January 2009

Going back to look at the Warehousing Children post made me think some readers might find that cold and  unappealing. I am playing with ideas to get a sense of what would work, what could hold our ideas and make them real. The warehouse works for me when I think of working with kids of all backgrounds, though I imagine it would not appeal to everyone. I love the idea of thriftiness, generosity, space that a warehouse offers. How wonderful to have room and money to take all comers. How amazing to stop telling kids to be still, to quit running in the house, to stop climbing on the furniture. The sense of freedom I have when I picture kids in an enormous space appeals, maybe especially because in our house and family day care all the rooms are small, none more than about 11 x 11. When we have a parent meeting or when we dance and make music, we have to move all sorts of things around to fit ourselves into the space. No gym, no cafeteria, no auditorium, no ballroom or gallery, not even a proper entranceway or hallway in a two family working class house in Somerville.

So the warehouse makes me think big, think everybody, freedom, openness.

Earlier in the dreaming, I was looking at enormous old houses in Somerville, wishing for large rooms, big windows, views over Boston, yards. When I visited what was available in Somerville, I was stunned to see the places with grand staircases, vaulted ceilings, quarter acre yards. Then I drove to Waltham to visit another homeschool group, and realized that Somerville grand is nothing compared to other places. Big houses and big yards are all over the place when you get outside the city. The problem for me though, is Outside the City. As much as I love to visit and play in the comfort of big yards and big houses outside the city, the city is home now and where I want to be. Thus the warehouse idea, big space, potentially cheap, a bit gritty and under the radar, not intimidating to people without big money as a grand old mansion might be.

But for now, we have a house, and a good-sized one for the money, and we are going with that, feeling lucky for having bought our two family in Somerville when real estate was more affordable, and for my family being willing to share the place with a million kids and their families and teachers.

The house image works, too, as an alternative to school. Quiet places, privacy, comfort, kitchens, bathtubs, wood floors and plaster walls, a neighborhood and neighbors, a yard. No complaints for lacking the auditorium or the cafeteria, or the gym when we have the living room stage, the kitchen and dining room, the yard and the parks and lots of good spare clothes for wet and snowy weather.

Usually, when I have thought of warehousing children I have pictured kids staring into space six hours a day listening to boring stuff and doing dumb work, lined up in rows of desks in one dreary classroom after another, or tossing a billion babies into a long row of cribs staffed by a couple of older teenagers madly wielding bottles and running from one screaming infant to the next, trying to get some peace.

My new image of warehousing children is different. This time it is an actual warehouse. I see this as I drive down Rt. 93 coming out of Boston or along the McGrath Highway, or somewhere in the wilds of some inner belt suburb. The outside of the warehouse looks grim, even worse than the old school they just tore down on Harvard St. and replaced with miles of new townhomes. The inside is fabulous. I think this image comes from a recurring dream I have where I find I am the owner of some unbelievable building, often attached to the very small apartment I appeared to have owned, one time to a mall, another time to the back of one of my day care families homes. That time the surprise space had mechanical camels in a barn outback. So you see my imagination, at least in my dreams, can be a bit wild.

Anyhow, the outside of my new warehouse for children is grim, but inside it is fabulous. My kids were lucky to spend a week this summer in just such a surprising place, a climbing gym owned by one of our day care families. From the outside, it is a big old industrial building. On the inside, it is rock faces, belaying ropes, and adventure. My warehouse for children might have a climbing gym, but it also has all kinds of other stuff kids love to do, and all kinds of kids.

I saw a movie last week on You Tube of a funky school that existed in Copenhagen (I think) in the era of crazy schools. The AERO newsletter led me to it:  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8097260818511821806. In the movie, a group of teachers and families took over a big old building, made dividers out of wooden beer crates, and set up all sorts of things for kids to do, like welding, woodworking, dancing, and cooking. Parents, teachers, and kids started, built, and ran the school, and then, of course, it ended. Sort of like my crazy dreams when the alarm goes off.

