Tag, You’re It!

tagsOn January 1st, I started a yearlong art course.  Once a week, for 52 weeks, I will receive an online lesson to play around with and practice.  The second week I learned how to make altered tags, which has turned out to be a whole lot of fun.  I keep thinking of different ways to use my previous art and blend it into something new.  I also ask myself, what do the tags have to do with anything related to school?

Wednesday morning our dear friend, Elsie Moore, came to the Seed to tell her stories of growing up in rural Virginia during the Civil Rights Movement.  For an hour we heard recollections of her experiences, both as a young child and as a teenager, how she lived through and came to understand the complexities of racial issues of the times.  Her life required considerable courage.  With the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, her father spoke to her about which child in the family might be the best one to begin integrating the schools.  Elsie, about to begin high school, volunteered to go.  It was a “tag, you’re it” kind of moment.  Changes in the law required follow-up action.  Elsie, with encouragement from her father, tagged herself to be one of the many children who changed the course of American history.

Listening to Elsie speak and gracefully field questions from her young audience (even the ones about how old she is), I felt another moment of being “tagged.”  This time it was all of us at the Seed, both teachers and students.  We were given the gift of her stories, and now it’s our turn to make them life lessons and pass on the wisdom to the next generation.  It  is simultaneously an honor and a daunting task.  Yes, we’ve made progress with human rights, and there’s still so much more to do.

Later in the day, after Elsie left the Seed to return to her ASU job, I read a blog post written by my friend, Rebecca Masterson (http://sincerelybecca.com/2015/01/21/whats-up-time-wanna-race/).  She has a young son with autism.  In her post she wrote about the race with time she and other parents face, helping their children cope with anxiety in healthy ways before they are too big to manage.  She described a scene at her son’s school with a larger student during drop-off who had reached that stage.  She wrote that she waved at the father afterwards, letting him know she understood.  I shared her post and soon heartfelt messages appeared saying they would wave, too, and continue to wave.  My daughter wrote:  “Our family will always wave.  We don’t only wave. We stop to chat, lend a hand, love on your kids…because we love you and all the kids we come in contact with.”  Sounds like another round of “tag, you’re it,” and I feel privileged to be a part of the action.

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Each In Our Own Time

golden leavesAbout five years ago, unbeknownst to me, my granddaughter planted a seed from her apple in our garden.  When it sprouted, I wasn’t sure what it was until I noticed the leaf on an apple I was about to eat.  As it grew bigger, I transplanted it to a safer place.  The first time it lost its leaves, I thought it had died.  We left it in the ground just in case and in the spring buds formed on the thin branches.  Her apple tree continues to thrive in our yard, each spring growing a new crop of leaves.  It has yet to produce an apple, though.

Nevertheless, I don’t mind that it hasn’t grown any apples.  It’s provided other fruits, mostly in the form of non-edible bits of wisdom.  I noticed a few weeks ago that all the leaves on her tree were still a dark green, even though many of the surrounding ones were already losing theirs.  I even commented to Bill that her tree seems to be on its own timeline, and the timeline has changed over the years.  As everything else around it transitioned from autumn to Arizona’s version of winter, Grace’s tree seemed to be living in an almost timeless dimension.   Its greenery looked like it might last forever.

Then, on Sunday morning as I stepped out to check the garden, my eyes received quite a surprise.  The lovely green leaves were miraculously golden.  The apple tree, in its own time, had joined the rest of us in the grand cycle of life.  It made me think how each of us has our own timing as we move through life.  Some parts move slowly and others speed up.  We aren’t always on the same schedule as others around us and if we’re true to ourselves, it’s a process that is uniquely our own.

During this first month of a new calendar year, as a school we are preparing for our summer program and the coming school year.  We have to think ahead as we are also in the present cycle.  It’s a time of year when beginnings and endings have more meaning than usual.  The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, said this of beginnings:  “Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated. We seem to think that beginning is setting out from a lonely point along some line of direction into the unknown. This is not the case. Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced…We are never as alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.”  What seemed like an ending for Grace’s tree was, in fact, the beginning of a whole new cycle.  This is true for all of us as we go forth into our days, each in our own time.

