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Hero’s Journey Independent Learning

ON TRUSTING THE CHILDREN

ON TRUSTING THE CHILDREN

Laura Sandefer

November 1, 2016

It was 1972. I was 8 years old with two red braids hanging down to my waist on either side of my sunburned face. I was on a deep sea fishing trip with my father – my dream come true.

“Let her do this by herself.” My father’s jagged voiced struck the captain as he rushed toward me throwing his cigar stub in the ocean.

My fishing pole strained in a tight arch with an angry 50-pound king salmon flying up and fleeing at the other end. My father pinned me to the railing of the chartered boat and yelled at me to reel it in hard and fast. My ponytails kept getting caught in the line yanking out my hair as I worked with all my might reeling him in; then letting him take it back out and then reeling him back again.

After a grueling twenty minutes, the fish was up thrashing near the boat. The captain was ready with his large net – his one job was to get the fish in the boat. He leaned over, swooped hard and then the world went silent. He had knocked the fish off the hook and it disappeared into the depths of the black Pacific Ocean.

My devastation was a silent one. There was nothing to say.

I’ve re-lived those moments over and over in my mind through the years. My fish story. The one that got away. The painful lingering feeling evolved into one of pride because my father wanted me to do it by myself.

He trusted me.

The power of feeling trusted as a child sticks. I have heard my father’s words at so many critical junctures in my life. “You can do this by yourself, Laura.”

I don’t know if I am giving my children the same moments in time that my father gave me. Parenting is hard. I get scared when I want them to succeed so I jump in – just before they fail. But the truth is simple: I want them to take charge of their lives and I trust them with important decisions, jobs and problems.

So today I remember my fish story. And today I remember to push back those ambitious captains (including myself) who rush in to save my boys from hard experiences. I will let them do the very hard things that come their way. I will say, “You’ve got this. I trust you.”

And if the fish gets away, we’ll all be okay.

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Hero’s Journey Independent Learning

WILL MY CHILD SUCCEED AT ACTON ACADEMY?

WILL MY CHILD SUCCEED AT ACTON ACADEMY?

Laura Sandefer

August 24, 2017

As we contemplate the beginning of a new year, you may be asking yourself these questions: What does “success” mean to our family in relation to the Acton experience? Is there a magical secret that will help my Eagle progress steadily? What words can I share to encourage her along the way? How can I best support my child’s Hero’s Journey?

Several veteran Eagles reflected upon their elementary school learning journeys and bravely share their advice to help others. Their words ooze with wisdom and truth. I hope your family has fun reading them and pulling out the nuggets of advice you’d like to focus on during Session One of this new year.

Advice from Seasoned Eagles

Ian J.:

  • Finish your work before it becomes a problem.
  • Always do your work.
  • If you set your mind to something, you can accomplish it.
  • To make a perfect day, you need to incorporate work and play.

Chander:

  • Manage your time.
  • Work doesn’t get done by itself.
  • Don’t delay work!
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Ask other people for support.
  • Watch the Khan videos!
  • If you work hard, then you will achieve.
  • If someone tells you something is important, listen to them.

Audrey:

  • Always ask other people for help when you need it.
  • It takes a flock to make an Eagle.
  • Develop a growth mindset. There is value in grit, teamwork, and fun.

Benjamin:

  • Balance your work.
  • Manage your time.

Jack:

  • Reach for the highest bar.
  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Have a great time.
  • Be safe from bad things.

Mary:

  • Never procrastinate.
  • Always choose the hardest route.
  • Learn from your fellow travelers.
  • Ask for help.
  • Be grateful.
  • Be kind.
  • Respect others.
  • Have a sense of humor.
  • Be a hero!

Thank you, Eagles! You remind me that you are the experts in this experience. I look forward to learning more from you again this year.

