Monday, October 13, 2014

Ask a Minecraft player.

(Originally a forum post, but people wanted to share it so I turned it into a blog post too.)

Pretty much on a daily basis in homeschool groups I see topics about what Minecraft is or if people think it's okay for children to play. There seems to be a lot of misinformation and confusion about what it I figured I'd take the time to address stuff of the comments and questions I see most often.

I've tried to touch on a lot of stuff....but if you have a question feel free to ask me!

I have been playing Minecraft for about a year and a half. My husband also plays as well as our 6-year-old daughter.

"What IS Minecraft really? I don't understand it!"

Minecraft is basically a massive set of digital Legos. You have a bunch of mostly square blocks of various types and you can build whatever you want with them. Minecraft is a "sandbox" type of game where you can go anywhere you want in the randomly generated world in game.

"What's so FUN about it then?"

Minecraft is fun in the same way Legos are fun.
It's fun like a set of wooden blocks is fun.
Ever made something out of something else? Yep, that's it. That's why it's fun! Creativity is fun!

"But what do you DO in Minecraft?"

That depends entirely on the player. First off you have 2 choices in gameplay. You can play in either Creative Mode or Survival Mode.

In Survival Mode you have to collect all your own resources in the game. You do this by chopping down trees, digging into hillsides, exploring caves, building tools to make those tasks easier/possible, raising food, and building a shelter to protect yourself from the "mobs" that come out at night. You can change the difficulty of survival mode from easy, normal, and hard.....or turn it to peaceful mode where you don't have to worry about mobs or about eating.

In Creative Mode you have access to every sort of block and item in the game in unlimited quantity. This is the easiest mode to just build cool stuff in because you don't have to search for resources before you have them available to use. You also don't have to worry about eating or mobs in this you can fly which makes building large/tall things easier.

"Are there monsters in this game?!/What are "mobs"?"

Yes, there are monsters and other creatures in the game in the game which are referred to as "mobs".
Hostile mobs include zombies, skeletons, spiders, Endermen, wolves, slimes etc.
Peaceful mobs include cows, sheep, pigs, squid, chickens, bunnies, and dogs (which are tamed wolves), etc.

"What is an Enderman/"Slenderman"???"

Slenderman is an internet meme with no relation to this game at all. An ENDERMAN is a hostile mob in the game. Endermen are tall black creatures with purple eyes. They appear at random and move around blocks....they only bother you if you look straight at them and then they make a funny noise and attack you. They sound freaky, but aren't a big deal.

"Is this game violent??"

I don't think it is. Yes, in survival mode hostile mobs come out at night...and yes you can fight them off, but it isn't bloody or gory. You hit attacking mobs with a sword, they flash red, and then fall over and disappear when you defeat them. If you "die" in game you just restart at the first point you started at and have to recollect your stuff.

The only other violence in game is when you kill animals for the items they drop. Cows, pigs, sheep, bunnies, and chickens give meat that can be cooked, for example. If you object to eating meat you can always live off growing vegetables. Again, when you kill an animal they flash red, fall over, and disappear. I personally don't consider that's just part of being a farmer. lol

"What about playing online with people you don't know?"

Playing online on a server is TOTALLY OPTIONAL!!! I cannot stress that enough!!! OPTIONAL!!! You never have to interact with another person on Minecraft if you don't want to. Single-player is the default mode and can be played without even having an internet connection.
If you CHOOSE to play on a server there are several can play on a public server, but you will likely have to deal with people who aren't exactly nice....OR you can play on a private server that requires users be "white-listed". That means you have to ask to join and the admins have to add your username to the list of people who have access. There are plenty of private servers out there that are heavily moderated and only for kids...often "griefing" (basically messing with or destroying other people's stuff) is not allowed and swearing is prohibited.

Another option is playing with people on your own local network. This means that only people on your wi-fi connection can play together.

"What system is this game on anyway?

Minecraft is currently available on PC, Xbox, and PS3. There is also an app version called "Minecraft Pocket Edition" that is only $7, but has less features as the full game. If you're looking for a demo you can play for free on the Minecraft website.

