The Beauty of Nature: Botanicum

Sarah Clement joined the Red Oak teaching crew this fall. She comes to us with a strong background in teaching, with an emphasis in the visual arts, and great knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, with an emphasis in herbalism. This post provides glimpses into her first lessons at ROCS. - Blog Editor


This fall the Cardinals and Hawks examined plants through the history of life; from the very first organisms in the water, to land adaption, to living fossils. They have taken a journey along the Tree of Life to discover how plants are different, from the macro viewpoint of millions (even billions) of years. I loved to see how they have taken to it! Each lesson we craft something to help us remember more about the plants we are discussing.

Our journey has thus far been based largely on Botanicum, a richly illustrated oversized book of plants from all over the world. We began with an introduction and definition of 'Botanicum' and the Tree of Life. At the base, are algae, which we drew and described with key points. From there they learned about bryophytes, using wooden beads on pipe cleaners to discover how hard nature works to produce spore-bearing sporophyte without vascular structure. Fungi had to be included here, though they are not plants. They were instrumental in getting life to establish on land. Everyone molded a specific fungi from the book out of modeling clay, some with fun names like “pixie cup,” “veiled lady,” and “leather goblet.”


Many of the students were fascinated by the different sizes of the plants we've discussed. From the microscopic algae to the towering giant horsetails 370 million years ago that are today are only 3 feet tall. 

It seemed that our lessons on carboniferous forests went longer than others but perhaps it is only because everyone enjoyed talking about this one so much. Creating our own carboniferous trees from paper gave us the freedom to be creative and have fun while incorporating fine motor with problem solving skills. Every class had ideas on how to create these early trees and giant ferns, ranging from paper models and pattern block building, to drawing in journals.


We can see living fossils in our own community, trees that were around 250 million years ago - gingko biloba - Gingkos. To my surprise, our conversation around these trees didn't focus on the stinky seeds of the female tree, but the type of reproductive habit it has. Gingko is a gymnosperm, like coniferous trees, both which prompted jokes about the gym and strong sperm. Our project focused on the parallel veins of the ginkgo leaf and talk about how it is unique from other trees. We documented these observations in the form of festive ginkgo leaf 'stained glass' foil art.


Our New Vision, Mission, and Values

This summer the ROCS Education Committee began the process of strategically reviewing and evaluating Red Oak as an organization. The effort, headed up by Jodi Kushins (ROCS mom and board member), began with a careful and critical look at our existing vision, mission, and values statements. These statements were written when ROCS was still incubating, as its founders were dreaming up ideas and attempting to define what we wanted to become. Now in our third year, we know more about who we are and what kind of ideals we want to guide ROCS in the years to come.

After many hours of deep thinking, sticky notes and emails, the committee (including Kushins and fellow ROCS mom Christine Davidson, ROCS teachers Maureen Alley and Michelle McNabb, and myself) unveiled a new set of statements. The board recently approved them and they will be published on our website soon. We look forward to developing our daily and long-term work with these ideas at the forefronts of minds.

Cheryl Ryan, ROCS Director

Red Oak Community School fosters our students’ sense of their place and power in the natural world and in their communities.

Red Oak Community School offers a learner-centered approach to education for families dedicated to cultivating joy in learning, fostering self-confidence and agency, and preparing students to be environmental stewards and champions of social justice.


  • Connectedness: Cultivates curiosity, creativity, and care through time spent playing in and studying about the natural world; 

  • Joy: Fosters a love of learning through learner-centered teaching strategies and content linked to students’ emerging interests; 

  • Respect and Responsibility: Promotes community through modeling healthy and respectful relationships, teaching emotional literacy, encouraging personal and civic responsibility;

  • Power and Agency: Supports children as individuals worthy of respect and encourages children to find their own voice to advocate for themselves and others;

  • Community: Supports the role of the family and larger community in children’s development and education.

Onigiri- Rolling (literally) rolling rice balls!

Recently, our teacher of all things Japan-related, Meridith Kiyosue, brought together volunteers and students to make and sell onigiri (rice balls). The lesson combined physics, the international #OnigiriAction movement, and the Japanese fairy tale “Omusubi Kororin”, which tells the story of a rice ball that rolls into a hole in the ground.

While they loosely followed the instructions in from Sumiko Nagasawa’s book "Japanese Cooking for Kids,” our our Japanese guests shared their own techniques and traditions.


Students sold the onigiri through a window inside the classroom, then rolled them out to their costumers. All of our proceeds benefited CRIS: Community Refugee and Immigration Services. And, for every onigiri-eating photo that was posted and tagged before Nov. 20, Table For Two donated 100 yen to providing meals for food-insecure people.



Citizen Scientists: Monitoring Macroinvertabrates

Bethany Filipow joined Red Oak our first year. I remember in her interview she talked about bringing "citizen science” - the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists - to the school. This fall she conducted a study with some of our students that explored that concept. The following is her reflection. - ROCS Blog Editor

“Over the summer, thanks to support from the Red Oak Professional Development Fund, I took part in week-long workshop to earn my professional certification in Environmental Education (EE).  In addition to attending the workshop, I will need to complete a series of independent projects designed to refine EE skills over the course of this school year. 

Towards the beginning of this school year I created a series of 3 lessons that focused on the use of macroinvertebrate populations as indicators of environmental pollution.  Macroinvertebrates are organisms that have no spine but are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Examples include flatworms, crayfish, snails, clams and insects, such as dragonflies. We began the unit by introducing different types of macroinvertebrates and dividing them into pollution tolerance level (tolerant, semi-tolerant, and intolerant).


