Monday, November 30, 2009

The Public Purpose of Our Schools

This is a guest post by Jim Strickland. Jim lives in Everett, Washington with his wife and three children. He is a community-based educator in nearby Marysville where he works to promote non-coercive learning and the development of true learning communities. Jim invites response from readers who are interested in joining the conversation on integrating learning with the rest of our lives. He can be reached at

When we think about how well our schools are performing, it is helpful to remember that our schools serve both public and private purposes. The private purposes of our schools are as varied as the students and families who use them. Each member of a school community walks in the door with their own unique hopes, dreams, goals, cultural heritage, and personal history. We honor these private purposes by providing a rich variety of programs and opportunities for students to access according to their own particular agendas.

But schools also serve public purposes, and we don’t always see eye to eye on what those purposes should be. Some say we should focus on strengthening our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy. Others say we need to be leveling the economic playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged segments of our population. Still others emphasize teaching the skills necessary for students to obtain decent, living-wage jobs. Either way, much of the conversation about the public purpose of our schools centers around economic goals. And, of course, schooling does have a direct impact on our economy and on an individual’s readiness to effectively participate in it.

However, isn’t there a more fundamental public purpose of our schools – one that incorporates, but transcends, economic issues? One that has a more formative and lasting impact on the quality of our lives as individuals and as communities? One that is more closely aligned with the core values that we as a nation profess?

During the course of my 20 years in public education, I have come to believe that the primary and non-negotiable public purpose of our schools is simply this: to teach democracy. What could be more relevant to everything we as a country hold near and dear to our hearts?

Democracy is a rich, multi-layered, inspiring ideal that is much more than a political system. Democracy is a way of living and working together based on the values of freedom, justice, equality, and respect. These values can be applied to any situation in which one person has to live or work with another – our world, our country, our community, our organizations and institutions, and even our families and personal relationships.

And how do we teach democracy? Well, that’s what we have to figure out. For starters, we teach democracy not just by memorizing definitions or reading the Constitution or explaining how a bill becomes a law, but by actually experiencing democratic values and processes in the real context of our lives together. Our schools play a vital role in making this happen.

We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to think deeply and critically, how to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue, and how to value diversity and the unique gifts we each bring to our common table.

We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to listen actively, how to communicate persuasively, and how to know when to compromise and when to stand firm.

We teach the arts of democracy when we teach students how to plan together, how to decide together, and how to solve problems together.

Finally, we teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to balance their own personal goals with the need to connect, identify with, and relate to the rest of humanity.

Unfortunately, these goals are not as easily measured as are math, reading, and writing skills. Does that make them any less important? Of course not. It just presents us with the challenge of developing mechanisms and indicators that will help us to know whether or not we are doing our job. These measures will not be as black and white as a standardized test, but they will generate essential public dialogue and keep us moving in the right direction. And I hope you can agree with me that democracy is the right direction.

Will you take responsibility for making sure this conversation is going on in your community? In your school? Will you make sure these questions are being actively and inclusively discussed?

  1. How do we teach democracy?

  2. How do we know when we are being successful?
There are no shortcuts or easy substitutes for this ongoing dialogue. The work will be messy and contentious at times, but the future of our democracy depends on it. I’ll meet you at the table.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Race to the Top's 10 False Assumptions

New York Times guest blogger Marion Brady has this to say about why national standards for education cannot succeed

False Assumption 4: Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from "covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For America" for a couple of years before moving on to more intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually demanding than figuring out what’s going on in another person’s head, then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it, but they’re just blowing smoke.
Read Brady's other nine false assumptions here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meaning in Education

A recent post at the Camp Creek blog reads, in part,
We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.
Read the entire post here, and have a happy Thanksgiving (for our American readers, everyone else just have a happy day)!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Squash

I love squash time. It's great to be able to buy produce that doesn't go bad in a few days or weeks, but can be stored easily until you're ready for it. And it's yummy and nutritious and makes a nice autumn decoration in your kitchen, too!

Here is a recipe for one of my most favorite squash recipes, which can be a main dish or a side (maybe for Thanksgiving?). It also travels very well and is good for potluck meals. I got the recipe from Taste for Life magazine, and they credit Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker as the original source. Enjoy!

Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or whole unblanched almonds, toasted (I use raw walnuts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I sometimes substitute thyme)
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange acorn squash cut side down in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until the squash are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Leave the oven on. Let squash cool.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stirring until golden, about 8 minutes. Add quinoa, stirring until roasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and let cool slightly.

Scoop out and dice the pulp of 2 squash halves. Turn the other 4 halves cut side up (I usually cut a sliver off the uncut side of each half before cooking so the squash are stable for the filling stage) and season with salt and pepper. Combine quinoa mixture and diced squash. Stir in nuts, parsley, and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Spoon mixture into the 4 squash cavities, distributing evenly. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From a Parent Helper's-Eye View

On Tuesday, I spent the morning at Wellspring being the Parent Helper. It was a joy and a pleasure to see as a co-founder of the school and as a parent the way our values are being put into action. The whole morning was spent experiencing this group of facilitators and children interacting and learning, not only "academic" skills but also real life skills.

I sat in on Circle Time with the nursery and kindergarten kids (ages 3-6) and saw how beautifully and (seemingly) effortlessly the facilitators led the children in learning through play. Anne and Darcy showed the kids how to make letters by moving their bodies to look like the letters - learning through multi-sensory methods. Then they asked the children what letters they'd like to do. After a few suggestions one child said he'd like to do "P" but this time he wanted not to do it by himself but with the whole group. He organized the group, kids and facilitators and me, to stand side by side to create the P. Okay it was backwards but still, I was impressed by his creativity and how well all the kids participated in putting the letter together.

When some kids appeared to be tiring of the activity, one of the facilitators asked for a show of hands of who would like to do more letters and who would not. She had one child hold up her fingers to show who wanted to continue and then another child held up her hands to show who didn't. I not only liked the democratic process demonstrated but also the math skills that the kids were learning unawares as they counted aloud and then demonstrated with the fingers. The no's won the day and they moved on to the next activity.

The rest of the morning was delightful as well as I got to be supervisor in the Art and Writing nook. There the children were working on a project where they drawing on paper cut-out figures three people with whom they (a) got along with all the time; (b) didn't get along with all the time; and/or (c) got along with some of the time and didn't get along with some of the time. I loved seeing the creativity of the kids from the ones who drew elaborate faces and clothing to the ones who just took their blue markers and drew as little as possible. The project wasn't complete in this day and I can't wait to hear what the facilitators do with this. I just think that bringing these little people's awareness that it's alright if we don't get along with everyone and noticing that most people we do get along with some of the time and don't get along with some of the time is a valuable teaching for them.

So I left the space feeling very uplifted that not only what children are learning is so important - life skills as well as pre-math and reading skills - but also how they are learning them - through play and in a multi-sensory, experiential way. I can't wait for my next Parent Helper morning!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review - Who Does She Think She Is?

On November 8, I had the opportunity (with some fabulous women) to see a documentary about five women who are mothers and artists, called Who Does She Think She Is?

The film synopsis sets out that "In a half-changed world, women feel they need to choose: mothering or working? Your children's well being or your own?" The story focuses on five "fierce women who refuse to choose."

This got me thinking (not only about doing a documentary on the school). All of us associated with Wellspring are all women (and men) who refuse to choose. We all practice conscientious parenting from the heart. Some of us have careers or causes or spiritual lives or creative projects --or a school-- in addition to families. Some of us have and do all of the above.
The women of this documentary are artists who have children, and all are navigating the confusing waters of society messages, personal well being and sustaining positive relationships. They struggled with giving themselves "permission" to be artists in addition to being mothers. They worked so hard on working it out, trying to find ways to be creative and nurturing and whole inside of the demands of family. It didn't always work out. In some cases, things got pretty messy for a while.
I went away from this documentary thinking that Wellspring Community School is not only about education. It is, of course, in many ways-- we are deliberately setting up a space where children are celebrated and encouraged for who they are, for their strengths and their growth and their whole selves. And though it seems quite natural (to us), it is also serious business.
And yet, the whole story of Wellspring includes the people who create it, work in it, believe in it and come to it day after day. We have all stepped up to make something that serves a greater community. We are in a time of higher and higher regulation, and more and more standards, which means more and more opinions, judgment, assessment. Just by existing, this school pushes against that grain. And it takes a lot to hold that space for the children and ourselves. Just like it takes a lot for the five women of the documentary (and all the others) to have families and carve time out for their art.
These intersections of parenthood, creativity, and well being are interesting ones. Sometimes I think it's my own personal growth work to co-found a school, and sometimes I think it's for my children, and a lot of times it is (or feels) much, much bigger than that.
Here's the really interesting part. Each of the women in the documentary said in their own way that overall, they believed their children benefitted from seeing their mothers pursue creative work. That in spite of the messiness that often arose for the women for "not choosing" between motherhood or work/art, their children had these "fierce women" who wanted and had and claimed for themselves both.
This is not a new struggle for women, or for that matter, for men. Were any of us encouraged to follow our interests (much less our bliss) in school? Most of us developed our self-image at least in part having to do with our scholastic aptitudes. Wellspring holds a space where children can not only develop skills necessary for life, but also, and equally importantly, learn about themselves. By doing the work of the school, our jobs, creative work and families, we ourselves are role modeling the tricky and uneven game of pursuing more than one aim. And the space we are creating is not one of probability, but possibility. Now that really inspires me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Accountability in Holistic Education

