A sketchbook & pencil

The school supply list at Cottonwood is short: a sketchbook & pencil.  In self-directed education, the world is our classroom and each experience presents an opportunity for learning.  Having a sketchbook and pencil always on hand makes it possible to engage more deeply using the simplest tools.  We can sketch, label, reflect and paste – each creating a record of experience and documentation of learning.  We never know when we will be inspired to draw or collect so it is important that our sketchbooks are accessible.  I ask parents to ensure that each night the sketchbook and pencil is in a ziplock bag (to protect it from rain & water bottle leaks) and in the backpack ready for the next day.  I ask that the bags only contain a pencil.  Pencil can be erased which makes it a tool of endless possibility.  The sketchbook of choice is one that is spiral bound so the pages can lay flat, unlined, and hard covered.  I too carry a sketchbook and pencil and love flipping though my kids’ books in the evening.  I get to see my son’s letter practice which he is trying to contain all to a single page and my daughter’s beautiful lines that have yet to reflect realism.  Whether your child is in conventional school or not, I challenge all to create the habit of carrying a notebook and pencil.  I think you will be surprised at how it can slow us down and center us in the moment.

Urban Nature

Look what we found in Brooklyn!


Wood Wasp, also known as a horntail.


Katydid, also known as a bush cricket.

At Cottonwood we spend as much time outside as possible and take full advantage of the natural world of New York City.  Last year we spent an entire morning watching a hawk in McGolrick Park.  We hope the hawk visits us again this year!

Sun Baked Granola


Our first cooking project of the year was to make sun baked granola.  My daughter did this in summer camp and so the idea had been in my mind.  I found a simple granola recipe (we skipped the nuts and only used sunflower seeds), and then thought we might cook it on cookie sheets in the sun.  Chris said, “We should make a solar oven. I’m sure it’s easy.” So, Chris and a group of kids made two solar ovens and our granola project became and awesome science experiment too!  I am so happy to have such a dynamic team working at Cottonwood this year!   We all have strengths and passions to share and I am so grateful to have a maker on our crew! THANK YOU Chris!


Play is learning. Learning is play.


Katri and Charlie’s morning project: A family of seven birds gathered for dinner. There were waffles, worms and green peas on the menu. Our job was to make sure everyone got the same amount, and it turned out that 28 peas are a perfect amount, since each bird gets four peas! We also learned that the mother bird can chew the peas first and give them to the children.



It was the first day at ALC Cottonwood and the offerings included  painting, dodgeball, making time capsules, eating together, and quiet reading to name just a few!  At Cottonwood, kids can make offerings and so can the adults.  The offering is a way for us to share our passions and interests with others.  Through offerings we build community, we build knowledge, we have space to try new things.  On deck for tomorrow we have puppet theater, paper robots and clock work!  We welcome our parents to make offerings at Cottonwood too, anytime.


Cottonwood Facilitators



Sara: Resident Entertainer
Home Country: United States


Find Sara for:
  • Cooking
  • Playing board games & music games
  • Looking stuff up on the internet
  • Neighborhood visits

Long term projects she’ll be offering:

  • Teaching reading & writing
    • Making a Cottonwood Cookbook
    • Sewing pencil pouches
    • Rock painting
Magali: Resident Naturalist
Home Country: Switzerland
Find Magali for:untitled-36
  • Crafts, all sorts of crafts
  • Gardening
  • Building fairy houses
  • Land art
  • Library and Park Trips
Long term projects she’ll be offering:
  • French lessons in a playful/artful way
  • Global Guardians Project
  • Building a hotel for insects along with seasonal nature journaling
Katri: Resident Adventurer
Home Country: Finland


Find Katri for:
  • Piano playing & singing
  • DNA studies
  • Art
  • Block building
  • Reading aloud
  • Skateboarding
Long term projects she’ll be offering:
    • Learning to knit
    • Neighborhood play/social games
    • Music
    • Studying details of nature with sketchbooks


Chris: Resident Maker
Home Country: United States
Find Chris for:
  • Making anything
  • Geometry & Math
  • Anything bicycle related
  • Sewing
Long term projects he’ll be offering:
  • Instrument making/busking
  • Designing and building a compost bin
  • Pack basket making
  • Constructing a weathervane and Sundial
  • Orienteering
  • Taxonomies

Weekly Highlights

Bulleted notes about the week…the things that made me laugh and smile.

Monday- A magical Monday.

  • Having music class in the park!  We sang together on a gorgeous, gorgeous fall day.  London Bridges, A Ram Sam Sam, Mary Had a Little Lamb, & Baa Baa Black Sheep
  • When was the last time you tried to teach a 3 year old to summersault?  It means you have to do a summersault first which made me laugh really hard.
  • Best snack share to date, fresh picked NY apples and cashew butter from Poland that Mariuzs’s wife made!
  • Listening to the 5s & 6s play “Family” for almost an hour. 


  • All kids participated in the morning walk to school!  So cool to see 10 little people walking through their neighborhood on the way to school.
  • Shirtless soccer in Central Park with @ryanshollenberger’s crew and a brief discussion of women’s right to be topless in NCY.


  • Cooking day!  11 little people armed with peelers.  We made apple sauce and only ended up with one bloody knuckle.  Impressive for a group of 2-6 year olds!


  • We had to say goodbye to Magali for awhile but we got to play with Aaron and it was awesome!
  • Making nature jewelry.
  • Sewing felt quilts!


  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden:  We were about to leave the beautiful manicured grounds of the Cherry Esplanade when we spotted an amazing fungus growing near the base of a tree.  We stopped so I could sketch it and after googling, “tall orangish mushroom with black goo on top,” we found out that it’s called a stinkhorn and it’s awesome.

Inspiration from the Museum of Natural History

We had an awesome field trip here today and I am inspired to do some sort of physical theater piece starring a sea hare and an arrow crab.  These two creatures from Jean-Michel Cousteau’s, Secret Ocean, made me want to get up and mimic their movements.

The sea hare is a snail without a shell which has a secret protection—no matter how vulnerable it seems. The plant-like material, or algae, it eats makes it taste bad, and predators know it. These acrobats of the current tumble along with no need to hide, thanks to the tiny algae they eat, protecting them from the inside out.
The arrow crab is gymnast, beachcomber and paratrooper in search of the best place to eat. These solitary creatures will eat whatever they find and fight each other for territory.


We’ve been talking a lot about DNA at school so when I found this book at the library, I thought I’d broaden our discussion of tiny things!  The book is absolutely gorgeous and easily understandable.  I want to have it in my permanent collection.  Most importantly, the kids loved it!