Find the Flow

Pandemic parenting is tough. In addition to everything else, we are trying to homeschool our children and keep them motivated. I don’t know about you, but I find the latter one of the hardest tasks on my plate, and the one over which I have least control.

It has helped in the past couple of weeks to recall the primary goals of Spark Studio. Our chief aim lies not in academic progress, though that comes in time. Instead, it’s to help children expand their ability to find focus and joy in their work, and to concentrate on a task for longer and longer periods of time. Does it matter whether they are getting equal amounts of math, reading, and writing, or even whether they are doing any of these things at all on a given day? Nope.

Kids can find themselves in the concentration zone (or “in flow,” as it’s also called), when they are doing something that especially interests them in that moment. It’s especially common with hands-on work. They might be building with blocks, creating art, exploring an instrument, or playing a game. Those periods of flow, when heroes become lost in their task and are intensely focused—yet are completely relaxed and enjoying themselves—are the Holy Grail of learning. These are the times when the deepest learning occurs.

Why? Because that’s when learners are most curious and interested, which makes them hungry to go deeper. Key here is to give heroes the freedom to choose what they work on. (Within limits, of course. They can’t watch movies all day.) Kids have this wonderful innate love of learning that keeps them seeking novelty in their activities. We aim to preserve that intrinsic motivation by following those interests. Where will they take us today?

Aside from that, they can set the stage for periods of flow by choosing activities that are challenging but not too hard. They can set realistic goals that they know they have the skills to accomplish. And activities don’t have to come from school-related materials, but they certainly can. You as a parent can then keep an eye out for any periods of deep concentration and try not to interrupt them if you can avoid it.

Chasing those periods of flow and allowing them to linger has become my focus, which has shifted my thinking about what homeschooling should look like. I still have to remind myself several times a day, but I now have less pressure to check things off a list and more room to observe and enjoy the moment.

Does this mean heroes will ignore their at-home materials? Probably not. There may be days when they happily take out their grammar books, breeze through some math sheets, or tackle a few challenging Bob books. And on those other days (and there will be lots), as long as kids are getting outside and being read to, that’s plenty. There’s so much learning that takes place with just reading and unstructured play. The rest is completely optional and icing on the cake!

A Hero needs help! Useful Tips for Parents

Things are humming along merrily at home until that moment when your hero says, “I don’t get it! I need help.” Productivity grinds to a halt. Your hero is lost, you are lost- what to do?

Don’t worry! Heroes run into obstacles all the time in the studio. Obstacles are magical moments when a) you know your hero is invested in his/her learning and b) he/she has an opportunity for growth. This is a chance to become even more independent and empowered.

What is the next step? Here are some common scenarios with follow-up questions you can ask:

It is 1:15. Your hero just finished Quest launch and is excited to start building a boat. But she has no idea where to start and she can’t find any materials. She comes to you to ask for help.

  • What resources are available to you? 
  • Would you rather contact a buddy, read the challenge again, or speak to Ms. Sarah?
  • Would you rather find the materials yourself or go over the schedule the night before and we can find them together?

Quests can be challenging! Even though we are not together in the studio, your hero has lots of resources: contact a running partner, join Ms. Sarah on the Zoom meeting, find the posted challenge on Journey Tracker. Some families have found that it is helpful to review the schedule for the next day each night to get supplies together.

It is time for an online meeting. Your hero knows he is supposed to be online but he isn’t sure how to join the Zoom meeting or if it is optional or not.

  • Have you joined a Zoom meeting before? How did you do it?
  • What do you see on the schedule that could help you?
  • I notice that you’re really stuck. Would you like to email Ms. Sarah or contact your running partner?

Our heroes are pretty tech-savvy, but even technological natives are bound to run into glitches. Point your hero toward the daily schedule. Required online meetings are 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 1:00 PM. We try to keep that schedule as consistent as possible. If a meeting is optional, it will say ‘optional’ on the schedule. 

To further help heroes, there is now one Zoom meeting room for all meetings. (This is a change from previous weeks.) Additionally, there is a Zoom password as well. This password can be found at the top of the schedule, along with the Zoom link.

Your hero has been very focused for the first hour of Core Skills but now she is bouncing off the walls- literally! 

  • What helps you learn best: working for a long time or intensely focusing for 20 minutes and then taking a short break?
  • What kind of a break helps you reset the best? (Going outside, Yoga, Art, PE, or reading a book?)
  • How could you organize your schedule to include these things?

Heroes will have almost 2 hours of morning Core Skills work every day this session. One reason is because some heroes are working very hard on earning badges before the end of the year. Another reason is flexibility. Your hero can create his/her best learning environment.

