Friday, 8 June 2012

Tidying up as a gift

When Sprout was tiny, we knew what we didn't want to be (authoritarian, violent, coercive with time outs, naughty steps and other punishments), but at the time didn't know what we *did* want to be. This led to a lot of lamenting along the lines of, "How do we get him to do things, like tidy up, without resorting to all those things we don't want to do??"

After much reading (particularly here and here) and thinking as we moved towards radical unschooling, our focus changed from being what we were getting him to do, to our relationship with him and the environment we were providing. Almost overnight a couple of years ago we went from stressful arguments where we'd try to convince him to tidy up that invariably led to tears on both sides, to peace and harmony. How? By doing ourselves the tidying and cleaning that we wanted doing.

But how will they learn to tidy up after themselves?

This question assumes that making children tidy up will teach them that they have to tidy up. A lot of people think this is obvious. I'm going to borrow from Mythbusters' Adam Savage and say, "I reject your reality, and substitute my own!" As I've said here before, what you teach somebody is not necessarily what they will learn. I'll tell you what I learned from my parents making me tidy and clean: These people who said they loved me were not in the slightest bit bothered what felt important to me to be doing once they had decided it was time to clean; Housework is a miserable chore; You can force people to do something that's important to you and then shout at or hit them if they don't do it. Hmmm. Not what I want my children to be learning.

A tidy house as a gift to them

I now look at tidying up as one of my gifts to them. Firstly, it's important to me to have a house that, while not necessarily spick and span, is at least liveable with room to move, clean clothes to wear and clean plates to eat off. Also, though, I want to give the kids space to live their lives, follow their interests and make their discoveries. It's far easier for them to build a house out of miniature bricks if they actually have a clear table to do this on. Easier to play the guitar if they can find it. And easier to try and make the world's biggest train track if there's floor space available to spread it out on. If we're going to unschool them, and make their lives sparkly and interesting, somewhere to do that is part and parcel of it, one of the resources we're giving them for their lives.

This doesn't mean I never ask for help, but I ask just as I'd ask Gruff: Any chance of a hand with this? Could you possibly put that away while I wash up so we can make it to the group on time?  They're just as free to say no as he or I would be.

Squidge, who at 4 has never been made to tidy up, loves tidying up (although I have no idea whether this will continue!). When I occasionally ask if they could give me a hand they tend to say yes now. And when I went upstairs the other evening to see what Sprout was doing, he was tidying his room. Tidying his room! This makes me happy not because this is some kind of reverse psychology tack that 'worked' to get him tidying up, but because not only are we happily giving them this gift of a tidy room and home to play and discover in, but I've seen for myself that they haven't taken on board from this that housework is something for them *never* ever to do.

Modelling. Not just for dough :)


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