Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Flower Garlands...

...the children and I gathered and sewed outside. It started with an uneasiness, every time I passed the front of the house, that such a mass quantity of fallen Rose of Sharon blossoms, littering the stone archway of the porch, were being lost to waste and destined to rot.
Annie Dillard remarks: "Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once."
As the casuality rate increased and I became enamoured with the fallen - the beauty of color and perfection of form - I wanted to salvage them from this "deranged manic-depressive", but for what?
So, when the morning today did not go as planned and the children seemed unsettled and off center, I got out a sewing kit, handed a small basket to the smallest child and told him, fill this with flowers. He diligently attended his task, and I quietly engaged mine: shaping and sewing simple garlands from soft mauve skirts of fallen blossoms. I became more present, as did he, and before long we had an audience and soon after that, other children were taking the basket out further and further afield to collect leaf and blossom litter. The mood changed from scattered and unsettled to focused and present, and we all sat and sewed. We talked about patterns, they made up their own and followed them conscientiously.
From there, they settled in their own rhythm and direction for the day. Cookie showed up to give cooking lessons and prepared an enormous and phenomenal lunch with the older children, the weather was gorgeous outside, everyone played and built forts and fairy village improvements and the day flowed smooth as silk.
To show, our summer fireplace looks as if the wee folk have been at work.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Petra and the Fairy Teepee

A Fairy Tightrope for the Fairy Circus

Making Fairy Houses

Fish and Ponds

(the fish were already floaters. the boys wanted to dissect them as an experiment.)

The Week Ahead

Looks to be promising and busy! We have some regular weekly sessions starting, like cooking classes, art lessons, guitar lessons, adult/child yoga and belly-dancing. We also have amazing visitors leading herbalism and appalachian music this week.
As always, we try to strike a balance between creative, interesting options and the children having lots of unstructured time to play, jump on the trampoline and create their own games. Every day we will be cooking a large vegetarian meal together, spending time out of doors at the pond, creek and woods and working around the property, taking care of the animals and gardens.
In addition, here's the schedule thus far:

Monday - 11am - A local herbalist and mother will be leading a plant walk with us. We will gather flowers and local medicinals to make tinctures and flower essences following.

Tuesday - 11am - Cookie, gourmet chef and owner of Black Mountain's Morning Glory Cafe, will be here every Tuesday to give a cooking lesson and help the children prepare lunch.
Weekly Afternoon Art class with long time alternative school art teacher, (and Rosetta's mother!), Denise

Wednesday - 9am, parent and child yoga led by Mado.
11am - Natalia Grunwell, a French native and local artisan bread baker, will be here to give a class on baking simple no-knead artisan breads which we plan to continue to make weekly at the school.
1:30pm, Logan, of Body Lyrics Bellydancing, will be giving a children and adults belly-dancing class.
Juan Holloday of the B-Sides is here every Wednesday morning to give guitar instruction at $5 per child. (an amazing deal!) Bring your guitar!

Thursday - 9:30am Anne Lough, local dulcimer player and teacher, (and my mother! wink.), will be giving dulcimer lessons followed by traditional folk dancing on the porch. This session is open to the public at $12 per child.

Friday - 9am parent and child yoga led by Mado
Canoeing/pond day - bring your swimsuit!

As always, Hemphill House is open to visitors. Please contact us in advance if possible so we can have an idea of how our day/week is going to flow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Creation and Courage: The doing and The undoing - "Forget Yourself"

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves." -C.G. Jung

"I have not failed. I have successfully discovered 1200 ideas that don't work." -Thomas Edison

"Give me a fruitful error any time, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." Vilfredo Paret

