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In early childhood, children are developing skills at school to help build a strong foundation for cooperative social play. During early childhood, kids actively seek ways to assert their own identities and to find ways to be powerful. Unfortunately, because of their developmental level, young children often don’t know how to make themselves feel more powerful without it being at the expense of another. They often look for “advantages”—who runs faster, who’s currently using the pink scissors, who has the biggest muffin in their snack box. For young children, as strange as this may seem, this is the work of finding their place in the world.

As kids begin to feel safe at school and want to play with other kids, they bring their naturally spontaneous and playful nature to these interactions. However, these same social impulses can be unpredictable and hurtful. As they play, stethoscopes get snatched and friends get elbowed out. As young children learn how to enter and sustain play, how to be friends and to bounce back from rejection, their social skills grow. Young children often disagree intensely, which can be distressing to adults, but which is part of learning who they are.

Young children naturally move from parallel play (alone or next to other kids, with separate ideas) to cooperative play, in which children share a common idea or theme, working together to negotiate rules and roles of the moment. In new situations like beginning at a new school, we may see children return to a less mature kind of play until they feel relaxed enough to jump into their more sophisticated ways of playing.

Some Preschool and Kindergarten friendships are serene and calm, but many are turbulent and variable. On the way to learning to cooperate and compromise, we adults may wince at hearing their words: “I had it first! You’re not my friend.” “No, my idea is more cool. You can’t play here.” “Only girls can climb up here—no boys allowed!”

All of us want our children to be generous and friendly and well-liked. As parents and teachers, how do we support this? Some of the ways we do this at Oak Grove include:

Observing without judgment. We keep in mind the age level of individual children and the social dynamics that come with that. We know that children have their individual temperament—some prefer playing with friends to everything else and play with a wide variety of children. Others take time to warm up and prefer playing with one or two special friends in familiar, small groups. Some prefer to lead play and others to follow; we encourage opportunities for kids to fulfill the opposite role in play.

Respecting their friendship choices. We respect children’s right to choose (sometimes two children are discovering a special connection) while making sure that feelings aren’t hurt and that there is space for a third child to connect and belong elsewhere.

Facilitating their learning to resolve conflicts independently and peacefully. When arguments erupt, we guide children in expressing their feelings and needs, in listening, and in coming to mutual solutions.

Active listening. We listen actively to children—to understand their feelings and goals at a specific moment and to reflect them back. Instead of stepping in (ordering them to let kids play), we strive to remain attentive to children without imparting our own feelings, values, or judgments. Our focus is on reflecting back the heart of children’s thoughts or feelings, which helps us to focus on understanding the child, instead of trying to explain, fix, or solve their dilemmas.

When children come to us with a hurt or complaint, we listen closely and restate a condensed version of what we hear. We “check-in” to help make sure we’ve correctly understood the child’s basic message. “It sounds like you were worried your play would be interrupted,” or “Today, she only wanted to play with him, and you’re feeling sad. Are you wondering whether she is still your friend?”

Active listening connects us with children but also models reflecting on their own words and feelings. Over time, we hope they’ll begin to see other perspectives: “How do you think she felt when you said to go away?” Young children are still learning self-regulation and empathy, and trying on another’s feelings can be a startling idea for them.

We may gently push them to own their own choices. Instead of offering a solution, we might ask, “What do you think your next step could be?” The child won’t immediately see the situation from another point of view, but the simple act of seeing that there are lots of possible solutions to a seemingly impossible problem is empowering. By responding with empathy, adults give children the opportunity to pause and move forward when they’re ready to.

As young children grow, they often explore feeling powerful through language, discovering (to our dismay) name-calling and excluding.

Exclusionary play—when friendship hurts:
Excluding is a natural impulse for young children. As two children or a small group solidify their friendship, they may exclude other children from their play. When a child orders another away from her play, she may be thinking, “He and I are in the middle of our pretend play and if another friend joins us now, it will ruin our story.” That thought is often verbalized as, “Go away!” This is because children generally aren’t sure what holds their play together and may fear that the pleasure of their play will be lost if they let another child join in. Exclusionary play can bond two children together: “We are friends if we agree with each other, and right now we both say ‘no’ to playing with you.”

When engaged in cooperative play, a question keeps coming up for kids: Who’s making the decisions about our play? A lot of negotiating goes on as children experiment with ways to have control over their firefighter or mommy play. This includes threatening: “You have to be the baby brother puppy or you can’t play with us” or “Give me the silver bucket or you can’t come to my birthday party.”