"What are "mods"?"

One thing people enjoy about Minecraft is that you can customize the game. Players have written other programs and code that can alter the normal gameplay. I've played on servers that was "modded" so that we could use portals to get from place to place quickly. That was not "standard" to minecraft, someone had to write the code themselves.

"What is a "skin"? Or a "texture pack?"

A skin is something you can download to change the way your player in the game looks.
A texture pack is a set of files you can download that changes the way the blocks in your game look.
Both are generated by users and can be found for free online....or you can create them yourself.

"So is this game even educational?"

I think it is, yes.

Math skills: You can end up using a TON of math when you play this game! Say you want to build a house....the perimeter of your house is X amount of want to make it 4 blocks many blocks do you need? There are 64 blocks in a stack, if you need X amount of blocks how many stacks will you need for a project? Specific items and blocks require other items and blocks to make...if you want stone you have to smelt cobblestone and have to figure out how much coal you need to do that, etc. Lots of multiplication, division, and geometry!

Reading: Kids are motivated to read and write in order to participate in the Minecraft community. You want to know how to craft a certain tool? You go online and look at the Minecraft Wiki...or perhaps read a Minecraft book. Kids are writing minecraft stories and posting them online for others to read. If you play on a server you can chat with other players and have to be able to read, write, and type to do that. Even my daughter while playing solo was learning to spell complicated words because she wanted to put signs up labeling things on her "farm".

Programming: Lots of kids are getting into programming in order to modify the game.....either to add mods that other people made, or to actually code the mods themselves.

Circuitry and wiring: In game you can use something called "redstone" to basically build electrical circuits. It can be very complicated and there are a lot of complex rules and logic involved. People have build all manner of impressive things using redstone!

There are groups out there that use minecraft to teach about science and history as well...Minecraft Homeschool is a particularly well known one.

"This game looks like it would get old/boring..."

You would think that....but it really isn't. The thing is, you can do SO MANY different things in game. Even if you get tired of one thing, there is other stuff to do. There are also a lot of different ways to play depending on what you like.

I like to build complicated art installations. I like to use dyed sheep's wool and stained glass in game to make really neat and colorful stuff.

My husband likes to collect resources, build complex railway systems using minecarts, and large farming and sorting machines using redstone.

We play on a sever with friends were we cooperate and have built a large town for all the users to enjoy. Some of the users are young children so we keep it clean.

My daughter likes to build tall towers, farm, and explore. She plays solo or on our home network with one of us.

(Pardon any typos...I'm being climbed on my a toddler as I write. lol)

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Just A Dollhouse

"It's just a dollhouse" they say.

It's never just a dollhouse.  I've heard that phrase dozens of times about all manner or objects.

It's just a dollhouse.
It's just a color.
It's just a toy.
It's just a shirt.
It's just a book.
It's just a movie.
It's just a pair of shoes.
It's just a coloring book.
It's just a a happy meal.
It's just a tv show.
It's just a doll.
It's just a backpack.
It's just a game.

It's just ONE thing...except it's not one thing.  It's a dollhouse, a color, a toy, a shirt, a book, a movie, a pair of shoes, a coloring book, a happy meal, a tv show, a doll, a backpack, AND a game.  It's THIRTEEN things in triplicate.  It's an entire row of toys in a store.  An entire mall store location.  It's an entire society!

It's never JUST a dollhouse.

Actually it's THREE dollhouses that my daughter has been given over the years...all of them pink.  All of them blatantly saying "I'm a toy for girls and girls alone."  

"Oh but MY son would play with a pink dollhouse."

Sure, he might now....but what happens when his peers start telling him that pink isn't acceptable for boys?  Will he continue playing with it?  If he does will he feel the need to hide it?

I recently fielded a lot of harsh criticism for wanting to repaint a dollhouse purchased for my daughter by her grandmother before Christmas.  I've been told that it doesn't matter.  I've been told it's ridiculous.  I've been told it's wrong of me to FORCE a non-pink dollhouse onto my child.


