June 2012


This afternoon at rest time I have a group of eight kids. Two are napping, a three and a five. Three are playing in the back room, two fours and a nearly four. Three are in the back yard, all sixes and sevens, doing an insect survey, having completed another lovely magnatile and wooden block castle before going outside.

The boys have been in and out collecting supplies. They know where to find the work gloves and the small spades for yard projects, and have gotten them from the drawers on the back porch. Then they come for magnifying glasses, which we keep in the back room. Then pencils and paper.

They are making charts of all the bugs they can find in the yard, turning over stumps and rocks to see what is underneath. The six is less confident with his spelling. When they set up the charts the boys agree to put one another’s names at the top of each of three columns so they can record the bugs they each find. The six doesn’t know how to spell his friend’s name and says so, but it’s ok. They tell him how and he proceeds. He comes in well into the hunt to ask me how to spell millipede and termite. I say I bet he knows already and he writes TRMIT and I notice he has already written MILLIPEAD, and remind him of that, so he writes it again in another column.

They are excited. They call to each other. They lean over the ground, looking for more. I hear YELLOW MILLIPEDE and wonder if there is such a thing, never mind in my yard. It doesn’t matter. Finding, recording, classifying, talking about this stuff is real science. I note that to one of my sevens, saying it’s nice to have our resident scientist here with us again. He grins broadly. Last summer we had a fine time observing two baby birds fallen from a nest when he was here. He recorded it all in words and pictures. I think Rachel Carson, Henry David Thoureau. I wonder what drives a human being to this sort of naturalism with such dedicated enthusiasm. It’s fun to watch and absorb, energizing to be around, if the other six and seven and I are proof.

Back to dishes and to seeing what the young fours will do. One of them is new today, the sister to the seven who is the naturalist, and she’s joined right in. My study is of the children. I wonder if the boys use the word Observation from having heard us use it here as we document our lives together and the learning that we see and feel each day, week by week, year by year, lifetime by lifetime. Good to be human and curious. Summer is good at reminding me of that, when our day care lives switch things up, big kids and new kids and new teachers reminding us of life outside and pushing us to think a little bit differently as our worlds intersect.

I also wonder as I watch these young folks read, write, do science, experiment, make charts and observations, if kids at Sudbury Valley will do that, too. Life there has it’s own culture and rhythm. I haven’t seen this stuff much yet among the youngest ones, in terms of recording on paper with pencils, but I have seen a whole lot of nature study, as the young kids there spend much of their time outside and have access to woods, water, grass, sand, and the tiny creatures that live in those places.

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In scanning my newly ordered bookshelves (thanks to my gal’s organizational wizardry), I discovered Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person. I can’t help but love the title, which sings in my ears throughout the day, calling me back to the book. The first night I read it, Carl said some things that stuck with me throughout the day, one about the down time in his life being the key to many of his grander insights and breakthroughs. I’m hoping for some of that this summer, if not in retreat to Gilchrist form, then maybe in the form of a few lazy weekends in Ashfield, or even long drives to and from my mom’s. One place to start is reading at bedtime, or throughout the day from Carl Rogers.

Last night, after a long day of work, and a long evening of collecting used air conditioners from a generous family who is moving to a house with central air, and installing them in our windows in preparation for the heat, a pleasant dinner of leftovers on the back porch by candlelight with my beau, and the end of an episode of Mad Men I had interrupted last week so my gal could get to sleep, I returned to Carl Rogers in his world. He’s telling me about his early life and about how he came to his ideas, what he writes and for whom. This is the wonderful thing about books, about nonfiction in this case, to be able to have what feels like a conversation in my mind with the person whose ideas I wish to understand, who may be dead or far away, or so far out of my social circle that in real life we would never meet.

Carl Rogers told me the last two nights about things he has learned about being a person. The ideas make sense and I know I’ll have to read them again to remember them, but there is something that stands out about the importance of being authentic, direct, honest, open, of seeking to know one self and others, of acceptance and understanding as foundations for human health. There is also something astounding to me in his simple hope that in understanding better how he himself works, how those in his immediate world work and how he relates to them, that he will be able to better understand how other people work and relate, and that this knowledge might someday transform the world. He hopes, early on in the book, I think, that if we can better understand ourselves and one another we might improve our chances for world peace. Why not?

