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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Starring in a coming documentary on alternative education

Sometimes I´m just like: seriously?! Is this really happening?

That´s the feeling I got when I got to know Bruno Iriarte. Bruno is travelling from Mexico to his home country Argentina in a Volkswagen minibus, visiting all the different projects on alternative education he finds on his way. His goal is to investigate all of them and create a documentary on alternative education in Latin America. (You can like his FB-page here.)

Gemán Doin, the director of the documentary The Forbidden Education, is keeping him up-dated on what projects to visit and what persons to contact. And that´s how Bruno found me and Explora.

Since I don´t have that much time, I told him he could assist one of my sessions with my facilitator team and he gladly accepted.  The cool thing was that it was just the day I was going to explain what exactly an ALC is, and on what foundations it´s built.

Is it enough to say we had an incredible time all of us?

Is it enough to say that Bruno himself experienced a quantum leap in his own thinking?

Is it enough to say that he´s super impressed with the ALC concept, the ideas behind Explora and that he sees me as this rad visionary, unique in Latin America?

No, it´s not enough, because then I was interviewed and filmed and will now be part of his documentary!!!

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This is a big time woooohoooo for me. I´ve been working on positioning myself as an expert on alternative education in Latin America, but it takes time and I´m still very isolated geographically. But here someone shows up, eager to talk with me about what I think, listening to every word I say like as if they were precious drops of gold.

Again I feel so seen as a person, and appreciated for all that I do. Now Bruno is all about how to get my book translated from Swedish to Spanish. – We need this book in Latin America, he says.

My life is expanding in the most incredible ways lately, and all I can think is: how could it get any better that this?

 

 

Stepping into my power

Lately I have been very concerned with how to pull in the money I need to get the most basic stuff in order for Explora to be able to function on a basic level.

Opening up the kindergarted enabled me to shape up the facilities, but the top floor has been completely empty – and still is.

Since this time, I´m not running a communitarian project I have no one else to rely on in order to make Explora happen. However, since Explora is still a project for the community, I thought I´d be able to pull in support from some of the more resourceful people down here (see blog post on that). So, I shared my ideas with several of them, and got loads of thumbs-ups and cheers. But nothing more.

Since I know furnishing and equipping Explora is nothing in comparision with what I had to do in order to get the kindergarten ready, I have´t felt particularly worried about it. I´ve more been wondering how I want to interpret the lack of physical support.

And here´s my conclusion: 
I feel that the lessons I´ve had to learn when I left my old project in December 2015, have been all about stop hiding and making myself smaller, that it´s time for me to step up and take up my own space.

I´ve had to learn that I´m so much more powerful than I´ve ever dared to express, and that it´s nothing to be ashamed about. That dimming my light only harms me – and others. Since I´m all about empowering others, I´m being incongruent if I don´t dare to fully express my own power. I´m not steeling anyone else´s thunder by doing so. And, more important: I´m no longer misleading people by leading a project but pretending I´m not all that important. 

This time I´fully need to show myself what I´m capable of. I don´t need anyone else to help me pull this off. I have all the qualities Explora needs in order to get started and to function properly. And by doing it all by myself nobody will ever again be able to tell me I don´t know anything about starting up and leading educational projects. 

So this week I decided it was time to act and went about and ordered mattrasses and cushions for the cozy corner. I´ve bought several board games. And this coming week I´m getting art materials and whiteboards. I have a couple of plastic chairs and a table that I don´t use. That will do to begin with.

And suddenly the owner of the house showed up and told me he´d clean the two lots of land that are included in the rent.

Monday 5th I´m opening up the doors to Explora. I´m ready!

 

Creating alliances

This week I had scheduled meetings with the two school directors that I find most accessible here in Puerto Escondido. One runs a highly traditional preschool and primary school. The other is head of the christian school.

I had already met up with them in February to share my project with them. I wanted to test the idea and see how they´d react. Both were positive and said they´d be interested in supporting Explora through sharing posters and flyers with their families when it was time.

The christian director is a really nice guy. He´s quite advanced in his pedagogical thinking, and totally gets the idea of the importance of free, unsupervised play. The school he runs is very traditional, but he can´t do much about it because the foundation that´s behind the school want it to operate in a certain way.

The first time I told him about Explora, he got completely excited about the idea, and I got the same result this time. He gets the intention and the concept, and not only will he visit the facilites this coming week in order to really be able to speak about the project with the parents. He´s also more than interested in sharing my sponsorship program with his chrisitian community in the States. The idea is that they can give grants to the kids at his school to complement their education through Explora.

