I just love radio! Television is all well and good, and has its place, but for me nothing can compare to being able to listen to shows while wandering around doing housework, among other things.
Truth be told, we don't actually have television. Oh, we do have a television, but it doesn't get any channels. If you sat there with a remote to flip through in order to see what's on, all you'd get would be fuzz and static. We like it that way. It's remarkably freeing.
When it comes to media in my home, I feel like I have complete control. There is no possibility of "accidents" that cause my daughter to see something she shouldn't, or that I don't want her to. This was particularly useful when she was going through a super-sensitive phase and would begin to scream and cry if something frightened her. Sure, the show that was turned on was fine for her to watch, but then came a commercial, and suddenly it would be one person scrambling to turn off/turn down the television and the other either trying to distract her (never an easy task) or calm her.
Obviously, such episodes weren't happening at our home, since we didn't have television, but they did happen.
Now it's not as likely that something horrifies or scares her, but that what she sees may not be appropriate for her age. In fact, most of what's on television isn't appropriate for children, even the so-called "children's programming!" And when it is suitable, who knows what the advertisements might bring!
A case in point: We went to see a movie, a funny, perfect-for-her-age movie called The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. We both loved the movie, and I would highly recommend it (just beware of the cheese curls), but there were previews! And, had I known what the previews/trailers were going to be like, we would have been a little bit "late" for the movie. But I didn't know, and so I found my daughter questioning me about why two semi-naked adults were sliding up and down all over each other in a bed that was situated in the middle of a busy street (yes, really!!!???) with lots of people walking by and staring! She accepted my answer that I didn't know why their bed was in the middle of the road, but that I thought it was a very silly place to put a bed. She agreed. But then, after there was a bit more of a close-up of the increasingly less-clad bed snugglers, she wanted to know what they were doing!
Hmm... what do I say to my 3-year-old who is asking, in all innocence, about sex, in a dark movie theatre? She is no stranger to adult affection, she finds it highly amusing when she catches my husband and I kissing and/or snuggling, and usually puts a damper on anything by immediately (and inconveniently, in our opinion) crawling in the middle to get and give kisses and snuggles too. And there have been occasions when she asks, "What you doin'?" to which we usually answer, "Having Mummy and Daddy loves," which, in our minds, can run the gamut from kissing and snuggling to "we-just-collapsed-together-on-the-bed-and-are-holding-each-other-to-comfort-one-another-because-we-have-been-having-to-deal-with-YOU-so-please-just-let-us-rest!" Needless to say, we usually don't get said rest until after she's asleep.
So, in the theatre, I whispered to her, "They're having Mummy and Daddy loves!" Which she readily accepted despite the fact that the woman had no stretch marks or dark patches under her eyes from lack of sleep and the man wasn't musing, "Sleep... sex... sleep... sex... I just can't decide which we're more in need of!"
What do we do, having no television channels? Ah... here is where the control comes in! We have videos and DVDs. Which means that unless you intentionally chose to watch something and physically put it in, there's nothing to get "sucked into." And what videos and DVDs are available for Ella to watch are ones that we have pre-approved. Thanks to grandparents, she has a good variety, so don't feel sorry for her!
But this media control has major benefits for parents, too! If my husband and I want to watch something with "grown up" themes (you know, where things blow up and everything!), we never have to do it at the convenience of the network. We chose what to watch and when to watch it (always after she's in bed), and if, perchance, Ella wakes up right when we're about to find out who-done-it, neither of us has to miss the moment of revelation. We can simply press pause while one or the other of us goes and gets her settled down again.
There are other benefits too. The big one being no commercials! I am at that point in life that I hate someone telling me what I need, or what I should want. I don't want to know about it! You offer a service? I don't care! You sell a wonderful, new product? I'm not interested! I have no money to waste anyway, so just go away! And the longer I've gone without television, the less tolerant I am towards advertising. I don't look at billboards because they make me mad. I dislike magazine ads because they're a waste of paper, and I hate television and radio commercials because they are a waste of my time.
Which brings me back (again... finally...) to radio. Though you will never find the television simply on and blaring in my house with nobody watching, you will often hear the radio, but not just any station, because, as aforementioned, I hate commercials, which leaves me with two options: CBC Radio One and CBC Radio Two!
