Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Events This Weekend

This weekend there will be an Open Dialog on Education from 2 to 4 PM on Saturday at The Real School AKA Dragon Valley and a Festival of Live Music at Mojo Risin' Coffee House from noon to 8 PM benefiting the school. For more information on both events, keep reading below!

Whether you are already outside of the educational box, thinking about climbing out or just wanting to examine radically different ways of understanding education, please join The Real School community for our next monthly Open Dialog on Education on Saturday, December 15th from 2 to 4 PM. Our Open Dialogs on Education are opportunities for the community at large to come together to discuss issues relating to education and children as well as the specifics of the school and its philosophy. The dialog will be at our school building (5020 Dickson, Houston, TX 77007) We welcome people of all ages to attend and hope to see you soon! It is always OK to come late!

On Sunday, December 16th from noon to 8 PM there will be a live music festival (http://www.myspace.com/mojorisinfestivalofmusic) at Mojo Risin' Coffee House! A $5 cover will benefit The Real School (www.therealschoohouston.org) . Mojo Risin' Coffee House is located at 1600 Shepherd Dr. at Eigel St. (3 blocks south of I-10/Katy Freeway). There will be live performances from Anna Noel and the Admiral, Cameron Scott, Carolyn Shulman, Constant Billy, Gia, John Egan, Kenneth Scott, Kristen Jensen, Larry Cooper, Mark Zeus, Moodswings, Mr. Nsatiable, PJ Flowers, Raj Pickens, Scef, Tony Henry, and Quiet Talker. Delicious coffee and food will be available for sale as well!

Please pass this information on to anyone you feel would be interested. To find out more information about the school you can:
Visit our website at www.therealschoolhouston.org
Visit our blog at http://therealschoolhouston.blogspot.com
Call us at 832-767-0404

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arboretum and Fire Museum

Last month we spent a wonderful day at the Arboretum. The weather was perfect for walking on the trails. The kids spent a long time at the pond, watching turtles and making pretend fishing poles. They have a Discovery Room that is filled with all kinds of interesting stuff. When we first arrived a woman gave us worksheets with pictures of native wildlife to circle as you spot them in the exhibit. Of course, no one pressured them into filling them out. Some of them had a lot of fun searching while others ignored the papers and just concentrated on the exhibit itself. I didn't notice the other half of the Discovery Room until the group I was with came back from the trails. There was a great selection of local skins, bones, feathers, and plant cuttings to feel and smell. The most interesting part were the microscopes available for use. You could look at slides or use the bigger microscopes to look at water samples, and larger items. It was really nice to have the time to explore all the stuff crammed into the room, and since we went in the middle of a weekday, we had the place to ourselves.

Sean looking at snakeskin under a microscope.

Justin searching for an animal in his packet at the Discovery Room at the Arboretum.

Christopher, Kristin, Troy, Jennifer, Sean, and Max exploring the Discovery Room at the Arboretum.

Max, Isaac, Seth, Justin, Evan, and Ripley peering into the pond at the Arboretum.

Justin and Ripley pretending to fish at the Arboretum.

The day before Thanksgiving most kids stayed at home, so a few of us went on an impromptu trip to the Fire Museum. When we walked into the museum the younger kids were in complete awe. Upon seeing a hose attached to a fire hydrant, Diego gave the most excited gasp I have ever heard.

William and Diego run their firetruck into Abba at the Fire Museum.

Wiliam and Diego getting ready to slide down the pole in their firefighter outfits at the Fire Museum.

- Ellie, Staff Member

5 Days, 5 Ways to Give

Apologies for the lack of updates lately, I will do my best to be a more regular poster!

Starting tonight we are having a week of fundraisers because the school is in a financial crunch. Any contributions are appreciated. We will be posting a Paypal link on our website soon for those who are unable to attend events.

5 Days, 5 Ways to Give
All events take place at The Real School (5020 Dickson, near Shepherd and Memorial).
For more information call Kim at 713-385-2428.

