live in this era of oppression and brutality. And as the details of each incident (near and far) unfold, we learn that not only are the authorities OK with the status quo, but they are standing firm on coercively inhumane policies and tactics.
To be clear - this scenario isn't only happening in more populated and ethnically diverse places or even foreign countries. It is happening right here, in the NoCo, too.
The playbook has not changed throughout history. When authoritarians feel threatened, they double down on harmful practices. Intimidation, threats, harassment, and violence are all tools of the trade.
We see it everywhere, and I hear about it daily from kids and their families who reach out to me for help. It is utterly heartbreaking and exhausting.
I obviously don't have the answers to our massive list of societal ills; nonetheless, I know that coercion, persecution, punishment, and outright brutality are not what we need more of.
In the end, I guess, I can only go into battle in my little corner of the world each day, fully prepared to snuff out inequity with radical inclusion, threats with unconditional support, and intimidation with my own brand of fiery kindness.
Weekly Creative Meditation
The kiddos at both Centers were fully engaged - creating, playing, and building community. However, as you can see, only the DRC East staff in Massena managed to document all the coolness. (Thanks, Karen G.) The Canton staff will try to do better this coming week.
This third DRC - True Story is more about a general life learning experience than the actual quote.
B asked to go to the post office to get a package when we went to the library to pick up some books on hold. After some of us went to the library and came back out, B was not outside waiting for us. I went into the Post Office to see what was taking them so long. They had provided the tracking number, and the post office employee was looking for the package. Come to find out, it was misaddressed and ended up at SUNY Canton. Long story - short - B navigated all of the twists and turns of the saga on their own (I was only there to provide transportation) and successfully collected their package that held the all-important paws that completed their cat costume.
Building up - Not Tearing Down
We know that kindness, affirmation, and encouragement create space for positive change. I could talk about the chemical cocktail that runs through our bodies - that makes us feel good - when we are supported, which, in turn, feeds our intrinsic motivation to be our best. Or I could provide scientific data which indicates comfortable, intentionally creative environments and empathetic responses can begin to heal ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and trauma.
In any case, whichever way we look at it - positivity affects how we feel, behave, and connect with others. Negativity will affect all those things in the opposite direction.
Change can not be forced - it can only be nurtured through modeling and mutual care. Developing a culture of mutual respect is at the core of every authentic relationship.
We each have the extreme power to make or break someone's day simply by how we engage with them. When we expect to find "awesomeness" and goodwill, we will discover them. And when we seek things to criticize and judge, we will find them too and, in the process, will only generate a defensive mechanism that builds walls instead of the connections that lead to authenticity and excellence.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We have some pretty tight-knit crews at both Centers.
This is the second in the series of "DRC - True Stories." E was developing a creation while talking about building a Lego set and following the directions at home. He explained that he likes taking the different elements from different sets that are all jumbled together in our Lego box and imagining new ideas.
I have at least one conversation a day that invokes the sentiment - "young people these days are lazy and don't even know how to..." Fill in the blank - with read cursive, write (by hand), spell, do math without a calculator, etc. (the list really goes on and on...)
Let's first consider what I believe are indisputably the top ten necessary qualities of any successful person.
Now let's examine all those "should-s" dictated by society. Many of them are relics of a bygone age before we had the world in our pockets. Do young people need to know how to read cursive - no. But they can if they want to. Do they have to memorize spelling words and grammar rules? Nope! I am miserable at spelling and grammar despite eight grim years of those detested spelling drills, but I still write prolifically - without (many) mistakes. Do they need to learn about - x,y, & z? Not unless it is something they want or will need for what they plan to pursue - in the future. And even then, they can study those things when they make that determination.
Our lives are brimming with adaptive, assistive technology designed to allow us to do the things we otherwise would not be able to - with new stuff coming out daily. We can calculate anything, travel anywhere, anytime in history (virtually) to learn the culture, create cool stuff, listen to music or books, watch anything we desire, and look up random sh*t - just because we are curious. We no longer need to rely on some informed individual disseminating the info from the front of a classroom, to be memorized and subsequently regurgitated on an exam and then forgotten.
Anyone can acquire the knowledge they need and want - in any modality that works for them - from anywhere. There are no restrictive boundaries. The only requirements are to have the skills listed above and the flexibility to adapt.
The world will always be evolving, despite the folks who shout from the rooftops, "but, but, but they need to learn... because I had to."
To them, I want to say, "did you learn to sign your name by spitting chewed-up pigment around your hand to make a hand print?" No, because we big-brained humans developed new technologies throughout millennia - and we will continue to do so.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Kiddos at both Centers continue to cruise along happily exploring new ideas in the new year.
The Power of "No!"
"No" is a complete sentence. We, as a society, seem to (mostly) understand this concept - as it relates to consent and respect in general. However, we have difficulty comprehending that children should be afforded autonomy too. They should be able to make decisions based on what feels right to them - at that moment.
I believe that when a child has autonomy, they are more aware of not only how the decisions they make will affect them personally - but the repercussions for others. Because they discover that their actions have direct consequences. Within that lesson, they learn responsibility, and their innate determination shines through.