Children also exclude to investigate the role of power in affecting other children’s feelings: “If I say you can’t play here, will it make you cry?”

Kids often don’t understand the boundaries of friendship—if they are playing with someone, then they’re “friends,” and if they’re not playing with someone, they’re “not friends.” This means they might say, “You’re not my friend any more,” rather than “You can’t play with us right now.”

Excluding other children also springs from the cognitive developmental stage in which children begin to categorize. People in their family are different from people not in their family. Realizing that some people are like them and others are different, they often use those categories to exclude other children: “Only boys can play!” “We don’t want anyone here who has short hair!”

Teachers make sure that no child is excluded based on an attribute or affinity with which they are born, like gender, race, ethnicity, or ability, or a social category like family differences.

We include children in problem-solving. A powerful way to approach exclusionary play is to acknowledge the play that is going on. Because kids worry about a loss of control of their play, this reassures them. “It looks like you’re building a strong dam for the pond.” Once kids hear their play acknowledged, they have more confidence that it won’t be overridden and less resistance to having someone else join in.

We also might invite children’s ideas about ways their play could be extended to make room for others: “Do you need someone to carry the doctor tools and the groceries?” This often helps children find a way to open their play to another.

Adults might need to find ways to help expand children’s play, so if there isn’t room for more passengers in the wagon, we wonder out loud about bigger ideas: “Do we need to set up a ‘wagon washing station’?” This way everyone who wants to can join in.

It’s important to make sure the child who’s being excluded has a voice. We don’t speak for children (which puts them in a passive role), but check in with them: “How do you feel about that idea?” or “How does it feel when kids say that?” Whether an excluded child gets into play isn’t as important as being heard when they express their feelings, so we make sure others listen to what she has to say.

We keep play areas open for all children: “The slide is for everyone.” We arrange the classroom to provide limits at times, like the “two-person table” for art projects.

We establish ground rules for safety: “Those are hurtful words. It’s not okay to use those kinds of names with kids. What’s another way to say what you’re trying to say?” or “I wonder if you’re trying to tell her, ‘I just want to play with him right now.’”

Fortunately, as children grow older (though sometimes much older), they are more capable of understanding multiple points of view, think through their choices, and predict natural consequences to events. They become better able to understand that yelling, “Go away!” is not a great way to keep a friend.

Children’s friendships will be developing and changing all through the year (and through the years). Relationships in Preschool and Kindergarten are based on the here-and-now, and supporting them is ongoing work for teachers and parents. As busy adults, it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing judge and jury for social collisions between children. We may say, “Play nice!” or “Time out!” or “I’m going to put that tool away!” none of which are helpful solutions. But as long as we continue to mediate and “resolve” their conflicts for them, we prevent children from practicing those crucial skills themselves. Instead, it’s helpful to think of ourselves as attentive observers and guides for children as they do the work of learning how to be a friend.

Over time, these responses help increase the level of trust between adults and children. Kids learn that we are there for them in this complex process of navigating friendships. With our support, over time, children begin to understand that what they say and do affects others. When they trust that adults respect their ideas and clarify safe limits, they’re more willing to work together toward mutually satisfying solutions, and the rocky road of friendship can be a little smoother.

— Adrienne Hoskins

By Will Hornblower

Across the Oak Grove campus, parents and staff have been discussing strategies to improve the way that adults connect and communicate with children. Over the course of three workshops, we brainstormed ways to help students develop resilience, autonomy, and rapport with adults.

We started by posing a question to a gathering of the entire Oak Grove School staff and teachers: How should we talk to students at Oak Grove? This evolved into the obvious counterpoint: How shouldn’t we talk to students at Oak Grove? The teachers generated some excellent strategies. Here are some that might be of benefit in the home:

“The do’s” of adult-child communication:

Faculty and staff generated some “Do’s and Don’t’s” on how we communicate with children on campus.

  • Body language equals words: show children that you are giving them your full attention by engaging in active listening. Here is a link to some active listening advice for those interested in practicing at home.
  • Use “I” messages to communicate your feelings. Communicate your feelings honestly, and encourage children to communicate their feelings using “I messages” as well.
  • When praising a child, praise the process and not the person or result. Instead of saying, “You are so good at math!“, try saying, “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.” Here is more information on recent research on the effects of different types of praise in encouraging a growth mindset.

