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.
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!
“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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our heroes have embarked on a journey where they are experiencing the excitement that comes with challenges overcome and the struggle that comes from growth and learning. They are learning how to get back up when they fall, choosing hope and power in the face of trial. Day to day, growth can seem insignificant and slow. However, as we stop to reflect and remember where we’ve come from, we see the beautifully imperfect progress we’ve made. This idea came to life in our first ever studio exhibition we hosted for the parents at the end of our first session – a time to draw a line in the sand and choose to commit to what it means to be a part of our Acton Omaha community. Life brings about small moments where we must decide; those small decisions become a stake that is driven down into our hearts, orienting us to who we are choosing to become.
In the days leading up to the exhibition, the heroes came up with their own ideas of what our foundational guardrails meant to them: 1) I promise to keep our studio as a sacred place; 2) I promise to speak with kindness, encouragement and truth; and 3) I promise to never distract myself or others. As they collaborated, brainstormed and worked together to synthesize the ideas into what is most important to them, I witnessed ownership of our culture sprouting up. If a hero saw wrestling in the studio going on, they reminded each other that “no wrestling” was a part of their contract to each other. And they listened. Most of the time :-).
As the heroes arrived to school on the day of our first studio exhibition, much excitement filled the air. Heroes smiled big as they welcomed their parents into their studio, eyeing the different setup of the room and the special snack displayed up front. They couldn’t wait to show them all that they’d been learning on their new Acton adventure.
As heroes and parents found their seats, we stepped into a sacred time – the time we had been preparing for since the beginning; sharing our contract of promises with the community and making our choice to commit to it. Each hero, one by one, was invited to the front of the room. Each shared which promise was most important to them and why, then affirmed their commitment to abide by the contract of promises they helped to create – finally signing their name on each of the three parts of the contract. Each felt the gravity of what they were doing, and each made the choice to commit. As they picked out a rose to present to their parents who signed the parent contract alongside, with beaming faces they shared a precious moment as they began this journey, together as a family.
“I think keeping the studio sacred is most important because, you know – this is a really nice place to come and have school…and I want it to stay nice!” one hero shared. Another shared that since the studio has a TV he wants it to be kept sacred. Even one hero, who has struggled at times to share his thoughts, bravely chose to participate. “Speaking with kindness, encouragement and truth is most important to me because I want to have friends”.
As the heroes went on to share their favorite parts of the studio with their parents, as a guide it was precious to overhear their expressions – sharing about living in their challenge zone, monsters overcome and what they are proud of themselves for. Indeed, this was a special day that has etched a sense of commitment and celebration of growth along the beginning of this journey in each hero!
As the heroes are beginning to settle into studio life and starting to feel more comfortable with each other, it is inevitable that frustrations begin to surface. It may be a sibling’s uniqueness that annoys another sibling, a disappointment when a hero must wait patiently to use a certain material, or the rubbing of two different passionate viewpoints on the playground.
And yet, what a beautiful opportunity each day for the heroes to press into real life and learn real skills – like how to resolve conflicts and respect each other. This process of learning to navigate relationships is a daily, one-step-at-a-time journey.
The Heroes learned this week that they are a group of real-life Avengers. Each with special powers and gifts that help the group win and are different from each other. What they didn’t realize, though, was that they were under attack. A monster called Conflict was seeking to destroy them. If Conflict was able to keep the Avengers frustrated and unable to work with each other, their powers wouldn’t be strong enough to defeat him – and all would be destroyed. The Heroes had to build up their combined superhero strength – and fast. Only 4 minutes remained until Conflict would be near enough to completely overtake them. The only way to build up strength was through a tool called Conflict Resolution. So we practiced what to do – sharing “I feel ___ when you ___” statements with each other, and responding to each other saying, “I hear you saying that you feel ___ when I ___ – is that true?” We talked about how when we feel hurt or angry, it may feel like our heart is like a crumpled piece of paper; and how important it is to give space for each other’s heart to unwind and become uncrumpled again. So as the heroes shared their feelings, they gave their crumpled hearts to each other. Then, as the receiving hero listened and paraphrased what they heard, they would slowly begin to uncrumple the other hero’s paper heart. What a neat picture of empathy. Through motivated and focused hard work, the heroes were able to build up enough combined superhero power to defeat the enemy! They did 18 conflict resolutions in the 4 minutes! Woo hoo! They saved the world again!
