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:

http://www.awakeningseedschool.org/2013/12/rivers-and-canyons-birds-of-the-air/
http://www.awakeningseedschool.org/2011/12/in-celebration-of-the-solstice/

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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.

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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.

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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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From the Inside Out

observation tableIn a thoughtful space between an impressively successful carnival and Halloween itself, our lead staff met to talk about about teaching.  I always look forward to these conversations, as they are strong reminders of why the Seed exists and how fortunate we are to work in an environment that not only invites children to think and follow their interests, but also encourages teachers to do the same.  Our topic this week was how to broaden current work with STEAM lessons (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) into longer, more complex studies like those that have been present at the Seed since its beginning.

We started with a reflection on this quote from John Maeda, president of Rhode Island School of Design:  “A designer is someone who constructs while he thinks, someone for whom planning and making go together.”  We talked about how this relates to our work at the Seed, for both teachers and children. Our focus then switched to how our students demonstrate their thinking as they participate in STEAM and other classroom work.  Among the ways this happens is through class discussions, giving children permission to ask questions, offering actual experiences through which to express what they are learning, giving them time to share their thoughts, and providing real life problems where thinking is required.

Following this part of the meeting, grade level groups were given a choice of children’s literature from which to choose and then brainstorm ways the text could be a starting point for an extended STEAM project.  Based on a board book about opposites, toddler teachers thought of a long list of opposites to explore toddler style.  Elementary teachers came up with engineering ideas from a book related to westward expansion, such as ways to construct a covered wagon using materials like sheets, PVC pipes and connecting straws.  The wheels of creative thinking were definitely spinning.

As I walked down the hall after our meeting, end-of-the-day light  from the Preschool 2.5/3s room invited me in.  In front of the window that looks out into their outdoor classroom area sits a small “observation table” with several glass jars and gourds on it.  The jars are filled with unusual looking seed pods, bulbs sprouting roots, and an avocado seed propped up by toothpicks, just beginning to form its roots into a glass of clear water.  On the window a sign reads: VENTANA/WINDOW.  Right above the sign are outlines of geometric shapes with autumn leaves on the insides, sandwiched between two sheets of wax paper.  Just beyond the shapes outside is their garden.  Rows of determined sprouts have already pushed up through the soil.

This multi-layered view from inside to outside is what we’ve just been discussing and it’s what the Seed is all about.  Our work is to set up invitations for curiosity and wonder.  It’s creating a forum for observing and asking questions.  Then we listen and receive children’s thinking, helping them bring their thoughts from the inside out, so others can share the ride.

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Just Doing the Work

APAIt’s a busy week.  On Friday night we’ll hold our annual Halloween carnival, a Seed tradition since the 1980s.  The carnival has grown from a tiny event on a crowded school yard into a much-expanded major production.  Preparations for a carnival basically begin right after the previous one,  involving hundreds of hours by a small, but mighty, group.  Every year there is a reflection and review process to see what went well and what needs to be adjusted.  Soliciting raffle and silent auction prizes starts in the spring and summer and continues until just days before the event.  August ushers in planning meetings, committee formation and ordering of supplies.  For the past several years, I have also met weekly with one of the APA coordinators, to establish and maintain lines of communication between the school and the APA.  Carnival foundations are laid long before the decorations go up.

The thing about our APA volunteers is that they’re not in it for the glory, to be noticed or to receive accolades.  They’re just doing the work.  As I was thinking about this group of remarkable parents, I thought it would be interesting to hear in their own words why they volunteer as they do.  Here is what a few of them said:

“I volunteer to be a good role model, so our kids see that we are active in the community.  I also like getting to know other parents.” 

“I believe being involved is essential to help make a successful school home for our children.  Everyone benefits from supporting our teachers and staff.  I’m hopeful that my daughter will do the same when she has children.”  

“My mother had me volunteering at the local historical society/museum when I was in grammar school.  I have volunteered for a variety of community organizations during my life.  So why wouldn’t I volunteer in the most important community organization in my daughter’s and family’s life…The Seed? Volunteering fills my heart and without it I’m not my best.  It teaches [my child] the importance of volunteering and working with others for a common goal.  I already see the volunteer spirit shining brightly within her and she’ll help so many during her lifetime.”

What I notice from all three of these valuable members of the Seed community is their common belief in the importance of service.  All three mentioned how important it is to them to model for their child what it is to be a volunteer.  The idea of passing on such a noble  teaching to a child in hopes that the child will repeat it in his or her life is a powerful one.  The Seed carnival happens each year as a result of all our parents who give their time and expertise to make it happen.  As you volunteer your time for this event, supervising a game, baking treats or organizing big parts of the entire event, it’s good to remember what an important life lesson it is that you are also giving your child.

 

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Okra Forest

volunteer okraA small okra forest fills the space between the sidewalk and straw bale bench in the kindergarteners’ outdoor area.  It was not planted intentionally, by the class anyway.  When I first noticed the broad green leaves, I thought it might be okra.  Although it’s a food not high on my list of favorites, I’ve tried to grow it before and it seemed familiar.  The two pods provided confirmation.  When I checked with Kerri to see if they’d planted okra, she told me a story about one of her students who loved it and often brought okra for lunch last year.  Hmmm…it’s likely that a few of those juicy white seeds landed in the dirt and turned into the current mini-forest.  After further investigation, I learned that the student who loves okra planted some at home with his parents and the plants were unfortunately eaten up by local rabbits.  Which made our volunteers even more significant.

A couple weeks ago I attended a gardening workshop with Greg Peterson from the Urban Farm (http://www.urbanfarm.org/the-urban-farm-story).  The focus was on how to think about gardening in the desert.  Greg talked quite a bit about the solar aspect, where the sun is going and the kinds of plants that thrive under certain exposures.  He spent at least half of the workshop talking about soil.   He said that dirt won’t grow much of anything by itself—soil needs dirt, moisture, organic material, air space and everything that’s alive in the soil.  His strongest recommendation was to keep building the soil by adding organic material (compost) over and over.  I was happy when he suggested just adding compost to the top of the soil without doing a lot of digging.

There was one bit of wisdom that stayed with me, although it hadn’t been given nearly the amount of time as soil preparation.  Greg reminded us to pay attention to special plants that come up, especially the volunteers that choose to sprout on their own.  My interpretation of this statement was that these plants want to grow in their chosen location.  They are a good match for the environment in which they reach up through the soil.  They are strong and hearty.  I thought of this as I discovered two beautiful artichoke plants in my garden, most likely from plants I allowed to go to seed last spring in a spot I was planning to designate for composting.  And the apple tree going on its fifth season, originated from my granddaughter’s random planting of a seed from her apple.  As I thought about this, the okra forest came to mind.  I don’t know if there’s a deeper meaning behind the okra’s appearance in the kindergarteners’ outdoor area.  Perhaps it’s a message telling us all to pay attention to the surprises in our lives.  For me it’s also an invitation to be a little more open-minded about certain foods I’ve shied away from.  And maybe it’s a way to see someone in a different light through understanding what they love.

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