Visit Part II of the SelfDesign Mandala here! 

Relationship Skills

The sphere of relational skills is the quadrant of the heart in the SelfDesign Mandala. This area highlights relationships we have with key people in our lives. The way we live in relationships can affect our growth and development, either positively or negatively. So often in conventional schooling, the importance of emotions and authentic, loving relationship is ignored.

relationshipsYet our brains are wired for connections. Much of early learning occurs through relating with our family members and caregivers. Modeling is one of the primary ways young children relate to parents. Later, the enthusiasm and resonance shared by mentor and learner create the foundation for learning. When youth have the opportunity to be in nurturing relationships with their peers and adults, they learn to value their contributions to the world and express themselves authentically.

Kathleen Forsythe, in “Love and Play,” writes that “Human relationships are critical to a child’s development… the brain and the mind simply don’t develop without being nurtured by human relationships. Without relationships, self-esteem, initiative, and creativity do not grow either.”

By interacting with your children in ways that affirm their interests, motivations, and emotions, you can help them climb the developmental ladder. You can help your children want to honor your needs. You can help them want to learn how to engage in a dialogue. You can inspire them to take initiative and to act to solve problems.

What can you do to enhance your relationships with your children today?


Young children are naturally curious about where they live. They wonder what did this place look like one million years ago? Who were the first people to live here? How does our community work today? Natural curiosity begins at home and gradually extends to the larger world. This is the Humanities area of the SelfDesign Mandala.

Older children begin to study globes, maps, and timelines to figure out how their community, bioregion, state, and country are related to the larger world. They ponder patterns of human behavior, media, lifestyle, settlement, and governance. In the teen years, youth increasingly want to be part of something larger than themselves and they are curious to understand how history can inform their current choices. Many youth will identify an injustice in their local or distant community that calls them to action.

On your journey learning the humanities, be creative as you design your adventure. Get out into your community. Imagine what it was like 200 years ago; take a virtual field trip to distant lands and times. Enjoy your travels! 


Self-actualization is half-way around the SelfDesign Mandala. It is the realization of the first half of the circular journey, the full development of self.

self actualizationLearners begin to understand themselves and their learning experiences through weekly planning, exploring, and evaluating their own learning. As they share their thoughts and observations on learning with another person, they deepen their understanding of the learning process. The kind of conversation that emerges from this recursive shared place allows learners to grow and unfold their natural intelligence and allows adults the insights needed to support children in self-directed learning.

Brent Cameron wrote that “If we begin by exploring things that feel relevant to our own lives, we are much more likely to learn what is meaningful and possible than if topics are only imposed by others. Learning through self-authority becomes a joyful, challenging adventure.”

Ilana Cameron wrote a poem to her dad:

“Thank you for trusting me and understanding that I am a whole person Not an empty outline that needs to be filled. Thank you for being my father, I love you dad.”

When a learner develops the understanding of herself, this enables her to be the author of her own learning and her own life.

What can you do today to support the learners in your life?


Numeracy is another part of the SelfDesign Mandala. People in all parts of the world have been using numbers since prehistoric times. Numbers are like words; they are mental tools. Developing the system of symbols we call numbers and learning to count enabled our ancestors to chart the units of time that we now call days, weeks, and months. This allowed them to predict the change of seasons and when the ice would melt.

Math is much more than being able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. It has evolved into a complex system of thinking which includes problem solving, inductive and deductive reasoning, strategic thinking and analysis. Although all children do not have a keen love of math, most of them do approach school age with a practical understanding of math in day to day life. Let’s say we give twelve jelly beans to three children and let them know that one person will divide them among the three of them. If the other two get to choose their piles first, the concept of division is easily understood by all.

Kids need to be able to mess around with math. When we take math out of context and use only symbols on the page, we often lose the relevance. Some kids love math and can intuitively do it quickly and effortlessly; others need practice. However, it needs to be practice that isn’t filled with stress and doesn’t create performance-based anxiety. It is more helpful for math to be presented to learners in ways that contextualize its usage in day to day life, until the time when more complex math concepts are needed for a future career.

One of my children loved math from the time he could talk. He went to bed with a calculator at the age of two and would count oranges into the refrigerator, even before he could pronounce all of the numerals. On the other hand, my daughter had an unfortunate math experience and still resists traditional math classes, although she uses math routinely in her Etsy arts and crafts business.

What games or activities have you discovered that help make math meaningful and relevant for your learners? We’d love to hear your experiences.