It is a warm, sunny Monday afternoon in mid-May on the lawn outside South Whidbey Elementary School. Our group of two teachers, a dozen first and second graders, and myself as a volunteer are sitting on the lawn in a squiggly shaped circle. We have spent the last two hours visiting their pollinator garden, reading a book, and writing in journals.
Fifteen minutes before the close of the school day it is time for the daily check out circle. Their teacher, Miss Ristoff, reviewed behaviors for circle. One child volunteered to lead. Another placed a water bottle filled with picked daisies for the center. Another child suggested everyone say names so I can remember them.
He began our round of checkout by saying his name, his nick name, and his age. The child next to him passed, not yet ready to speak, and the twig being used as a talking piece went to the next child. “My name is Evan. My nickname is “Ev” and I am 7.3 years old.” By the time the talking stick reached me, nearly everyone has checked in.
“My name is Ann and because it is such a short name, I don’t have a nick name. And I am 73 years old.” I saw some raised eyebrows on the other side of the circle. The girl sitting next to me said quietly, “That’s older than my grandmother.” Smiling, I leaned over to her and responded, “I am a grandmother.” And then I passed the talking piece on.
I can’t stop smiling. For the past several decades I have lead PeerSpirit circles in places ranging from hospitals to university classrooms to non-profit board rooms in many different countries. Nobody in this circle knows or cares. They are just present to their own circle, as they should be.
The closing round of the talking piece is a response to the question, “What is a ‘glow’(something that went well) and what is a ‘grow’ (something that could have gone better) from today that you experienced?”
It is now ten minutes to 3 p.m. and some of the students in other classes are beginning to file out of the building. Yet, the two teachers maintained calm as the natural twitch factor of first and second graders began to ramp up.
“OK, everyone stand up and do either five somersaults or five jumping jacks,” said Ms.Ristoff. Little bodies instantly went into action. In three minutes everyone was done and sitting back in circle. It took some refocusing, but we were checked out and the students ran inside to pick up their packs a few minutes after 3 p.m. This was a masterfully held circle. Perfect in its timing, respect for individual voices, and content.
I had volunteered to spend an afternoon with the students so they would better know me when I came to be part of their field trip later in the month to visit a blooming prairie. I should have guessed that the students and their teachers would be familiar with circle. However, I had no idea that sitting in a circle with them would be such a poignant reminder to me of the power of circle.
These youngsters are being raised to understand and love the natural world around them. And they are being raised to listen and respect one another. This bodes well for the future of the world around them. And as a complete bonus, two of them gave me a hug on their way into the building!
I can picture you in circle with these littles, grinning from ear to ear. I love how you are so immersed in community on so many levels and especially how willing you are to share what you know. Such a treasure you are, and now this new generation will discover it too! Thanks for a happy start to my day*
Thank you, Bonnie. Starting your day on a happy note could not make me happier! Ann
Thank you for starting my day with a smile. 💕
Thank you, Katharine. Yes, there is so much going on in education that we must continue to celebrate. Ann
Ann, this looks amazing! What a wonderful circle.
With appreciation, Margaret—for ALL the ways you support my missives. Ann
What a sweet story with which to start this beautiful day! Thank you, Ann!
Thank you, Meredith! Remembering all the circles we have done together. Ann
What a delightful story of circle and sharing nature live across generations. Gives me hope, too for our future. Thank you for continuing to share hope and connection and love for the earth. Have a great prairie field trip! Jude
Good to hear your voice, Jude. Yes, hope is exactly what I wanted to convey in this marvelous surprise. Blessings, Ann
How I love this story, Ann. Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you for sharing so generously with the children. Inspiring!
You are welcome, Judy. But, honestly, it was them that totally inspired me.
Thanks, Ann, for sharing your passions with our public schools. You are a gift!
Part of why I wanted to share this story is that our public schools are a gift and I want all of us to remember how crucial they are to the society around us. Ann
I love having this outdoor experience, those daisies, that squiggly circle, this hope, and this great kid energy brought to me through my computer. Being housebound, I treasure these gifts more than you can imagine!
