Monday, March 31, 2014

Raising Kids Without Fiction Q & A

Recently I was emailed the following questions and thought I should post my answers to them on the blog!

Q: I think it's interesting that you are not exposing your son to fantasy and I am curious when you anticipate his ability to understand fantasy without it confusing his perception of reality will be?

A: A paper that I read recently on fantasy and the "folkloric realization" in children has led me to believe that he may be pretty clear by the time he is 4 (as compared to average American children who become clear around 9). But the study only covered children's understandings of anthropomorphic animals, not of things like magic. So when he is 4, I will start sharing stories about anthropomorphic animals with him and see how that goes, but I plan to hold off on the stories with magic until later. 

Q: And do you think that it would be beneficial to be honest and clearer (knowing the limits of this) with young children when they encounter fantasy as an alternative to not exposing them to it?

A: I have a friend who raised his kids that way, explaining to them all the time real and not real. He thinks it helped and at the time was happy with his solution to the problem, but he says if he had it to over again he would have done what I am doing because even if the child understands there is "something" about the princess in the movie that "isn't real", that does not change what the child will now be interested in and passionate about. The child will who gets clear explanations, assuming he does fully understand them and it doesn't dammage his self-esteem, will still spend the first 8 or so years of his/her life planning and practicing being either superman or a princess, planning and practicing for a life that will never happen and for living in a world that does not exist.

I notice that kids at my camp who are, for lack of a better word, "fictionalized" tend to think about the world in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys". This makes them act differently than the non-fictionalized kids. For example, if Anders is feeling mad, he says, "Feel mad!" whereas if a fictionalized kid is feeling angry they say, "I'm Lex Luther!" (or some other bad guy). My son understands that he feels mad. The other kid understands that if you feel a certain way, you are a bad guy. It's similar when the fictionalized kids are angry at another child. Anders will say, "Mad! I take toy!!!" and perhaps he will try to grab the toy back. The fictionalized kid will say, "Bad! Bad! I kill you!" and again, perhaps try to take the toy back.

I don't think it's helpful for children to be conceptualizing people they feel angry at as "bad", rather than being aware of what that person did and what they are feeling. Many adults think that way for their entire lives and it does not serve them!

Now, that begets the question: can you spend a lot of time explaining to your child reality and fantasy and also explaining to him that the language used in fictional stories about good and evil is not helpful... yes, you can. But it will still change his psychology, sense of life and the universe and how he thinks about life. Nathaniel Branden writes about how Ayn Rand, in her philosophy, writes about having great respect for emotions but the characters in her books only ever model repression of emotions. Her readers, almost 100% of the time, will model themselves after her characters rather than her philosophy.

A new realization on my part that I had thanks to all the reading I have been doing about fiction and fantasy is that when I get in touch with my subconscious, my inner 4-year-old, I am terribly sad that this is life. I have such a strong desire to be in long gowns and live in a castle and go to balls.... When I get in touch with my inner 16-year-old, I am heart broken that magic isn't real, that I wasn't chosen by the fairies or whoever to suddenly be told I had magic and was really a princess or a witch who got to go live in a reality far more cool than this one. It doesn't feel like a big deal from where I am sitting now, but if I really let myself focus and feel it--it is a big deal. I don't wish that on my kids. I want them to envision and practice and be excited and plan for life as it is. It is one thing to fantasize about alternate realities when you are older and really enjoy it. It is another thing to really, deeply believe in them and then find out they are not real (at least that is what I have concluded at this point).

Other notes: 
Anders, and this should be needless to say, does not attempt to talk to trees and has never named one of his toys. The fictionalized kids do both of these things.

When we wrap Anders up in a towel we continue to be clear:
Mama: Can I pretend you are a burrito?"
Anders, shrieking: Yes!!!
Mama: Can I pretend to eat you?!!!
Anders, giggling: Yes!!!!
[And then I pretend to eat him.]

