What’s At the End of Your Rainbow? Creative Writing Workshop with Pam and Ian

Ian and Pam brainstorm together about which fictional character to write about

Little Lake Learning Community has its own ongoing Creative Writing workshop!  Led by parent Pam Aronow and her son Ian (a former Little Lake student himself), the workshop aims to allow students the opportunity to get their creative juices flowing and express their thoughts in a fun, relaxed and supportive environment.  Workshops are held every Wednesday afternoon and have attracted interest from volunteers and students alike. This past session included Pam, Ian, volunteer Antoinette Moncrieff, and students Vera, Tuula and Adam.

A typical Creative Writing workshop lasts around 45 minutes and includes two writing “prompts” to channel inspiration and help shape participants’ thoughts.  Prompts range from the hypothetical (“what would you do with your own personal robot?”) to the active (“write a letter to someone you appreciate to say thank you”) to metaphors (“sitting on your pity-pot”) to imaginary scenes (“write a children’s story about people who are hiking in the woods when they are suddenly surrounded by hundreds of butterflies”)  workshop participants have 15 minutes or so to jot down their thoughts, after which they share them with the rest of the group, taking turns reading their composition aloud and listening to the compositions of others.

Tuula gathers inspiration for her composition

The most recent workshop session started off with the question: “If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be?”  Pam encouraged the participants to not just answer the question, but to elaborate and provide details that the reader may not necessarily know but may be wondering about.  Compositions included such characters as Harry Potter heroine Hermione Granger, Aang from the television show Avatar, The Last Airbender, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Mythical Creatures and dragon Julius Heartstriker from the novel Heartstrikers: Nice Dragons Finish Last.  The participants’ responses each included traits and qualities that they admired in their characters: Winnie the Pooh was valued for his patience, words of wisdom, home-iness and friendship; Hermione for her underappreciated moral conscience and staunch support of non-human magical creatures; Julius for the kindness and gentleness which set him apart from other dragons.

The workshop’s second prompt centered around an imaginary scene: “Think of a rainbow.  What’s at the end of your rainbow? What would you find?” Responses were unique and varied from the humorous (a magical fruitcake from Whole Foods with the power to shrink the author for 3 days!) to the whimsical and practical (a pile of six snuggly Australian Shepherd puppies and a box full of inspiration for the author’s story).  A few responses were more philosophical, exploring and challenging the traditional “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” metaphor; one response questioned whether or not the rainbow had an “end” and suggested that the “rainbow” might actually be all around us. Another encouraged the reader to always dream with the ultimate goal at the “end” but reminded the reader to focus on the process rather than the prize as the most important part.

Adam is hard at work!

At the end of the workshop, Pam posed some questions to the workshop participants, inviting them to start thinking about how they might structure future workshop sessions.  She asked them for feedback regarding what they might like to see happen . One of the options discussed included a “story starter”; participants would add to a collective group story every session for a few weeks in a row.  Another option would be to focus on one consecutive topic as a group for several sessions after the New Year. One student suggested incorporating creative writing into the “focus game” element of the all-school beginning and end-of-day meetings.

Creative writing with Pam and Ian is a highlight of the week for all concerned.  For student and volunteer participants, it is a chance to explore a shared interest with others, hone their skills and better get to know themselves and their fellow participants.  For Pam and Ian, who has autism, it is a welcome “place-setter” in the week, providing them with a chance to actively engage with the larger community. Pam and Ian have made great strides in the area of communication in the last few years, and are excited to share Ian’s thoughts in Creative Writing, both with the aid of a letter board and Ian’s growing confidence in reading aloud.  We are excited to see Ian’s skills grow and to have him regularly participate in activities at Little Lake!

Toxic Burrito Screen Printing Extravaganza!

Last Friday morning, as the first snowfall of the season lay spread across the ground, the Little Lake Learning Community students and volunteers participated in a DIY screen-printing workshop.  Led by former student and current volunteer Paige Brown-Danovi, the workshop provided students with a hands-on opportunity to print their own T-shirts and back-patches! The screen-printing design was created by Paige herself as a reference to “Toxic Burrito”, a song she wrote with the legendary Little Lake-originated band, “The Krill.”  Among eager workshop participants were students Max, Jenna and Asa, as well as volunteer Amory Zhou-Kourvo.

The Sustainable, Locally Sourced, Free-Range, Made-To-Order TOXIC Burrito!