“The do not’s” of adult-child communication:

  • Avoid making assumptions or leaping to conclusions when communicating with children. Often, we are only projecting our own anxiety onto the child. In her wonderful book, Peaceful Parent, Happy KidsDr. Laura Markham writes: “When we are worried, we usually feel an urgent need to take action. That alleviates our own anxiety but doesn’t necessarily give the child what he needs. So the first intervention is always becoming aware of and regulating our own emotions.”
  • Avoid comparisons when your child is within earshot, especially comparisons to siblings. Kids are always interested in what adults have to say about them, and this can shape their own feelings of self-worth.

Strategies for Elementary Students

Every time you talk to a child you are adding a brick to define the relationship that is being built between the two of you. And each message says something to the child about what you think of him. He gradually builds up a picture of how you perceive him as a person. Talk can be constructive to the child and to the relationship or it can be destructive. – Thomas Gordon

Our first parent education workshop discussed communication strategies for younger students to help them develop resilience, autonomy, and executive function. Here are some strategies that we came up with:

Routines and rituals that help to encourage connection and communication:

Calming your child during moments of extreme anxiety or agitation:

Strategies to use when your child is struggling with his/her social or academic life:

Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:


Strategies for Secondary Students

As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers their need is not to need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent of us.  – Dr. Haim G. Ginott

Our second parent education workshop discussed communication strategies for older students to help them retain healthy attachments and strong connections with their parents and caregivers:

Routines and rituals that help to encourage connection and communication:

  • Electronics-free times such as meals or even encouraging an entire screen-free day.
  • Sharing common interests and hobbies: sometimes conversations flow better when engaged in a common task like cooking, hiking, or surfing.
  • Game nights and playing music together.
  • Going out on a one-on-one “date night.”
  • Being enthusiastic at child’s sports and performance events.

Approaching difficult conversations such as discussions on sex, substance abuse, or peer conflict

  • Using facts and discussing current research as opposed to voicing opinions. A calm demeanor and positive body language also help to avoid activating a child’s defense response.
  • Using movies, tv shows, or current events as teachable moments or to discuss sensitive issues.
  • Talking about issues in abstract terms or using another person’s experience as opposed to asking personal questions.
  • Do not make assumptions about your child’s views on alcohol, sex, or other sensitive topics.
  • Have a plan for when your child asks you about your own teenage experiences.
  • Choose your moment to have a conversation; don’t “ambush” your child with a difficult conversation.

Strategies around electronics use to avoid miscommunication and to promote connection

Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:


Here is a link to a schedule of our upcoming parent education workshops.

From the Head of School

 

The intention of Oak Grove School was established by our founder, J. Krishnamurti. He communicated this intention through dialogues, talks, and written works, most explicitly in Letters to the Schools, which he wrote from 1978 to 1981. Although Krishnamurti shared a great deal on the topic of education, he intentionally did not leave a blueprint, nor did he give any individual or school the authority to interpret his teachings for others.

The purpose of Oak Grove School, as inspired by the teachings of Krishnamurti, is to provide functional knowledge while simultaneously honoring each student’s innate intelligence with the goal of realizing human potential, not only for the individual’s sake, but for the sake of humanity.

Providing an excellent academic program is vital. One must learn to communicate well and be able to deeply explore maths, recognize great works of poetry and art, have a solid concept of world religions, geography, and science, develop skills in organization, use tools (physical and technological), be comfortable with public speaking, create and read music, and explore a somatic understanding of one’s body through sports, yoga, breathing, and dance. One must be able to develop proficiency in exploring the natural world and travel in cultures different from one’s own.

What, however, is required for the honoring of one’s innate intelligence? This aspect of our purpose is a bit more difficult to implement, as the teachings suggest there is no way or method. We approach this, therefore, with openness and inquiry, opportunities for self-reflection, silence, pure observation, physical and psychological space, stretching our comfort zone, exploring our relationship to nature, ourselves, others and the world. All this could be seen as within the realm of self-understanding as a way to awaken the individual child’s perfect intelligence.

Having a school without an explicit blueprint is an awesome challenge, which asks us to actively question and look at how we provide the opportunity to learn functional knowledge while at the same time exploring the intelligence within ourselves. It is a never-ending process of observation and inquiry.

“Education in our schools is not only the acquisition of knowledge but what is far more important – the awakening of intelligence which will then utilize knowledge. It is never the other way round. The awakening of intelligence is our concern in all these schools and the inevitable question then arises: how is this intelligence to be awakened? What is the system, what is the method, what is the practice? This very question implies that one is still functioning in the field of knowledge. The realization that it is a wrong question is the beginning of the awakening of intelligence. The practice, the method, the system in our daily life make for a matter of routine, a repetitive action and so a mechanical mind. The continuous movement of knowledge, however specialized, puts the mind into a groove, into a narrow way of life. To learn to observe and understand this whole structure of knowledge is to begin to awaken intelligence.”

