Chapter 3 Offerings
“By giving all of us students an exceptional level of choice about our own learning process, and by developing many innovative methods for resolving conflicts and helping us to build confidence in ourselves, Sundance was a place that helped us make the transition from passive recipients of life, to active participants in charting our own destiny.”
” I remember doing yoga with Doreen, Renaissance Dance with Paul, Exercise to Music with Bronwen, Beading with Evie (I cut my hair with scissors that day; I needed a hair-cut!!) Also I remember reading with Giles.”
___Natalie Ogilvie (nee Turner)
During our family’s first year at Sundance, 1976 to 1977, our son Jason was five years old. It was his first year at school. He knew a lot about dinosaurs, so he asked me if he could tell his friends what he knew about them. He and I went to Alan and asked him about it. Alan helped Jason put his “Offering” on the schedule and kids chose to go and hear what Jason had to offer. With Alan’s and my help, he was able to teach interested students all he knew about dinosaurs. He was respected and appreciated for what he had to offer, just as an adult would have been.
What was an offering? It was everything from Out, which was freedom to play outside with supervision, to Calligraphy, Paul’s very formal writing class where students used pens and ink in a quiet, focused setting.
Each week the teachers met to complete the gigantic task of filling out the schedule. They tried to balance it in a way that covered the curriculum for all the students, while teaching from their own strengths, and meeting the needs of children who had special interests or requirements. This mission was helped by parents and students who put offerings on the schedule from time to time, and by looking for community members who had certain gifts or interests to share with our students.
Some offerings were open to any and every child in the whole school. Some were age-restricted and some were limited in number and required children to win a draw. Children who wanted to go (and were eligible to go because of their age) to an offering that was number-limited, would enter a kind of lottery during the first family time of the day, which involved drawing names or guessing a number. Sometimes, if limited offerings were very popular, the teacher would put them on the schedule again and again until every child who yearned to attend had been given the chance.
Some offerings were available each week; others happened rarely or occasionally, while others were one-time-only events.
Peggy Palmer described Offerings to the School Board this way:
The day is divided into offering times – 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Children, with their parents, choose from a timetable which is published weekly and outlines what each staff person will be doing during specified offering times. These choices are then recorded in a booklet which travels with the child all the time. Sometimes offerings are age limited or skill limited but often they are wide open. For example, an offering called ‘math help’ may be open to any aged child. At this offering, children would choose from a range of math activities geared to their skill level, or, they could continue on with a math program they have developed with the math coordinator. An example of a limited offering would be ‘older language’ – in this case older does not necessarily exclude a younger child with equal ability but it is an indicator of a skills level. Children coming to this offering are expected to be able to read and write fluently as they are dealing with grammar, novel study, etc.
Children may work on math, or any other subject, any time during the day. They are responsible for their workbooks and know where materials are in each room. For instance, a child who is turned on to math might want to work on math the whole day. This is not only allowed but encouraged at Sundance. There is always a quiet space available for children to work in. This is not quite as easily done over the lunch break, but even then you might see children working on assignments they have given themselves.
The children are non-graded in their academics. Children work to their own particular level in a subject area and are responsible to keep track of materials given them and any program drawn up for them. A child might be working at a grade eight level in language and a grade three level in math. An aspect of Sundance that is very important to me as a parent is that children are not ridiculed of pushed into their work. It takes a lot of trust in children to follow this program – trust that they will get what they need, trust that they do in fact want to learn, trust that, although they are not told what to do every minute of the day, they will spend their time well.
That’s how it worked. Ideally, parents and kids would read through the offerings in the newsletter which went home each Friday. Parents might suggest that their children try something new, stay with a regular offering, or just have a balanced week. Each family and each child had their own goals.
Megan Chapelis received guidance from her parents. She writes:
I was gently encouraged to set goals that expanded my comfort zone, one step at a time: “do something with a teacher other than Evie” and “don’t change all my offerings to do the same things as Atlantis” were two of these.
Some offerings arose in response to something happening in the community or on the news.
