Family acceptance?

One of the ongoing issues many home/unschooling families find is that our way of life doesn't always make extended family relationships comfortable. It's an issue which comes up often enough I thought I'd save my most recent comments on the subject, sparked by a question on the Radical Unschoolers Network:

I'm generally one of the first to exclude myself from relatives - although over the years I've experienced some exclusion from friends, and living around communes I've experienced ebbs and flows of group dynamics which include excluding people - sometimes me or my family - for a time. It helps to accept that I can't change other people, I can only change myself, and then consider if whoever's mad at me has a point. That's hard. It's hard to dig down and try to see someone else's perspective when you're hurting, to look into the dark corners of your personality when you most want to be reassured you're right and fine. In my case, it may be that I've been inadvertent or careless - spoken my mind when I should have been more thoughtful and sensitive. I struggle with that! And communities (family or otherwise) often exist in layers of courtesy and unspoken avoidance. Sometimes that's too great a "cost" of belonging - the cost of belonging with my extended family on my mother's side (with a few exceptions) is to accept a degree of casual cruelty as part of the group dynamic. It's too big a cost for me, so I stay away.

It's rare for someone to be excluded from a community/family out of the blue, although it can happen suddenly - divorces and other big life changes can trigger issues which have sat for awhile. It helps, in terms of seeing the others' points of view, to consider those past issues. You can't change the past, but knowing what's gone before can help you find a degree of compassion, which can help you heal your heart.

LA wrote: i hope someone here will have some good suggestions about how to get a conversation started in the family that can start the healing process.

Does "the family" want to heal? Or are some family members cutting off someone who's outside their comfort zone? That's a situation which has come up in a number of different ways in my extended family, as well as local communities, and I don't see it as something "the family" heals from so much as individuals find ways to heal, form new relationships, and move on. So my own preference is to start there, not with the family, but in helping the person who is hurt to heal. Sometimes when individuals heal the family as a group can start to heal, but not always.

Sometimes there can be subgroups within a family with a bit of come and go between them, and that's not necessarily a bad thing - like Laura and her sister, that's the kind of subgroup I mean. It may help to see the family as having natural groups defined by affinity rather than trying to maintain a Family as a kind of monolithic whole. Focus on meaningful relationships rather than arbitrary ones - the way you'd help a child find people who share interests rather than friends who are all the same age and/or gender.

Sometimes the Best thing you can do to heal family hurts is to step away from a dream of Family and live with the reality of human beings doing the (poor) best they can with (lack of) resources at their disposal. Some members of your family don't have the emotional resources to deal with you as you are - and maybe you don't have the resources to deal with Them as They are! If you did, you would have been able to be who they wanted you to be. I'm not saying you "should" be who others want you to be, but that doing such a thing is often the cost of family membership, if the family is to be a Family - a grand shining icon of itself, all differences put aside for the gathering.


"Catering" to children

Inspired by the following online comments:

Mom1:Me catering to his fears and whims did not help him.

Mom2:To me, this statement is very dismissive towards children. I hear lots of people claim that respecting a child's boundaries/fears/wishes/desires is catering to them and leads to spoiled children.

I added:

Or misanthropic children - in the sense that you can't "cater" to a "shy" child.

I see this fairly common piece of parenting "wisdom" as stemming from a misunderstanding of how people learn. It comes from the same mindset which begins "Children Have To Learn..." And if they won't learn at the convenience of adults, then they "have to" be coaxed and nudged a bit "for their own good".

This is a nuancy subject because sometimes people do need support and encouragement. And I think that sometimes parents can get confused when support and encouragement seems to "work" in the moment and don't see longer term effects. A very clingy 3yo, for instance, is building up a store of trust and support for the time he decides he's ready for a little adventure - but it's easy for mom to see the offer of an adventure as what "works" and ignore the months of cuddling which led up to it. Humans aren't very far-sighted when it comes to causes and effects, especially where children are concerned.

That all seems kind of vague, so I'll try to give some examples.