In my warehouse for kids there will not only be cool things for kids to do, there will be all sorts of kids and adults doing them. This time around there will not only be woodworking and welding, there will be computers and video cameras and maybe ipods. The kids from all over town who used to be sitting in class staring into space or chucking things at the teachers or feeling dumb for not being able to read, or out of it because they are gay or socially inept or don’t want to come to circle when it is calendar time again, all those kids will be set free in the kids’ warehouse. No one will think they are stupid or if they do, someone will challenge that or find something good to balance out the stupid. The calendar won’t be the most important thing on earth for five year olds to study. Nobody will have to sit still all day or spend all their time reading and writing, unless that is what they want. People will fight and have time and help to make up. Kids will hurt themselves, cry, and find comfort. Dangerous stuff will happen and kids will learn to be safe. People will come to the warehouse wondering what the heck will happen each day and look forward to finding out. Maybe it will be another game of Magic or another game of babies or another day of sitting and talking with friends. Maybe something no one could predict.

Imagine it as you drive around town looking at all the abandoned storefronts, offices, and warehouses. What if they were all full of people getting together to do what they love and lots of them were kids, all day long? What if there was cool stuff in them to explore and people respected the cool stuff and all the other people who wanted to use it and so the cool stuff got made into even cooler stuff?

Some days I think absolutely, that would work. Other days I think, no way. Not sure what sort of day today might be.

A big question for us as we provide family child care and now as we think of organizing an alternative to school is “how will children learn to read and write?” In our day care, we don’t have a lot of ABC’s on the walls. We don’t teach children a letter and number of the week. We do read lots of great books to individuals, small and large groups. We encourage children to enjoy books independently and with each other, to draw and write as they are able, and to read print in our environment, such as the names above hooks and on charts, words on signs, on clothing, and in books. 

As is true in many early childhood programs, many years one or two of our preschoolers learns to read. Most of our kids adjust smoothly to school and read by the time they finish first grade, some find reading and writing especially difficult, some need extra help in reading, and one or two over the years has been diagnosed with dyslexia. Our expectation is that kids are learning in different ways and that they may need different things along the way to help them grow. We observe kids closely, provide a range of materials and experiences, communicate with parents if we have concerns, give kids help when we think they need it, and encourage families to seek outside help if we think it would be useful.

We have found that nearly all of our children love books and stories. Most find pleasure in drawing and writing by the time they leave, if not always from the beginning. We also emphasize oral language, with lots of opportunities for conversation, storytelling, observation, and problem-solving. Our small group format for meals and walks to the park ensures family style conversation around the table and through the neighborhood. Dramatic play, and really all play, which is the basis of our program, are language based. We also provide more structured drama experiences by writing down and performing childrens’ “plays” in the style of Vivian Paley, a practice that works for children from one on up.

Liana is a regular at her local library and the librarian at her son’s school often recommends good books to her for our group. Each week she comes with a pile of books just right for our kids. Many weeks she has something special for a particular child.

Alice has a huge collection of children’s books from her years as a day care provider and a book lover. She shares those she read in her program and often buys new books she thinks our kids will love.

I have a bit of a book habit, too, and so our day care and house are crammed with bookshelves and book baskets. In my former life, I taught school to children up to fourth grade. Adding to that the books my 8. 12. and 14 year old have collected, and we have books for kids of all ages, including board books, picture books, chapter books, nonfiction, photo albums, early readers, reference books, poetry, and magazines. And, we are within walking distance of four libraries! It is hard to imagine how a child that spent much time with us would not enjoy some aspect of literacy.

