The Power of Team Challenges at Triskele Rivers ALC

We have been playing around with team challenges at Triskele Rivers ALC.  Last week the children had to stack 10 cups into a pyramid without touching the cups with their hands,  while only using a rubber band and 6 strings.  Watching them organize, communicate, work through frustration, and experience the satisfaction of completing the task- are all incredible lessons for becoming successful in life.  When the children would fend for themselves and not listen to one another, the cups would come tumbling down-instant feedback on why their communication and method was not proving to be productive.  Upon reflection, they realized when they slowed down, communicated, and focused on the process and not speeding toward the goal, they were much more successful. IMG_3442

The team challenge this week proved to be just as educational.  The task was for the children to be divided into groups of three.  The person in the middle was the “brain” and had their wrists tied to the other two participants, with each serving as either the “right” or “left” hand.  The challenge was for the brain to direct the two hands to wrap a gift.  The hands were not allowed to talk, but had to listen to the instruction and could not do anything without the brain telling them what to do next.  The first group that went had some pretty big challenges,  the hands kept on forging forward without waiting for the brain to instruct, the brain finally became somewhat less intentional and assertive after not feeling listened to.  This brought up some great reflections on how it feels to not be heard, the difficulty of “followers” not being able to give feedback, and the challenge of maintaining leadership when you don’t feel respected or heard.  Through more dialogue there was a realization that it’s really a loop.  When someone stops leading withe clarity and intention, the group starts to take over, when the group starts to take over, the leader feels less and less in command and begins to stop leading.  What  a dance!  The second group was a little older in age, and after watching the first group go was able to take away a few lessons.  It’s always hard being the first to pave the way!  The second IMG_3500“brain” had very attentive “left” and “right’ hand that waited patiently for their instructions, thus the leader  was able to think clearly and take his time in giving thoughtful instruction.   The challenges were great in that the kids were able to physically and mentally experience some of the concepts we are often bringing up- intentional leadership, active listening, cooperation, respect, and team work.   The children also reflected on the feelings of responsibility that go along with being a leader, and how sometimes it’s much easier to just be told what to do, however in a true partnership leaders need feedback from their group in order to lead thoughtfully, followers sometimes need to step us at the leaders, and the leader needs to be aware of when they need to step down for a bit and be the follower.  One of the reasons we are drawn to the ALC model, is that yes the facilitators are the “leaders” but the children are listened to, often get to lead, and are always participating in the creation of the culture and their own learning.  Being a leader and follower is not always black and white and why learning in this type of environment is so dynamic and exciting when everyone is aware.

Through these experiences, reflections and dialogue we now have something to reference, which we were able to do during a closing meeting and people were not being respectful in listening to the facilitator.  We were also able to further wrap the experience around the work with the horses.  IMG_4330In wild herds the horses choose their leader, rather than the leader choosing their herd.  It is usually a lead mare, and one that is thoughtful, respectful, inclusive, makes fair decisions, and creates a harmonious energy that spreads throughout the herd. She is constantly in a state of relaxed awareness, responding to the energy of her herd, and always taking into consideration where everyone is at.  In return the herd also watches out for their leader.  Horses  only relinquish leadership to humans if they have these same qualities. So in the end, there are lessons for us all in these team challenges. It’s exciting to watch the children progress with each one they see through, and to witness them transfer what they have learned to their group projects.

Balance, Movement, Harmony; Mind, Body, Spirit

Ann and I spend a lot of time reflecting on what is unfolding at Triskele Rivers ALC.  It makes me grateful that I have a partner I can dialogue with, bump up against, and together figure out how it is we want to move forward and best support and guide the children in the most authentic way possible.images-1

We chose Triskele Rivers as our name for it’s symbolic meaning, obviously not because it’s easy to pronounce. In fact there are many ways to say it, none being more right than another.  I think it’s the same reason why this work is so dynamic, because often there is no right answer in how to do it, and instead we find ourselves having to follow our intuition and pay attention to what feels right- exactly what we are wanting the children to learn to tap into.   The image of a triskele is three spirals interconnected and expanding out. The number three is obviously symbolic in and of itself; what comes to mind immediately is mind, body, spirit.  When you just focus on one, you inhibit the other two from growing. Mainstream schools focuses mainly on the mind, but we are so much more than our brains.  When our spirit and body are ignored, just the one spiral grows and expands with the other two  left behind- unintentionally creating a child out of balance and  hindering them from becoming a self-actualized human being: The need to be good, to be fully alive and to find meaning in life.  Each of us  needs continual growth in all three of these areas to be able to learn who we are, what we care about, and WHY. Ann and I are constantly asking the children WHY when they give us an answer in order to challenge them to dig deeper, and we don’t leave ourselves out of the equation when presenting  what seems like a simple question-but is anything but.  When setting up an offering, a video to watch, time with the horses, our expectations around blogging, a day out in the community-we ask ourselves to define  WHY it is important and what our intentions are behind any one of these activities. This is our “planning” time, and it is so much richer and more difficult than just implementing a curriculum for the children to follow.DSCN1420

At the moment we are fortunate to have a small group of students, so we are able to give significant attention to each one in terms of:  listening to their ideas and how to best support them in taking these ideas to the next level; developing their blogging skills– which we have chosen to take as an opportunity to remind them of the fact that they are putting these out into a public forum and that there is a responsibility that comes with that in thinking about how they want to portray themselves and our program (why it’s different than a journal); and developing a greater awareness in how they manage their time-do they feel their day is balanced?  Through intentional culture creation around blogging, respect for ideas, and managing their time (which includes self-regulation), we have watched our participants grow and take the process more seriously each week.  We are really FEELING how this creation of culture now, will serve us as we grow and one day not have as much time to focus on each child.  It is so exciting to put theory into practice and really get what “it” is we are striving for.  For me, it’s truly about BALANCE, HARMONY, and MOVEMENT and becoming a more caring, conscious, and connected community.