This is a guest post by Ron Miller, who is recognized internationally as one of the major thinkers and activists in the emerging field of holistic education. He has written or edited nine books and authored numerous articles, chapters and book reviews. He has spoken at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, and Turkey.You can learn more about Mr. Miller's work by visiting his website.

Schooling in the modern world is driven by an obsession with testing, grading, and accountability. There are at least three deeply rooted cultural reasons for this:

1. Education is culturally defined as the transmission of facts. Approved knowledge is packaged into standardized units and then delivered to students. In contrast to a Socratic or apprenticeship model of teaching, this is a mechanical process that can be measured and controlled.

2. All institutions in modern society are designed and managed by experts, by professionals, who justify their exalted status because of their training in “scientific” methods. This, again, involves standardization, measurement and control.

3. Those responsible for spending taxpayers’ money need to defend their use of it. They are accountable to the public in the same way a company’s management is accountable to investors: They must have certain production standards and achieve measurable results.

Notice that none of these considerations have anything to do with the quality of learning, with the lived experience of young people encountering and making sense of the world. “Education” is not a fully human relationship between adult mentors and aspiring youths, but a rigidly structured institution organized to serve social and political ends.

Holistic education, however, begins with authentic relationship. It defines learning as an existential encounter, not a standardized process. Every learner, every child, is a unique and intrinsically valuable person with a distinctive combination of feelings, hopes, strengths, difficulties and weaknesses. Every teacher, too, is a whole person with beliefs, passions, wisdom and limitations. As they come together to wonder about the world, to sort through the astounding complexity, richness, beauty and violence of human existence in the universe, teacher and learner pursue many paths that can be experienced but not measured.

A holistic educator is accountable, above all else, to the latent potential of each young person he or she encounters. It is our job to call out or bring forth (the Latin root meaning of “educate”) that which lives within our students. To a greater or lesser extent, this will involve common knowledge that shows up on academic tests, but it is so much more than that, so much more that cannot be graded or measured. We cannot meaningfully quantify a child’s enthusiasm for learning, her sense of wonder or awe. We cannot measure a student’s expression of compassion or social responsibility. We cannot attach a grade to a young person’s feeling of kinship with the living world (“biophilia”), or his sense of place (“bioregionalism”). In holistic education, these deeper human potentials are what ultimately matter.

A society that was truly interested in nourishing the human being would allow its educators to practice authentic encounter without the hindrance of obsessive measurement. As John Holt once pointed out, sometimes we just know what is right, and don’t need quantitative evidence to support our practices. Imagine a community that trusted in the wisdom and skill of its educators, and in the inherent capacities of every young person, which would recognize the results of authentic learning in the liveliness, curiosity, public spiritedness, and creativity of its youths. Alternative schools such as Wellspring demonstrate that we can do this. We do know what makes for good ways to educate a human being because the results when we do so are obvious.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Decentralizing Educational Authority

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post from Mr. Miller.

Ron Miller writes in the Summer 2009 issue of Vermont Commons about the importance of alternative education and of building learning communities based on shared vision and interests.

What does the word “education” mean to us? Does it refer to the state’s power to shape the minds and attitudes of citizens to provide human capital for economic and political purposes? Or is education, instead, an intimate human encounter between caring elders and young people with their own aspirations and potentials?