How can it not matter?  As my husband pointed out, if kids "don't notice or care" and it "doesn't matter what color it is"...then why was it pink in the first place?  Why are 9 out of 10 dollhouse on the market either entirely pink or heavily accented with pink if it is such a non-issue?

I'll tell you why: because girls are taught from an early age by society, media, and marketing that they like pink and want pink things.  Pink is pretty.  Pink is girly.  Pink is what you WANT TO HAVE.  This is why pink sells.

When you complain about media and marketing you are, of course, told that it's up to PARENTS to police what comes into their homes.  It's the PARENTS job to pick and choose what messages their kids are getting....BUT, experience has taught me that IF you actually do that, you will be attacked and told you are wrong to do that.  You're "limiting" your child.  You're "shoving your views" on your child.  You're "forcing gender-non-conformity" on them.

Whatever I do, someone is going to criticize me.  I'm damned if I do, damned if I don' I say screw the haters.  I'm doing what I feel is RIGHT.  I'm giving my kids rainbows instead of monotone.  I'm giving them "boy" toys and "girl" toys and stripping off the color-coded labels so they're just TOYS.

It's not just a dollhouse.  It's everything.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Homeschooling: The Chicken & The Egg

No, this post isn't about origin science.  Keep reading. 

You've heard it all before: Homschooling produces socially stunted kids who are awkward and have no idea how to function in society.

I'll be the first to tell you that such a tired old stereotype is absolute bullshit.  Am I saying there are NO socially awkward homeschooled people?  Absolutely NOT.  There most definably are.....which leads to the question:
 Which came first?  The chicken (homeschooling)? 
Or the egg (social awkwardness)?


When I was a teenager I met a homeschooling family that was the embodiment of all the negative home education stereotypes.  They were religious.  The mom wore denim jumpers.  The daughters were painfully shy, quiet, and very soft spoken.  One preferred to wear long Little House on the Prairie style dresses, the other wore mom-jeans and t-shirts featuring kittens and teddy bears.  Glasses, braces, acne....the whole nine yards.  They were the family that would confirm everything for a home education critic on sight....


The oldest daughter would have been a highschool freshmen the year I met them.  To this day, I do not understand how either of those kids made it through public school alive.  It had to have been a nightmare!  I imagine highschool was ultimately what forced their parents to make the decision...if middle school had been bad, highschool would have been much MUCH worse.  They did what any loving parent would do and removed their children from a bad situation.

So what changed?  Not much.  They stayed socially awkward and quiet.  The only difference homeschooling made was instead of socially awkward and miserable, now they were socially awkward yet happy.  They even made a few friends!  I was one of them.  They were nothing like me, and I could definitely see their social shortcomings....but they were nice, sweet girls.  They didn't deserve to be outcasts or bullied just because they were different.

The sad part is, homeschooling will forever be blamed for those their social issues.  Yet homeschooling had NOTHING to do with it!  They came to homeschooling as they were...and the homeschool community welcomed them with open arms.

Sometimes homeschooling is the RESULT of social awkwardness, not the other way around.

A lot of families who decide to homeschool do so because they feel they have to.  If your child is socially awkward and miserable in school, perhaps being bullied, why beat a dead horse by keeping them there?  If eight years of public school hasn't "fixed" it, how likely is it that 4 more years will either?

Socially awkward people exist in the public education system.  Everyone knows that, so why is this conveniently forgotten whenever someone opts out of public school?  Every school has its outcasts and nerds, but nobody blames their shortcomings on how they were educated!  Its an unfair double standard.  Go to  any sci-fi/comic book/anime convention and take a's a simple matter of numbers: the vast majority will have gone to public school.

Social awkwardness has nothing to do with how or where you were educated.  Period.

Meanwhile, there are plenty homeschoolers out there who are NOT socially awkward that go unnoticed.  We blend in.  Nobody assumes there's anything different about your upbringing when you seem like everyone else...but then if they find out they assume you are just the exception to the rule.  Why is this?  If the socially awkward can count against home education, why can't the socially normal count in its favor?