Currently, I'm learning to use a table-saw. I have a lot of fears - I see myself as a very fearful person as a rule and some of that has to do with having been a "shy kid". I didn't mind being a "shy kid" but I definitely got the impression that I "had to" be pushed into doing things or I'd balk at darned-near everything and my mom took a lot of credit for pushing me into things. In the longer run, I do none of the things my mom pushed me to do, but a great many things I've chosen to do despite my fears and the table-saw is the latest. I've spent years vowing I would Never Ever use a table-saw. I won't bother with my exhaustive list of defensive reasoning other than to say it was just too darned scary for me. Since changing jobs, I've been faced with the possibility of using one of the things, but reassured myself that I have decades of resistance to back me up, and I'm replete with skills for finding alternative solutions, including getting other people to do things for me. So I've been doing that for months - hey there, big guy, can you rip this sheet of plywood for me? You're so cool. But this week, I started using the table saw. It would be easy to point to the order which needed to go out and say "I had to do it to make a crate for that" - to see one thing as the impetus to try, but in the larger picture I've been building confidence very very slowly - almost geologically slowly! and now... well, there it is. It's not nearly as scary as I thought, now that I've chosen to do it.

Pushing kids to get over sensory issues is related to this and it bugs me on two levels. Firstly, because that's one of the ways I was pushed, but also because Mo has some sensory issues and I've seen her deal with them without "needing" to be coaxed or nudged. The thing is, I don't have my mother's perspective on "dealing with" or "what works" - I don't see Mo meeting some goal as the measure of success. If she finds a way Around doing something which pushes her buttons, then that's success on her terms. The idea of "catering to a child's whims" is dismissive not just toward children, but toward all human beings because it measures people in terms of outward successes. I am not a better person for having learned to use a table-saw than I was for having developed a dozen strategies for Not using one. A child who wants to be reassured for months on end is not less of a person than the sibling who derives more pleasure from jumping headlong into something new. One of the advantages of keeping kids out of school, is that there's no need for them to learn to do specific things at specific times. It may be easier to see that with academic stuff, but it applies just as well to things like separation and independence and security. The benchmark of unschooling "working" isn't children who are independent and adventurous and skillful in obvious ways -there are unschooling kids who co-sleep into their early teens, who need help on the potty at 8, who can't ride bicycles at 10, who don't read until 16. When parents are engaged and supportive, that's not a result of neglect, its the vagaries of human development.

Coming back to this:
Me catering to his fears and whims did not help him.

It's entirely possible it wouldn't have hurt him, either - whereas pushing kids beyond what they're ready for in the moment Does hurt them. Little hurts at first, but they add together and erode self-esteem bit by bit. One of the gifts of unschooling is that its Okay to help people around fears rather than through them and to see whims as desires worthy of consideration.



I came across a slogan on facebook the other day: people, use your voice and it got me thinking about communication and personal expression. There’s another slogan – I’ve seen it on bumper stickers: children should be seen and heard and believed. Put the two together and you get an idea that sounds good: support your child’s voice, but actually doing that is surprisingly challenging.

Since behavior is communication, I’m going to stretch the idea of the “voice” to include actions.

I have a big “voice” in a lot of ways, even though I can be very soft-spoken in person. When I was first a step-parent, I used my voice in very authoritarian ways. In my understanding of the world, parents had voices and children didn’t – although honestly I would have been appalled and defensive if anyone had said that to me. I thought I was being a respectful parent, honoring the voice of the person I imagined my stepson would one day be.

One of the hardest aspects of parents learning to listen to their children’s voices is learning to hear “no”. It’s devastating. We hang a whole lot of our self-worth on the hope of being accepted and validated by our children – especially if we didn’t get enough acceptance and validation as children, ourselves. So being told “no” by a child can rock a parent to the core. No, I won’t accept that lovingly created gift of nurturing food. No, I won’t wear that beautiful hand-made dress. No, I won’t stop what I’m doing in favor of what you’re doing. No, I’m not you; I don’t like what you like. Ouch. It’s little wonder most parents kick and scream (metaphorically at least) and use their big voices to quiet those persistent nos.

The most common mistake parents who are trying to live peacefully with children make is thinking they can tell and explain, use enough words or the right words, to get children to do what they, the parents want the to do. It’s a mistake in communication, one that misses out on the most important part of communication: listening.


