Learning happens everywhere

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.

22 thoughts on “Learning happens everywhere

  1. Allison SuperCrafty

    February 24, 2008 at 9:01pm

    I understand what you mean when you say “learning comes from everywhere” and I can see how that makes a point for allowing some carefully selected TV.

    I asked the question because I hear so much from parents who feed their kids organic food, breastfeed into toddlerhood, are so into educational philosophies such as Montessori and Waldorf, yet they let them watch TV! I have heard parents (intelligent people, also) say their 9 month old has “his programs” – as if he watches the soaps every day!

    Anyway, I never asked them, just smiled politely and changed the subject, for the very reason you made before: that parents get so defensive. I felt OK asking you because I know you would understand that it was a question, even though you know we don’t let Evan watch any TV or movies.

    We plan to follow this for at least 2 years. The reason is based on the recommendation from the AAP, the fact that Evan has neurological issues but also our upbringing. As a kid, I hardly watched TV except for Sesame Street and saw nothing but G movies until I was 10. Jeff didn’t have a TV until he was 13. And how I ended up working in TV during my 20’s (for such an evil youth-oriented network nonetheless) is beyond me. I got it out of my system and came full circle now that I’m a parent, I guess.

    So anyway, thanks for the thoughtful answer!

    Allison SuperCrafty’s last blog post..Why eBay is no Longer Good for Anyone

  2. Amy

    February 24, 2008 at 9:09pm

    Everything I learned in school I really learned from TV.

  3. Jenn

    February 24, 2008 at 9:11pm

    Hmm, Jim and I had this conversation this morning about the beeb and tv. We know we’ll have some kind of TV in our lives – we just will. Whether that be regular tv or just the current situation of dvds and (sometimes) vhs.. it will be there.

    But I’ll still make my own baby food ;)

    Jenn’s last blog post..SO CUTE!

  4. Jenn

    February 24, 2008 at 9:12pm

    Oh yeah, and I learned all my French from sesame street (in canadia we get french added to the programme).

    Jenn’s last blog post..SO CUTE!

  5. SilliGirl

    February 24, 2008 at 10:18pm

    I know for us (we do not have a tv at all, but have the option to watch movies (very infrequently) on a projector) it’s a matter of idealism vs reality. We believe in eating organic, but everything we eat is not organic. We believe it’s best to cloth diaper, but will use disposables on rare occasions. We strive to live by our principles, and to not be too hard on ourselves when we don’t meet them.

    I think most people are not absolute about their beliefs/values/principles. I am sitting here trying to think if there’s anything I feel that way about, and the only examples I can come up with are things I haven’t really been tested on yet.

    What I am always curious about is how other people choose to make exceptions. Like people who are otherwise very conscientious about human rights but shop at Target. I always wonder how other cloth diaperers justify their disposable use to themselves, no matter how infrequent. I am constantly struggling with the balance of when it feels okay to make an exception to one of our “rules,” and it’s even harder when the rest of the world thinks I’m crazy for not just doing whatever it is all the time.

    Mostly, when I do make an exception, I just sort of think to myself, “Well, I don’t think this is okay, but I’m going to do it this time for these reasons.” And then I move on, because seriously? Life is short!

    SilliGirl’s last blog post..The Fun: It Never Ends

  6. Cheryl

    February 24, 2008 at 10:35pm

    I let Sami (18 months) watch a half hour or so of TV occasionally – never more than that at a time. And the reason I let her do it is manifold. *I don’t want TV to be the New Exciting that she sees at friends’ houses and becomes desperate for. *Kids’ shows like Jack’s Big Music Show model behaviour and subjects she doesn’t see every day. *I actively engage her in what she is watching – we never “just” watch it. If there’s music, I ask her to dance, and talk to her about what she is seeing. *Noggin doesn’t run commercials in the middle of shows, and the only TV she watches are programs TiVo’ed from Noggin.

    I find it difficult to sign on to anything as The Big Evil. I think that plopping a kid down in front of the TV so that you can do other things is without a doubt a bad thing for any kid, especially at ages when they could be spending their time on developmentally nutritious activities. But I also can’t fathom that teaching her to think about and react to what she sees on TV is without value.

    I see film and TV as just another form of literature. (Hello, film major!) Why would I want my kid to grow up unable to read a visual vocabulary, unable to appreciate great film and instead find herself mindlessly entertained by reality crap? I want her to have cultural literacy, and understanding TV and film (in their places, in moderation) is part of that.

    (I loved using cloth diapers, too, but then we couldn’t afford our water bills. I think in parenting, as with anything, ideals have to compromise with reality. Sad as that may be.)

    Cheryl’s last blog post..The Shape of a Mother.