What it comes down to is people's preconceived notions.  "Weird" homeschooled kids fit in with what they already think or what they want to think.  Homeschooled kids who blend in and seem "normal" have to be exceptions in their mind because we are in opposition to the stereotype.  I worked with a women for years and when she found out I'd never attended school she was SHOCKED and spent the rest of the afternoon asking me "Really?!  Really??!?!" every time she saw me.  We exist.  Don't be shocked!

I am who I am.  Socially awkward people are who they are.  There's nothing wrong with that!  And it certainly can't be altered with a change of scenery!

So which came first?  The homeschooling?  Or the social awkwardness?  In my opinion, neither.  Does it even really matter?  Nope.  People are who they are.  From shy to social butterfly, we're all just people.  Variety is what makes us interesting and unique.

Before you judge, get the whole story.  Better yet, just don't judge.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Not-So-Picky Eater

I'm 28-years-old.  On a recent visit to my parent's home (with my own kids in tow) I was discussing various means of cooking with the vegetables in our gardens (my mother and I are both doing square foot gardens this year).  During this discussion she reacted in shock to some of thing things I suggested she cook and eat.  She assumed that I would never have tried any of these foods.

I was a "picky eater".

First of all....I'm 28.  I'm not 4, or 9 or 12...28!  If I was a picky eater as a child, why assume I've never moved past that in any sort of way?  Most people's tastes change when they reach adulthood.  Also, as adults, we learn to step more out of out comfort zone....or at least some of us do.

I said as much to my mother and told her that I had tried a lot more foods since I've been out on my own.  Instead of being pleased, she was annoyed.  She seemed insulted by the idea that her kids would try different foods for or with other people, but not for her.  Okay...not exactly the best reaction there.

However, there is another reason for this beyond us just getting older....

Maybe we weren't picky.  Maybe Mom just wasn't a very good cook.

Of course I didn't say this to my wouldn't be worth the resulting explosion and crying fit....but I THOUGHT it.  Thank god she can't read minds!

For the first 24 years of my life I was under the impression that turkey was a tasteless cardboard-like substance.  I liked the gravy, but the meat?  Ugh!  You'd chew it endlessly and then it was just dry and horrible...and you'd have to drink something just to get the stuff down.  I gave up trying it, I'd just smother my mashed potatoes in gravy and go my merry way.  It wasn't until I friend hosted a Thanksgiving meal at her home that turkey was redeemed for me.  The irony being that she's vegan!  She doesn't eat meat, but she still managed to make an absolutely amazing turkey for the rest of us.  It was moist, juicy, and flavorful.  Not at all difficult to eat!  Since then my husband has made some really great  turkeys as well.  I'm sold!  I've also realized I love meatloaf.  Meatloaf!  Turns out there are a million ways to make it and I like quite a few of them.  My mom's version was basically a hunk of hamburger with lots of onions and green peppers.  Ick.

It's not even that my mother is a bad's that she only cooks a certain way to please my father, and possibly herself.  Growing up we'd get boxed macaroni and cheese if we didn't like what she had made for dinner....and that was pretty much every night of our lives.  She was happy with the meal.  Dad was thrilled with the meal.  The rest of us?  Not so much. 

My father likes very basic America food.  Meatloaf, potatoes, pork chops, canned veggies, spaghetti with meat sauce, etc.  He tolerates pizza, but doesn't actually like it (?!).  He absolutely would not eat Mexican food....or any other ethnic cuisine for that matter.  He doesn't like rice and won't eat mac n cheese.

My mother likes similar foods, though she does like pizza and a limited section of Mexican and Chinese foods.  Otherwise?  She's not going out of her way to try it.  She actually really likes rice and pasta dishes though.

I personally think my mother would love Indian food.  Will she try it?  If I force her to.  She thinks Indian food is all spicy and I haven't been able to convince her otherwise.  She has a major aversion to spices which is probably why her cooking suffers....spices and seasonings can make a dish!  If you skip them?  Well there isn't much to go on there.

