Visit Part I of the SelfDesign Mandala here! 

global ecologyGlobal ecology

This is the study of the relationship of organisms to each other and to their environment. Some SelfDesigners have begun to explore place-based education and sustainability on their educational journey. A young child’s world revolves around herself and her family, so often her interest is captured by what is going on in her own backyard and neighborhood. Place-based education honors this natural progression from neighborhood to world and offers a path for discovering the world and our place in it, beginning with our own community. With this approach, children can discover the geology, history, culture, plants and animals of their community long before studying these subjects in an abstract, theoretical manner.

Learners often initially love to explore sustainability through organic gardening and recycling. In fact, many young children today seem to innately understand sustainable living. Some older learners have taken on larger topics such as green building, sustainable product design and manufacturing, and the economy of place. Many of these inquiries are multidisciplinary and will overlap with other areas of the Mandala. For example, our teens at SelfDesign High refurbished a bus that runs on vegetable oil and renamed it the Veggie Bus!

Learning about global ecology and sustainability can evolve in many ways, when you and your children explore this area together. What projects ignite your interest?


Creativity expresses itself in many ways. Art in the SelfDesign Mandala means any form of the creative expression, including visual, musical, movement, oral, or dramatic. In the early years, the focus is on helping learners enjoy the process of creative expression more than the result. As they mature, they may begin to explore and improve their skills, as well as learn how creativity and various forms of the arts are part of human history and daily living. For some learners, this can develop into a passion and learners spend thousands of hours perfecting their art.

Other times, creativity expresses itself in finding new solutions and designing new systems. Sometimes, it’s finding a new way to solve an old problem. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

When parents and mentors encourage learners to express their creativity, they may become dancers or cartoonists or chefs or product designers. They may start their own businesses or create local charities. The options are only limited by imagination and the energy invested.


SelfDesign purposefully includes Spiritual Praxis as part of the Mandala. We believe that all humans have the innate desire to understand their origins, the cosmos, and their place in it.

Learners’ views in this area expand as they mature. This happens in many different ways, one of which is through religious study. Young learners between the ages of 5 and 8 begin to ask many of the same questions that adults do. They ask about religious and spiritual matters and, by spending time in nature, come to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the world.

Youth between the ages of 9 and 11 become aware that there are different perspectives on and beliefs about our origins. As they grow, they learn about other cultural values and traditions and begin to seek other points of view.

As youth move into the teen years, they begin to have discussions with their peers and mentors. My daughter and a group of youth spent almost a year visiting different religious communities, comparing and contrasting their views. In a healthy way, they learned to respect views other than their own.

Broadly defined, ethics and values are part of the Spiritual Praxis, too. Youth develop their character and demonstrate virtues such as courage, integrity, justice and responsibility through daily expressions of caring and love. As Dr. Humberto Maturana says, “When love becomes cosmic, the spiritual experience takes place. When the spiritual experience becomes local, it is experienced as love.”

In this busy world that tends to focus on action and achievement, how do you and your family connect to the spiritual? 


The category of science on the SelfDesign Mandala is broad and includes many ways of exploring the natural world, including environmental awareness, ecological understanding, experimentation, and figuring out how the world works. We encourage learners to ask lots of questions, create their own hypotheses, conduct their own experiments, and analyze and draw their own conclusions. Finding the correct answer is not the goal; instead, it’s learning how to think about finding the correct answer. Thomas Edison, who held more than 1,000 U.S. patents, was asked how he felt about all of his failures. He replied, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Science is more than a collection of facts and concepts. At its heart is the process of scientific inquiry. When we give children the opportunity to figure things out on their own, they own the knowledge. A young child’s curiosity in every rock, stone, and leaf along the road can develop into a strong interest in a topic that can last a day, a week, or even longer. I have known some three- and four-year-olds with a love of dinosaurs that lasted for a year or more.

Maria Montessori observed that science awakens in children a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery and grandeur of our universe, and, along with it, a larger sense of meaning and purpose. Most young children love chemistry in the kitchen and are collectors extraordinaire. However, some older learners decide they don’t like science any more. When we probe further, we find they don’t like learning about the life cycle of a frog by reading books and memorizing facts. They prefer to grow frogs, rather than read about them. Riane Eisler suggests that when we create an integrated framework and ask Important questions, we engage both the intellect and the imagination to solve the mysteries of our universe and create the meaning of our lives.

life skillsLife Skills

The SelfDesign Mandala highlights an area of learning that many of us as adults wish would have received more emphasis in school: living skills. These are important skills that help us to live a self-reliant life. They include healthful nutrition and food preparation, gardening, animal care, clothes designing, architecture, photography, and more. Most children and youth have the desire to learn how to do practical life skills.

Computer and multimedia skills are also in this area. While limiting screen time has been shown to be a wise and healthful choice for many learners, it is difficult to function in today’s highly wired culture without some basic computer and mobile technology skills. Love it or hate it, technological advances are happening at an exponential rate. Parents often see themselves in a dual role with their children. They provide access to technology, so that their kids can understand and enjoy it, and also help them to set healthy boundaries on screen time.

Many SelfDesigning youth have also chosen entrepreneurial paths. In the living skills area of the SelfDesign Mandala, we include learning about business and finance with the goal of learners being able to start their own businesses when they are interested. Also included in living skills are the industrial arts such as drafting, electronics, woodworking, building, etc. Traditional academic skills may also naturally develop through these pursuits. At SelfDesign, we observe everyone wanting to connect with the real work of making a life.