Students conducted a mock stream survey monitoring  sample where objects such as beads, rubber bands and paperclips represented the different species.  Groups took turns using dip nets to scoop up the different organisms and classified them into groups. Each team of scientists recorded their data in charts and analyzed their findings to determine the health of their sample streams.  The students found a greater diversity of organisms the higher their streams scored in the health index.

Next, students used their gross motor skills in a tag game that modeled the impact that pollution has on stream organisms called “MacroInvertebrate Mayhem.”  Students wore tags that represented the organisms they represented.  If they were an intolerant species such as a caddisfly, mayfly, or stone fly they had a hindrance in their ability to cross the playing area safely such as having their feet tied together or having to stop for a push up every five steps. Tolerant species could get tagged over and over by pollution and not be impacted.  Over time the group saw how the diversity and health of the stream changed. 


We also discussed the sources of both point and non-point pollution. Students were given a piece of land and one million dollars to develop as they wished. Later the class fit their development plans together and discussed sources of pollution that may be present in their plot.  Students learned about the concept of a watershed and saw how the water downstream was impacted by everyone's activities. 


Groups were also able to explore this concept with an enviroscape model that showed how natural forces such as wind and rain can introduce pollution into our storm drains and eventually watersheds.


Finally, we tied everything together by applying our skills in conducting a real life bioassessment of our local watersheds.  Students identified the different species that found and used recorded their findings at Big Darby Creek Metro Park and a ravine close to the school. They used their data to tabulate a score.  The group was happy to find a large diversity of organisms in the Olentangy River which indicated a healthy ecosystem for the macroinvertebrate population.”

Celebrating Tsukimi

In a special after-school program this week, Red Oak students and their incredible Japanese teacher Meridith Kiyosue (Meri-sensei) presented ROCS families and friends with songs and stories about the Japanese holiday Tsukimi, a celebration of the Harvest Moon. This is a perfect example of what Japanese language and cultural education adds to ROCS’ curriculum, providing us with deep and meaningful, authentic ways to make connections to the natural world throughout the year.

During the program Meri-sensei presented an original kamishibai (paper play) telling the story of “A Rabbit in the Moon.” (Click here for a recording on our Instagram feed!) In this story, the man in the moon comes to earth to see which of her animal inhabitants is most generous. In the forests of Japan, disguised as a hungry old beggar, he encounters a rabbit, a fox, and a monkey each of whom offer to feed him. The fox and monkey quickly find food to share, but rabbit struggles. Not wishing to disappoint the man, he asks his friends to build a fire and announces his plan to jump in to roast himself, becoming a meal for the man. At this point, the man reveals his true identity and carries the rabbit back to the moon to leave with him.

This past summer Meridith traveled to Japan and shared glimpses of her time there on Facebook. Through her posts I learned about her passion for kamishibai as an art form as well as a captivating teaching tool. It was amazing to see her stage this performance, her first for an audience with members over he age of 11. Her enthusiasm was palpable, her presentation professional. The original props she created were clever, demonstrating her personal creative practice and how she models that for our students.

Kamishibai is an interactive form of storytelling. During the performance the presenter solicits responses from the audience. As Meridith told the story, she asked the kids to name fruits and animals I have heard my daughter reciting at home. The story provided an engaging way to reinforce those lessons with students and evidence of student learning for parents.

In addition to her performance, Meridith led our students in a song about tsuki (the moon). This illustrated an oft-cited observation that languages are easier to learn through music. The kids sang the song confidently, and even if they aren’t entirely sure what all the words mean yet, they were wrapping their little mouths around the sounds. Artwork the students made in relation to their studies of Tsukimi were also on view, demonstrating a range of art materials and techniques Meridith shares with the kids as part of her teaching.

Jodi Kushins
ROCS Mom and Blog Editor

What We've Been Reading...

The new year has come with many tasks to be done to get our school up and running again in a new location. But somehow we’re still finding time to read things that keep us dreaming about and working towards the school we wish to see in this world. Here a few selections, taken from our (closed) Facebook group where parents of enrolled students share ideas and experiences.

NOTES: I’ve deleted the names of the contributors, but included their captions to give context, from ROCS Parents’ own perspectives, to the links. We are what we read, so consider this a kind of mini portrait of our community.
I was unable to make these screenshots into hyperlinks. Please use your preferred search engine to find the content. - ROCS Blog Editor

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Welcome back!

Welcome to the start of Red Oak Community School's (ROCS) third school year!

I had an un uncle who used to say the first time you do something it's a happening, the second time a coincidence, the third time tradition. With that sense of settling in on our minds, ROCS welcomed students back to school August 23. Here are a few of the returning faces we found. We can't wait to get to know the new ones better!

With maintaining our pursuit of educational innovation and building community traditions in mind, ROCS staff and Board of Directors have big plans in the works on the day-to-day and strategic levels that will help us clarify and celebrate who were are and want to be in the years to come. 

From now through Memorial Day we’ll be posting updates to this blog - commentaries on alternative approaches to education we are inspired by and conventional models we are trying to dismantle and reimagine; reflections from our teachers and families about their experiences cultivating and engaging with our programs; and reports from the field including our natural play area (where playing is learning), our classrooms, and sites around town in our community at-large. Stay tuned.

If you have ideas for content you’d like to request or pursue as a contributor, please contact Jodi Kushins (ROCS Blog Editor and Chair of the Education Committee) at


School-wide traditions are an important part of what makes a school feel like a community. Stone Soup has been part of ROCS's fall season programming since our inception. This spring, our Japanese language and culture educator Meridith Kiyosue provided a perfect spring bookend. Our first Happyokai & Mini Matsuri was held on May 5th, Children's Day in Japan. It combined a celebration of learning with a spring festival that our students, teachers, and families worked hard to prepare for and enjoyed. 