The most important thing to remember: surprise, it is possible your hero is acting differently at home! In the studio, heroes often know how to solve problems but find that it is challenging. At home, they might come to you in the hopes of an easy way out. Stay strong! Redirect with a question. Often short-term struggle leads to greater long-term success.

Experience-Driven Learning in Our Own Backyards

For the first week of Session 6, Spark heroes and guides found themselves working out how to best navigate a virtual landscape. Confined to our houses, we interacted by Zoom calls and did our best to carve out space to learn in our living and dining rooms. Under these circumstances, how does a school that uses real-life experiences to explore the world carry on with this crucial component of our learning design?

The answer for Spark Studio lies in our newest project series—the Backyard Biome. Through this unit, we use experiential learning to examine the parts of the ecosystem that interact to create the natural world. We use magnifying glasses and binoculars to observe the plants and animals in our neighborhoods. We record our findings in nature journals. We dig our fingers into dirt as we learn about its many layers. We plant seeds and watch as they use the energy of the sun to grow throughout the session. We collect the different elements of the ecosystem in jars—plants, animals, soil, water, air, and sun—and ponder how they all might work together. All the while, we are having fun and getting our hands dirty in the truest sense of the word!

By doing this, heroes see, experience, and think about the environment in new ways. We also subtly integrate other topics important to their learning and development. As we turn on all our senses to experience our environment—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and (occasionally) taste—we are grounding ourselves in the present moment, practicing the mindfulness we talk about so often. We learn alongside our parents and siblings, which helps us deepen and expand our family relationships. And the heroes work on writing, drawing, vocabulary, critical thinking, and their powers of observation. It’s a truly multi-disciplinary way to learn, and we can do it all from home!

Curiosity

ES Session 6: Week 1

“The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.” – Unknown

This session, the heroes are on an adventure to grow their curiosity and see the world with a fresh perspective and open mind. This is the Building Curiosity Quest. The first destination was the deep sea!

“What would it be like if humans lived in the ocean?” “Will the ocean ever run out of fish?” “What effect does the moon have on the ocean over time?” 

Learning from home doesn’t mean you can’t travel!

These are just a couple of questions that drove hero research. Their research took them from the salmon runs of Alaska to the jellyfish at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  Today, they will share their discoveries in our Research Symposium. 

Heroes created Sacred Spaces to work at home, figuring out their best learning environments

The Building Curiosity Quest is a series of mini-Quests: week-long challenges with a new topic revealed each week. Even more exciting, our oldest heroes are currently designing their own quests and will lead the studio for a week on their chosen topic. 

I can’t reveal any more because I am sworn to solemn topic-secrecy but aren’t you curious about what they will choose?

More adventures to come next week!

A Self-Care Journey

Welcome to the Personal Well-being Mini-Quest!

Instead of travelling away from home, our learners will journey deep inside themselves to discover what makes us happy, why we think the way we do, and how we can build habits to “rewire” our brains. Through a series of challenges over the next two weeks, heroes will learn how to increase their own happiness and build more productive habits. At the end of this quest, learners will be equipped with the research and tools to successfully incorporate a wellness activity into their own daily life. 

Since goal setting is one of these productive habits, heroes will be challenged to continue setting daily goals over break. Wait, what?!! Isn’t this supposed to be a “break”? 

Of course, this is why we invite our learners to take a break from the typical goals they set during Core Skills and instead set a goal to hone a skill or talent of their choice. We will celebrate everyone’s hard work at our first virtual Talent Show. Winners in each studio will receive prizes in the form of gift cards to our local “One More Page” bookstore. 

The Basic Journey

  • Learn Self-care Skills in 7 Exploration Areas: 1) Gratitude, 2) Kindness, 3) Meditation, 4) Connection, 5) Exercise, 6) Sleep, 7) Savoring
  • Practice these skills each day & keep track of your practice.

Quest Badges will be awarded for dedicated practice of self-care. In general, heroes who earn this badge will demonstrate…

  1. Evidence of daily practice in 7 Exploration Areas through ReWi App or Journal for 2 weeks
  2. Excellent Exhibition work: Submitting self-care video and performing a skill in TVS Virtual Talent Show

Exhibition:

  1. Create a short video on how young people can practice self-care during quarantine.
  2. Create your own performance highlighting a personal skill or talent for our first TVS Virtual Talent Show!

