Made for These Times

Indian clayLast week one of the 4th graders came up with an idea to excavate “Indian clay” from beneath the sand.  This project, located along the berm by the swings, quickly drew the attention of children of all different ages.  They went about their digging project in a remarkably cooperative manner.  The activity was spontaneous and inclusive, a fine example of the type of interaction that happens when children are encouraged to broaden their friendships beyond their age peers.  The project was eventually moved to another area less in the way of the traffic flow and a few kids still enjoy the safe, happy practice of excavating small bits of earth.

In contrast, this morning I watched a video of Syrian refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos (  Their boats, heavily laden with families and many young children, were actually rafts, the kind of rafts generally used for pleasure and thrill seeking.  Children with hypothermia were quickly whisked into the arms of relief workers and wrapped in space blankets.  Right behind the group unloading was another raft.  And another.  One relief worker said 60-70 boats a day might land there. The peril is immense, and it’s hard to imagine the conditions they’re leaving behind.

Sometimes my life feels challenging, holding space for over a hundred families on a regular basis.  Having access to details of people’s lives intensifies awareness of their suffering.  The physical and emotional state of people near and dear to my heart is of great concern.  Generally not a worrier, lately the state of our planet, from the plastic-filled oceans to the desperate refugees, has weighed heavily on my mind.  The steady stream of one intense situation after another has often caused me to doubt my ability to gracefully handle the next one.

During a moment of self-doubt, a beautiful piece of writing appeared on my screen (  Written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, she reminds us to “ not lose hope.  Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times.”  She continues by mentioning the abundance of awakened beings currently on the planet and compares them to “seaworthy vessels.”  In her words, “there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world.  And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.”

As a small, progressive independent school, we devote so much of our energy to being good stewards of the planet.  We encourage kindness, healthy living, and innovative thinking.  Lately, it doesn’t seem like enough.  Estes’ words offer encouragement:  “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.”

I’m thinking of ways to directly help Syrian refugees.  In the meantime, we will continue to offer a safe place on the planet for young children to dig in the earth, to express their true selves creatively, and be guided by teachers who care deeply about the next generation’s future.  We are made for these times, and I personally plan to keep doing what I can, as long as I can.

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Who Has Seen the Wind?

airplanesMonday was more than the average blustery day.  The wind that passed through the Seed was stronger and colder than we normally experience.   If I’m warm enough, I love the wind.  In fact, it’s been a big presence throughout my life, including my childhood.  I was introduced to sailing early on and the wind has almost always been a friend.  It’s represented freedom and open-heartedness throughout my days.

The wind was also a factor during tornado season in Nebraska.  When I was almost two, our family returned from living in Hawaii to a completely demolished home.  A huge tornado wiped out our small town.  In our new house, I remember vividly hauling our valuables to the basement when a tornado warning was issued.  Fortunately, we never experienced again the kind of devastation we did when I was small.  Maybe it’s the excitement we felt when a tornado was brewing that has carried over to my interest in hurricanes.

Monday’s wind reminded me of a favorite childhood poem, Christina Rossetti’s “Who Has Seen the Wind?” (

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

I love the way her poem addresses the fact that the wind isn’t seen, but is felt by the way the trees and leaves respond to it.  It’s like having a friend you don’t see (maybe they live far away), but they’re still a part of you because of  how their influence affects your life.

The wind on Monday affected Seed kids in several ways.  Lots of kids stood around shivering even though they were warmly dressed.  One little guy was perfectly happy in his shorts and flip flops.  A bright-eyed four-year-old approached me declaring, “I do not wish for this wind to blow today!”  The same child earlier in the day told one of her teachers, “One day I will go so high up in an airplane and open the door and jump out and play on the clouds.”  Clearly the wind was keeping her imagination alive.

The most visible response to the wind was the 1st and 2nd graders flying their paper airplanes.  Although it wasn’t planned, it was a spontaneous STEAM experience.  They experimented with plane design, angle of throwing, and compared the flight distance throwing into the wind vs. with it.  Their reactions to successful flights were as close to pure joy as I’ve seen in awhile.  I’m glad the remaining days this week have been calm.  I’m equally glad that the wind paid us a visit by passing through.

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J is for Jar

early 3s paintingWith a clipboard in hand, I visited every classroom on Monday morning.  I took  notes and captured photos.  What I witnessed was the Seed’s emergent curriculum in full form, from the tiny toddlers through the 3rd/4th graders.  I observed engaged students, enthusiastic and helpful teachers, and classrooms that invited authentic learning.  Every classroom was alive with the kind of activity we expect at the Seed.  Here’s what I noticed:

•  The Toddler 1s were painting.  Different colors of paper were taped to the table and children wandered over, used daubers to print on the paper, then headed off to other parts of the room.  One little guy proudly posed for a picture with the pile of crayons he’d stacked.