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Free Range Childhood

mickmaryblocksI was a free range child.  The way I spent my early days made a huge impact on how my life turned out.  In fact, I’m fairly certain the Seed would not have happened without the kind of childhood I had.  The experience we had as kids has been on my mind lately, especially after reading an article a parent sent about the value of unstructured play (http://qz.com/311035/were-ruining-our-kids-with-minecraft-the-case-for-unstructured-play/).  I had a favorable response to the article and posted it for others to read, not because it was critical of computer games, but because of what it said about unstructured play.  The post generated a respectful response pointing out the benefits of gaming, including potential for “responsible, intergenerational and connected learning.”  It has kept my thinking about this topic in high gear, as I can see both sides.

I love technology.  In fact, we’ve spent considerable effort this year to include it more than ever in our curriculum.  Our emphasis has been applying technology in ways that invite creativity and empower children to use it as a valuable learning tool.  That said, I also feel passionate about ensuring that our students learn how to grow food, explore the natural world and have time to play in an unstructured way.  Although our children live in an urban setting, they can still have a free range childhood.

I’ve been reflecting on the elements of my childhood, what it was that made it free range.  First, there was the unstructured quality.  Whether it was the dead of winter or lazy summer days, we were outside using our imaginations, creating worlds made and lived in by children only.  We had time.  Another element was the availability of raw materials such as sticks, logs, cut grass, water, mud, sand, boards, hammers and nails, fabric, bricks, rope, and cardboard boxes.  In the winter we went sledding, built snow forts and carved hiding places out of giant drifts.  Indoors was for meals and sleeping.  Mostly we were outside.  In addition to the unstructured time and availability of materials, we were generally left to our own resources to work things out.  My mother stayed at home with us and was always around; however, we also had an abundance of unsupervised time to let our creativity flourish.

When I wasn’t outside during my free range childhood, I was often by myself, in my room or the basement, making things.  I made clothes and accessories for my dolls, as well as little sanctuaries for them and myself with whatever I could get my hands on.  Free to combine materials in innovative ways, I painted, sewed, glued and designed worlds within my own.  I read voraciously and most of my significant learning happened outside of school.

I don’t know what childhood would have looked like if I’d had technology.  I’m guessing I probably would have figured out ways to use it to continue making things.  Technology has changed all our lives, including our children’s.  They will use it to lead our future in new, and hopefully positive, directions.  Their childhoods will be different from ours, just by virtue of the presence of technology.  As we continue to evolve as a species, integrating technological advances into our lives, I believe we owe it to our children to provide balance by also including “free range time” to muck around with the natural world and make things by hand.   We’ll all be better off and our planet will, too.

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Silver Seeds

IMG_3012It’s solstice week.  Anyone who is a previous student, staff member or parent knows what this means.  It’s a week of finishing up projects, finalizing dances and taking deep breaths.  The gift drive is over and items have been delivered.  The multi is taped with all kinds of symbols and words to remind young dancers where to stand.  Even the staff holiday party is behind us.  We’re figuring out how to improve the sound system and our trusty videographer (a Seed alumni parent) is lined up for event.  I’m working on the program and we’re all trying to stay healthy for a few more days.  Hand washing is encouraged now more than ever, since the flu season is officially upon us.

This year’s program is based on the book Silver Seeds, a collection of short poems about parts of a day in the natural world.  It starts with dawn and ends with the night sky.  The final poem reads like this:

“Silver seeds
Tossed in the air
And planted in the sky,
Reaching out of the darkness
Sprouting wonder.”

On Friday night you will see children from ages one to eleven performing lively moves in colorful costumes, accompanied by music that expresses the essence of each poem, each group.  For some children it’s their big opportunity to shine as they entertain the audience.  For others, it’s a huge accomplishment just to make an appearance on stage.  It’s a proud moment for parents and teachers.  We do this each year to celebrate the season and to celebrate our Seed community, including our alumni, many of whom attend the event.  On Tuesday, I thought of another reason.

As I drove to school, listening to reports from Pakistan of another horrendous school shooting that claimed lives of 132 children, memories of the Sandyhook shooting around this time two years ago came to mind.  Part of the Seed’s mission statement is to promote world peace.  Our work with children is fully dedicated to helping them grow into strong, happy, creative, kind, thoughtful, well-balanced people.  The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, when darkness is more prevalent.  It’s a time when we can also remember the light, especially the light within each of us, and count on it to get us through the darkness.  Our Seed Celebration of the Winter Solstice is a reminder of this idea.  We are raising children who will be leaders of the future, leaders who emanate the light and inspire that in others. They are the “silver seeds…reaching out of the darkness sprouting wonder.”  It’s a time of hope, and maybe someday we’ll no longer have news of children being shot at school.  That’s my hope, anyway.