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WHY TRAVEL IS PART OF THE ACTON ACADEMY JOURNEY

WHY “TRAVEL” IS PART OF THE ACTON ACADEMY JOURNEY

Laura Sandefer

June 7, 2019

Think of the last time you were in charge of planning every detail of a weeklong trip – including paying for it – for a group of twenty friends. From picking out the destination, to securing transportation and lodging; and from researching activities to specifying menus for the grocery shopping – this is real world project management at its finest. And, let’s pretend you made your trip a “no tech” one for all involved and there was a policy that individuals could not separate into sub-groups. Finally, there must be an element of learning about the destination – either about the life of a hero who lived there or the general history of its people.

This is exactly what the Launchpad Eagles are charged with every year. No adults are involved in any part of the planning. Yes, the Eagles secure chaperones to attend and even cover their costs. But the trip is 100% planned and carried out by the teenagers. They work all year to earn their money through servant leader hours on campus. (This is not “fund me” trip where they ask other people to pay their way. They log real and tough servant leadership work all year – each hour converted into $5 which is applied to their trip fund.) Finally the day arrives and they set out on their grand adventure.

It may sound like a simple challenge. But the reality is a complicated project with diverse personalities, tastes, and various human needs injected into the equation. As a traveler myself, I know the grit and patience it requires to work through plans that fall through (inevitably) and to work with humans whose ideas and opinions clash (inevitably).

Throughout the year, I bite my lip, restraining myself from offering advice when I see them struggling to make airplane reservations for the group or secure a house to rent that sleeps twenty people. I don’t ask if they remembered to budget for gas for the car rental or if they’ve packed sunscreen for their high altitude hikes. I let it all go and remember why we built these travel experiences into the Acton Academy journey.

It is this experience that delivers exactly what I dream for my children when they turn 18 and leave home: to be humble and confident in the big, wide world.

Travel is the best antidote to the fear we may have of people who live differently. It dispels discomfort of the unknown and slashes pride. Travel simply swells the heart like nothing else.

When out in the world without the safety of adults solving their problems or negotiating their way through, these young people find their able voices and worldly legs. They come home a bit wiser, knowing they are capable of solving problems and being on their own. Life out there is big and not to be feared.

Humility and confidence. Together, these two states of being feed what is at the heart of a life well-lived: curiosity.

So it is with bravery that the Acton parents say good-bye each year as the Launchpad Eagles set out on adventure.

And with joy that we welcome them home.

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THREE ODD THINGS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS SUMMER

THREE ODD THINGS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS SUMMER

Laura Sandefer

June 22, 2019

Some things are hard to love.

Jesus said it’s not remarkable to love the love-able. Anyone can do that. Then he said his most radical statement: “Love your enemy.”

Few of us get there. But his words remind me it is possible to grow love where there was none and practice it even when it doesn’t come easily or naturally.

I cling to this idea the most in terms of supporting my children on their learning journeys. Otherwise I’m easily seduced by the siren call of easing their lives in the name of love – the deathtrap of believing their enemies are frustration, failure and problems.

Because it’s summer, I feel ready to fall in love with the hard stuff once again. Maybe the longer days loosen the boundaries of my heart. Or maybe the less complicated schedule eases my hold on my children’s lives. It could just be the peaches.

Whatever it is, summer is when I have more soul space to grow hard loves. So I’m going to try once again to sow the harvest I’ll need in the dead of tightly-wound fall and winter living when the “school” stress thickens. (Especially since we are entering the college application adventure.)

I hope you, too, can ponder and grow to love these three things.

  1. Fall in love with the process.

  2. Fall in love with the struggle.

  3. Fall in love with the challenge.

All three are pretty unloveable – even the enemy – on certain days in terms of parenting. But when I release my need for control, recognize blips and failures as nuggets of gold, and step back from nitpicking my children’s lives, I am more loving. I am more free. And therefore, I am a better mom.

Hopefully by September I’ll remember: learning is a lifelong process, struggle is what makes it stick and the comfort zone kills you, slowly but surely.

This 10 minutes with anthropologist Dorsa Amir will feed you well for growing new love for the hard stuff of parenting. I hope you reap the benefits.

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A BEAR, A BIRTHDAY CAKE AND A CUP OF HOT CHOCOLATE – YOUR TICKET TO INNER PEACE?

A BEAR, A BIRTHDAY CAKE AND A CUP OF HOT CHOCOLATE – YOUR TICKET TO INNER PEACE?

