How inspiration happens

Our heroes inspire me each day. Their kind hearts to help each other. Their patience with each other to grow at their own pace on their own journey. Their courage to share their feelings with each other in moments of hurt or frustration. Their love to believe the best and choose forgiveness. These heroes are growing into a tight-knit community who are bringing the best out in each other. I stand back and smile.

One story from this week that inspired us all was Mia. As one of our oldest heroes who is really strong in reading, she began working with the Grammar Boxes a few months ago. Things were pretty easy until she reached the “Noun 5” Drawer. This drawer asked her to identify the names of the female, male and offspring for various animals. I looked at her and smiled, saying that we would be learning these names together, as there were many even I had never heard of! She nodded, smiling with confidence and we took the plunge.

Twelve times. It took her almost 3 weeks, working on it each day, before she could proudly say that she mastered it this week – without needing to look any words up.

And yet – joy characterized her. She had the space to master it in her own time, on her own accord – and this journey gifted her a deep feeling of satisfaction. She persevered and she overcame, one day at a time.

You know what this joy propelled in her? Increased energy and enthusiasm to continue to persevere and overcome! The very day that she mastered the Noun 5 Drawer, she went on and mastered the Noun 6, Noun 7, Noun 8, Noun 9, Noun 10 and Article 1 Drawers. She was on FIRE! The other heroes’ eyes widened as they learned just how many “works” Mia had completed in our work block that day – which lit a fire in them as well to see how focused they could be and what they could master.

Oh, the beauty and power of our tight-knit learner-driven community… our heroes inspire each other to learn and grow every day!

Ideas, Creativity and Trailblazers

Such bubbling excitement filled the room as the Heroes came back together after their experience at our Children’s Business Fair. As we sat down around our circle, they shared and celebrated what went well for them (“we made a lot of money!” 🙂 ) and what they plan to do differently for the next fair in the Spring. Some shared new ideas of products they hoped to make, while others shared how they wanted to keep having the courage to talk with people they didn’t know. In any case, they were already EXCITED to do this again!

This week, our Heroes continued to discover and practice sharing things they are grateful for, as we wrapped up this session’s focus on Gratitude and Optimism. As we heard the story of the first Thanksgiving and considered what it would be like to be without food or warm shelter in the first cold winter, or how it would feel to lose our family members to disease, they realized first hand how grateful the Pilgrims would feel for the Native Americans who chose love instead of fear or control. When asked what they wanted to do to celebrate Thanksgiving together, they immediately thought of their favorite foods to bring for our “feast” and couldn’t wait to get started on making their costumes!

This is one powerful way that children transform into trailblazers! As we take the time in the studio for the heroes to generate ideas, try them out, reflect, and make adjustments, they build their sense of identify and courage to live life as an active creator of their experiences – instead of being a passive observer or follower. Making costumes in an open, hero-led way is a beautiful example. One hero (as seen above) tried three different ideas before she landed on her final iteration! She felt so proud!

Another example of the heroes learning to create their experience is seen in our “Move-It!” time each day. Each Hero takes a turn choosing a game, and then decides and communicates the rules. The rest of the Heroes embrace the challenge of 1) following the rules – even if they don’t prefer them – and 2) participating with a good attitude – even if they don’t prefer the game. After a short group discussion where Heroes offer ideas to each other for rules, the lead Hero makes a decision and off we go to play the game! This rich experience allows children to learn to become “game makers” – trying out ideas and learning for themselves the balance between freedom and rules in creating a fun game, as well as building empathy, respect and kindness for those who have different ideas and preferences! Some of the Heroes’ favorites so far have been creating different varieties of soccer, “Sharks and Minnows”, and ball tag!

In a world where people can be tempted to silence internal thoughts and passions in the name of “falling in line” or “checking off the boxes” or just doing what “has to be done”, we are casting a different vision. Think big. Discover deep. Have the courage to acknowledge your passions and step out to use them to change the world. After all, what is the value of a community if each of us are not present and offering our gifts? Offering our genuine presence and journey of growth to each other produces a rich, inspiring community where we are known, loved and growing into our potential. This is the beauty of our tight-knit learner-driven community; our children are absorbing the mindset of their value, and how to offer their authentic selves and their gifts to one another in community. No longer will they grow up to be adults content to be a silent observer. We are nurturing active participants in life – creators, trailblazers – world changers. What powerful little seeds.