If we believe that genuine education has more to do with the latter, then the hierarchical and authoritarian structure of our present system of schooling is absurdly inappropriate. All important educational decisions are made by distant, impersonal forces completely out of human scale, turning teachers into technicians, parents into consumers, and young people into products. The standardization of teaching and learning through prescribed curricula and textbooks, and the obsessive pursuit of accountability through relentless testing, reflect the concentrated power of political leaders, corporate CEOs, influential foundations and the mass media. No Child Left Behind (sic) is the educational policy of a technocratic empire.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Education for a Culture of Peace

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post by Mr. Miller. The following is an excerpt from an article appearing on his website.
Violence, then, is comprised of layer upon layer of pain, ignorance, self-assurance, and callousness. To overcome violence in the world will require many corresponding layers of understanding and effort. More caring, nourishing ways of education and childrearing are essential elements, but they are not sufficient. Political activism is also essential, but also not enough. Spiritual practice of some sort is crucial— but as I have written before in criticism of “new age” or “new paradigm” holistic thought (Miller, 2000), spirituality detached from cultural analysis and political engagement is not going to effect substantial change. A holistic approach to peace, and to peace education more specifically, must be fluid and multidimensional. Its aim is not “peace” as an abstraction, but a culture of peace, which means a “web of meanings” that honors compassion, collaboration, negotiation, and service and dishonors conquest and violence. If most present cultures make violence, hatred, and oppression seem manly, exciting, and effective, a culture of peace would treat them as stupid and self-defeating. (I want to add “as in reality they are,” but then this
places me outside culture entirely,as some sort of omniscient authority. We must
promote peace itself with humility, or we defeat our own purposes.)

Read this article in its entirety here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Education and Parenting

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post by Mr. Miller. This article originally appeared on his website.

The search for authenticity, personal growth and spiritual experience that began with the “human potential movement” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave rise to a new educational paradigm that was at first called “humanistic” or “transpersonal,” but which is now widely known as “holistic” education. Writers such as George Leonard (Education and Ecstasy, published in 1968), Joseph Chilton Pearce (Magical Child, 1980, and several later books), Thomas Armstrong (The Radiant Child, 1985), and James Peterson (The Secret Life of Kids, 1987), among others, made the case that we could begin to develop the vast untapped potentials of human consciousness in the early years of life. Education, rather than forcibly instilling a specific body of knowledge, should begin with a deep respect for each child’s experience and creative powers.

Holistic education incorporates new understandings about the brain and the processes of learning, such as our growing awareness of multiple intelligences. This way of teaching also recognizes that learning needs to connect the individual in meaningful and caring ways to the complex world we live in; holistic educators are concerned with ecological understanding, social responsibility and democratic ideals.

Progressive educators in public schools have tried to implement many of these approaches over the years. Still, public schools are burdened by political, economic and cultural expectations that reflect more traditional and authoritarian definitions of education. And they are burdened by conflicts over budgets, textbooks and values as well. Holistic education is rarely practiced thoroughly in public schools. This is why a number of alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools, democratic schools, and homeschooling are growing in popularity.

Given the politics of this time in our history, these alternatives fall into the category of “private” (i.e. nonpublic) education. But the holistic education movement is not ultimately seeking privatization; we are not interested in dismantling democratic institutions. One of the most difficult but exciting challenges of this movement is to imagine an entirely new system by which a democratic society nourishes the potentials of its young people and invites them into participation in the larger world.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Education Alternatives - Not Just Alternative Education by Ron Miller

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post from Mr. Miller. You can read more about him and his work at his website.

During 2007, Miller wrote a monthly column introducing the principles of holistic education to readers of the online publication Global Intelligencer (which has since been discontinued). These essays reflect Miller’s most recent thinking and he is currently working many of these ideas into a new book. The following is one of these essays.

In today’s increasingly complex world, families have access to a wider range of educational options than ever before. It is now possible, and it’s becoming more widely recognized as desirable, to choose a school—or nonschool—learning environment that best serves the specific needs and accommodates the unique personal qualities of every young person.

Despite the forceful push for standardization in public educational policy, which has reached a peak in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation, students now have diverse opportunities to experience a truly individualized or personalized education. Growing numbers of parents and educators are starting to recognize that the one-size-fits-all system, devised for the industrializing economy of the nineteenth century, is obsolete, and that the current obsession with standards, testing, and authoritarian control is a desperate last gasp of a system in decline.