But the question remains, how would we handle reading and writing with older children who spent their days with us instead of in school. Having watched older kids in our environment, including one homeschooler who has had very little formal reading instruction, we provide many opportunities for reading and writing for older kids, and children create many more. Our homeschooler often writes out plans for projects, things he wants to remember, or number problems he is solving. When my 8 year old daughter was home one day this winter, she and a five year old surveyed the group to see what kind of pizza people wanted. While the five year old was happy with his simple way of recording the results, my 8 year old wanted to write things out in more detail. Some days in after school, the kids will write out plans for themselves, make stories, posters, or play school. Today they made signs for the Peace Club and passed them out to everyone as they were leaving. Kids read all the time. We find ways to offer books at transitions in spots where kids must wait for a turn in the bathroom or in the kitchen. We read to the large group once or twice a day, and tailor books to the ages of the group. We have found many books that appeal to kids from 2 to 12, and also find that reading a simple book to older kids or a challenging book to younger kids can have pleasing results. We also have a large collection of story tapes, from the simplest songs and rhymes, to chapter books. We listen to some each afternoon and older kids have access to tape and CD players whenever they like.

I occasionally worry that without more direct instruction of letters and numbers and reading and writing our kids will not get “the basics”. I also find that much of the work kids in our after school program do for homework, especially in the early grades, does not meet their needs. It is amazingly difficult to give teacher made work to an entire class and have it make sense to every child, or even better, to help each child to progress with a uniform assignment. Each day I watch kids struggle to understand directions, to fit their ideas into the format on a page, to make letters a smoothly as their ideas flow, to do work that does not have meaning for them. Of course, not all school work or homework is this way. I am not convinced that children who are immersed in experiences rich with conversation, reading, writing, and listening need so many teacher initiated lessons and papers to become competent, self-motivated readers. I find the development of children’s literacy fascinating and satisfying. I hope that as we work with more school age children as an alternative to school I will find new ways to stretch and challenge the kids and myself. I look forward to finding more books kids love as they grow, to learn more about the many ways older children find to read and write. As we have learned with and from the children in our early childhood program, so I expect we will learn with and from the children as they grow older.

Here is a description of some of our favorite art experiences that work for all ages. I was inspired to write this after meeting with families of older children who wanted to know more about our work, and thinking about what we have to offer that would challenge and support their kids.

PAINTING – Kids from 1 to adults can paint together. We might offer different set-ups for different ages, perhaps large paper, a blob of paint, and a thick brush for a toddler, primary colors in a palette for a preschooler, and finer brushes for school agers. Kids across ages share ideas for mixing colors, complement one another on designs and representations in their work, and share ideas. This summer, a popular painting project that we set up for younger ones, dot markers filled with liquid watercolor, ended up being very popular with kids up to 11, who did beautiful stained glass style paintings for several days. We have watercolor, liquid watercolor, tempera, craft paints, acrylics, powder paint, finger paint, many types of palettes, brushes, papers, and other surfaces to paint. This week we painted with spray bottles of watercolor on the snow in the yard! Last week we painted on chunks of ice we broke off the surface of the climber. The week before that we painted cherry branches I had collected in the country. As kids develop as painters, we see them become more sophisticated in making and using colors,  patterns, and designs, and making some representational pieces.

COLLAGE – We love to use all sorts of mainly recycled materials for collage. We offer textures, colors, patterns, natural, fabricated, precut, and child- and teacher torn and cut materials. Kids attach the materials to different bases, including papers, oaktag, cardboard, wood, and sticky paper. They may use glue, tape, stickers, the adhesive surface of the sticky paper, or hole punches and weaving to attach things to their collage. Sometimes kids work on a piece on their own. Other times we do a group collage. Several of these adorn our walls. While toddlers tend not to understand the process of glueing or taping pieces to a surface, they love the sensory aspect of collage, being part of a group of artists, and especially enjoy group projects, stickers, precut tape, and sticky paper collage. Older kids like these, too, but have a broader repertoire and more skills. They can plan, cut, tape, glue, hole punch, weave, arrange, and layer with intention. They can work for a very long time on a collage, sometimes with representational ideas in mind, other times really exploring the variety of materials and the possibilities they offer.

