Sunday, October 24, 2010

Following directions

Years ago a school-at-home family visited us from another state for a few days. Holly and one of the visiting girls brought a "preschool workbook" to me (a coloring book with puzzle pages) and asked what the directions said. It said circle in red... something. I don't remember the puzzle involved. But she asked if she had to use red, and I said no, to use any color she wanted to, and that she didn't even have to circle them.

The other mom stiffened, and when the little girls were gone said, "We believe it's important for our girls to follow directions."

That coloring book had no authority, and there was no advantage to anyone of that page being done according to arbitrary directions.

Some directions are more important than others. Some involve safety and property. Games have directions. Kits have directions. Recipes are directions. People can decide whether to play differently, put the kit together in a creative way, or tweak a recipe in progress.

It's good to make a conscious decision about what kind of directions you will follow without question, and which are less binding on you and your family.


  1. By e-mail I received a question:

    "Can I ask how you responded to the other mom? This is the kind of situation where I would tend to freeze up and only think of good responses after the fact. Either that or I would ask in astonishment, "In a coloring book?" and challenge her entirely."

    They were visiting our house, so there was no necessity for me to defend myself. She knew we were unschoolers, and had read a great deal of what I had written in those days (Marty was seven or eight, so it was about fourteen years ago). We had been in correspondence by e-mail and we were both on the Prodigy message board. She had taken on a newsletter I had started (paper reprints of some of the writings; I hadn't thought of that for YEARS! It was called "BackYard Fence" and I bet I could look for those).

    Another incident during that visit is that I was going to make cookies. This was when we still loved in our other, smaller house. Her oldest girl was helping me, and at the "add one teaspoon of baking powder" part, she stood expectantly and impatiently with the one-teaspoon with heaping baking powder in her hand, looking at me. I looked back. She said "I need a knife." She wanted to level it off, but at her house, that was only done with a knife. At my house, that was done with the edge of the lid of the baking powder can, or by shaking it off, or with the handle of a spoon, or any old thing. But the rule at her house was you level your meassurements off with a butter knife.

    This is a good example of the difference between principles and rules, and between resourcefulness and pattern-following. Once I was at my mother-in-law's house and had offered to help with the dishes. She said I could dry, and handed me a thin cotton dishtowel. After a full sink of dishes the towel was way more wet than dry. I asked for another towel. She kind of laughed and said "You don't need another one. You can use that one."

    I never offered to help her with dishes again. One time I did them for her, but I used two towels without asking. :-)

    It's a waste of time to wipe a dish with a wet towel. Although it satisfied her need for following procedure, it did NOT meet my requirements of time well spent.

    All of those instances served to help me clarify what I believed and why, and to continue to encourage my children to ask "why?" rather than "what?" and "how?"

  2. Ok well my "Why" is ~ Why has this struck such a nerve with me??? I want to say that obviously she wants to bring her children up so they can live in a box, never think out of the box and drink the kool-aid! It's ok to have purple trees and color outside of the lines! She's obviously not an artist or she wouldn't be like that because "our type" never would do that! She's setting her children up for nervous breakdowns in life instead of teaching them to go with the flow and be flexible. Dr. Weil says to live a long, full, happy life you need to be as flexible as possible and be able to deal with change. She isn't teaching them either! Ok my two cents! Enjoyed your post.


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