Some of my friends (they shall remain nameless) disapprove of CBC, claiming they are extremely left-wing, and sometimes I think so too. That said, I'm a smart girl, I can tell when there is bias showing up in a program, and I feel completely free to disagree with the opinions of some of the interviewers, writers, interviewees, etc. It's not uncommon to hear my commentary right along with those views being expressed, either arguing back at them (yes... I know they can't hear me), agreeing completely (as I said... ), or trying to balance out their argument ("Yes... but you need to consider...").
My darling husband used to mock me. He listened to music (well... that depends on your definition... but we won't go there!) and found great pleasure in teasing me when I wanted to discuss "something I heard on CBC this morning when I was doing laundry." But, then he lost his job, and it was quite a few months before he got another. In the interim, I got pregnant, and he got addicted to CBC Radio One, too!
When Ella was very young, CBC was a real life-saver. The mornings seemed long and lonely. I didn't have a vehicle, and we lived in the middle of nowhere, so I was stuck home with a newborn. During that time, CBC Radio One was a marvelous companion. For a mum, alone much of the time with an infant, it provided intelligent (usually) adult conversation. It kept me from being bored to tears, and reminded me that there was more to life than just baby.
The afternoons were great. My bedroom radio was set to CBC Radio Two, and nap time almost always came right when Disc Drive with Jurgen Gothe began. Ella and I would snuggle down in bed, all wrapped up and cozy. She would nurse, and I would read and eventually we both fell asleep with Disc Drive playing softly in the background.
That was a long, and incredibly rambling, introduction to my point, which is, simply, I was listening to Sounds Like Canada, one of my favourite radio shows, and they had a very interesting interview with Carl Honore, the author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, which my husband and I found fascinating.
If you want to hear the entire interview, and you happen to be reading this between April 21st and June 15th, 2008, go to Sounds Like Canada-Interviews. (They keep their interviews up for one month.) But, in case you happen to be reading this after June 15th, I've made a transcript of the pertenant (to me) parts of the interview. Yes, it was that good, I listened and took notes. But since Mr. Honore spoke very quickly, I had to listen a few times to get it right!
As I said above, I add my own running commentary to the show - even though they can't hear me, and as this particular interview both fell within the purview of this blog (parenting/schooling) and had me talking very enthusiatically at the radio, I wanted to share... and have my say!
Let me preface my transcipt by pointing out that this is from a verbal interview, so the syntax and vocabulary reflect that. Also, since it was verbal, any punctuation, emphasis, editing, etc., have been done by me. I tried to use them in a way that reflected Carl Honore's own emphasis and speaking patterns, and tried to maintain his meaning, even with the addition of edits, but if you are able to listen to the interview, please do so. Then you will be able to hear it "straight from horse's mouth."
So, without further ado (yes, I know that was a lot of "ado"!), Carl Honore...
[Quotes by Carl Honore will be in bold italics, the regular print is me.]
Every parent has that natural and noble instinct to do the best by their children but in the current climate, that reflex has morphed into something very extreme so that we find ourselves feeling immense pressure to push, polish, and protect our kids with super-human zeal. We feel that we must give them the best of everything and make them the best at everything, and the end result is that we end up micro-managing every aspect of their lives in a kind of stifling and, ultimately, counter-productive way.
That, I think, is one of the great dangers of parenting magazines! As a parent, we feel constantly evaluated by others, who are looking to see if we are doing enough for our children, and then they turn to evaluate our children to see if it is paying off the way it should! If, perchance, they don't think it is, then they are most ready to jump in to suggest something more that we could do, or sign up for, become involved in, take our children to... So many parents program the life out of their children, and render themselves exhausted, for what? A few more certificates of completion? Another activity to put on their application for university? Ella has been in Kindermusik, which is a fantastic program. Why was she in it? Because she loves music. But that was all she was in. She's also taken a swim course, but she didn't like that very much. She just wanted to play in the water - not have to do specific things. She's never been in a swim class since, although we still go to the Aquatic Centre for the Tots Toonie Swim, on occasion which is entirely unstructured. The day will come when swim lessons will be required for her, since we spend a lot of time at the lake, and she needs to learn to swim well, because Mummy won't always be there to make sure she's safe. But at 3 1/2, she doesn't need to know how now! I see parents constanly trying to teach their children things that they are by no means ready for! Do we really want our children to grow up so fast?
There is a culture of competition now, you know, the post-Berlin Wall globalization, there’s a lot more insecurity and uncertainty out there in the workplace. And I think when parents, especially, feel unsure their reflex is to push the children harder, is to manage them more thoroughly.