My mom is shocked by the fact that my kids love beans of any sort.  Black beans in particular!  She claims "my kids would never eat anything like that!"  I pointed out that she has never in her life actually cooked anything containing black beans so there is no way we would have ever been exposed to them.  Her reply: "well I made black eyed peas!"  Yes, she did.  Once a year on New Years.  And they sucked. eyed peas and black beans are not the same!!!

I appreciate that my mom cooked meals, but I really wish she'd stop chastising me for being a picky eater now that I'm adult....particularly when it's very likely that half of the things I refused to eat was due to how it was prepared.  Your child doesn't like a food?  Try again later!  Maybe try to figure out another method of cooking it....find out what they didn't like and alter that next time around.  Think outside her own box a bit!  Also accept that you might be doing it wrong.  Brown rice is not terrible....but I didn't know that because my mother tried to cook it like white rice....yeah, that doesn't work.  No wonder it was crunchy!

Also be aware that some things are always going to be awful.  Canned spinach is terrible no matter what you do with it...but maybe FRESH spinach would go over better.  The question should have been this:

Do I care more about what my husband and I like....or about getting my kids to eat well?

My mother chose the former....and is still complaining about the results all these years later.

Perhaps the biggest facepalm inducing part of this is how damned picky my mother is.  On this particular visit I took the Swiss Chard in her garden (a plant someone gave her) and sauteed it so that it would actually get eaten.  If I had not done this, she would have never done a damn thing with it and the plant would have wilted and been wasted.  She liked it fine, but she wouldn't have ever known had I not insisted.  Moments like those I feel like I'm the parent, not the other way around.

She would never have tried Chipotle had I not forced her to go with me...and surprise, surprise, she LOVED it!  Can you understand my frustration over this?  It's maddening!

Meanwhile, I actually have a reputation with my friends as being willing to try anything at least once.  Going out to eat with my vegan friend has been helpful.  I try a lot of stuff I otherwise would never have heard of because of her.  Some things I don't like, like Ethiopian and Vietnamese food.  The important part is I tried it to see.  My mom wouldn't have been willing to do that.  Other things I've ended up loving (like Indian food!).

So am I a picky eater?  Sometimes, yes.  However I don't want to be and I am very willing to change.  I just wish the same could be said for my mom. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Breastfeeding Support Vs. Formula Feeding Support

As a nursing mom and a breastfeeding advocate I often here the complaint that "formula feeding moms need support too!" whenever the topic of breastfeeding support comes up.  I find this extremely frustrating.  It's not that I don't think formula feeding moms NEED moral support....I'm sure they do!  Particularly if formula feeding wasn't their first choice.  Hell, mothers in general need moral support!  It's a tough job no matter how you feed your baby....but the sort of support that breastfeeding advocates are talking about, the sort of support that can make all the difference to a mom struggling in the early days of nursing, is something else entirely.  Moral support is great, sure.  A good ol' "you go, mama!" is lovely, but the support we're talking about here is so much more than that!

Breastfeeding support means support from your doctor, your child's doctor, nurses, hospital staff, health visitors, and lactation consultants...including accurate information and advice to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.  It means support in the form of policies and laws that protect a mother and baby's RIGHT to nurse and a mother's RIGHT to express her milk.  It means protection against discrimination.  It means actual physical assistance in addition to emotional support from your family, friends, and means putting a stop to the booby traps and marketing that seeks to undermine a mother's choices.  It's about creating a supportive culture where feeding a baby isn't viewed as obscene or harmful.  It is a dire thing.  It is a multifaceted thing.  We are not just talking about a pat on the back or assurance that what you are doing is okay....we are talking about actual HELP and ASSISTANCE with a bit of assurance on the side.

