Catalyst of Growth

Session 1: Week 6

Session 1- done. Heroes tested their strength and came out strong. Now we celebrate their learning with Exhibitions. We take a peek into the daily life of a studio where hard work, creativity, and problem-solving thrive.

Adventure Heroes hard at work
First hero talk of the year

In Middle School, Adventure heroes presented thorough family histories. They explored their past, present, and future selves with honesty and compassion in their Hero’s Essays. They showed off a new studio design, and proposed a PE plan for baseball (which they will lead for ES next session). 

Presenting at The School Share

In the midst of congratulations and socially distant air high-5s, it is easy to forget. What happened prior to this success? 

Enter The Final Abyss.

We don’t often talk about this step of the Hero’s Journey. It sounds awful and dark. The situation looks bleak. The hero loses hope and resolve. Overcoming this final test seems impossible. A hero cannot possibly continue the journey.

You don’t want to linger on this step. You want to breeze through this part to the treasure. You don’t want to embrace and sit with this prickly obstacle in front of you. To stand and face your greatest test.

It is easy to conceptualize The Final Abyss as the bottom of the Hero’s Journey circle. But when you actually hit bottom, you are the one who has to climb out. 

And yet, is The Final Abyss the last step before growth or is it the step of growing?

We can reframe this greatest challenge. What if we entered The Final Abyss as heroes who know that everything is supposed to look bleak at this stage? That, although we feel hopeless, we are secretly excited because we are on the verge of a great treasure? What if we welcomed the greatest test of The Final Abyss with open arms? 

At the end of a journey, it is easy to celebrate the treasures. The successful accomplishments of the session. Today, let’s also celebrate the great courage it takes to face and overcome The Final Abyss. 

Goal Setting in Spark Studio

This week in Spark Studio we introduced goal sheets. Otherwise known as work plans, these single sheets of paper—with their carefully organized boxes for days and subject areas—offer heroes the opportunity to plan their work period. They have a column for each day of the week, with rows for specific areas, including math, reading, and writing. In each box, they specify which material they’d like to practice.

This creates space for the heroes to set their own goals. Guides offer a bit of help here and there if the heroes ask, but for the most part learners decide for themselves what they will accomplish. This is just one of the tools we use to set up a learner-driven environment.

At first, we weren’t sure how the heroes would receive this new tool. Would they find it hard to fill out? Might it be overwhelming to try and think ahead or consider more than one subject area at a time? Were the heroes still too unfamiliar with the materials available in the studio to know what to enter in each box?

To our surprise, the heroes took to the goal sheets as if they had been using them for weeks. They filled them out in the morning and kept referring to them throughout the day. If they couldn’t write words, they used pictures in each box to symbolize what they intended to do. Some asked for suggestions, but most remembered what they had worked on in previous weeks and were eager to review, practice, and build on those activities. Multiple subject areas were no problem either—most heroes planned out the whole work period at once. Some even mapped out their whole week.

Almost immediately, there was a sharp uptick in the variety of tasks the heroes were seeking out and completing during morning work. The reading drawers got more use, the math materials flew off the shelves, and heroes were trying new things outside their comfort zone. More importantly, their level of interest and periods of concentration were the highest they’ve been yet.

It’s so important to introduce the concept of goal setting at this young age. It preps the heroes for the more detailed self-directed goals they will set in the elementary studio. And it’s a valuable life skill to organize one’s time into manageable chunks and plan to accomplish specific things every day.

In addition, it’s important at this point in the year to encourage heroes to bring some balance to their work. It’s often tempting to spend a lot of time on easy, fun activities, such as coloring or building with blocks. (And on some days, even for us adults, this is completely justified.) But encouraging the learners to think about incorporating a bit of math, reading, and writing into their daily schedule helps them learn to manage their time and use it wisely. As one hero aptly put it during circle time “Adding balance to our work helps us grow our brains.”

And are they ever eager to do that! One hero was elated Thursday when she finished her entire work plan for the day. She jumped up and down as she put a check beside the last activity. “Ms. Gwyneth, Ms. Gwyneth, I did it! Look, I checked off the last box! That’s the first time I’ve done that this week!”

It was hard not to share her enthusiasm and joy. No doubt it was buoyed by the fact that it was a goal she set and she accomplished. What a way to finish out the week!

The Power of Questions

Discovery Studio Spotlight: Session 1, Week 4

“Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.” – Andrew Sobel

At The Village School, we believe in the power of asking good questions. Questions show up in many ways throughout the day. Below are some of the questions heroes explored this week.

Socratic Discussion on setting SMART Goals: Is the best SMART goal: (a) Something you are positive you can achieve right now (b) Something you are likely achieve but want to be sure (c) Something you might be able to achieve (d) Something you probably can’t achieve (in a given amount of time), but you never know”?