Laura Sandefer

November 12, 2019

As we enter the season of busy-ness, I crave the inner calm I so easily access on summer mornings when the clock doesn’t tick so fast. And not just for myself. I yearn for my children to handily retrieve their own sense of peace and with it, the ability to focus.

It was desperation that drove me to appreciate Mindful Breathing. My son started suffering from anxiety at age eleven. We used deep breathing exercises during the dark months when he would claw at his blankets and grind his teeth with a stress that seemed to swallow him whole.

His anxiety subsided, thankfully, and he is now equipped to use his breathing to slow down his heart rate and get his mind focused whenever the need arises – maybe before a speech at an Exhibition or when he’s at the free-throw line in a basketball game.

As part of our Learning to Do at Acton Academy, we’ve incorporated these simple breathing exercises into studio life. They equip young people to calm themselves and find focus – two skills that will serve them for life. One of my favorite memories comes from a quiet thirteen year old boy. After a week of leading Mindful Breathing exercises, he came to me and said, “Thank you. I’ve started doing that breathing when I’m stuck in my Khan Academy work. I used to panic. Now I breathe.”

The following three exercises are ones you can practice and share with your children:

Imagine a beautifully big birthday cake in front of you, filled with burning candles. Now breathe in deeply and blow them all out. Do this a few times.

Imagine you are a bear in a cave getting ready for hibernation. It’s time to start slowing down to get your body for the winter. Bears do this by breathing deeply and more slowly in and out of their noses. Try it. Breathe deeply in through your nose. Now let it out slowly and deeply through your nose. Do this six or so times.

Imagine you are wearing mittens and holding a cup of very hot chocolate between your hands. It’s too hot to sip right now so you have to blow on it – back and forth. Breathe in through your nose, now blow across the top of your hot chocolate. It will take five or six times to get it cool enough to drink.

As I breathe more deeply, I remember once again that Learning to Do most often leads to Learning to Be.

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Hero’s Journey Independent Learning Parent Resources Socratic Method

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Laura Sandefer

November 2, 2019

“You don’t have to be smart to go to Acton. You have to want to be smart.”
– Matteo, an Acton Academy middle school Eagle

Though merely two sentences within a long, heated Socratic discussion, Matteo’s words were flashes of gold. Everyone agreed with them. With clarity and ease, he’d pointed us to the essence of why Acton exists in a way I had never pondered.

It is about wanting. It is about desire.

Desire is longing for something not yet attained and includes a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is the fuel for curiosity – the most powerful intrinsic motivator.

But I wasn’t satisfied with my analysis of Matteo’s words. Was he really talking about just the desire to be smart?

I decided to pursue his idea further. I asked a small group of Eagles to help me out:

Why do you want to be smart?

So I can feel confident in the world.
So I can understand how things work.
So I can make hard decisions and tough choices.
So I can do the right thing.
So I can do something important with my life.
So I can solve problems that aren’t being solved yet.
So I can find my calling.

Their wanting to be smart was not about having an academic credential. It was not about pleasing parents and teachers.

These young people desire doing intelligent work that matters for this big, wonderful world.

Shakespeare wrote: “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

Acton Academy exists for the “doing” not just the “knowing.” Ultimately, there will be joy even if the journey includes suffering and sacrifice because the learning and work are purposeful. They are driven by the heart – where desire and character reside.

As a parent, this shifts my stance on talking with my sons about their work at school. My natural tendency at the end of the week is to ask them: How many points did you earn? How many Eagle Bucks do you have?

These extrinsic, academic questions are easy and okay. But, frankly, they miss the target.

There is a much more important question: What do you want?

I often forget to consider the desire in their hearts. When I focus merely on the external evidence of their daily learning, I snuff out the force that will drive them for the rest of their lives: the desire that lies in their hearts to do work that matters.

These young people exude profound confidence and inner freedom because they carry a mindset of growth. They know they can learn absolutely anything if they work at it. There is no slumped-over pessimism that comes from the burden of being labeled “smart” or “not smart.”

It’s as if they are already saying, “Open wide your doors, world. We are excited to meet you.”

