My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

111



We spent all morning playing with a bunch of new-to-us toys that we got from our 9-year-old friend Peter, who decided he wanted to make room in his room for different kinds of toys. Then, in the afternoon, our friends Mary and Ollie hosted a playgroup at their place so that all the really neat toys that Ollie got for Christmas would get plenty played with.

I thought this was a great idea. Ollie did have lots of very cool toys And there were tricky toy-related problems to navigate. I think this was good for everyone involved. Accommodations were made. Skills were practiced. Positive dynamics reigned. And mamas got to do a lot of talking to each other in between being helpful to the kids.

There was a post written by a Wired Magazine blogger not too long ago called The 5 Best toys of All Time. The joke was that the toys were 1) stick, 2) box, 3) string, 4) cardboard tube, and 5) dirt. As one would expect, it was wildly popular among parents who like to think of themselves as having a natural and more flowing approach to child rearing, those who value imagination, play, joy, and ingenuity, who are suspicious of plastics and trademarked characters. I think it showed up three times on my Facebook paged, shared by various parent friends and liked by dozens more. Daddy Honey  liked it, and commented that you could add 6) bed sheet, and you've have covered 90% of what our boys like to play with.

And this is all true. And I am squarely lumped in with the parents whose self-image I describe above, though I inwardly work on not being sanctimonious about it, because that is just insufferable. But while I could recognize the truth in that post, and I could post pictures for you of our cardboard box graveyard (where boxes go when they are too tattered to use but to beloved to be tossed to the recycling heap) and I could show you our drawer full of cardboard tubes, my Rubbermaid container of yarn that is used far more often these days for play than for knitting (which was its initial purpose), Woody's stick collection outside of the back door, and the public park volleyball court whose soft sand fills the need to handle dirt better than the cold, rocky clay of our backyard--while I could focus on the simple, inexpensive tools that my children and millions of other children around the world use to enact grand imaginative play-pretend scenarios--that would be cheating you of the whole picture.

My boys like toys.

They like cool toys.

And I like them, too.

I'm happy for the sticks, boxes, string, tubes, dirt, and bedsheets. But I'm also happy for Playmobils and Legos and Star Wars action figures and Imaginex knights and Transformers and Folkmanis puppets and Magformers and K'Nex and Nerf guns. We get many as gifts from doting grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We get some from friends whose children have grown out of them. Occasionally, we can find them in good shape still at thrift stores and rummage sales. And sometimes, we buy them new. But  however they make their way into our house, they are certainly plastic. And they are sold under named brands. And their manufacture is not karmically neutral.

I have made my peace with this, because it's not as much about me as it is about the big picture.

I don't want to be one of those parents who tinges a play experience with a little bit of shame or disappointment because a favorite toy wasn't handmade, or because it has bells and whistles, or because the parent company of the toy company has a contract with the defense industry.

It feels weird to write this, especially that last part. Nobody wants to actively support weapons manufacturers, or rather, to couple that support with our children's playthings (since we are supporting them de facto by participating in the economy that sustains them).

Did you ever meet kids growing up who weren't allowed to eat sweets, or whose religion didn't permit them to cut their hair, or whose parents insisted that their rooms stay spotlessly clean at all times?

How did those kids feel about it? The ones I knew were confused, resentful, resigned, and later, as teenagers, rebellious or withdrawn.

We live in a flawed and lacking world. But I'm not going to make my kids feel responsible for that because I've drawn an intractable moral or political line from Fisher Price to Evil. We can hold on to our ideals, we can live out our values, and we can let our kids experience life as 21st century children without judging their wants and curiosities. I think doing so is a quick way to create a lot of distance between us and them, a lot of bad feelings about our politics and philosophies.

I think often of that Krishnamurti quote, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

My aim is to raise kids who are whole, healthy, and well-adjusted people. Whole and healthy people recognize ills in society, and they live their lives full of goodness anyway.

I'll take the Lego carbon footprint hit for that.