Writing Workshop: “If you had to write an ode to honor and increase appreciation for one item, what would it be?  Why?”

Civilization: “Does a life full of hunger and daily struggle excuse future cruel actions completely, somewhat, or not at all?” to an even larger question, “Is it important to study history? Why or why not?

Socratic Discussion on Givers vs. Takers: “Would you rather be a giver or a taker? Can you be a giver or a taker when it comes to emotions?

Socratic Discussion on Community: What purpose does being part of a community serve in your life: protection, fun, collaboration, or something else?

Heroes fine-tuned the skill of setting balanced SMART goals with their squads. For fun, a “Top banana award” was given to the squad that completed or exceeded the most SMART goals this week. When asked, “What might make your squad stronger?”, Heroes answered by electing Squad leaders and creating Squad names. What names did they determine best represented their squads?

Our four squads have settled on: 1) Thee Holy Shrimp, 2) The Scarred Pandas, 3) Popcorn Party, and 4) The Scourging Coyotes.

During Writing Workshop, heroes worked on completing their first drafts of their Odes. Odes were written to music, books, words, parents, sports, the sun, nature, and many other things.

Heroes were excited to launch our Civilization studies this year. One young hero stated, “I think we study history so we can learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes,” and another said in his own words, “We learn from history to make a better future.”

During the many Socratic Discussions focused on building our community this week, Heroes unanimously agreed that they’d rather be givers in the studio and decided to add an important promise to each other on their contract “To try and be positive”, even when things are hard or don’t go your way.

In regard to the big “Why” of being in a community? Discovery heroes stated fun and collaboration as the primary reasons for being at TVS (with family communities offering protection).

A hero added one final thought- “And purpose. Our friends at school are here to help us on our Hero’s Journey. We need a community for that.”

New Year, New Adventure

Adventure Studio

Session 1: Week 3

On September 2nd, The Village School launched Middle School Adventure Studio.

It is a new adventure. Even without COVID-19, it was likely to be a year unlike any other. The Adventure Heroes are shaping a community for themselves and all the future Middle School Heroes.

Find a calling. Change the world. In Adventure Studio, heroes continue to broaden and deepen their passions, and they connect them to real needs in the world. They explore the larger community beyond the school. What needs to be changed? How can I be the one to change it?

A great journey requires a sturdy compass. The 4 cardinal directions of this year are Real, Ideal, Hard Work, and Fun. The studio goal is finding a balance. Heroes are exploring each direction in this session’s Quest by designing the studio contracts and learning space (ideal), learning new life skills (real), putting together a 1000 piece puzzle (hard work), and producing a film (fun!) 

On the road, heroes have already demonstrated their curiosity and problem-solving skills. They investigate and are open to new perspectives. They search for more than one answer. One recent question, “How can we fit the microwave and fridge together to make our studio more functional?” Brainstormed answers: microwave on top of the fridge, finding a new fridge, and putting the microwave into the fridge! 

As these heroes build their future, they look to past experience. They decide to hold onto tradition or forge a new path. It provides a tangible example for the overarching question,  “Does the past determine the future?”

New Beginnings

What a wonderful first couple weeks of school in Spark Studio. We’re off to an amazing start! Heroes spent this time settling into the their new environment, learning its rhythms and routines and the names of their new friends. They found focus and flow by using building materials, perusing the library shelves, and practicing activities on our practical life shelf trays. (Kinetic sand is just as engaging as you might imagine.)

The emphasis of these first two weeks in the studio was on expanding heroes’ concentration. As they move past the excitement of trying all the new activities and materials, they started focusing for longer and longer periods. Soon they will begin to ease into ever more challenging activities. 

Outside, the heroes had the opportunity to engage in more collaborative play. They invented games, imagined pretend worlds for themselves, and even began their first forays into  “loose parts” play.

“Loose parts” refers to materials such as plywood, tires, PVC pipes, lumber, tarps and bamboo that we store out back in a little shed behind the playground. During our extended outdoor afternoon period, heroes are free to explore these items, combine them in different ways, and plan and build unique structures.

Spark heroes were understandably unsure about the “loose parts” shed the first couple of days. The playground, climbing trees, and ample space to roam provided more attractive play opportunities. But as soon as it started to rain Wednesday, all of a sudden they were very interested! They came running from all four corners of the outdoor play area to grab materials from the shed to construct rain shelters. Within minutes, tarps draped over picnic tables and PVC pipe frames, and plywood leaned against picnic table benches to protect from the wind. It was so much fun to watch the problem-solving and teamwork take hold in this group.

When it was time to go in it took almost no urging for them to work together to organize it and put it all away. The heroes even used plywood to construct makeshift ramps for easier access to the shed. We could already tell this would be a group that would work and play well together this year. We’re looking forward to next week’s adventures!

