Lakeside School at Black Kettle Farm offers birth – 1st grade education based on the Waldorf philosophy on a working farm in Essex, NY. Each week our Office Administrator, Kathleen Morse, writes on the Lakeside school and community and education based on the Waldorf philosophy through her perspective from the office window.
View from the Office Window: Whole Systems Thinking
The theme for this week came to me not while sitting in my office, but rather while preparing breakfast yesterday morning. The phrase that popped into my head was “Whole Systems Thinking.” This is a topic that I often muse about to try to put into practice as I venture to live an integrated life.
“Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish.”
Here at Lakeside, one example of whole systems thinking happened in the fall of 2011. Those living in the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley won’t forget when Hurricane Irene swept through the region. In the strong wind gusts of Irene the large walnut tree in the play yard came crashing down. Now one could think, “Oh no, what a tragedy”. Rather, the students, faculty, and community of Lakeside took another spin. They came out in full force for a workday and sawed up stumps for the play yard, then hauled in a sawmill that a parent owns and milled planks, cut shingles and cut firewood. From this fallen hero in the play-yard, the community built a tree house. The children knew this walnut tree intimately from playing around its base, from using the walnut nuts as pretend food or balls or money for the store. They knew that the squirrels especially love the walnut nuts and would often see them on the fence or squirreling away nuts for the winter. The children now know where boards that build houses come from. And they know the enduring spirit of their community and dedication to their school. The children don’t know these things because someone said: “Now children, boards are made out of trees”. For a young child this is an abstraction that can build mental pictures for the child that become fixed as “this is how the world works” and no other way is possible. Rather, the children at Lakeside know from experience, that from the fallen walnut, the boards for the tree house were hewn and transformed into this tree-house where they play and have rest time. Today this tree-house happened to be a pirate ship!
Another example of this experience of whole systems thinking at Lakeside School happens every Thursday at snack during Egg & Sausage day. The early childhood children’s farm chores each morning include feeding the chickens and rabbits and collecting the chicken eggs. The children are able to see the chicken eggs in connection to the chickens. They are able to feel the warmth of the newly lain eggs and experience the egg in its natural state. They smell the smells and hear the sounds of the chickens. You will often hear the older kindergarten children in a bout of excitement say, “Ms. Morse, we found five eggs today!” During their farming classes each week, the first graders take the eggs collected by the younger children and wash them. In the fall there weren’t enough eggs for snack so Essex Farm made donations each week. Now that the chickens are producing more, the eggs from Black Kettle will be used for the children’s snack. In the winter when the wood fired cook stove is cranking, the eggs are even cooked on the wood stove. Remember that walnut tree? It’s now used to cook the food the children eat. So from chicken to steaming eggs and sausage, the children are able to experience the process of where their food comes from and how a tree is transformed into not only a tree house but also warmth to cook their food.
Will we as humanity survive or perish? Much of this depends on us as adults developing the capacity for whole systems thinking and giving experiences to our children in order for them to develop these capacities as a normal element of their education and upbringing.
As an adult, if you are looking to develop this capacity, check out the book, “Embracing Materialism and Letting IT Go”. You can find the free download at sensri.org/bookpreview. Thank you for choosing an integrated school model which gives your children the gift of developing those capacities of thought, which, as they get older, will facilitate these children in envisioning and developing the new solutions of tomorrow that this world desperately needs.