Workshop participants worked their way through three separate piles of clothing and accessories, using one of three colors of a special water-based, screen-printing ink for each pile.  The first pile was printed in white ink, the second in black and the third was printed in red ink. The ink is a pudding consistency and comes in a can, and, according to Max, “It kind of smells like mushrooms!”

T-shirts, ink and design frame all ready to start!

More T-shirts ready to go!

Paige walked the participants and I through the entire printing process.  First, the article to be printed was laid out on the printing surface. T-shirts were pre-stuffed with a piece of scrap paper in the area to be printed so that the ink would not bleed through to the other side of the shirt.  The screen-printing frame was prepped ahead of time by Paige and laid out over the desired area to be printed. Ink was then spooned onto the top portion of the screen-printing frame and a squeegee was used to pull the ink across the frame from top to bottom.

Paige demonstrates to Max how to spoon ink onto the design frame.

Using the squeegee to transfer ink across the entire frame.

Admiring the finished product!

Paige encouraged the participants to use both hands and to go over the parts of the screen which had ink coverage gaps until they were uniformly covered.  Once the printing screen had been sufficiently inked, the frame was carefully lifted up. Participants had a chance to admire their work and then transfer the finished article to a cleared section of table or floor space to dry flat, ink-side up.  The design frame was then carefully washed by hand between ink colors.

Jenna prints her own T-shirt!

Asa tries a hand at the printing process!

Amory is excited by the finished product!


Paige explained that once the shirts were all printed, they would first need to air dry and then heat-set in order to retain color saturation.  Heat setting options include either using an iron or a hair dryer for a minute on the air-dried article, or just tossing it in the dryer for twenty minutes.

According to Paige, industrial printing works the same way as the DIY process does, from spreading the ink to heat-setting, except machines take care of the printing process and shirts are heat-set in a giant oven!

Paige washes the design frame in between ink colors.


Paige originally taught herself to screen-print through a combination of Internet resources and trial and error.  She is currently taking a printing class at Eastern Michigan University, where she is studying secondary education in her final year at the Early College Alliance high school program.  She can often be found at Little Lake on a Friday, sharing her talents and interests with students! At some point in the next few weeks, she plans to walk student Adam through screen-printing a T-shirt with a custom design of his cartoon character, “Glerg.”

The finished T-shirts air-dry and await heat-setting by Paige.


Our first post!


Welcome to the Little Lake Learning community blog! We think it’d be great to track what’s going on and to create a place to tell our story. Here are the basics: We are an unschooling cooperative (we’ll talk more about what that means very soon!) that serves ages 5-18 and is based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We’ve been open since 2010 and are operated collaboratively by students, parents, staff, and volunteers. Check out our “About” page to learn a little more about our philosophy.


Every morning at Little Lake we gather for a quick and fun meeting where everyone lays out some intentions for the day. This can range from the practical (like “stay hydrated”) to the absurd (“escape prison” or “be the guardian of the stairwell” or “don’t die”- all actual intentions that have landed on that board in recent weeks…). It’s helpful, even in its goofiest manifestations, to just bring some consciousness around what it is that we’re doing and why we are doing it. In that spirit, here are the intentions for this blog:


–We’d like to be a resource. We benefit from the sharing of others, especially as a small and alternative learning community. It’s been helpful to find mentors and inspiration outside of our immediate network, and so it makes sense to us to include that service in our own outreach, as well as pass on the resources that we’ve found helpful to us.

–We’d like to be open about our learning process. We realized that the larger community has questions about what it is that we do and how it all works, and we’d like to answer them! Not long ago we put out some feelers into the community-at-large and asked what they wanted to know about us. The response was overwhelming! Questions poured in, and we saw an opportunity to really address this stuff–not only for the community’s benefit, but also for our own. As much as we’ve all worked on perfecting our elevator speech, it’s just not that simple. We need a space to tease all of it out–both in terms of sharing what we already know about ourselves and our philosophy, but also because we care about transparency and honesty in our process. We want to share what we are still working on and how we are growing and learning together.

–We have fun things to share! The day-to-day happenings at Little Lake are really interesting and worthy of sharing. These kids are learning constantly, often in ways that are just plain entertaining to all who observe them! We thought that this space could be an outlet for some of their fantastic creative energy, as well a fun way to tell some stories that convey the various ways that really substantial learning happens in this environment.





Check for our posts in the coming weeks! Feel free to comment, message, or even submit ideas for what we should offer in this space. If you are interested in supporting us on a regular basis, check out our Patreon page– we would be so grateful!