Freedom and Friendship

DISCOVERY STUDIO SPOTLIGHT

Our first two days in Discovery Studio were spent learning new routines and making new friends. After talking about basic safety and guardrails, heroes took the first step in creating studio expectations by establishing a provisional contract. This contract will serve as their initial promise to each other in these first few weeks of school, while they do the hard work of creating their formal set of studio promises to be signed at the end of this first session of learning.

Heroes explored the idea of the studio as a sacred place and came to the conclusion that it means the studio “is a serious and special place of learning” and one that is “friendly, quiet, and productive”.

The question at hand- “What do you think is MOST important in keeping the studio sacred this year at The Village School? Freedom, Friendship, Respect, or Hard Work?”

Hero votes for the most important element in keeping the studio sacred.

Friendship and Freedom received the most votes, and a few heroes connected respect to friendship, voicing their opinions that they felt they were very similar. As for hard work? Heroes agreed it was very important, but not more important that friendship, freedom, and respect.

This theme of friendship was visible throughout the first few days of school as heroes learned about each other, shared their strengths (their long rubber bands) and the things they find more challenging (their short rubber bands), offered encouraging words to each other during various team building activities and engaged in spontaneous games of hide and seek, swing jumping, and “family” during free time. Words of encouragement and support were overheard as some heroes explored the edges of their comfort zone as they climbed trees- a cherished activity in Discovery Studio.

At the same time, the Virtual Discovery Studio launched this week with much enthusiasm, excitement, and one spontaneous dance celebration! Heroes discovered things they had in common as well as special superpowers that make each one unique. Working together as a team, they chose a fantastic lip dub song and got to work memorizing each part. We closed our week with character call-outs, thanking fellow travelers for their leadership, thoughtfulness, and kindness.

At the end of the first week, heroes created their provisional contract, by agreeing to the first three guardrails provided by the guide and by adding a fourth promise when asked if they thought anything was missing. One thing is clear- Discovery Heroes of the 2020-2021 school year are off to a great start! One marked by their commitment to kindness, friendship, and supportiveness.

In Anticipation of the Year Ahead

In two short weeks, the journey of a new school year at TVS begins. Over these summer months, our team has been excitedly preparing for the day that our studio doors will be open and ready for our young heroes to begin their adventure of a new year of learning.

The anticipation of the upcoming school year is tangible and comes with many new additions:

  • many wonderful new families
  • new members to our world-class team of guides
  • new loose parts and outdoor adventure play program
  • the launch of our Adventure/Middle School Studio
  • a redesigned Discovery Studio
  • a year’s worth of projects and learning at our fingertips

And of course- due to the presence of Covid19, we have a few new health policies and safety procedures as part of our daily routine. Mostly- washing hands and wearing masks. The exceptions are when outside and when eating/drinking while physically distanced.

When it became clear that the school day would look a little different in order to open safely for in-person learning, I sought advice from people whose judgment I trust. The response was unanimous and consistent across the board. “Lauren, there are a lot of things you care deeply about, and this doesn’t make the top 10 list. Establish your safety protocols to make in-person learning possible, and move on to what you truly care about: providing the finest education in the world for the children at The Village School. Go on lots of hikes, spend lots of time outside, focus on the learning — and move forward.”

I understand many of you are anxious about the various “unknowns” of the upcoming school year. I’ve worried at the thought of our youngest learners wearing masks while joyfully exploring the Spark Studio. I’ve wondered how well my own two boys will do with these new routines. I’ve talked through various scenarios in effort to normalize these changes to the school day. Each time, I’m reminded of how resilient children are. While we worry, (as all parents do so often under normal circumstances), our children are already adapting. They are uniquely made to learn and grow- at a much faster clip than the adults around them. And, in the end, we cannot choose our circumstances – only how we’d like to act in whichever circumstances we’re in.

With that background, I’d like to make a request of each of us as parents: That we model for our children the character and grace that we hope they develop. If we complain or seem anxious in the car on the way to school, it’s more likely they will too. On the other hand, if we smile and cheer them on to go have an incredible day with incredible friends at an incredible school, that is more likely the path they’ll take.

The Village School thrives in times of innovation. This is a time to be a light on the hill. I have no doubt that we can be that for our children and for each other in the year ahead.

Details for each of your children’s studios will be available next week, including a virtual program overview on Wednesday, August 26th from 4:00-5:00 (Details to come).

As always, thank you for being a part of this community and allowing us to grow and learn alongside your young heroes this school year. It is sure to be a year of deep learning, adventure and, no doubt- a few surprises. 🙂

Slowing Down

ES Session 7: Week 5

We spent 2 hours wandering in the park.

It was outdoor play on Wednesday and we were venturing off campus.