Dave Nordstrom reports on one such offering.
In its 1981 Christmas toy promotion, Eatons resurrected the old saw “Sugar and spice… Snakes and snails” as it featured “girl toys” and “boy toys”. Considerable indignation was generated at an offering which discussed the ad, with agreement that all the interesting stuff was on the boy’s page. A letter was sent to Eaton’s head office, with many signatures, and that ad was never repeated.
This is also a good example of how a community response resulted from an offering. When Sundance began, offerings were much more spontaneous.
Leni Hoover, who attended School Board meetings to lobby fiercely for a less structured alternative school, and was involved from that point on, has happy memories of:
… the good feelings between everyone, when the children were free to dig in the dirt all day if they wanted, and Paul walked through the grounds and classroom playing a recorder and all the children who wanted to do some music followed him and had a singsong. Also, almost every morning you’d hear children singing, “Morning Has Broken.”
Leni and many others thought that the school had moved too far away from its original purpose when offerings were formalized. She writes:
…the school decided children would have to stay with offerings chosen and that was it. I felt the staff tried to be all things to all people and got into impossible situations. I feel (and said many times) the school should have stayed closer to the original ideals, and people who found that unsuitable be asked to find or form another school. Too often new parents would push for more structure, the school would bend in that direction and the following year after the child had experienced full day Kindergarten they would leave to a “regular” Grade One program.
Leni goes on to say that she did not like:
…children having to determine what they would be doing at a certain time the following week, (i.e. a 7-year-old deciding that at 2 PM the following Tuesday they would be wanting to do ____.)
Ida Ripley who was there from 1979 to 1988, recalls the “How much structure?” debate in this way. She says:
Remember USSR? That was in the time when there was a little structure before there was no structure before there was too much structure.
This reminds us of the on-going debate about how much structure the school ought to have. Should offerings be chosen at the time or well in advance? Could kids change their offerings? As teachers, we debated this issue a lot, but we usually agreed that offerings were a structure that the school needed, as long as there was the option of Out or Room most of the day. Once the kids had made a commitment to attending the offerings we had prepared, we thought it was important for them to follow through, both for the good of the program and also for the development of the student.
Offerings were often multi-aged, and in a school the size of Sundance (between 110 and 125 children) this not only supported our philosophy but also made sense in terms of numbers. We were often reminded that age isn’t important, that if a subject is exciting to a child of 5 and one who is 12, they can both enjoy it and learn from it
Stephanie Hall recollects that
Sundance was a home to learn in. We could go with what we were interested in for as long as we wanted. We had art when we wanted, how we wanted to do it.
This was the early days, when offerings were looser and you really could do art all day if you wanted to. Later, Room was introduced as a choice, and if you wanted to do art or anything else that didn’t hurt anyone, you could do it there.
Krista Amyotte reflects on the early days of Sundance; she says:
I was there from 1979 to 1983, good times. My favourite class was Paul’s sing-along. “Back off Boogaloo” really got us kids pumped.
When I started teaching at Sundance in 1981, I came on staff at .4 FTE, or four mornings a week to work with the little kids. I always put on an offering first thing in the morning called “Readiness,” which seems like a funny name for an offering now, but clearly meant something at the time, perhaps getting ready to go to school.
All the 5, 6 or 7 year-olds were welcome to come to Readiness and play games, listen to stories, do introductory reading and math activities, play with dress-ups, do crafts, or whatever we came up with in that first period of the day. It was similar to a Kindergarten or Early Primary Program, but with more emphasis on communication skills and lots of choice. After recess I did other offerings and the young kids would choose offerings from the whole schedule.
Dylan Frye, who attended Sundance near the end of the 80s, writes:
My kindergarten teacher was Amber. Considering it has been almost twenty years since I graduated from grade one, my memory of Amber is a little faded. I am pretty sure she had reddish hair but I might just recall that because of her name. I remember one of my best friends was in her class. His name was Lars. Lars used to run into the classroom and holler out to Amber, “HEY, look who’s here!” He said it in a way that implied that of all the kids in the room, Amber would be most pleased and excited to see him.
