Creating the Space for Curiosity

“Be curious, not judgemental” -Walt Whitman

“I know what it is! I know what it is!” screams erupt at Madison Manor Park. 

“It’s a mermaid!” “It’s a shark!” “It’s a spoon!” Discovery bursts into laughter. 

The learners are excitedly engaging in an activity, working together to figure out what is inside a mystery bag. This activity is a fun way for us to foster the skills of curiosity. 

At The Village School, curiosity is an essential component of Learning to Be. But how do we define curiosity? How do we foster curiosity in our learners? Can we guide our learners to be curious? What does being curious look like? These are the questions I sought to answer before we began Session 5.  

OECD’s Framework for Social and Emotional Skills defines curiosity as “the interest in ideas and love of learning, understanding and intellectual exploration; an inquisitive mindset.” There are many ways that a Guide can support creating a space for curiosity in their studios. 

In each studio, we began our exploration by learning about what curiosity means. Linking our curiosity to health and wellness, we practiced asking questions about ourselves. The learners created maps or lists of questions about who they are, what they want to learn, and what their futures will look like. 

After the learners practiced being curious about themselves, we moved to the practice of being curious about others. What happens when your values and beliefs do not align with your family, friends, and even spouses? Do you remain curious about their beliefs or do you pass judgment? This is a difficult question to ask one’s self and it was difficult for the learners to practice. Using Project Zero’s thinking routine of “True for Who?”, we engaged in a conversation about a claim that was made, who made it, the different points of view, acted it out, and then analyzed our thinking to see if we gained a different perspective. We decided if our statements were judgemental or fostered curiosity in a conversation. 

We have also had fun with games and exercises that spark curiosity! The learners have taken every day objects and challenged themselves to think of 100 different possibilities for what the object could be. A favorite, especially in Spark studio, has been “what is inside the bag?” The learners are only allowed to ask open-ended questions. This was such a challenge for our Spark learners! And, an activity that they keep asking for. As our session progresses, we will challenge ourselves to have a growth mindset and explore why this is an important tool in remaining curious. The learners will also take away a special reminder that all traits and pieces of who they are, are valuable. Each learner is unique. Always remain curious about who you are, practice a growth mindset as you explore your curiosities, and embrace the pieces that make you, you. 

Creating Self-Awareness: Cultivating Our Learners Inner Value

“We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.” – Brenè Brown

Learning to be is an essential pillar of The Village School’s Portrait of a Graduate. This session, our community has taken a reflective approach to understanding one of the important components of learning to be – self-awareness.  Self-awareness, as defined by CASEL, “is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. It also includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.” With this definition in mind, we set out to better understand our emotions, the perspectives of others, our actions, our support systems, and the value each of us brings to the world.

Cultivating self-awareness in each of our studios looks and feels different when we account for the different stages of human growth and development. At TVS, we truly value that each learner, each studio, is in a different place in how we can nurture self-awareness. In Spark Studio, we began by making a connection to a recent emotional experience that many of our learners understood, fear. Our learners had recently felt fear before getting on stage for an exhibition performance. Many described “butterflies in their tummies” or were concerned that they would not remember their song in front of their parents. Some of our learners were too nervous to step on stage. We harnessed this moment as an opportunity to develop a plan for how to recognize fear within our bodies and create a plan for how to approach our fears. Developing self-awareness around this emotion supports our learners on their journey to being more mindful of how they are experiencing emotions, coping with those emotions, recognizing them in others, empathizing, and building a positive relationship with themselves and others.

In addition to identifying our emotions, becoming more self-aware means that we can recognize when change is necessary in our lives and discover ways we can progress towards change. This skill requires a person to be able to identify their strengths. In Discovery studio, we took time to reflect on our strengths, what each of us brings to our community that makes us feel connected to each other. Then, we built a strengths chain together. This project was full of excitement, hard work, and determination. The learners enthusiastically wrote down all the qualities they were proud of and helped each other build our chain. The chain hangs in our hallway so each of the learners can remember that they each have important qualities that they bring to create a thriving learning environment.

Towards the end of our session, all learners have been reflecting on values. This entails expressing gratitude to the important people in our life for supporting us in our journeys to becoming who we hope to be. Understanding our values and the values of others helps us to understand more about our emotions and actions. From this, the learners discussed their value, what each of them brings to the world that is unique and special. Each one of us has the capability to make a difference in our community, we just need to cultivate the self-awareness to be able to recognize it within ourselves and make steps towards creating the difference we want to make.

