Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Monster Tree Playground (Part 1): Just a broken old ladder.

Today's emergent lesson started off by recognizing that it would be a crime worthy of losing the-teaching-license-I-never-had to turn a blind eye to the blue skies and cool end of summer breeze we were blessed with and rather stay inside, like Sally and her brother from Cat in the Hat, fixed to an arbitrary decision (made by yours truly) to make Monday afternoons our time to knock out portfolio requirements at the Blue House Kindergarten in Jinjiang.

Second, was the strong notion that, thankfully, this new home where ORIGINATEVE has been hired to develop a holistic program for, just so happens to be located in a safe neighborhood that allows us to frolic and wander through the streets at will, be it for a Halloween-Jack-o-Lantern-trick-or-treat parade or an afternoon walkabout a la Marco on Mulberry Street, "to see what we can see" and turn some "minnows into whales". Scavenger hunt print offs were not needed to justify our time of play. This is what play looks like: open to the infinite possiblities!

Mom: "Where are you going?"
Restless Pre-schooler: "Outside."
Mom: "What are you going to do?"
Restless Pre-schooler: "Play."
Awesome Mom: "Awesome. Have a blast!"

Third, was the broken old ladder. (Years of working with kids asserts that such a sighting will be a hit!) Unnoticed by the the yet to hatch band of ragamuffins, I was forced to do what I believe sets Mentors apart from teachers: steer their attention towards mischief, trouble and danger, distract them from their safe, soft aloof walk through the neighborhood. 

The slightly more wildish ones in the bunch quickly made it for what became their gross motor skill developing balancing act. The sheepish followed suit, as expected and desired. Once their own system of play and order was installed with the organic praise and peer assistance that is born to any preschooler before school desensitizes them, it was time to up the ante and turn the broken old ladder, now propioception-triggering-device into a briding unit of math and literacy by lining up to count out her rungs. What better way to count to 25 for your first time in your second language, (for many probably even in their first)! 1-10 started off at a college-football-final-scream but by 13 it was a soft murmur from those in the group that probably go home to be flash-carded by multimedia devices of paranoia that seem to put a faux sense of satisfaction in parents freaking out that 1st grade is just around the corner (2 years away for most of mine). Numbers 22 through 25 were all on me, but by the second time through we were all chanting together. 13 of our kids walked the plank. 13 sets of 25 and the kids were having a ball with our busted up ladder.

Then it was time to shake up the mix a bit and see who's got those muscles (speaking towards the Kinesthetic Intelligentsia of the ruffians-in-the-making). And just like that 13 pre-schoolers were put to the task of developing team work skills by first believing that what their Mentor was requiring of them was actually so and then by figuring out how to actually carry our new found old beat up bamboo ladder back to the abandoned lot that has recently been bestowed by the kids as the Monster Tree Playground where we have been granted permission to begin building our playground and digging the first trenches for our compost and garden. Off we went, whistling in our heads, (the whistling Unit is week 16 of our emergent curriculum material) "hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work we go", with our beaten up old ladder carried by the 13 dwarfs and Papa Smurf.

Upon our accomplished arrival, most of the boys quickly resorted to turning sticks and branches into swords and attacking each other. Early on in my OE mentorship training program I remember learning that such needs for entry-level play were necessary to be given their time and space. Therefore, unconcerned to deter the young from their archetypal neophyte understanding of a warrior I engaged my own warrior of beauty antics and began moving around tires, setting up the peripheral learning they would not doubt engage once it had enough magnetic pull. 

Once I had a basic model of what we would be building, I started hurling 20 pound tires at 40 pound 4 year olds; gots to keep them growing up quick and smart like the Mouse Deer they keep hearing about in their kick-off story time. With some nudging, tires were added as steps to support our broken old ladder, that once in place, would need no prodding or instructions. Like monkeys, born for vine-adventures, what was just a broken old ladder was now the iconic beginning of our Monster Tree playground, and 7 of our dare-devils would waste not time putting the old-overlooked-and-tossed-away-bamboo to the the test.

Originateve's Holistic Design programming has always advocated the multi-layering benefits of multi-age learning environments. Consider this. Just before our kids were about ready to return to their swords play our 2 older kids, Owen and Alan (ages 6) arrived from doing some primary school preparation work. They immediately showed their enthusiasm for what the younger ones had done without them, I call this original-praise. They then launched into raising the bar of what play would look like and how the Monster Tree would be conquered, for the first time. The little ones gathered around in their returned admiration and quickly lined up to take their jab at the risky climb.      

