How Do I Play This Game?

By Lauren Quinn, Co-Founder & Head of School

I’ve always liked playing games. Board games, word games, PE games. Video games- not as much, but I do still love a good game of Mario Kart. I love it for a variety of reasons but mostly because I find it fun, challenging, and deeply entertaining. I laugh just watching the little characters go all over the road, bumping into various obstacles, all the while trying to reach the finish line.

Just as there are many different reasons to play Mario Kart, there are many levels in the game design itself. There are different speeds, different races, and different treasures to collect along the way. Video game creators understand that there needs to be multiple access points for a wide range of individuals, based on their motivation for playing and their particular skill level- if they want their game to be user-friendly and enjoyable.

A new player may be driven by curiosity. What is this game and how do I interact with it? What happens when I press these buttons? What happens when I don’t press these buttons? What if I go in reverse? What’s around the next corner? Their goal may be to simply to learn how to drive.

A player with some experience may be driven to improve. How do I play this game well? How can I go faster? How can I get to more challenging courses? Their goal may be to win races, “leveling up” as they go.

A seasoned player may be to driven to excel. How do I master this game? How do I hone my skills and take advantage of everything this game has to offer? Where can I find the “bonus” treasure? Their goal is achieving excellence at the highest level of difficulty.

In many ways, our Learning Design at The Village School is similar, with many different levels to meet the needs of each unique learner in our community. There are different speeds (self-paced), different levels (badge levels/freedom levels), and different treasures to collect along the way (leadership badges, personal growth).

“The systems and processes we build allow a self-choreographed dance to play out for each person – between external and internal motivators, private and public competition, individual and group work, freedom and responsibility.” – Laura Sandefer

As parents, it’s important to see these systems and different levels of “playing the game” (and motivations for doing so) and trust that our learning design is built to support each child right where they are in their own journeys. It is all too tempting, particularly for the “Type-A’s” among us, to see all of the challenges on Journey Tracker and feel the need to push our child to check all of the boxes. It can be frustrating when you ask a question about something like “personal growth goals” and they don’t know how to answer. It can make us fearful. It can fill us with anxiety. It can make us wonder if we’re missing something- if they’re missing something.

I get it. Trust me, I do.

However, if they’re just learning how to drive, perhaps this is perfectly okay. After all, why should they be concerned with the “bonus” treasure if they need to simply keep their eyes on the road in front of them for the time being?

Because what we want for our young learners, more than anything, is to love learning- to find it fun, challenging, and deeply engaging. We want them to laugh while bumping into obstacles, to embrace challenges, to get back on the road when they go off course, and to “level up” when they decide they’re ready.

Welcome to Session 2!

Session 2: Week 1

Imagine it is the year 2200. A new Century has begun! It is very different in the future. People transport instantly to any location. They live in floating house pods above the Earth. No one uses money any more: it’s all attached to your virtual account on the internet. And children don’t even go to school! Any knowledge that they need is instantly downloaded into their minds. 

But some curious humans still want to know about the past. They venture down to Earth and explore the ruins. They crawl over abandoned buildings covered in plants. One curious human still uses an old-fashioned metal detector and scans the ground for bits of metal. One day, the metal detector goes crazy. The human starts to dig and unearths a huge metal box. Inscribed on the top is The Village School 2019-2020. 

Filled with curiosity, the human pries open the box and pulls out artifact after artifact. Things that no longer exist! Things that are still used in 2200! But most importantly, the box tells the story of a unique microschool in Annandale, Virginia.

This session, the Heroes will create a Time Capsule for The Village School. Before they bury their Time Capsule, they will display all the objects in a museum exhibit for Exhibition. (Because aren’t museums really time capsules on a grand scale?)

The Time Capsule will include 3 important parts of The Village School story: the past, the present, and hopes for the future.

The Heroes will tell stories about their past in Writer’s Workshop. They will write memoirs that answer questions like how did you come here? Who are you as a person? Each Hero will write 4 concise stories, focusing on the writing skill of idea development.

Heroes will need to go through each step in the Writing Process to earn a Badge

The Heroes will also explore the ancient past. Twice a week in Civilization, we will read The Story of the World and have a Socratic Discussion. The Heroes can choose to earn a Civilization Badge by completing the weekly challenges: these challenges go above and beyond the weekly story, and include creating maps, researching important figures, and analyzing historical sources.

These are highlighted topics from each Chapter

The Heroes will tell stories of the present: collecting important moments from Core Skills, Art, and Passion Project. Specifically in Art, the Heroes will be challenged to create a work that tells a story of place. This art work will be shared in the Global Art Exchange where art is shared between classrooms around the world.

