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Monday, November 7, 2016

Notes on Anders's "Education" age 4 2/3

At  4 2/3


We stopped doing the Hooked on Phonics program (somewhere in the second half of first grade) and now we do solely the 100 Easy Lessons program. We have made it to lesson 80. Each lesson includes practicing a series of words and then reading a story that has those words in it. After lesson 70 or so, Anders started reading the story first. That way he would know which words he didn't know and needed to practice. Then we would go back and do the lesson, practicing just those words that he didn't know in the story and skipping the rest that he (rightly) found to be needless repetition. I continue to be impressed with his ability to direct his own learning and make whatever program we are doing work for him.

Though we no longer do any of the Hooked on Phonics lessons, Anders still likes to read the little books to himself.

In the last few months, we have read a lot of fairy tales. I am quite disturbed by them. Almost all of them seem to teach a "poor person" philosophy: Success in life is based on luck and magic; good people are people who do what they are told and never try to better their lives or are altruistic to a masochistic degree; good people are rewarded for their goodness by some benevolent, magical power. The only other path to success in life presented in Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, is to be cunning, and trick other people out of their money. No one in these stories finds success in life because of consistent, dedicated hard work and moral behavior toward others.

I cannot recommend these stories for anyone's children.

A little research, of course, revealed that fairy tales ARE poor people stories! According to Ken Mondschein, Phd, who wrote the long introduction at the front of my 652 page Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales:

"Fairy tales are, after all, a form of folk tale. They were works of low culture – very unlike the stories of valiant knights and holy saints that the rich paid poets to compose in the Middle Ages.... For centuries, fairy tales were usually considered outside the bounds of refined taste. ... The Grimms intended their work to be the psychic bricks and mortar of a new Germany. This was a product of their time. ... The Grimms portrayed themselves as recording the authentic German spirit and culture, which they believed was not in the hands of the literary and sophisticated elites, but was instead unconsciously manifested through the words and deeds of the common people."

Despite my dislike of the values taught in fairy tales, they are part of our "cultural knowledge." References are made constantly to the them, especially in children's games, so knowing the stories is important. I would rather Anders's references to the fairy tales be the stories than the Disney movies based on the stories that teach the same terrible life philosophy but in a far more manipulative way.

So, I did decide to read the fairy tales to Anders, but with a lot of care and conversation, as if I were reading him statist propaganda. We talked about what values each story was selling, and what the hero would have done if he thought like a successful person.

After the fairy tales we read a book of Norse myths, which I liked a lot more. The gods in the Norse myths are very proactive at achieving their goals. I also enjoyed using the picture of Yggdrasil to start talking to Anders about how our brains work. (Yggdrasil is the best concretized picture of human consciousness I have come across.)

After the Norse myths we read a book of Greek myths that included a kids version of The Odyssey. It is insane to me that today an intellectual education includes having read The Odyssey. Like the fairy tales, this is not a work of high literature. This is the trashy super hero comic of its day. In ancient Greece, the intellectual class considered the Iliad and Odyssey stories for common people. Uncommon people read philosophy to their children.


Anders is still very into his Kumon program. When we were in LA, he stopped by the Kumon center and took tests and did work for 45 minutes straight. He has made it to level 4A in the Kumon math program. This means he is still counting to 100, and not yet doing addition--though he can definitely add. We have a Montessori adding game that we play, and Anders can add 1, 2, and 3 to even big numbers pretty effortlessly. (Big numbers mean numbers like 55 or 117, numbers less than 120.)

Anders loves the games Go Fish, Monopoly Junior, and Set Junior. All of these I think help with math. He still shows very little interest in doing puzzles.

Social Skills

Anders continues to impress me with his social skills. At his spring break camps you would have had no idea that this kid was being homeschooled on a farm in the jungle. He made friends easily with everyone and shocked me with his ability to line up and follow orders.