Why does it always seem that everyone is competing with everyone else? In a world where so much is topsy-turvy, and security is nominal at best, it's not surprising that we feel that we have to push our children in order for them to have even half a chance at a decent job. But this backfires because kids end up getting so sick of constant work that they end up burnt out and unwilling to do anything!
A lot of parents now come to the parenting table after many years in the workplace, and that means they bring with them this professional, almost management-consultant, ethos, this idea that you can make anything better, you can do anything better by professionalizing it, by pouring expert advice, spending more money, and investing more effort and work in something, and that has, I think, affected the way we think about children. We take a kind of mechanistic view of child development now, that you have input “X,” you get output “Y.” And of course that’s not the way child development works. It’s much more complicated and nuanced, layered, fuzzy, blurry, and all the more interesting and thrilling for that but I think we take a very simplistic view and that or that causes us to fall into that hyper-parenting trap.
And while this is hard on kids, it's hard on parents too! We end up viewing parenting as more work, so rather than enjoying our children, we have to improve them. And rather than letting them discover and explore the world, and discovering and enjoying with them, we have to train them, teach them, work to maximize their potential. We've forgetten how to play, and everyone is bearing the brunt of our skewed priorities. We see age/development charts as a checklist, and we want to make sure all the items are checked off in a timely manner. Kids don't work that way. Ella doesn't work that way! When I look at such age/development charts, I always see that she is far ahead in some areas, and way behind in others. The fact is, THAT'S NORMAL! She's ahead in areas that interest her, and the rest will catch up eventually. And unless a child is far behind in all areas, or doesn't seem to be progressing at all, then there's really not much to worry about. [Please note: if your child is behind in many areas, or doesn't seem to be progressing with his/her peers, chances are that he/she is just a late bloomer, and will catch up in his/her own good time, but it might be wise to get your child checked out by a doctor, just in case.]
This paradigm of child-rearing has been set in the broader culture... and then there’s the bigger picture, which is that when we’re talking about children and how we approach them today, it’s not just parents, I mean this is the whole culture has moved into this hyper-management of kids. You look at school systems over the last generation, they’ve become very mechanistic where schooling has become almost like an assembly line, a high pressure-cooker assembly line where kids are stuffed with information earlier and earlier and then tested, tested, and tested until the marks almost become more important that the learning itself... driven by the general ethos that predominates at the moment which is this idea that somehow that children are projects rather than people.
There is just so much truth in this statement, that I have to break it down, point it out, and explain how these truths have affected my parenting.
They’ve become very mechanistic where schooling has become almost like an assembly line.
This, folks, is one of the main reasons I'm homeschooling, because children are not all the same, and children do not progress at the same rate, especially if you break schooling down into subject matter! I recently posted a comment on another blog (Zirbert) that described my opinons on this subject, in particular as it relates to this province's "no child left behind" policy:
"As for "no child left behind," I think that has failed miserably. What results is that highly intelligent children face a system that is "some children kept behind," and those who have difficulty learning face a system that is "some children forced forward." Often teachers find themselves forced to teach to the lowest common denominator, meanwhile the intelligent and very bored children have plenty of time to come up with smart-aleck remarks and have plenty of time to catch up on their note-writing and passing, or worse!"
A high pressure-cooker assembly line.
I know some teachers who have worked in the public school system a long time, and they often express great surprise at what they're supposed to be teaching younger and younger students, and if they don't teach it right, then it'll show when the standardized tests are given!
Kids are stuffed with information earlier and earlier and then tested, tested, and tested until the marks almost become more important that the learning itself!
How true! "But," you say, "your daughter's only 3 1/2, and you have her in school! Yes, it's homeschool, but still!"
That's where the importance of Montessori comes in! When my husband and I were first talking about homeschooling I told him quite clearly that I was not cut-out to be a homeschooling mum. I'm not the best teacher because I tend to want to just take over and do it right, rather than take the time and energy of showing the other person how to do it for themselves. I had visions of myself as the kind of parent Carl Honore descibes: pushy, demanding, overbearing - the ideal hyper-parent. That was before Montessori.
