Learning Landscapes: Embracing Change in the Light of Solstice

Many people believe that Earth is closer to the sun in the summer and that is why it is hotter or, conversely, it is the farthest away in winter and, hence, colder. Even though this seems to make logical sense, it’s incorrect. This cognitive dissonance can be a solution and ignite natural curiosity and wonder that leads to greater love and a sense of responsibility to care for Earth. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education

Thanksgiving is Over, Now What?

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?

Thanksgiving is over.

Did you and your children get enough? Give enough? Did you open your home to and give thanks for family, friends, people three degrees removed, or the bounties of Earth because the traditional customs of this holiday often calls us to do so?

Did you and your children fully live with an attitude of gratitude and feel the power, glory and story that Thanksgiving can evoke? What story was that exactly and were you touched by other’s stories? What’s the story that will endure? Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Outdoors Family Challenge

7-Day Outdoors Family Challenge

Want to get outside more, connect with your kids and enjoy some old-fashioned family time? Join in a fun 7-Day Outdoors Family Challenge that was created by Shannon Brescher Shea from We’ll Eat You Up We Love You So in support of the Children and Nature Network’s Vitamin N Challenge to encourage kids to get outside more. This is a 7-day nature challenge is intended to help families spend just a bit more time joyfully in nature and their community. Each challenge provides a simple challenge that can get you and your children (of any age) outside – observing and interacting more intentionally with self, family, community and Nature. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Summer Creativity Challenge

Summer Creativity Challenge

Each year my family and I do a Summer Creativity Challenge. The goal of this playful challenge is to celebrate creativity, inquisitiveness and innovation. We explore local natural resources, as well as dig through our recycling bin and challenge ourselves to design and build anything that can be imagined. Yes, it can be that simple, but we try to take it further by inviting family, friends and neighbors over to build, play, laugh, learn and strengthen community throughout the summer and beyond.

Where did the idea for our Summer Creativity Challenge come from? It was inspired and grew out of something we learned about three years ago called the Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge was inspired by a 9-year-old boy named Caine who designed an entire cardboard arcade business. Now playful building with recyclable materials (aka Cardboard Challenge) is an annual, global event presented by Imagination Foundation. However, by extending the time we dedicate to the challenge we are able to slow down, integrate more of the natural resources in abundance in our area and cultivate on-going community connections.

In September the Imagination Foundation encourages kids of all ages, all over the world to design and build anything they can dream up using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Then the designers (aka the children) who worked all September invite others from their community to get together on a specified date in October to share, play and celebrate creativity knowing that other children in other communities all over the world are celebrating in play that same day.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: How Adventures Connect Us to Place & Stewardship

Adventurous, Fantastical Possibilities

Welcoming adventure into the learning landscape means we need to be willing to say, “I don’t know what is going to happen” when we first begin. This is a significant change of consciousness from one in which educators take the lead, identify the objectives and craft lessons to get children to the desired end goal. Sometimes it is useful to step off the beaten path and even the road less followed in order to get lost in the forest for a while. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Learning and life is enriched when we periodically go on an adventure. Real adventure ignites a thirst for exploration and stimulates curiosity that can drive learning much deeper because the direction and the end goal is co-created in conjunction with the learner and the emerging elements in the environment. Questions provoke real communication and a deepening of relations. Adventure, one of the seven childhood and nature design principles for educators created by David Sobel, can help us take steps to leading a more ethically-aligned life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Re-Framing Creativity

Re-Framing Creativity

For a long time psychologists, educators and parents alike have assumed that imaginative play was most useful for learning when set in as realistic a situation as possible. However, is “real” always better than “imaginative” when it comes to the learning landscape?