He still has no problem playing with girls. He chooses his next reading book based on whether the plot sounds interesting, not the gender of the main character. This is interesting to me as four-year-old boys I was a nanny for would never have let me read them things like Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden.

According to his camp counselor, Anders introduced himself to the other campers as Tree Thomas Anders Ragnar Wolf Balto Garrett. He also told them he is 13 and from Europe.

One behavioral change I noticed after Anders attended camp for four weeks was that he began to constantly report, throughout the day, on whether he was a good boy or a bad boy and on whether I was a good mom or a bad mom.

Anders likes to walk into restaurants with which he is familiar all by himself. He tells me I can come in five minutes. He gets the table and asks for waters. Sometimes he even orders. Only then am I welcome to show up. He likes playing "ladies and gentleman" at the restaurant, and putting his napkin on his lap, but thinks ladies should pull out chairs for gentleman and not the other way around.

When Anders has a babysitter come he opens the door and tells the babysitter what the plan is for the day. He sees himself as the boss in that relationship. If he does not enjoy being with a babysitter, he tells me when I get home, and I never hire her again. Interestingly, though I always tell him he can call me if there are any issues, he never has. He just waits until I get home and tells me he didn't really like the sitter. When I asked him why he did this, he told me that he wanted me to have my time off.

The most common form of play in Nicaragua involves some scenario in which the kids run around shooting each other. If they ever pretend to shoot an adult, the adult generally pretends to die a very dramatic death. So before we went to the US for spring break, I warned him people in the US are obsessed with kids not pretending to shoot at them. He experimented with pretty much the first adult with whom he came into contact in the US. He pretended to shoot her; she got very upset. Having discovered that what I had warned him about was, in fact, true, Anders didn't attempt to shoot anyone again the entire time we were in LA. The minute we got back to Nicaragua he started shooting people right and left. I always thought the "consistency!" parenting myth was bunk, and now I am sure it is. Children are fully capable of learning all the different if-then situations adults are.

Another example of this: Anders knows if someone in the US pats his head or pinches his cheek, he can tell them not to touch him, and they will apologize immediately. He knows this does not work in Nicaragua and asking adults not to touch him will make them laugh and touch him more. Likewise, when you get hurt in LA, everyone comforts you. In Nicaragua if you get hurt, the other kids laugh at you.

Anders asked me why this was, and I explained that I am not sure, but I believe that the people we hang out with in Nicaragua (the workers on our farm and other farmers and their children) are lower class and the people we hang out with in LA are middle class and upper class. My understanding is that lower class people are toughened up. Pain is something you laugh at. Upper class kids are trained to be sensitive and empathetic. I always tell him it is good to know both ways, so when in Rome, you know what the custom is. Then I asked him what he wants the custom to be in his family, and he said that he likes to be comforted.

One final example of children's ability to compartmentalize correct social behaviors for varying situations is with "bad" words. I use the words: ass, shit, damnit, fuck, asshole, and jerk. And though I make an effort not to swear around people who are bothered by it, I don't give a damn the rest of the time because I don't really buy into the idea that some words are "bad." Anders knows these swear words, and though he rarely uses them, when he does, he uses the them correctly.

Before our recent trip to Los Angeles, I explained to Anders that some people think of certain words as "bad" and will get upset with him for using them. I told him what the bad words were and just like that he stopped using them for the entire trip to LA. Unlike the shooting example, he did not feel the need to test my veracity.

Because bad words are not "bad" to Anders, when he wants to say something really mean to someone, he calls them silly, or a silly bunny, or a foo foo. When he says these words, he has such a sneer on his face, it is clear he is trying to be mean. Insults are so much more about tone and the expression than the actual word!

One last note: "Ass" is frequently used in the book The Wind and the Willows and "cock" is used in all books before the 1900's. These are relatively new "bad" words.


Anders spends a lot of time pretending that he is writing a book.

He also plays with Legos a lot. One time I overhead him playing a game with his Legos in which bad guys knocked down fences and stole cows.