Before the 1960s, families had few options. Other than the local public school, one’s choices might include a parochial (religious) school and perhaps an elite private school. As part of the general cultural awakening that took place during that decade, ideas about education expanded greatly. By the early 1970s, there was an explosion of “free schools,” Montessori and Waldorf programs, public “schools of choice,” and programs that became known under the generic name of “alternative” schools. Eventually some states endorsed the hybrid model of “charter schools,” using public funding to support a variety of educational experiments. At the same time, thousands of families became inspired by books such as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1970) and John Holt’s Teach Your Own (1983), to launch the homeschooling movement.

Struggling against the politics of standardization, these movements have matured and grown. When we now speak of educational alternatives—plural—rather than “alternative education,” we are embracing a wide range of possibilities, rather than endorsing an entrenched system and allowing a few dissidents to do their own thing on the margins.

There are at least twenty distinct models of non-standardized education, reflecting different views of child development and various understandings about what constitutes essential knowledge. One way to think about this diversity is to identify several basic philosophical orientations and compare them with each other. For example, some educational alternatives are frankly libertarian and individualistic. They argue that children learn most effectively—and become willingly collaborative members of the community—when they have full responsibility for their own learning from an early age.

A. S. Neill’s 1960 book Summerhill, describing the radical child-centered school he founded in England, is the best known statement of this approach. Today there is a growing international network of “democratic schools” (see and an expanding group of schools modeled after the pioneering Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts ( The most child-centered approach among homeschoolers, called “unschooling,” also seeks to do away with the arbitrary educational authority of adults.

Another category of alternatives might be called “social democratic” or “progressive.” These programs are more structured than the libertarian ones; for example, they do make specific intellectual demands on students, and may identify social values (such as peace, justice, sustainability) that they believe are crucial. Still, they tend to educate through dialogue and collaborative activity rather than authoritative transmission of a fixed curriculum.

A third major group of alternatives are those based on specific understandings of human development. The two best known of these approaches are the Montessori and Waldorf schools, both founded by visionaries in the early twentieth century (Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner). They believed that the child’s personality develops according to the unfolding of identifiable spiritual stages, and so they sought to provide educational experiences that specifically address the child’s needs at each stage. These alternative models are “child-centered” in the universal sense, rather than driven by society’s expectations for how future workers and citizens should be educated. (See and

There are other types of schools, and other styles of home- and community-based learning, that are more difficult to classify. Some of them combine elements of several categories. There are programs in public education, including charter and magnet schools, special programs for youths “at risk” of dropping out, and others, that are noticeably different from the standard school model, yet don’t quite fit into these philosophical groups.

Parents and young people who want to learn more about the variety of alternatives available can start by visiting the website of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (

Friday, November 13, 2009

Transaction Versus Community Thinking in Education

I recently read a blog post that talked about the difference between transaction and community in economics. In a transaction, I have something of value (money) and you have something of value (a shirt), and we trade our things of value with each other. Very businesslike and impersonal. You know what you are going to get, and so do I - these things have a predictable, clear worth. In a community, on the other hand,

participants...expect that the community is a source of strength, or value, for them. But to derive value from most communities, participants have to give in a way that is not transactional. You contribute to people within a community without knowing exactly how that value is going to come back to you. The currency is trust - or to use a more wonky term, social capital.

So I started thinking that this concept applies not only to financial transactions, but to all sorts of transactions, including education. Teacher has something of value (grades, diplomas, degrees). Student has something Teacher wants (a particular answer on a test). Teacher and Student come together in the usual school setting and set about engaging in a series of transactions - Teacher tells Student what Student should know, Teacher gives Student a test, Student gives Teacher answers, and Teacher gives Student a grade. All very businesslike and impersonal.

On the other hand, in a school community (such as Wellspring COMMUNITY School), the setup is completely different. It is not about predictable and clear goals and objectives, about SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To...). Instead of working towards "mastery" (and I use the term loosely) of a predetermined set of curricular objectives, we come together in a spirit of trust not really knowing what the outcome will be but having faith that we are going to receive something of value in exchange for our contribution of social capital. And in exchange for that trust, we receive not only information, but friendship and strength.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Helping Children Deal With Stress

This is a guest post by Mellisa Dormoy, CHt, founder ShambalaKids Guided Imagery CDs

With today's busy schedules, between rushing off to school and work, after-school lessons, dinner time and homework, all children and parents experience a certain level of daily stress.

