Two things, related.
One of the biggest issues I have with formal education is forced peer groups. While I do think that kids naturally gravitate toward other children around the same age, and I think that there is definitely something to be said for being on the same level developmentally as your friends, it seems to me that there is more value in mixed age groups, especially in a learning setting. Much as there is value in books above and below one’s reading level, there is value in being with people from whom you can learn (speaking very generally, people older than you) and who you can guide (generally again, those younger than you). A room full of people with the same experiences and knowledge can’t offer each other much. I think it’s pretty deliberate that school is set up this way, so that the teacher is the only one with new information to offer. I dislike it tremendously.
Sam’s friend Eamon is six and a half. Sam worships Eamon and loves to follow him around, copying everything he does. Six months ago when this started, Eamon hated it. “Mo-om, why is he following me?” and “Mo-om, Sam’s looking at me.” Eamon has a truck, similar to this one, that Sam loves to push around the room. This drove Eamon crazy, because it is his truck and he was just about to play with it (for the first time in ages). Then one day Eamon put Sam on the truck and pushed him around the room. He’d discovered that Sam’s annoying behavior was positive attention, and he found a way to get more of it. Sam laughed and smiled and basically treated Eamon like the greatest guy on the planet. Since then Eamon has delighted in showing Sam how things work and generally being admired. He still frequently gets frustrated when Sam messes up his things or looks at him, but they learn a great deal from each other. Since Sam is extremely unlikely to ever have any older siblings, I am extra grateful that he has Eamon (and Eamon’s big sister Eden, too).
Allison asked in the comments on my last post why we allow Sam to watch television. It’s a good question and I’m not sure if I have a satisfactory answer. While we have thought about it and discussed it, I’ve never tried to articulate it before. And frankly, I may feel a little guilty because I didn’t watch television as a child and I always thought I’d keep my kids from it, too — but I changed my mind. I’m also a little self-conscious about it because on the surface it’s inconsistent with the cloth diapering, breastfeeding, unschooling life we lead. But the fact is that every choice we make is thought out and chosen on its own merits, not because it fits the party line of some parenting style or other. (Not that I think anyone is accusing me of that. I don’t.)
The short answer is that TV is a medium that has value as any other does, and we are particular (sort of) about what he watches and how much. I think there is value in entertainment. It’s not a substitute for reading, ever. But it is not all bad.
We never watch broadcast television. Ever. We unplugged the antenna about four years ago, when Angel ended, and have only watched videos since. So Sam is not being exposed to commercials at all, unless you count the VHS tape of Beauty and the Beast, which opens with a coming soon preview for Aladdin (Sam is going to be very confused, because the announcer says “Coming to theaters this 1992 holiday season” and obviously that isn’t true). I realize there is some concern to be had over merchandising, but we’re not there yet — he is just not old enough to notice branded toys — and I’ll worry about it when we get there.
Except for this past week and a half, when I was sick and pretty much useless, Sam watches a limited amount of cartoons and musicals. He really likes The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, and the old Max Fleischer cartoons, especially Betty Boop. Right now as I type* there is a Popeye cartoon on. Sam is sitting next to me, cuddling and watching. He gets up frequently to climb up and rearrange the shelves of DVDs. When he is watching, he laughs at the funny parts (and his sense of humor is really a joy to behold, if a little bit disturbing since he laughs hardest when someone falls down — oh wait, he is just his mother’s son). I think we will have to be pretty conscientious as he gets older, because in a lot of these old cartoons racism and sexism run rampant and I don’t think that’s a message I want Sam thinking is acceptable. But again — when we get there.
He also likes to play video games with his dad. He especially loves driving around in Grand Theft Auto. Which–I know. But his hand-eye coordination is great! And I think that playing video games has value like anything else we do with our time. (I keep using the word value, and I wish I had a better word. But I can’t think of one.) It is entertaining, it makes us think/solve puzzles, it can be relaxing, sometimes there is nifty storytelling…
And frankly, video games and television are part of our world. Will and I want to write movies for a living. Wouldn’t it be a tad ridiculous to shield our child from the creative world of his parents?
(Tomorrow I am just going to post photos. All this typing is exhausting.)
*I typed this hours ago. Right now he is going to bed with his Dad.