•  I walked into the Toddler 2s to find a teacher and a small group of students adding feathers to a pumpkin to make it into a turkey.  One child sat alone, fully engaged in a book.  Three toddlers successfully used the potty.

• The Early 3s sat in circle voting on the color they wanted to paint their large jellyfish.  The two choices were red and black.  Several voted for pink.  Following the vote, children migrated to an activity of choice, one being printing with jars (it’s J week) using brightly colored paints.  It was a popular table.

• I walked into the Preschool 3s as they finished up snack.  It was impressive to see three-year-olds able to sort out compost from trash, then deposit their plates in the sink for washing.  Later they also dazzled me with their letter recognition.  Their rainforest cave was an adventurous backdrop for their current study.

• In the Preschool 4s, small clipboards were set out in a circle with a pile of “t” pictures in the middle.  The “t” pictures included photos of two classmates whose names begin with “t.”  Children selected a clipboard, chose three pictures and glued them to their alphabet book page.  When one child spontaneously organized the glue stick box, the teacher said thanks for “neatening up” the glue sticks.

•  PreK students were outside when I paid them a visit.  Kids actively watered the garden, excavated buried dinosaurs, and concocted mixtures and plans in the kitchen area.  After experiencing their passion for watering, I can see why their garden is so successful!

•  Math was in progress when I stepped into the K-1.  Pairs of students cooperatively used measuring tapes to determine the length of various body parts.  One boy tenderly measured his partner’s neck, resembling a seasoned tailor respectfully preparing to create a clothing item for his client.

•  The 1st/2nd graders were in circle.  One student assisted the teacher with place value applications incorporated into the date, days of school, and calendar.  Once this was completed, the class shifted their attention to the teacher’s desktop where she pulled up a photo of the latest addition to their collection of animals at home—two pigs.  The kids loved her pig story, that included squealing.

•  My final stop in the 3rd/4th grade classroom revealed children independently engaged in a list of tasks.  A small group sat at a table in deep conversation regarding playground policies.  Several children presented their solutions.  All ideas shared were heard and eventually the meeting was tabled till the next day.  It was time for the idiom of the week.

What I loved most was the quality of teaching and learning—and nobody knew I planned to drop in.  Not bad for a morning’s work.  It’s what we do at the Seed.

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Bill the Butler

Bill with HHDLBill will be 70 on Saturday.  I’ve known him for 42 years and wonder where the time has gone.  We began as friends in 1973 and that friendship has evolved into a lifetime of growing a family that includes the Seed.  Many parts of our lives have evolved, especially the addition of daughters and grandchildren, yet some aspects have not changed at all.

In 2010, in celebration of Bill’s 65th birthday, I wrote about our seamless life together (  By seamless I meant a life that fully integrates work, spirituality, and personal experience.  In rereading that post, I can see that we’ve helped each other live seamlessly because we’ve supported the other’s journey while traveling our own.  Personally, I am still a work in progress when it comes to service.  I can say, however, that Bill has mastered the practice.  In recent years he’s taken to calling himself the Butler, and I see accuracy in that designation.

Bill has done many things in his 70 years.  He scooped ice cream at Baskin-Robbins as a teenager, worked in food service, managed a car wash, worked construction, ran his own businesses, and took his current job at the Seed “just for a couple weeks” in 1987 till we found someone permanent.  He was entrusted with priceless native American artifacts while hanging displays at the historic El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Over several years, Bill traveled to sacred Hopi sites in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Mexico with the late White Bear Fredericks to document Hopi history.  He was also the Arizona logistics director for Hands Across America and assisted with Native Hands Across American in New Mexico.  Bill worked on logistics for the last two Arizona visits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  On one visit he was given the task of attaching the mike to the Dalai Lama’s robe before each talk.

In more recent years, Bill the Butler has expanded his service work to incorporate our grandchildren’s activities.  He accompanies them on school field trips, personally finances classroom projects, and offers transportation when no one else is available.  When out in the world, Bill keeps his eyes open for people in need and randomly pays their checks at restaurants and feeds homeless people.  He made friends with the young man who fits his glasses and gave him a gift for his new baby.  Bill knows people everywhere and goes out of his way to bring ease to their lives when he can.  All of this from the guy who we see handling Seed finances and mowing the grass.