A simple activity to implement with your child for stress relief is the balloon breath relaxation. You can help alleviate stress in yourself as well by practicing this technique. First, begin by asking your children to breathe in very slowly and deeply through the nose, counting up to three. Ask them to imagine they are breathing in a beautiful white light that spreads out through their body and makes them feel very relaxed. Ask them to imagine that their tummy is like a balloon and to fill up the balloon with lots of that relaxing white light. This is called diaphragmic breathing and it very relaxing for the body and mind. Start out by counting up to three and then work up to 5 or 6 slow counts. Exhaling is also slow and easy. Ask your child to close his eyes when inhaling and exhaling. This closes out outside distractions and helps your child focus their attention within. You should also practice with your child which will alleviate stress for you and also strengthen your bond with your child simply by virtue of spending special time together and feeling good.

Bedtime is an ideal time to introduce this techniques and to practice as well. However, this deep balloon breath relaxation will also help your child anytime he or she feels any stress... before a test at school, after a fight with a friend, when the atmosphere gets a little overwhelming, really in any circumstance. It's also useful for parents as well. It can help us parent better, because we are then less stressed ourselves. So practice daily with your child. This also provides the opportunity for you to eventually introduce mindful meditation to your child if you should choose to do so. It all begins with the breath. This relaxation does not have to last a long time, and your child will reap tremendous benefits from even 2-4 minutes of this type of relaxation.

Another important foundational stone for healthy, stress-free living is regular discussion of any issues that came up during the day for your child. Ask your child what the best moment of the day was, and then once you spend time enjoying those images with your child, ask what the most difficult moment of the day was. This is your opportunity to really BE with your child. This is also your opportunity to alleviate his or her anxieties. Use guided imagery and tell your child that together you will blow the worries far away. Take out am invisible magic bubble blower and blow blow blow away those worries! Exercise your own imagination and have fun with it. Children have very vivid imaginations and adore these types of exercises. What you may think difficult, comes very natural to them. It also feels like a fun game, and you'll be surprised how much guided imagery really helps you as well.

Spending these precious moments with your child and teaching them simple techniques to deal with stress has huge payoffs, both for you and your child, now and in the future. It is a large part of mindful parenting which is the practice of living in the moment with your child. You're giving your child tools to deal with daily pressures and you're spending quality time and creating memories with your child. It's an old cliche but also very true...our children do grow up so fast. Therefore, it's vital that we acknowledge them always and take time to enjoy them and their growth. In addition to helping your child relieve everyday stresses, make it a practice to really pay attention to your child and his thoughts and feelings. It is the greatest gift you can give them, and unconditional love relieves stress like nothing else!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Play With Your Food!

On Fridays, our oldest students get to spend some time in the kitchen making their own lunches. Here are some of their creations:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

October at Wellspring

Throughout October we observed and explored the changes autumn brought to our environment. Two meadow adventures yielded many leaves, rocks, and seeds to view under our magnifying glasses. Several of the children discovered what was inside seeds by cracking them open at the work bench. Acorn seeds are growing in our window in an experiment designed after a child noticed they were sprouting. While at the pumpkin patch, a child decided that they wanted to find out what the inside of a pumpkin and gourd looked like. Last week we gathered a variety of gourds and discussed exterior similarities and differences. We then generated a series of wondering questions about what was inside. Many children enjoyed cutting the gourds open, with a “big knife”, to discover the contents. The children’s observations of touch, smell, and sight are posted in the classroom. Please take a minute after drop-off to view their work.

We took listening walks on the way to the post office and in the meadow. Children listened to a variety of vehicles going over the open grate bridge and wondered why they didn’t fall through as the bridge has holes. We listened to big and small rocks plunge into deep and shallow water. We also attempted to find the birds singing to us in the bushes.

In the paddock, the children have built many obstacles with spools, stumps, and boards. The wet weather has created challenging surfaces for negotiating these obstacles. Our Halloween celebration offered a chance to weigh pumpkins, vote on the Jack-O-Lantern’s features, predict a pumpkin’s circumference, and guess the contents of touch bags. Games of freeze tag have helped many of our younger friends stay warm on chilly mornings. Thanks to all for dressing your child to enjoy this paddock time in all types of weather.