It has been far from a "sterile" week.
Children are regularly wet or muddy or both. There are the obligatory scrapes, bruises and a few cuts - signs that children are out of doors using their bodies actively in play.
Someone donated a canoe. Friday afternoon saw Warren with makeshift paddles (read: shovels) taking the children around the pond, pulling invasive pondweeds out by their hands. Peeling off layers and going for a swim.
We built a big bonfire out of over growth the children cleared. The fire department peeked around the corner to say a friendly hello and make sure everything was under control. They seemed well enough pleased.
We have had guitar teachers, jugglers and stilt-walkers out.
We are continually making unanticipated impromptu decisions and more involved long-term decisions while trying to involve the children as much as possible in that process. We have realized the need to become more and more grounded in our guiding principles and why we are making the decisions we are making. But we are learning a great deal from that in and of itself.
This project is, as one staff described, "an organic process." That means that it is not only a natural, free-flowing progression shaped out of the particular materials and individuals local to this space and environment, but that it is also a creative process. That it leaves room for discovery, for surprises, serendipity, chance, and for learning from things that work as well as those that don't. Since we are trying new things and shaping our days organically, this means certain concrete disciplines -such as highly prioritizing circle time every day with the children to talk about what is and isn't working, what is and isn't good or safe, what needs to get handled better and decide what changes we need to make to create the space we all want to be able to thrive in. It means being aware of and responsibly addressing possible hazards and safety concerns.
It also means some not so concrete things, like trusting and listening to our intuitions. We are learning early on how to be attentive to input from others coming into the space while holding to our deep intentions - those mutually held ideals which have created this in the first place. It means not having an unrealistic expectation that everything will be perfect from the inception but giving ourselves space to continually evolve and make changes at a reasonable pace.
We are creating something new. And creating implies trying. And trying, creating. Fear of failure checked at the door.
Having the courage to do that as adults - to see every new venture full of errors and learning and growth - also gives children space to try things and re-arrange and try again. And that is fertile ground for true creativity.
There seems to be a cultural paranoia against any kind of "failure." The response in institutional and even much of what's passed as "alternative" education is to micro-manage, to pull the noose even tighter on the throat of freedom and creativity, to further reduce it to a "proven" formula that appeases worried parents and inept institutional "norms" by eliminating the elements of chance and the possibility that things might not go as planned. It is skirting the periphery of a hunch that every human is born containing everything they need to grow into who they need to be if left to grow freely.
Albert Einstein said, "I do not believe much in education. Each man ought to be his own model, however frightful that may be."
It can be frightening to put into an educational practice the belief that in the process of life, creativity and discovery, no-one can tell you the right answers to the test - that each individual must learn to rely deeply on their own intuition, perceptions and reason to develop an internal map with which to navigate life. To trust ourselves, to trust our children AND THEN to teach our children to trust themselves- making our educational highway out of an unpaved, bumpy dirt road- means a lifestyle of discovery, trusting that this road is going somewhere good and in the meantime, it's a hell of a ride. It is "bursting with possibilities."
I realized at the beginning of last week that I was so utterly stressed about the unknowns ahead. What if it doesn't work? What if the kids are bored? What if people think we don't know what we're doing? What if we DON'T know what we're doing?
By Monday, overwhelmed by a feeling that did not serve me well to begin with, I threw it up in the air and gave my heart and full attention to the presence and play of the children who had come that day without any such baggage. All sense of pressure dissipated.
I observed my children who could hardly sleep for the excitement of the next day of play. And then myself, who could hardly sleep for the worry of the next day. Children have an intuitive "play instinct acting from inner necessity." It is an adult discipline to simply show up with oneself and be guided by the children, back into that space. The gift, then, children give back to us when we show up unhindered to the canvas of right here, right now, ready to throw down and have fun, is to allow the creative organic process of this space, and thus our own selves, unfold.