Many have a fear that learning about, or at the very least not clearly distinguishing between, fantasy and reality can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions. This assumption underestimates the importance and value of the childhood and nature design principle of “Imagination and Fantasy” as termed by David Sobel, director of Teacher Certification Programs in the Department of Education and director of the Center for Place-based Education at Antioch University New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Adapting to Change Through Collective Creativity

Use Creativity and Adapt to Change

We are in the midst of change as spring has sprung. Many people are adapting to this change in the natural landscape by spending more time outside, watching the bees emerge to begin pollinating trees and plants, or perhaps planning or even beginning to plant spring crops. Experienced gardeners often reflect over last spring’s results in order to creatively adjust their plans for this year.

Shouldn’t we do something similar in the learning landscape or even in our personal and social landscapes? With this in mind, how can we use the framework of permaculture, a whole systems thinking framework, to work with our children to consciously and creatively make regenerative learning landscapes that reflect the inherent balance, stability and harmony of nature? How can we use this to help us work with our children to use creativity and adapt to change?  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Use and Value the Marginal

Learning Landscapes: Use the Edges and Value the Marginal

Do you and your children use the edges and value the marginal in the learning landscape?

Say what? Most people want to pull children away from the “edges” and I’m suggesting we hangout, play in and even elongate the edges in our and our children’s learning landscapes? Yes, I am!

An edge is simply where two or more things meet. Just as a natural landscape, the learning landscape has many edges. In the learning landscape an edge could be child and mentor, child and information, new thinking and opportunity to act, new challenges and frustration, experiences and reflection and so much more. This interface, like where a grass field meets the forest, is potentially the most interesting, productive, diverse and valuable part of a natural system. Take a look at this picture of a turtle… Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Use and Value Diversity

Use and Value Diversity in the Learning Landscape

Diversity is at the core of life. Human diversity is also key to creativity, resilience and a vibrant, healthy human society. Each person, each child, is an individual with intrinsic worth and it is essential that we use and value the diversity within and between learners, among other people, and in our environment. However, bringing diversity into children’s learning landscapes and lives is often misunderstood.

In our interconnected global world educators, families, and communities are being pushed to use and value diversity. Interestingly, this is one of the thinking tools of permaculture – “Use and Value Diversity.” In the desire to serve the honorable goals of equity, tolerance and understanding, we (and our children) are often led to believe that diversity in and of itself is a desired outcome or state of being.

Diversity without regard to the natural relationships and connections between elements in our human and natural systems does not itself lead to the positive results that many imagine. When we try to change the “story” without understanding that all is in relation we can inadvertently create confusion or worse chaos.   Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Slow and Steady into a New Year

Year of Small and Slow

A new year, a new opportunity to reflect and renew our beliefs, values and intentions. Many people create resolutions each year and then we hit the ground running trying to create big and important changes in our lives. There are of course big milestones worthy of marking and celebrating (like last month when Hilltown Families quietly turned 10 years old!), but in many cases with the new year we “go big” and then we end up returning to our less-than-ideal habitual routines.

What is the story that our children take away when they see this and what are a few “small and slow” resolutions we may want to consider that can help us reframe what it means to learn, educate and be educated in regenerative and sustainable ways?  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Doing Less with More

Integrating “Permie” into the Holidays

As all good stories should, it is important to start at the beginning.

Once Upon A Time…

Like many, I was brought up in a system fragmented and fractured in its relationship with the world and itself. I grew as a fragmented and fractured reflection…naturally.  I still struggle to honor my authentic self, become aware of dysfunctional patterns and integrate myself into community and community into me. My family and I have come to permaculture as a way of regenerating our human “being-ness,” as well as that of our Mother Earth and all of the communities which reside within her.

Permaculture is a fundamental component of our journey back to wholeness, away from the segregated “me” and into the “we.” Permaculture is a flexible and adaptable holistic design approach based on natural laws that allows us to examine and refine our relationships with a whole ecosystem, including ourselves. Utilizing whole system ethics and thinking as a guide, we implement design strategies that integrate and harmonize with the whole system.

