[This is an article originally blogged by Keenan. I have not simply re-blogged it for two reasons. First is that i have added links to it, to places where Keenan’s philosophy and mine run parallel. And the second is that i have added some pictures to it, a tragic omission (which also reduces readership) in Keenan’s original post. I would still encourage you to check out his blog, especially if parenting and Twin Oaks community politics and culture are of interest to you. It is an excellent source.]
Twin Oaks is a great place to raise children. At Twin Oaks almost every parent likes their kid(s) and likes being a parent. Almost every parent is raising their children deliberately and consciously. Although not all of us parents agree with each other, we all concur that there are many bad mainstream child-rearing theories and practices that we want to avoid/overcome.
Kristen and I just celebrated the milestone of our youngest having his 18th birthday. We have been reflecting recently on our journey as parents, and we are very pleased with how the kids have turned out—pleased and relieved. Why relieved? Our parenting practices were at odds with almost every mainstream child-rearing theory we read. We weren’t so confident that we could know for sure that the kids would turn out great. According to those other theories, our bizarre parenting practices should have resulted in kids who are emotionally crippled sociopaths. But they aren’t—in fact, the kids are, by all accounts, altogether fine human beings. I don’t want to gloat or embarrass the kids by describing how great they are—but take my word for it.
Kristen and I both had lots of experience with kids prior to having our own, so we were already quite skilled, or, at least, opinionated by the time we were holding a newborn. As the kids grew, we talked fairly constantly about how the kids were doing. We wanted to do things right; we would immediately work on any behavior problem that started to crop up, or, even better, recognize an interest early so we could kindle it. Through our experience as parents, our belief in the fundamental wrongness of how children are treated in the mainstream culture solidified. If you want to try to give your child a utopian childhood the hardest part is letting go of lots of misguided mainstream beliefs about children. Honestly, doing things right is a lot of work, but if you want to know what we did and why, without further ado, here is the “Dakota theory” of how to give children a utopian childhood:
[Kristen and I have the last name “Dakota.” This has nothing to do with any Native American people]
Current belief: Children are lesser beings who should not expect or receive the same polite and considerate treatment that adults give each other.
Dakota theory: Children have the same intrinsic value that all humans have and should be listened to and treated with respect. Specifically, parents should like their children.
Conclusion: Children behave well when they are treated as though they are deserving of respect.
Current belief: Children should obey authority figures.
Dakota theory: Children should be taught that they are responsible human beings and they should learn to negotiate for what they want.
Conclusion: Children who are taught to obey, learn to distrust their own judgment. They also demonstrate less personal motivation. Children who are taught to negotiate show more task persistence and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Unfortunately, raising a child who negotiates requires more time and effort from parents.
Current belief: Children need peers to develop normal social skills.
Dakota theory: Children develop better social skills without same-age peers.
Conclusion: Children learn social skills from the people they are around. Children in groups and in institutional settings are sometimes inconsiderate or cruel to each other. Children who are around other children for much of the time, often develop dysfunctional behaviors from being with other, partially socialized, children. Children who are around adults for most of their formative years develop better social skills than children who are in group child care for most of their formative years.
Current belief: Children need to go to school to 1) develop social skills and 2) to absorb a body of knowledge.
Dakota theory: School exposes children to bad social behaviors. The body of knowledge in school is often outdated, inadequate, and inaccurate. Additionally, it doesn’t take much time to learn that body of knowledge at home.
Conclusion: Many children are exposed to unhealthy social behaviors from the bad behavior that inevitably results from large-scale institutionalization. The body of knowledge that schools pass along is easily gained at home. Typically, parents have other interests and values that schools don’t teach.
Current belief: Children need to be punished, they need to be disciplined and they need consequences for their bad behavior.
Dakota theory: Never punish or discipline children. Normal life provides enough consequences, no additional consequences are needed.
Conclusion: Punishment has been proven to be ineffective at teaching children a new behavior. Children feel punished merely from a parent’s disapproval—nothing more is necessary. An effective “punishment” is making a child stop playing in order to explain why it’s not OK to hit, or take another kid’s toy. Frequently, merely calmly pointing out what the problem is to the child can make a child feel bad enough to stop the bad behavior and/or make restitution. Encouraging a distraught child to take a time-out is good advice for anyone having emotional trouble and isn’t really a punishment.
Current belief: Misbehavior is due to a poorly disciplined child.
Dakota theory: Misbehavior is due to a poorly designed environment.
Conclusion: A toddler, set down in front of a coffee table with a lot of breakable glassware on the table will, inevitably, drop and break something. This is not bad behavior. Don’t punish the child; move the glassware. It is more likely that children will hang up their clothes on pegs than on hangers. A yard with two swings and three kids creates ongoing strife. Often a child’s “bad” behavior is due to normal child-like behavior in an environment that is designed for normal adult behavior. The easiest way to have a well-behaved child, is to change the environment to suit the child’s behavior. For instance, if there is only healthy food in the house, then “food wars” become much less likely.