Happyokai translates to "student recital." For ROCS's Happyokai, students put on two plays - How the Years Were Named performed by our kindergarteners and 2-day students & Momotaro (Peach Boy) performed by the 3- and 5-day students. The students practiced their parts for weeks and parent volunteers helped design, build, and sew the sets and costumes. 

Before, after, and in between plays, students sang a collection of songs in Japanese and English. 

Following the happyokai, we ventured out onto the grounds of First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville for our Mini Matsuri (festival). We enjoyed a picnic outside with food from Ninja Bowl food truck, a reunion for our children with the natural play area they used during the 2016-2017 school year, and traditional Japanese festival games and crafts. 


The matsuri was inspired, in part, by Marysville High School’s Iya-sensei, an annual event that supports a student trip to Japan each summer. This year that event was held in April and Red Oak sponsored a booth. Many ROCS students and their families attended. They had the opportunity to enjoy traditional Japanese matsuri activities such as aizome (indigo dyeing), eating kakigori (shaved ice), and trying on yukata (summer kimono). Meridith was especially eager for ROCS students to see and hear traditional Japanese music played on instruments our students had previously only heard in recordings during mindfulness exercises in which she has students listen to traditional Japanese music and try to pick out the different instruments - the shaku-hachi flute, the strings of the koto and, everyone's favorite- the powerful taiko drums. Those who attended the Marysville event were treated to a performance by Dublin Taiko, and were also invited to play the drums during the Taiko drumming workshop.


After spending some time in the ROCS Iya-sensei booth, a veteran who served in Yokohama during WWII commented "It's important for children to learn about a place that is very different from what they know and understand. It's a great opportunity that you're giving them."  For Meridith and her family  "attempting to balance the Japan part of our lives while living in Ohio is tricky. Being in a position where my child can share that part of family life with close friends and teachers is incredible." We wholeheartedly agree and feel honored to have you in our midst.

A planning committee is already working on the 2019 ROCS Happyokai. We can't wait to see how it plays out!

Community Connections - Rafael Rosado

This morning, Red Oak welcomed local illustrator author Rafael Rosado for a visit. Rosado is co-author of the Beware series of graphic novels which feature three children, each uniquely equipped to battle medieval challengers including giants, dragons, and wizards. Many ROCS students feel in love with Claudette, Marie, and Gaston this year as various students brought Giants Beware! and Dragons Beware! to school. We invited Mr. Rosado to come visit following the release of the third book in the series, Monsters Beware! 

At the start of his presentation, we took a poll of how many students had read each of the books in the series and nearly every student raised his or her hand at least once. Mr Rosado was impressed and said, "It's great to know how many of you have read the books! Now I know I'm taking to real fans."

During our time together, Mr. Rosado talked to the students about his artistic practice - how he and his long-time friend and collaborator Jorge Aguirre develop storylines and characters. Everyone was fascinated by the research process he uses to capture details of clothing and buildings that bring readers into the Middle Ages. He talked about the process of turning hundreds of digital drawings into a book and he shared comics he drew when he was a boy growing up in Puerto Rico. 

The kids had lots of questions including, "How old are the characters?" "Why do you write numbers on the bottoms of your drawings?" And "Who has the original book?"


He led a few student volunteers through a lively readers' theater activity and then walked everyone through the process of drawing Claudette. It was a special morning and everyone left inspired. 


Look for Rafael Rosado on an upcoming episode of WOSU's Broad and High and watch for footage from his visit with Red Oak!


Everything is Homeschool

Red Oak Community School offers a range of enrollment packages. Some students come to school on a traditional 5-day, 9am-3:30pm schedule. Others attend only on Mondays and Tuesdays, and a third group attends Wednesdays through Fridays. This flexibility is part of what's made us so popular with families in Central Ohio searching for alternative schooling options.

As I shared in the post "Home(school) Sweet (Home)School," my daughter is a 3-day kid. As the year wraps up, I'm reflecting on the work she and I have done together, what she's experienced at ROCS, and how it all fits together. Today's post comes from Cassie Lewis, whose child attends the 2-day program. She offers her own perspective on balancing home and school, and how these fit in the context of a life well-lived. - Jodi Kushins, ROCS Mom and Blog Editor


As a “homeschool school,” homeschooling our children is an ongoing topic at ROCS.  When my partner and I were starting out and I had reservations about whether we could handle our child’s education, the Columbus homeschool community was kind enough to share their experiences. Here I share some of the lessons we've learned for those new to homeschooling who might have concerns about the idea.

Homeschooling is honoring childhood
and trusting that our child will learn what is needed when ready.

We formally became homeschoolers when we pulled our child out of pre-school at age 4. We quickly learned that with a child that young homeschooling is not necessarily “doing school at home.” For us, everything is homeschooling; our curriculum is composed of the lessons of everyday life.

Homeschool is being mindful of our time and what we engage in.
I used to joke with a friend that a good homeschool day is one with the TV off. For us, this became the honest truth. But adopting the mantra "homeschooling is everything" means everything. So sometimes homeschool is time in front of the TV. Judicious use of child-appropriate media can teach us all kinds of things about living in the world. It can take us to galaxies far, far away, help us understand people’s choices, and enable us to explore our planet. We can even study foreign languages and practice reading using language settings and subtitles.

Homeschooling is reading Harry Potter or The Wizard of Oz and countless other stories together. It’s visiting the library.