For links about other Seed winter solstice celebrations:


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Birds on a Wire

birds on the phone lineDriving down 24th Street late Sunday afternoon, a bird convention caught my eye.  Hundreds of birds lined up on the telephone lines.  I turned my car around and pulled over to take a photo before they dispersed.  A few took flight, but most seemed content to stay put.  Prior to noticing the birds, I was thinking about Bill Svoboda, my childhood friend’s father who had passed away a few days ago.  He was one of the last remaining male elders from my early life.  He was the same age as my own father, who is nearly 90.  It seemed meaningful that I spotted the birds, just as I was thinking of the village of humans that surrounded me as I grew up.

I wasn’t able to make it back to Nebraska for the funeral.  All day Monday I thought of my Nebraska community as they gathered to say goodbye to a man who was part of my childhood.  I knew my parents would be there as well as Bill’s wife and children, who were like a second family.  When it was apparent that I wouldn’t be able to be there with them, I decided that there was most likely a strong reason I was meant to remain here.  That reason was soon revealed.  On Monday afternoon one of our former Seed moms stopped by to deliver news of the serious illness of another alumni parent.  As we sat in our office, in quiet conversation, she talked about the Seed and its strong community, how we still value its members even years after the children have graduated and moved on from the school.  She said, “We’ve been involved with three different schools since we left the Seed.  There’s really nothing like it.  It makes such a difference when everybody’s so present.”

Community came up again today while talking with one of the teachers.  She reported that her daughter, who attended another school before the Seed, had this to say:  “Everyone cares for me here.  Knowing this makes me want to do my best.”  Reflecting on the past couple of weeks, particularly seeing individuals step up for the benefit of the greater good, made me realize that being at the Seed helps us all want to do our best.

In the past year or so, I’ve been interested in marketing.  One of my favorite marketing gurus, Seth Godin, mentions repeatedly the importance of individuals or organizations telling their story.  Over time I’ve come to realize that one of the Seed’s strengths is community and it’s a big part of our story.  Our lives, separate and collectively, are as tenuous as those of birds gathered on thin wires in the late afternoon light.  Our presence to that light is what holds us together, giving us the courage to take flight and return when it’s time.


Gathering ‘Round

quail herdI awoke to Ireland yesterday morning.  Although I wanted to sleep longer, I made myself get up, even though it was still dark.  It was raining and night had not yet turned to day.  Eventually I headed out for my morning walk, warm and mostly dry in the raincoat I bought last summer for our Ireland trip.  It felt good to be wearing it again.  When daylight appeared, I saw the low clouds hovering around South Mountain.  The mist-covered mountain carried me back to our days in Connemara in the West of Ireland.  I had so looked forward to experiencing the beauty of the mountain landscapes there that I’d seen in photographs.  For most of our time there, the mountains were shrouded in fog.  It rained and rained.  Walking yesterday morning, I thought about concealment, about how sometimes when one thing is hidden, another thing is revealed.  When I couldn’t see the mist-enshrouded mountains of Connemara, it allowed me to more fully experience the beauty of people, plants and landscapes in front of me.

While giving a tour to prospective families on Wednesday, I noticed several quail on the playground.  Then more appeared.  One seemed to be an instigator and others followed.  They scurried about, eventually congregating on the toddler yard.  There may have been around thirty all together.  I’d never seen that many all at the same time and I have no idea what they were doing.  Later that day, as we finalized our coverage plan to allow one of our teachers an extended leave to attend to family matters, I remembered the quail assemblage.  I thought of our staff gathering ‘round as a community to care for  one of our own.  I saw generosity, support and compassion.  As parents learned of the situation, the kindness spread.

It goes without saying that we’ve had our share of changes, especially given that we started the year with all returning staff.  This whole week I’ve struggled with how all these changes will be perceived.  Somehow, though, around the time the quail gathered, my thinking shifted.  I decided I could choose to look at it from a fear-based lens, or view it as an opportunity to demonstrate how much we value and support each other.  It’s a chance to model for the greater community how to respond in a heartfelt way to the changes and needs of the people who matter to us.  In the last several months as we’ve moved from one transition to the next, I’ve wondered many times why so much concentrated change has occurred in such a small school in a short period of time.  The answer has always been concealed.  This week an answer was at least partially revealed:  Life happens.  We can choose to resist what comes along or we can respond with grace.  I choose grace.  We choose grace.