With the kids being kids in my background and foreground, I took mental notes on their differing daring natures, social skills, motor-skill developments, propioception, creativity and love for life, couldn't have asked for a more diagnostic afternoon - portfolio worthy but hard to squeeze into an 8 x 11.5 plastic folder wrap.

What will you be doing on your next scheduled diagnosis time with your kids?

I hope to be fostering the feed for Part 2 of Monster Tree Playground but as it goes with emergent curricula, I'm not exactly sure what that will look like.

Carl B. Emmons
Jinjiang, China
October 31st, 2016

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” 
-Richard Lingard

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Peddling Towards a Regenerative Lifestyle

        A long time ago, Glow and I, were uninitiated kids peddling into marriage, literally. Mounted on a pawned-$5-Costarrican-banano-bike we rode out of the church and into….well, who’s to say? We certainly had no clue. We were so young then; and that meant full of blood. The old stories speak of it as red-warrior-energy, the kind of vein-juice that moves you, with determination, through the guaranteed insanities of wedding planning and first mortgages only to then leave you short-winded like the boy who got a bike for Christmas and speeding away, vowed to make it all the way down to the beach and back only to, run adrenaline-dry, somewhere half way back up the hill, exhausted and stranded, with thumbs up, not for approval, but rather hoping to hitch a ride. 

We were definitely living in the often blindly romanticized “here and now” where being “present” is chastised by the scope of our awareness. How deep are the roots of a tree with a trunk as thick as a teenage forearm?

As I try to think back on our just-married goals, they sing a survival song to the beat of a few dozen gringos down in Guatemala on a steeply overpriced one night stand Ayahuasca tour. Tapping into the deeper song of the ever expanding Universe beckoning us from outside of time to live out our beautiful and authentic potential for change in order to remember ourselves back into the regenerative beings we were always meant to be was, needless to say, out of ears reach.

Tragically but all too common nowadays, we had no village to be held accountable by and to. We had family, naturally, but family is both foxly and sheeply different than village. The family’s sole purpose is to carry, mold, applaud and then wave good-bye to each of us into marriage. A job well done of sorts, except that for the most part, those of us who are married, know well, that in fact, once the drone of the church bells has dwindled in the distance and our last youthful savings has been spent on the honey moon suite, we are left completely fucked. Two half-adults unaware of their halfness, trying to make things work with no village to be guided by into the depths of what being human means is what we were set up for and precisely the mangrove we have been hacking our way through for the past 8 years, thankfully in the warmth of a village for the latter half of our time together.

Two or some years ago we sold our house, becoming debt-free again, and packed our now family of 4 and set flight for China. Little did I know the Homeric transformations that would unfold for my marriage, family and career domino-ing from this decision. One of these changes can be visualized in the photo, here:

In as much as we may have started off our marriage on a pawned-$5-Costarrican-banano-bike it was by no means the conscientious decision towards regenerative practice rather a force-majeure due to our impoverished youthful upstarts in married life. Once we were rolling in the dough that bike was back at the pawn shop and we were doing our first rounds, of many, of car-shopping. Thankfully, now, our car days are also gone. This time around our investment into being a bike-family stems from the holistic modeling of fellow villagers that as families have chosen to pedal down the path less traveled clearing the brush for us to follow.I can’t but chuckle upon remembering a run I made to the Juan Santamaria Airport to pick up my buddy Ron and his family upon their return to Costa Rica in 2013. There I was, in my pride and joy VW Golf, picking up a family of four that had decided to ship their bikes down to Costa Rica to be a bike-family for their second jab at life south of the border. I was impressed then and envious. I never thought my family would make that leap, let alone this quick. Oh how joyful I am to be able to embrace the regenerative practice of becoming a bike-family even if I have to admit that that reference to the boy who got a bike for Christmas and bit off more than he could chew was actually me, on our first outing, which ended up busting us after 25k, stranded and out of wind calling for a taxi ride home. No doubt this will be a big year of learning and growing of mountainous proportions. One first lesson I’ve learned is that remembering a regenerative lifestyle while married ain’t no joke but it can happen and make married life all the better!

One goddamn lucky husband, 

October 18th, 2016