Homeschooling is connection - to our child, ourselves, and our family. It is attunement to our community and the planet we live on.
Homeschooling is gardening, harvesting, and cooking together. This engages us in environmental education, sustainability, math, science, nutrition and self-care. We learn about empathy and compassion through engaging with our animal friends.

Homeschooling is using the outdoors as a classroom for a science lesson and developing our motor skills and appreciation for our planet. It is also testing our limits and developing our physical strength by climbing trees. 

Homeschooling is providing an environment and materials geared towards spontaneous learning and creativity. 

Everything is homeschooling because
any reasonably educated, literate household can homeschool. 

Although time is an important factor, it is still possible to homeschool when primary caregivers work outside the home. Since everything is homeschooling, I have no doubt we would “homeschool” in some form even if our child attended school five days. I have no doubt that other engaged families do something like this already, but maybe don’t call it homeschooling. Homeschooling can be a unique experience for each family. The important thing is that the concept of school shifts from achievement of preset goals to trust in curiosity and wonder, to valuing connection.

Homeschooling is letting go of what isn’t necessary
so the flow of days are organized around and follow curiosity . 

My partner and I were brought up in formal schooling environments. Becoming homeschoolers has required us to undergo a certain amount of “deschooling” and constant checking in with ourselves. If all of life is learning, we as adults must be open to its teachings as well, especially when our children don't want to sit down and “do school” or we need to work to maintain their well-being. Children come into this world as teachers, if we are willing to learn from them.


As homeschoolers, we feel extremely fortunate to be a part of Red Oak Community School. ROCS provides us with a balance of new ideas, concepts and playful academics from other sources. It provides us ample opportunity to develop social and emotional skills in an environment that respects children. We learn from peers, talented educators, other parents, and members of the community. To reiterate a previous ROCS Blog post, it is a school that indeed feels like an extension of home.

While our family loves homeschooling, we are not immune to the anxieties or pressures of modern parenting that center around the ever present question of “are we doing enough?” With Red Oak as our community, and in a sense our homeschool co-op, the answer to that becomes “we are doing plenty.”

The Magic of Read Aloud

After a late winter hibernation, we're back with a post from our kids' literature-lover in residence, Maureen Alley.  

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Picturebooks are one of my love languages; I delight in finding excellent ones and sharing them with my students.  I firmly believe that no one is too old to listen to a good picture book read out loud by a spirited reader.  

My love of picturebooks probably keeps me from reading as many chapter books to students as I could. I have also been anxious about choosing a chapter book that would be engaging for the wide age-range of students I teach at Red Oak.  I'm happy to report that we just finished our chapter boo read aloud, and it was a wonderful experience all around.

The 3- and 5-day Cardinals and Hawks just finished listening to The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. It's a sweet story about a robot who gets shipwrecked on a wild island and has to adapt to survive.  There's adventure, danger, humor, technology, animals, and illustrations.  In short, there's something in this book for everyone.  

There is a sweet spot during read-alouds when the reader connects with the listeners and the listeners connect with the story and we all get swept away together.  That happened each day we read The Wild Robot at Red Oak.  The students had sketchbooks, in which they could draw or doodle anything story-related while they listened.  Some students listen better while their hands are moving, some need to sit still and focus.  We also created a graffiti board, a collective sketch project where we drew plot points, characters, and settings.  

It truly was magical.  The students gasped at scary parts, spontaneously clapped when our robot succeeded, and collectively begged for "Just one more chapter!"  I had so much fun reading this book to Red Oak students, and they had so much fun hearing it that they decided they wanted our next chapter book to be the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.  I've invited the students to bring in their own copy of the book if they have it so they can read along with the read-aloud as we experience the magic together.  

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Home(school) Sweet (Home)School

Early this past Wednesday morning I received a text message from ROCS Director Cheryl Ryan asking if I could come in to substitute. I wanted to help but I had some things scheduled in the morning. And then, frankly, I was looking forward to some time by myself.

My daughter attends ROCS Wednesdays-Fridays and had only had one day of school the previous week due to parent-teacher conferences. As a part-time homeschooling mom I cherish the time I spend with my daughter learning together and I am grateful for Red Oak so I don't have to be entirely responsible for filling her days. I also realize that in order for the school to flourish and be there for me when I need time to work uninterrupted, I sometimes need to make sacrifices. That's what it means to be a cooperative enterprise. (For more on this see Ask Not (Just) What Red Oak Can Do for You...) 

And so, I went to school to lend a hand in the afternoon. And I'm so glad I did.

In my new role as acting chair of the Education Committee, I had been meaning to schedule time to observe during the school day anyway. I have been outside with the kids many times and volunteered to sing with them, but not spent much time nor had a real sense of what their indoor instructional time looked, sounded, or felt like.

What I found brought me back to some original marketing materials for ROCS which described it as a "gentle place to learn." I think this may have been a reference to homeschool champion Charlotte Mason, about whom I didn't and still don't know very much. But something about that phrase resonated with me. If I wasn't going to homeschool my daughter full-time, I wanted her to spend her "school days" someplace that felt like home. A place where physical and cognitive barriers were somewhat fluid, where she could sing while she did arithmetic, and where she could learn through play, where she could read books throughout the day....

No doubt part of this home away from home feel comes from our current location inside a charming old farmhouse. This is an advantage, and reflection of the Reggio Emilia principle of "the classroom as third teacher." The idea is that the spaces in which we learn contribute to our learning and have lessons to teach us as much as our teachers and classmates. But the house has some disadvantages too as it can get loud and feel a bit cramped. So, I'll look forward to seeing how our little school grows over time, as I cherish where were are today.