A mom will never have to say "I really wanted to formula feed....but it just didn't work out."
Doctors will never tell you your child isn't gaining so you MUST to relactate.
A mom who intends to formula feed will never be told she should keep a breastpump at home "just in case" or be sent home with a free sample nursing bra.
The nurses at the hospital will not try to sneak your baby a bottle of donor milk.
Your mother-in-law won't try to nurse your baby behind your back. (If she does you have bigger problems than a bit of breastmilk...)
Nobody says "you can formula feed for the first 6 weeks, but then you HAVE to give breastmilk."
Formula is readily available.
Nobody will ever feel like giving up because their arm is too sore to mix another bottle.
Rubber teats don't bleed.
A mom isn't going to bawl her eyes out over half an ounce of spilled formula.
Formula feeding moms will never be thrown off a plane, told to leave a business, told to cover up, or told they should only do "that" in private or to go give their child a bottle in a bathroom.
Nobody will ever tell a formula feeding mom "Put that powder away!  There are children watching!"
Formula feeding moms can't be "bottle trapped".
Formula has instructions right on the back of the can.
There is an entire culture that views formula and bottles a totally normal.
You can bottlefeed ANYWHERE - a restaurant, a church, a store, outside, inside, at family gatherings, around people of all ages, etc....and nobody will bat an eye.
There aren't any laws protecting your right to give a bottle in public because they're completely unnecessary.
There are so many things out there that are detrimental to breastfeeding that those who choose formula don't have to face.

Formula feeding isn't all fun and games, of course.  There is effort involved.  It's expensive and there are a lot of extra dishes to do....but it's not the same sort of mentally taxing, exhausting, do or die sort of situation that a nursing mom faces during the beginning of a nursing relationship.

The call for breastfeeding support has NOTHING to do with the mommy-wars.  It's not us vs. them.  It's not breastfeeders wanting to one-up anyone else.  It's simply about mothers actually being able breastfeed is they want to.  It's about choice and preserving a woman's right to decide if she wants to nurse or not.  Formula feeding because you HAD to isn't a choice.  It's a need. 

If we want women to be able to decide to breastfeed OR decide to formula feed, we need real breastfeeding support.  If you choose to formula feed, fine by me!  Go for it.  However, nobody should have to fight tooth and nail to feed their baby in the manner of their choosing.  Period.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unschooling: Where do they dig up these "experts"?

I've heard a lot of ridiculous things said about education, but this one takes the cake.  In Australia's Sydney Morning Herald's article Unschooling truly in a class of its own an "expert" is quoted as follows:

''Children on their own without external intervention will never learn to read and write or do mathematics, the three most difficult things that any child will ever learn,'' he said.
''That is why we leave these things to well-educated professionals. That is why we no longer go to witch doctors for medical issues or try and fix our cars, fix faulty electrical systems ourselves.''

Okay, let's take this one piece at a time....

"Children on their own without external intervention will never learn to read and write or do mathematics"

Really?  I think we've all known people who apparently learned to read before they started school when they were 3 or 4.  These days such things would probably be attributed to preschool or possibly an iPad app, but in past generations like my own apps didn't exist and preschool wasn't nearly so common.  What about those people?  What about unschoolers who have have shared their stories of their children learning to read naturally?  Or the story of illiterate Ethiopian children who learned to use and even hack tablets given to them?  
And what's so difficult about math?  The concepts are pretty easy and are part of daily life.  If I have 1 thing and you have 1 thing, when we put them together we have 2 things.  If I have 3 things and give you 1 thing I only have 2 things left, etc.  It's not rocket science after all.  For goodness sake my daughter picked out a little preschool math concept workbook for $1 at the store yesterday!  She did it in the car for fun.

Reading, writing, and mathematics "the three most difficult things 
that any child will ever learn"

Really?  I'd say the most impressive thing a child ever learns is how to walk or talk...this "expert" would probably agree if we lived in a society where children went to school at 6-months-old to be taught those things too.

Meanwhile there are so many more difficult things to learn out there!  What about children who learn to play instruments?  Children who build robots?  Children who dabble with computer programing?  Ask the young teen that invented a solar powered water purification system if learning to read was more complicated.  Personally I found learning to knit at the age of 7 or learning to code HTML at the age of 15 more challenging than learning to read when I was 5.

