Year end reflections

As 2015 comes to an end, we find ourselves reflecting on the work we are doing with children and families. Why is it that we persist? Why persevere, when our work involves so much uncertainty? As I sat down to write this post and poured over all that has taken place in the program in this short month, it became abundantly clear. We need to prepare children to imagine a better world so they can create it and live in it. So how does that happen?

On a typical day this month at Triskele Rivers ALC, you would have seen:


Students teaching themselves how to build rockets fueled by sugar and experimenting with different ratios of oxygen to fuel.
A committee working together to build and install an exercise bar in the studio.exercise bar
– One student interested in design, working with a local architect.
Kids viewing and discussing the documentary, Dharavi Slum.
– Kids learning massage and acupressure techniques from a nationally certified animal practitioner, and watching a short film in preparation for a shelter visit.
– Students pursuing individual interests such as reading, photography, and sculpting, to name just a few.indiv. projects
Children attending a 5 week Equine Workshop on leadership and self-awareness.

But the magic is not solely in the material they are learning. It comes from the experience. As facilitators, we are constantly figuring ways to support these experiences and finding connections to other areas of life. For example, whenever the kids come up with a project, most often a committee is formed. A leader is appointed and the group needs to collaborate in order to budget money, buy the materials and then share and organize their ideas. As you can imagine, not all goes smoothly. Just like in adult work spaces, the kids confront issues such as:

– Team members not following through with their commitment and
– How to lead when team members are not listening and going in different directions.

As facilitators, we plan weekly Team Challenges that connect in some way to the daily common challenges that arise with any working group. This month, we planned two Team Challenges that focused on intentional leadership and clear messages. IMG_0969The kids were able to dialogue and reflect on their experience with leadership and what it means to consensually lead. We kept asking them to “dig deeper” in order to solve the problems. It seems that the kids will initially look to us to solve problems, but when asked to “dig deeper” and given time to think, they always rise to the occasion.

The take away is that learning new information is just one part of the learning process. Our commitment to listening and relationship is exactly what prepares these kids to creatively solve the unanticipated problems of the future. Knowing how to share ideas, battle with different perspectives and send clear messages is necessary when trying to find solutions to difficult problems. Information alone will not provide us with answers. As we look at the issues that face our world today, it is clear to us why we are committed to the work that we do.

Creating culture and common language

At Triskele Rivers ALC, we talk a lot about common language and it’s importance in culture creation. Here are some examples of what we are doing to facilitate this.


For the majority of the time that children attend the program, they are free to pursue their own interests and intentions. However, at least once a week, we ask that the children participate in a group challenge or an experience as a way to connect and build relationships. Last week we asked the children to participate by watching a short video, Grand Canyon, which documents a journey down the Colorado River by a group of Native American leaders as they reflect on their culture, resources and beliefs. The film offers perspective into the struggles that several Native American tribes face today. (It also taps into a controversial issue concerning water rights that is currently being debated in our community.)The kids were asked a few questions before watching the video and invited to take notes (for no other purpose but for themselves.) When we began the discussion afterwards, one student brought up the fact that many children today don’t care about issues if they don’t pertain to them. We discussed the importance of knowing your community and the world around you. How it is harder to care about something that you don’t understand. And if we don’t care about things, we won’t value and protect them. The topic of ‘Why We Care’ runs so deep and this was an invitation for each of the children to begin to ask themselves that important question.

To continue the reflection into ‘Why We Care’, this week we invited the children to watch a TedTalk, Being Young and Having An Impact, by Natalie Warne. Natalie was deeply inspired by a documentary she watched when she was just 17, called Invisible Children. This documentary ignited something inside of her that drove her to fight hard to make change happen. Natalie leaves her audience with the powerful life message, “Chase after the things you love”. Prior to watching the video, we asked the kids to think about something that they admired in the speaker. During our discussion afterwards, the kids seemed most drawn to her style of speaking. She spoke with such passion and conviction that it was hard not to be drawn in by her. We began to touch on the power of authenticity and passion, and how it connects to our own journey towards self knowledge.

Things really came together at the end of our week when we had the opportunity to visit the studio of a local film maker and friend, Skip Armstrong. The kids have shown an interest in film making and have shot several videos and practiced their editing skills while in the program. We thought it would compliment this perfectly to visit and learn from a professional film maker. SkipNot only did the kids learn some technical skills but Skip also shared his life experience and how he came to be a film maker. He is someone who wholeheartedly believes in pursuing what you love to do. He understands that when you are passionate, people will follow. He spoke with the kids about the importance of relationships, intention and good will. He said the most important life lesson he has learned is to “be nice to people and mean it. To figure out a way to share what you love to do and make other people’s lives/jobs easier.”  He said that we all communicate through stories and how important our stories are. His films each communicate a story.