Here are a few things I saw. I hope I was able to capture the hygge I felt.
-Jodi Kushins, ROCS Mom and Blog Editor

A flock of Hawks reading to a story together with their teacher.

A flock of Hawks reading to a story together with their teacher.

A circle of Chickadees playing with math concepts.

A circle of Chickadees playing with math concepts.

A group of Hawkinals exploring prehistoric life through a game.

A group of Hawkinals exploring prehistoric life through a game.

I Need Help

Here's another testimonial from a Red Oak parent about the difference our little school has made in her life, and most importantly, the life of her son. Thank you Kacy Wiant and others taking time to put thoughts down and share them. - ROCS


From the time he came earth side, my son has been my greatest teacher. Beginning as an infant suffering with 50 food and environmental allergies, moving into toddlerhood with speech delays, and later onto early elementary with mounting frustration in the traditional public school setting, he has needed his mom to think outside the box, to brainstorm, and most importantly, to advocate for him. This has been challenging, heart-stretching work. 

I have approached each of these pivotal times, as the perfectionist I am. I turned over every stone, spent hours upon hours online performing detective-style research and finally, when in spite of all that, I just could not figure it all out myself and I felt like time was running out, I secretly whispered a plea into the 4:00 am sky, “I need some help.” And every time, help would come. We found a wonderful naturopath to clear his allergies. The Help Me Grow program to provided speech therapy. And then, at the beginning of 2nd grade when my bright and creative child was ready to give up on school and I found myself laying wide awake in bed with tears streaming down my face, we found Red Oak Community School, or maybe ROCS found us.

When asked to sit at a desk or in front of a computer, tactile learners such as my son can start to look like kids who cannot focus, who misbehave, and who have trouble settling their bodies down. Traditional public schools often limit children's space or ability to move, a detriment to kinesthetic learners.

I knew my son was capable, he just needed space to move while he was doing academic work. At home we would bounce balls while doing math facts; he would roll around on the couch while studying sight words; and while reading out loud to him, he would draw the story in his art pad. He did not like sitting down to do homework sheets, as he would much rather be outside climbing trees. In first grade, he learned to play guitar and taught himself chords. By second grade we knew he had a musical gift when he could listen to music and play it on his guitar the first time. When I reached out to his teacher to see if he could bring his guitar in and play a song for the class, she said, “I am sorry. We don’t do show and tell at school.” 



There were multiple conferences with multiple teachers ringing alarm bells that he was very smart, but they were worried he could not channel his intelligence into success in the classroom and that he would not pass the 3rd grade English Language Arts (ELA) test due to his inability to sit for long periods of time. There was mention of medication. They attempted some tactile tools like fidgets, bands on the chairs, letting him take a walk around the library in the morning, and sitting at the back of the rug in case he needed to wiggle. Still he came home in tears day after day when he had to move his clip down on the discipline chart and his new mantra became, “I’m just a bad kid.”

As a mom, there came a point when I could no longer listen to my son say he was a bad kid anymore! I was ready to quit my job and homeschool him even though in my heart I knew that was not a feasible option for our family. I reached out to my Facebook community and that’s when I learned about ROCS, a “homeschool school.” My interest was piqued.  I spent hours on the website learning about this fascinating school where kids can play in the woods, use sensory tools for all the lessons, where they do not assign homework nor tests, and where they listen and learn from children’s need to move while learning (read more about this in Movement Matters).

I knew this was the place for my son. I wrote a check to Red Oak Community School with the application form and carried it in my purse. When my husband and I toured the school and Cheryl, the school manager, said, “Think about it and let me know,” I handed her the check and said “I already know.” He was added to the wait list for 5-Day students and 1 month later, we got a call: “We have an opening for your son. We cannot wait to have him.” Even though he started a few months after the first school year began, he was welcomed with open arms.

Today he is thriving! He loves school, his creative spirit has an outlet, he is successful, and he can move! He has brought his guitar in and played many times, including during the filming of the school song. His eyes light up on Monday when he eagerly checks the weather and gets his gear ready for the day. He has never uttered “I am a bad kid” again. 


Ask Not (Just) What ROCS Can Do For You...

I'm often at a loss for how to talk about ROCS. Calling it a private school doesn't feel quite right. Most days calling it a school doesn't even capture all that we are attempting to be and do. As with many other volunteer-driven non-profit organizations I've been a part of, ROCS will only be as strong as its members. We will reap what we sow - both in the education our own kids receive and in the future we carve for the school itself. 

Our parent volunteer requirement ensures that everyone lends their time and talents to ROCS in some way. As such we are structured a bit like a cooperative. Some of us volunteer our time in the classroom during Tankyuu and some take home the laundry. Some collect supplies to meet our teachers' requests and build bridges and clear paths so the kids can run and play. Some write for this blog and some serve on the committees which help steer our ship forward - facilities, education, parent and community connections, fundraising, and more. If you are interested in joining or volunteering with a specific committee, check in with the board. There's room for everyone at the table.

As a small independent school striving to keep tuition costs as low as possible, we need to find other ways to bring in money for facilities development and maintenance, special programming, and professional development for our teachers and staff. At the start of my family's ROCS journey a friend told me to be prepared to be asked for money throughout the year. Without public support, every dollar we need is a dollar we have to find. 

The Development Committee (chaired by Amy Cummings) is actively seeking grants and donations to meet some of these needs. We recently secured, for example, $500 through the Ohio Division of Wildlife to plant flowers and shrubs and install bird feeders to attract native birds, bees, and butterflies. Bethany looks forward to working on this installation and subsequent studies of the plants and pollinators as part of her curriculum. Stay tuned for ways you can help.