He never plays games in which he has magical powers or is a superhero. When he wants to pretend he is very powerful, he pretends he is very rich or "the government" or a really good fighter.


Anders continues to be very easy to feed. He went on a mustard kick for a while, putting mustard on everything at every meal for about two months. About once a week he requests "something junky" which is generally juice, chips, or cookies.

We continue to talk about nutrition and health whenever it comes up. Anders enjoys the story I tell him about his body fighting a war on his teeth and how eating sugar gives weapons to the bacteria trying to attack his teeth and make holes in them, whereas eating kefir arms the good bacteria and eating sardines and milk make his teeth stronger and harder to attack.

Personal Care Skills

There is no bath at the farm, so Anders showers. Sometimes he stays in the shower for thirty minutes, sometimes thirty seconds. Either way he showers every night before bed. Sometimes I ask him to shower (so that he smells good when we cuddle!) but everyone who says children raised without coercion won't bathe is just ... afraid of all the wrong things.


Anders became very interested in whales, dolphins, and orcas recently and has watched about six documentaries on them. He knows more about them than I do and uses words like "archeoplast" that I have to Google in order to understand what he is talking about.

He is also very interested in rich people and poor people, bosses and employees, Nicaraguans and Americans, farms and construction, and cars and advertising. Which is to say, he is interested in the world to which he has been exposed.

His favorite activity (in my opinion) is going through my stuff. He goes through item by item and wants to know what everything is for, and then he plays a game with it.

He loves to pretend to cook and makes a lot of "meals" out of things he picks from all over the farm.

He has completely taken over paying the workers. I hand him a stack of envelopes with eighteen different names written on them, and he takes it from there.

Anders still enjoys Ted Ed videos, especially those about the human body. He also likes animal and space documentaries, and any show about construction. His full moon fiction movies have included: Sleeping Beauty, Winnie-the-Pooh, Zootopia, Ratatouille, and Anne of Green Gables.

Other Notes

Anders knows all the days of the week, and in the right order. No idea how he learned this.

When he grows up, Anders plans to take over his father's company, Garrett Associates. He is quite firm in this. He was interested in being a writer like me, a fireman, and a rock scientist until he found out how much money his father made comparatively.

It fascinates me how he seems to design his own preschool program--painting, drawing, mazes, gluing, cutting, sculpting. He finds something interesting while going through my stuff (scissors!) and develops an obsession with them for a month or so. Recently it has been cutting and glueing. Before that it was painting and mazes. Before that it was sculpting things out of this clay-like mud he found. I never said, "Let's sculpt things out of clay!" or "Let's cut and paste!" He just finds these things and starts doing them.

Anders's Average day at the farm:

7:00am wake, cuddle, talk about our day, get dressed
7:30am have breakfast, say "hi" to workers, give instructions
8:00am-12:00pm Yesnir and Jesslyn come over; they all watch the workers and check out progress on the building. They build toys out of scrap wood, run around, swim, play in tree house, dig in the mud, sculpt things, pick something from a tree and eat it, crack coyol nuts
12:00pm lunch, Anders and I check in
12:30pm Anders heads back to playing with his friends, or perhaps he is bored with them and joins German for a few hours of chopping away the jungle or planting something. Anders has gotten quite skilled with a machete.
3:00pm the kids sit down and ask for their workbooks
4:00pm they swim
5:00pm we have dinner
5:30pm the kids play tag or hide and seek
6:00pm get ready for bed, read, cuddle, talk
8:00pm go to sleep

Anders's Average day attending camp in the city:

7:00am wake, rush through breakfast and dressing
7:30am leave the hotel, walk or drive to camp
8:00am-2:00pm Camp
2:00pm walk or drive home
2:30pm decompress with quiet, alone play
3:30pm do an errand, swim in hotel pool
4:30pm kumon
5:00pm dinner
6:00pm get ready for bed, read, cuddle, talk
8:00pm go to sleep

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