I'm all tickled

Mo went to a sleepover followed by laser tag and although we brought her two changes of outfits to replace the floor-length stretch velvet dress she had worn to the party, she decided it was the perfect costume for laser tag, too. We left clothes and dropped the subject, but the host-mom tried to dissuade her one last time, managing to draw Mo out a bit and tell her that she was concerned about Morgan’s comfort while playing tag. Morgan reportedly replied: “If you’re concerned about my comfort you’ll stop talking about this.” That’s my girl! She looks shy right up to the point you try to cross her boundaries.

She wore the dress the whole time playing tag.

My friend Rachel, the mom in question commented:

I was amazed she could do it! I imagine I would have totally tripped and fallen. That just goes to show that we as parents and adults don't always know what is "best". To have forced or coerced her into changing would have been acting out

of fear about myself, disrespecting her personal choice, therefore not expressing empathy. I feel like I did my part by helping her make an informed decision, as I did with the other kiddos about shoe and sock choices-some changed their minds, others didn't. It obviously meant a lot to her to wear the dress and she totally sported it! Brava!


anger and communication

Clearly I edited the context for this down to the barest minimum.

>why doesn't the anger drum work every
> time?

I'm starting with the end because its an important question - Nothing is going to "work every time" because people don't always get angry for the exact same reason, with the exact same build-up. I'm guessing the idea of an anger drum is to work out some tension, but anger isn't just some vague, free-floating emotion, especially for young children. It has a cause. Banging the drum doesn't fix the cause of the anger. That's why its better to look at the specific needs each time and try to understand why the person is angry - and then look for ways to prevent that from happening again.

Ready to dive in?

> I'll ask him to return the object he took from me and ask if he
> wants to use it.

Woops and woops. Start sooner. Make the fact that he has some thing a non-issue.

Kid-proof your house better if there are tons of things lying around that children shouldn't handle. Put things "out of sight out of mind" at the very least, and maybe pack up somethings for a few years in storage. Kids learn by interacting with the world, so set them up with a world they can touch and explore in safety while they're home. There will be plenty of other places for "don't touch" I promise!

Did he take the thing, whatever it was, out of your hand? Can you be a grown-up and get another? Or wait your turn? Usually, if you can give a child a "turn" to use or explore something you have, they get their fill and move on - much quicker and easier all 'round than starting a fight with a little kid. Taking turns is a better expression than sharing when you have multiple kids, too - the whole concept of turn taking makes more sense to a child than the ephemeral "share".

Don't start with "no" or "give it back" whenever possible. Start with a general comment or question, make conversation. See the behavior as a means of communicating interest - either in the thing or in you and your attention. Give him attention and fill up his interest - that's how children learn.

> I'll smile and say, "You're awesome. And funny. Please ask if you'd
> like to use it in the future. You know I usually say yes. Until then,
> please return it."

First of all, too many words. When parents use too many words, its a good sign that they aren't listening to kids enough and looking at non-verbal forms of communication (like behavior!) enough. So step back a bit and observe more. Learn to understand your kids without so many words.

Next... if you usually say yes, then why not now? Can you wait thirty seconds? Get another one? One of the benefits of being an adult is that you have the ability to wait and delay gratification - kids don't have that and its not something they learn so much as grow into. It's up to you to be thoughtful and considerate and patient For Him - for now.

> And then he'll try to kick me. Or push me. Or slap me with a towel.

He's frustrated. He's trying to communicate with you and you're not getting the message so he's resorting to more primitive forms of communication. That's All he has right now! He's little. He'll learn better skills, but not if you keep pushing him over the edge.

I'm guessing he's not getting enough attention. Dote on him. Give him Tons of attention. Spend lots and lots of time with him. If you think you're giving enough, assume you've been wrong and give more. Spend more time listening to him and watching him. That way, even if he needs something other than attention, you'll be set up to notice what it is.

That's not to say you shouldn't let him know that you don't want to be hit or kicked, but communication, on your side, needs to be more about listening and understanding than telling and explaining. Isn't that what we want our kids to learn? To listen and understand? Let him see what that part of communication looks like and feel how good it is to receive.


can't do it

"Pat" wrote:
 He does tend to hang on to "I can't do it" feelings for long periods of time.