Some parents have taken it upon themselves to raise funds. Kacy Wiant and Anna Shadley both used charitable giving tools on Facebook to run flash fund-drives for ROCS. After reflecting the impact ROCS made on her and her family, Anna "launched a pop-up mini fundraiser" for ROCS. She set a goal of $150 and ended the day with $211. Kacy "donated her birthday to ROCS" and raised $450. She drafted an essay about how ROCS has helped her son which will appear in this space soon. We'll see the impact of these gifts this spring as we work on habitat restoration and and establishing more outdoor learning options for our kids (and their families).

This past weekend, Naomi Fuller-Brown, ROCS mom, tattoo artist, and owner of Thrill Vulture Tattoo held a fundraiser with all proceeds coming to ROCS. She raised nearly $4,000! While you might not be able to do anything on this scale, every little bit of time and money we give to the school helps. So, ask not (just) what ROCS can do you for your child, ask what you can do for ROCS.

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Jodi Kushins, ROCS Mom and Blog Editor


Lots of people are thinking about school this time of year. Is my kid happy where she is? Could he thrive someplace else? Should we re-enroll where we are? Is there a school out there that would be a better fit with my worldview and philosophy of education? With that in mind, we present this testimony from ROCS mom Anna Shadley about her family's school choice. 

A few years ago, we sent our son off to kindergarten at a well-rated public school. I was excited—I’d always loved school and excelled in the traditional setting, and I was sure my kind, sensitive child would, too.  We packed his little lunchbox with a peanut butter sandwich (ah, freedom from the preschool ban!) and some veggies and other snacks, and sent him on his way. He was a little anxious, but mostly interested in seeing what this big kid school was all about.

It didn’t take long, though, for his stomachaches to kick in. Every morning when it was time to get ready for school, he’d tell me his stomach hurt.  It was more than butterflies from nervousness. Although he wasn’t physically sick with anything, he wasn’t faking. His stomach really did hurt. Whether the anxiety came from his struggles with reading, the large institutional setting, or the fact that they only had two fifteen minute recesses all day (and if the weather was “bad,” not even that), I didn’t know. I didn’t care about the cause. All I knew was that a kindergartener should not be feeling such extreme anxiety, on a daily basis, at the thought of going to school. There had to be a better way.

I don’t remember how I first heard about Red Oak, but it came at a time when we had no idea what we were going to do. Parent-teacher conferences at his school were increasingly uncomfortable (a hard thing for an authority-pleasing person like me) as I tried to advocate for my child, his sick days were mounting, and we didn’t have family time in the evenings because he had homework. But then… Red Oak.

Red Oak. The answer. The school hadn’t started yet, but the plans were well underway. A nature immersion school, a place where children were respected as  people, as individuals, a place that pledged to meet each student where he or she was. No homework. Plentiful time outside.  A strong desire to build a community of teachers, administrators, parents, students. No tests, no grades. A safe place to learn and grow.

We had just made the scary decision to pull our son out of school and homeschool him for the remainder of the year. We signed up for Red Oak before it even had a home, but we knew everything would work out. We trusted that ROCS would happily care for our son and help him thrive.

We haven’t looked back once.  The stomachaches vanished, and when it isn't a school day, our son is disappointed. He comes home from school muddy, tired, full of details about his day, and happy. At ROCS I've found a community of wonderful and amazing people committed to the school and to each other. I can’t begin to express adequately how much we feel that Red Oak saved us; how much we feel that Red Oak continues to save us.

As my son was getting ready for school one morning recently, he paused and asked, “Mom, what’s that feeling in your stomach when you’re happy about going to school?”

I hesitated, thinking back to his kindergarten stomachaches. Then I responded, “Oh. Those are butterflies. The good kind.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “The good kind.”

        A moth raised and released by ROCS students, Spring 2017.

        A moth raised and released by ROCS students, Spring 2017.

School Spirit, Red Oak Style

School spirit can take a lot of forms. At a small independent school like ours, it is typically manifest in non-traditional ways like blazing new trails through the woods together and bragging about the ways we are different from other schools on social media. But the power of more traditional heraldry like school colors and songs is not lost on us.

School colors are often worn to boost community identity and collective morale. They are usually used in pairs of primary and secondary colors that can be found on the Pantone color guide. Last year, our school adopted mud as our color as a tongue-in-cheek response to how much the kids embraced the sludge left in the wake of winter snow melts like the one we experienced this past week. While not all the kids embrace the mud with equal passion, none are afraid of venturing out in it. 

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Adopting mud as our school color challenges parents and teachers to consider what it means to choose nature-immersion education. It means standing in the freezing cold and helping kids with dirty boots. It means committing to doing more laundry as we support kids' exploration of the messiness of playing outdoors. Some of that clean-up happens individually, and some we share, again, building school spirit. 

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My daughter has, thus far, shown little interest in making mud angels. I'm grateful. In our experience then, mud is more of a metaphorical school color, standing for more than the sum of its parts and the trail it leaves behind. 

Our school song came to us by way of ROCS dad and blog contributor Mark Fisher. According to Mark, "I woke up in the middle of the night and heard in my mind a melody carrying the words Red Oak Community School. I don't remember what dream preceded that but I know I had been thinking how glad I was that Raad was attending such a wonderful school where he could spend so much time playing and learning outside in all kinds of weather. Once the song started I couldn't stop so I went downstairs and finished it, plunking out the music on the piano as quietly as I could while the family slept." 