So, I’ll bring Carl Rogers to work today, in my paperback version culled from some library or yard sale or another, having been reminded of him by a man I met a couple of years ago who had founded a school for troubled youth which I admired very much. The man was in deep personal trouble at the time I met him, and I did my best to understand and help through that, but what I remember was the book shelf in his kitchen full of books I wanted to read, including Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person. I loved the title then and I love it now. Without Gilchrist and the time and space and collected works in the library there from which to choose, I’ll have to find my way to spiritual and emotional and intellectual renewal other ways this year. Carl Rogers is a start.

Off to put the last two AC units in the windows and to get to work, where I will observe the youngest and the oldest amongst us in the work Carl Rogers studied and sought to describe and share, becoming a person. What more important work could there be?

Listening to Jackson C. Frank again this morning, Blues Run the Game. The graduation party was fine. Father’s Day is past. Kids are out of school. Day care kids are shifting from school year to summer schedules this week. Liana’s surgery is next week. Kids are with their dad. My mom has gone home. House is quiet as the blues.

Except for the itunes. And very soon the kids and families filling up the house. The hive is in the yard, waiting for it’s bumblebees and flower and rainbows and happy trees. Paint is in the drawers, red the color I want to see. Guitar strumming and breathing of Jackson C. Frank here in my ear, as though the man himself were keeping me company, from the past or from the grave, from across the world, right here.

Was up most of the night. Too much to think on this time of year. When will the boy leave for school? When will the new mattress be delivered? Was I wrong to buy the box spring? Where will he store his mementos, his spare clothes, the off season bedding, in his small room with no under bed space to hide the things he doesn’t take along to college when he goes? The things  a mother focusses on in times like these, shopping for the food for the party, rearranging furniture, sorting out the schedule, buying sheets, ordering a backpack. All these things take time, funnel care in his general direction, don’t quite connect, try.

The letting go is the thing at this stage of life for me. Kids grow, move on, house ages, falls apart, in spite of my best efforts and the bulk of my spare cash. You won’t be able to do it, I was warned last fall. The place is too expensive for you. You won’t be able to keep it up. I do wonder, kitchen drawers falling from their sliders, walls in need of paint, porches rotting in too many places again, crevices all stuffed with things in need of culling, time and energy for that at a minimum. Chores will have to wait.

Yet every day the house will fill with the littlest ones. Yesterday a baby visited with his daddy, small, soft, weighing in at over twenty pounds in the middle of his first year, reminded me in my arms of my boy, now on his way out, was on his way in not so long ago, was the reason if I remember correctly that we bought the mattress that will go downstairs today to his room while I get a new one. Seems we had a futon when he was born. Somewhere in the early years of child bearing my hips and back couldn’t take it and we sprung for our first mattress. Now it’s time to move that one on, to upgrade for my aging hips and graduate the boy from his twin sized bed, make a place for guests when he leaves, adjust the aging house again, as we have again and again and again. Change has been the standard in this place, as it will continue to be.

We’re having a little revival of do-it-yourself food production here in Somerville. The Urban Canning League took the mulberries the kids collected earlier in the week and will make them into jam. The lovely young woman to whom I delivered them on Wednesday said they would make a second batch of jam with just our berries so we could see how the berries from our tree taste.

Another volunteer canner came to the yard to inspect our tree. He runs a yogurt coop nearby and when I talked to him about this I wondered if anyone he knew wanted some kefir culture. Yep, someone did. Last night that someone, a self-described DIY guy, showed up on his bike to collect the kefir. I showed him mine and how I care for it and while we talked I wondered about his other food experiments, which include yogurt in a modified crock pot with a dimmer switch attached, which he said I could make easily myself. Then I told him about our sourdough and he asked if I could share some of that, which I did, along with photocopied directions and recipes for that and for homemade ricotta and pizza dough made with whey, which he has leftover from his yogurt all the time. He peddled away with two jars, one of kefir culture, one of sourdough, and I was left with half my kefir to manage and a newly fed batch of sourdough, which I mistakenly left on my counter overnight and thus worried about when I woke at 3 am to cats tearing around the bedroom, along with an e-mail from the kefir guy wondering if I have written directions for the kefir. I don’t. It’s word of mouth learning on that for me, and experience, or internet if I need to know more.