Thank you, Matteo.

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TWO BIG ROCKS AT ACTON ACADEMY: PE AND ART

TWO BIG ROCKS AT ACTON ACADEMY: PE AND ART

Laura Sandefer

September 17, 2019

Last week I sat with the Eagles with an empty glass vessel, a pile of sand, 20 small rocks and two big rocks. My story went like this: The glass vessel represents our lives – a vessel of time. Each of us has the same amount of time in a day – how we fill it determines the kind of daily life and, hence, life we have.

Scooping the sand in the vessel, I shared that it represents all the little things we do every day that aren’t important. Scrolling through Instagram is a big scoop of sand. I then tossed in the small rocks – the things we do that are more important than the sand but that don’t have severe negative consequences if we don’t do them. Brushing my dogs is a small rock for me.

Now it was time to put in the two big rocks.

Oh, whoops.

There was no room left in the vessel for the two things that are urgent and important -the things we do that can improve or destroy the quality of our living. For me, family dinnertime is a big rock.

I poured out the sand and rocks and started over.

This time, I put the two big rocks in first; then the small rocks; and with a little jiggling, the same amount of sand poured right over the whole pile. My vessel contained it all.

Like magic, when we know our focus and our big “to do” of the day, everything else falls into place.

I held up the two rocks and shared a surprising fact about the Acton Academy learning design.

We have two big rocks that go in first. They aren’t math and reading; or science and writing.

They are P.E. and Art. (As an aside, our elementary studio voted that P.E. stands for “Physical Eagles.”)

Building a strong body and a curious, creative mind are the big rocks that make all the other learning happen in a deeper way.

With these two rocks, we gain conditioning to persevere when things get hard. We learn to breathe deeply to recover under stress. We learn what it means to focus and concentrate. We learn that failing happens and it takes work to improve. We learn how connected our body is to our mind. We gain courage and imagination. We experience the truth that being uncomfortable is necessary if you want to grow and get better. We learn to use our voices to share our ideas. We become problem-solvers and curious questioners.

How can you do math if you aren’t conditioned to focus or if you feel weak, without stamina or grit?

Our two big rocks make us strong, curious and creative, first. We then become open to working hard to learn and grow. Life is just better when you’re strong and creative as a baseline.

What’s your big rock today?

(This short video is the source of this little exercise.)

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I MISSED A VERY BIG THING

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

I MISSED A VERY BIG THING

Laura Sandefer

December 2, 2014

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Robert Brault

In the Acton community, we are all learners – children, guides, parents. For parents, the learning often includes unlearning or relearning what we thought we had mastered.

My most important lesson of this year happened last week. It came as four small words from my son.

“Mom, I feel empty.”

“Empty” – such a common word. Yet its poignancy in this moment from this wise child was stunning.

I spun around, dropped my bag of work and invited him to please join me on the couch to talk. In gratitude for his sharing, I seized the moment to begin unpacking those simple words.

We meandered through rugged terrain that included thoughts about changes in his world since starting middle school, stresses in his life and things he wished he could change. He then zeroed in:

“We don’t sit down at the table for dinner as much as we used to.”

He was so right. What an insidious shift in my daily focus over the past few months – from regular family dinners to being spread too thin during that bewitching hour of the day.

What a big miss on my part.

My children are both in middle school now. They are Independent Learners. They need me so much less with the basic things. This, however, doesn’t mean they don’t need “us” as a family living and learning together, enjoying each other’s company without time constraints and without talking about work or school.

This relearning moment was a poignant reminder for me as an Acton parent: we mustn’t mistake Independent Learner for Independent Human. We are interdependent and entwined in wonderful ways. It doesn’t matter how you define “family.” We need each other for the nourishment of our souls and minds.

The simple ritual of breaking bread around a table together often may be what we need more than anything else.

Lesson Learned.

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Independent Learning

THE FUNNY TWIST OF INDEPENDENT LEARNING

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

THE FUNNY TWIST OF INDEPENDENT LEARNING

Laura Sandefer

June 10, 2014

My favorite line from The Princess Bride is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It is the same with Independent Learning at Acton.