[Author’s note: Of course I was most pleased to see him, and you, and every other kid!! That’s what love is all about. There’s enough to go around.]
Everyone has their own memories of offerings they enjoyed.
Ida Ripley writes in Facebook:
I loved that Bronwen taught us Centering in Family Time (teaching kids to meditate, wow, how cool!). And she taught Exercise to Music and I always loved that she was wearing the coolest bodysuits.
Emma Brown has memories of offerings with teachers, staff, and parent volunteers, She writes:
So many awesome memories! I remember Josh’s solo and Bronwen’s body suits (she was my fave teacher.) I loved spending time in the office with Bindo, she was an awesome woman. I remember when she would teach us to cook Indian food. Yum! I remember learning about witchcraft with Ariel. I spent some time with her just a few years ago.
I feel so grateful to Sundance when I read about the friendships that developed between students and the mentors. Age differences didn’t matter when people shared common interests or a connection. Years later it’s clear that they still feel a bond with those who taught them. The students were at the offering because they chose to be. The person presenting the offering had something to offer them that they wanted. And so a connection was formed.
Dimitri Demers wrote on Facebook about his favourite offerings:
Nothing like two or three “Outs” in a row.
“Pirates” was pretty legendary!
“Art” with Giles was always!
“Floor Hockey” was fierce!
Again on Facebook, Josh Miller wrote:
Just a few of my favorites were: Hazards of Being Male, Exercise to Music, Out, Library, Room, and Floor Hockey.
Jade Carter said, also on Facebook:
Definitely floor hockey with Ron, out, out, out, room, out, room, room, making clay tanks in art with Josh and Sam, and who can forget pirates. That gym was massive back then. Somehow it shrunk over the years….
Krista Amyotte wrote on Facebook that her favourite offerings were:
-finger painting with chocolate pudding to music (!!!???!!!)
-OUT ! (what an awesome school)
Although everyone I spoke with or exchanged letters with recalls favourite offerings when they look back on their years at Sundance, the offering former students have remarked on more than any other is Paul’s Singalong offering. Dozens of people told me they loved singing “Back Off Boogaloo,” (written by Richard Starkey, AKA Ringo Starr.) Paul was so full of goodness and cheer, that everyone had a wonderful time at his Singalongs.
Emma comments on Paul at the piano:
I remember that his face was always so theatrical when he sang too. That added to all the fun!!!
At some point, it was decided that ringing the bell between offerings was too disruptive, and we agreed to play music over the inter-com instead. Bindo, a sports enthusiast, chose the “Chariots of Fire” theme, so each offering ended with this music, conjuring up images of young men in shorts and jerseys, joyfully running along the water’s edge.
By the way, I don’t know who chose the word “Offering.” But isn’t it wonderful? Here is a gift that’s being offered up for the students to enjoy. They are free to partake of that gift or not.
I recently found this from Krista Raphael who wrote,
I’ve always wanted to let you know that I have a special memory of you from my days at Sundance, and today feels like a good day to write it down;
One of the “offerings” (wow, it just hit me how appropriate that word is between student-teacher) was pysanky~taught by you, of course…
and the whole process was so amazing to me. First, I had to ask my Grandma (who raised me until she passed away when I was 14, she only 64) for eggs for the class. Well, my Grandma never wasted a thing in her life so she taught me how to make 2 pinholes on either end of the egg and blow out the white and yolk to save for later. Then you showed us how to draw the beeswax on the egg with that tool that I can’t recall its name, but I do remember that it starts with a “j”, no? Then the process of colouring the egg and removing the beeswax was just magical to me. I think what struck me at the time was that you trusted us little kids with such intricate artwork, I really remember feeling honoured to be able to create something with those tools. I believe, too, that I began my love for aromatherapy in that class…to this day the smell of beeswax reminds me of my lovely Grandma, so I wish to thank you for facilitating that memory for me. Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.