Playing with SuperVision

I am so grateful to one of our families this week for bringing up a question and concern around supervision!   This kind of open communication with each other supports our thrive at school.

I was reminded of this last night as I watched Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk Dare to Disagree.   One thing I took away from her was that our approach to seeming conflict can powerfully change our experience of it!  Heffernan sees conflict as an opportunity for growth.   Here is a little bit of what she says: 

When we dare to break [the] silence, or when we dare to see, and we create conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.  Open information is fantastic, open networks are essential. But the truth won’t set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it. Openness isn’t the end.  It’s the beginning.

Wow, this was really true for me this week!  I’ll explain some of the creative thinking that ensued from the supervision conversation in this post.

As I engage with children, families and facilitators in our community around concerns, questions or seeming conflict, I can experience growth, more connection and more clarity from our interactions.   As a parent myself who has long sought a school space that trusts my child and that trusts me as a parent, it is really important to me to honor concerns, questions and intuitive ideas from all community members.

So here is a little background information about how we think about supervision at Roots.

We have some basic boundaries that children know and then we have some wiggle room.  The wiggle room is where our conversations around supervision usually muddle about!  Just as in many homes, as children grow, their boundaries grow.   Also as we get to know the individual children we can change our practices to meet their needs: who is likely to want to be off by herself and so would need our special attention to her whereabouts (even it is just going under a table), who really likes to stay with an adult anyway, who presses the boundaries and needs our support to stay safe.

With children of all ages our trust in them is a very important piece of our work in creating space for their ideas, their freedom and their empowerment.   We trust that children are capable, insightful people.  We watch and observe to see where support is needed before jumping in and offering it.  We want kiddos to take risks and try things out within the loving container of our space and community.

We also try hard to trust our own highest instincts to discern how to support children.  In the case of supervision I most like my decisions to be made from a place of Love/centeredness/connection rather than fear.  From the outside I don’t know if this looks different or not!  But from the inside it feels very different.  It feels very good to me to be near the kids as they play and work at school because I want to offer support for physical and emotional safety as needed (and I also want to support their ideas, document their learning, etc!).  This feels different to me than wanting to be with them to prevent xyz danger from happening.

Alongside my own feelings and those of children, I trust the intuition of other parents in our community so much!  I want parents to feel totally good and at ease about a child being at school.  I generally have no problem offering additional supports  when a parent expresses a gut feeling about support needed.  The important change I need to make is always a change within my own mind and heart- the outside practice with children (and adults) then flows with ease.

 The opportunity with parents this week led me to play with and change my own thinking around the idea of supervision.   I have sometimes come to the idea with mistrust and evaluation.   In the past I have sometimes thought that supervision is at odds with freedom as a power over others kind of activity.   Now I am tweaking my relationship with this word and so with my experience of supervision!  Here’s how:

 I realized that the word supervision holds some fear-baggage to me, and I usually think of the meaning as watching to be sure things don’t go badly.  An alternative  way to think about the word could be the two parts super-vision.  Super could be connected to the supernatural,  the spirit-minded, the metaphysical… Super as in the highest.   Vision is a little more obvious: this is seeing, our way of seeing the world.  Studies in metaphysics have long taught that our power as observers, as she who sees, changes that which we see.  So SuperVision could be to watch others with our highest mind!  For me this is from a place of spirit, connection and Love.   I would adore to offer SuperVision for our children at school in this light- to SEE them Truly through a highest sense of Love.

This tidbit of creative thinking comes because of the opportunity provided by openness not only to an idea just like mine, but openness to questions and concerns that might have at first felt disruptive to my thinking.

Where does the water in our rain barrel go? Making meaning with the ecology of place

IMG_7040In this first week back at school I saw some kiddos new to school exploring the rain barrel and heard some returning kids sharing memories of rain barrel play from last year.  An interesting conversation ensued about where the water in our rain barrel should and does go. One child said that the water is for watering the garden because the rainwater is better garden food than hose water.  Another child pointing to the garden said, “but the garden is dried up!” (It’s true! The dry summer has all but some returning zinnias and our potatoes totally roasted! We’ll be ready to plant the winter garden before long, though.) A younger child entered the conversation, “But we ALWAYS dig canals from the rain barrel! Remember when we made the path all the way to the hill?! It went down!!”  A child new to school this year has listened and eyeing the full barrel says, “Maybe we can build it to the garden…”

As I am in the process of wrapping up Roots’ year long participation in the Intersections Project (a collaboration with Discovery Place science museum to better understanding science and literacy learning), this little snippet of conversation reminded me of the eco-literacies activated as children engage in authentic Make activities in our own school yard.  Sometimes when I am thinking of science learning, I do not go immediately to thinking about the emotional, embodied and metaphysical.  My engrained, go-to story is that science is technical and logical.   I am so glad the children remind me through their making and reflecting that science is much more fluid!