Some of the basic principles of the Montessori method have to do with child-led progression, and child-chosen activities. Her theory was that children are innately curious, and they can learn with littler-to-no adult interference if they are given a "prepared environment," that is, an environment that encourages a child's interaction, that invites children to explore and experiment. Although the teacher does teach occasionally, her role is more as a fascilitator. Initally, she shows the children how to use a specific material, and after that the children get to do so on his/her own. Only if a child has not learned how to do it by himself does the teacher step in and repeat the lesson, and even then, she is encouraged just to leave the child be and see if he/she can figure it out alone. Children are allowed to progress at their own pace in every subject, although sometimes the teacher may have to remind him/her that they haven't done this or that subject in a while. With Montessori, the lines between work and play become blurred, and the child, while she knows she is "working at her school lessons" feel like she's playing, because she's the one who has chosen what to do. She is never held back because someone else hasn't progressed far enough to join her, and she is never pushed forward prematurely, because she gets to move forward when she feels ready to try the next activity.
Montessori doesn't allow for hyper-parenting, and so, while it does emphasize the importance of early education, it redefines what education looks like, making school about concrete child-driven activities, not about abstract teacher-given concepts.
Personally, I find that the more I read the works of Maria Montessori, the easier this hands-off method becomes. I provide the tools; Ella provides the education. I'm not tempted to push her, because she's the one determining the pace. I don't think I'd be a very good homeschool mum if it wasn't for Montessori.
There is never any teaching-to-test (there's hardly ever tests!) and the emphasis is very much on building a life-long joy of learning, rather than marks.
For the last generation we’ve been told that the way to teach children and to get them ahead academically is to start earlier, to pile on the homework, to pile on the toil, and to test them.
It's almost scary, the amount of homework that children have now! If you happened to have clicked on and read the Zirbert blog on Education Confrontation Part 1, you'll have read that he was unimpressed that his son, entering kindergarten, was expected to do homework. "The first problem I noted was that this school seems to think it's acceptable to send homework home with five-year-olds," he said. And it wouldn't surprise me if he becomes astounded at the amount of homework is sent home with his son. I remember having, on average, four hours a night in junior high school. It wasn't unheard of for Mum to send a note with me the next day explaining that I hadn't finished my homework as I had piano practice/lesson to attend to, which she considered as much a part of my education as other courses. Some teachers didn't like this. Some teachers understood.
From what I hear, though, the homework situation has become worse. Remember the old "add a zero to the grade and that's about how many minutes of homework a child should have a night" rule? That's no longer applicable. And I, for one, think having six-year-olds spending an hour a night on homework is too much.
Most children who are taught using the Montessori method do not have homework assignments. (For an interesting discussion of this, take a peek at Do Montessori Kids Need Homework?) Although in some cases, children at the upper elementary level do begin to take homework home, it is unusual for it to be very much or very long.
A lot of parents find themselves laying down the path that their child should follow and marking out and mapping out the future for them and this micro-management, I think, really ultimately backfires.
If the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise indepentant adults who can think critically, act autonomously, and behave rationally, then the micro-managing approach will definitely backfire! Part of parenting is giving children increasing amounts of independence and control over their lives, little bit by little bit. It is this slow shift from dependence to independence, on the part of the child, and autocrate to advisor, on the part of the parent, that allows the world to continue as it should. If this shift doesn't take place, one of two things tends to happen. Either the child continues to depend on the parent as an authority long after he/she should be making decisions on his/her own, or the parent "steps away" when he/she thinks that the child should become independant, and with all structure and safety in life taken away suddenly, the child cannot deal with the world he/she has been forced to face.
[Referring to Canada in comparison with East Asian nations] It’s not as intense here but we’ve moved a long way in that direction in the last generation. I mean I’m now forty, so I grew up in Canada in the late seventies and eighties and it was a very different world then. You know, we did academics and we had homework and so on but we had a lot of freedom and free time and I think that’s something that’s been squeezed out of modern childhood, and I mean squeezed out of childhood in Canada. I was back in my own neighbourhood in Edmonton recently, and the streets are, well, it’s like a ghost town. There are no kids outside. You know, you used to see children playing road hockey and shooting baskets and jumping through sprinklers, and now the only time you see a child is he’s strapped to the back of an SUV being ferried off to his next extra-curricular activity.
"Modern childhood" isn't, really, any more. It has morphed into some kind of a pre-adulthood, where the importance that adults put on their jobs are expected to be the same kind of importance that children give to their schooling. We often forget that which was good in our childhood wasn't school or extra-curriucular activities, but playing with friends, imagination, adventures, and discovery, almost always made by ourselves with no adult help whatsoever.