Current belief: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s bad
Dakota theory: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s OK.
Conclusion: “He’s just doing that to get attention!” is a statement some adults make to indict a child’s motives and to grant the adult permission to punish the child for bothering the adult. But, attention from an adult is essential sustenance for a child’s emotional well-being. Once a child receives an adequate amount of attention, they are full, and will go off and play, only to return later for another helping of attention. If we say with scorn of a child who’s crying, “he’s just crying because he’s hungry, I’m going to spank him” it sounds cruel . “He’s just doing it to get attention,” should sound equally heartless.
Current belief: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through psychoactive medication.
Dakota theory: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through counseling and behaviorist reinforcement/extinguishing techniques.
Conclusion: Psychoactive drugs have immediate side-effects and long-term physiological consequences. Changing a child’s chronic behavior problem without drugs is vastly more time consuming, but results in a more emotionally healthy child.
Current belief: A child might become emotionally crippled from spending too much time with a parent (or parents).
Dakota theory: strong family connections help create an emotionally healthy child.
Conclusion: Studies of poverty, mental illness and crime consistently show that parents who physically or emotionally abandon their children create the pathology that leads to dysfunctional adults. On the other hand, outstanding and high-performing athletes typically have at least one engaged and supportive parent. There is not a bell curve here; it’s linear; the stronger the family connections, the more emotionally stable the children are as adults.
Current belief: Children should be kept protected and secluded from real-world experiences. They should live in a separate world called “childhood” until they are completed with their schooling and are able to enter the adult world.
Dakota theory: Children are part of the world. It is healthier for children and the world for children to be included in almost all aspects of the adult world.
Conclusion: Children in their early teens want to distinguish themselves from younger children; they want to act like grown-ups. Mainstream culture allows few opportunities to show their maturity, so these young teens turn to bed behavior, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, swearing and having sex as ways to show their “maturity.” However, teens who have the ability to take on real responsibility, like, for instance having a part-time paying job demonstrate their adult-ness through taking on these healthier parts of being a grown up. Throughout their teen years, teenagers should have the opportunity to do part-time, intern, and volunteer work to explore their interests. This serves several useful functions; it keeps teens busy, it allows teens to develop maturity and responsibility, and it gives teens a wide range of real-life experiences which should help prevent the all-too-frequent situation where a young adult goes into debt to pursue a degree only to discover after graduation that they hate the work that they have spent years training for.
Give your child a utopian childhood in just 10 easy steps:
1) Enjoy the company of your children. (That’s really the main one, since so many parents don’t really enjoy the company of their children, and the children know that, so they misbehave. No child-rearing theory can overcome parents who don’t like their kids.)
2) Accept every request as legitimate. (default to yes, rather than default to no).
3) Don’t punish. Don’t discipline. But, rather, explain.
4) No sarcasm. Don’t laugh at kids.
5) Learn what your kids like.
6) Laugh at kids’ jokes, listen to their stories.
7) Try to understand their emotions. Have empathy.
9) Talk to the kids about the adult world. Encourage discussion. Explain values through story telling using real examples. Let them know fairly often what you think is right and wrong.
10) Share whatever you are passionate about with your children. Expect them to be interested in your life.
Posted 28th April 2014 by keenan
The game of Dominion is fairly popular at the commune. It is a dynamic card game, and a sister of Magic in that you build decks and the rules are changing all the time. These kinds of game are pretty complex and they are part of our informal home schooling curriculum. The fact that our kids want to play, because our adults are playing and because if they play well they can be peers to the adults, are big pluses.
When i first started playing Dominion with Sami he was not yet 5. Despite being involved in his home school efforts, i dont keep track of where kids are in the educational process by what age they are at. It is just not something i think about.
One evening Sami and some older kids wanted to play Dominion. We each choose some of the perhaps 200 different card types we have in the various expansions so we could create a game. Sami choose a couple of card types he liked as did everyone else. There was a bit of negotiating to get some better game dynamics on the board. All friendly negotiations.
Sami played well, i barely beat him and i was the overall winner. He got more points than several other kids and adults.
I was talking with Ezra, Sami’s dad, the following day (who Sami had recently beaten) and complimenting his clever kid. “Yeah, it is pretty impressive.” Confessed Ez. “Given that he can’t read the cards.”
“What?” i said
“He can’t read yet. But he really wanted to play. So he memorized all the cards so he could play.” Ez explained.
“But there are like 200 different cards, and some are crazy complicated.” i was amazed.
“Like i said, he really wanted to play.”
When i was in my early teens i thought (for some reason which escapes me now) that i should be more virtuous. i did a bit of research and found a long list of virtues in some book (this is before Wikipedia would direct me here). Having studied the list and being an efficient sort of teen (not wanting to have to work the new virtue problem too hard), i settled on patience. My thinking was this, all you have to do is wait.
Turns out in my particular style of parenting, patience is the key to success. Twin Oaks requires an increasing amount of work from it’s kids as they get older. Willow needs to work a handful of hours now and it will bump up to 8 hours a week when he turns 13. Mostly he is responsible for his homework and education.