We keep using that word. But what we mean is something much different, ultimately.

During the early years at Acton, all sights are on the blue binder on the shelf: The Independent Learner Binder. Eagles earn the privilege of receiving the binder only after mastering specific learning milestones.

These milestones add up to a foundation of critical skills in learning how to learn, learning to do and learning to be. It is big stuff and it takes years to get that binder in hand.

The Eagles know that the challenges within the blue binder come with one caveat: they must be completed without any help from parents or guides.

Ironically, that is the last time “independence” is the means or the end of a learning badge at Acton.

From then on, it’s all about collaboration, accountability, running partners, feedback loops, leadership practice, guiding others and being supporting by others.

And that’s the funny twist in becoming an Independent Learner. You begin to understand how important others are in your journey.

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HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD BE AN INDEPENDENT LEARNER AT HOME?

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD BE AN INDEPENDENT LEARNER AT HOME?

Laura Sandefer

March 15, 2013

At Acton Academy, “independent learning” is the first level of lifelong learning. From 1st grade through 5th grade, our students gain the skills, knowledge, experience and character traits to earn the badge, “Independent Learner.” In middle school, they begin the path to becoming running partners. (Note the growth into interdependence from independence.)

An Acton parent recently asked if being an independent learner means shunning authority. Great question. To the contrary, an independent learner knows how to embrace what or who is worthy as an authentic authority in life. In addition, it is viewing oneself as trustworthy and capable.

Family life is rich with opportunities to support what we are doing at school. We parents, however, will have varying levels of tolerance for letting our children learn to do things on their own. What I am comfortable doing, you may not be. (What Jeff is willing to do, makes me need to sit down and take a few deep breaths.)

While having differences in how to encourage independence, we likely agree on why: hovering over our children does long-term damage to their confidence and well-being.

With that in mind, I want to share my list of ideas of ways to help your child become an independent learner at home. Some of the ideas are for the very young and others for ages 10 and up. This is offered to you simply as a catalyst for your own ideas. It is not a recipe.

Note: The key phrase to use often in this process with your child is: “I trust you.”

Our family list:

  • Pick out what to wear each day. (I have to bite my lip often so as not to criticize the choices made on this one.)
  • Plan a dinner menu listing all ingredients. (Ideally includes online searching for recipes; assisting with the grocery shopping and helping prepare the meal.)
  • Pack own school lunches. (I don’t know why this is hard for me to let them do!)
  • Sort and do laundry including folding and putting away. (Give instructions on the machine once.)
  • Plan a full Saturday for the family. (Then you must stick to their plan.)
  • Find your way home from an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood. (We did this in what we knew was a safe place – I was still nervous.)
  • Place order at a restaurant. Eye contact with waiter required.
  • Figure out tip and total the bill.
  • Walk the 3-mile loop of the Lady Bird trail alone. Designate a meeting place.
  • Call to make own hair cutting appointment. When there, describe desired cut to hair dresser without any input from parent. Deliver the tip afterwards.
  • Pump gas. (I had a friend in college who had never pumped her own gas!)
  • Settle own dispute without a parental referee. (Our boys created a signed contract for each other and it hangs above their beds.)
  • Learn to make 3-4 dishes to build a cooking repertoire. (Ours were scrambled eggs, pasta, French toast and homemade soup. I figured that will make them great college roommates and able to eat pretty well with very little money. This is also great for me to be able to say, “Charlie, will you please make dinner tonight?” And be very happy with the results.
  • Keep up with a personal whiteboard calendar to know what to expect each day/week/month.
  • Plant something and take care of it. (Planting is the easy part. The tending is the key. I love my animals too much to turn over all care of them to my boys – even though they are “theirs.” They are doing the feeding and cleaning the yard up – sort of – but I definitely micro- manage on this one. We all have our limits!)

Please share your ideas. We need each other’s encouragement on this “letting go” experience.

Extra reading if you are interested:

http://www.micheleborba.com/blog/2010/07/16/michele-borba-could-you-be-a-helicopter-parent/

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy; also her website: www.freerangekids.com

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