Ready to get started? Read/Watch these three resources:

  1. Americans aren’t that Happy on Newsela: https://newsela.com/read/hygge-global-habit-craze/id/48440/
  1. You don’t find Happiness; You create it by Katarina Blom (watch to minute 4:30). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DtcSCFwDdw
  1. An Astronaut’s View on Self-isolation: Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uL5sqe5Uk8&feature=youtu.be

Learning by Doing: No Matter Where

When I was in 4th grade my class took a field trip to a local state park. We studied the wildlife and discussed the ecosystems… at least I think we did. If I’m honest I don’t remember what we were supposed to learn from the trip, what I recall so vividly is how cold the water can be in October. I remember the excitement of moss covered rocks beneath my feet and watching minnows rush by in the clear water. I remember how brave some of my peers were to go out beyond knee-depth and I remember riding the bus home feeling invigorated and full of questions. How do species adapt to their surroundings? How can we protect our watersheds? Why was it SO cold?! My curiosity had been piqued and this quote was proven true. “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

This week on various social media outlets you might see a phrase like this, “If the schools are all closed, how will the children learn?” The good news is that this flame kindling does not need a school building to take place. Young heroes have a natural curiosity and are constantly learning. This takes place through the Village School’s experiential learning. We see this in our quests or project time. It also occurs through our emergent curriculum that follows the interests of the child.

The most seemingly ordinary things can be new discoveries and engaging, joyous challenges. This includes the everyday routines and practices of life. We see this in our studio when heroes work on sewing projects, tying shoes, or studio maintenance. At home heroes may learn through experiences like meal planning and preparations or taking care of plants and pets. These activities are complicated, multi-step processes that pave the way for a problem-solving mindset and a fulfilling experience.

Often learning looks differently than what traditional academics might suggest. In many cases, it looks like play. Playing with loose parts give our heroes experiences with numeration, patterns, and problem- solving. In games with rules our heroes learn strategy and they also build resilience and self regulation as they experience losing. In physical play heroes learn about risk- taking and what they are capable of.

In our weekly reflection Spark Heroes pointed out the work they were proud of this week. One shared the tower they built even though it was a challenge to decide where the horses fit best. Other heroes painted vibrant rainbows or carefully traced cursive letters. Heroes discovered how white blood cells protect us by using play dough they modeled to capture “germ” beads. Although they aren’t currently spending physical time in school I feel assured that Spark Heroes are continuing to learn every day!

Putting Together Puzzles

ES Session 5: Week 4

I was 10 years old the last time I did a jigsaw puzzle. But yesterday, I was inspired. I unwrapped the plastic from the box and spilled 1000 pieces on my kitchen counter. 

It was going to be challenging. The picture was 50 people reading classic books, except the books had alternate titles like “The Adventures of Strawberry Finn” and “Pride and Prune Juice”. I wasn’t sure where to start so I sorted by color and clicked titles together. The challenge was fun.

Doing a puzzle is a process. All pieces are important. But you can’t see exactly where individual pieces fit without the big picture. And once you have the big picture, then you no longer see the individual pieces.

At The Village School, our big picture is that every hero who enters our doors is capable of changing the world. What are the individual puzzle pieces?

Obviously, there are a lot of puzzle pieces that make our community special. I’d like to highlight just one today: Squad Meeting.

Heroes pulling up Journey Tracker

Squad meetings happen at the beginning and end of each week. During the meeting, Squad Leaders check-in with the group and provide coaching or feedback. They ask reflection questions, like…

  • What do you want to Start, Stop, and Continue?
  • Which rubber band did you stretch this week: math or reading?
  • What was one highlight of your week? One lowlight?

 Squads challenge each other and keep each other honest.

The meeting is an accountability puzzle piece and it is entirely learner-led.

These Squad Meetings happen rain or shine- even in a pandemic, our learners met virtually. They were flexible. One hero taught another hero how to use the screen share function. I met everyone’s pets at the Squad Leader weekly meeting.

Big picture- TVS heroes are independent learners. But their radical independence is built on interdependence within a community. And even during a pandemic, our heroes connect to make a pretty cool picture (just like puzzle pieces!)

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” -Fred Rogers

It is challenging to navigate uncertainty as adults and can be even more confusing for young people who are learning how the world works and what their role in it is. It is important that young people know that it isn’t their job to worry or make the world a safe or healthy place, even though children can contribute and continue to be helpers themselves.

Seek out news stories that highlight the heroes who have studied and trained to be helpers. Young people can find security as well as inspiration when they see adults working to keep the world safe. As parents and guides we have an opportunity to listen to children, both what they already know and what they are interested in finding out more about. We can support the efforts of using play, art and writing to work out an understanding of the things they see and hear. Open ended play in addition to open- ended questions help young learners come to solutions on their own, instead of having adults tell them how to think and process.