Help him feel successful - and to start with, don't bring up issues that leave him feeling Un-successful, like reading and writing. Some kids aren't ready to read until they're teenagers! It's not just *a* skill but something that involves coordinating several sets of skills and different people use different sets!

If he's feeling bad about not being ready to read and write, yet, it may be helpful for you to tell him all that, if you can do it in a way that projects a lot of confidence that these are things he Will learn, when he's ready.

But also help him find other ways to feel good about his abilities - what does he enjoy doing?

Oh, wait, you mentioned video games - that could be an avenue for highlighting the skills he has. It's Amazing that he can figure out games mostly without reading. It takes a Lot more thoughtfulness to work something out than to follow a set of instructions - but it could be he doesn't see that if he's been thinking "just video games". If you think of a game as a complex set of challenges in problem-solving, working your way through without the instructions is pretty impressive.

His letters are often backwards and he forgets to put spaces between words....I noticed that he memorizes the appearance of whole words, if that makes sense, as opposed to sounding or spelling them out and often guesses at words by the first few letters.

Those are fairly common traits of people who learn to read using "adult" skills which are more directed at observing the shapes of words quickly in a context of other shapes. Even people who learn to read by sounding-out transition to reading using more visual and contextual information than letter-sound information. If he's been *trying* to read by sounding out, he might be reassured to learn he doesn't have to do that - that sounding out is actually counter-productive (for him). It could (maybe, don't know) build his confidence to suggest that the trouble isn't that he's no good at reading, but has been taught to go about it the wrong way. So Any success in that regard is bigger - as an analogy, it's much, much harder to succeed in a video game if you're holding the controller upside down and backwards.

It's also possible he has some dyslexia, but I wouldn't jump on that right away. Some dyslexia is developmental and unschoolers with dyslexia don't tend to struggle to master it when they have confidence in their skill in other areas - its just another kind of puzzle to solve and not a big deal if they need to use some of the adult dyslexic tricks. The fact that he doesn't like to type suggests the letter reversal isn't as big an issue as his confidence.
He recently told me he has given up his plan to become an archeologist because he will never be able to read or write well enough. 

It may help to let him know that he doesn't have to plan out his whole life right now, but that may have to do with subtle messages that he's been getting from you, too. If You've been worried that he won't be able to do this or that, it's likely you've communicated those worries to him in small ways. You may need to build up your own sense of confidence or trust in him. It could also be that you've (inadvertantly) put too much emphasis on "oh, you could be a..." rather than supporting him in what he loves right now. What have you been doing to support his love of archeology? I don't mean support his future entrance into a good college so he can become an archeologist but how have you fed his passion in the moment? If you've done a Lot to support it and he's had enough, that's fine! Passions don't have to last a lifetime or lead to careers, they can be transient.


specialty math manipulatives

Recently, I came across and advertisement for a particular Montessori manipulative: the Pink Tower, and it got me thinking about math manipulatives in general but especially the costly specialty manipulatives of this kind:

The great thing about the pink tower is that each cube is exactly one

centimeter smaller in each direction than the prior cube -- with the smallest
cube being a perfect cubic centimeter. When the tower is aligned on one corner,
the smallest cube can "walk" up (or down) the tower and can slide around two
sides of each of the other cubes -- the perfect alignment is a point of interest
for the child.

Those kinds of sales pitches sound so appealing, don't they? But in terms of evaluating their actual value, it can help a lot to step back and look at the underlying principles. The Montessori-Method "Pink Tower" communicates, with proper instruction, a set of mathematical principles, but those same principles can be discovered naturally by a child playing with any set of unit blocks - and sets of blocks have a far, far wider range of applications than the Pink Tower, which is used for... what a dozen exercises at most? The graduated blocks of the Pink Tower can't be used for much beyond building the tower and a few variations because there's only one of each, but a set of blocks - ah! Blocks can be used to build a million different things *and* used to represent other things. The
Pink Tower is only ever the Pink Tower.

The best math manipulatives in the world are unit blocks and some of the best unit blocks ever made are, frankly, Legos. Yup, a big commericial toy wins the day, I'm afraid. With legos you could build your own Pink Tower... but why bother? Kids will learn exactly the same concepts playing with the blocks in their own way - or with other types of unit blocks. Not every child loves Legos.