Bill will be the last person to tell you what he does to serve others.  I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s a lot more to this 70-year-old butler than meets the eye (or ear, if you’ve been privy to his storytelling).  The Seed, and the world, would not be what they are without the presence of this generous-hearted man.  I hope you’ll help celebrate his birthday by sending him an email:  What a blessing it is to have our own butler living among us, modeling stewardship wherever he goes.

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Carnival Approaching

IMG_6498 (1)Even though the full moon is ramping up the energy of this pre-Halloween week, it’s still one of my favorite times of the year.  There’s great anticipation for the carnival, along with Halloween itself the next day.  I’ve always loved Halloween, going all the way back to my childhood when we were allowed to roam freely for hours collecting candy in our small Nebraska town.  It’s also the holiday that, in my mind, officially marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and eventually the winter holidays.

I like carnival week because it’s a culmination of hard work many people have put in for several months, most of them behind the scenes.  It’s gratifying to see it all come together for a delightful event for the kids.  The carnival draws so many of our alumni families and it makes me happy to see them and know they still care about the Seed.  It’s fun to see the kids all excited about their costumes, as well as their enthusiasm for winning cakes in the cake walk and prizes from the game booths.

What gives me the greatest joy during this time around Halloween is performing with the Mystery Theater Players.  This year we offer Creepy Carrots, based on the book by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown.  It’s a tale well known around the Seed, especially in the PreK since they read it every time they have carrots for snack.  Our process begins in late September as we select the story and then begin writing our script.  Our final version is draft six.  Once the script is set, we start rehearsing twice a week until the last week (right now) when we rehearse four out of five nights till we have it down.  It’s an act of love for theater and our audiences, as well as for the Seed faculty fund which receives all the proceeds.

The Mystery Theater has a long history, dating back to the 1980s and the earliest Seed carnival days.  If you’d like more history on the carnival and the Mystery Theater, check out these links from the archive:

Whether it’s your first Seed carnival or if you’re a veteran, we hope you’ll enjoy the event to the fullest.  Thanks ahead of time to all APA coordinators, staff, and volunteer parents for organizing, setting up, baking, decorating, promoting, and caring enough about the Seed to put forth this level of effort.  The Seed is what it is in large part because of all of you.

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IMG_1705On Sunday evening as I was preparing dinner, waiting for my art to dry so I could add the next layer, and tidying the kitchen, I thought I’d check out a few TED talks to learn something new.  As chance would have it, I discovered a talk by Emilie Wapnick ( called “Why Some of Us Don’t Have Just One True Calling.”  Her talk is about people she refers to as “multipotentialites,” also known as polymaths, Renaissance persons, or generalists.  Here’s Emilie’s definition of a multipotentialite:  “A person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life.  Multipotentialites have no ‘one true calling’ the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both). Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.  When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.” (

After listening to Emilie’s TED talk, I flashed back to my childhood, remembering how I took piano and ballet lessons.  When neither of them held my attention, I moved on to tap and guitar.  In college it took me ten years and several majors before I found one that led me to my life’s work.  My path  as an artist has followed a similar pattern. I obsessed on watercolor, macrame, Chinese calligraphy, and polymer clay until I fully absorbed each medium, became bored with it, then moved on to the next one.  I love the experience of learning something new, and also love to move on when I feel saturated.

Fortunately, a few of my obsessions have turned into long-lasting “life callings.”  The Seed is one, as are my yoga practice and my work as a mixed-media artist.  I have come to accept that I will always be a dabbler, exploring new topics and ideas.  What has allowed me to stay with my life callings is that they are open-ended and allow me plenty of leeway to keep learning within the work itself.  I have found ways to integrate the TED talks and interviews of extraordinary human beings into my life as the Seed’s director.  I have figured out how to include creativity in projects that arise.  And I have wonderful, smart people surrounding me who are always eager to try out fresh ideas when they arise.

I share this with you not just to tell my own story, but to ask that you keep your eyes open for other “multipotentialites” (mainly children) among us.  By supporting children who learn this way, we are keeping the door open for innovators and problem solvers to come forth.  The world will thank you for nurturing these great minds as they discover their life callings and put them into action.

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Safer Than the Land

IMG_5247A photo and a poem are stuck in my mind.  The photo is of a drowned three-year-old Syrian child, lying face down on a Turkish beach.  He and his brother were among twelve Syrian refugees whose boat didn’t deliver them safely to shore.  It was all over the internet a few weeks ago.  Later, while reading about the photograph, I ran across these lines from Warsan Shire’s poem (

“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…”

These words and the photo won’t go away, particularly in the past few weeks as the theme of keeping children safe has persisted.