That’s the Community Spirit

As I reflect on Session 3, our time was filled with laughter, connection, reflection, and a strong sense of community. I set out with the goal of keeping things light and enjoyable, not profound but simple. What I found in each studio has been anything but simple. The heartwarming experiences lived through the lens of “healthy choices” were a testament to the community we hold so dear at The Village School.

During our last outdoor school day at Ms. Jenny’s, the Spark learners were given a task, to build a fire. Many learners had not had experience with how to build a fire, what to do, and what even goes into a fire to get it started. A few of our fellow experts, including an Adventure learner, stepped up to the plate. They shared how we needed to clean out the fire pit, what materials to gather, how to create a structure that would yield the best fire, and how to stay safe. Our experts gave each learner a job. Some learners gathered kindling, others shoveled, and a few enjoyed the role of leader, making sure everyone stayed on task. The goal was clear, if we wanted to enjoy something together, we all had to work to make it happen.

The result was a memory that will be enjoyed for years to come. Each learner was a part of our team. Each learner had a responsibility and worked hard to build something beautiful and enjoyable for all. We drank hot tea together around our finished campfire. This community building activity showed how the Spark learners have come to appreciate each other. Each learner is an important member of our community.

The Adventurers! Words cannot encapsulate the meaningful way in which we spent our last session together. During the Rite of Passage. Adventure learners hiked to watch the beautiful sunrise, enjoying hot tea and coffee together. The quietness of nature and the sounds of laughter filled the air as each adventurer wrote a quote of what they wanted to bring into the new year. On our hike back to the park, we tied our quotes to a tree, grounding our commitment to earth.

Then, it was off to the park to enjoy two activities meant to appreciate each other. Laughs were dominant as they had to work together to cross a field and identify missing objects, all while blindfolded! Their memories and communication skills were tested. The learners excelled at working together to figure out the missing objects. Walking together, well, they may have needed some guidance to make their way back to the starting point. Needing guidance did not take away from the happiness expressed through this team building adventure. There was a true sense of joy and gratitude expressed by each learner through their Rite of Passage.

The community in Discovery has been evidenced by their strong relationships. Rallying around those that need support is a common theme in the studio. When a learner is struggling, hurt, or upset, many (if not all) come to the rescue, offering ice packs, help, and advice. They are truly there for each other, always wanting to be a support to their fellow teammates. The bonds of friendship that have been created in Discovery are examples to our whole community of how to be there for each other, of how to show care in a time of need.

As we wrapped up session 3, we discussed goals for winter break. Formulating goals around the dimensions of health were not done in isolation. They worked together, bouncing ideas off each other, sharing what they noticed (in a kind way) about their fellow learners and what they could each work on. They also complimented each other, saying how they wanted to be more like their friend in one way or another. Discovery studio emulates what it means to work together as a community.

The experiences witnessed in session 3 were truly gratifying. Our studios have grown since the beginning of the school year. The foundation of community has been built and we can see this through their trust in each other, belonging, safety, and caring friendships. We can’t wait to see how the rest of our year together unfolds.

Go! Pause! Stop!

Healthy relationships have been our focus during Session 2 across studios. We have been exploring what it means to be in a healthy relationship, how a healthy relationship feels, and what it means to have healthy conflicts with the people we care about.

We started with a reflection on the relationships that are meaningful to us and how we know that these relationships are important. Across studios there were many debates about who to pick as their healthiest relationship to reflect on. Many learners were torn between Mom and Dad. Character traits such as honestly, trust, kindness, dependability, and humor were important to all learners. Questions we reflected on included: What makes you feel loved? What characteristics make you feel good? What is important to you in a relationship? How do you like to be treated? How do you treat others? How do you define a “healthy relationship”?

Healthy relationships are unique to each individual, family unit, and setting. Healthy relationships depend on your culture, religion, age, and so much more. So, how do you know when a relationship is healthy? There are three key factors that affect whether we are in a healthy relationship. These are safety, health, and happiness. We should feel safe, physically and emotionally. We should feel accepted, have freedom of choice, express positive communication, have healthy conflict management, and trust. Relationships should be filled with joy. You know you are experiencing a healthy relationship when you treasure your time together.

Through this lens, the learners debated different scenarios identifying which behaviors were healthy, “green light” behaviors, which behaviors should give you pause, “yellow light” behaviors, and which behaviors are unhealthy, “red light” behaviors. Questions we explored together included: Is this relationship request/behavior reasonable? Is it healthy? What are the real issues in this relationship? What are the possible compromises for this situation? How would you manage and resolve this conflict?