In talking about this with a friend, I related an experience I had a couple of months ago. In the midst of a lot of personal changes and difficult decisions, I was under the weight of tremendous pressure.
I went to a party with a good friend as an effort to go out and have a "good time." We didn't know many of the people there; we ended up sitting in uncomfortable chairs, making meaningless small talk and exchanging knowing looks across the table. Bored, we picked up a detailed celtic cross coloring page someone had set out for St. Patrick's Day. We pulled in a basket of crayons and entered into our own little coloring universe at the end of the table.
Both dreamy, creative types, we became childishly excited about the opportunity: the possibility of what we could make together, directing our boredom toward a St. Patty's print-out. There was a subversive feel to the whole affair. A superiority in checking out to the tune of a coloring book.
We were fairly confident that we could harness our childhood expertise in coloring with our adult sophistication and create something pretty spectacular. We started testing colors and deciding on the best combinations and patterns. We were so sure it was going to be amazing.
We intently and carefully began to execute our masterpeice, immersing ourselves in the coloring - paying attention to detail, process and instinct while intuitively responding to the other, to the feeling of co-creation with someone you are resonating profoundly with.
It felt incredible, exhilerating even, until about halfway through. As all our process was finally beginnning to take shape and we had been intently coloring for a good while, we both began slowing down a bit to verbalise our nagging suspicion -that despite our subversive pride and our assurance that cooperatively we were going to astound the room- our little thing was turning out god-awful ugly.
At which point we laughed. And laughed. And laughed. A genuine emotion in a room of prentension. We couldn't stop laughing and amid the joy of utter failure, a gorgeous idea occurred - to make it as ugly as we possibly could. We started grabbing the worst colors we could find and filling it in heinously, trying to out-do ourselves in a celebration of banality. We fell off our seats laughing so hard.
That total release to abandonment and joy - the release of any pressure what-so-ever was brilliant. It was gorgeous.
It is a hidden beauty : to give oneself full permission to fail and to fail spectacularly and utterly with abandon and hold on to that joy or discouragement if it may be, and try again, in a different way, try something completely unheard of and try again - knowing that you're making PROGRESS. In all the attempts that don't work - the beautiful Something - the Perfection of the concept emerges. Just like that.
That is the space I want to stay in - the safe space I want to create here at the school.
Play - Making - Unmaking - Failing - Laughing - Playing Some More
A safe space for trying and creating. A safe space to be a child might feel dangerous to an adult.
And I'm not going to lie. It feels like it requires all the courage and faith I have available to me. But I am so whole-heartedly grounded in the what-for:
"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." -Henry Miller

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All Beginnings

It is the quiet hours after , Day 2.
I could not find the inner space to write before we opened and I don’t know why. There is a German phrase, "Aller Anfang ist schwer." : "All beginnings are difficult."
Who wants an audience while taking those first few uncertain steps?
There are no practice runs behind closed doors here.
One day and 12 kids later, Rosetta and I looked at each other, puzzled, and said, "That was so easy. Piece of cake."
Two days and fourteen kids later, we sighed and said, "We're doing great but we need to keep thinking this through."
It seems despite, or maybe because of, the fact that we are both crazy, hair-brained schemers: wide-eyed opened-eyed dreamers who actually think we can accomplish what we dream of... so far it has worked! We have had friends and families joining in who are excited and gifted and ready to put in a day, a morning, an afternoon, share thoughts, bring concerns, pull poison ivy, sort books, drink wine, laugh and affirm, "This is amazing." "You're doing phenomonally." "It feels so great to be here." And it's happening. My children at the table tonight said, "I can't believe how amazing it is that all our dreams could come true." That's a nice legacy to be passing on.
Another mother picking up her children today was greeted with, "Mom, that was the best ever!"
The mother said her children had been wanting to go to school so, "they could eat in a cafeteria and have recess."
All they *really* did here was play in the sunshine all day and eat another amazing Rosetta meal fresh from the kitchen. I think we have cafeteria and recess covered at least - and hopefully a good bit more. Here's the list compiling after two days:
Cleared out the woods overgrown around the outdoor stove, which will be used for subsequent meals.
Discovered that we were pulling Japanese bittersweet vines and stripped and saved them to handweave a vine basket this week.
Made Fresh Vegetable soup and kid-rolled chapati's
Children defined rules, boundaries and need for respect, drew up a charter and map of the house and property
Drew and designed with crayons, chalk, scissors and other tools in the handbox of creativity
Identified the flowers in the spring meadow. Discovered heal-all, plantain, forget-me-not and rhodedendrons – found out we could cook heal-all in our soup or use it in a compress to heal a cut.
Hanifa came to help: a kind, loving, hovering, assertive Serbo-Albanian "grandma" who made the children eat their soup ("what do you mean you don't like it? Here. It is good food!" And the kids ate it); who told stories of being in refugee camps with 6 children, one of them 2 months old, and of how she was given asylum in the USA. She swept the porch more times in one day than I have in a month.
Went for a long attentive walk in the woods, indentified woodland flowers, wild mushrooms,newly hatched litters of millipedes and found a site to build a temporary woodland shelter
Read books and practiced reading with interested children
Sang "Yellow Submarine" with i-tunes at the top of our lungs
Got the salt-water aquarium set up and running: all ready for the seahorses and starfish
Set up the trampoline
Had a session with a wholistic animal attendant who will be volunteering at the farm
Made homemade play-dough
Rescued frogs
Involved and evolved impromptu games
told stories
sang songs
watered flowers
walked the ponies
built towers
and ate some more food today.

