Sunday, 11 March 2018

Playing is Learning

We've been running City School as pop up sessions for families who are curious to check us out.  Slowly we're creating a community of regulars but we still get new families popping in. 

When adults observe our pop ins and see non stop play, I sometimes struggle with what I guess their judgements might be. I'm holding space for the kids to do their thing but I'm also aware of the potential adult thinking; "All they do is play, when are they going to learn?  Is this really valuable?"

Yes.  They are learning and this is valuable.

 This play is so rich with learning it's hard for me to untangle what each is taking away from the experience.  Negotiating, storylines related to deep themes like society's justice system, how to include others in play, how to meet everyone's needs, or just developing an awareness of their own needs. It's all there, happening right at each child's individualized pace.

Plus, to get to the kind of learning that all adults traditionally value, kids need to feel safe. They need to feel safe to take risks, ask big questions, and struggle through muddy waters to reach answers that may be incomplete. Deep, valuable learning is messy and time-consuming so making sure the environment is safe for that kind of learning is important. Some kids are still testing the waters with other learners and facilitators to measure their safety and safety takes time to establish. Play is actually the fastest way to establish that safety.

When I look at this picture of the kids playing on their terms, I'm reminded of how few opportunities kids have to engage in large blocks of free play in a group.  So when it's tidy up time and the energy level picks up and the kids just can't bring themselves to help us in our tidy efforts I find myself struggling. Part of me is aware of the adult gaze upon us "you should make the kids tidy"...and my wish for them to help tidy... and the other part of me recognizes the intensity of the need to play. The kids are aware their time together is coming to an end, they feel the pressure, and they want to squeeze in every last drop of time together emersed in their play.  I get that.

Play on kids.  I trust you are meeting the needs that are strongest in you.  I trust the other "stuff" will come in due time.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

You Can Learn a lot from a Pizza Shop - City School

A few weeks ago, Gee suggested that we go on a field trip at City School to the local pizza store.  A few kids showed interest and so we went about planning our first field trip. I didn’t realize it would be an exercise in deschooling for me!

An adult question was posed - “do you want to learn how to make pizza?” Gee responded with a tone that was equivalent to an eye-roll. “No. We are just going because it will be fun.  Most people like pizza so we will just get to go together and enjoy a pizza together.”

I volunteered to assist Gee in planning the trip. He wasn’t sure where to start or that any planning would need to be done in advance.  I said, we would probably need to ask the parents’ permission and that kids who wanted to go would need to ask for money.  Gee said, “Oh forget it then.  I don’t want anyone to have to hear the words no when they ask for money.  Do you know how it feels to have to ask for money to do things you want to do? And then to hear the words no all the time?”  We then had an interesting discussion about how kids don’t have the same access to money and the economy that adults have.  There are fewer ways for kids to earn money, they often need adult assistance to make that happen, and their sources of income also come from adults.  Adults are usually the purchasers. Being so removed from the economy renders them quite powerless.  They need to ask for help, ask for handouts, and when they do find ways to make money, they are paid for their “cuteness” and don’t always feel valued for their work.  These were excellent points! 

The next day Gee said he had a new idea.  He had devised a plan to get everyone a slice of pizza.  He said that if he bought a walk-in special and asked the pizza chef to cut the pizza into enough slices for everyone, then everyone could participate and no one would have to ask for money from parents.  He made arrangements to do some extra jobs for people he knew in exchange for gift cards from the pizza shop.  We constructed an email for parents to give their permission and the date was set.

Friday was the day of our trip.  Not all of the kids wished to attend the field trip but most did.  Several kids brought money to contribute in some way and they were excited.  This was a special event!  I think they felt mature and empowered.  One person even wore lipstick and really cool light-up sneakers.

It was drizzly and cold - not ideal weather to walk to the pizza shop.  It was actually a bit stressful at times for the adults who were trying to make sure that everyone stayed together and safe.  The kids felt safe though.  They were jubilant.  Even the youngest of the group, who was 18 months old decided this was the day she would become one of the gang and walk in the herd.

When we got to the pizza shop, the kids all spoke over top of one another placing their order.  At one point, Gee said “I don’t know what’s going on!” and backed away from the counter.  Then the kids did something interesting – they started to just order what they wanted and pool their money to make sure that everyone’s needs were met.  Once they realized that together they could figure out ways to meet everyone’s needs and get what they wished, they explored their purchasing power with enthusiasm.  Kids bought blue sports drinks, sugary drinks, brownies, and chips that they normally would not be allowed to buy if they were with their families. Some of them decided that they didn’t actually like these things but some did and some said that they did but didn’t consume them.  On this trip I observed that they ate 2 extra large cheese pizzas, pretended their pizzas were goatee beards, practiced breakdancing moves they saw on the TV in the eating area, went to the washroom with a friend, and talked about farts.  I wonder what things they remember from this trip?

This field trip inspired other ideas for field trips.  One child suggested that everyone go to McDonald’s next time.  He told the kids, “I saw a commercial for it once and everyone on the commercial seemed to be having a lot of fun there!”  His family is gluten-free and vegan.  While this suggestion of a field trip to McDonald’s might feel scary to some, think of all the possible learning and self-discovery that could come from such a trip? 