Of course, a lot can get in the way of this fluidity, including figuring out where to start science explorations.  IMG_5722Sometimes science learning (or any learning) starts with standards or topics that are created farther and farther away from children and children’s lives. When these goals from others come first, it can be harder for adults or children to make connections from learning to our own lives. A different way of going about science learning is to engage with the places we live or go to school and see what inspires us to create, play and ask questions. This is the basic idea of place-based education, to see how our immediate local environments can provide opportunities for learning.

IMG_4885At Roots in figuring out “where to start” we take cues from both an inviting playscape and the natural world.   We have a pretty thoughtful balance between offering beautiful, open ended materials and leaving lots of open space for play to develop with found natural objects.   Every week we celebrate making as a rituIMG_5182al, Tuesday is making and science day. I offer some kind of experience that gets kiddos acting as makers of their world.   These offered opportunities are just a small fraction of the making that happens every week. The most interesting and developed makes come directly from the kids engaging with the environment through open and unplanned play. And this is how interest in the rain barrel makes began.

IMG_4073When children entered into making and science learning around rain water, it didn’t start with a science standard or with a weather theme, it didn’t start with an offering from an adult.  We started with our place, where we spend hours everyday, sometimes entire schooldays: our play yard. We started with where the children are playing and what they are interested in doing. We started with the rain barrel.

In the first rains of the new school season the children begin to observe and IMG_4887interact with water in our yard.   They play in the puddles and after the rain has come they play with the water from the collection barrel. They begin making  canals, longer and longer trenches, with more thoughtful construction, with dams, with off shoots, using various tools. They test and retest and sometimes destroy (purposefully and not) their creations. They work on the canal make throughout the school year.  They sometimes run into the play yard the morning after a night of rain full of intention around making canals! It’s not a one shot activity. It’s slow, over time, again and again, iterated in many ways from August to June and then again with new friends and their fresh ideas.

The kids experience the fluid and messy process of inspiratiIMG_5394on, tinkering, planning, building, rebuilding, reflecting and starting again. They go on tangents, like making origami boats, they investigate problems like finding the best kind of tool (broom, shovel or stick) for particular tasks (digging a trench, moving a boat, shoring a dam) and they create their own keystone moments like “the day the canal was made all the way to the hill.”

I have observed that the children seem deeply in flow as they build IMG_4248canals.  It seems to hit the sweet spot of just enough challenge and
stimulation.  There is a sense of work and play intertwined in harmony.  There is a sense of a sort of easy going creativity where just adding a loose board as a bridge extends and deepens the play.   I spend a lot of time as a “feelings detective,” uncovering how kids feel so that I can support them in articulating and expressing.  The feelings I pick up on while witnessing canal making are joy, invigoration, facination, wonder, and content.

As children work on making canals as an iterative process through IMG_5271the seasons they deepen their connections. This sense of connection and understanding is part of eco-literacy, in which connection to the natural world is part of how we make meaning of our lives.  One could learn facts about or even skills in nature, but becoming eco-literate is engaging as an ecologist, having a deeper, more personal, and yes messier understanding of one’s own connection with nature.  Just as we make meaning from (rather than finding it implicit in) groups of symbols, we make our own meanings of the natural world.  And this is the primary work of ecology, to see and feel the natural world and our relationship with her as meaningful, not meaningless.

IMG_2804 Young children create meaning of their world through play. Play is a literate act as children (or adults!) construct, deconstruct and tinker with stories and ideas from their lives in both physical and fantasy play.  When children at Roots play with the rain barrel by making canals for days, they are making their own connection with rainwater, forging a relationship with nature that is the basis for stewardship.  As children physically engage by playing in nature they are making not only canals that engage them in physics and engineering learning, they are also making their own relationship with the natural world in an intangible, highly emotional way that is all about the meaning.

IMG_6964The beautiful thing about our way into this eco-learning through place-based thinking is that in this paradigm, learning can and should happen exactly wherever you are right now, you don’t have to be in the forest, maybe you have a gutter or a ditch or a single tree or a window or neighbor’s garden to visit rather than a rain barrel; wherever your local is that’s where you start.