Paper airplanes + a powerful family journey

I admire it so much when a family chooses the Acton Journey. The courage, humbleness, long-term vision and openness to growth it takes. Parents who choose a road that is narrow and unpaved, yet leading to breathtaking views. Families who forsake the status quo friendships and achievement-based peer culture for their child and take the plunge for a brand new culture that cultivates empathy, a unique and authentic identity, a strong voice and leadership. Parents who recognize that small seeds in time grow strong, towering trees that offer us shade and protection.

I’m excited to share with you one small seed of a powerful story of one of these families.

During our second session, we focused on exploring entrepreneurship with our young band of heroes in the studio. Their challenge: to create a business of their own and sell their products to real, live customers at our fall Omaha Acton Children’s Business Fair, seeing how much profit they could make and how much they would learn.

The constraint: the parents must step back and allow the children to own and drive their experience. This means the parents assume the role of a guide or coach – and leave the decision-making and effort to the child. Even if the child makes a mistake. Even if the child has a very simple booth with a sign drawn by hand. Even if the parent doesn’t think they will win a trophy.

Parents, are your insides tightening together with anxiety, just thinking about this? Yes, releasing our children to go down their journey – allowing them to learn through their mistakes and failures first hand – is one of the most difficult parts, and yet one of the most powerful learning experiences for them.

Something magical happens when children are allowed to create and then experience their own journeys. Freedom to experiment without external, authoritarian pressure. Freedom to make imperfect progress. Freedom to discover their own level of passion for something, instead of hiding behind a parent’s desires, ideas and passions.

Over time, they come out in the open, confident about where they’ve come from and how they’ve arrived to their current place. Confident about an even clearer vision for their future. All of this takes time. A mindset that celebrates imperfect progress – and embraces their unique journey of growth.

Meet George. He is a bright-eyed boy, eternally optimistic and warm-hearted. He loves his parents and lives life with such excitement – ushering joy into our studio each day! He was getting excited about his business – about which he announced, “We are making birdhouses! My dad and I make them, and I help him. He can make so many things out of wood!”

As excited as he was to do this project with his dad, I had a sense that the birdhouses might require more help from his parents than the mission allows. As we reached out to his parents (as is customary for each participant in our fair), a beautiful conversation ensued.

“What does George love to do?” we asked, when his mom wasn’t sure what another business idea might be. Right away she knew.

“Paper airplanes! He comes home from Acton and LOVES building them!”

“That sounds like a great business idea! What if you let him do that,” we encouraged her. And you know what? They did.

George and his younger brother arrived to the Business Fair with with all of the supplies for their booth – a simple white tri-fold poster with “George and Thatcher’s Paper Airplane Surprises” printed out and pasted on in a randomized, creative way, along with their slogan “You’re going to love it”, the price, and many hand-drawn sketches to decorate. Gingerly they set out their basket full of hand-made paper airplanes, each labeled with a number, and set up a variety of chocolates and candies they had brought. With contagious excitement and big smiles they invited passers-by, “Do you want a paper airplane surprise?!” As the customers drew a paper airplane out of the basket, the number dictated whether they had just won a big candy or a small candy along with the airplane. What a creative idea!

Did George and Thatcher win a trophy? No. Did they make a lot of profit? Not by an adult’s perspective. George’s perspective? It was such a rich and fun experience. After paying back their parents for their supplies, George and Thatcher took home $10 each – to which George joyfully commented, “This is the most money I’ve ever made all by myself!”

This is what it’s all about. Not a perfect business completed mostly by parents. It’s about allowing each experience to be more about the child’s journey of growth than the momentary outcome or achievement. It’s about cultivating the passion that we see bubbling up – and encouraging the confidence that springs up as a small shoot at first. This journey requires vision and support from the whole family. It’s a family journey.

Below you’ll find more pictures from the Omaha Acton Children’s Business Fair! Be sure to sign up at www.childrensbusinessfair.org/omaha to be the first to know when the application process opens up for our Spring fair on March 29, 2019!