Thank you for your writing here, Cynthia. Yes, the world is still a good place and I know the view out your window is spectacular. Blessings, Ann
I can see this whole scene. You doing your best work of honoring the circle as a participant. Love the comment about being “older than my grandmother’”
And think how many times you and I sat together in such circles when our own children were this young! As long as I can keep sitting on the ground and getting back up again, I hope to be doing this.
Such a beautiful and heart opening intergenerational story Ann – thank you!
You are most welcome.
This is just plain good news!! It reminds me that 50 years ago, when I was a young elementary teacher in Colorado in a very progressive district, we had what we called Magic Circle every day. It was basically a form of circle/council practice and helped our kids express feelings, etc. We would send half out to do something else, so we could have a smaller group, then switch. I had completely forgotten this memory. I just loved your story and I loved that your age raised an eyebrow or two. Ha!
Thank you, Ann.
Love hearing this story from you, Sara! Let us never forget those magic circles, Ann
Those kids are so fortunate to have you join them. What a blessing for them, and for you.
Well, Laura, I actually think the blessing is mostly mine. We take them to visit the prairie today! Should be fun to see it through their eyes.
I can imagine you so well in this setting, Ann. I, too, volunteer at a special school near my home called the Cottonwood School, which focuses on outdoor experiences and hands-on learning. This morning they greeted me as I arrived with, “Hello, Miss Sandy”. I help with their reading and find it delightful.
And aren’t we lucky to be working with younger children? The world is still fresh and new in their eyes—a reminder that it could be for us, too. Thank you, Sandy!
I do not “do” Facebook or open blogs but I always look forward to read what you’ve been up to in keeping young at heart.
I love the reminder of how simple circle ceremony is and your comments. I’ll send it to two dear friends— one an iconic preschool teacher of 25-30 years and another outdoor-school teacher who gets rave reviews. They will both enjoy your review.
Hello, Cheryl! Appreciate your sending this on. My guess is that they may already be doing circle in their own ways. Ann
Thank you. It is always a „glow“ for me to sit with you (and Christina) in Circle. Hugs!
Thank you, Holger. Definitely a glow to sit in circle with you, my friend.
How beautiful, Ann. And hopeful! To know there are such wise teachers in the classroom and in the volunteer pool, one must believe all will be well with these small humans in the coming years. I’m grateful for your love of and dedication to all things growing.
Beautifully written, dear Gretchen. “. . . one must believe all will be well with these small humans in the coming years.” That is what we all truly want to believe. Let us foster that belief with real life stories!
Sweet images that land in my heart. I’m glad for your years (many in your 73) that have invited Circle!
Thank you, Tenneson. The years of circle are too many to count and so very rewarding. Love, Ann
Thank you so much, Ann, for this uplifting look into a positive learning experience going on in elementary schools. I was especially struck and delighted about Miss Ristoff’s belief in the circle communication between her and her students, her awareness of the value of teaching circle work at a young age, and knowing that an elder in the circle was so important to complete the education. (And not just any elder, I might add!!) If we ever wonder if we humans are at all moving forward in a positive way, reading this will definitely give that hope. When I was in grade school we surely did not learn circle work. Rather we learned to stuff our thoughts and ideas and only listen. How much better these kids will be to have been seen and heard at such a young age. Exciting!! Thanks for continuing to do this great work and at this level.
Jeanne, you write wisely and well about the importance of circle and intergenerational learning. Today the children and their teachers and I travel to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust property with the endangered golden paintbrush plants. What an exquisite experience of awe, beauty, and the importance of conservation. Ann
Hope for the future!
Yes, indeed, and right in our own backyard!
Ann, we cannot be a happy people unless we acknowledge what is going right (as in “correctly”) in our society. Thank you for this lovely example of what is going right.
Thank you back, Dot. I could not agree with you more!Ann
Having a good time, are you Annie?! (who says you don’t have a nickname?!) 👋❤
Thank you, Julie! You, a very longtime friend and my sister all use that wonderful nickname. Ann