Beginnings of Roots of Life

This past week, on Thanksgiving day, children, parents, and siblings gathered together to celebrate and share food at Roots of Life. Thanksgiving is a tradition in the US that is so much more than the Turkey (especially if you are vegetarian like us), it is a day where families come together to find joy in each other’s presence, to cook, to share food, and to find gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. I don’t know of any other school or organization that actually celebrates together on Thanksgiving day. It felt rare and special. As I looked around that day, at the children and families that all wanted to come to our space to celebrate, I felt a profound sense of gratitude for the people who are making Roots of Life possible. It inspired me to write a blog about our journey thus far.

When Camden and I finished the road trip, we took some time to decide what our next steps would be, and mainly, where they would be. It was important to us that we moved to a place that we felt a sense of connection and community. It was clear that Carrollton, GA beckoned us with friends and relationships grown during our time completing our masters degrees at the University of West Georgia. When we first came to the area, we were warmly welcomed and offered a place to stay by our dear friends Paul and Terra. During our stay at their farm, we were inspired by the space where we were living. We would wake up in the morning, cook some breakfast, often be greeted by Paul and Terra’s daughter, Zinnia, who was always willing to eat the last pancake for us, and enter into deep conversations about what we wanted to create. Our discussions circled around themes of education, gardening, spirituality, meaningful work, and our gifts. We were not concerned with making money, but with making something that would stay true to all we have learned and understood in our life thus far. This mere idea of working in a setting or job that didn’t feel authentic was unthinkable.

So, as we looked around, and had these conversations, the words of “we could have a school here” came to the forefront. We started dreaming up what the playground would look like and what work we would have to do to make it possible. We shared our idea with Paul and Terra and began working with them to put our idea into action. I had my doubts, it was a big undertaking and commitment on something we had no guarantee for. This endeavor is something I never would have or could have done on my own. With the support of Camden, Paul, and Terra, the space started to take shape. We began by building a fence around the playground which for several months would hold two goats, Truffles and Nugget, who also contributed greatly to the project by eating all the rapidly growing kudzu and weeds. Clearing space, moving the play set, laying down wood chips, building a sandbox, installing a ceiling fan, building a wall, changing a door knob, acquiring children sized furniture and toys, cleaning, painting, putting in a floor and a sink… this list goes on! Almost everything on this list, I had never done before. It took several months, but the space began to feel different, it felt ready to welcome children.

We created flyers, Facebook posts, and started to spread the word about the program. It soon became apparent that filling spots and building our enrollment would be more of a challenge than anticipated. For some families, the setting of Roots of Life didn’t work. It is down a dirt road, there is overgrowth on the land and it is far from manicured. It doesn’t look like a school, and in many ways, it isn’t. It is a forest, a garden, a trail, a home. It is also a work in progress and that has been one of the wonders of the place, to have the children see the changes we (and by we, I mean Camden) make by building monkey bars, balance beams, a climbing wall, and most recently a zip-line. The whole process by which we are bringing Roots of Life into reality aligns with our core values. Camden and I feel deeply connected to the space, we have a sense of ownership, and we feel inspired to take care of the land and what we are building. This is the same feeling we want to encourage in our children. It is a different feeling when they see Camden working each day to build things for them to play on. They appreciate both Camden and the playground more than if something was ordered, delivered, and installed by a stranger. The same applies to eating the carrots we pull up in the garden, or the bread we make together each Thursday.

In September, to introduce children and families to our space, we held a series of donation-based Tuesdays in September. Once a week the children came and we had various themes including a nature walk, gardening, cooking, and art. It was a great way to open our doors and bring life and energy to the space. We then began in October with two children, Tuesday-Thursday from 8:30-12:30. We soon were joined by Zinnia and Amelia, who were doing their own homeschool program with Terra. Zinnia and Amelia would journey up from Hogwarts (their harry potter inspired school) to join the younger children and our activities. Zinnia, 9, and Amelia, 10, were an unexpected blessing to our program which evolved to be more mixed-aged than anticipated. Our younger five-year-olds have learned so much by observing the older children. The older children simultaneously learn so much by being leaders and supporting the younger children.

An important aspect to getting the program off the ground has been to be open, flexible, and adaptable. This vision and expectations that were in my head several months ago have undoubtedly changed formed. To take notice of what opportunities present themselves, what children and families are joining us, and of course, how the natural unfolding of learning and exploration leads us down unchartered paths is a gift. For example, I intended for the program to only be for children ages 3-6, but we welcomed older children and found the tremendous benefits of their presence. The focus is still on early childhood and we continue to search for more families with young children to build the program, while maintaining an openness to who and what presents itself, embracing what is, rather than willfully pushing for something else.

I am so deeply grateful to the families that have been with us since September and have made this program possible. It feels so important and so meaningful to have a learning environment for children that centers around holism, connection, nature, and overall well-being. When I hear passing stories of the alternatives in mainstream public schools, I am shocked to learn that kindergarten children are spending so much time on computers, obsessed with academic benchmarks, and being bribed with candy. It reinforced my commitment to offer something different and reminds me that programs like Roots of Life are desperately needed.

For parents, educators, and learners of all kinds who may have read this far… I would invite you to take a moment to close your eyes, take a few slow deep breaths, settle into your body, and remember a moment of deep learning in your life. Where were you, what were you doing, who was with you, what did you learn, and how did it feel? Think on this moment for some time and contemplate the quality of that moment of learning. What was it that made it so valuable? As we consider how we move forward in educating our children, this often crosses my mind. Moments of first-hand experience, mistakes, listening to stories, observing beauty, managing pain, creating, stillness, silence, celebration, or even the seemingly mundane… moments that transform our being in profound and life-changing ways. This is the atmosphere of learning that we can create for children. If you have any stories of deep learning that you would like to share, please forward them to so we might assemble a collection of such stories to inspire our teaching and learning journey.

I also invite you to share with others who may be interested in Roots of Life and live in the greater Carrollton community to reach out to us and/or come for a visit. To make this initative sustainable, we need the support of our families and children to join and walk this path alongside us. We are currently accepting new students to begin Jan. 2023 and also welcome those interested in summer or fall 2023 programming to contact us for more information.