When, instead, we tell kids what, when, how, and where to do something - because we want them to learn accountability and motivation, instead they only learn that they do not have to think for themselves. They become anxious, don't know how to problem solve, and are deathly afraid of making mistakes, which quickly leads to learned helplessness.
When you give kids the authority to say "no," you are telling them you respect them and trust that they will make decisions based on what is best for them. Within that, they quickly discover what they want to say "yes" to, that mistakes are just one more learning tool, and that their authenticity is something to celebrate, not hide.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We are delighted that Christopher Raymo has returned to the DRC family. He is a musician and NoCo native who grew up in Raymondville. His return has been seamless - he spends his days at DRC with the Seedlings Crew and in the music room facilitating musical adventures.
The Peeps at both Centers are happy to be back after the Holiday Break. We have once again increased our numbers substantially - with four kiddos joining Massena and three in Canton.
And finally, a fun story from Friday - this kiddo told Chris that he brought his plunger with him to DRC because he wanted the plunger to feel happy - like him.
Lose the Plans!
My one wish for your 2023 is that plans become secondary to the delights found in spontaneity.
Your wildly authentic Spirit depends on you to follow the serendipitous threads of creativity wherever they may lead. Don't be afraid to jump into the unexpected, new, and untried when the voice of inspiration whispers, in your ear, "let's do this!" Simply trust that you will be pleasantly surprised by where you land.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Both Centers will be open January 3rd - and we are excited to welcome several new student members to our crews. If you know someone looking for a different kind of educational experience, have them get in touch.
Happy New Year from everyone at DRC!
Thank You to everyone who has shared their time, talent, and financial gifts with us this year. We are deeply grateful for our NoCo Community.
Merry Christmas from the entire Deep Root Center Crew.
An Ounce of Prevention...
...is worth a pound of cure, is one age-old adage that I wholeheartedly agree with, especially when placed in the context of societal ills.
Instead of supporting and nurturing our population, we expect folks (mostly the marginalized) to suck it up and "pull themselves up by the bootstraps," even if they are walking around barefoot (metaphorically or not).
In the same vein, we know that school does not serve every child. There are so many bright, neurodivergent, hypersensitive, LGBTQ+, and fiercely creative kids who are not afraid to be authentic and who battle daily for space, support, and understanding.
Deep Root Center is here for them all - no matter their family's financial status. Please consider contributing so we can be that ounce of prevention for any child seeking us out - before they need a pound of cure and become another horrifying statistic, costing us all much more than you can even imagine.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Thank you to everyone who came to our open houses over the past two Mondays. We enjoyed meeting you and sharing our vision.
Both Centers will be on Holiday Break beginning Wednesday, December 21st (Winter Solstice) and returning Tuesday, January 3rd.
This is the time of year when budgetary reality hits (smacks us upside the head) - many of our financial obligations are due in January. We rely on you, our community, to get us over the hump. Especially now, as we build our three-year strategic plan with an eye on expanding into other NoCo communities that need us. We hear daily that our services are necessary to a growing number of young people - but we cannot do it without YOU! I am deeply grateful for every contribution. Thank you!
Best wishes for a peaceful holiday season to you all!
With love and appreciation,
For a while, I used "unschooling" to explain what we do at DRC - but I always stopped mid-stream to say that I didn't like that word because it says what we are not instead of what we are - but I would use it until I had a better word to describe everything we do.
Now I do! "Free-Range" immediately conjures a positive mental picture. Most folks know the term when applied to farming techniques. Therefore, with that underlying understanding, I think it is the perfect way to describe self-directed learning philosophy and methodology.
When we say free-range, we mean young people are following their interests and actively seeking the information that is specifically and vitally important to each of them. They are playing, creating, and learning important life lessons within our safe, supportive, and nurturing community - where they know they belong and are cared for.
You can support all of our amazingly creative free-range kids by contributing to Deep Root Center.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC #FreeRange T-shirts and Hoodies
We are placing our order this coming Tuesday. If you would like one, please let me know, and I will get it on our order. You can choose black or purple shirts and either the Canton or East logo.
T-shirts are $20 and hoodies are $35. Available in youth and adult sizes.
At this time, every year, my internal batteries begin to run low (read - in the dead zone), and I am utterly exhausted by overwhelming frustration, worry, and external stimuli. And every year, when my neurodivergent, introverted brain says, "please let me hibernate for a couple of months," I am revived with thoughtful comments, kind gestures, and gentle reminders that my efforts are appreciated by many kids and their families.
And just like that, I am jolted back to my "why."
As mentioned last week, DRC is on the cusp of growing to accommodate all of the families who seek our services. We do not refuse any of them - no matter their financial circumstances. This year alone we are on track to provide over 150k in fee reductions.
There are many ways to help -
Join us tomorrow, Dec. 5th, from 4-7, in Canton to meet our staff, board, and some of our student members. Bring your questions about our programs, and you will have the opportunity to make suggestions for our future growth.
And join us at DRC - East in Massena Monday, the 12th.
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