Each day we have been practicing these skills in the ebbs and flows of studio life – seeking to live with uncrumpled hearts. I’ve even seen siblings choose to have a conflict resolution (or “conflict revolution” as my daughter says) instead of continuing to be mad at each other. Other times, they aren’t quite ready yet. However, these moments of courage as they choose to etch a new skill into their moldable hearts are precious. They are powerful seeds that will yield much fruit in their lives as they continue to grow!
As our 7 heroes shake hands to greet me each morning and step across the rocky threshold to playground, they magically transform. They step into a special world where they are a hero and bravely fight monsters of all kinds. They call on one another for help and wield their special powers together as a team (most of the time :-)) “Hulk, we need you!!” I hear them say. Or when Hulk starts crying with an “owie”, they acknowledge him and say, “Sorry Hulk!” and off they go with smiles. Yes, I’m pleased to introduce you to Hulk, Batman, Ironman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Super Girl, and Leader (affirmed by this tribe as the leader of them all)! The special world of the playground is like a “hero training ground” where they push themselves and try new things with courage.
And do you know what is beautiful? The heroes are beginning to internalize what it means to be a hero. Heroes fight monsters – and we definitely had some monsters to fight and catch this week in the studio! As the heroes and I sat around our morning circle, I called them by their playground hero identities and whispered to them that I needed their help. There was a monster on the loose that was seeking to destroy each of them. We started to co-create the story of what each hero did to fight the monster and what happened as a result. As each hero tried their power on the monster, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. In fact, at one point the monster swallowed all of the heroes whole. They thought all was lost, until Ironman used his power to split the monster in two from the inside. The heroes were freed! Until they realized that this huge monster had begun to split into thousands of mini monsters, much like worms that are cut in half. They were everywhere. Another hero was able to use her power to make all of the monsters freeze in mid-action, and scientists were able to study them.
The scientists were able to give us a report of who these monsters were, and what it takes to catch them. Although now hundreds of monsters exist, we discovered there were only three different kinds: Resistance, Victimhood and Distraction. Each was merely a copy of one of these three. We learned that Resistance tries to make heroes get stuck, saying “I’m not going to do it!”. We discovered the key to get free from Resistance is movement. Victimhood tries to make heroes think, “There is nothing I can do about this!” We discovered the key to get free from Victimhood’s grasp is to make a choice – since we always have choices. Distraction? We learned that he’s very sneaky. Distraction at first seems like such a good, fun monster. He offers you everything you want – like cake, a party or a laugh. Except it’s only later you find out that the seemingly good things he offers are actually poisonous. He is not a good monster at all. What’s the key to get free from Distraction? We discovered it is by choosing to focus on something.
As the heroes were introduced to these three monsters, they were invited into the challenge of catching as many as possible. As we spread these monster faces all across the room, each hero was blindfolded and led to a monster by a studio mate, who then acted like the monster they had come upon – and if the blindfolded hero correctly guessed the monster, they caught it!
It has been amazing to see our heroes begin to internalize the fact that fighting monsters as a hero is normal – and we celebrate each time a hero overcomes/catches a monster by giving them a little token monster they get to color and keep in their “monster collection”. I’ve seen our heroes encourage each other when they are battling a monster, saying, “You can do it! We need you!!” and even at times begin chanting the hero’s name. These moments are precious. They show the tribal connections that are beginning to form.
One other story from this week…
During Studio Maintenance on Friday, more playing than cleaning was happening. In these moments, I remind the heroes of what is at stake – their extra outside playing time- if they end up using all of this time during studio maintenance. The oldest hero was the only one at that moment doing his job. And he was feeling frustrated about that. “I’m so frustrated that I’m the only one doing my job… and I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE!!”
“Would you like to see who else wants to finish this so they can go outside?” I asked him. Off he went. Soon, he found the other two oldest heroes who also wanted to work hard and go outside. We went and sat together on the gray rug, and began to reflect together (as the younger heroes were still running circles around us :-p). I asked them, “What guardrails are the others not upholding right now?” They reflected. “Are there any promises that should be up there that aren’t?” I asked. “No running in the studio,” one said. “No wrestling,” another other said. As the heroes are currently working on creating their own contract of promises to each other, I invited them to write these ideas up on our list to try. When some of the other younger heroes decided to come join the discussion, we made room for the older heroes to share feedback with the younger ones, and share the ideas of promises they had come up with. We took a vote, and the oldest heroes voted in the new promises to try out before they are added to the contract.
What a beautiful example of how, day by day, the strength of the tribe to own their learning and experience is being formed!