On the back porch is the bee hive from the bee keepers in Ashfield. The kids will paint that soon. The honey from that farm is resting in the day care pantry. We eat it with our pancakes and with our sourdough waffles, made with the sourdough starter, and with our kefir when we have it, to sweeten the sour drink.

All this learning about food and how to make it comes down to talking and experimenting. Learning new things this way makes me feel young connected. The kefir guy suggested I might like to join the bike tour of hives happening this weekend, sponsored by some group in “The DIY community.” In Ashfield its a “Local Food Movement”, I think. For me, it’s a bit of going back to my roots, not that we made all this stuff in particular, but the much of my extended family was raised on farms and while I was growing up my family and our grandparents and aunts and uncles raised and produced a fair amount of food for our own consumption, as well as some to share.

I’m having lots of fun sharing this stuff, whether food or knowledge about how to raise and produce it, with others all around, young and old, whether farmers or producers at farmers markets or small farms or farm stands, or do-it-yourselfers in the day care or Somerville community, or my own kids or the day care kids. I realized as I was talking with the kefir guy last night, that this food adventure has come for me as I have gotten good at my job, as the day care has run more smoothly and I’ve needed something new to think about with kids.

I wonder what we’ll learn next. Maybe we’ll get a hive of our own. Maybe we’ll go back to making bread or pizza dough and get more adventurous with that. Maybe we’ll do cheese again and learn to make different kinds. Maybe next year we’ll make the mulberry jam ourselves, now we’ve collected mulberries and I made peach preserves last fall after talking with a woman in Ashfield at Scott’s farm stand. You never know. That’s what I like about it. Like writing, learning to do new things comes as a combination of intention and surprise, of directed activity and happenstance. It’s all good.

And now it’s time to make the food for graduation and to set up my small Somerville yard and our rambling house and porches for our friends and family to celebrate my son and his moving on. As the kefir guy said last night, “It looks like you’ve been here a long time. The house looks very lived in.” That’s for sure. DIY for twenty years on lots of levels, literally and figuratively, will do that to a place:) The question is, are the house and I getting old, or are we getting young from all this DIY? Time will be the test.

All day yesterday it was gray and wet. In the evening my mom and children arrived and things began to lift. We were all out and about, bike ride and walk in the cemetery for my mom and daughter and me, eighth grade graduation dinner for a friend and then suit retrieval from his dad’s for my boy, wire armature puppetry and stop motion animation class at the Artisan’s Asylum for the other. Mulberry delivery and drop offs around town for me. Pizza for dinner from Pini’s, Mediterranean and Plain, no time to cook.

This morning it’s sunny and clear.  My gal and I have laid out the clothes for my son’s graduation. This afternoon I’ll attend the last SVS School Meeting, where staffing will again be voted upon. I may leave as a part time staff, contract starting July 1, if all goes well. Then my mom will meet me and my gal and we’ll go off for an hour or two to eat, come back to celebrate our boy and his classmates in their Moving On Ceremony, some receiving diplomas, some not, all leaving their idyllic or not so idyllic life at SVS to become adults in the larger world.

I’m proud and wondering what else I’ll feel. Good in a way to be occupied with planning a party for Saturday, to wake up with the shopping and errand and to do list in my mind, also to know the Urban Canners will possibly be here Friday at 4, just in time to collect the mulberries and turn them into jam in jars, so that so many don’t turn into jam on our feet or on our behinds on Saturday, as they are currently covering the yard. I wonder if Ben’s graduation will forever be linked with mulberries in my mind. I wonder what else will come of the evening, the weekend, the summer, the fall, the suit and the tie and the new mesh shoes, not quite right, seems we’ll buy dress shoes next for my boy in his new life, no longer a guy who can live in Sambas alone, time for branching out.