The children have hardly been inside at all.
And now a thunderstorm.
We are tired. But a happy good tired.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wish List

...as will be with these things, we have a lot of wishes. Got stuff lying around?

Paper Lamp Shades
Bean Bags
Floor or outdoor cushions
Outdoor Furniture
Fort Building Materials:
-(indoor - pillows, cushions, sheets)
-(outdoor: scrap wood, windows, etc.)
Wooden Toys
wooden puzzles
musical instruments
tinker toys, etc.
play castle
outdoor toys
Science Toys and old Lab Equipment
“invention” stuff: wires, springs, recyclable materials, etc.
Creative and art supplies
Colorful things
Christmas lights
Picnic Tables
Outdoor Shelter
Garden tools and equipments
rabbit hutches
Hot tub
Fencing (non-electric)
Chicken tractors

Monday, June 7, 2010

And on Mass Education

"To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted."
-John Holt

"We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself." -George Bernard Shaw

"Learning Means Dignity"

Learning means dignity
From an interview with Pedro Reyes Millan

"My work is handicraft work. It makes me very happy. I feel dignity because I find that with the more work that I do I find new knowledge in relation to my work. I pick up a piece and I start to work the piece, and I find something different from the piece of wood I was working last night. Always I am learning something. And learning means dignity.

To live is to work and act in a creative way. And by creative I mean dreams, emotion, feeling, intuition. When working on a piece of wood, I realize that in working with this piece as a tool I can communicate with other people. I feel that the people will understand what I am trying to say with that piece of wood. And I feel good, comfortable, with dignity, working with this approach."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Soiree in the Making

Rosetta's still in the infirmary,(bed), and although it won't be the same without her, we're going to try to pull it off tonight anyhow.
Jack is the lasagna man; we've got lots of help on the way and it promises to be a nice crowd.
Anyone is welcome to show up for the 5 o'clock tour and discussion without RSVP. There will be several people coming just for that segment. Dinner is at 7.
The miniature ponies are here and settling in well. I love to look out the window in the morning and see them grazing by the pond as the mist settles.
We'll introduce you to the otter, or at least show you where his den is and where he likes to eat fish. We'll have a playful session on education and life and community and ideals, Jack will be rocking the wet bar, the kids can romp and have an adventure, there will be lanterns in the trees. Should be a great evening again.
Come if you can. We'll repeat next week on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Scheduling Updates

Tonight's dinner soiree is postponed until next Tuesday. Rosetta is really sick and tucked away for a couple of days. This is bad news for Rosetta and those of you who planned to come tonight. It is good news for some of you who couldn't make it this week. You'll have another opportunity next Tuesday.
We will still host Friday night.
Hope to see you there.