Giving kids the opportunity to explore the world on their terms and make their own choices is so very empowering.  So while the teacher in me was initially looking for the educational value in this trip, I get it now. I’m in awe of what they might be learning about autonomy, contributing to a group goal, freedom, and power.  Those things rarely make it into any official curriculum guide. The learner in me is honored that I was able to be a part of this field trip.


Sunday, 11 February 2018

Am I special also? - City School

It was our first pop up session at City School on Friday.  I was really nervous beforehand and it was a great relief that the day was peaceful and fairly easy to navigate.   (The conflicts and arguments will come later when they are more comfortable!)  

I was feeling that relief as we tidied up at the end of the day and reflecting internally as I did my work. I was thankful that I got to spend time with so many interesting, lovable humans!  In fact, I was thinking this when a parent arrived to pick up his son.  I said with sincerity, “I really enjoyed my time today with D.  He’s such a special kid!”

My son happened to see my face as I said this.  He must have recognized that this was a heartfelt statement.  There was no BS here.  I truly felt love for this kid!  He pulled my arm and whispered to me “Am I special also?”

Oh goodness!  I think he must have felt a pang of jealousy or insecurity and he wanted reassurance!  It must be so hard for him to share his mom in this way!

I swooped him into my arms for a surprise hug and kiss and whispered, “I love to spend my time with you.  You are *MY* special kid!” then I gave him another quick kiss.  He giggled.  Was the giggling an expression of relief that he is special in my eyes?  Embarrassment that his mom is giving him kisses publicly?  Or was it just the spontaneity of it all?

Anyway, he was fine so I went back to cleaning and saying goodbye to parents. 

That night, as I was putting away laundry.  He followed me into the bedroom and was doing flips on the bed.  He wanted to be close and he wanted to talk.  After discussing Minecraft materials for a bit he said;

“The kids seemed to like City School, eh Mumma?”

“Ya, I thought so!  Even the kids who had parents who left for a while seemed pretty comfortable.  Those are the ones I try to connect with most actually, the ones that have parents who leave for a while.  I want those kids to know that I see them with the same love and softness that their own parents have for them. I want them to feel safe and understood, even when their parents aren’t there.  I would like this City School to be a place where kids feel loved all the time. I would like kids to feel heard and to be trusted.”

“Ya. I like to feel those things.  I’d like other kids to feel that way when they are with us too.”

Then he went back to doing flips and talking about whatever was on his mind and I think I got his permission to love all the kids who join us at City School.  

Friday, 6 October 2017

Perhaps we are trees?

I have been reading a book about trees off and on for a while now.  I like it because I can pick it up anytime and leave it for months before finding it again. Today I found it while my youngest was snuggling in for a nap.  

So, the underlying “science” is that trees spend their time growing and producing nutrients and sharing what they create with their fellow trees, particularly their “family” members and other species that are “friendly”.  In the late summer, sometimes even end of July, trees begin to cut back their production for themselves and their “family” and “friend” trees.  They have worked hard to provide for themselves and others and their tree bodies are full and heavy so they start to conserve their energy. They prepare for a survival through an environment that will be cold and dark for a while, followed by a new season of growth.

Did you know that a deciduous tree’s version of “dullness” is actually autumn?  The removal of chlorophyll from their leaves makes them “dull” by tree standards and the remaining colours, which were always present, are now the ones we see.  Their green life is gone.  These colours of early autumn are still bright to our eyes and the eyes of insects who are looking for bark to burrow in for the winter.  The more intense tree dullness (brighter Autumn colours) indicate health and strength and signal to bugs to find a less healthy tree to winter in so that they will not be subjected to the tree’s defenses. 

A deciduous tree is relatively new (and innovative) in comparison to coniferous trees.  They go dormant and suspend their growth and require cold to germinate and their lifespan decreases if they are not able to move through their natural dormant periods.  They need to have a period of time when the water is drained from their branches and trunks (water in branches and trunks in freezing weather would kill the tree).  Dormancy allows for a plant’s survival in its environment.

The strongest contrast between dormancy and life are trees in the cherry family.  Trees in the cherry family begin to “dull” in July, germinate in the cold, and they are among the first tree to blossom in the spring.  My favourite is the Service Berry with it's orange-red autumn leaves - so beautiful.  The spring blossoming is also breathtakingly beautiful. In Japanese culture, the cherry tree and blossom, (sakura), has been a symbol that life is both spectacularly beautiful and awesomely short. The cherry tree kind of represents the great contrast between death and renewal, fragility and beauty, hope and pain.

To my friends who are feeling tired and quiet, dull and heavy, drained... perhaps we are just trees responding to our environment, preparing ourselves for the future?  Maybe instead of pushing against these feelings, it would be helpful to simply sit with some “friendly” trees who are starting to feel dormant themselves?  Perhaps we will feel comforted by our connection and shared experience?😉

My blog posts usually emerge in a burst and I don't always remember what I was reading that inspired me. I just know that I'm always reading something, even if it is short or frivolous. Today's blog I actually kept track of some of my reading inspiration.  Not all of it but some.  Here they are.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben