The Shepherd's Staff
Welcome to our community news bulletin!
August's Open House was a hit. It was deeply satisfying to showcase an educational model that cultivates an experiential approach to learning, centered on the mutual benefit of people, plants, and planet. The four unique outdoor classrooms we built with reclaimed and donated materials over the summer left people starry-eyed and smiling. It was a brilliant demonstration of what can happen when human capacity meets resource consciousness. Thanks to our many helping hands!
One week later (and one week before our program was scheduled to start), I received a message from the owners of the ranch. The county of San Diego had issued a cease-and-desist order for Little Shepherds Nature Lab, along with a $1,000 fine.
The compliance order claimed we're operating a small school (anything involving seven or more students) that requires a Minor Use Permit (for which they attached an application: $12,000 and an actual year's worth of paperwork) and a license from the state. The person assigned to our case mentioned privately that the order had been triggered by multiple complaints from a neighbor.
The owners of the ranch were able to get the fine removed; after all, we hadn't started operating anything yet, school or otherwise. However, the amount of negative pushback made them feel very uncomfortable. Perfectly understandable.
Before introducing the model and breaking ground here in Ramona, I spent over a year researching the various structures and methods by which a child who is not suited for the chair-and-desk approach and/or the entire growing list of mandated vaccinations may still obtain an education in California. To be clear, EVERY STATE-LICENSED CHILDCARE FACILITY OR SCHOOL IS REQUIRED TO FOLLOW MANDATES, and California has eliminated both religious and medical exemptions. This means homeschooling is the only option, and homeschooling is a full-time job. So, how does a single mama who is not suited for homeschooling, and whose co-parent refuses to leave San Diego, make it all work?
Step One: Move beyond the confines of false jurisdiction.
According to the United States Constitution, parents have the unalienable right to make educational decisions for their children. We also have the right to assemble. If my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness includes participation in an empowering, comprehensive, and healthy offering for kids, who could lawfully deny it? I made a calculated bid for freedom.
The Ramona Branch emerged as a private membership association in which parents covered costs, including: compensation for facilitators, rent for the space we occupied, and food for our miniature zoo. We developed two programs: The Kinder Garden and an After School Club. We were not open to the public. As such, we did not require masks, vaccines, permits, or permission.
We did, however, require continued support from the owners of the land. It is hard to make a stand for your right to assemble when you are just a tenant, and the owners' primary goals don't depend on your presence. In order to protect and conserve the vision, I had to pull the plug only a few days before the program was scheduled to begin.
The take-away is this: WE NEED TO "OWN" OUR OWN LAND. We need a place to raise beautiful seedlings, such as The Ramona Branch, in supportive terrain. It doesn't want to cower down and play small. It wants to root deep and become a tall tree.
So, we're tucking our seed into the safe. In the meanwhile, we have a modest fundraising goal of $12,000 to help us transform a school bus into a Mobile Learning Lab and move forward with our mission to deliver regenerative educational offerings in San Diego County. Think Ms. Frizzle meets John Jeavons!
When we find a suitable place to raise a full-time kinder program, an expansion to grades 1-5, and place-based building projects for older kids, our seed will come out, shining and singing and ready to sprout.
I know, in my bones, what I need to thrive, how I am designed, and what a functional connection to life feels like in real time. The need for embodied and ecological education has never been more pressing.
Little Shepherds Nature Lab will grow on. Stay tuned!
Written by Evon Mucek
Child Development Specialist
A child is feeling frustrated, sad, or scared and sometimes we just want a quick fix to stop the behavior. Sometimes we’re not thinking, and just reacting. And sometimes this leads to yelling, threatening, time outs. Oof! It’s a tough one when everyone feels a bit (or a lot) out of control.
When children are having meltdowns or tantrums they are trying to:
1. Express their needs
2. Communicate their feelings through actions, sounds, and often lack the words to share their feelings
3. Want connection and attention (which we all NEED and deserve)
Start looking at children's’ behavior more as a road map for helping them out, as opposed to a threat to sanity. It's a game changer! Trust that the child is not being difficult on purpose.
We already know about basic needs: hunger, sleep, play, potty…all the physical needs we understand. What can be less-than-obvious are the emotional needs that are important to children:
- The need for love and attachment
- The need to be heard and accepted
- The need for choice and autonomy
Understanding the emotional needs of children has completely changed the parents that I work with. I’ll elaborate. If a child is having a “tantrum” it usually means that something is up and the child is seeking control. The child needs some help. First, look to the physical needs (hungry, tired and so on…). Then, look to the emotional needs:
Love & Connection
Try holding your child, snuggling, or reading a book close to him/her.
Listening & Validation
Look and listen to what your child is feeling/saying and kindly reflect it back to him or her in a way that shows you understand how he or she feels.
Choice & Autonomy
Try offering choice or some control over the situation.
Validating or kindly reflecting back to your child what he/she is saying shows that you are listening and that you care. And being heard by your parents is so very important to a little one. Being heard is important to all of us. Hold your child, reflect back to him/her how they are feeling, and then try to find a way to help them get some control, and problem solve the situation. I have seen it stop tears and tantrums dead in their tracks.
As children get older, encourage them to do this more on their own, to help themselves and advocate more for their needs. This will help them feel safe in expressing their feelings, will help them in naming their feelings, and will help them learn to create a plan to address how they are feeling. It’s actually when feelings go unexpressed that we really have something to worry about. It’s hard enough as a parent. Don’t add extra challenges to yourself. These messy situations, experiences and transitions our children have, are incredible opportunities to foster their self-worth, to build our relationship, to deepen trust. But these are opportunities.
If only we could see every conflict and every issue that’s going wrong as an opportunity for growth. Wouldn’t we all be so much healthier? I certainly can’t say that I am able to do that all the time. But children, they’re so open, they’re so innocent, they’re so heart-on-their-sleeve. They need us to be on their side, and stay on their side, and accept them at their most challenging moments!
is our in-house Behavior Therapist. If you are struggling with staying calm, connected, and clear in your relationship with your child(ren), she is here to provide personalized support.
"Please help!" cries our neighbor, via text, upon discovering that someone has abandoned a domestic mother duck and two ducklings at Dos Picos pond. "This is urgent, because coyotes will get them. I will donate their enclosure if you can give them a home."
We deliberate for approximately eight seconds. "Yes," I reply.
Two hours later, our neighbor Gloria arrives--duckless--to meet me, and assess our potential as stewards for the feathered family. I offer up prime real estate: the deep shade under a huge Brazilian Pepper tree right smack in front of the Nature Lab. (It is fortunate that we have so many trees, including the magnificent Pomegranate Palace, to keep kids sheltered during summer months.) Gloria seems satisfied. I'm glad. Not everybody sees our 24-acre ranch as the land of opportunity. Some just see the needs for repair. This, however, is the perfect opportunity to talk about ecosystem restoration in the context of regenerative education (and I do, to anyone who will listen).
Gloria goes home to start hunting for a duck coop, while we scout out possible pond material. (Resource-consciousness is part of our educational approach; we buy nothing new, unless we absolutely have to.) There is a round metal water trough in the old horse pasture and we roll it over, thinking about the charming little ramp we'll build with reclaimed lumber.
But the next morning, terrible news. Mother Duck and one duckling have been eaten by a coyote. Our collective spirits sink.
Hope rises yet again when Gloria's search and rescue efforts pay off, and the remaining duckling is recovered. On top of this, Gloria finds a beautiful new chicken coop that Tractor Supply can deliver the same afternoon. Orphan duckling waits in Gloria's laundry room. Meanwhile, Gloria tasks me with getting another duckling to keep Orphan company.
I'm headed to the pet store to make the necessary purchase (our Rules of Green-Thumb are gentle guidelines, not rigid demands) when someone just so happens to send me a post from the Buy Nothing Facebook group in Ramona. Ducklings, approximately the same size and age as Orphan, are available for free! I take two.
Gloria then brings Orphan over for a grand introduction. Orphan waddles tentatively out of his crate, into the open enclosure where his new companions await. He moves toward them. Once he gets a few inches away, they all burst into conversation--a little chorus of chirping whistles--and then, to the profound delight of our watching eyes, they start cuddling. Rubbing their heads on each other's backs, pruning each other, and eventually settling into a contented pile of three.
So that is how Orphan, now named Pico, came to Little Shepherds Nature Lab. And in case you're wondering, we named the other ducklings Peep and Pumpkin (pronounced pun-kin).
You can help feed the ducks!
The current education paradigm holds the idea that the sole purpose of education is to educate individuals within their particular society, to prepare and train them for work in an economy that integrates people into the national cultural reality and passes on to them the values and morals of that society. In Carol Sanford’s critical analysis: “The Role of education is the means of socializing individuals and to keep society running smoothly and remain stable.” In other words, to form people who conform to the ruling class of their respective societies.
This theory has dominated modern culture and defined the social rules of nations for the last 200 years or more.
There is an emerging new theory of education that we espouse and are dedicated to developing further. An education that serves people and the planet as we move into a new environmental reality, with its accompanying social shifts, economic transformation and understanding of who we are as a species and an individual.
Daniel Wahl describes this new education paradigm this way: “Education for regenerative cultures is about the life-long process of enabling and building the capacity of everyone to express their unique potential to serve their community and the planet and in the process serve themselves.”
Why Regenerative Education?
Regenerative Education aims to:
In order to bring about this new educational paradigm, we have to accept that “Culture” cannot be looked at as “a monoculture,” grown from the same seed, under similar conditions and giving the same results everywhere. We have to first understand and dismantle the colonial/patriarchal mindset that treats people, resources, and the Earth itself as commodities to be extracted by those in power who control the inputs and outcomes of our own lives.
Again, Carol Sanford provides some guidance to what the principles of a regenerative education could look like. She provides 7 principles for regenerative education, which I summarize here:
1 – The regenerative work is to be the integrated work of educators and systems, providing the ableness required to do nothing short of transforming whole societies and evolving all the systems within them to meet the new global imperatives. But just relabeling it does not ensure it meets the new purpose of enabling a transforming society and evolving the systems in it.
2 – The education system must design and develop an infrastructure that makes self-initiated new direction and contribution possible, inside the value adding process of the learning context. This means there are no generic assignments from others, no external grades, no pre-formatting of the results. It must be fully self-directed to wake up and nourish the essence of each individual.
3 – Learners come to see potential in themselves, uniquely, that they had not seen before. They have to see that they can make a huge difference in the life of their communities, nation, and planet — even when very young… regenerative education aims to understand the learner so well and how they live, their aspirations to live, that we can see a void in their ableness that needs to be filled. Educators must be able to support them, to be a resource on the learner’s path to pursue and achieve that promise. And to help design and deliver what the learner has now specified they need to learn. Educators become great experiential designers for learners.
4 – Everyone needs to get imbued with the idea that their life is about moving themselves out of a rut, based on contributions they see they can make and on what is needed for the whole to evolve…creating a citizen/learner development process that is based in core human capacities, but which capabilities are accessible on demand (from the self), building living systems and critical thinking skills with the thinking and personal development of being a self-determining human being.
5 – Processes and materials are embedded in the experience and engagement within community with a planetary understanding. They have connections into the communities and resources that break down the usual walls we think of learning institutions. We have learned in the last 50 years how interconnected we are as humans, but also as global citizens that have an effect on the place we call home. We also need to learn to see the effect we have on societies in which we live and how we can make them work more fairly for all.
6 – Learners are the teachers of themselves —Their development is guided by the idea that they test everything with their own reflective experience rather than accepting the ideas of others. They value science, art, great writing, and thinking, but not as received ideas, rather as ideas to experience and reflect on, then from that position incorporate it into their life, or not. Evolve it or leave it behind. They don’t so much question authority as they question the thinking behind what is offered. The teacher works to displace the toxic and degenerative practices while nurturing what’s emerging.
7 – WE will never be effective at creating timely change until we teach people how quantum change happens, how to design and lead it and how to apply it to systems design.
To advance the development of a regenerative education we must refer back to Einstein’s great contribution to how the world works. He proved that complex systems work differently from simple ones. And by definition, that humans work differently. Einstein was not fooled by the widely accepted classical Laws of Physics. He showed us through his experiments that a direct approach is not necessarily the best route to understanding movement and motion, as it tends to escalate restraint (and in some cases, easy adoption without careful examination).
These unexpected results can cause a blocking of our capability to shift our thinking and bring about the changes needed for a new paradigm to enter our reality.
Welcome to regenerative education!
Less than 45 minutes from just about anywhere in San Diego County, Meraki Ranch is a 24-acre gem dotted with eucalyptus and pepper trees, native plants, and tucked-away places where kids of all ages can deep dive into the delights of mother nature.
A few of our founding team members are moving onto the property this month! Stay tuned for updates over the summer as we bust out some epic work parties. Think musical festival meets ecosystem restoration camp.
This article was written by one of The Good Shepherds, a land management organization that provides prescribed grazing services to San Diego County. We visit their paddock every season, as part of our animal husbandry module.
With more than 500,000 acres burned, the Dixie Fire is the second largest in California history. At the time of this writing, the fire is roughly 30% contained.
At one point, the Dixie Fire burned 44,000 acres in one day.
“We’re seeing truly frightening fire behavior. I don’t know how to overstate that,” said Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton. Pyrocumulus clouds, dry lightning, firenadoes—these fires create their own weather, making movement hard to predict and conditions unstable. Firefighters on the front lines are concerned for their lives. While meteorologists work on technology to help them predict the locations where these much-wilder wildfires might occur, the Good Shepherds are working to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence.