And they will share hopes for the future. In this Entrepreneurship Quest, the Heroes will create a Hot Chocolate Business. They will compete against other teams to design a successful business and ultimately, sell the most hot chocolate. The winning team will be able to choose how to use the funds for the school!

Each Challenge explores a topic in entrepreneurship

The Heroes are excited for this session, and we hope that you are too!

When Tough is Kind

By Lauren Quinn, Co-Founder & Head of School

Recently, I heard one of our new learners say to a peer, “You’re going to get in trouble!”

To which one of our returning learners said, “There’s no such thing as getting in trouble here. You make choices and there are consequences.”

I admit- the phrase “get in trouble” sounded strange as it hit my ears. It’s not in our vernacular at The Village School but it did serve as a throwback to my own childhood in which, “getting in trouble” meant we were unlucky enough to get caught doing something we weren’t supposed to be doing and were therefore handed some sort of illogical punishment by an clearly agitated adult.

Phew, I’m glad those days are over. I’m also so thankful that my own children are able to see the connection between their choices and the consequences that follow. They understand a consequence as the result of something a person does. It has been the single most transformative aspect of their experience in a school that uses natural and logical consequences to teach personal responsibility.

So what do we mean by natural and logical consequences?

Natural consequences are the inevitable result of a child’s own actions. For example, despite your urging him to put his lunch in his backpack, your eight-year old forgets his lunch and goes to school without it. The natural result is that he gets hungry. This result is a consequence of a choice your child made. It is his responsibility to put his lunch in his backpack.

Logical consequences happen as a result of a child’s action, but are imposed by the designated adult. For example, your child runs with a large stick in her hand at recess after she was told it was an unsafe choice. The logical consequence for the adult to impose is to not allow her to use sticks at recess or restrict her play space to the playground (rather than the natural spaces) for the rest of the week. Logical consequences are most useful when a child’s action could result in harm to the child or others. Logical consequences are reasonable and related to the problem.

Natural and logical consequences result from choices children make about their behavior. In effect, they choose the consequence they experience.

Often times, the consequence which naturally or logically follows our child’s behavior is unpleasant. By allowing our children to experience the pleasant or unpleasant consequence of their behavior, we help them learn what happens because of the behavior choices they made. Ultimately, we are helping them become responsible human beings.

Here are some tips for allowing natural and logical consequences to work their magic:

  1. Think ahead and come up with prepared responses to common “pain points” (the repeated behaviors that are the most common areas of struggle in your family) and make sure everyone in the family is on the same page.
  2. Stay calm. State your prepared response or say, “I have to think on this and will discuss this with you when I’ve had time to think this through.”
  3. Allow your child to experience the consequences. Do not step in and “save” them.
  4. Stay consistent. Often, it takes many experiences of “feeling” the consequences before you see a shift in behavior and decision making.

Allowing natural and logical consequences to shape our children is hard. It’s the tough-minded part of the job- no doubt, but it’s also the most important part of raising responsible and resilient humans. I remind myself of this every time I am tempted to step in and save my boys from experiencing the consequences of their choices and, even then, I still fall short some days (I call this the “knowing-doing” gap).

However, this is what I know for sure: A child learning and growing within the framework of choices and consequences at school and at home will flourish.

Sometimes tough is kind.

Exhibition Week

By Lauren Quinn, Co-Founder & Head of School

It’s exhibition week at The Village School and the last week of our first session of the school year. I don’t need to look at the calendar to know it’s exhibition week. I just need to spend a few minutes in the studios to know. The energy is distinctly different- tense even at times, as learners feel the pressure of preparing an event to show their families what they’ve learned this session.

Some heroes get to work. With the deadline approaching, they know it’s time to put their head down, work hard, and put forth their best effort to see the remaining challenges through to completion. In true hero fashion, they know they are responsible for their successes and failures leading up to exhibition.

Some learners choose the paths of avoidance, distraction and/or victim-hood. This can sound like:

“My computer’s not working! I can’t do this.”

“I don’t know what to do. No one told me.”

“My work disappeared! Where did it go!?”

and look like learners:

-walking around the studio, distracting others

-doing nothing

-being extra silly, loud, or unfocused

Is this normal? Yes. We’ve all responded this way in the face of challenges at some point in our lives. Is it what we want for our child? No, of course not. We all want our children to face hard work and challenge with the character of a hero, by putting forth their best effort and taking responsibility for their learning. However, this doesn’t always happen- even though we know that they are more than capable.