Here's what he came up with:

Mark planned to teach the song to the kids but major surgery got in his way. Upon hearing the song and Mark's plan, ROCS Director Cheryl Ryan suggested we teach it to the kids and send Mark a recording as a form of Get Well message. Having taught the kids a song last year, I volunteered to introduce it to them and Miss Maureen planned to practice it with them. 

When he first introduced the song to me, Mark feared it might be too corny. But it's a perfect alma mater, which, according to Wikipedia "is typically slow, light in instrumentation and with lyrics that wax nostalgic about the institution's setting and affirm the singer's devotion to, and fondness for, the institution." When I talked through the lyrics with the kids, they instantly commented on the slow tempo which they eagerly associated with the Star Wars theme song. They also noticed the repetition between verses which is part of what makes it such a catchy tune.

Here's their first public rendition. There's sure to be many, many more.

Jodi Kushins
ROCS Mom and Blog Editor

Tankyuu - Inspiring Big and Small Quests at Red Oak

As school got started this year, a few of us got to talking again about how to get parents and others from our extended community time to work with our students on a regular basis. It was decided that last year's Free Day Friday would be reconceived to serve this purpose. After a few weeks of trial including martial arts, music, gardening, and readers' theater, the staff discussed what to call that time. Some parents didn't like the idea of free time at school and the term didn't fully convey the learning that goes on during these extracurricular opportunities. Meridith Kiyosue, ROCS Japanese and related cutural arts teacher, suggested Tankyuu, Japanese for quest and exploration. In this post, Meridith offers some further thoughts on the meaning of tankyuu, how it can further our thinking about teaching and learning, and a recent tankyuu session she organized with support from the Japan America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO).

Photo by Meridith Kiyosue

Photo by Meridith Kiyosue

Within contemporary educational conversations, educators often speak about learning outside traditional subjects and classrooms as quests. All too often, however, the guides and seekers in such situations are directed to arrive at a planned destination leaving little room for authentic exploration. A map is drawn and a schedule is made; bypassing the twists, turns, and beautiful inspirational sites one might find along the way. Language learning, for example, too often becomes a rigid, measurable pursuit complete with national standardized tests that categorize proficiency to make it possible for prospective employers to identify desirable employees. This is particularly true with learning Japanese, and while there is no shortage of educators of Nihongo (Japanese) yearning to inspire their students to explore beyond grammar and language acquisition, academic systems are leaving less room for creativity. With online language learning becoming commonplace, studying is less and less about the communal experience of learning a language and more about individual attainment of information.

Photo by Maureen Alley

Photo by Maureen Alley

But learning another language flows a bit differently at Red Oak. As we strive to develop stewards of the natural world, through Japanese language and culture we have an opportunity to inspire stewards of the global world as well. My personal introduction to Japan and the Japanese language was simple: I sat next to an exchange student in college and she became a dear friend. When she went back to Japan, I took a course in Japanese so I could keep in touch with her. That began my own incredible tankyuu, an educational and lifelong journey that brought me to live in Japan and and currently sees me as a ROCS educator. When my child, Ren, enjoyed a year with grandparents abroad in Japan and attended first grade, it wasn’t perfection of the language that made the experience memorable. Rather, it was the new friendships made through play, laughter, and fun. Through these natural teachers, Ren picked up Japanese rather quickly.

I keep this in mind as I guide ROCS students each day in Japanese class. Building on their curiosities, I strive to support exploration and to identify a purpose for our work together.  I use our time together to promote responsibility to connect and build friendships beyond borders, to make friends and inspire kizuna (strong bonds) with many people.

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

During tankyuu on November 20th, I organized Kimono Day.  It started with a brief presentation and story to all students in attendance. My friend read "Tsuru no Ongaeshi or "The Grateful Crane" in Japanese and I translated. Then the students circulated around stations where they could work on an art project, complete a packet to learn more about kimonos, or read Japanese fairytales. When their group was called, they were invited to come back into the main room to try on a kimono. The kimonos belonged to the Japan America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO).

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

A Japanese family visited ROCS to help the students try on kimonos. The young boy accompanying them remarked to his mother as they were leaving “Tomodachi dekita, yo!” “I made friends!” He and our children played unencumbered by language barriers.  Through art, social studies, music, pop culture, fairy tales, history, pen pal letters and paper cranes -all mixed in with language studies- I hope being a good tomodachi remains an ever-present goal. May our children’s tankyuu continue always and see them as ambassadors of friendship and peace along the way. Heiwa.



Safe Risks

by ROCS teacher Maureen Alley

Sometimes as teachers we toss around educational words and phrases assuming everyone knows what they mean.  I recently realized this may not be the case when I talk about students at Red Oak taking "safe risks." At our school, safe risks come in three forms: social, physical, and academic.


Every time a child asks another child to play, they risk rejection.  "Will the other kid say no?  What if they don't want to play with me?  What happens next?"  When there are trusted adults nearby for support, however, this risk becomes manageable.  Students know that we are there to help them navigate the social waters, while still letting them captain their own ship.  

On the other end of this equation, there is a risk to telling a peer "no."  Each time a student decides and articulates that they'd rather play a two-person game, or play alone, they run the risk of upsetting their peer.  In more traditional settings they also run the risk of being forced into a game or partnership they don't want.  At Red Oak, we help the students find the balance between caring for others' feelings and taking care of one’s own.

Physical risks are the easiest ones to see!  Climbing downed trees, jumping off stumps, swinging on vines, and navigating muddy slopes are risky.  But the more practice kids have using their big muscle groups the less likely they are to get hurt while doing so.  At Red Oak we allow them to find the edges of their abilities and push a little further.  

