Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taller Colibri Rocking the Permaculture

It's been half a year since we started our alternative school project, Taller Colibri. I've learned so much from my children, the other children in the project, the parents, the people we have met on the weekly field trips, and our inspirational maestra Suzanna.

The key epiphany I have had has been about momentum. Once the children understood that they owned the school and the curriculum, they stepped up. They run in with projects already in their minds, sometimes with supplies they have brought from home. They tend to the garden, they check the supply closet for art materials, they turn on the light and music for quiet time, they cook food for meals.

Some of the smaller aspects of the school have also made a deep impression on me. For example, our start time of 9:30. I can't tell you how incredible it is to not wake up my children, to allow them to get up naturally and not be tired. In the morning, we have time to eat, play, read, visit the cat, clean, whatever. Not having homework has also been so liberating. No longer do we have to chop off a significant part of the afternoon, or break it up inconveniently. We sometimes do far more educational and inspirational things than homework--play at the park, hike, cook together, read at the library, see an art show, visit friends, go to drum class--and we sometimes just hang out at the house or the zocalo. This gift of time has been powerful, even if it means sometimes wondering what to do with it when the kids are fighting or I'm not feeling like interacting.

Creating units based on the children's interests was fascinating. To look back on it makes me realize how far we have come: Force and Motion, Caves and Prehistory, Story boarding and Clay Animation, and Building with Natural Materials. Field trips to archaeological ruins, caves, swimming pools, the organic market, libraries, parks, farms, villages, history museums, art galleries. What a life.

Last week, when Maestra Suzanna suggested that Taller Colibri head up the Oaxaca mountains above Huayapam, to see a farm with permaculture farming practices, I sensed we were in for something different. The little ones had to stumble along the steep trails, but it was worth it. They delved into worm compost bins (we honestly had to pull them out of them), wandered greenhouses, looked for fish and turtles in ponds, walked through buildings framed in local carrizo, and cooked lunch on a mud and sand stove, una estufa Lorena.

That's when I realized how they already understood the place. They had mixed their own adobe at the river to create mud dwellings. They had used carrizo to frame their playhouse in the backyard. They had caught tadpoles in the river and spread compost in the garden, digging up worms to show each other. For them, permaculture was the only culture, as they had only gardened organically and built sustainably. I found they had learned more than I could have imagined, and I believe these are lessons they will carry with them.

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