We live with a different level of concern about safety than the parents of the Syrian child in the photograph.  In our busy urban lives, an array of safety issues face our children every day and safety is a top priority at the Seed.  It’s also a balancing act, between giving children opportunities to experience “affordable mistakes” ( from which they’ll learn, and preventing them from making choices that could cause them permanent harm (e.g. letting them run independently across the parking lot).  We address different types of safety at Awakening Seed, including both physical and emotional.

Our playground provides opportunities to traverse the relationship between safety and risk.  We let kids play with sticks, build with logs and bricks, and climb structures.  Our staff monitors these activities as closely as we can, while also giving freedom.  Yes, kids occasionally have scraped knees and pinched fingers.  Most of the time they learn from these minor injuries and the choices that lead up to them.

Emotional safety is woven into every part of life at the Seed.  We teach children to be kind, inclusive, and the type of friend others will seek out for companionship.  We guide children to be trustworthy and treat others in a way that they themselves wish to be treated.  At all levels, teachers help children practice using their words and standing up for themselves.  If children need extra support to feel safe, whether it’s in the morning saying good-bye to a parent or entering into a game at recess, we provide ways to help.  Teaching kids how to treat others kindly and safely is as much a part of our curriculum as reading or math.  It’s a life skill we hope all children will take with them into their lives beyond the Seed.

Even with all of this in place, we sometimes fall short.  After all, they are kids and still learning how to be in the world.  And we are still learning how to give them the best tools to be successful, compassionate human beings.  As we continue our work, with the well-being of every child at the forefront of our practices, it is our collective heartfelt intention that the Seed be a safe boat in which our students can travel the seas of their childhood.  In so doing, perhaps they’ll grow up to be people who make a difference, people who help the world become the kind of place where toddlers don’t have to lose their lives attempting to reach safety.


Evolutionary Cluster

IMG_0069I’ve thought about the lead teachers quite a bit this week.  It’s one of the most demanding times of year for them, given they are preparing their progress reports AND teaching their classes.  Considerable thought goes into these reports, especially the narratives, which are reflections on the whole child.  They paint a picture of the child with words and the intention is to write in a way that what is written could only describe that particular child.  Like each child, each narrative is unique.  This work takes time and a significant amount of dedication to the kind of teaching we offer at the Seed.

During the same time the teachers have been composing their narratives, I had the  opportunity to listen to an interview of Mary Catherine Bateson, the daughter of the great anthropologist, Margaret Mead (  Mary Catherine Bateson is the author of Composing A Life, a pivotal book in my own journey.  She shared numerous stories about her famous mother’s life and work, including her progressive views on childrearing.  She also introduced me to the term “evolutionary clusters.”  When asked what it meant, this was Dr. Bateson’s explanation:  “Well, you’ve probably seen the slogan that gets quoted all the time, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’ ”  She verified that it was a Margaret Mead quote and went on to fill in her explanation:  “Very often, major accelerations of change came out when a group of people got together and learned together and dared to think new thoughts and then pass them on…It was true of the American Revolution, a group of thoughtful colonists thinking, actually, about French philosophy, mainly, and deciding they wanted to be independent. And the point is that the evolutionary part of that was in the relationships between the members of those small groups…[It was] a feeding off of each other’s imaginations and insights and wisdom and then spreading them out in the society going forward.”

I listened to this part of the interview several times just to make sure I understood it.  I thought of the teachers and their narratives, the level of care and attention that goes into them.  Their innovative classrooms and imaginative teaching practices that play off each other’s ideas all came to mind. I also thought of our growing alumni population now moving into adulthood, who are integrating the Seed approach into their daily lives as parents, teachers, coaches, and an array of professions.

In the uncut version of the interview with Dr. Bateson, she talked about the importance of the relationship between children and their elders, both for their own sake and for the planet’s well being.  She described how children, when taught about recycling, conserving water, and turning off the lights are the messengers for the future by reminding the adults in their life what the planet needs for survival.  Between the teachers, our alumni, and current crop of Seeds, I think we’re a fairly successful “evolutionary cluster,” doing our best to be thoughtful citizens changing the world.

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Poetry by the Sea

IMG_6310I signed up for poetry and left the coast of Florida with more than poems in my pocket.   Invited to attend Poetry by the Sea, a retreat for poets taught by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Dotlich, I knew it was a chance of a lifetime.   Georgia has been my poetry teacher for three decades and I’ve followed Rebecca’s work in recent years.  That said, I haven’t written much poetry lately, so I wasn’t sure how relevant it would be for my current interests.  I didn’t know specifically why I wanted to go, yet trusted the answer would be revealed.  It came to me through a shell and a poem.