Tonight, Tuesday, November 27th at 7 PM: Film Screening and Discussion.
We will be watching Free to Learn, a film about the Albany Free School, and then discussing education. We are asking for a donation of at least 5 dollars.

Wednesday, November 28th at 6 PM: Enfants Creatifs Art Show & Sale.
Artwork created by the kids for sale.

Thursday, November 29th from 9 AM to 8 PM: Recycling Day
Stop by and drop off your aluminum cans for recycling.

Friday, November 30th at 8 PM: Dance Party
We are asking for a donation of at least 5 dollars.

Saturday, December 1st at 9 AM: Yard Sale
We have a lot of stuff so please come by and support the school!

Saturday, December 1st at 2 PM: Music and Poetry Show
Come listen to bands and hear great poetry!

- Ellie, Staff Member

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallows Eve

Happy Halloween!

Jose, Ellie, Judah, Stuart, and Abba pose in their Halloween costumes on the porch.

Isaac, Justin, Abba, and Ellie pjck up the parachute while Ripley crouches underneath.

Abba, EliJah, Ellie, Diego, Isaac, Seth, Justin, William, and Ripley play with the parachute.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Boys and Girls' Baseball Bat Park

The weather in Houston has been beautiful lately. On Wednesday we made our first trip to the park nearest to us (now nicknamed "Boys and Girls' Baseball Bat Park" by some) in a few months. It is only a 20 minute walk, 10 if you have no need to dawdle and explore every interesting distraction, but with high humidity and heat it can be pretty intolerable. Now I fully expect we will make more frequent trips for swinging, tag, and soccer.

It is amazing how much the energy and mood of the kids has changed since they have started playing outside more! There seems to be less bickering and a much greater sense of community. The kids will often play games outdoors that require cooperation, concentration, and greater verbal and non-verbal communication. They also have a far greater outlet for physical energy and sheer volume, especially when we go to a larger space than our yard.

Expect more photos from our trips to the Renaissance Festival and Arboretum when they are uploaded soon!

William emerging from a successful trip down the slide.

Evan pausing as she pushes Judah around in the stroller. Now that we have a stroller to play with many of the kids were very excited to push Judah around.

William, EliJah, Diego, Justin, Ripley, and Evan working hard to get Seth and Troy fully buried.

Justin's head was all that was left.

Sean readying his X for a game of Tic Tac Toe.

Diego joyfully swinging.

Troy giving a smile while Justin, Ripley, and EliJah continue playing in the background.

For more pictures please follow this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Friday, October 19, 2007

Learning Beyond the Walls

In our vision statement we say, "We want to participate in the world at large as well as be accessible to it." Part of this sentiment is the idea that learning does not just happen within the walls of this building, or only in the hours we are open. While we believe strongly that the school is a wonderful place for kids to be, we feel just as strongly that it is not enough. Children have to be given the opportunity to explore the world, not be separated from it. Learning and living are one. Schools tend to toss around terms such as "life-long learners" while they maintain that learning can only happen at school. Thus we see millions of people who graduate every year believing that they have finished learning.

In fact, one of the founders of our school, who worked briefly as a substitute in public schools, shared a story about how he was reading a book while eating lunch at work one day. A teacher approached him and asked if he was in school. When he said no, she then asked him why he would be reading. This was the same person that was supposed to be "cultivating" that life-long love of learning in her students!

At The Real School, we do not work to "cultivate" or "develop" a life-long love of learning. We believe that all people are born naturally curious and have an innate desire to learn. If we do not interfere or destroy this characteristic, there is no reason it would expire at adulthood.

We are trying our best to go with the kids outside of the building as much as possible. Whether simply walking to the store or park, or organizing a field trip that requires driving, we hope they all have the opportunity to be a part of life.