As usual, the most effective way to address a problem lies at the root: soil. Healthy soil holds water and carbon. Simple as that. When soil is damaged, carbon gets released back into the atmosphere. The result is hotter temperatures, fewer rains, desertification…and extreme fire behavior.
Carbon is present in all organic matter, and it needs to cycle back down to the ground. Sheep and goats eat carbon, poop carbon, and trample carbon. Their activity increases top-soil and activates soil microbiology, helping it coevolve for perennial bunch grasses with deeper root systems. Thus, ground that is regularly grazed holds more water and resists erosion.
So these animals aren’t just adorable lawn-mowers. They’re doing the work that makes land more manageable, and less volatile. When we use tractors and machines to clear brush and weeds, we miss the feedback loop with the soil, further drying and distressing the ground.
Fire is a healthy, predictable part of the native landscape here in California—and healthy, well-maintained landscapes burn in predictable patterns. We don’t want to suppress fire, but there is no reason for catastrophic fire when we have the tools to manage it. We need to employ and support these tools ahead of time.
Shepherd Matthew Sablove says, “Imagine if fire crews faced tended ‘wild’ lands, trails made by ruminants (grazing animals), thinned out brush, and less dead matter stacked in the air to fuel hotter fires. It behooves us all to regenerate lands by being active agents and stewards of nature.”
This article was written by a mother in our community who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Just keep it together,” I said irritably, walking the shopping cart away from my squawking children. A man passed me at a short distance as the words tumbled out, and since by that point I was actually too far away from my car to be heard by the kids, I caught myself wondering if he registered it. A woman pushing an empty cart toward a store reminding herself audibly to “keep it together” would raise a red flag; maybe I should feel embarrassed.
The thought flew off as quickly as it came. I have bigger concerns, like how I’m going to get through the rest of this evening caring for the girls at their father’s house without my nervous system shutting down. I have to finish writing for a grant with an immediate deadline, and I need my faculties intact. But the reality of my moment is that I’m functioning on three hours of sleep, because I taught a sunrise yoga class an hour away, because I’m saying yes to all reasonably productive gigs, because I’m still formulating the means by which I make my ends meet. And because my own bed is twenty minutes to the north, and I’m teaching again at sunrise in the south, and gas is five dollars a gallon, I’m sleeping in the guest room. The fact is that I am exhausted. I am also grieving, because of how being around their dad drains every good feeling from my body.
Putting the car into gear and looking over my right shoulder, I promptly crash into a vehicle behind me.
To be fair, I truly did not, and really could not, have seen it. It was tucked neatly into my blind spot, blocked by the back of my chair, and the row of car seats.
I re-park my car and hop out. Sure enough, I’d hit the vehicle of the man who had been walking past me a moment before. I’d backed right up into his nose, as he was pulling forward.
Now we’re both staring at the bumper of his Mercedes: nothing. Nary a scratch.
We turn to look at my Corolla: corner of bumper bashed in, plastic wrenched open down to the metal frame, taillight tilting outward as though it hoped to hitch a ride with someone else as soon as possible.
“Oh man,” says the man, remorse all over his face. We know it was my fault—backing up, not seeing him—but he immediately offers his personal phone number (he even says the word “personal” before saying “phone number”) and to split the cost of repairs. My only awareness is of how trivial something like a car bumper is, in the grand scheme of things, when worlds are collapsing. Yet here is an individual who feels troubled enough by my small cosmetic catastrophe that he wants to share it, to carry it together. He goes on to tell me how much he values good karma. He points out that I have kids (no need to rub it in). He gives me his personal phone number. I drive away.
After an early dinner, I outsource mothering to The Lion King and sit down to work on my artist statement. I can’t help but think: imagine if I had collided with an average bear, who cared only about his own bumper, and couldn’t hide his snark as he bid me farewell. Imagine how much worse I would be for the wear, no hope of getting through the evening intact, no chance of finishing the proposal, otherwise nice-looking car all jacked-up, cortisol skyrocketing.
Will I get my bumper fixed? I might never even get an estimate. But D. Hunter, I know you’re out there. It’s a comforting thought. You sincerely supported me in a vulnerable moment, and genuinely cared about my peace. This is what our nervous systems need. This is how we keep each other safe. This is how we heal the world with every step we take.
And maybe one day, I’ll think: remember that time I was driving under the influence of strong inner turmoil and a perfect stranger treated me so tenderly that it lifted my spirits, and then I wrote a laser-sharp statement and got the grant?
At the very least, whenever my eyes linger on the back of my car, I’ll sense the grace in the grizzle.
Life is touch-and-go, my friends. Take off your gloves.