  7. Diane Dawson

    February 24, 2008 at 10:42pm

    We let Lilly watch her Signing Time DVDs. She even asks for them now by signing. (I just about fall over with pride and love when she does it, of course.) We will also watch TV ourselves while she is in the room (within reason) and she will occasionally comment on a dog or cat on the screen by signing. I’m not too fussed about the TV generally. She is learning soooo fast, that I just can’t see how a half hour a day is going to have any negative impact on her…

    Your comment on different age groups really strikes home for me. When I started Grade school, I had a really hard time fitting in with my immediate peers. But, as an older sister, I was really good at interacting with younger kids. So at recess, I would often play with 1st and 2nd graders, arranging games. When I proudly told my teacher how I’d taught a new game to 15 2nd graders at recess, I was reprimanded, told not to go to the junior playground again because I might hurt the “babies” and that I would not be allowed out to recess if I was ever found there again.

    Yeah. Gotta love public school education.

    Oh, and ALSO, older grades were often assigned as “monitors” to police younger grades and make sure that offenders of whatever random rules there were were punished.

    Man, it’s amazing I turned out normal :)

  8. Stephanie

    February 24, 2008 at 10:47pm

    “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.”

    I know a lot of people put all of these things into the same category and no tv seems to fall right into it, but actually among the unschoolers I know, tv is seen as just as legitimate a way to learn as any other medium. I know I feel that way and my kids watch whatever they themselves find valuable. Sometimes they choose things that I don’t find particularly um… enriching, but if they are getting something out of it, I don’t feel it’s my place to say, “no that isn’t good enough.” Case in point: the Garfield movie, which Harper *loved* for a little while. I loved some pretty questionable movies when I was a kid too.

    I actually don’t put books above tv or movies. They’re just different ways of presenting information or stories. TV and movies are the new kids on the block, so they get all the suspicion. There are crappy books and there are crappy movies and there is crappy tv. And there are great and inspiring examples of all of the above.

    I feel like it’s okay to allow *all* of those things into a child’s life, because then you are navigating that part of life together. We can see a really bad movie and talk about why it was so bad. We can see a really great movie together and talk about what made it so great. We can see racism or sexism in an old cartoon and talk about why at one time it was considered okay to put those things into a film and how things have changed and how they haven’t. We can watch tv and talk about what sort of messages or moods the commercials are trying to convey to get you to buy their products.

    It’s all good.

    Stephanie’s last blog post..Some Photos and a Few Words

  9. Annika

    February 24, 2008 at 10:54pm

    When I said that TV/movies could never be a substitute for books, I was thinking of it in the context of yesterday’s conversation about imagination. And also being really literal (annoying!), because you can’t substitute one for the other. In more general terms I am not at all sure how I feel about it and whether it is even possible to compare them.

  10. Stephanie

    February 24, 2008 at 11:19pm

    I think they’re definitely comparable as they are all vehicles for story (story as an all-encompassing word for fiction *and* non-fiction). These are all ways that we have of telling ourselves stories.

    And plays too! I forgot about plays.

    Why do people demonize movies and TV but not plays? Rhetorical question.

    But you might mean that they aren’t comparable in a more specific way.

    Stephanie’s last blog post..Some Photos and a Few Words

  11. Violet

    February 25, 2008 at 6:23am

    We use MythTV on our linux machine – so the kids never get to watch television other than pre-recorded stuff. We either edit out commercials before the kids watch or we use the “one touch” commercial skip option. That’s how we solved that issue (we’re very much an anti-ad family).

    Amusingly, the only shows our kids watch are movies on Friday nights (yay!) and stuff like “Dirty Jobs”. Our youngest (4) watches preschool shows like “Word World” and “SuperWhy” that are meant to promote literacy.

    They seem to have zero interest, otherwise, in television – and that makes me happy. I can’t live in a house where the TV is always on or there are people whining about wanting TV!

    I don’t want them to see tv as a “hobby”. But that doesn’t mean I mind them watching sometimes – even in a mindless way.

    Violet’s last blog post..Nom.

  12. Allison

    February 25, 2008 at 8:13am

    I think it’s fine to make exceptions, as long as you have reasonable justification and one’s general attitude is to comment in a manner (intentional or not) that criticizes and judges others for their parenting choices. Because parenting choices are so personal, like politics, I struggle with this every day.

  13. Allison

    February 25, 2008 at 8:16am

    Obviously I meant “one’s general attitude is NOT to comment…”

    Too early.

  14. Jaime

    February 25, 2008 at 4:16pm

    There’s someone else in the world who doesn’t watch broadcast?! I quit daytime tv when dd was old enough to pay attention (after MIL taught her to. grr. I still harbor resentment). I quit primetime last spring after Gilmore Girls ended and Supernatural was still normal.

    The kids do watch movies, but are limited as to what they can watch on a particular day (long or short movie), and only one a day.

    Jaime’s last blog post..Crazy Counting

  15. SilliGirl

    February 25, 2008 at 9:45pm

    Wow, I am really surprised by the people who think tv (and I’ll include movies and video games in this) are comparable to books or other forms of entertainment. What about those studies about the neurological changes the brain goes through when it watches electronic media?

    I don’t think there’s anything that makes tv particularly redeeming that you can’t get from another source, and it does have a potentially harmful effect. That said, there are lots of things people do in life that aren’t particularly good for us, and in moderation that’s fine, right? I think it’s perfectly legit to say, “hey, I like TV because it’s entertaining” without having to justify why it’s okay.