Here is a complete list of the winners!

Age 5-8 Most Original Business Idea: Phillips Tile & Crafts; Age 5-8 Highest Business Potential: Omaha Kids Company; Age 5-8 Best Presentation/Creativity: Color World; Age 9-11 Most Original Business Idea: Kawaii Designs; Age 9-11 Highest Business Potential: Awesome Acrylics; Age 9-11 Best Presentation/Creativity: Sew Cute; Age 12-16 Most Original Business Idea: Witch & Wizard Emporium; Age 12-16 Highest Business Potential: KM Relievers; Age 12-16 Best Presentation/Creativity: Unicorn Slimes By Bree.

Congratulations to all of our youth for embracing their journeys of growth at the fair!

Little seedlings of passion

Hero-led game: “Welcome aboard the Iceberg Express!”

Although we are enjoying the beauty of fall, this week I was reminded of the little seedlings that come in springtime – for little seeds of beauty, health and LIFE are sprouting in our studio. Seedlings that are growing a stronger root system, day by day.

As we gathered in the afternoons this week for the Heroes to think about various aspects of their businesses for the Omaha Acton Children’s Business Fair coming up, (just 1 week away!) a buzz of excitement filled the room. The Heroes are quick to share with excitement all about what they are selling! Two heroes are selling “Paper Airplane Surprises”, another “Lego Plants”. 3-D printed objects, original Lego creations, art and soap are among the creations the other Heroes are selling. For some, this is their first fair. Others, this is their third fair. Regardless, each is excited to venture along this journey into the unknown and try something new, bubbling up out of their passions.

Setting our goals with excitement to be ready for the fair next week! 🙂

But it hasn’t always been this way.

Last year, for our very first fair, Ethan and Alaya participated, but were hesitant. We helped Ethan choose a business that he could do, and although he liked it at first, he realized he wasn’t really excited about it. This left a hole and a big question mark for him – “What am I excited about?” – a question which he continued to struggle through the entire past year. At 5 years old, Alaya started a business which was fun for her, but when it came time to interact with the people who came by her booth at the fair, she shrunk back and hid her face.

Over the past year, as another fair opportunity came into view and the Acton Omaha Tribe was formed this fall, a shift happened in Ethan and Alaya, which has been reflected in the rest of our tribe of Heroes as well – a passion to create, to build, to interact with and influence others. Now, I see Ethan and Alaya going door-to-door in our neighborhood, selling anything they think is of value to the neighbors – and not getting bogged down in the “no’s” that they get.

What is this shift?

It’s a little seedling. A seedling of LIFE that is sprouting and growing inside each Hero. In this seedling they are tasting what passion feels like – and the joy that hard work on a passion brings. No, these Heroes aren’t just building businesses for the fair – they are discovering and building themselves. They are learning to live their lives in a forward stance – one that builds, creates and solves problems – instead of a stance that leans backward, complaining about life as a victim.

This is where the unleashing of a joy-filled life happens. I’m so proud of these 7 Heroes and the journey of discovery they are on!

A Hero-Led Halloween

Welcome to our Hero-created “Spooky” Studio! 🙂

“Miss Rachel, Miss Rachel!!” One of our youngest heroes got my attention with excitement.

“Yes?” I responded curiously.

“What are we going to do for our Halloween party?! Can we decorate cookies and wear COSTUMES?!”

“Hmmm… I wonder what we should do for our party?” I mused. “We will have to talk about it at our ending circle today. Let’s make sure we remember to talk about that, ok?!”

Later we found ourselves sitting in a circle, and discussing ideas with excitement. “We should wear costumes!” one child shouted out. “…and decorations! I love decorations!” shared another. “What about that snack with dirt and worms…like with OREOS!!” another ventured, greeted with much agreement from the others. “And what about slimy stuff like eyeballs that you feel with your eyes closed so you don’t know what it is?!” another Hero offered. “I’ve done that before, that was SO FUN!!”

As we sorted through the many ideas and landed on each person’s passionate offering, the heroes went about their day with smiles and hopeful excitement for the party they were planning!