This holiday season, I invite us and our children to think about how we can honor ourselves, others and Earth by learning about one of the permaculture thinking tools – “Integrate rather than Segregate.” We can more fully honor our authentic selves, our relationships with others and our role and responsibility as part of the “we” by more honestly integrating our values into our lives. For me and my family, this includes the ethics and values of permaculture. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Patterns in Learning

Using Patterns to Design the “Story” of Education

If we work “with” the natural patterns within children and our environments we can transform what it means to learn, educate and be educated.

There are patterns all around us, from the large-scale patterns of our universe to nano-scale of atoms, and in everything we learn. This includes patterns in nature, to patterns in a poem, to patterns in how communities form and interact. There are patterns in time, social structures, landscapes, and conceptual systems of all sorts.

Authors of stories use patterns much like a seamstress uses a pattern to make a finely tailored dress. Almost subconsciously, it is often the pattern of a story that we connect with although we are likely to more often take note of and recall the details.

​ If there is no recognizable pattern, the reader frequently loses interest and the story becomes nothing more than a factual list of bullet points. A list of details, no matter how many adjectives are added or how useful they may be for tasks like baking the perfect pumpkin pie, are not the foundation on which to build an intriguing story. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Apples and Their Many By-Product Uses

Inspiring Your Little Johnny Appleseed: Produce No Waste

With passing of the recent equinox we are entering into the cooler weather of autumn in the northern hemisphere – a time for many that is fondly thought of as apple picking season. What are some natural, play-based experiential education ideas for our young Johnny Appleseeds that can take the joy of going apple picking to a whole (systems thinking) new level?

Permaculture is a whole systems design methodology that works with nature that my family and I use to help us navigate our learning landscapes. The idea of working with nature values and honors the nature of our children as well as that of the natural world in which we are a part of. To do this, we will explore the sixth of twelve whole systems thinking tools – “Produce No Waste.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Use and Value Resources

From Natural Resources to Natural Relationships: Use and Value Resources

What is a resource and how do we learn to use and value resources? There are a variety of resources in our lives, many most of us probably take for granted. It is not only about using renewable resources, but rather making responsible choices about all resources.

Learning if or how we recognize, value and chose to use resources is a choice we all make. If we don’t think about this and help our children actively use their knowledge and understanding of resources to make a conscious ethical choice, but instead just consume without thought, then we have in fact made a choice. The permaculture thinking tool Use and Value Resources is intended to get our children thinking about how to, perhaps in a different way, view the world around them and all the resources that exist.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Development of Self-Regulation

Critical for Learning and Life: Self-Regulation

Education is our greatest potential resource.

Before jumping into action and using our greatest potential resource, we need to rush to reflection in order to ensure that we and our children can “succeed.” We can easily and quickly acquire the academic and scientific “know how,” but it is the traditional wisdom for “knowing how” that can help our children, families, and communities ethically and sustainably cultivate the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will allow us to “succeed” in transforming the future.

In rushing to reflection, there are just three questions to ask ourselves that can initiate a change of consciousness about what it means to learn, educate, be educated and succeed:

  1. What is the story that our children are hearing about what it means to learn, educate, be educated and succeed?
  2. Who is an essential part of this story?
  3. For what purpose are children learning?

Education must be more than passive acquisition of knowledge and on-demand regurgitation of facts or performance of skills. Education is more than an independent pursuit for individual academic achievement. The deeper value and purpose of education is to nourish life and, as an educational mentor, my role is to help ignite and sustain children’s natural curiosity and thirst for learning and holistic development.

Education is often seen as the path for self-improvement, but what if education was more than an individual enrichment activity? What is possible if children’s learning journey climaxed not when a test was taken and passed, but when their new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and personal niches of brilliance were used to enrich their community? And what if community recognized our children’s developing competencies and readiness to be active members in our community as an integrated part of the educational system? Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Obtaining a Yield in the Garden and in Community-Based Education

Critical Life Skills: You Can’t Work on an Empty Stomach

Cucumbers and peppers, and tomatoes, oh my! Although these are not quite as daunting as lions and tigers, and bears (oh my), Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz faced a situation many of us who garden face each year. Should we feel the thrill of coming face to face with yields like cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes or the fear? Obtaining a yield is such a simple concept and yet can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially if we don’t know how to handle the yields that we all have in our lives.