Letters to the Schools, November 1, 1978

From the Head of School

 

On Friday our Junior High and High School students returned from the annual Secondary School camping trip to El Capitán State Beach. Over several days, they surfed and kayaked in the ocean, participated in fireside talent shows, storytelling, and sing-alongs. As I shared here last year when our Seniors returned from India, Oak Grove trips offer our students opportunities to grow and learn in ways not possible in a classroom.

Beginning in Kindergarten, immersive trips enhance learning through direct hands-on experiences that are central to the Oak Grove experience. Kindergarten students practice spending the night at “school,” but still as a family and on the school campus, somewhere familiar and safe. Then in early Elementary, the camp-out moves away to Carpinteria, first with parents, then the following year, without parents. The students practice being with teachers and peers away from home, but geographically close. In Upper Elementary, the focus is on going to places further away with more physically challenging activities: group bike rides, longer hikes, and bouldering. Then they are off to our local forest carrying their own packs, swimming in water holes, and out of cell phone range. In Junior High, students travel by plane to other states to sleep in teepees, to river raft, and study glacier science. By High School, the students are ready to take 6-10 day treks through the forest and Southwest without contacting parents.

Each trip offers new opportunities for the student to engage with nature, learn to pack only the essentials to keep the pack light, respect the natural environment, stay on the trail, pack in and pack out what they bring, stretch beyond their comfort zone and practice survival skills. The trips are increasingly challenging physically and require a deepening psychological preparedness.

These trips, however, are not just for our students. These trips are also for parents.

From the moment of birth our children begin growing away from us. Each moment brings new opportunities for children to gain confidence in their ability to be separate, for parents to trust that the child is capable of separating, and for both to trust that this separation is natural and safe. These trips allow the child and parent an ever-increasing practice in separating.

There are things that cannot be learned conceptually—digging a hole in the wilderness to go to the bathroom, overcoming a fear of water or heights, pushing ourselves physically beyond what our mind believes is possible (just one more step), and, perhaps the most difficult of them all, letting a child grow away from us.

 

From the Head of School

All of the Krishnamurti schools are located on large campuses of great natural beauty, with austere but comfortable classrooms. This is partly because the schools share an emphasis on relationship with and care for the natural world.

Yesterday at the May Gathering, a panel of students presented their experiences attending Oak Grove School, as it relates to its emphasis on a relationship with nature. The students ranged in age from elementary through high school, and included a former student. The panelists were thoughtful and articulate. They spoke eloquently about the importance of keeping Oak Grove’s campus natural and open with just a few rustic buildings. They shared their school experiences exploring the local meadows, ocean, rivers and forest. They spoke about traveling to the Grand Tetons, Zion Park, and India. Their stories were vivid and one could feel the sincerity in their words.

Most profoundly, perhaps, was each student’s ability to articulate our collective responsibility to care for the natural world from which we, as humans, are not separate.

“The death of a tree is beautiful in its ending, unlike man’s. A dead tree in the desert, stripped of its bark, polished by the sun and the wind, all its naked branches open to the heavens, is a wondrous sight. A great redwood, many, many hundreds of years old, is cut down in a few minutes to make fences, seats, and build houses or enrich the soil in the garden. The marvellous giant is gone. Man is pushing deeper and deeper into the forests, destroying them for pasture and houses. The wilds are disappearing. There is a valley, whose surrounding hills are perhaps the oldest on earth, where cheetahs, bears and the deer one once saw have entirely disappeared, for man is everywhere. The beauty of the earth is slowly being destroyed and polluted. Cars and tall buildings are appearing in the most unexpected places. When you lose your relationship with nature and the vast heavens, you lose your relationship with man.”

J. Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Bulletin 56, 1989

 

In many cultures, graduation from High School is seen as the most significant threshold moment marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. On June 6, 2018, we were given the opportunity to bear witness to this significant symbolic event for 10 young adults who completed their Oak Grove education. Please enjoy hearing directly from each graduate in the videos below.

Our class of 2018 consisted of ten students. The nine who applied to four-year colleges and universities have collectively been accepted into 37 schools. This is an average of four acceptances per student and this average is not unusual for Oak Grove seniors. The schools (listed below) include major public universities and colleges, independent and public liberal arts colleges, and specialized art schools. While this is impressive, and we joyfully celebrate this accomplishment with our students, it is also important to know that it is not our objective to have all of our graduates go directly from high school to a four-year college.