The retreat was in Jupiter, Florida, a few miles north of West Palm Beach.  We were right on the beach, so I seized every free moment to walk and explore.  It was a place of stunning sunrises, worn-smooth shells, and warm, humid air.  The beach is a nesting ground for loggerhead turtles and was covered with eggshells, some cracked open and others still intact.  At first it was disturbing to see so many until I read that “sea turtles deposit an average of about 100 eggs in each nest and lay between 3 and 7 nests during the nesting season… The unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings are good sources of nutrients for the dune vegetation, even the left over egg shells from hatched eggs provide some nutrients.” (

In addition to the turtle egg shells, there was a disturbing amount of plastic all along the shoreline.  The truth of articles about the crisis level of ocean plastic pollution hit home. ( There were small plastic bits, lost toys and flip flops, and even a plastic water bottle packed full of styrofoam.  It was encouraging to see people collecting plastic from the beach, but sad they had to collect plastic instead of lovely shells.

The super moon event created quite a backdrop for the retreat.  The connection between the moon and tides felt especially strong.  However, it was a small shell, a moon snail, that ended up being the most significant part of the whole experience. Recently I’ve been thinking about my life stage and how it feels sometimes like everything is getting smaller.  When I found the little moon snail (, I realized that its spiral actually began tiny and grew more expansive in time.  It was a perfect metaphor for life, which I ended up using for one of my poems:

Moon Snail

You are a spiral, soft eggshell
brown with a tint of rose.

Wave-dropped at my feet,
I hold you in my hand as
you teach me about life.

I think of my own, spinning
faster than I can believe
to its outer edges.

Until I found you, I thought
the spiral closed in, diminished.
I can see now it’s quite the
opposite, that what’s left
is the expansive part.

Widening into open space,
I notice near your final curve
a well-placed opening–
a portal, perhaps,
to somewhere else.

It was a blessing to go to such a beautiful “somewhere else,” which in the end brought me home to myself.


A Colorful Rite of Passage

Mallory tie dyeIt’s a well known fact that, over the years, the Seed has gained a reputation as being a “hippie” school.  Our roots as an alternative school in the 70s have certainly fueled this perception.  The school’s emphasis on gardening and saving the earth have also been contributing factors.  Early on we had three- and four-year olds writing letters to senators asking them to clean up the air.  Being listed on Buzzfeed’s list of ten most bizarre schools in the country ( for believing in world peace got more than a few people’s attention. And yes, I’ll admit that during the years I taught 4th and 5th grade, I did my best to make sure my students knew as many Bob Dylan songs as possible.  The Seed has come by its reputation honestly.

Perhaps the most visible and long-lasting remnants of the hippie era are the tie dye t-shirts we make every year.  Although tie dyed shirts have been around the Seed since our first days in the late 70s, we got serious about the process around the turn of the century.  Fifteen years later, dyeing the shirts (and painting tiles) is a well-oiled machine.  Each year is a refinement of the previous one.  Team Tie Dye is a formidable crew.

The way it works is we sell white shirts at the beginning of the school year and families sign up to dye their shirts on the big day.  The most fanatic tie dye fans (many of them members of Team Tie Dye) have been known to purchase a large number of additional white items to enhance their current wardrobes.  Dyes are carefully measured and prepared in handy squirt bottles.  Instructions for how to tie fancy designs are handed out and individual consultations are not uncommon throughout the day of tie dye.  After shirts have had a good soaking in soda ash solution, the floodgate of tie dye enthusiasts is released and the colorful event begins.

This rite of passage for new Seed families, as well as returnees who can’t live without a new tie dye each year, is like no other Seed event.  Families who are new to the process glean tips and advice from seasoned folks.  Some parents like to keep things neat and tidy (as much as you can with tie dye) and end up doing most of their child’s shirt.  Others, especially those who have just come from work, stay out of the way as much as possible and let their kid loose with the squirt bottle.  Some children pool up the dye so heavily that there’s more on the  table than the shirt.  A few take their time, intentionally applying the dye to their shirts.  I’d say the majority love the process of squirting the colors around with little regard for the outcome.  Tall tales from tie dye days past are on the rise as the sun sinks in the west, bringing the day to a close.  The only thing better than this colorful camaraderie is the kids sporting their new shirts on Monday morning, their smiling faces announcing, “Look!  I’m a Seed!”

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