As parents, it’s important to come to these exhibitions with a sense of curiosity. In what small ways am I seeing my child take responsibility for their learning? What language are they using? What are they excited about? What are they “owning”? Where might they be passing blame? Listen. Be curious. Be ready to give positive, growth-mindset feedback where due (warm-heartedness) and/or allow your child to feel the discomfort of experiencing an exhibition in which their work is being showcased and they don’t have much to show (tough-mindedness).

Town Hall Meeting

Session 1 Week 5

Town Hall meetings are an important part of self-governance at The Village School. This week Spark heroes learned about this tradition and took it very seriously, as a tool that they will use as they move up into Elementary studios as well as when they are members and citizens of larger communities. Each week moving forward Heroes will participate in a Town Hall Meeting where they are able to bring up important studio issues that need airing. If a hero has something they would like to discuss they write their name on our meeting sign-up and they have a chance to propose alterations to studio systems or any other situation impacting the community. 

This week’s discussion brought up many issues. One hero noticed that often when working with our watercolor paint, the water cup got spilled. To prevent this, she suggested only filling the cup to a certain height. A diagram was drawn on the whiteboard and the hero counted and tallied votes for the height of the water. The next day was the first of the week that the tables remained dry, as everyone held each other accountable for carefully filling the water cup to the measurement that they had agreed upon. Other points of discussion included safety with sticks outside, using both sides of the paper, and pillow set up during quiet time. 

As our afternoon projects have centered around big concepts like peace and kindness, the heroes talk about children around the world and how they play and want to be safe just like us. They picked up trash in the forest as an act of kindness to the earth and made a banner of flags with “peace” written in the language of their choosing.

These big concepts manifest themselves in the details of school routines through out our days. Heroes use their sense of fairness in disputes and empathize when someone is hurt or distraught. Town meetings are a clear avenue of communication within our studio.They give a space and time to talk through these topics that are most important to the heroes. It is a system that empowers them and provides the tools they need to be heard and in charge of their learning. 

Journey Tracker

Session 1 Week 5

What is Journey Tracker?

Journey Tracker is the mother of all systems. It is the brain of the octopus: it pulls together the arms of a self-directed learning environment. Journey Tracker is literal in its naming: it tracks a Hero’s Journey over the year.

What can I see on Journey Tracker?

  1. SMART Goals: Heroes set SMART goals each day of the week. At the end of the day, they record their work. You can see the set goal and work accomplished.
  2. Points: For every Core Skill, a Hero earns points for work. Points are used to standardize the different programs: 30 points roughly translates to 60 minutes of work.
  3. Badges: Each Hero has access to the studio badge plan. The Badge Plan lays out the badges needed to reach the next level. Clicking on the badge, you can see the requirements and approval process to earn the badge.
  4. Challenges: There are weekly challenges for Writer’s Workshop. Explore Heroes post their work on the challenge and most challenges require peer approval. (Civilization Challenges in Session 2 will also be here!)
  5. Mission Control: Here you can see an overview of each week in the session. 

What should I do with this mother of all systems brain of the octopus program?

The answer to this question depends on you and your child.

Good starting points: Do you want me to just listen, give advice, or help?

With the freedom to design their own learning for a whole year, some Heroes can jump right in and others can feel overwhelmed. By asking this simple question, you’ll empower your Hero.

Follow-up questions: 

What is your goal? How could you take one step toward your goal? 

I notice that you earned a lot of points in Week ___ and a few points in Week ___. What do you think made the difference?

You have this big goal- what is a reasonable amount that you could do each day?

The Big Picture: At The Village School, your Hero drives his/her own education and you can choose your involvement in that journey. Journey Tracker simply gives you the tools to guide them along!

Spark Studio Spotlight: Week 4

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by
the desire to make him learn things, but by the
endeavor always to keep burning within him that
light which is called intelligence.”Maria Montesorri

Every child is drawn to what they need. For some children the time is ripe to gain independence, for others the urge is to carefully write letters and for still others the focus is on learning to make friends.

An emergent curriculum means that all of these challenges are presented to these heroes and available for practice at the right moment. In our environment, heroes choose from appropriate materials based on their own interests and readiness. When someone shows interest in writing, they are encouraged to do so using the chalkboard, dry erase markers, the move-able alphabet and waseca writing materials. When a hero shows concern over a torn piece of fabric of a doll, they have a lesson on sewing to repair the hole. Other heroes crave leadership opportunities. They come up with the games on the playground. They enjoy being timekeeper for the day and can be called upon to set examples of our community guardrails.