We all felt very “safe” with a SWAT team member, Flash and two Firefighters in the studio! Not to mention two powerful Mermaid Princesses and one very wise Hermione! 🙂

How often do our children’s little glimmers of ideas have the space to grow and come to life? In this adult-focused world, at an adult-focused pace, it can be a rare occurrence. How beautiful it is when a child’s ideas are shared in an environment where there is room for them to dream, to ideate, and to make their idea come to life! Talk about releasing a feeling of purpose and competence – ushering in JOY!

Roar!!! We are eating dirt, worms and EYEBALLS!! SO courageous 😉

Yes, our Hero-led Halloween party was one for the books. They helped decorate and even helped think about the “flow” of how the day should go. The best part for me was seeing how excited they were to see their own ideas come to life. And how much fun they had in the whole process – in the simple things.

It’s in the simple things they experience growth and joy. As an adult, I can sometimes forget that. Such a beautiful lesson they are teaching me!

There is room…to be.

“He’s king of the playground!!”

We are creating a nurturing place where children can discover life; to be awakened to their passions and talents; to taste the joy found in empathy, love and embracing of others different from themselves; and to appreciate the imperfect-yet-beautiful journey of growth each of us are on.

The beautiful thing about children is…they are naturally very empathetic and loving. They are quick to give second chances to disappointed studiomates and quick to believe the best in a difficult situation. What I’ve discovered on this journey – as the guide, I set the tone and influence their thinking with any labels I use. If I am focused on accountability and classifying a child’s actions as “right” or “wrong”, they begin to address each other in a similar manner, losing their grip on choosing love and their natural sense of believing the best. As a reflection I see in a mirror, what a beautiful gift this is to me as a guide. A chance to self-correct. And so I do. As I look deeper in the difficult moment, I see the tender little seedling springing up – and I nurture it. Through my words and love, I invite that forth with great joy – and at the same time allow the room to be.

And guess what? The heroes joyfully follow me there.

Frustration turns to empathy. Anger melts into encouragement. They are quick to cheer on another fellow hero on their journey of fighting the same monsters they’ve all fought before.

Discovering they could make their own “phones” as they prepared their “folding surprise” art!

And so, day by day, a culture of freedom, love, creativity and authentic growth is sprouting. There is room for children to be, to soak in love and slowly unfold to reveal a genuine self at peace. There is room for children to learn to lead. There is room for children to discover the joy encased in offering themselves in real help to others. There is room for children to discover their passions – and even more so – their authentic selves.

A cold, frosty morning made for so many fun discoveries!

This journey is beautiful. I’m so grateful for our band of 7 heroes and their families as we trailblaze the path for many more to come.

“I love it that you don’t give up”

Whether losing a game or a vote, engaging a challenging work, or failing to make it across the monkey bars – our heroes have experiences every day that disappoint them.

And yet – after the tears have run their course and hugs have been received, they inevitably have a choice to make; will I stay sad and give up, or will I choose to be a hero? And then I hear cheering happening (sometimes welcomed and sometimes not – and yet, it is CHEERING!) – “Yay ____ (insert name)!!! And even a chanting of their name, as their studio mates encourage them to keep getting up; to keep trying again.

Slowly, but surely, it is happening. Our heroes are learning to get back up – facing and then living beyond their disappointments.

This week, we had the privilege of celebrating our first birthday in the studio! Instead of our daily “secret question” challenge, we engaged in “secret card-making” :-). Each hero made their own birthday card with a secret message inside of what they love and admire about the birthday hero. Then, as the afternoon ceremony drew closer, we gathered around the seasons mat and celebration sun to admire the miracle of LIFE on planet earth and the miracle of life inside each one of us. As the birthday hero carried the globe on the path around the sun, we went around the circle and shared what we admire about her. Many shared how kind she is, how empathetic to others’ feelings she is, and even mentioning that she is powerful and strong. Another hero (who is also learning how to live beyond disappointment) shared, “I love it that you don’t give up.” Such a beautiful little glimmer of the seeds that are being sown deep into their hearts.

If our children discover a love of learning coupled with a strong growth mindset to receive disappointments as learning opportunities and to GET BACK UP, we will be preparing them to discover their impact in real life. There inlies the gold, and my deepest desire for our heroes.