A culture that is permeated by a materialist philosophy sees the Earth as a commodity- a resource to bought, sold, quantified and controlled. In this view- humans are separate from nature instead of interdependent. Many of the educational methods at Rainbow aim to shift this paradigm by paying homage to the sacred bond between nature and humanity and connecting children to nature on heart and soul level.
Our model and methods have been inspired by educators such as David Sobel. Sobel an educational theorist and author, is most known for his theories on placed based education- in which the local community, culture, landscape, and environment not only become the classroom but also the teachers.
In Sobel’s educational philosophies the natural world plays a central as a teacher. In one of his most famous works, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, he explores the learning needs and characteristics of three primary child development stages and likewise, proposes three nature engagement methods. In early childhood, the focus should be on nurturing an empathetic connection towards nature. In middle childhood, nature exploration is emphasized and in early adolescence, stewardship and environmental action takes precedence.
He suggests that this progression not only supports a child’s “biological tendency” to bond with the Earth but fosters “environmentally aware, empowered students” He goes on to state, “if we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
Sobel’s work aims to connect children on that heart and SOUL level.
At RCS, Nature is not only a classroom for every student but also plays a central role as a teacher. The Natural World is highlighted in RCS’s mission, vision, guiding principles, and our Rainbow Seven Domains educational method. However, school’s out for summer…BUT we invite you to consider nature as a classroom and a teacher.
Summertime for many children means being outside. Summertime often yields many opportunities to deepen our nature connection- longer days, warmer temperatures, trips to new places, nature hikes, water play, gardening, summer camp, the list goes on. In what ways have you and your family engaged with nature? In what ways has it become a classroom or been your teacher? What have you learned in it and from it?
Now consider your own childhood, how did summertime offer opportunities for a nature connection? Through play, adventure, inquiry and expression? What about deep observation, a cultivation of awe and wonder, what about meaningful relationship and veneration? Most importantly, can you remember a spiritual moment that occurred while in the natural world? These moments in nature can have profound and lasting effects on a child. This connection if nurtured, has the capacity to become intimate, empathetic and sacred. Children can begin to see the natural world as a divine teacher. Therefore it becomes our role as parents, friends, family members, and mentors to hold space- to nurture- to foster that intimate, empathetic and sacred bond.
As you and your family make summer plans for time in nature, consider how you may invite “Nature as divine teacher” along. Embark on your adventures, but pack these considerations with you:
- How can you approach nature with a robust wonder and awe?
- How can you bring a heightened mindful presence to your activities?
- How can you make time for deep contemplation and reflection?
- How can you show gratitude?
A rite of passage is an important, sacred ceremony that highlights a transitional period in a person’s life- often marking the departure from one group in order to enter another. Graduation is one of those rites of passage and is also known as commencement, convocation or invocation.
At Rainbow, it takes on all of these forms but at its core is an invocation- this sacred ceremony serves as an invitation of the spirit, a reverence for deep connection, reflection and transformation. Our RCS graduation is one of many shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage that empower students to turn both inward and outward in order to realize that they are part of an integral community as well as something greater than themselves.
As the ceremony opened, we were welcomed by the Executive Director, Renee Owen. She took a moment to acknowledge some of the RCS commencement traditions that make the ceremony sacred. She first explained that every graduating child speaks at commencement- that each child has an opportunity to share with the community a memory that they want to hold in their hearts as they move through this important transition. Their voices are heard, their memories are honored and their growth and transformation are celebrated by the entire community.
Renee went on to explain another important ritual of this rite of passage- centering. As all things at Rainbow begin with centering- from school days, to meetings, to shared celebrations- so does graduation. Renee noted that the purpose of centering is to help each of us bring a mindful awareness to the present moment. She acknowledged the profound importance of the evening’s events and reminded us that…”there will never be another moment like it ever again.”
Graduation centerings are led by the graduates. Last week at preschool graduation, four eager preschoolers lead the whole community in acts of mindful listening, deep breathing, and a blessing of compassion. Last night, seven confident 8th graders lead centering. It began with the song of the singing bowl to gather everyone’s attention. Jackson, one of our graduates who has been here since first grade, stepped up to the microphone and invited each member of the community to turn to their neighbors to greet one another. Gaby, another graduate, then followed with an invitation to close eyes and reflect on the greeting. The reflection was prompted by these questions-
“Did they look happy?”
“What color were their eyes?”
“How long was their hair?”
“What was their name?”
Lena, then approached the microphone and followed with this quote…”Life is a dance, mindfulness is witnessing that dance.” Jackson furthered explained that, “No one in life will guide you to notice the space you are in, so it is up to you to be mindful of your space and body. Now… reintroduce yourself in a centered space, pay close attention to the entire picture, and ask mindful questions.” Another student reflected, “How did that greeting make you feel this time? What more did you noticed?” Finally Harmony, another student closed the centering by leading the group in a deep, communal breath.
RCS closes this rite of passage each year with a song that has held space in this community- as a gift of appreciation- for decades. Last night, this song was meant as an enduring reminder for all the graduates that they are held, supported and deeply loved by their RCS community. Below are the simple but profound lyrics.