SCULPTURE – We do all sorts of three dimensional projects. Some of our favorite materials are natural clay, playdough, plasticene, sculpey, salt and flour baking clay, recycle materials, styrofoam, and wood. I would also count sand and snow and blocks and construction toys such as legos as sculpture materials. On any given day, there are kids using several of these materials, often for ephemeral projects like sand castles or rivers or block villages or  playdough snakes. Other times we create pieces that last, such as baked salt clay figures, wood sculptures, and fairy houses. One nice thing about some of our sculptures is that they can be used in imaginative play. I will never forget the year our fours spent pretending on a natural clay pile with dinosaurs. The same group spent weeks hammering on a rotten log in the water table (dry), shaping it and playing on it with  plastic animals. My eight year old daughter regularly plays with the fairy fire ring she made of wood, pine cones,stone, bark, and moss. During the summer, our river diggers include kids from toddlers through teens. Each day they make channels in the sand. Each year the channels get fancier, including bridges, islands, quick sand pools, and intersecting pieces. Some years we fill containers with colored water, freeze them on the back porch, and build colored ice sculptures to cheer up the deepest cold of winter. Last year a group spent much of their after school time arranging playmobil pieces in scenarios that lasted for months. While playmobil are commercial toys, the kids used them as sculptural pieces, creating gardens and waterscapes and beautifully decorated rooms using plastic flowers, leaves, animals, people, furniture, and accessories. There was a fantasy play element to this project,and it was also highly aesthetic. Another year two boys turned an old electronic organ into a ship, which was part invention, part sculpture, part dramatic play scene. Each day for many weeks they would plug in the organ, which by then only made a humming sound, and decorate and pretend, adding colored masking tape, streamers, ribbons, paper cutouts. Another time one of these boys came back during the summer school vacation and make a rocket. It’s base was a large mailing tube and it had fins, tape, and many decorative elements. Finally, time came to launch the rocket in the back yard. It didn’t fly. No one minded.

PRINTING – Liana is the one who most often brings printing projects to the day care. In the summer, she always works for a few days with kids marbelizing paper. During our time with younger kids, she often prints with everyday objects, such as plastic cars and trucks, kitchen utensils, and pine needles. She has done monoprinting with styrofoam trays the kids carve and with the bottom of toddler plates. We also have the standard stamping sets, from letters to seasonal designs to abstract shapes. While these have not gotten great use from our crowd, I can imagine older kids using them to make notecards or wrapping paper, or incorporating them into mixed-media collage.

DRAWING AND WRITING- Kids have constant access to drawing and writing materials. In each of our small group meal rooms, the kitchen and the project room, we have organizer trays with writing and drawing supplies, paper, markers, note cards, pencils, hole punches, scissors, and tape. Kids can also ask for staplers. Mostly they use staplers to to make books or envelopes or pockets. During transitions, while we are preparing and cleaning up from meals, we encourage kids to “make a quiet choice” in their small group room. This may include drawing and writing. Many kids, but especially those three and up, draw and write every day during this transition time. Other kids take time throughout the day to sit at the tall table in the kitchen and write or draw. Today, two older preschoolers spent the afternoon quiet/nap time building a complicated block building, then chose to draw what they had built, then to photograph it. Our homeschooler often uses the writing and drawing materials to plan and record his projects, especially science experiments he wants to repeat at home. A group of 4 to 9 year old girls has spent a lot of time this year making paper electronics, including laptops, cell phones, blackberries, and ipods. They draw the keypads and screens in detail and cut and fold and tape and staple the paper into useful objects for their play. No one told them to do this, or got the supplies or encouraged them to teach the others, but they have been doing this drawing/constructing for several months and the idea has spread from one eight year old to several other older and younger kids. Whenever we have a celebration, kids make posters and invitations. Sometimes, especially when we have older kids around, we jazz up the drawing supplies to include oil pastels, colored pencils, and fancy markers. I love the idea of working with older kids on observational drawing in nature or from still life. Self-portraits and family portraits happen all the time with our preschoolers, as one of their favorite subjects to draw is people. Last year, Liana shared a book of artwork about faces and kids were inspired to draw many faces, some responding to the work Liana shared.