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Making a Day

compost stir fryOn Saturday I did something I rarely do, I took the day off.  Normally I arise at my usual 5 A. M. and head off to teach yoga at 8:30.  Unless I’m on vacation or busy with something school related, I seldom take a day off.  I needed a day at home.  It coincided with ASU’s last home game and my commitment to caring for my youngest three grandchildren while the rest of the family cheered on the Sun Devils.  The kids arrived mid-morning and we all migrated to the back yard to check out the garden.  I could see right away the basil that was going to seed was in major need of a trim.  Rows of carrots, kale, beets and cilantro required thinning to allow room for growth.  I also checked out my DIY aphid traps, which were mildly successful with flies, mosquitoes and, unfortunately, one bee.  The air was cool and the sun was warm.  It felt wonderful to be at home, unhurried and no place we needed to be till later in the day.

As I tended garden rows, each of the three children was absorbed in a different part of the garden.  The oldest occupied a corner space that has evolved over time into a dirt kitchen.  She set up shelves, organized utensils, made bouquets of basil flowers and chopped up scraps from the compost for an “almost edible” stew.  My grandson made dirt muffins, squirted the hose at everything and everyone, created waterways and put the cutters to use in mostly appropriate ways.  In one section of the garden where there used to be a tree, we have a large pit from which roots were dug out.  Eventually, once the roots are removed, we’ll plant fruit trees there.  It’s become our compost area and it was in this space that my youngest granddaughter spent the good part of nearly two hours.  She discovered a withering Halloween pumpkin that she promptly excavated seeds from for other projects.  She gathered eggshells and carrot tops that were also put to use in more ways than I can remember.

The thing about a day like ours in the garden was how timeless it felt.  I was glad I made a day for myself just to be…quietly relaxing in the sun, my hands in the dirt, absorbed in the present moment.  At a time of year dedicated to gratitude, I was also grateful on behalf of my grandchildren that they too had a day free of rushing around, a day to drop into their imaginations…and into themselves.


For What It Creates

homegrownIt’s official.  The holiday season has arrived at the Seed.  On Monday we posted flyers for the Tanner Chapel food drive and that same afternoon lead staff met to select our theme for this year’s Celebration of the Winter Solstice, to be held on December 19.  Classes are gathering ingredients for next week’s all-school Thanksgiving feast.  The kindergarteners and Preschool 2.5/3s  made a huge painting of a fall tree this week, which will be enhanced by all our families in the coming days.  Already anticipation is in the air.

It’s a season when it seems important to stay close to the earth, to stay grounded.  I do this each day by inviting the morning in, first by walking, either along the canal or in the neighborhood, depending on the time of sunrise.  After walking, I like to open the patio door to let cool morning air filter in from our back yard.  Both of these practices offer a connection between my inner and outer world.  The immediate outer world at home is our garden, which I have to say is thriving.  I’m not sure if it’s the seeds from the 3rd/4th graders or if our soil has finally gotten to a point where it’s loaded with nutrients; whatever it is, a major crop of vegetables is on its way.  The garden is a part of my life that is incredibly grounding.  Each time my hands touch the soil, it feels like the earth is receiving and then transforming all of my fears, responsibilities, stresses and self-doubts.  It’s a form of unconditional love.

Yesterday I walked around the school and photographed gardens.  Some are thriving, while others have yet to pop up through the soil.  Composted Halloween pumpkins have become green beds of luscious leaves.  Red radishes, close to fruition, await preschool eaters.  As I’ve spent time in garden spaces with a few classes this week, it’s been quite an experience to witness such enthusiasm for watering.  One child stayed with it for nearly a half hour, flooding sections and even coming up with a small canal system to water more than one at a time.  It made me think that there’s much more to gardening than the food.

Last night in class my yoga teacher said, “We don’t do the practice for ourselves.  We do it for what it creates.”  When I heard these words, I thought of the Seed and especially the gardens.  We do our work because we love it.  We also know that its impact is and will continue to be far reaching.  When we teach children to grow gardens, we are teaching them about healthy food, caring for and respecting the earth, and showing them that, even at a young age, they can nurture something.  Gardens depend on us to thrive and, in return, foster a sense of responsibility.  As humans it’s a way we can stay grounded in ourselves, and at the same time heal both our planet and our future.