Dear Ones we love you, Dear Ones you helped us to grow,
There’s a circle of light around you, there’s a circle of light in your heart.
There’s a circle of love around you, there’s a circle of love in your heart.
Education is a sacred calling.
Bridging sacred and school is spiritual work.
A strong spiritual identity among teacher and student is the catalyst for this meaningful work.
At Rainbow, we feel that a spiritually nourished child is a child ready to learn. We know, just as students come to school with social and emotional learning needs they also show up with spirits- that are waiting to be nourished. When we intentionally invite the soul into the classroom, then we truly educate for “wholeness” by nurturing the mind, the body and the SPIRIT.
Our daily centering practices serve as one way in which we invite the “soul” in to the classroom. These spirit-honoring centerings begin in preschool and at this stage, these little learners are immersed in a world that is still very magical, mysterious and awe-inspiring. The magic is fed through community centered rituals, mindfulness practices, storytelling, art, drama, music, yoga, dance, and multicultural celebrations.The daily centering practices also provide ample opportunities to nurture empowered learners, foster independence and leadership, and celebrate community.
Recently I joined Lucy and the preschool Dragonflies for centering. On this particular morning Thomas, one of the preschoolers, served as the leader for the centering rituals. He began by asking his class to put on their mindful bodies and their mindful listening ears. He then told them that he would ring the singing bowl and wanted every person to actively and mindfully listen until they could no longer hear the song of the bell and then to raise their hand when its song was gone. He then used a breathing ball and guided his classmates in three deep inhales and exhales. As the ball expanded he said aloud “inhale” and as it contracted he said “exhale.”
Lucy, then invited the preschoolers to join her in a self-affirming morning verse that was paired with sign language. The kids spoke the words with confidence and enthusiasm… “May I be healthy, may I be strong, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.” These affirmations served as inspiration for the rest of centering.
She explained that each person would have the opportunity to choose a kind wish they have for themselves. She showed and read the kind wish cards aloud and asked to kids to be thinking about which one they wanted for themselves today. When the kids were ready to share, they signaled to Lucy by placing their thumbs on their knees. She invited each them to approach the altar which was filled with the kind wish cards, candles and the wishing water. The kids were asked to speak their kind wish and illuminate their “love light” or personal candles.
Much like plants need our care to thrive, our intentions and affirmations need that attention too. To that end, at the close of centering the Lucy explained that she would take the wishing water (filled with their wishes) and send the kind wishes in to the world by watering the plants.
If we feed our body, it can grow. If we feed our mind, it can be stimulated. If we nurture our spirit, it can flourish. What will your spirit honoring practice be today?
Your daily intention or well wish has the capacity to ripple through every aspect of your daily life. What intention or well wish do you have for yourself today?
The goals of meditation can vary from practitioner to practitioner. A practitioner may meditate to calm themselves, regulate emotions or reduce stress. They may also engage in meditation as a strategy for deep reflection, connection or intuiting. In its traditional form, it is practiced by sitting still and focusing on the breath or bodily sensations. This traditional practice shows up in Rainbow classrooms and centering practices but just as the goals of meditation vary, so can the form it takes.
At RCS, meditation takes on many shapes and often engages various learning domains. Creative meditation, for example, is explored through expressive ways such as mindful drawing or writing. Students may also embody a kinesthetic meditation by mindful walking, yoga or interpretive dance. Additionally, solo time communing with or observing nature attends to the natural domain.
Meditation at Rainbow, regardless of form begins by slowing things down, bringing awareness to the body and aligning each activity with the breath. The rituals of a 2nd grade centering often begin with a gentle reminder from their teacher, Eddy, to still their bodies, hold a silence for the candle lighting and three deep communal breaths. Eddy also recognizes the boundless physical, mental and emotional benefits of collective singing and to that end, it too has become part of these cultural rituals. Ultimately, communal singing in this reverent and celebratory way has become a meditation for these students. Simple melodies paired with profound lyrics aim to deepen the already sacred tone, nurture a transcendent experience, strengthen their bond and invite a bit of whimsy.
On this day, once the centering rituals are complete, Eddy begins describing the meditative drawing activity the students will be participating in. He explains that they will be using shapes and forms to create a collaborative sculpture, meditate on it and then draw what they see. He explains that the goal is to bring mindfulness to their observation and their drawing skills.
He invites the students to choose a three-dimensional shape from the tray and then asks them to place their shape on the silk that covers the center of the rug. This communal creation resembles a city of sorts. He prompts the kids by saying “imagine walking through this world. Let your imagination allow it to come alive, look at it from all angles, what do you see, what is around you…meditate on it.” He then rings the singing bell and tells them that when they can no longer hear the song of the bowl that will serve as their signal to begin drawing.
Eddy emphasized to the kids to just… draw what they saw. Those simple words became so freeing for the kids. Those words evoked a sense of autonomy that set the stage for a pure meditation. They were able to fully embrace the practice- free from perfectionism, free from concern for mistake making or being right over wrong. The tone of the classroom settled into a calm inquiry, a collective focus, and a creative meditation.