The significant aspect to consider, when it comes to blocks, is that they are *unit* blocks - there are regular units of increase between one block size and the next. Most sets of plain wooden blocks are unit blocks because it's utterly logical to make them that way. (And wooden blocks are great for toddlers and younger children, a muuuuuuuch better investment than a Pink Tower, and probably a tenth of the cost, even if you buy a really nice set!)

the light reflecting differently off the different flat planes of the tower
when the child walks around it to admire his work is a point of interest.

This is a point I find, frankly, amusing. For a theoretical system that shies away from plastic, it's a little ironic that one of the selling points of the a toy is that it's smooth and shiny.

The tower has ten cubes because our number system is based on ten, and the
knobbed and knobless cylinders, pink tower, brown stair, and red rods are all
meant to reinforce that.

Okay, my math button has been pushed! Since base 10 is everywhere in the real world, why would you need to teach it? This is a case of Montessori toys being made to turn a sterile classroom into a substitute for a rich home environment. A noble cause, but not particularly applicable to home educators. There's no real need, if you live in any developed nation, to "reinforce" base ten. Kids figure it out (arguably they derive it) without specific lessons in the subject.

Besides, in the real world we use multiple bases every day, not just base ten. Consider: How many days in a week? How many seconds in a minute? And if you live in a country like the US which still uses inches and ounces....? Reinforcing base ten, under those sorts of circumstances, is counter-productive, and lessons with reinforce base ten have the side effect of then requiring additional lessons to give kids the tools they need to work with other bases. Montessori does this better and sooner than mainstream education, it is true, but at the cost of needing yet more, highly specific teaching tools. The Pink Tower is a one trick pony.

Now Legos, by contrast, do something that's far better than reinforcing base ten, they give kids a format to construct mathematical concepts in multiple bases simulateously and in the process give kids tools with which to derive the principles of mutiplication and division/fractions. How do you build a wall when you have a mix of 2x2, 2x3, and 2x4 blocks? That's the most basic Lego problem, one with which every Lego builder is familiar, since those are the most common building blocks - and it involves the principles of converting from one base to another... the same principles which are needed to add fractions.

Also, a very important part of this material is its baric and sterognostic
value -- "Montessori-speak" for the way the weight and feel of each piece varies
in a precise order -- the largest cube is 1000 times the weight of the smallest

Once again, I'm amused. The above is going to be true of any set of wooden unit blocks where the pieces are solid.

One of the problems with placing too much value on this idea, though, is that in real life objects do not, in fact, increase predictably in weight based on size - composition and construction matter. An empty 55gal drum weighs substantially less than a fairly small farrier's anvil. A 2x4 made of oak weighs more than one made of pine or poplar. A laundry basket full of laundry weighs and carries differently than a laundry basket with a cat in it.

So like base ten, this particular Montessori lesson is one that needs a hundred other lessons to modify and give kids a picture of the real world - lessons in empty vs full, lessons in pouring, lessons in lifting chairs and pulling drawers - because all the specific materials can do is give simple lessons. They're all one trick ponies, which is a big, big percentage of the cost - it's not just a matter of shelling out for one great toy but of getting a hundred items that you won't need a year

young children are acutely attuned to order; the sensorial materials provide a
very orderly environment in which they can notice very small differences
(something that most toys and the natural world don't often provide).

While the first part of that statement has some validity, the last, parenthetical statement is false - it sounds good, but it's not true at all. The natural world is full of order and small differences - heck there's a Montessori material which compares leaf shapes and sizes! Show me a bouquet or roses or a litter of kittens and I'll show you order and small differences.

And since commercial toys are made to appeal to children (unlike many "educational" toys which are made to appeal to parents) they include a lot of order and small differences. As much as parents deride this aspect, it's part of what makes some toys successful. Some examples of popular commercial toys designed around those concepts: My Little Pony, Littlest Pets, Barbie, Hot Wheels, American Girl dolls, Legos... and then there are toys and themes with more substantial differences like Pokemon, a wildly successful series of games, toys and shows because it so very much appeals to kids' interest in order and classification.