Sometimes these things don’t come as naturally and require a bit of experimentation. Heroes tests boundaries of what jokes get the most laughs at lunchtime, and navigate sharing materials during work time and tree space at recess. At neutral moments and during launch we reflect on these tests. Heroes decide what topics they don’t like hearing jokes about and how morning work time is where independent focus is valued over sharing. They decide that nature is for everyone and that outdoor spaces should be inclusive. The opportunity to speak up about things they care about abound. Guides continue to observe and provide whatever it may be that our heroes are most drawn to.

Holding hands at dismissal: tribal connections being made

Freedom to Learn

Session 1: Week 4

Heroes at The Village School have great freedoms. They set their own academic goals. They eat when they are hungry and take brain breaks as needed. At Free Time, they can run around outside or stay inside and read a book. 

“With great freedom comes great responsibility.” Trust is built on this foundation.

Exploring Trial and Error vs. Question Funnel Strategies during Quest

In Session 2, we begin Freedom Levels. This system is designed to give greater freedom to the Heroes who are ready for greater responsibility. There are 3 Freedom levels: Nesting, Flying, and Soaring.

For example, Heroes in Soaring can work in the studio or courtyard, listen to classical music or white noise to focus, and earn 15 minutes of extra free time on Fridays. 

Freedom and fun

The process to earn this Freedom Level starts now. The Heroes have already been working on Core Skills: their Core Skills work equates to points that they track in Journey Tracker. Last week, Heroes gave and received their first 360 Feedback. They heard feedback from their peers on how well they focus, clean up, and demonstrate honesty and grit. Then they set a Personal Growth Goal based on the feedback and will track their progress throughout the session. At the end of the Session, they’ll give and receive 360 Feedback again.

Working together on a Squad Challenge

To earn Soaring, a Hero must receive a high average (4.0-5.0) on the Full Circle Feedback and show a record of 3+ times that he/she worked on the Personal Growth Goal over the session. Next, Heroes will rate themselves honestly and must earn 4.0-5.0 average on the self-rating as well. Finally, a Hero must demonstrate that he/she is consistently working hard by earning an average of 150 points a week. These are not easy things to achieve; it is a great responsibility.

Creating a Squad Flag

Every Hero is up to the task. Some may struggle initially and that is okay. The three tiers of Freedom Levels support each Hero where they are in their journey. The process is a journey to accepting greater freedom and responsibility for their education and themselves.

Spark Studio Session:1 Week 3

A pebble is dropped into the water and the nine heroes watch, in quiet reverence as ripples emanate to the outside of the bowl. How is an act of kindness like a pebble? Can its effects spread? Our mornings start with a launch that inspires our learners for the challenges ahead. They navigate social situations with kindness in mind. They take turns giving each other a push down the hill in the truck, they grab forgotten water bottles from the courtyard and they cheer each other on in collaborative games like Stone Soup.

They next morning’s launch features a video clip of a baby at different stages of learning to walk. How did the baby achieve his goal of getting around on his own? What are your goals at school? What work can you choose this morning to help you achieve that goal?Heroes excitedly share what they are most interested in and set off to work creating structures using magnetic tiles, matching flags to our puzzle maps, writing stories about creatures and filling out the hundreds board!

Afternoon projects this week allowed heroes to explore feelings that they and others might encounter. They made acorns, puppets and a wheel of feelings, each leading to discussions of when those emotions effected them. Afternoon reflection included naming moments from the day where heroes felt happiest. The most popular by far was when they independently organized a roll down the hill. See for yourself!

Week in Review

Session 1: Week 3

The Heroes have been hard at work this week. They have been learning in Core Skills, earning and recording points on Journey Tracker. They wrote Free Verse and Odes in Writer’s Workshop. Here’s one such poem:

Dear Village School,

I like that we teach ourselves

I also like that there are a lot of children to make friends with

Thank you for a great place to learn

Clean, sometimes it’s very quiet, and I feel like I’m very lucky

Limits, Freedom Levels, Learning a lot

And I hope that more people enroll and sign the contract!

True, it is sometimes very quiet (and other times not so much!) Quest is particularly full of collaboration. Squads explored the Hero’s Journey and tie-dying t-shirts was a particularly fun activity this week.

The Classic Hula-Hoop Challenge

I leave you with one reflection. This week, one Hero said, “I think every time that you go on a Hero’s Journey you change as a person. The circle gets bigger and bigger and you get bigger as a person but it also gets more complicated because you learn more about the world.”