PHOTOGRAPHY and FILM: We have a digital camera and a laptop which our older kids use to document their work and to make stop motion and other short films. This is something I know absolutely nothing about and have not supported at all except to help kids develop the skill to go upstairs and ask my husband Eric’s permission to use his camera and in occasionally talking my older son through a project he has wanted to do in response to a book group assignment for school. The kids have taught themselves how to make the stop motion movies. One time my son knew there was an exhibit on film at the Science Museum and begged me to take him, which worked twice. He practiced with their set up of stationery camera and moveable geometric shapes on a black background. At home, he will spend hours moving blocks or pieces of sculpey, or drawing on a white board, snapping hundreds and thousands of pictures to make a very short stop motion film. I think his interest in this has come a bit from watching and rewatching the Wallace and Gromit series as a young kid, and from You Tube and from his friends Vincent and Dominic who share our house in the country. Sometimes other kids in after school will participate, other times he works alone. Liana’s son has also done some stop motion animation, though it is not his first love, the way it is my son’s.

CONTEXT – The important thing to know about these art experiences is that they vary and that we do not require kids to participate. Most of our kids are with us over many years. Over time, they are exposed to a variety of media and special projects. We sometimes initiate projects in response to something a child is doing, a teacher’s experience, materials that we find or which are given to us, or something we have done in the past that we want to repeat. Very often children initiate projects. If the materials are within reach, they may not need our help at all. If not, we help them gather any materials. Kids are always invited to work on and revisit projects for as long and as many times as they want. We find places to store works in process. We have a wide range of materials available at all times. Even with our love of art and the abundance of materials at our disposal, we will have stretches of time when we hardly do any art. Kids may draw or do playdough, but no one wants to paint, make a collage, or do sculpture. We have learned over the years not to worry. When kids aren’t using art materials in the project room, they are creating elsewhere, whether dressing up and pretending, using blocks or building materials or playmobil, exploring nature, sand, water, snow, and ice, telling stories or making plays. 

I wonder how kids suppress or lose or redirect their creative urges when they are in conventional schools where they often lack time, space, materials, and access to creative pursuits. Restoring this basic creative experience to children is a key motivation for me in dreaming about an alternative to conventional school.

This week I am thinking about balance and complexity, about dreaming and making things happen, about freedom and reality, nature and nurture, good days and bad, small and big, wishes and disappointments, always one then the other, happy and sorrowful, institutional and homegrown, diverse and connected. Not one or the other, one and the other. I remember an exercise we did in graduate school that was so intriguing, where we had to pair words which meant very different things and see the new meaning that their combinations suggested. It was a model of teaching that I don’t recall using a lot with my future students, but that comes back to me now when I am struggling with the best, the right, the true way to be with children.

I want kids to be happy, but also, of course, they are sad and sometimes despairing. Making a school only for happiness is not very useful. Making one where the depth of human existence is represented and respected seems a worthy goal, though a tall order. Then I think of days when none of us wants to deal with the emotional side of things, we just want to exist, read a good book, work a puzzle, saw a board, make pizza. The concrete is so satisfying.

One goal in creating an alternative to conventional schooling is to make a place that values freedom and self-direction. I wonder, though, how free can kids be when their parents decide they will spend their time with us, when rules and traffic and city life limit our outdoor experiences and children’s ability to explore their world independently, when our house and our group and the places we can go on foot and in a day provide a certain limited set of experiences, when the expectations of the caregivers and parents and the authorities must set the tone for the type of school we create, when the options after leaving our program are what they are.

Will our kids if allowed to live a freer life with us be able to function fully in the world of schools, colleges, and work? Will the smallness of our group give our kids freedom or limit their reality? Will the connections we form in our smaller group bond or bind? Will the mixing of ages increase or limit our potential?

The dichotomies are a bit endless and abstract and probably irresolvable. The reality is that we might be able to offer one more option that will work for some families and children, but won’t become THE option or serve all kids and families well.  The trick may be less in resolving these dichotomies and more in finding our families and children, in shaping what we can offer to the best of our abilities. Maybe then, in the concrete experience of living with our new arrangement we can figure out what is important, what is hard, what is workable and what is not.