The basic principles of Montessori are excellent: learning is intrinsic for all people; learning flows best when it is chosen by the learner; observe the child to discover his or her needs and priorities; see behavior as a way of communicating needs; set the child up for success; when something isn't working, change the environment and recognize that you, the adult are part of that environment; punishments and rewards get in the way of ethical development, so avoid them. All of those principles have been re-discovered and derived again and again in the century and more since Maria Montessori first articulated them - not merely by wild eyed dreamers, but by serious scientific research into education and learning.

All the techniques and materials special to Montessori are just tools to help teachers and classrooms mimic the benefits of a rich, responsive home environment. It can be useful to read about the techniques and materials as a way of learning more about how children develop and learn - I've learned an enormous amount by reading the "whys" of various apparatus. The trick is not to get bogged down in the specifics but to discover the principles. The Pink Tower is pretty, but the principles are everywhere and human beings are wired to understand them - otherwise human kind would have never invented mathematics, much less the Pink Tower, to begin with.


not so bad, being the grown-up

I love the fact that I can take "no" for an answer from my kids, that I'm secure enough, mature enough, and mindful enough to know that my agenda doesn't always have to come first. My kids don't have to eat my cooking for me to feel special. My kids don't have to dress in ways that make me comfortable in order for me to feel secure or limit themselves to my preferences about technology for me to feel competent. My kids can be who they are even when it is inconvenient and disconcerting to me, and that's a marvel.


fact or fiction

> The really fascinating thing for me as I experience my son's questions is that the most correct answer to each of them would be "I don't know."

Correct answer? As in "this will be on the test"?

Its worth thinking about why you want a single correct answer, like that, but more than that, its worth thinking about why your child is asking you a question in the first place. Doling out single, correct answers, including "I don't know" can shut down conversation and erode a relationship.

There's an idea that some parents have that a sense of wonder is something that needs to be promoted and encouraged - and that can turn into a kind of closet curriculum for parents, as if children can be taught to wonder by being given vague answers, regardless of what the child is looking for. In that sense "I don't know" can become as dogmatic as "this is The Truth".

Trust that your kids already have a sense of wonder and excitement about the world. You don't need to push it along! And you don't need to define it in your own terms. Maybe its exciting *to you* to wonder at the potential for beyond the rainbow, but your child isn't you - he may rather wonder at the physics of refraction itself and find all the stuff about magic misses the beautiful paradox of the photon.

> The world gets bigger and bigger, more and more open. I was taught in fact and limits, and now each question reveals an assumption with a jello-like foundation. Fun to explore.

Fun for you. Maybe fun for your child - but that's the question, isn't it. Are you letting your own ideas about what's important get in the way of what your child would rather explore? Are you letting your closet-curriculum of mysteries get in the way of someone looking for data?

It doesn't have to be one thing or another, fact Or Fiction - and maybe that's what J. means. Recently Mo and I have been reading a fantasy series about dragon riders set in a facsimilie of ancient Egypt. As a result of that, she's been curious about real Egypt, so we've been looking through books and websites and talking about what's known and not-known, about archeology and history, alphabets and customs... and in the last couple weeks about politics and democracy since Egypt has been in the news in exciting ways. So learning is swirling around, in and out of fact and fiction and the gray area that is "history" - and there's a Lot of that gray area in Egypt! There's a lot of "no-one really knows for sure, but...". A lot of wondering to be done. And, at the same time, there's a chance to see how wondering fades into true fiction. I'm not pretending that maybe there used to be dragons in Egypt - but know that part is pretend doesn't make the stories less fun, or the people we're reading about less wonderful. It doesn't automatically make the world smaller to say a fantasy isn't real - it can make our human capacity for imagining all the more miraculous.


Origami Lesson

I’ve been paper-folding most of the morning; first working through an origami bird kit with Morgan watching and playing with the birds and then folding one particular form over and over and over. I’ve had lots of thoughts in my head as I fold and refold, and most of them have had to do with learning and creativity and – surprisingly – with limits.