Academic risks are taken every time a child stretches beyond their comfort zone, answers a question even though they might get it wrong, or uses inventive spelling to get their thoughts on paper.  We often discuss what happens when you make a mistake: “Fix it or ask for help!”  You can often hear Red Oak students tell themselves and others, "Erasers are awesome!" as encouragement to erase and try again.


Part of our curriculum[K1]  at Red Oak is how to make mistakes and how to learn from failure!  The Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems address failure and ways to move on in very kid-friendly ways. I also find it to be very valuable to let the students see my mistakes and struggles.  For example, I am not a very adept artist, but I keep on trying, modeling out loud, "Well, it kind of looks like a person.  I did my best on that one!"

At Red Oak we cultivate a culture that accepts risks in all forms.  It is a joy to watch the students grown and learn as they test their limits.  

#optoutside @ROCS

In 2015, Recreational Equipment Inc. encouraged people to spend Black Friday outdoors. REI closed its stores that day in support of their vision. Given you're reading this blog you probably don't need convincing that a day spent adventuring outside is better than any day spent at the mall. Either way, the #optoutside video campaign that year was heartwarming and worth a few minutes of your time. Every day we bring our kids to ROCS, we #optoutside. 

Photo credit: Maureen Alley

Photo credit: Maureen Alley

In a recent conversation with ROCS Director, Cheryl Ryan and the chair of ROCS Education Committee and Metro Parks Education Administrator, Tanya Taylor, we got to talking about what playing and learning outside currently looks like at ROCS and how  that might that change over time. At the root of the conversation were questions like: What does it mean to be a nature-immersion school? Why do we #optputside at ROCS and how does that look day-to-day?

Photo credit: Michelle McNabb

Photo credit: Michelle McNabb

Reflecting we realized these questions had multiple answers. We identified at least two parts to the equation: 1) providing environmentally connected programming and, 2) simply enabling kids to play and learn outdoors. People tend to think of environmentally-embedded education when they hear nature-immersion - school gardens, nature walks to collect and study specimens, habitat restoration, and other things we very much see as our goals. Most ROCS parents are concerned about the environment and want our kids to learn to be stewards of the earth before its too late. However, there are many other reasons to be glad we #optoutside during the school day.

A recent report from REI and Futerra, The Path Ahead: The Future of Life Outdoors, released just in time for Black Friday 2017, might help us articulate more of those reasons in the future. It suggests, "Often, the outdoor community is focused on what we need to do to fix the outdoors, but it isn’t the only thing suffering — we are too. The outdoors can be the antidote to so much of what ails us in our 21st century life."

The Path Ahead is "designed to provoke discussion by exploring nine ‘brutal truths’ juxtaposed with nine ‘beautiful possibilities." For example, to combat humans' ever-increasing evolution towards an "Indoor Species," they propose a return to "Free Range Humans." To address the kind of "Urban Sprawl" we are all too familiar with in central Ohio, development that erases our last vast green spaces, they call for more "Wild Cities" where nature is integrated into planning. More than just a manifesto, it is packed with references to research studies for further reading. 

Photo credit: Maureen Alley

Photo credit: Maureen Alley

The report brought me back to a recent morning I spent in the natural playspace chatting with our Chickadees teacher Michelle McNabb. Michelle has decades of experience teaching, both in traditional school settings and homeschooling her own children. I wanted to follow-up on something she'd told me: While she'd been nervous at the start of the year about having to transition a group of 5 and 6 year-olds from over an hour of unstructured play to an hour and a half of structured academic time, she found the opposite to be true. After their free time playing outside, the kids were ready to settle in and focus. The typical wiggles of kindergarteners in a classroom were greatly reduced and they were able to be more productive as a result. (Compare this with The Path Ahead "All Work No Play" -> "Headspace")

Michelle begins her weekly reports to parents with notes and observations about outdoor play time. For example, for October 24-27 she wrote,

In outside news, we had our first campfire of the season!  Students helped gather dry(ish) sticks and learned how to make a cone of kindling with recycled fire starter material in the middle.  We also reviewed fire safety expectations: only grownups start or put materials in a fire, walking only around the fire pit, and stand arm's length away from the pit.  Students learned that fires need fuel and air to burn, and how to encourage embers by blowing gently on them.  They also experienced the difference between smoke and steam when we put the fire out using creek water.  Students also enjoyed exploring our expanded play area.  The discovery of an animal skull led to the creation of paleontology club that searched for more remains. A new slide and an uphill trek with the aid of a climbing rope has been a fun physical challenge as well as an added running loop for more large motor movement. 

Photo credit: Michelle McNabb

Photo credit: Michelle McNabb

The morning I spent with Michelle, I noticed my own daughter and a friend sat on a log side-by-side and read, in the low 40-degree temperatures(!) for nearly the full first hour of school. Michelle suggested that different kids need different things from that time on different days. Sometimes they need to run and scream and sometimes they just need to sit quietly with friends and talk. (Compare this with The Path Ahead "Sick and Sad" -> "Nature RX")

It's no secret our school is in its infancy. That means we are doing some totally amazing things, and we're still working hard to figure out lots of others. Refining our vision and developing curriculum and general standards of practice fully in line with that vision won't happen overnight. But let's remember and be thankful that our teachers and children, board members and parents are working towards that goal everyday - through our actions and interactions. 

This Friday we hope you'll #optoutside. If you share any photos on social media, we'd love to see them! Tag Red Oak Community School (on Facebook) and @redoackcommunityschool (on Instagram). It'll be fun how many of us are out there, wherever we might be!

Happy Thanksgiving,
Jodi Kushins
ROCS Mom, Education Committee Member, and Blog Editor