For this reason, Anders is already fairly clear on the difference between pretending to do and be things and really doing and being things. This will be very helpful later when he is exposed to fiction. It is also helpful for him to conceptualize now. He can tell me he wants to "pretend make eggs" and then I know that he does not need me to turn on the stove.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fantasy Notes

***Dear People Who Read This Blog, This is not a real blog. I do not have the time to write a real blog--all of my time is going into finishing my book. So what is this? It's a storage dump. It's a place I store ideas and notes that I want to write about later. Roslyn***

I just finished reading:
Fiction and Fictionalism
Fiction and Metaphysics
The Art of Fiction
The Romantic Manifesto
A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play
Daydreaming and Fantasy
The Kingdom of Childhood: Introductory Talks on Waldorf Education
The Uses of Enchantment
A Plague of Fantasies
Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play
The Secret of Childhood
The Child in the Family
The Scientist in the Crib
How Children Learn
And a bunch of Joseph Campbell talks

My conclusions about fantasy-fiction for children thus far are--

-Humans have been telling stories about talking animals and gods with magic for a long time
-These stories, when taken as truth (religion), are believed by both the child and the adult, thus there is no damage to the relationship because there has been no lying. Depending on how much the child's own rational conclusions disagree with the adults, there can be some trauma to the child's rational faculty
-These stories, when not taken as truth such as in folk stories of anthropomorphic animals, won't confuse children very much or for very long if the following conditions are met: 1) that the stories are told or read and do not have pictures 2) that the child has plenty of exposure to that real animal in addition to the anthropomorphic stories he hears
-The American childhood, with all the anthropomorphic inanimate objects and animals in movies, is extremely confusing and debilitating to young children, setting them back many years in their "folkloric realization" compared to their own ancestors and their non-western peers. How damaging this is to their self-esteem, relationships and confidence in thinking for themselves is inconclusive.

If you are interested in reading more on this subject I recommend The Romantic Manifesto and the first chapter of the Art of Fiction were the most clarifying book I read on the subject. Joseph Campbell's stuff is incredible for understanding the place of myth and stories in human lives.

Daydreaming and Fantasy was well-organized and I appreciated that it its ability to help me think about fantasy and fiction but it was full of illogical conclusions.

The Secret of Childhood and The Child in the Family and The Scientist in the Crib and How Children Learn do a great job of helping to understand how children think and learn

And these were either useless, a total joke, or downright irrational/stupid:
Fiction and Fictionalism
Fiction and Metaphysics
A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play
The Kingdom of Childhood: Introductory Talks on Waldorf Education
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fantasy Play
A Plague of Fantasies
Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play

Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Research on Children and Reality

From the article:

"The [Western] mind also appears to be unique in terms of how it comes to understand and interact with the natural world. Studies show that Western urban children grow up so closed off in man-made environments that their brains never form a deep or complex connection to the natural world. While studying children from the U.S., researchers have suggested a developmental timeline for what is called “folkbiological reasoning.” These studies posit that it is not until children are around 7 years old that they stop projecting human qualities onto animals and begin to understand that humans are one animal among many. Compared to Yucatec Maya communities in Mexico, however, Western urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood."

"Given that people living in WEIRD societies don’t routinely encounter or interact with animals other than humans or pets, it’s not surprising that they end up with a rather cartoonish understanding of the natural world. “Indeed,” the report concluded, “studying the cognitive development of folkbiology in urban children would seem the equivalent of studying ‘normal’ physical growth in malnourished children.”

Nursing Babies To Sleep is Awesome!

What will your future be like if your baby is "trained" to be nursed to sleep? Here is a conversation I had today with my 2.5-year-old:

Mama: Anders, we nursed a lot yesterday, so I don't want to nurse you to sleep at your nap time right now. Would you mind going on a walk instead?
Anders: I go on a walk in the stroller and then fall asleep and sleep in the stroller. 
Mama: I would really appreciate it.
[Anders goes to the other room to get his stroller. After we walk in his stroller for less than three minutes he is sound asleep.]

Standard American Parenting books caused me to be sooooo afraid of having a baby habituated to nursing himself to sleep. It has never been a problem. Not for babysitters and not for me. Many days he doesn't nurse to sleep anyway, he just climbs up into my lap and passes out. There is so much respect between us, so much effort to meet each other's needs... it's so beautiful. 

Book Review: A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Paley

What a stupid, pointless waste of my time. This book has no real argument. It's a lament to times gone by and an emotional appeal rather than a rational one. It's really annoying.

I hate it when people claim things like this author did at the beginning, "There was a time when play was king and early childhood was its domain." Really? When? Was that the "play" invented by the Victorians? Because I don't think she's referring to the middle ages. Or hunter gatherer tribes that exist today. But oooh, times were sooooo good once, weren't they? Cause your generation certainly ended up happy and well-adjusted from your amazing childhoods!

Lady, there is nothing natural or normal about a school setting or the behavior it inspires in children. You're a teacher? How about cracking open a history book?