Our heroes have a grasp on what it means to be a helper. They have spent the year cultivating positive interactions with one another. They know that in the Spark community we are kind and make sure that everyone gets what they need- even if it isn’t what you want in that moment. From our books about bucket filling- to our empathy challenges, Spark heroes know that there is power in the “us”. They have a sense of community and shared responsibility. They are quick to offer the ice pack to someone who fell. They offer to trace a younger hero’s hands during project time. They come up with fair solutions and think critically about the needs of others.

We can help by washing hands and preventing the spread of germs and we can help by being kind to one another. I challenge our young heroes to come up with other ways that they can be helpers.

Learner Driven = Well-Equipped

One of the greatest outcomes of a learner-driven education is the ability to navigate uncertainty. Just today, I watched in awe as our learners led morning mindfulness, launched and executed the morning discussion, settled in to the morning work time to accomplish their own goals, and engaged in a tough conversation with a fellow learner who had shown a lapse in integrity. And this was just in the first 90 minutes of the school day. The rest of the day includes diving into individual or collaborative passion projects of their choosing, leading a civilization lesson and Socratic discussion and working towards mastery in either visual or musical arts.

They are leaders of their own learning and thus, are well-equipped to navigate their learning outside the walls of The Village School. This has always been the goal. Resiliency and independence are direct outcomes of a learner-driven education.

Beginning Monday, March 16 and lasting through next Friday, March 20, 2020, we are moving all learning and programming—including check-ins, Socratic launches, Quests, e-learning, and more—remotely. For our Spark learners, our team will spend Monday creating individual work plans and activities for learners that mimic the regular school day as much as possible. We will send more details over the weekend. Next week we will make a decision about school plans for post March 20.

We are making this change for three main reasons:

  1. By not convening in person we can help slow the spread of COVID-19.
  2. Currently, none of our Village School learners are sick but given that members of the school community travel fairly frequently, we feel it’s best to pause in-person gatherings to mitigate spread among our own community.
  3. The reality of COVID-19 is already affecting our Studios. We’ve been down several heroes everyday this week, and those absences are impacting goal setting, launches, group work, Quest, Studio maintenance, and more. Working remotely will allow us to all be on the same page and working within the same parameters.

Our team is not living in fear, and we don’t want the heroes to live in fear. We see this as a way that we can help one another and our larger community. And how amazing is it that we live in a time of technology where life and learning can go on digitally!

We recognize this change will be harder for some families than for others, due to work and childcare needs. If you need help, you can reach out directly and we will crowd source help among our parent community, or you can post specific needs on our TVS Community Forum. 

As we finalize our plans for remote learning, we do so with these goals/expectations in mind:

  • Work— Learners are expected to make progress on their badge plan daily, to attend virtual Socratic launches led by our Guides, to check in with their Running Partners, and to check in weekly with Guides. 
  • Communication—Learners should check their email 3x daily to look for instructions from Guides. Heroes should check their emails by 9 am each day to receive instructions and a schedule for the day.
  • Schedule—It’s important that learners keep scheduled work times daily so they can meet for group launches, Running Partner check-ins, and Guide check-ins.
  • Technology—ES Learners will need use of their Chromebooks daily (including a charger).

Parents can provide the best support during this time by checking in with learners at the beginning and end of each week to discuss goals and progress. In addition—and to the extent you’re able —we encourage parents to take on a “Guide” role to encourage and inspire heroes to direct their own learning. Here are some (optional!) ideas you can pull from.

Our hope is that throughout this our community stays healthy, continues to learn deeply, and grows closer together.

Please let us know if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions.

– Lauren on Behalf of The Village School Team

The Best Place for Play

Spark and ES Field Trip

Where can you climb a tower, pan for gems in a stream, and score the winning goal? The answer is Mason District Park!

Yesterday, the Spark and Elementary Studios took a surprise field trip to the park. We enjoyed the spring sunshine with an afternoon of play time.

Experts say that play is essential for children. And not just because it is fun.

Children develop critical skills through play. Yesterday, I saw our heroes improve physical coordination as they navigated the monkey bars and spinning lily pads. Heroes finding creative solutions to building bridges and forts. Older heroes playing and mentoring younger heroes. New friendships sprouting.

The Village School is experience-driven and we strive to create meaningful opportunities both inside and out of the studio.

And sometimes you just need the perfect spot for play, like a park. We are lucky that it is right down the road!