Which brings me to the concrete. What do I want to do, what can I do, what do I do each day with children? Talk, read, make things, cook, eat, walk, observe, hold, comfort, help, dress, encourage, protect, teach, smile, laugh, cry, listen. Today was a hard day. We had visitors and some of the kids were behaving horribly. At circle time, they were disrespectful. I felt uninspired. At meals, no topic of conversation engaged us and the food was not delicious. Outside the snow was too deep for toddlers and the older boys insisted on throwing snow at one another until Liana gave up and brought them inside. The toddlers were a bit at loose ends. The older girls were lovely, as almost always is true this year, and the older boys demanded our attention, as is often true this year. We felt the gender imbalance. The gun play returned, the mischief, the big questions about how to get back on track, help this one or that one, how to connect, whether doing something more or new is a good idea. Some days are like this, Alice reminded me when she arrived and I expressed my disappointment in the morning. Yes, they are. It is not all “rainbows and happy trees” to quote Russell Hoban’s children’s book character Frances. Some days, as she would say, “Things are just not very good around here. No raisins for the oatmeal…..” Even in a place that values and generally experiences respect, creativity, kindness, warmth, happiness, there are days when those pieces are harder to find and meanness, disrespect, coolnesss, and anger creep or stomp or parade right through the house. To pretend or wish those days don’t exist is something Alice knows is futile.  I am glad to have her remind me, and to have the time to write and reflect and step back a bit while the kids downstairs nap and the big kids get picked up from school by Eric. Soon the homework crowd will arrive and I will wish again that my little group around the dining room table had no homework, or at least none that was too hard or too silly or less interesting than the games they are so desperate to play. I will watch kids move from homework to dress up, to board games, to time with the kids in the day care. I will notice that they really aren’t in a rush to go home, that they love being here with us and with each other. I will want to make a space for kids to be with us longer, for more kids and families to join us, for a chance to start fresh on Thursday with the same crowd that gave me a tough time today and see if I can do it better next time around, to remember that some days are like that and others are wonderful, and life is made of both/and not either/or , and that living it is what counts, not perfection.

Today I was picking up kids at school and some of my son’s former classmates from the 8th grade asked me again where was Ben and why did he leave and would I please say hello to him for them. In the car on the way to Sudbury Valley Ben had been talking about how he had never had any problems with the kids at school, had always found it easy to get along with everyone there. Funny that in the afternoon for the first time outside of school his old classmates stopped to talk to me. Then they asked if Ben would be going to the HS and I asked if they had visited and how it was. Boring, they had said, and then boasted that they had been tossed out of class on visiting day, the first time that has happened to anyone. Breaking records all over town, I said.

Yesterday was the class breakfast in my daughter’s second grade class and also the day I visited the homeschooling group. Another contrast in lives, friendly people of all races and backgrounds, packing a room to share breakfast and conversation in a city school then out in the country to a beautiful, old rustic home full of homeschoolers who alternated between sledding, feeding chickens, eating chips and salsa and looking at sprouting seeds under a microscope at the dining room table.

Days like these I feel lost.

Then I read a post on the Sudbury Valley discussion group which lead me to a blog by a parent in a situation similar to mine, with a son who left school after 7th grade, having gradually stopped doing his work, and eventually unschooled. The father was writing about his change of views about schooling, and proclaiming an idea of Many Paths in education instead of one big system with the goal of uniformity. Someone commented on his posts and really gave him a blow by blow rebuttal,  drawing his attention to the importance of the large system in bringing especially minority kids into the competitive mainstream, and charging that those who want alternatives really want what is best for themselves but not for the greater good, pointing out the many other ways kids end up dropping out of school that are less about school not being a good fit and more about life being too hard.

I have a similar debate running with myself half of most nights these days, and throughout the week as I move from independent family child care to community supervision with head start teachers and private school administrators to public school life to Sudbury Valley School to creation fantasies of some new alternative.