Once again, I was blown away by how relevant this experience was to the culture that is being co-created at our ALC. Our visit highlighted for me how important our community is in this process. By seeking out interesting and inspirational resources in our community, we are essentially creating our curriculum. Our community IS our curriculum. It is natural and right in front of us. We learn as we live. This is some of the dialogue that took place after our visit:

Jake, age 12 – “Wow, we have really been introduced to some inspiring people this week.”
I like how he used lighting, color, speed, angles and music to tell his story.”

Audrey, age 13- “I liked how he said to focus on an idea before creating, in order to get direction. I can use this with my writing. I like thinking about not having to go in order of beginning, middle and end, as long as you cover them all.”

Luke, age 13 – “I came away thinking about story: beginning, middle and end and how I can use this in making my next biking video.”

Abe, age 13 – “You can tell Skip really loves what he does.”


So as we move forward, we are all creating our own stories. They will look different but they will all have a beginning, middle and end. Our job as facilitators is to help each child connect to their own story. Having time to reflect on our experiences is critical to the learning process. Critical also to this process is the idea of shareable value. Homeschoolers and self directed learners are often very good at pursuing their own interests. nate:abeHowever, it might not always be as easy or clear when it comes to sharing the value. Finding ways to share the value of what you are pursuing completes this learning process. We are careful as we facilitate and understand that every child is at a different point in this growth process. Some kids are starting to take notes to help them remember what they want to say during discussions, others are blogging about it and some are just listening. We always invite the kids to participate in discussions but never force responses. A lot can be learned by simply observing. So this is how we are beginning to co-create our culture. Sharing what is important to us as facilitators , observing and listening to what is important to the kids, engaging with our community and all the time thinking about why it is important to care. If we all connected more to this idea of caring, what would our future world look like?


One of our students, Parker, was recently featured in one of Skip Armstrong’s films. Here’s the link….it is fun to watch….Enjoy!

More of Skip’s work can be found at

The Journey Has Begun


We just completed our 1st month of the program. Children have been busy setting their intentions for the day and deciding how they want to spend their time. This is a new framework for all of us, so naturally we are working out the kinks. What I have noticed, in four short weeks, is that the children are starting to take ownership of their choices. Ideas are beginning to flow. Initially, they were unsure of what to do with their time. Now, I watch as they get inspired by the ideas of others. It is almost like an awakening of curiosity that had temporarily gone to sleep. It inspires me to think of the possibilities

With this increase in ideas has also come the reality of “down time”. There will be times in the program where children need to figure out how to spend their time(especially in the beginning). As a facilitator, I am learning to observe and trying my hardest not to let value judgements get in the way. An example of this happened this week. I listened as a group of children gathered at a table and began to dialogue. Initially, the conversation was merely “hang out” kind of talk. They were getting pretty silly and I wondered where this was going. I continued to observe and did not intervene. I then began to notice a shift in the conversation. The children began to ask each other questions and go a bit deeper. They were inquiring about each other and connecting in a way that is necessary in order for a culture to evolve that honors each individual. This conversation led to talk about projects they are working on and eventually a meeting around a large world map that hangs on our wall. I realized quickly that children need the time and space for this to happen. IMG_3977To an outsider looking in, it may seem as though nothing is happening. But that is where we need to shift our thinking. In our program, if we really value relationships and believe that learning comes from healthy relationships then we need to provide an environment that supports that process. As facilitators we need to be ok with a certain level of uncertainty….as we are on a path that will not always be clearly laid out.

I mentioned previously that the children are beginning to understand setting intentions for the day, which is a great start. But I am also noticing some other changes. Just by chance, we began trying to solve brain teasers at the end of each day. We had no idea the children would like it so much but they now ask for this daily. When beginning the brain teasers, 4 weeks ago, it was difficult to solve them. We needed to stretch our minds and think beyond the obvious. Well, a funny thing happened yesterday. We all seemed to get the brain teasers very quickly. We laughed it off and said they were easy. As I went home that night I wondered, “Were they easy or are we just beginning to think differently as a group?”


We are just beginning this journey but I am thankful that we are part of a bigger network. I know there are other ALC facilitators that are on this same path. We can support each other and the children as we ask ourselves important questions regarding our work.

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices…”       William James

I recently read this quote in a post by Susan McKay, Director of The Museum Center for Learning, in Portland Oregon. Susan writes;

“…. what will it take for us to collectively realize that we need an entirely new set of questions in order to make change? We regularly accept the repackaging of old ideas and call them new. We get the same results, though often with exponential complexity. So we reshuffle the deck and deal the same cards. We need a fresh deck.”

She shares these questions:
What is school for?
How do we hold children accountable in a way that recognizes their humanity?
How do we create conditions that promote agency and empathy?
How do we create conditions that support children to use playful inquiry in the service of their own human birthright – creativity?

Susan’s post hit home for me. As we begin to shift our idea of education, we need to ask different questions. We need to change our perspective and be mindful when old value judgements try to take over. It’s incredibly inspiring to have a network of people to share this with.