Time to wake the gang. Two more days of this, then I’m down to two kids to get off for the day. Even those small things are going to change. Or perhaps they have. Many days he’s here with his gal, the expansion of the family I hadn’t predicted so soon. Somehow I had skipped from kids to grandkids, without remembering the partners in between. There’ll be all kinds of surprises like that. Kids bring surprises and predictability to life, ground me in their natures, in their familiar companionship and need, in their energy and connection to the world. Parenting has been a life changer for sure, as it will continue to be, seventeen years and counting. Time to start the day:)

Yesterday the day care kids and I continued to collect mulberries for the Urban Canning League. The volunteers hoped to stop yesterday with equipment to harvest more, but the process was tricky and they were on bikes and then they hoped to come this morning, but that got to be too much and now the sky is filled with rain, and I expect we have mulberry soup all over the brick patio of the back yard. Ah, the best of intentions. What shall we do with the several pounds of mulberries we collected and stored in ziploc baggies in the fridge?

Yesterday my after school kids were on the mulberry team. They also made another batch of chocolate chip cookies, some for them and their siblings, some for Ben’s graduation. While they were finishing, I began the filling for a fresh local strawberry rhubarb pie, using ingredients from the Ashfield Farmer’s Market. When the kids left I made the crust and headed out the door to trim the hedges. When James arrived, he helped, and we got most of the way around the house, though the driveway side looks like @*!, which, I suppose I should accept is just my style. Ah, well. I ran out of steam, had to come in and put together and bake the pie, one for last night with James and tonight for when my kids and mom arrive, one for the freezer, to bake for the party, a new thing for me putting up a pie that way.

I’m no professional gardener, no high level urban farmer, no fancy baker, no locavore extraordinaire, but I try. I try hard until I wear myself out or until I get distracted, or both. Which is what happened last night, the worn out part. Thank goodness for sleep and my friend James, who came to the rescue with a second hedge trimmer, a rake and barrel to collect the trimmings and skills of a chef to whip up dinner while I finished the pie. For two part time single parents trying to make things work, we do ok. We sure do try.

If I get a few minutes later, I’ll share the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. We had a piece near ten o’clock and it was fine. If I were less pokey, I’d have one for breakfast. Not today. I’m writing here instead.

So, I can’t not write. That didn’t seem to work. I can change the name of this blog and it’s tagline. I did. It’s the title of this piece. I changed it from Thinking About How Our Children Learn: Ideas about making a new school to Thinking About How We Learn: Ideas about children, adults, school, life, learning.

It seemed I had gone off track with making a new school no longer the focus of a good deal of my writing here. What I have come to be most interested in as I have written here and thought and moved through life over the last few years is how very much we learn, how we learn all we do, and what it feels like to learn. Writing is part of that for me. I write and I learn simultaneously, or I put ideas together and then what I know becomes visible, or something like that. The writing makes the connections or the connections make the writing, hard to tell which sometimes, but I do feel clearer when I write. So here I am. Back in business for me or whoever wants to read. Which was a good number of people since I stopped writing last week. Even if they are mostly random hits, you never know, the words here could mean something to someone, and if they do, I’ll write them, get them out of my mind, take the risk.

So, here goes the usual: reflect on what I’ve been doing and thinking and feeling and see where that takes me/us. You never know, which is what I like, what I don’t know how to find in any other way. That’s nice, compelling, worthwhile, I hope.

This weekend I was in the country. I came home with a beehive for the day care kids to paint. It’s in the day care, stirring up interest. Yesterday our two got down on the kitchen floor to peer into the bees’ doorway, while Alice recollected her father’s beehives from her childhood home. That connection alone was worthy of remembering and noting here. The children loved the hive and talked about all the beautiful things they want to paint and draw on it, flowers, rainbows, green, pink and purple, dinosaurs, blue. It will be a lovely thing, if plans unfold. We’ll use acrylic paint, wear old clothes, honor the bees with our art and our appreciation of their honey, make memories and connect to some old ones, too. When I think of all my years in school, much of what sticks is stuff like this, making things, projects, the enthusiasm of a teacher for something he or she loved, singing, music, art, cooking, real work. No surprise I do the work I do, book lover, reader, and thinker that I may be naturally, when it comes to raising and educating children, I want them to use their hands, their mouths, their collective interest and will.