Class of 2018 college acceptances: Bennington College, Butler University, California College of the Arts, Cal Lutheran, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Long Beach, Chico State University, Case Western Reserve, Colorado College, Colorado Springs College, DePauw University, Goucher College, Humboldt State, Lewis and Clark, LIM College, Northeastern University, Otis College of Art and Design, Pacific University, Portland State, Pratt Institute, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, Sierra Nevada College, Sonoma State University, Towson University, University of British Columbia, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, University of Kansas, University of Oklahoma, University of Puget Sound, University of Utah, Willamette University.

Introduction by Jodi Grass, Head of School

Music performance by the 2018 graduating class

Nathan Wu

Ophena De La Rosa

Bryce Brewer

Sydney Stump

Jackson Mitchell

Isabella Xiong

Sycamore Mitchell

McKenna Lynch

Peter Hu

Grace Story

Jennifer Thompson, Senior Advisor

Conferment of Diplomas

 

From the Head of School

The end of the school year is fast approaching which signals transition to many things—the completion of a grade, the advancement from one program to the next, the excitement of an Ojai summer and time with friends and family. For our seniors, this transition is particularly poignant as in this culture, completion of high school marks the symbolic end of childhood.

Our class of 2018 consists of ten students. The nine who applied to four-year colleges and universities have collectively been accepted into 37 schools. This is an average of four acceptances per student and this average is not unusual for Oak Grove seniors. The schools (listed below) include major public universities and colleges, independent and public liberal arts colleges, and specialized art schools. While this is impressive, and we joyfully celebrate this accomplishment with our students, it is also important to know that it is not our objective to have all of our graduates go directly from high school to a four-year college.

Some of our students choose to pursue a personal passion directly after Oak Grove. Sophia Grunder (2013) has made her lifelong dream of being an artisan chocolatier a reality. Today, alongside her mentor, Jennifer Smith, Sophia owns and operates the exquisite Ex Voto Chocolates in Ventura. Some Oak Grove graduates choose to defer their college acceptances and take a gap year, like Emilie Del Signore (2017), who has spent this past year traveling through the American Southwest and western Europe. This summer Emilie is planning to trek across Zavkhan, Mongolia, before beginning her studies at Syracuse University in the fall. We also have several students who chose to attend one of California’s excellent local Community Colleges to complete their general education requirements while staying closer to home, saving money, and perhaps pursuing other passions. Dane Wilson (2014) who spent several years with the US Sailing Olympic Development Program before heading to San Diego State University.

Oak Grove High School has a challenging college preparatory scope and sequence curriculum not because we think all students should go directly from high school to a four-year university, but because we want every student to have the choice of going directly to a university if that is what is right for them. More importantly, we want our students to be well educated with a solid and well rounded academic foundation for whatever they choose to do in life.

Class of 2018 College acceptances:
Bennington College, Butler University, Cal College of Art, Cal Lutheran, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Long Beach, Chico State University, Case Western Reserve, Colorado College, Colorado Springs College, DePauw University, Goucher College, Humboldt State, Lewis and Clark, LIM College, Northeastern University, Otis College of Art and Design, Pacific University, Portland State, Pratt Institute, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, Sierra Nevada College, Sonoma State University, Towson University, University of British Columbia, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, University of Kansas, University of Oklahoma, University of Puget Sound, University of Utah, Willamette University.

 

From the Head of School

At the deepest level of our mission is the notion that if one is intrinsically motivated, not striving for external stature, for fame, for wealth, one would clearly understand the connection between one’s actions and all of life. One would understand there is nowhere else to be, but where one finds oneself now. One would naturally reveal one’s personal talents and thrive. Krishnamurti referred to this idea as “flowering in goodness.”  Here, in this place of completeness, we understand that it is in the ordinary moments that we find the extraordinary.

This idea reminds me of what William Martin writes in the “The Parents’ Tao Te Ching.”

 

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

 

Another excerpt states …

 

“If you always compare your children’s abilities to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, they will lose their own power. If you urge them to acquire and achieve, they will learn to cheat and steal to meet your expectations. Encourage you children’s deepest joys, not their superficial desires. Praise their patience, not their ambition. Do not value the distractions and diversions that masquerade as success. They will learn to hear their own voice instead of the noise of the crowd.”

 

You can find out more about William Martin’s book here.