For a while time i was worried that Willow would play video games and watch Star Trek and resist both school work and work around the community. Over the last few months he has been doing more of both. Hawina has been instrumental in helping him find work that he actually wants to do. Like helping Sky with preparing lunch or doing a Tupelo Serf (cleaning shift) or boxing tofu or stocking his residence’s kitchen.
And good things come to those who wait. And the big benefit to the more patient approach is that he feels he is making the choices (which he is), rather than being commanded by his parents to do something. And some times the easiest thing to do is the right thing to do.
My favorite moment from this Tupelo Serf shift with Willow was after i asked him to help me spell something he said “i love it when adults ask me how to spell things.”
[Willow has Read and Approved the Post]
Zadek and i are the two cross overs. The younger home schooling program at Twin Oaks is called Unicorns. Kid as young as Elan from Acorn (age 1) come and as old as Zadek (7?). There is a lot of sandbox, drawing and playing-with-toys time as well as read-aloud books, words for the day and simple reading & writing exercises. Christie (an accepted Acorn visitor who has not arrived yet) put it most flatteringly.
I’ve been to dozens of pre-schools and day care situations, Unicorns is the only one which is doing it right.
Heroes is the fantasy role playing home education system that i am the games master of. I play this game with Zadek, Kaya, Evan, Willow and Rowan (ages 7 thru 17). They adventure similarly to a Dungeons and Dragons game, but when they role poorly for the outcome of an event, they can get another role by answering a question right. In the last game, Rowan’s character (Pesca the fallen god) actually died because Willow did not know what the Prohibition was (Evan did, but that was not enough to save him). Kaya’s character (named Sapphyre) was about to be married to Pesca, so she followed him to heaven so they could hang there. It is that kind of game.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest] (Past homeschool mom of 2 daughters from birth until they entered college.)
Hawina is out for the week so i am doing far more Willow homeschooling time than i normally do. What i normally do is a fantasy role playing game with Willow (11), Kaya (9), Evan (13) and Rowan (17). It is a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and Trivial Pursuits. Except the questions are Significa instead of Trivia. We do geography, math, history, as well as some limited biology and other topics – with occasional Mensa questions thrown in for good measure. The game is called Heroes and largely they design their own characters and i build the world around them with riddles and tricks and traps and puzzles and as much pedagogic value as i can squeeze into it and still have it be something they are excited to do.
In addition, this week, Willow and i have had other educational times together, just the two of us. We have read some, but mostly we have been watching these brilliant educational videos, The Skeptics Guide to American History. The guy who does it is a really good lecturer, despite being very “no frills” in his presentation and dressed in a suit and tie. We learned the American Revolution was neither American nor a Revolution in its inception. Stuff i did not know:
- In 1763, the colonists saw themselves not as Americans but as proud members of the British Empire.
Radicals in the First Continental Congress argued that Parliament had no rights in thecolonies, but moderates disagreed. And the moderates overwhelmingly controlled Congress.
- Even after the fighting began in Lexington and Concord the moderates sent an Olive Branch Petition to the King of England who rejected it, basically forcing the colonies into war.
It is not the Peoples History of the United States, but Willow and i have been enjoying our conversations and bringing history to life.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
“Look there is an obelisk!” Willow pointed down an odd side street in Maastricht.
I wanted to get a picture with us and the stone shape and he obliged me.
“Strange they should have one here” my son wondered out loud, pointing out that there are more popular in the places we are going (Greece and Italy) than here in the north of Europe.
“i am not remembering exactly, perhaps they were temples or oracles in ancient Egypt.”
We walked for a while and then he said
“Oh, now I remember – they built Obelisks when ever a new Pharaoh was crowned.”
If we were still at Twin Oaks I would give him “Paxus Education” credit.
Occasionally, people get upset at the way i run naming parties. I use a facilitation technique which has been called “Florida Style” after the voter fraud that got Bush II elected. Let’s just say being precise is not always my priority. Presumably because i am entertaining in my presentation (and i cant really influence the decision process) i get asked back to run naming parties again.
Over 10 years ago, after we installed the new rope machine we realized we needed a name for it. We had gone over 20 years without a name for the old rope machine, because there was no need to distinguish it from anything. But with two side by side, we threw a naming party for both and they were ultimately called “God” and “the State”. As Marx predicted, the State has withered away and only God is running these days, but the name lingers even tho there is nothing to be comparing it to locally.
And if you start something new, you can name it, so when Rick and Joanna started the current awesome child care, basic education program in the community (which now meets 5 mornings a week), they decided to call it Unicorns school.
Unicorns is fabulous in my never humble opinion. It is providing the introductory educational experience for our kids. It is run by people who love and are good with kids. It provides child care for the busy parents who are working to support the community and if you watch it (as i occasionally do) you get the feeling like this is the type of environment which is safe and fun and engaging to the kids involved.
And Joanna, who also makes rope, commented the other day that her labor sheet was filled with God and Unicorns.