IMG_4482I believe through the ALC model we can begin to answer this question:

The question before us now–as seekers, as global citizens, as lovers of the world–is not just what do we need to do, but WHO do we need to be in order to do it? We have before us a challenge that only the most evolved civilization can meet effectively…”
-Marianne Williamson




What if we trusted children more?

What if we trusted children more?  What would it look like to truly believe that children’s curiosity and desire to grow and learn will lead them in directions they had no idea they would go? What if we adults could let go of some of the controls, without losing the element of guidance through inquiry?  What is it, exactly, that puts us at ease when we see a completed paragraph with everything spelled correctly, or a math sheet filled out with with all the right answers?  It seems DSCN1554to somehow how reflect back that we must be good parents, teachers, or role models.  It may also make us feel that this child is doing so well, they are bound to be “successful”.   But what do these  mini-successes have to do with a child knowing themselves and becoming a self-actualized human being that will believe they have the power to make decisions in their life and can determine their own trajectory.   We tend to not value the process of letting a child spend 7 hours learning a magic trick, create intricate clay creations all day, challenge themselves to solve a Rubiks cube at record speed,  move manure all day with the tractor, or film cool shots at the skate park to be edited later into a film.  These children are focused, driven, and experiencing success on their terms, through organizing their own time and going deeply into whatever it is they have chosen to master.  No, they didn’t complete any math sheets, memorize history facts, or dive into past participles. However, they did get to experience following an idea, managing their time for the day, creating intentions then DSCN1521reflecting on how they felt about either meeting those intentions or being pulled in another direction, feeling proud of what they accomplished on their terms and sharing the results with their community. The more we allow this to happen, we  begin to feel  their sense of empowerment, and witness them realizing there are things they want to work on or change, which can only lead to deeper self-awareness in general.  Where will this  all lead them, and how much more will they grow, when we adults can get over our own discomfort with not having complete control-and realize that this is our DSCN1420issue to work through-not theirs.  What would it really look like if we truly trusted  children to listen to their gut, follow their curiosity, offer new opportunities-but not force, ask the right questions at the right time, and guide them in becoming who they want to be.



Beginnings can be awkward, uncertain, beautiful, nerve wracking, but rarely boring. Last week, as we began our journey together at Triskele Rivers agile learning center in Hood River, a strange sense of calm seemed to immediately take over. We know we are embarking on new territory, and that we are not alone. There is a growing sense in our country, in our world, that we need to adjust our perspective on what learning is and how it happens. Though the debate is not new, the energy around the change feels bigger and seems to be demanding more attention.

IMG_3759The agile learning center’s philosophy grounds itself around the promotion of self-directed learning. What this means is that learning is natural, it happens all the time, we all have ideas, curiosity and interests.  The desire is to have children recognize these ideas in themselves, honor, appreciate them, and learn to organize them into intentions and goals so they can be brought into a deeper learning process.

DSCN1397The flow of the day for children at Triskele Rivers starts with a morning meeting where they set their intentions for the day and we go over“offerings” which could include, but are not limited to, learning something new from an outside source, another child inviting others to learn something they have mastered, a field trip, or time working with the horses-which they can decide to attend or not. The rest of the day they have time to explore their interest and pursue their goals. At the end of the day we gather and reflect on what they did and how they felt about the way they chose to spend their time. Is there something they would do differently tomorrow, or something they didn’t leave time for that they had mentioned in their intentions at morning meeting? One day a week an hour is spent on their blog in order to reflect on their experience, a project, or display a new skill they learned-the sky is the limit.

DSCN1443Part of our job as a guide and facilitator is to support making the children’s learning visible to them. Often we find children don’t think they are learning if they are having fun. At the end of the first two days, the children thought they hadn’t done any math. We started asking some questions, for instance, “When you were on the trampoline and talking about doing 360’s, 1080’s, 900’s, and 180’s what did that mean?” One child answered, “Oh, well a 360 is one revolution and 1080’s are 3 revolutions, a 900 is two and a half…. “   “Oh, Ann, asked them, so is that math?”   They also spent a while contemplating a challenge another student brought in, he had lined up matches to create a formula 1+11+111=111. The challenge was to move one match and place it somewhere else to make the equation be true.     What is more important when doing math, I wondered, critical thinking or speed?

DSCN1446IMG_3778In another corner of the room we had two students working together to solve the pattern for a Rubik’s cube, later in the day another child learned to drive and maneuver the tractor so he could help move the manure piles to get ready for composting.   One of our high school students worked on his astronomy course, and another sat engaged doing detailed clay figures. There was also an offering to start building relationships with the horses, which a few children chose. The children were finding their “flow”, and it truly looked like a space where they were coming together to learn, explore, imagine and support each other. This was only in two days! These small moments create bigger opportunities for self-organizing and establishing a sense of empowerment, that the child themselves can be in charge of the direction of her or his own life. DSCN1420

DSCN1432 At the end of the first two days of our program, I was happy to be through the test of creating a “beginning” and I am excited to keep exploring with the children and continuing to contemplate with them: What is learning? What are some ideas that you want to explore? What goals do you want to set for yourself? How do you see getting from point A to point B? The challenge as an adult is when and how do we support the process so it can unfold and deepen in each child in our program and when do we step out of the way so as not to interfere. It is a beautiful dance that Ann and I we will learn to do together with the children.