This year my family incorporated several smaller “no-till” garden plots into our landscape design and are obtaining quite an additional yield ourselves. The first one is along the front of the house where we added a no-till kitchen garden area to include an herb spiral feature. We made two circular no-till garden plots in the back yard and let the kids plant “pizza gardens.” In addition, we added two vertical living playhouse structures and two additional circular no-till garden beds in the front yard planted with the Three Sisters – corn, squash and beans (or in one case mammoth sunflowers, squash and beans). We are looking at obtaining quite a yield this year, but the food that will result is just one of those yields we hope to acquire.

These new garden plots are an example of how my family integrates the values, principles, and framework of a design science called permaculture into how we ethically value, design and live in our physical landscape. However, we also integrate this way of thinking into our learning landscapes as well. Instead of thinking exclusively about natural resources, this framework helps us and our children learn how to value and use natural relationships. Once children start to see how they are connected with, and have a responsibility to others and the earth, they begin to leverage patterns in all areas of learning and life. Learning the skill of ethically and sustainably “obtaining a yield” is one way to help children design and enrich natural relationships – with self, others, and the earth – and nourish life. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Catch and Store Energy

Thinking Tools: Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Superheros are an example of how a complex, interdependent idea like “catch and store energy” can be meaningfully integrated into a child’s learning landscape…

How can the energy that is abundant in everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape be used and valued more efficiently? How can it help them nourish life and care for themselves, others, and the earth? (What about for yourself? How are you catching and storing the energy needed to nourish life of yourself, your family, and community?)

In the very first Learning Landscapes article, I wrote about how I would share more about myself and my personal journey from a more traditional educator to parent-educator who uses experiential education by design. I also want to share details of how my family integrates the values, principles, and framework of a design science called permaculture that is often applied to how we ethically design and live in our physical landscape into our learning landscapes as well.

Instead of thinking exclusively about natural resources, this framework helps us and our children learn how to value and use natural relationships. And, what is energy if not a relationship, the strength and vitality in connection with the people, things, and world around us? Once children start to see how they are connected with, and have a responsibility to, others and the earth they begin to leverage patterns in all areas of learning and life. Learning the skill of catching and storing energy is one way to enrich our natural relationships and nourish life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Empowering Children in Learning Critical Life Skills

Thinking Tools for Community Experiential Education by Design

Warning: You are moving into another dimension – a dimension of place, a dimension of time, and a dimension of space. You’re moving into a landscape of both science and art, of things and ideas. The story you are about to read is true. You’re now crossing over into the Learning Landscapes zone…

Setting: Dad is quietly folding laundry, Antonio (4-years-old) is playing games by himself in the living room, and Lucia (2.5-years-old) is playing with her toy doll and another stuffed animal on the floor in the master bedroom near dad.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Building A Balanced Life System

Foundation of a Learning Landscape

There is a natural symbiotic relationship between the complex life system that comprises healthy soil and all the other elements thriving in that ecosystem. What is the health of the “soil” in your child’s learning landscape?

Ready for a thought-provoking science question? What is the largest, most diverse, and most complex life system (that we know of) in the universe?

When thinking about growing plants in our landscapes, we often think about the need for food, water, energy, and maybe protection from harsh elements or scavengers. However, did you realize you don’t actually “feed” plants organically? You feed the soil and the microorganisms feed the plants. There is a natural symbiotic relationship between the complex life system that comprises healthy soil and all the other elements thriving in that ecosystem. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education

Everyone Should Get Lost in the Forest

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?