Most recently we took a field trip to the Houston Heritage Society on Wednesday, where the kids very dutifully dealt with being followed around by docents who seemed slightly uncomfortable with children being around. We got to visit a house built in 1821 (which for Houston is as old as it gets) and the kids were able to tighten the ropes on a bed, pretend to churn butter, and touch lots of other artifacts. I think most of all we realized how much we appreciate air-conditioning! The trip led us to decide we are going to try our hand at making corn husk dolls and soap later on at the school. We then walked across the street to the city's first park, Sam Houston Park, and had lots of fun "fishing" with sticks in the pond, climbing, and spotting ducks and turtles. I of course, as always on field trips, forgot to bring the camera, so there are no pictures.

In previous meetings the kids have been discussing getting a class pet, so in the past couple of weeks we have taken a few spontaneous trips to pet stores to check out our possibilities, ask questions about care, note costs, and of course, pet the animals.

Next week we are all looking forward to going to the Renaissance Festival! I will make sure to bring the camera and take a lot of pictures this time.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cooler Weather

One of the things Houston is probably best known for is its humidity and heat. There are few respites from the oppressive weather, and our idea of winter would probably be recognizable to most Northerners as autumn. So yesterday afternoon, when the sky started to darken and a rare wind blew the leaves outside our windows, the kids immediately bolted outside. The first cool weather of the season! It was a really joyful afternoon with the kids playing tag, swinging, and climbing in the tree. When the rain began to fall the kids were unfazed, and when it turned into a downpour the drama of "survival" took centerstage.

Evan, Isaac, Abba, Ripley, and Troy playing in the front yard.

Seth, Troy, Abba, Evan, and Ripley pose together on the porch steps.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Stories and Shelters

This morning Evan and Sean told each other "bedtime" stories, ranging from Star Wars narratives to classic “Once upon a time...”s. I joined in and made up a story about how Princess Evan outsmarted an ogre to save her friend Prince Sean. I had to reassure them that this was not a story where the princess and prince got married before they let me continue. We set up a game to reenact the story, using mats as a bridge between their two castles, when Evan stopped midstep and gave me a plaintive look.
"This bridge is too easy to get across!"
I was pretty amazed because these kids are all very creative and do not normally have any issues getting involved in a game. I asked if she could imagine it was hard to get across.
"Ohhh," she sighed as a smile spread across her face. But the smile quickly turned to fear as she toppled off the mat and yelped, "Oh no, the wind is blowing too strong!"

Today several of the kids spent a large part of the day building a shelter and collecting provisions for their survival. They even cut sections of bamboo to make cups for water (unfortunately I forgot to take a picture) and used sharpies and fabric scraps to make flags. Here are a few photos from the adventure.

Troy sawing off banana leaves for the shelter.

Ripley uses a stick to try to open an orange.

The kids collected unripened fruit for provisions.

Justin hangs his flags from the tree.

Corbin made this Dragon Yard flag.

The finished shelter.

For more pictures please follow this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quote of the Week and Photos

"We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought."
- Bertrand Russell

Brother Kenya came to share music as part of the Jena 6 day of resistance.

Kim explaining what has happened to the Jena 6.

Harley flashing the peace sign.

Sean molding his cornstarch dough.

Evan and Ellie making miniature cornstarch dough creations.

For more pictures please follow this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Quote of the Week and Photos

"My grandmother wanted me to have an education so she kept me out of school."

- Margaret Mead

Diego, Evan, William, and Steven make a big mess with cornstarch dough and a cornstarch and water suspension.

Caleb paddles through the school.

Stephanie and Charlie show Seth their constructions.

Troy playing the drums.

Caleb gets to know Fred.

Abba, Troy, Melissa, and Evan explore the Children's Museum.

For more pictures please follow this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble

Sometimes if the kids bring money we walk to the store down the street to buy something. Today I took a few of the little ones and they pooled together their dollars to buy a package of those plastic bubble/balloons. Once we raced back to the school (taking the "shortcut" as is always requested) everyone got a chance to blow some long-lasting bubbles, teach each other how to use it, stick them together to form shapes, and experiment with combining colors.






Abba and Troy

To see more pictures from the school click on this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

If games had come before books...

If games had come before books...

“Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the long-standing tradition of game playing—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page.

“Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him- or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new ‘libraries’ that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers.