Origami kits and instructions can be a nightmare until you get the hang of the principles of paper folding. The instructions are baffling and senseless until you understand the quite literal ins and outs of the technique. I remember thinking origami unreasonably difficult until my mid-twenties (and I’m good with my hands, good at puzzling out directions from a diagram, too) until someone sat down with me and showed me a few basic folds. I’m still not any kind of paper folding expert but I’ve become a fairly confident dabbler, intrigued with the idea of limiting a creation to something made from a single square of paper.

On a radio program the other night, some artist or other (Stewart of the Daily show, I think, in an interview with Terry Gross) commented that creativity comes from limits. I don’t disagree with that in the least, but I do think it’s important to point out that those limits do not necessarily come from outside the artist.

Take origami, itself. Sculptor Eric Joisel discovered it years ago and changed his whole body of work as a result. He chose to limit himself to the magic of one sheet of paper, no tape, glue, or cutting, and then expanded very slightly from those constraints. Other artists make similar choices: only found objects, only haikus, only fully functional musical instruments, only hats. Artists can rise to the challenge of a limited environment, but that limited environment is unnecessary to the process. In an environment of abundance, artists naturally self-limit for the sake of art.

Today, after years of dabbling I finally have the gumption to modify the designs – first “correcting” a bird I mis-folded at an earlier stage so that it still “works” and then subtly altering the wings of another to make “chicks” instead of elegant flying adults. I am thoroughly impressed with myself and begin folding another bird, thinking of more modifications. Mo stops me mid-fold.

“That looks like a rocket,” she says. I agree, impatient to continue folding. “Can you make me a red one?”

I set aside my bird and make a red rocket. Morgan begins folding, too, but is quickly frustrated; the quirky ins and outs of origami folds are too much for her, yet, and she has folded something backwards. She hands the page to me. “Make another,” she says. “This one is for a mutant mouth.” I fold a mutant mouth and she hands me two more pages. “Now make two more; these are hands.”

“Do I need to make them different?” I ask hopefully.

“No, I’m making a giant mutant plant monster with hands and feet that are mouths.” She returns to her portion of the work, rolling paper into arms, legs, the main stem of the plant. In her lack of attachment to the idea of a bird, it seems, she has found another use for a form that arises half-way though the parrot’s construction. Not just one use, either; limiting her creation to one form, she sees multiple uses for that form.

I have a moment’s resentment (who does she think I am?) but I keep on folding. Yesterday we went to see an exhibit of the glass work of Dale Chihuly, including a film about the making of some of the pieces. They are massive glass works and as the artist has gotten older he relies on others to do the bulk of the fabrication while he directs and adds details. I remind myself of that: today Morgan is The Artist and I the assistant, fabricating parts that her hands can’t produce although her mind knows what they shall be and how she shall use them.

A nose-cone has been added to one form for a rocket and she begins to explain a story that draws from a variety of influences: the Eds, Ratchet and Clank, and something else… where did that giant mutant plant come from? I search my memory, thinking of the Day of the Triffids. Morgan has yet to see the Day of the Triffids, or Little Shop of Horrors for that matter… aha! I have it! Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Pottsylvania Creeper. Morgan’s plant, a native of Planterra, she tells me, has no need to creep, it can stride across the paper boulders to devour the paper rocket whole. Good thing the Eds never made it on board! I rest my hands awhile and return to folding birds.

It doesn’t matter if Morgan never “gets” origami or learns to create her own origami designs. It doesn’t matter if she accepts or eschews the limits of origami, itself. She already instinctively knows the most important artistic principles: to let the materials “speak” to her, to let her knowledge of other artwork (including nature) inform her, to follow her muse, to collaborate when appropriate, enlist help when needed, and most of all, to tell her stories. And curiously enough, in the midst of freedom to use whatever materials in whatever way she wants, she understands the value of self-imposed limits. I’m not trying to say my kid is some kind of genius, but that this kind of self-selection is so natural, so obvious to the human mind, that we adults don’t need to set limits on children in order to encourage creativity. What we do need is to be a little less attached to our own ideas so that we have a better chance of re-envisioning the world through the eyes of our children.

Eyes of our children. I’m not a fantastic typist and wrote “yes of our children”. A serendipitous mistake in this context. Sometimes unschooling isn’t so much about saying yes as stepping beyond our attachment to “the right way” in order to experience the yes of our children.