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Educators give holistic advice on sibling rivalry

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Saturday January 12, 2002

It is one of a parent’s toughest challenges: sibling rivalry. Josette and Ba Luvmour, “holistic educators” who will be running a free seminar at the Berkeley Public Library’s Claremont branch this morning, have some suggestions to help. 

Josette says that a parent must keep the developmental stage of each child in mind when addressing the problem. For instance, if the rivalry is between 5- and 12-year-old children, the parent must understand that the younger child is looking for a “loving touch” and a sense of place in the family, while the elder sibling is more interested in fairness. 

“The 12-year-old might be concerned that his little sister is messing up his room,” Josette said, “while the 5-year-old is saying: ‘But I love you.’” 

The solution: tell the 12 year-old that his sister can only visit during certain times of day, appealing to his sense of fairness. Tell the 5-year-old that she will still have opportunities to hang out with her idolized brother, and get the attention she craves. 

It’s all a part of Natural Learning Rhythms, or NLR, a holistic child development system focused on youngsters’ “natural” life stages. NLR attempts to nurture the whole child – the social, spiritual and psychological, in addition to the intellectual. 

The Luvmours have crafted NLR through their work at EnCompass, a nonprofit organization they founded in 1985 in Nevada City. 

They began by renting space in nearby Malakoff State Park and holding holistic education trainings for families. Today, EnCompass conducts seminars for nonprofits and social service agencies from the Bay Area to New York City. The group also operates a 122-acre, $5- million campus in Nevada City, which provides full-family counseling and features a 10,000 square foot, private holistic school for 6 to 13 year-olds that just opened this fall. 

School fees are on a sliding scale, with full payment topping out at $800 per month. The school is open year-round, on a 10-weeks-on, 3-weeks-off model. 

Ba Luvmour says that NLR builds on other “holistic” traditions, ranging from the centuries-old practice of Native Americans to the more modern movement of Montessori and Waldorf schools. 

He says that, unlike traditional educational models that focus on behavioral and academic norms, and attempts to get children in line with those norms, NLR lets children explore the world around them and learn at their natural pace. This philosophy is at the center of the EnCompass school, which allows children, working with teachers and parents, to design their own curricula. 

Dan Perlstein, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said he is unfamiliar with EnCompass. But, he said that traditionalists have found fault with child-centered, alternative education. They argue that it fails to meet the standards so prevalent in public schooling today, he said. 

“The more we focus on kids and giving them control over the direction and processes of their learning,” he said, describing the traditionalist argument, “the less we’re giving them the skills, the knowledge and the habits they need to succeed.” 

“We do give the child basic academic learning,” said Josette Luvmour, noting that teachers at EnCompass work English, math and other subjects into the curriculum. The difference, she says, is that the course work is tailored to each student. 

“With a traditional education, the child is matched to the curriculum,” she said, “whereas, with a holistic education, the curriculum is matched to the child.” 

Luvmour cited a group of 7 and 8 year-olds interested in myth who used math, reading and writing skills to construct the board and myth for a fantasy game akin to Dungeons and Dragons.  

Ron Miller, an historian of alternative education who teaches at Goddard College in Vermont, says that EnCompass is one of only a few groups nationwide that is putting a complete, holistic educational model into practice. He said the organization is taking a more experimental approach than the Montessori, Waldorf and Quaker alternative schools that have been around for decades. 

“They’re fresher,” Miller said, discussing EnCompass. “They’re starting with a more open-minded, experimental approach, whereas other methods are very well-established.” 

Josette Luvmour admits that the EnCompass school, as a new institution, has some shortcomings. Staff cohesion is still an issue, she said, and the school is not yet prepared to handle severely disabled children. In addition, new teachers, from traditional settings, are still trying to get a handle on the school’s methods. 

But, some local people who have had contact with EnCompass are impressed by the organization’s larger vision. “I think it’s the most comprehensive philosophical view of human development that I’ve ever seen generated from a non-indigenous population,” said Allen R. Waters, youth/teen program coordinator for Indigenous Nations Child & Family Agency, an Oakland non-profit that provides social services for Native Americans, and received an EnCompass training last week. “I never expected white people to come to that conclusion.” 

The EnCompass seminar will run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. today at the library’s Claremont branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave. The event is free and open to the public. The Luvmours will give an overview of NLR and EnCompass services.