Warning: You are moving into another dimension – a dimension of place, a dimension of time, and a dimension of space. You’re moving into a landscape of both science and art, of things and ideas. The story you are about to read is true. You’re now crossing over into the the Learning Landscapes zone…

“Oh no, Mama, we lost the hiking path. I’m too tired to walk alllllll the way back the way we came. How can we get back to our car?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. How can we use what we know about ourselves, hiking and navigation, and what we know about this landscape to get where we want to go?”

Silence… then my son notices the sun setting. Since we parked in the west lot, we should follow the sun. A train whistle cracks the silence. Ah ha! The west lot is near the train station, confirming we need to head that way. But there is no path, so maybe we should head to the edge of the woods. There might be a better way to get back. My two children are using their observational and critical thinking skills to find a solution to this problem.

Now, let me just say that this mother wasn’t lost. Our interests and passions led us to depart from the well-marked walking path to instead forge our own for the day. I stood back while my children’s natural curiosity lead us deeper and deeper into the forest. The journey into the woods started with their questions and natural exploration, so why not let that be our guide to creating our path out?  Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Raspberries this Summer in Your Family Garden

5 Simple Steps for Pruning Raspberries

Stop by one of the many plant sales happening over the next few weekends around Western MA and pick up raspberries dug fresh out of someone’s garden to take home and grown in your own!

Picking ripe raspberries straight off of their canes and popping them into your mouth is a summer delight that kids can carry with them into adulthood as fond memories from their childhood! But perhaps no other small fruit commonly found in Western MA  gardens mystify their owners as do raspberries. And there is no shortage of information out there on how to prune these thorny canes!

As a professional and homeowner I can tell you I am often perplexed on how to prune them after reading one of the numerous tomes written on the subject. To make it easier for families to grow the berries in their home gardens for their children to enjoy, I’ve demystified their care here with 5 simple steps.  These steps assume that you have “summer bearing raspberries ” as opposed to “fall bearing raspberries.” Even if this is not the case, this system of care will work fine:

Read the rest of this entry »

Fresh Berries from the Garden!

Pruning Blueberry Bushes

Here you can see a blueberry bush that has not been pruned for 5 years! It has dozens of branches that are too old to produce much in the way of quality fruit. The interior is cluttered with deadwood and the canopy is filled with branches rubbing against one another.

April is a great month to get the family outdoors and getting their landscape ready for the spring. Families can rake the leaves missed in October, pick up fallen branches, cut perennials back… But the pruning of shrubs is not quite as obvious of a spring chore. While many varieties of shrubs can be pruned at this time of the year, our native blueberries will thrive with regular pruning. Pruning is one of those subjects that often can cause a state of paralysis to even the most seasoned gardener. But when it comes to blueberries, fear not. It is so simple that even your child can do it (providing you tell her that her goat can stay near by)…

Read the rest of this entry »

5 Late Winter Family Gardening Tips

5 Gardening Tips for Late Winter

Starting seeds in early March is an excellent way to get the whole family excited about the arrival of spring.

Spring is just around the corner and planning your garden with your kids while there’s still snow on the ground can be both fun and educational.  There’s no shortage of garden prep that you can be doing right now. Here are five things you can do to plan and prepare for your gardens this summer:

SEED CATALOGS: Gather your kids around and peruse thorough seed catalogs. Not only do some make for good reading (Fedco Seeds is my favorite), but it will give you the opportunity to learn a bit more about the culture of growing specific favorite plants.  Let your kids pick out veggies and flowers they’d like to grow in the garden and get them involved in this late winter tradition.

START SEEDS: This is a great thing to do with kids!  You have not capitulated on getting them that Golden Retriever they have been asking for, but what about giving them that…eggplant they have been asking for?! Ok, they never asked for it, but think what fun for the whole family it would be to start veggie seeds indoors while there’s still snow on the ground? This morning my 5yo daughter Priya was scooping the soil into planting cell for our garden veggies, while my 8yo son Forrest labeled all the plant tags and I sowed the seeds.  It’s a great family activity!

Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Sustainability: UMass Leads the Way!

Growing a Model Sustainable Campus:
UMass Permaculture Documentary Series

UMass Permaculture Committee writes, “Together, we have the unique ability to create huge positive global transformation, and inspire more colleges and universities, towns and cities, and all communities to adopt permaculture and sustainable design principles into their Master Planning. A powerful video can sometimes be a catalyst for this kind of big change, and the goal of this entire project is to inspire direct action.”

With your help, several Western MA elementary schools could be the recipients of a UMass funded, designed and installed permaculture garden!

UMass Permaculture Committee writes, “Please help us to make this video (above) “go viral” and thus, furthering the UMass Amherst and global sustainability movement. Consider posting this video link on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and e-mailing it to family, friends and colleagues. http://bit.ly/Rnx5Ot – If we achieve 50,000 views by September 15, 2012, UMass Permaculture and sponsors will donate fruit and nut trees to 4 local schools, which is part of our vision to co-create more edible, ecological, and educational landscapes throughout the community!”

To see the UMass Permaculture Documentary Series in it’s entirety, follow these links.  Each video is approximately 5mins:

Permaculture Takes Root at Hilltown School

Course to Establish Forest Garden
at Williamsburg Elementary School on May 28th-31st, 2010

Climbing spinach

The garden curriculum at Williamsburg’s Dunphy Elementary School will get a boost this year, when a special kind of garden, known as a Forest Garden, will be built on the school grounds. A Forest Garden includes perennials and annuals, and mimics the layered structure of a forest, utilizing trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers. The garden will include common plants such as strawberries, and lesser-known species such as honeyberry, and perennial climbing spinach.

Sally Loomis of Fertile Ground said, “For several years students and teachers from the Anne T. Dunphy School have been walking to the nearby James School for weekly gardening activities. But most at the Dunphy School have wanted a garden space at their school to expand outdoor learning opportunities beyond weekly lessons. The Dunphy School Forest Garden will provide that space and expand the gardening curriculum for 3rd – 6th grade students.”

Dave Jacke, author of Edible Forest Gardens said, “Kids of all ages can learn so much from a forest garden: science, art, math can all be learned in a forest garden. A forest garden offers more learning opportunities above and beyond an everyday garden, because the focus is on designing specific ecological relationships between plants, insects, and wildlife into the garden. There has been a upsurge in interest in forest gardens all over the country since Edible Forest Gardens was published”

A group of local permaculture teachers and their students will establish the garden during a 3-day Forest Garden Immersion Course, taking place at the Dunphy School over Memorial Day Weekend, May 29th – 31st, 2010. The course is offered to adults, who learn through a mix of classroom and outdoor time. Course participants spend 10 hours of classroom time learning Forest Garden theory and design, including how to design for beneficial ecological relationships between plants, insects, and wildlife. The work of course participants, and funds generated by the course make possible the Dunphy School garden installation.

Benneth Phelps, local farmer and forest garden educator said, “The idea for the course came from an ongoing course at the Epworth Center in High Falls, New York. It’s clear from the interest in Permaculture and Forest Gardening around here, there was no question that we had to bring the course here this year.”

On Friday May 28th at 7pm, the course kicks off with a special lecture, “Gardening Like the Forest: A Forest Garden Introduction,” with Dave Jacke, co-author of Edible Forest Gardens, at the Williamsburg Grange (Route 9). This lecture is a fundraiser for the Dunphy School Forest Garden and is open to the public. $10-$25 suggested donation.

Find out more details about this course at www.mosaicfarm.com, or email Benneth at farmer@mosaicfarm.com, or Alisha at forestgardenimmersioncourse@gmail.com. To find out more about Forest Gardening, visit www.edibleforestgardens.com

Course sponsors include Fertile Ground, School Sprouts, Food Forest Farm, Mosaic Farm and Sage Garden Designs.

Photo credit: (ccl) Lilbenne

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