During circle time we take turns listening to and talking with others. Most days we sing songs and share stories. Community meetings are held to talk about how we care for each other and our space. Younger voices are being heard more frequently in these gatherings. The Kid Who Cares documents how we want, or don’t want, to be treated. We often refer to the “rules” created by children for friendly reminders. Our Peace Mat is being used more actively to solve problems which I view as a sign that the children are more comfortable with each other.

The Mat and Tray Nook offers a wide variety of individual and small group activities that reinforce pre-reading and math skills. Many days this is a popular nook during choice time. Puzzles, games, and sound/letter sorts continue to be popular.

The activity in the Art and Writing Nook has increased significantly with the support of our parent helpers this month. The children are offered a variety of materials for projects. When you join me for a conversation, take some time to view the art work displayed in the room.

The Primary children continue to explore sound-letter patterns. Several are interested in learning to read, so their afternoons are spent blending sounds and gaining confidence with sight words. They were inspired to make haunted house dioramas after listening to a Cam Jensen book. Math skills are explored with calendar work, characteristics of a set, and the weekly estimation jar.

In closing I extend a special thanks to Parvathi for coordinating our field trips, the dads that spent their morning with us, and to the parent helpers that continue to enrich our daily program. I am grateful for your support.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Birthday Song

Charlie, Charlie, now we bring,
birthday greetings that we sing.
May your day be gay and bright,
filled with laughter, love and light!

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Don't Always Get the Education You Pay For

Last week I had the chance to go see The Cartel, a documentary by New Jersey media man Bob Bowdon (a movie, in a theater, by myself - worth the price of admission and popcorn!). The film is about corruption and failure in the New Jersey educational system, primarily in inner-city and underperforming districts. For anyone who cares about children, education, and democracy, this film is a must-see.
Bowdon shows convincingly that, despite the fact that New Jersey spends more money per student than any other state in the nation except New York, our schools are performing miserably. With only 39% of eighth graders proficient on reading tests, and 40% successful on math measures, it is pretty clear that we are not getting much bang for our bucks.

More money in schools sounds like a great idea. Better funding means better facilities, smaller classes, motivated teachers, and greater resources - so goes the argument. According to Bowdon, during the recent state budget crisis spending was cut nearly across the board, but was increased for education. The White House posted on their blog on October 19 that tens of billions of dollars will be invested in education as part of the ARRA (American Recovery and Renivestment Act) as part of
the overall goals for education in the stimulate the economy in the short term and to invest in education advancements to ensure the long-term economic health and success of our nation.
It all seems to make sense. Right? Yet many charter and private schools (with Wellspring among them) have great success with a fraction of the $15,691 spent per student, on average, in New Jersey in 2007. $15,691 is a lot of money - that's over $6,000 more than the national average and over $10,000 more than Utah, the lowest spending state.

Which begs the question: what is the problem, and how can it be fixed? Greater oversight and better efficiency seem to be a good start, but in my opinion these measures are just that - a start. Throwing more money at a defective system is not going to fix the system. Where schools are innovative and encourage active learning and respectful relationships they succeed, as shown by some of the examples of extraordinary schools in Bowdon's film. Where schools follow the status quo of Teachers Teach, Students Learn, it sets the stage for apathy, disinterest, absenteeism, and even violence.

No amount of money is going to fix a system where young people are forced to sit and spit back to an authority figure boring, unimportant and irrelevant facts and figures - or at least are forced to do so until they are old enough to drop out of school altogether. Much like the therapeutic relationship, where patients need a trusting and respectful relationship with a therapist to be able to progress in their personal work, students cannot thrive unless they are treated with respect and consideration of their needs and interests. The lessons they learn about self-esteem, initiative, and creativity are not separate from (some might argue they are, in fact, more important than) the lessons learned about history, math and reading.