This book had a lot of transcripts of conversations kids have with each other and I enjoyed those that involved real life practice (there were maybe 2). Most of the conversations were children attempting to understand the rules of good guys and bad guys and magical powers... and they just made me sad.

Some of the conversations were children using stories they had read to express their feelings. These also made me sad--children are crippled with zero vocabulary to discuss how they feel and can only express themselves through stories they have been read! Naturally what the author takes away from this is that children can ONLY express their emotions through stories.... Now, I have nothing against stories that don't confuse children about reality and don't teach them bad philosophy but SERIOUSLY? How about a little emotional education, instead?

There are times when the author gets it totally wrong what the children are talking about too. A lot of the time they are not expressing an emotion that they don't know how to express. They are trying to understand reality--do bad guys have mothers? Are bad guys allowed to have mothers?

My 2.5 year old doesn't actually know concepts like good guys and bad guys--he isn't being trained to think about the world in those terms. He does know words like afraid, puzzled, worried, sad, mad, etc. All the "ideas" she thinks kids can't understand unless they talk about them in the form of talking spiders and flying men! The author can't understand how children would be able to confront their fantasy villains without lots of fantasy play.... What I can't understand is why children have villains! Why do we teach our children to think about the world in these ways? It's so sad!

She says that superhero play is no different from the cowboy play that happened 50 years ago... I beg to differ. Philosophically they are similar, yes, they involve good guys and bad guys and our cultural myth of heroic man saving village. But for children they are very different. Cowboys were real--they didn't fly. They didn't have magic. They didn't rob children of their self-confidence in their ability to understand reality. (Well, they still did kind-of since, even though they were part of reality, they weren't part of most children't actual day-to-day reality.)

A lot of what this lady is lamenting isn't about fantasy play, it's about free time. Allowing children unstructured time to do with what they wish: that I totally agree with. Children who go to school are absolutely robbed of the personal development they would get with more free time.

But guess what? When you make children focus on all this total bullshit they are wasting years of their lives anyway. What kinds of questions do three-year-olds think about for a week: Can one see poison if she is invisible? Yeah, that's an important use of her time.

What was disturbing about this book was that the teacher doesn't just want to let the kids play--she wants to use their play, to control it. And granted, I have read about how play can be used to lengthen kids attention spans if you make them play what they are going to play before they play it and then have them stick to their game but... you gotta pick your side. This lady is on both sides. She wants kids to do more dramatic play AND she wants to control that play and use it to change the children. She argues like she is on the side of freedom for children and then having free time and enjoying life but... she's not. That's just lip service. There is a perfect example of this (her secret agenda) towards the end. She uses the Hobbit story to help children come to the conclusion that anyone with a magic ring would use it to do bad things. Which is why we need police men and government and parents to keep us all in line! Since we're all actually bad....

This author also thinks play is good so that children can always understand that they are just playing different roles and they can switch roles at any time. One last nail in the coffin for Standard American Parenting Experts. Why do you speak about training children to be inauthentic and out of touch with what they really feel like it's a good thing?

If only I could use play to trick this lady into learning some Non Violent Communication....

No Nightmares For Kids Raised In Reality

I was reading the following article--

and I thought it was so INSANE. Write a letter to the monster? Give your child a special toy to help him deal with his fears about the monster? WHY ARE YOU TEACHING YOUNG CHILDREN WHO CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REALITY AND FICTION ABOUT MONSTERS IN THE FIRST PLACE? It's just mean.

In the world I live in, at some point between 8pm and 10pm my toddler tells me he wants to go to bed or I tell him I want to go to bed and.... we go to bed. He is not afraid of under the bed, the closet or the dark. He doesn't hesitate to walk around the house in the dark if there is something he wants in another room or to go outside when it is dark to get a toy he wants. He has had a total of three nightmares in his entire life and all three took place the week after we moved into a new house and they were about things like there being no more cookies or someone taking a toy from him. 

I listen to people talk about their children's nightmares and struggles with bedtime and irrational fears and... I feel so sad for them and for their poor, scared kids. I am happy to be raising my son the way I am!! So happy to keep discovering that a child raised the way I advised is even more amazing that I hypothesized! I wish people knew how easy and fun and just incredible and smart and capable and competent "normal" two-year-olds are. 

Update: Anders is almost 4 and he has yet to come running to my room after a bad dream. He sleeps with me some nights and in his own bed some nights. It's all up to him. During stressful times he sleeps more often with me.