How boring life would be without challenges!

So, a week later I can say that we´ve kind of resolved the inertia of certain kids in Explora.

As a teacher I know how important it is to back off and give students space instead of demanding immediate response to for example questions. However I hadn´t thought that the mere presence of the facilitators would strangle the intention setting process.

We backed off (and literally out of the room), and the kids actually started talking to each other, making more plans together instead of setting intentions on a pure individual basis.

That was the first step. The second was to gently but surely make the kids understand we´re not there in order to play with them or entertain them. This has been easy for some children, and a lot harder for others.

img_20160921_195152

Knitting – on their own initiative!

What we´ve noticed is that all the kids that are bi-cultural (one parent is Mexican and the other is from another country) have no problems at all in taking initiative and being in charge of their own activities. The kids that are very dependant on the facilitators, are the ones that are mono-cultural Mexicans – particularly the ones from families with scarce economical resources.

I know enough about how the majority of Mexican families educate their children and how the traditional school system works, to not be very surprised. The challenge has been to find a way to work with them in order to support them without getting in the way.

Thanks to the support of several ALFs we managed to make this week flow so much better than the second. Instead of leaving completely drained, the facilitators now leave happy and energised.

img_20160924_185343

Kids playing Ninjas. They love that game!

The new challenge that is arising has to do with one very red child (check Spiral Dynamics for references) that is not functioning very well with the other kids, disrespecting both the community agreements and the student agreements. We have set up a plan of how to deal with all the situations that occur around this child and I´m quite thrilled to see how it will work out this coming.

Ending this post with a HUGE thank you for all the support some of you have been offering me these weeks – it´s incredibly helpful and I really appreciate it 🙂

The deschooling process is getting to me

So, the first week went great. It far succeed any expectations I had had. However, the second week left me with a whole different feeling.
No new kids have been enrolled. My radio spots haven´t started to run yet and the directors who were supposed to visit Explora haven´t had time to make it, so some days I have three kids, other days I have nine.
My impression is that the energy has started to stagnate a little. How that can happen after only two weeks is most likely due to several things:

The kids really have very little initiative. They are used to being directed by adults and constantly look to the adults for guidance. By now they know there are board games, art and loads of free outside play. They also know how to throw the snap and play ninjas, but no one is setting any real other intentions but “play without a plan” (something my son initiated and now they´re all copying him…). Now, if they all would “just” play freely, nothing would make me happier! The point is: most of them don´t. They wait for the adults to initiate an activity.

Every day we end with the community mastery board, but only the adults have stuff they want to add. We´ve told the kids they can add anything they think isn´t working very well, but nobody has anything to say so far. We then do a short gratitude circle, but none of the kids have anything to say.

My feeling is they still don´t feel safe enough to share any personal comments.

Besides the lack of initiative and creativity in the kids – which clearly is something I need quick support with in order to manage generating, I don´t know what else to do in order to make the kids feel more comfortable. They come from completely different backgounds and have been exposed to very different family circumstances and schooling. It´s not that easy for them to connect across “borders” (we have so many of those invisible ones down here).

Thursday I tried solid/liquid and it totally didn´t work. Only one very outgoing girl felt safe enough to play. The others were just staring looking completely stiff. I had already questioned that particular activity in my mind, but I thought I´d try it out with them anyway. I still don´t know why I had the feeling it wouldn´t work, nor why it actually didn´t. Why didn´t the kids respond in the same way they did to ninjas? I intuitively know why, but I can´t really put words to it. For some reason it´s an activity that demands more trust, and it also puts the kids more on the spot.

I have so many questions about what other activities to offer and how to guide the kids towards more self-directed learning opportunities. At this point it feels like as if I will have to basically kill myself in the process of finding more fun group games to help them connect. I haven´t managed to find any information in Spanish on group activity games, so the other facilitators can´t help me with it.

I have also observed that the facilitators tend to go for very adult directed offers that don´t create any space for the kids taking their own initiatives. We talked about it the other day at our weekly meeting, and they could totally see it too. I have some ideas on what I could suggest to them, however, I´m starting to feel drained in the process of first creating and now holding the entire project without any tangible help from anyone else down here.

I know there will always be ups and downs. Waiting for the rollercoaster to take me up again!

One week after having opened Explora

I´ve been nervous about starting up Explora. Quite nervous.

What if the kids don´t respond to the agile tools? What if they simply don´t know how to take initiatives? And what if my facilitators don´t get it? Or what if I don´t manage to be agile enough, turning all rigid and controlling? And imagine if there are no kids?

Then I´ve taken a big breath and focused on remembering that I´ve done my very best on all levels and that now it´s time to let go, let the snowball roll and trust that everything is in perfect order.

One week after having opened, I have nine kids and more are coming. The kids are having so much fun and they´re becoming the best ambassadors for Explora.

IMG-20160907-WA0021

The agile tools are working really well! I´m a beginner, obviously, but I´m not a beginner working with kids and using my personality and autenthicity is showing results. The point is coming across to the other facilitators: be your unique and authentic self and let the children be that too. The consequence is an atmosphere where the kids feel at ease and are showing a lot of trust. I think it´s a great beginning of creating culture consciously.

Some kids are just roaming around freely (like my son, who´s one and only intention throughout the week has been: “play without a plan” – and then he ends up doing plenty of other things as well). Others are already implementing projects, like creating a cornfield or redesign clothes. One thing is for sure: they´re having the time of their lives every day!

IMG-20160907-WA0015 DSC_2408

The children are still in an adaptation process that I´m guessing will last at least a semester. What we do is so radically different, and just to have them use our first names instead of “maestra/maestro” has been revolutionary.