    SilliGirl’s last blog post..The Fun: It Never Ends

  16. uccellina

    February 26, 2008 at 1:43am

    I’m still baking my babies for the next few weeks, so I don’t know exactly what we’ll end up doing about TV and movies, but we don’t have broadcast or cable either – only DVDs and VHS. Right now, our plan is not to let the kids watch any for the first 2-4 years. After that, I suspect we’ll move to the “educational programs and occasional fun/culturally redeeming film” model.

    I don’t see TV as comparable to books in terms of stimulating imagination, but I can certainly understand why people see it as a reasonable medium for experiencing and learning about the world. Especially for older children, whose brains are better equipped to handle the frenetic pacing. I remember being absolutely riveted by the PBS nature shows when I was little (though the lions eating the zebras always made me cry), and I can see value in programming like that even for relatively young children.

    uccellina’s last blog post..I did promise.

  17. B

    February 26, 2008 at 6:56am

    The tv v. book debate is like everything else in life, a complete gray area. Having read some positively horrible board books with my child the past year and a half, I know that she gets more quality information and imagination spurring from an hour of Sesame Street than from some of the crap they pass off as children’s literature. I mean, I had no idea there were so many horrid stories about hating who you are so you want to be something else that are disguised as beautiful butterfly blossoming books…

    But yeah, my point is, life is a big gray area and nothing is absolute. There is good and bad in every choice we make for our children. It’s all about battle picking, balancing instinct with knowledge, and deciding what outcome is potentially the best one for our own family.

  18. earthchick

    February 27, 2008 at 7:32am

    I think Sam and my guys would be great friends. They love watching musicals especially, and then acting them out.

    We dropped cable a little more than 3 years ago, when the boys were a few months old. We never got an antenna. So we only use our TV for DVDs. I like that the boys are not exposed to commercials, and that they can only ever watch shows that we have picked out ahead of time (from the video store, the library, or from the very small assortment we own). We didn’t let them watch anything until they were 2 years old, when my MIL gave them two children’s music videos (Laurie Berkner and Ralph’s World) and a friend gave them the Beatrix Potter collection. I was resistant at first, since it didn’t match my ideal of no TV.

    I still feel funny about the amount of time my boys spend watching some of their DVDs, even though I approve of the DVDs themselves for the most part. But I work at home many hours a week, and can’t afford a babysitter for those hours, and so yes, I am allowing the DVDs to fill in a bit. It’s the flipside of them having so much time with me.

    So it turns out that I am compromising my original ideals, but I think it’s mostly okay. Like you said, it is no substitute for reading (and a lot of the DVDs they watch are Scholastic ones, which go along with Scholastic books, so they sit and “read” the books following along with the videa). It turns out that a lot of the stuff they watch really fuels their imagination – they love to act out Peter Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    earthchick’s last blog post..The One Good Thing

  19. Cindy

    February 27, 2008 at 12:10pm

    My kids pretty much had as much t.v. as they wanted growing up. I didn’t really censor shows (for example, watching Buffy with Zach when he was 8). I didn’t exactly let them watch rated R when they were very little but it was more a case of not putting it on and what they didn’t know about, they didn’t ask about. My t.v. was on Nickledeon 90+% of the time when the kids were little. They also played video games without time limits.

    At the same time, I always respected other parents’ beliefs when their child was at my home. If they wanted to watch an R rated movie, I had to hear it from the parent that it was okay. My cousin limits both t.v. AND video games in time and content. We have great conversations about our differences because we respect them.

    Ummm….I had a point when I started this…oh, yeah, the most important thing I found with my kids was that I kept up COMMUNICATION with my kids (not a problem I see you having either). My kids always knew the difference between real and make believe, so just because Bart Simpson would tell an adult “Don’t have a cow” didn’t mean they could talk like that. (just for example).

    My kids also always played outside. They played sports. They played imaginary games….BY CHOICE. I respect the parents that choose otherwise for their own kids but I can’t say I’d do it differently for my own.

  20. Lucretia

    March 2, 2008 at 8:28am


    My mum let me watch TV because she believed that we deserved to derive entertainment from it as much as adults do. However, and I think this is the impoortant thing, it was never to the exclusion of all else. We’d inevitably get bored and play games, play outside, read…

    Her thinking was that as long as it doesn’t interfere with “normal” life and we weren’t sitting there watching hour after hour of cr*p, it was acceptable. And it sounds like Sam has a healthy range of things to enteretain and educate him.

    And she even introduced us to quite “grownup” programmes that she though were worth our watching, like Blackadder. (Thank you, mum….)

    I guess, as I’m sure you’re finding out, it’s about balance. Oh, happy mother’s day!

  21. Lori

    March 3, 2008 at 2:53pm

    we love tv. is it inconsistent with breastfeeding and homeschooling and attachment parenting? people like to group things together (sesame street now: “one of these things is not like the others .. one of these things is NOT the same ..”) but i think of our life as entirely custom-made. we love tv. we love movies. we love books. we’re all voracious readers but we all love action movies, too. one of the great things about homeschooling is having time for everything, so kids don’t have to make hard choices between scooby doo and treasure island.

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