Also this week, my son Ben is graduating from Sudbury Valley. I hardly see him anymore, but when I do, he’s tan, smiling, tired in a good way. He’s got a girlfriend, which makes him very happy. He’s playing more frisbee and basketball than ever. I’ve bought him three pairs of new shoes in the last few months, first basketball shoes, then frisbee cleats, then some minimal cross trainers which seem to make him very happy. Next on the list for his graduation gift will be hiking boots from REI, since the snowboarding boots I bought him there this winter weren’t quite right and we were able to take them back and exchange them for another pair, and since I suggested he might ask his grandmother for a tent for his graduation and he did and she came through in her usual love of good camping gear way, and since I bought him a fine pair of rain pants for his camping trip in the rain last week, and he reported being the most comfortable guy at camp, and his girlfriend confirmed, smiling at a picture of my boy in his warm boots, pajama bottoms, and rain pants, and I add his wool hat, gift from his Aunt Susan, to complete the picture in my mind.

Funny thing that the rain pants felt so important to me. I bought them around nine o’clock on the Saturday night before the kids left for a week at Nickerson. The salesman at REI was an energetic black man who knew his gear. He talked me through the purchase of a rain coat for my younger son, emerging from the boys’ section into the men’s, and on to rain pants for my older son, past the bargain version which I would have bought if left to my own devices, through the biking version, which he convinced me my son would not wear at college, to the sturdy, well-made version I purchased, good for hiking and camping and steady rain, which they were. My gal was with me and we questioned whether or not the purchase was warranted. In the end, I figured it was my peace of mind that mattered most, the salesman confirmed, and we left the store, tired, my two younger kids in tow soaked to the skin for having played four square in the rain forty five minutes past the end of the school picnic with three of my son’s older buddies, all alumni, all happy to play foursquare in the rain. The surprising thing was that my son wore his rain pants on the camping trip, and that he came home wishing for hiking boots for a graduation gift, when I had thought to buy a laptop backpack for college, and talking of camping and hiking this summer.

I’ve been worried about my boy’s summer. From the age of about eleven I’ve worked. First I babysat occasionally, then I volunteered at school, running concession stands and organizing events. Then I worked at McDonald’s from my sixteenth birthday through to college, and and even now sometimes in my dreams. During college I worked in the dining hall, in the library for a semester, at various concession stands and catering events, at the Collegetown Bagel Store. During summers I worked with kids, at a sleep away camp, a day camp, a summer recreation program. One winter vacation I worked in a factory. After graduation I painted houses and worked in a restaurant for the summer,  the I travelled cross country, did temp work in an office, then got my first teaching job in a small day care in San Francisco. Other than a stint in the Teachers College Admissions Office, I’ve worked in child care and education ever since. After each child was born I went back to work, first after ten months, then after a few weeks, year round, all day most days. It’s a lot of working, and somehow, I had thought my son would follow suit.

Instead he’s playing frisbee and basketball and has a girlfriend. This summer he’ll teach a class or two in juggling at the Open Air circus in juggling and play some more. Maybe next summer there’ll be a steady job. Maybe this summer he’ll do more work on the math books his dad and his math consortium publish, which he did a few years ago, and which I suggested to his dad last night he might like to do again. I don’t know. It’s another one of those moments when I realize my children will live their own lives, and that mine will be tangled up with theirs in all kinds of ways I know and don’t know, another time I’m trying to disentangle my path from one of theirs before I mess it up.

So, Thursday I’ll go to his graduation with my mom and my kids and his dad and his new wife will be there, too. We can do that, which is good. Saturday, we’ll have a party at our house, and I’m nervous about that. It’s a big job on my own. I have friends and family to help, and hopefully my kids will, too. I’ve been cautious about hosting events since my divorce. The first year of our separation I had a great party for the wise women in my life to celebrate the Winter Solstice. I’ve had birthday parties for my girl, a few dinners, day care graduations, Porchfest last year. We’ll pull it off. I’ll be tired. Celebrating the boy and life in general will be worth it is what my bet is on, so I’ll take Friday morning off, cook and clean and set up all day Saturday, to spend the evening at our party, hoisting my boy into the next phase of life in some style and community we’ve built together these last many years. Parenting is a big deal. I’m learning all the time:)

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