''That is why we leave these things to well-educated professionals."
Well he might...but I don't!  I am certainly educated enough to answer my child's questions, provide resources, purchase materials, request books from the library, and seek out any help they might need.  My daughter didn't need a "well-educated professional" to sit with her while she read the first Bob Book this morning...she didn't need a professional to count to 100 with her in the car...or a professional to print off handwriting sheets of her name and the names of family and friends per her request....she just needed her mom.  All she needs is a loving parent to listen and follow her lead.

"That is why we no longer go to witch doctors for medical issues..."
I get the feeling this fellow is the sort that would consider a homebirth midwife a witch doctor...but that's a whole other issue.  
Honestly, that is one hell of a jump!  There is a lot between witch doctor and modern medical professional....there is also a whole range of "medical issues" and some of them don't require a doctor, witchy, or otherwise.  For instance a cold is not cancer.  I can deal with a cold without professional help.  If I break a leg I'll see a doctor.  If I sprain my toe I'll tape it up and keep walking.  If my child wants to be a doctor they will go to medical school, but if they want to sing the alphabet song or write a business letter I've got it covered.

"...or try and fix our cars, fix faulty electrical systems ourselves.''
Wait...what?  Apparently I've been doing this all wrong!  I guess I shouldn't change my own oil ever again, huh?
My father is a marine mechanic.  He's not an auto mechanic, an electrician, a contractor, or a plumber....but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to do all those things.   I'm not a mechanic, an electrician, a contractor, or a plumber either, but that never stopped me from helping my father with all of those things!  When one of the walls in our home was rotting out I helped my father tear it out and rebuild it from scratch.  Yes, we even ran electricity to it!  I also helped remodel the kitchen and bathroom.  After I graduated I got a job doing wiring for a government contractor.  Why the heck can't we do these things ourselves?!  No, I can't replace a transmission myself (my dad probably could, but might not own the appropriate tools for the job...), but there are a lot of other basic repairs and maintenance I can handle on my own.  My husband is an IT guy and still figured out how to pull apart our dryer and replace the motor when it was on the fritz.

Personally I think this "expert" needs to be a bit more self-reliant.
Here's the thing:
There is nothing magical about education.

This is what we need to get through our thick skulls.  Learning does NOT have to be separate from daily life.  Learning does NOT have to be presided over by professionals.  Learning does NOT have to take place in an institution.  Learning does NOT have to be tested, graded, tracked, and recorded.  Learning does NOT have to be a chore!

And thus I am going to go read my child a book about the solar system because she asked me to.  :)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas in a Santa-free home

Every year starting towards the end of November I start to see a lot of discussions pop up around the Internet regarding Santa.  Often these discussions take a rather sour and sometimes angry turn...when people like me chime in on how we don't do Santa a lot of assumption are often made, many of them negative.

I think the problem is that people see Christmas and Santa and almost interchangeable.  If you don't "do" Santa people wonder what is left.  The one exception is when people are against doing Santa due to religious views, in which case people know what is left: Jesus.  People accept that, though often grudgingly, because you kinda have to while remaining polite.  And if you're Jewish?  Well then it's obvious and most people will avoid the topic.

Then there are people like me: non-religious but still not doing Santa.  What's the deal?!  Why wouldn't you do Santa?!  How cold-heard and cruel that is!  Those poor children!  What of their imagination?!  People like me are met with confusion and often anger.  I mean, really, what sort of monster ruins Christmas for their kids?!

Here's the miscommunication: Not "doing" Santa with your kids does not make you anti-Santa.

The Santa pajamas.
My children know about Santa.  We read the stories and watch the movies.  The only difference is that my kids are not under the impression that Santa actually exists.

People who are anti-Santa (usually for religious reasons) actively avoid Santa.  My mother is apparently somewhat anti-Santa (though she did Santa with us when we were little, now she objects to it for religious reasons) and goes so far as to avoid wrapping paper that features the character.  I am NOT anti-Santa at all, however.  I think he's a perfectly fine character.  In our home he's no different than Frosty the Snowman or Thomas the Train.  My daughter has Santa Pajamas and we read The Night Before Christmas almost nightly during the month of December.  The ONLY difference is we are not telling the kids that he is real.  That's it.

