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Narwhals: Self-Directed Teens at NC

Do you have an interesting trip, person, or activity that you want to share with some self-directed teenagers? Contact Narwhals Facilitator Tess at tessl@naturalcreativity.org

2023-24 Updates

The Narwhals Launch program is going to Colorado! We are raising money for a 10-day trip in May 2024 to the High Desert Center in Paonia, CO. 

We regularly host workshops open for teens, regardless of enrollment at NC. Due to the dates/times of these workshops, we recognize that they are most accessible to homeschoolers. Contact TessL@naturalcreativity.org to learn more about our teen offerings for the larger community.

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Enrollment notes: Starting in Fall 2024, we will have a few spots for new teens in our program. Please inquire if you are interested in joining us. We welcome young people with existing homeschooling experience, school experience, or some combination.

If you are in school currently and want to learn more about the option of leaving school to pursue your own personalized educational journey, let's chat! tessl@naturalcreativity.org.

Narwhals at a Glance

  • Oldest age band at NC

  • 13-18 years old; Split into 2 subgroups (see below)

  • Guided activities designed to facilitate life skills, independence, and competence aka FLOPs ("Foundational Learning Opportunities and Projects"). Younger Narwhals complete 2-3/month, while older Narwhals in the Launch Program complete 45 over the last 2 years at their own pace.

  • NC days: Tuesdays and Thursdays (Looser for Launch Program). Can do 1 day, if necessary.

  • 2 Group Times for games, community-building & info-passing: 9:30-10am, 2:30-3pm

  • Self-directed! Do your own thing. This may involve doing your own projects or activities initiated by facilitators.

  • May go off-site for lunch (a group usually goes out about 11:30am)

  • Open tech usage within the Narwhals room (with emphasis on active creation and research); mitigated through tech agreement

  • Regular check-ins with facilitator about their projects, goals, etc.

  • Assistance in identifying and pursuing post-secondary opportunities, such as classes at Community College of Philadelphia

Narwhals, Part 1: Age 13-15(ish)

At age 13, young people at Natural Creativity are eligible to join the oldest group at NC: the Narwhals. Their inclusion in the group is determined by their interest, maturity level, and consultation with Narwhals facilitator. If a young person determines that Axolotl group participation (the group before Narwhals) is a better fit, they remain in Axolotls. We encourage age-mixing; there are no restrictions to who anyone spends time with.

During the 13-15 year old range, participation in the Narwhals program consists of morning meeting/group time participation, 2-3 FLOPs, off-campus lunch permission, and Narwhals-specific trips. Additionally, all Narwhals meet with their staff facilitator for a 30-minute check-in meeting every two weeks. The rest of the time? Self-directed, baby!

Generally, Narwhals are actively growing in their independence, self-expression, and creative problem-solving. 

Sample younger Narwhal FLOPs (Complete within a planned timeframe; complete self-reflection, present): 

  • Learn to play one song on one instrument 

  • Read a banned book and discuss why it was banned

  • Organize a treasure hunt

  • Light a fire

  • Make a loaf of bread to share

and so on...

Narwhals, Part 2: The Launch Program (15+ years old)

The Launch Program is NC's program for older teens. It is designed to complement any at-home academic self-directed program and requires more independence, self-management, and self-direction. The four components of the Launch Program are:

1. Completing 45 FLOPs: Foundational Learning Opportunities and Projectsshort- and long-term projects that fall into the categories of Experience, Specific Skill, Independence, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Society. All Launchers do the same 45 FLOPs.

2. Calling regular check-in meetings with a facilitator

3. Attending Launch Lunches: ~1x/month, fill out FLOP trackers, learn from outside experts, do group challenges, and opportunities to complete certain FLOPs

4. Completing an Exit Panel around age 17-19: An opportunity for the "Launching" Narwhal to share their progress and reflections to a panel of peers, facilitators, and parents.

 

The expected Launch program completion time is 1.5-4 years. It loosely maps on to 10th-12th grades, but can be done at any pace. 

 

Narwhals who complete these three components are eligible for a Natural Creativity certificate, affirming their engagement with NC's 3 C's (Compassion, Creativity, Collaboration) and readiness for the next phase of their lives. A ceremony is held at the end of each year for whoever has completed the Launch program in the last year.

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Launch logo designed by Julia A-H, an original Narwhal

Big Narwhals Events

Depending on numbers, ages, and staff capacity:

Walk Around Philadelphia (100 miles) (2020, 2022-23)

Trip within 500 miles driving (NYC, DC, Pittsburgh, etc)

Big trip on an airplane (like Colorado, May 2024)

Camping trip (French Creek State Park, or elsewhere)

Note: Due to the constantly changing nature of working with self-directed teens, the Narwhals program shifts and changes each year in response to the particular makeup of that year's Narwhals. Inquire to us if you want to learn more about the current iteration of Narwhals.

History of Narwhals (2019-)

The group formed in 2019 when there was a critical mass of 11 young people in the 11-13 year-old range who were looking for something a little more organized as a group.  They gathered with Tess the Facilitator on Thursday afternoons in the community hall at FUMCOG for 3 hours, playing games, doing teambuilding activities, and going on trips.  Each year, Narwhals has expanded and evolved with its changing participants.

 

In 2020-21 ("The Covid Year"), the group was made up of 7 Narwhals and facilitators Tess and Shane. We made the most of our time outside: We WALKED. First, we walked 100 miles around the border of Philadelphia, part of a project designed by JJ Tiziou. You can read JJ's blog post about the last day of the walk here.

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Narwhals in Ivy Hill Cemetery, about 1/3 of the way through the first Walk Around Philadelphia (October 2020)

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Narwhals Walk Around Philadelphia logo designed by Apollo L, original Narwhal

After those 100 miles, we. kept. walking. We walked all of Market St, Frankford Ave, Ridge Ave, Germantown Ave, Broad St (12 miles on the coldest day of the year!), and more. We got VERY good at the art of frolicking: Picking a neighborhood, finding its green spaces, and exploring. No map, no plan, no covid spread, and lots of fun. 

In Spring 2021, the group participated in a Pilot Program - NC's first attempt to offer a structured "curriculum" to young people. The pilot program featured six projects, a few "themed studies," and a presentation. This program was the seed for the Launch Program, which began in 2023.

When we moved into the Pulaski space in December 2021, the Narwhals were the first ones to unpack boxes and write on the whiteboards. In their first 6 months in the space, the group designed and painted a mural in Narwhals rooms that remains to this day (each Narwhals is represented by an animal on a vehicle). During the 2022-23 unschool year, another group of Narwhals completed the 2nd Walk Around Philadelphia. The group also did monthly Big Questions, presenting to each other. In Fall 2023, in response to the growing age and maturity of the Narwhals, the Launch Program was created for the seven eligible Narwhals at the time (all age 15+). 

 

On a given Tuesday or Thursday, Narwhals can be found around NC, lounging in the Narwhals room (the only room that is restricted to a specific age), getting lunch from nearby takeout spots, working on personal projects, FLOP planning and doing, learning from a Visiting Specialist, scheming about birthday celebrations for each other, on trips in the city, and in their own worlds.

Where does the name "Narwhals" come from? 

In September 2019, the group was tasked with naming themselves, their first collaborative challenge. Someone had a Narwhal stuffed animal and others liked the animal. We created a backronym, deciding that "Narwhals" stood for: Nearly Adult Really Weird Human Animals Learning Stuff. 

"Launch" is not a backronym (yet).

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