I feel extremely seen and supported by him, and I think it´s the best alliance I could ever had made. He has more than 100 students at his primary, and I´m thinking that if a fifth of them would enroll in Explora, that would be incredible.

The other director is very nice and open, but not a visionary when it comes to education. It´s still alright because she also sees that there are very few options for kids in the afternoons here in Puerto. She also took some posters and flyers and I know she´ll promote Explora with her families, but maybe not with the same zest as the christian director. She also has more than 100 students, and I know several of them would be more than interested in what Explora has to offer.

The cool thing is: everyone seems to think Explora is a terrific idea and are more than willing to share it and spread the words to others. And since I´m not competing with anyone because Explora is a unique concept, it feels really great to be able to create alliances with other directors.

I can feel it boiling underneath the surface

So, I decided to postpone the start of my ALC one week and give myself some more time to fix all that needs to be ready. I mean, the most important is there: the structure, my team of facilitators, my ALF-training, the marketing materials, great support – but there´s still plenty of stuff that needs to be done before I can let the kids in.

I started by gathering a small but supportive group of women in order to share the project with them, and tell them what I needed help with. They absolutely loved the idea of Explora, and were so impressed with what I´ve accomplished so far – (also because the meeting was held at the facilities and that, my friends, is a place I´m very proud of!).

I know they will all contribute in some way, even though I don´t yet know how it will play out.

Then I had a Very Important Meeting with the owner of the local radio channel. I obviously wanted an interview (which is now programmed for the 31st of August), but he unexpectedly offered me promotion time: – I know you can´t afford it, he said, but how about you receiving 2-3 of my employees´kids for free as an interchange. How could I say no to that?!

And then I launched my secret desire: – I´ve been thinking, I said. Most families don´t know much about childraising and education, and I consider myself an expert on both themes. Wouldn´t you be interested in letting me have a weekly radio show with the goal to support parents and teach them things they might need?

– You mean, as a service for the community? he asked.

– Yes, something like that, I answered. I can talk around different themes and they could call in and have their questions answered.

– I really like that idea, said the director of the only radio station in Puerto Escondido, and promised we´d explore the possibility further when I got back for the interview.

It´s like: TADAAAAA!!! I´ve been thinking about this possisbility for quite some time now. I feel that I really want to position myself as The Expert on these themes, where I live. I know I already am, but I want people to know about it too. Being Scandinavian I was raised with the idea that it´s really presomptuous to think that I could do something better than someone else, so it completely clashes with my cultural upbringing. But honestly, I don´t care. I no longer live in Sweden and I´ve come to love stepping out of my comfort zone.

So, this is what I´ve achieved this week. On one hand, I still don´t have any physical evidence of the energy moving around Explora. No enrolled kids, no furniture or materials. But I can feel it boiling underneath the surface, like as if it´s mysteriously all coming together. I mean my own radio show! How could it get any better than that?

 

Exploring the possibilities for support

Ever since I decided I´d start up an ALC, I´ve been freaked out by the fact that this time I´m on my own.

Now, I want this to be very clear: I prefer working with a team. But if I can´t have an outstanding team that meet my standards of high-achievements and mutual support and respect, I prefer doing it alone.

But that doesn´t mean I´m totally fine with the situation either. It´s a huge repsonsibility and I´m afraid I might not have all the energy that it takes. It feels lonely and scary not having a team around me.

I´ve been thinking a lot on how to make Explora happen without a) killing myself in the process and b) without any start-up money.

Thanks to my newly opened kindergarten I´ve been able to install electricity and plumbing, so that part is taken care of. But now I need to:

  1. Clean the two lots next to the house (3000-4000 m2 – loads of land!)
  2. Get furniture, mattrasses and cushions for the cozy room,
  3. and hammocks for the terrace,
  4. plus, able and chairs for the art room.
  5. And oh, yes, art materials of course, and
  6. some nice books and fun board games.
  7. Shelves I need too.
  8. And doors for the bathrooms.
  9. Whiteboards would be cool even though I can do without.

The thing is, I have absolutely no money for this – at least not today.

But, even though Explora isn´t a communitarian project,  it definitely is a project for the Puerto Escondido community. So, my intention is to gather a group of resoursceful people this week, and simply ask them to help me pull this through. And there are actually several ways they can support me, like by:

  • Spreading the word and help families find the project in order for me to get the inscriptions rolling.
  • Donating furniture, books, games
  • Lending me their gardeners to can clean up the land
  • Becoming a sponsor of a child that comes from a low-income family
  • Donating money

I hope it´ll work. And if you have any ideas that I haven´t explored yet – please feel free to share them with me!