How can your traditional meditation practice take on a new form? Try something different today? Mindful eating, tea meditation, deep listening, walking meditation…
Make a list of 5 daily activities that you can bring some mindful presence to and take a pause for those each day. Try it for a week. What do you uncover or discover? REFLECT.
In 2013, Rainbow Community School was the first school in North Carolina to be honored as a Green School of Excellence. Recently, we have been awarded this designation for the 4th consecutive year. The NC Green School of Excellence designation honors a school that shows the highest level of commitment to a sustainable campus and environmental education curriculum. Go to the Center for the Environment website by clicking here to learn more about the designation and to read how RCS is featured on the site.
After a renewal application process, Katie Ferrell of the Center for the Environment toured the school and presented us with our certificate of designation. She thanked us for our continued dedication “to teaching students about the interconnectedness of humans and nature and showing the students how to take care for the environment all school year long and especially for empowering students to take on leadership roles in the school, for actively creating community engagement and partnerships, and nurturing the students’ natural curiosity to dive deep into their experiences in the outdoor learning environment.”
As you are probably aware, the natural world serves as an important teacher in the lives of all our students. For example, connection to the natural world is celebrated in our mission to “develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world” and as one of our guiding principles “through understanding nature we understand ourselves therefore the learning environment extends into the natural world, the greater community and children spend as much time outside as possible. Children who have a relationship with nature will take care of it.” Additionally, environmental sustainability and stewardship and nature appreciation and education are part of our daily rituals and routines. The Natural Domain is emphasized as one of Seven RCS Learning Domains. From eco-conscious and green building practices, time spent in learning in the out of doors, to earth based celebrations, to Citizen Science, to recycling, composting, water conservation and gardening, to participation in Strive not to Drive Week, Screen Free Week and Blackouts, RCS actively strives to build a compassionate and environmentally sustainable school. Moreover, RCS is recognized by Ashoka to be a Changemaker School. The Changemaker Schools Network is a community of schools that as part of their mission and method support children in developing skills that aim to solve challenging problems and effect positive local, national and global change. To that end, elements of every grade’s curriculum integrates these changemaking skills and efforts and often children have opportunities to discuss, research, and design innovative solutions to many environmental problems. Indeed, Rainbow’s mission and vision incorporate learning that has, at its heart, a desire to instill a love for self and a love for the planet in a changing world.
When planning daily centerings Rainbow Community School (RCS) teachers strive to align the lessons, practices or activities with one of RCS’s spiritual, social and/or emotional learning goals. One of the longest standing spiritual learning goals (see below) recognizes celebration, tradition and ritual as sacred acts- acts that offer our students links to other cultures, ancestors and the past while laying a foundation for their future.
Class and Community Celebration and Ritual: Shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage that empower students to be a part of an integral community
These shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage are held as sacred and in some cases magical. They are symbolic and are infused with great care and reverence. Some specific milestones include Move Up Day, The Rose Ceremony, Mysteries Council, Graduation, school wide monthly gatherings that align with seasonal celebrations and Birthday Celebrations.
Recently I was invited into the 1st grade classroom to participate in a centering honoring a birthday. Our students experience at least once collective centering each school day, but for one very special centering each year, it becomes extremely personalized- The Birthday Celebration. As we know, a birthday is such a special and exciting event in a young person’s life, this special day holds a different, personal meaning than do other holidays or celebrations. Birthdays are celebrated for various reasons, from honoring or reflecting on personal growth, to acknowledging new opportunity, to encouraging fellowship. We may associate cake, ice cream, presents, parties with them but at Rainbow this personal milestone is meant to invoke a sense of the sacred- The child is cerebrated as a uniquely spiritual being.
Rachel, the lead teacher opened the centering circle by lighting the candle for “Judah and his new trip around the sun.” She first asked the kids to bring awarenss to their bodies by “finding a space that was grounding for them.” She then help to guide them in three deep breaths by ringing a chime between each breath. As the kids engaged in these typical centering rituals, the energy of the room settled into a more mindful state.
Rachel continued,…”We have all been part of Judah’s life for many days…many of us met Judah the first day of this school year, others have known Judah for many years now. We are also blessed to have two people in the circle that have known him for his entire life and we welcome Judah’s parents. Regardless of how long we have known him, we have all come to love and appreciate him and would like to honor him with appreciations.”
At this point Rachel asked the kids to warm their hands by rubbing them together and then invited them to cover their eyes so that they can fully picture Judah’s face and invite a sincere appreciation to the front of their minds. As the appreciation circle began, she reminded them that “when we speak from the heart, we point our hearts at the person we are speaking to.” The appreciations, as well as smiles and even happy tears began to flood into the room. Judah’s parents were also invited to tell Judah’s birth story and to share pictures and memories through the years.
Rachel has, for years, been carrying on a 1st grade tradition of a birthday bead necklace. At his time, she asked the children to choose a bead from the basket and to think about a wish they have for Judah as he embarks on this next journey around the sun and let the bead represent a wish they have for him during this next trip. Each student strung his/her bead onto the necklace and named the wish. As a closure, Rachel reminded Judah that he was loved by his 1st grade family and if there were every a time that he needed to be reminded of the love that surrounded him to wear the necklace so that his heart could be filled.