I think that kids lose out on a lot of things, and the horrible irony of course is that we’re putting in all of this effort, into our children, and with the noblest and best of intentions, but it’s not working. If you consider how much time, energy, and money we’re pouring into our kids, we should be, really, raising and seeing the emergence of the healthiest, happiest, brightest generation the world has ever seen. But let’s be honest, that’s not what’s happening. You look around now and kids are more obese than they’ve ever been before, you see athletic kids suffering from sports injuries that you only ever saw in the pro leagues until recently. Kids now, the number of children on medication designed to control their mood or behaviour has tripled over the last fifteen years. Child anxiety and depression, and the self-harm and drug abuse and suicide that often goes with it are now is now most prevalent, not in the urban ghettos, and in the “underclass” if you like, but in the leafy neighbourhoods where the go-getting middle classes are project-managing their children and piling on the pressure.
It’s very true that every generation has the childhood that reflects its own cultural context, its own prejudices, but also its own fears and hang-ups, and there’s no doubt that children growing up now are growing up in a very different world and they have to learn how to manage technology and they have to learn how to, you know, cope with a world that’s more global, they’ve got to cope with more open and unsure economy and more uncertainty. There’s no doubt about that, but I think that doesn’t mean that they need to be brought up in the way that we’re bringing them up. Because it seems to me that children are hard-wired to develop both their brains and their social capacity and their characters in the same way as they have always done. I mean, the ecosystem of childhood may have changed, but children haven’t changed. We haven’t experienced an evolutionary great leap forward in the last fifteen years. That’s simply impossible. So kids have the same basic needs for their development that they had twenty years ago, when you and I were growing up, fifty years ago, when our parents were growing up, and eighty years ago and even two hundred years ago! They need time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They need the room just to play, you know, just simple play without adults jumping in and ordering them around and telling them what to do. Because that’s how they learn to think creatively, that’s how they learn how to socialise, that’s how they learn to take pleasure from things. That how they learn to stand on their own two feet. And it also, maybe most importantly of all, how they learn who they are, rather than what we want them to be.
Yes, eventually children are going to have to grow up. They will have to face an insanely and increasingly technological and competitive lifestyle, but that doesn't mean that they have to face it now. Right now they're children, and they should be allowed to remain so for as long as possible. The last thing children need is exposure to things or subjects that have, tradionally, not been explained to children until they were older.
Not that I advocate lying to children, or not answering their questions, but when they do have questions, how much better it is to explain it to them at their level, only giving addional details if asked.
I was rather shocked when Ella, at only two years old, wanted to know how the baby got in Cousin J.'s belly. Uh... Er... At that moment I was very glad that I had on hand a funny-but-basically-true book called, "Where Willy Went: The Big Story of a Little Sperm." It told her what she wanted to know, in a way that wasn't 'gross' and didn't go into the details she doesn't yet need to know.
There’s this weird paradox where on one hand, we’re too hands-on, and we’re too pushy, and we’re too insistant, we’re too involved, and on the other hand, I think we kind of go a bit soft and wobbley and we back off and we give kids, I think, too much leash, if you like, or too much room. Because children, actually, although adults don’t necessarily thrive on having boundries and people saying “no” to them, children do, because that’s how they learn, you know, about limits, it’s about regulating their own needs and behaviours, its about how they learn how to get along with other people. And I think if children don’t have that, then they miss out on some pretty useful life-lessons.
Ah, the notorious flip-side of hyper-parenting, lack of discipline! And let's face it, we all fall into this trap on occasion. We either are too tired or too weak, and we give in to the children. While telling them that we're the boss, on one hand, we are willing to do almost anything in order to keep them happy and calm.
I don't often have this problem, luckily. Ella's a pretty good little girl, most of the time. She's never been given to tantrums, but at some point she's learned to "wheedle." Do you know what I mean? She opens her eyes very wide, looks very innocent, and says "Please? Pretty please? I'll be very good!" Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when she's a teenager, trying to get the car. "Mummy, if I can have it Friday night, I'll give you a back massage and I'll pick up your dry-cleaning!" (I don't know that Ella will sound like that, but I know I did!)
Ultimately, it comes down to what matters, how much it matters, and how allowing this behaviour, activity, or attitude will probably affect the future. And if it matter, remember, you've got a foot! Put it down! (Yes, I know... so easily said, so hard to do!)
After all that, keep in mind that parenting doesn't always have to be hard work! You are guarunteed that sometime it will be hard work, so don't make more for yourself! We have the chance of enjoying our children and building them up into independent, whole adults, ready to face the world, and knowing that, as always, they can call when they want your opinion, but that they don't have to take it.