I meet the guys on the block at school and I want them to have the choices my son has, but I can’t really tell them why he left. I want him to have these guys in his life, but I also want him to follow a path that works better for him than the one he was on at his urban middle school. I love the class breakfasts and the feel of a school full of families from all backgrounds enjoying their children’s lives together. I also love the freedom of kids from 2 to 14 enjoying a beautiful snowy day with sledding and tea and chickens and microscopes.

Tonight was the school meeting about Nature’s Classroom, our school’s outdoor education opportunity. Some of my best memories as a parent in school are from chaperoning those trips, kids in rain gear playing in puddles in the woods, the independent sixth grade girl with CP managing with bravado with wet socks and no boots on a night walk in the woods in a flood, holding the hand of a young boy on another walk in the dark while he wondered about the sounds and how he would find his way, and if the deer would come out and attack him, having spent his life under street lights. And then there is the image of my son walking carefully down the path to his school in Framingham today, surrounded by woods and grass, where he can move and go outside whenever he wants, where he has never said he is bored and where he couldn’t wait to go on his birthday. Different worlds.

Of all the years in the twenty something I have been working with kids, this is probably the worst for starting a new school, at least in some ways. The economy is bad. Life is unpredictable. Who wants to take a risk? Even those who might want to take a risk might be feeling so hopeful that Obama can put things right in the world that sticking with the current options and hoping it will all work out feels right.

So, what the heck? Why is this the year to start a new school? Who is going to join us? Here are some reasons for the hope: feelings of excitement about what we could accomplish, evidence of how well school age kids could be served in our program from working with them in our after school and summer program for many years and with a homeschooler for two years, the rise in homeschooling and unschooling, the recent rebuilding of alternative education organizations such as AERO and IDEC, finding others starting new alternative schools and programs around the world, (including, but not limited to Waldorf, Sudbury, Democratic, Montessori, Homeschooling Centers and Cooperatives, Charter Schools, Essential Schools, and Free Schools) hearing from folks that they like our ideas and think we might make them work, reading about how other schools started and about how the founders of various movements in child care and education developed their ideas.

There is also huge uncertainty. So far, not one school age kid is committed for fall. We have three who might be interested, including one of my own, if money and numbers and vision align, others who are curious about what we are doing, but far from signing on the dotted line. The economy is lousy. Our target population is vulnerable, mostly families who work hard to either have their kids in child care or to have one parent at home, very few if any who are living with a surplus. Most folks who would want what we would offer would be public school or homeschool families, or families attracted to more progressive independent schools who would qualify for financial aid. More uncertainty in the arena of vision and logistics make it hard for anyone to commit. Will we remain a single family day care, with only a very small group of school age kids in the mix? Will we pursue another small program option, like an additional family day care license, nonprofit status and space to be a learning center, or space and all the permissions involved in becoming a small school? How will we decide? Who will figure it out and make it happen? When will we know?

Lots of uncertainty, but still HOPE. Why? I really don’t know, but it is there and it is keeping us going. Maybe it is the intensity with which we can imagine the older kids and younger kids together, moving through the day, enjoying themselves, choosing their own paths, immersing themselves in authentic play and work, figuring out life as they go along. As I reread this, I realize the image also contains me, and Liana and Alice, and the other adults we imagine joining us. We are happy and satisfied and challenged and hopeful in our work and believe fully in what we do with children. We don’t feel compromised or mislead or tricked into the work we do. We do what we feel is right in each moment, for each child and group, according to our own energy and vision and openness and limitations, certainly, but not out of any coercion. Creating a place like this of freedom and authenticity for children and adults feels real and possible. The image is alive for me and that may be what keeps me hopeful. 

I think there is also the sense of having come to a place where someone has to act. I don’t know why I feel this, or if it is self-righteous, but I do. I want to figure out a way to do something different that feels as completely right as we possibly can. I am tired of compromise and disappointment, of waiting for the tide to turn or time to pass, until the pendulum swings in the other direction. If we believe in the power of children and adults to determine what is good and right, to shape their own lives and make the most of them, we need to act, because right now this is not the agenda of too many places where children and teachers and caregivers are spending their lives. And in my view that is not right.

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