It's about what we do, not what we don't do.

Someone once asked me "if you don't do Santa how do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you watch Christmas movies???"
Decorating sugar cookies with Grandma.
The answer is simple: we celebrate the way anyone else does.

We decorate our home.
We pick out a tree.
We string lights.
We sing songs.
We read Christmas books and yes, watch Christmas movies.
We drive around to look at Christmas light displays.
We buy and make gifts for our family and friends.
We do holiday crafts.
We bake cookies.
We decorate gingerbread houses.
We wrap presents.
We stop in to see the Santa at the mall if the kids ask to.
We count down the days to Christmas and get more and more excited as it grows closer.
On Christmas Eve my kids are bursting with excitement and can't wait til Christmas morning.
As soon as they're off to bed their father and I set to work, picking up the living room, redecorating the Christmas tree (since my toddler UN-decorated for me...), adding candy canes to the tree, filling stockings, putting out all the gifts we'd had stashed away, etc.

This year's Christmas spread.  I don't think it's you?

And then morning comes...the kids wake up, bounce out of bed, and insist we get up because they are just so excited that it's CHRISTMAS!

Christmas 2009.  This was the first year Dani knew what was up.  The red table, the foam chair, and the train track in the floor were all unwrapped gifts that she was immediately excited over seeing.  Look at that face!

Christmas 2011.  Oscar didn't really "get it" yet, but he still had fun.
Christmas 2012.  Dani went straight for stockings this year.
Christmas 2012.  Oscar's favorite thing was pulling stuff off the tree.

Much fun is had by all and then we go off to Grandma's house for even more Christmasy excitement.

So why not "do" Santa anyway?  You're not religious after all...

Quite simply we do not feel comfortable telling our children something we know to be untrue...........

 STOP RIGHT THERE!  Do not get offended!  This is about what we are comfortable's not a judgement against anyone else!

Well what about imagination?  Magic?  Fairy tales?

All those things are great!  My kids are very imaginative.  We are also big fans of fantasy in our home, but they are not presented as's that simple.  My daughter is a big fan of The Avengers, but she is not under the impression that there is really a team of superheros residing in New York City and defending the planet from alien invaders and super villains.  I assume other people don't insist to their children that trains really talk or that there is really a school for wizards somewhere in the UK...though I could be wrong.

Well what's the harm in it though?  Santa's fun!

It's not a matter of harm, it's just not something we feel is necessary (although some people don't have a good experience with finding out Santa isn't real...).  Yes, Santa IS fun!  We enjoy Santa as a character just as much as anyone else, but I don't feel the need to present Santa as fact when I know otherwise.  Frosty the Snowman is also fun, should I tell them he is real too?  Why is this one particular character SO important anyway?  What's the harm in NOT doing Santa?

Well they just better not ruin it for MY kids.....

Don't worry, I will clue my kids in on the fact that a lot of kids DO think Santa is real.  We won't argue about religion or Santa, okay?  Cool. 

Christmas 2012.  At Grandma's for even MORE holiday stuff!
What about the other holidays characters like the Easter bunny?  What about the tooth fairy?

We don't "do" those either.  However, we still give the kids a basket of candy and fun stuff in the Spring and whenever they start losing teeth we will give them quarters in exchange.  A basket of candy is still awesome even if it just came from your mom and dad.  Losing teeth and getting quarters for them is still exciting without fairy involvement.

In the end...

...does it really matter how you celebrate at the holidays?  Every family I've ever met had their own unique holiday traditions.  My husband's family opened stockings first at breakfast.  My family opened them last and were too busy tearing stuff open to worry about breakfast at all.  In some homes Santa brings tons of gifts.  In others he only brings a few on is only responsible for filling the stockings.  In some homes he wraps gifts, in some homes he doesn't...if kids all sat down and compared how Santa behaves in their house they'd probably figure out something was up.  Either way, it's not worth fighting over.  We don't do Santa.  No biggy.  Christmas is still Christmas and I should probably start working on next year's gifts I'll just say:

Merry Christmas Anyway!