“But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to ‘follow the plot’ instead of learning to lead.”

Taken from Ode Magazine, which in turn excerpted it from Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter (Allen Lane, 2005)

- Ellie, Staff Member

Monday, September 17, 2007

Young Children as Research Scientists

This is a photo of William and Diego painting with watercolors. Later Amanda glanced over at William's painting and exclaimed, "Oh! You made a wheel but it is flat because there is a hole letting the air out!" William beamed at this correct interpretation and I stood there gaping. Sure, I had presumed he was painting a wheel - my adult eyes saw the circle with lines crossing to represent spokes. But my narrowed understanding attributed the trail of paint coming from one point of the circle as totally meaningless, if not just an accident. I was astounded at how these kids have this amazing ability which I unfortunately have lost. They are constantly searching for meaning in their environment and analyzing the world around them. It reminds me of how John Holt describes young children as research scientists in his book, "Learning All the Time":

Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. The process by which children turn experience into knowledge is exactly the same, point for point, as the process by which those whom we call scientists make scientific knowledge. Children observe, they wonder, they speculate, and they ask themselves questions. They think up possible answers, they make theories, they hypothesize, and then they test theories by asking questions or by further observations or experiments or reading. Then they modify the theories as needed, or reject them, and the process continues. This is what in “grown-up” life is called the–capital S, capital M–Scientific Method. It is precisely what these little guys start doing as soon as they are born.
If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, we disturb it. If we continue this long enough, the process stops. The independent scientist in the child disappears.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Quote of the Week and Photos

Quote of the Week: "I remember spending the greater part of my childhood wondering about adults. Were they ever children? From their behavior towards children it seemed to me quite clearly that they could never have possibly been children." - Ashley Montagu

Diego running with a sword, Isaac showing off the moves he learned in his martial arts class, and Evan preparing the stuffed animals to watch the movie.

Evan and Amanda requested I take a picture of them with the puppies.

The kids always arrange the most comfortable, lazy position to use the computer. Here Justin is sitting in the armchair that managed to find a semi-permanent home in front of the computer desk, but currently as I type the kids have shoved the entire couch by the desk.

Caleb told me that he would play with the "fancy ones" and "the...cars" were for me to play with.

For more pictures please follow this link.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Alternative Education Reading Group

Please send this invitation to anyone you think might be interested:

The Real School AKA Dragon Valley invites you to join us for the first meeting of our alternative education reading group. Each month we will have a different short reading, available online or by email, to review beforehand and then a meeting to discuss our thoughts and opinions on alternative educational theory and how it relates to our lives.

The first meeting will be on Sunday, October 14th at 3 PM at The Real School AKA Dragon Valley, located at 5020 Dickson, Houston, Texas 77007 (near Shepherd and Memorial). We will be discussing John Taylor Gatto's speech, "Nine Assumptions of Modern Schooling - and Twenty-One Facts the Institution Would Rather Not Discuss".

You can read this speech at:

You can find out more about the school at:

You can read the school's blog at:

You can read more about John Taylor Gatto at:

To contact the school please call (832) 767-0404 or email us at therealschoolhouston@yahoo.com.

- Ellie, Staff Member

Monday, September 10, 2007


We at The Real School AKA Dragon Valley decided it would be a nice idea to have a blog because we wanted to share what we are doing with the rest of the world. What is it that we are doing? Nothing that should be considered too extraordinary, but in the society we live in, something pretty much unheard of. We are trusting children to live and learn in the best ways they can. We are offering help and support, but not coercion and control. We are working to create a community where every individual feels empowered to follow the path they choose for themselves while respecting the needs of the community. We are looking to redefine education, take it back from the oppressive, hierarchical structures that seek to impose it on others and honor the truth that learning must come from within.

To learn more about the school, please visit our website. If you are ever in the Houston area, we welcome you to visit us. In the meantime, check back often for stories of our experiences, photos, thoughts on the philosophy of such things as unschooling, free schools, and child-led learning, announcements of events, and links to articles and information we think you might find useful.

-Ellie, Staff Member