This is not to say that teachers are not wonderful, giving and committed to their students - almost all of them are, at least the ones I've met. This is simply to say that there are limits to what they can accomplish no matter how amazing they are, because they must conform to the expectations of administrators and politicians who believe that "education" is separate from "life". It is odd that in a country that prides itself on an ideal of rugged individualism, we have set up our public schools to be hotbeds of homogeneity, and this needs to change. Instead of the usual easy fix - namely, an infusion of cash - it is time to consider that perhaps the answer is more fundamental and difficult than we previously thought.
For another perspective on the connection between money and quality education, check out In Education Reform We See the Real Change that Was Promised from


Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Days in Education

My friend and mentor Zoe Weil writes on the Humane Connection blog in response to a recent Thomas Friedman Op Ed piece in the New York Times:

Making our kids more competitive won’t solve [global warming, rampant species extinction, desertification, deforestation, overpopulation, escalating slave labor, lack of access to enough food and clean water for a billion people, inequitable access to basic resources, to name a few of the biggies] unless we shift the goal of education to include graduating solutionaries for a better world. The good old days actually set the stage for all the problems we face today. They only appeared good because the problems they were causing took some time to appear. Were we to graduate a generation only with the wherewithal to compete better in the global marketplace and work innovatively in essentially the same systems, but without the knowledge, tools, and motivation to change pervasive, entrenched, and destructive systems into ones that are just, peaceable, and sustainable, we would not necessarily produce good days. We might, instead, cause even greater suffering and destruction.
Read the whole post here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Dessert!

Okay, so dessert doesn't fall under the heading of "healthy eating" or even "lunch" (at least for most people most of the time), but I recently found a cookbook that is so good, I'd be doing you a real disservice if I didn't spread the word.

My daughter has multiple food sensitivities and allergies, including Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance), egg anyphlaxis, and a sensitivity to dairy and citrus. This makes feeding her on a day-to-day basis a challenge, but it makes finding treats for her downright impossible. Until now.

Erin McKenna of Babycakes NYC recently published a cookbook called babycakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery. Vegan? Gluten-Free? SUGAR-FREE? Too good to be true, right?

Wrong! There are not a lot of recipes in this book, and the recipes that she included are very basic and simple, but they are phenomenal. They're not just good for vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free recipes, they're really good. In other words, it's not that they're edible in the absence of any other option - you'd want to eat them even if you had the choice between one of her cupcakes and a "normal" one.

As a disclaimer, the recipes are not all gluten-free. Some of them contain spelt flour, which is a type of wheat. However, there are not too many recipes containing that ingredient, so if you can't eat gluten there's still plenty to choose from. Most of the recipes call for garbanzo-fava (aka garfava) flour or Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Mix, though some of them include coconut flour which I haven't found too easy to come by. Some recipes use sugar, but most use agave or fruit as a sweetener as well as a moistener (usually the recipes call for applesauce, but you can often substitute mashed banana with good results). I've successfully substituted honey in many of the recipes as well, though it does make the end-products non-vegan and a bit more dense in my opinion.

As far as allergy-free food goes, these recipes are simple to follow and as fool proof as I've ever found, since this type of baking often calls for hawk-like attention to doneness, or an alchemist's skill at substitutions, or a private investigator's help to track down ingredients (and borrowing from your 401K to afford them!). If you're in need of some allergy-free baking ideas, this is the book for you!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Know Thyself

"Knowing others is wisdom;
Knowing the self is enlightenment."
(Lao Tsu. Tao Te Ching, Sutra 33)

I've been thinking about the idea of observation while I've been at school today, and more specifically, how important the skill of observation is in the context of what we are up to here.

We have been talking about how we "assess" a child's educational path, how we share with parents our observations of their child, their pace, place and progress as a learner. This is a sort of holistic "seeing" we practice: looking at the whole child with equal attention, socially, emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually. It means shedding preconceived notions of where a child "should" be according to this or that standard. It means getting down on our knees and being with that child at the level of their own eyes.

And then there is the skill called observation that we model and teach in the classroom. It is the way we "be with" the children, guide them to begin "seeing" each other and the space around them. Today, Anne asked a child to look into the face of a peer and see how they are feeling. Darcy asked another child to stop and look around to see where their hands were needed for clean up. Eddie asks the older children help the younger children tie their shoes. We go outside and look up and around. We color and build and talk about what we see. We come inside and sit in a circle, observing the space our and others bodies need for everyone to fit. We look at the way a gourd floats. We check on each other in the Cozy Corner. We observe what someone does and try to do it ourselves. We take information in, observe the world around us, using our hands and ears and eyes. Ultimately, we also learn to observe our own selves: Am I hungry? Angry? Excited? Sad? Is your friend feeling happy? Tired?

These are small steps for small people, and ones we feel very strongly about. If the ultimate command is "know thyself," this is a great place to begin.