It was cool in the shade. We spied minnows in the pond and giant tadpoles in the stream. A turtle was hiding in its shell near the skeleton of a rusty truck. We plucked blue, purple, white, and yellow flowers. One hero explained iron pyrite that cast a rusty tinge in the water.

Part of The Village School experience is moving slowly. We aren’t driven by test prep (though our test scores are pretty good). We don’t need to rush through community discussions to get back to the curriculum. Being in the moment is built in time.


Even during School From Home, we seek to create those slower moments for heroes. One such moment this week was our annual Heroes Celebration. Our whole community gathered to hear stories of perseverance and courage, enthusiasm and grit. A time to slow down and celebrate not the successes but the journey.

Congratulations to all of our heroes in this special moment of reflection!

Problem-Solving Masters

In the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by our heroes’ collective problem-solving abilities. It’s so interesting to watch this group of children work together to find solutions, without seeking help from an adult. They feel empowered to do it by themselves.

It happens daily, but one instance that really stuck out happened during outdoor water play last week. I brought along some water balloons, pre-filling as many of the colorful orbs as I could. I also brought along the water balloon-filling bottle and extra balloons in case they wanted to try it, but didn’t know if it would get much use as soon as the heroes realized how hard it was to use.

After they had so much fun throwing the first set of water balloons, the heroes set a goal of filling the bucket with “hundreds” more, and reached for the bottle without hesitation. With a little guidance, they learned how to position and hold the balloon on the spigot, pump the bottle full of air, press the lever to release the water, then tie the end of the balloon. It was complicated and difficult work. Balloons kept falling and bursting on the grass and squirting in heroes’ faces as they attempted to tie them.

Did these learners get frustrated or give up? Did they seek out some easier, more fun form of play (i.e. the nearby sprinkler)? Not once. I marveled at their tenacity and joy in the face of such a difficult task. They each took on a role, worked to try and master it, and encouraged each other along the way. Their little assembly line was quite a sight! They spent the better part of the afternoon trying to fill up those balloons. In the end, they didn’t amass quite the arsenal they had aimed for. But it really didn’t matter. It was the hard task of filling them and working as a team that was so engaging.

These children’s ability to organize themselves and find solutions to various challenges is teamwork at its finest. It’s a joy to watch.

From Philosopher to Practitioner

If you look up the word ‘school’, you find three main definitions:

  1. An institution for educating children
  2. Any institution at which instruction is given in a particular discipline
  3. A group of people, particularly writers, artists, or philosophers, sharing the same or similar ideas, methods, or style.

At first glance, none of these descriptions seem to adequately define our learning community at The Village School. The first suggests children as passive recipients. No, that doesn’t fit. The second suggests teachers teaching specific disciplines and implies children ‘receiving’ as instructors/adults focus on ‘giving’. No, that clearly doesn’t describe our school. And the third- a group of writers, artists, or philosophers, well- no. But….wait. There may be something here.

This third definition is absent the word ‘institution’ so it departs from thinking of school as a location or place. It’s rooted in the concept of school as a community, as a group of people who share similar beliefs about something.

This seems closer to what we mean by ‘school’ at TVS. Interestingly, many of us are writers and artists- and I would argue that ALL of us are philosophers, *people engaged in thinking about the world, the universe, and society (*Definition from Oxford Languages).

Each person in our community, and in our network of learner-driven schools, shares similar ideas, methods, and approaches to education -which are, ironically, in contrast to the ideas, methods and approaches of traditional schools.

At the core, is our shared belief that all children have a gift that can change the world in a profound way. Our methods are rooted in Montessori and other inquiry-based, self-directed learning methods and our approach is one that emphasizes the development of the whole child– intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. .

As a team, we are actively engaged in thinking about our methods and how they illustrate our beliefs about children and learning, hailing from the “learner-driven” school of thought. And this “team” includes our parents- particularly during these last few months of learning from home. Through our weekly surveys, every person in our community can give us feedback on our methods and approach.

Recently, we heard from a parent that our game-based Writing Workshop this session was inspiring their child to write more, but required a waiting period between submission of a writing entry and leveling up to the next challenge- which halted their child’s momentum and flow in the activity.

Another parent has observed something that I have observed with my own boys, while hyper-focusing on earning badges for their “level”, they are missing out on other rich learning experiences and activities.

These insights are a gift. Taken with our own observations and feedback from our learners, we can streamline, refine, or recreate parts of our learning design- particularly those that do not match our beliefs about children and how they learn best.

Like our heroes, we are committed to growth and improvement and we will continue to do so, just like them- by learning, doing, reflecting, and becoming better in the process. In other words, we come together as philosophers, but we stay together as humble practitioners- all of us.

Perhaps, if we were to create a fourth description of school that adequately defined our community, this would be it.