One of the most important relationships we have is the one we have with ourselves. Each studio spent time exploring the characteristics that make their relationship with themselves a healthy one. Spark identified what makes them each unique and special. Discovery and Adventure learners reflected on their inner dialogue. What green light, yellow light and red behaviors do you express internally? What do you say to yourself that is positive? What do you say to yourself that you think you need to pause and reflect on? What negative things do you say to yourself? How can you rephrase them? 

Healthy relationships can make such a difference if our overall wellness and longevity. Take a moment to reflect on the healthiest relationship you have in your life. What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel happy? How do you know that this relationship is healthy?

If you are looking for a way to reflect, check out these healthy relationship worksheets for adults.

“How are you feeling today?”

By Bridget Yoko

“How are you feeling today?” It’s a question we often ask others. Our societal responses are usually a casual “good”, “fine”, an occasional “ok” followed by the usual follow up “how are you?” with the same ingrained causal responses.

In my first session as the Wellness Specialist at The Village School, the goal of answering that question has been to take a deep dive into our emotions and the feelings that correspond with those emotions. What are emotions? How do they feel? What is your body telling you? How do we handle our emotions when they become uncomfortable? How can we identify those emotions in others?

Each studio is filled with different perspectives, developmental levels, and interpretations about emotions. In Spark Studio, the learners had discussions around anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, surprise, and fear.

Spark learners are working together to match emotions with facial expressions.

Learners were eager to share how they identify these emotions in others by the facial expressions and body language of their friends and family. Experiences that were common amongst the learners were anger and frustration with siblings, sharing toys, or when others do not listen to them when they are talking. They also had strong reactions of disgust when it comes to eating vegetables they do not like. We then explored where in our bodies we feel our emotions. When we are having a strong emotion, what does that feel like?

Learners reflected on times that they experienced emotions and what it felt like in their bodies.

Learners shared sentiments such as “I feel happiness in my chest”, “I know I am happy when I have an overwhelming feeling inside”, “I keep all of my feelings in my brain, my brain tells me how I feel”, and “when I feel angry, I feel it in my arms and legs, I have to do something with it!” Spark learners are eager to act out these emotions and share stories. Next, learners will be exploring what to do when they have an uncomfortable emotion. What should I do when I am angry? Sad? Disgusted? Or fearful? We will be exploring these together soon!

Discovery Studio has dived a bit deeper into emotions. They have been using an emotions wheel to identify what they look like in others, how they know when someone is feeling a certain way, and what to do when you notice someone is feeling lonely, sad, overwhelmed, angry, happy, excited, or afraid.

Discovery learners discussing emotions, facial expressions, and body language.

Learners have explored what emotions meant to them through illustrations and shared experiences. Themes that have emerged are the joy that they feel with their families and friends, with special desserts, and while playing sports. Uncomfortable emotions such as feeling worthless, invaluable, and angry have been identified as hard to describe. Many learners made connections with each other when describing feelings of fear. They comforted each other through different suggestions and strategies for how to find comfort when you are afraid. What do you tell yourself when you are afraid? What does fear feel like inside of you? What is that feeling of fear telling you?

Adventure Studio has begun the process of journaling. Journaling has been shown to help adolescents process their feelings and emotions in a healthy way (check out this article on teen journaling). We can often be overwhelmed by many emotions at once. Learners discussed how our bodies are giving us signals like feeling hot in our face or beginning to sweat when nervous.

Adventure learners creating collages representing who they are and how they feel.

Discussions around what it means to feel joyful, pressured, overwhelmed, and fragile dominated our conversations. Learners were eager to create collages about emotions they have experienced lately. Some of these included what it means to feel content or overwhelmed with happiness. Pressure was also an emotion that many learners have had experiences with. Which emotions are uncomfortable? Which are comfortable? What do you do when you are having an uncomfortable emotion? Learners will be discussing these emotions, how we identify them within ourselves and others, and strategies for what to do in the future.

These exercises are for more than use in the classroom. They provide learners with tools to name and process how they’re feeling at a deeper level. What is your body telling you today? What do you need? What is uncomfortable for you? What is comfortable? With these tools, your learner can challenge themselves to discover more about who they are, what they are feeling, and why. Have a conversation with your learner today and see what unfolds.

So, how are you feeling today?