DSC_2405 IMG-20160907-WA0017

My facilitators and I are observing that this much freedom can be both overwhelming and a little bit confusing to them – simply because they´re still not used to it. So many possibilities of creating, but where to begin and how to ground it? This is where I feel our biggest task so far lies: to help the kids ground their ideas and actually make them happen – always remembering to offer the maximun support but interfering as little as possible.

IMG-20160907-WA0016

The facilitators feel positively challenged by this different way of doing things. I quoted Maria Montessori to them a couple of days ago: “Every unnecessary help is an obstacle to a child´s development”, and it really made them reflect on how and when to intervene.

However, the main achievement so far is: we´re all having a tremendously fun time! The kids are enjoying themselvs soooo much, and the facilitators love coming in to “work”. Personally, I have never ever had this much fun before because I´m allowed to be my playful self all the time which creates a huge sense of freedom. I´m guessing the kids and the other adults are feeling the same thing, even though they might not express it the same way.

Of everything I´ve created so far in my life, Explora is the top of the tops and I´m so proud 😀 The agile format, the fact that it´s an after-school program (and thus accessible to so many more children) – the culture creating aspect of it – it just all rocks!

Satisfaction and happiness: what a way to start a project!

 

Start with WHY

When you create something new, I think it´s vital to be very clear about why you want to do it. That´s basically where you´ve got to start because oterwise you´ll get lost in the process or unconsciously create something that you didn´t intend.

When I started my first school projects, my whys were:

  • To provide my son with a healthy educational option.
  • Let my creation benefit as many other children as possible.
  • Sowing a tiny seed of transformation in this world.

All of it I managed to do, but I also missed some important points that lead me to
1) Having almost no spare time because I was constantly working as a volunteer.
2) Being in a really crappy financial situation for years, since the schools completely took over my working life and I had less and less hours where I could actively make money.
3) Not really enjoying the process or my everyday life.

So, this time I kept the above whys, but I also added on three more: I decided to create Explora in order to also be able to live off my passion (instead of triple working) and at the same time have great fun every day. And I really intend this to include all my co-workers, because if we earn good money for what we do, we´re so much more motivated, and if we have fun, so will the kids. The third and last is to create freedom – for everyone involved.

After only one week of having opened up Explora, it´s obvious that I´m on the track of achieving all of the above.

 

First day…

Even though I´m a very enthusiastic person, I´m also realistic. I knew there weren´t going to be tons of kids coming in on the first day. Chances are it´ll take a semester or two to fill up the space with all the kids I´d like to see.

Five children I knew would be there didn´t show – problems with transportation can mess things up. Buy Teo was there, which is a biggie since he dislikes new things – especially stuff that involves other people. So obviously, he went into selective mutism which is weird for others but totally fine.

And then there were Karla and Rafael, friends because their mothers are both cleaning ladies. Due to the Oaxacan teacher strike, there has been no classes since May, so Karla and Rafael are being terribly bored at home and their mothers don´t have the means to offer them a more fulfilling life. Of course I had to accept them. I want to see them have fun every day! So we made a deal, the mothers and I: they will be the Explora cleaning ladies (because I can´t afford to pay for it right now – which means I´d have to do it and I seriously don´t need more on my plate right now) and Karla and Rafael can come every day.

Also, Rafael´s mum is not only illiterate. She belongs to the tiniest minority group in Mexico: the afro-Mexicans. She and her son so belongs in this project and I´m so happy to have found a balanced way of receiving them.

Thanks to some mail coaching from Bear, I felt very much at ease with facilitating the meeting that I´d call “the Intention meeting” (set the day and scrum in one). Since it´s all new for everyone, I knew they´d most likely feel a little lost to begin with, but that changed very quickly.

Suddenly I was playing a simplified version of Taboo with Teo (it was the first time for both of us but he´s so good at this game, it´s almost scary), and Karla and Rafael dove into Monopoly – a game they´d never played before.

Three hours flew by, and suddenly it was time for reflection and gratitude. And that´s where Rafael dropped the bomb: he thinks we should grow corn. Holy cow! The first child initiated long-term project is born!

Tomorrow we´ll set up a plan of how to make it happen. I know nothing about growing corn, but one thing I do know is: I´ll learn.

 

Tomorrow it´s for real…

It´s been another of those crazy weeks, where on one hand not much seems to happen because I see few tangible results, but on the other I´ve been crazy busy.

Got interviewed at the local radio station, and have two ten minute long programs that will be recorded this coming Wednesday. If the public likes them, I will have my own slot every Saturday morning.

I´ve also prepared a spot that will run for quite some time in exchange for the employees kids to go to Explora this semester. To me it´s a great opportunity, because I´d never pay for those spots, and having kids coming to Explora will only guarantee more kids finding out about it, asking their parents to please enroll them. It´s a win-win situation however way you want to see it.

Thursday I transported the whiteboards all on my own. Don´t ask me how I managed to carry them all the way inside the facilities – I honestly don´t know! They´re really heavy…

I also have mattrasses and cushions, a huge table for arts and crafts and chairs. The hammocks are coming in this week – donated from friends who have enrolled their kids.

Three siblings have received a sponsor that has committed to supporting them for a year (how cool isn´t that!?), and three other kids are on the waiting list.

I´m a little bit nervous about how many kids will find their way to Explora during this month, because numbers are always numbers. I´m trying not to think too much about it and focus more on spreading the word and pulling in the people. After all it´s a brand new project that is starting up, but it should really help that Puerto Escondido is such a small place. Words spread around fast down here.

So, tomorrow it´s for real. I´m inaugurating Explora, the fruit of seven years of intense school entrepreneurship. I can´t wait to see it happening!