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Wasp in the Exhibit

wasp visitEarlier this week I was covering a playground shift in Gwen’s Castle.  A few of the kids had built a makeshift fort between the wall and a bush.  A brick annex was added, including a tire propped upright, held in place by large rocks.  Groups of children moved fluidly in and out of this space.  Just outside the castle walls, three girls claimed a plastic trash can, large enough for a child to crawl inside.  At the bottom of the trash can was a pile of acacia leaves that dropped to the ground and had been scooped into the can.  The pile resembled an oversized nest.  The girls brought it over and placed it inside the tire.  Recess continued, girls climbed in and out of the trash can and one was even rolled around the playground in it.  Seeing that brought a childhood flashback when we convinced my brother to climb inside a metal culvert pipe and we rolled him down a hill.  Not one of my finer moments of childhood kindness.  A shout from one of the children disrupted my reverie.

“Wasp in the exhibit!  Wasp in the exhibit!”  I turned to see a crowd hovering around the tire.  There, on the acacia leaf pile, was an unassuming wasp just  crawling around.  As I always do, I reminded the children to leave it alone and give it space.  The boy who shouted out gave us a play by play of the wasp’s activity.  I said, “I notice you are really observing this wasp.”  He said, “It’s because I’m a scientist.”  This warmed my heart, given that I’d spent part of my morning photographing evidence of STEAM work around the school.

What I’m noticing is the importance of play in the development of scientists.  Children learn all sorts of scientific information as they lift heavy rocks, touch a range of textures, and assemble materials in ways that promote balance.  Play, particularly outdoors in nature, provides surprises that invite response.  When a wasp suddenly appears, it brings a break in the action for young scientists to pause, listen, be still and focus intently on what it’s doing. An appearance like this inspires conversation, comparisons, stories and theories.  It also carries the message that we are all interconnected.

I’ve thought of interconnection quite a bit this week as we prepare to say goodbye to Billie Cruz, who is leaving the school to take a new job.  She and her family have been around the Seed since 2000 and she’s been on our staff since 2003.  Billie’s boys grew up at the Seed and her husband Andy created our first website.  Even after her boys graduated, we were fortunate to have Billie remain on our staff.  Her presence at the Seed will be missed.  These letting go experiences are never easy, even after over six decades of practice.  Yet, interconnect reminds us that we all continue to be a part of each other’s lives and even if we don’t see someone every day, they are still a part of us.  We wish Billie the best in this new adventure and hope that, like the wasp in the exhibit, she’ll drop in to the Seed from time to time to play, laugh, and have a little fun.

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Inviting Beauty

glass collectionsFor the second week in a row, light shining through glass jars caught my eye.  This time it was in the PreK, after a weekend rearranging frenzy by its teaching duo.  A science corner was set up with all kinds of natural objects, including a large rock occupying almost an entire shelf.  The loft was moved closer to the windows, opening up the room in new ways.  To accommodate the influx of emerging writers, an entire table was devoted to journals, equipped with an assortment of writing tools.  When I walked into the room to check it out, one passionate writer was having a moment of disappointment because someone had inadvertently taken her spot.  She wanted to be in on the action at the journal table.  Her teacher quickly made space for her elsewhere so her writing enthusiasm would not be interrupted.  The invitations for learning were everywhere and there was not one child who wasn’t passionately engaged.

As I looked around the room, one area in particular reached out and invited my attention.  It was a medium-sized white shelf in front the windows.  On the shelves were glass jars filled with collections of all sorts of small objects, including random puzzle pieces, beads, jewels, nuts and bolts, wooden rings, plastic ties, pom-poms, shells, buttons and pasta.  Each collection has a function and will, no doubt, be used by preschoolers for work and play I can only imagine.  What stood out in my mind as I studied the collection of collections was how beautiful the whole assemblage was.  It made me think of recent words I’ve heard from a scientist about the interplay of science and beauty.  Doris Taylor, a scientist whose life work has been devoted to the study of stem cells, described the beauty of the human heart (http://www.onbeing.org/program/stem-cells-untold-stories/178).  G. H. Hardy, in A Mathematician’s Apology, had this to say about mathematics and beauty:     “The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colors or the words must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics.”

The jars filled with elements of everyday school life caused me to pause and appreciate their beauty.  The collection is a representative of the “A” in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), which is a focus of our work this year.  John O’Donohue, the late Irish poet, wrote these words in Divine Beauty:  The Invisible Embrace:  “To behold beauty dignifies your life; it heals you and calls you out beyond the smallness of your own self-limitation to experience new horizons.  To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged.”  It makes sense to offer this expansive invitation to our thinkers and makers of tomorrow.

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