plastic trees

The further I go into reading about education and home schooling, the more I get twitchy about my kid's stuff.


If I wanted to categorize my philosophical leanings, I'd put me in the uptight hippie category. We do a lot of what they call attachment parenting, and, surprising to no one, for good or bad, we are a child centered household. I got me a couple of nekkid kids for a good portion of each day, take in more live music than television, and generally let the children chose their own activities and then be available for technical support. Emotionally tuned in with healthy doses of physically staying out of their way. I'd rather see them crying because they tried but it didn't work out then to have them cry because they didn't even get a chance.  Except for the partying, I think we've got the hippie bit down.

The uptight part is that our (The Man and I) behaviors are primarily ethically driven. And it is a pain in the butt for other people, or at least they are fond of telling me so. We shop in some stores but not others. We make things ourselves when it doesn't make monetary or time sense. If we can, we'll dive for treasure and make do or just do without (almost unheard of in this time of buy everything you ever wanted right now all in one place). We drive this tiny little twelve year old car, which we just learning now, absolutely freaks out some family members who believe we are basically a baby duck on a highway full of tanks. We are vegan. Every decision becomes a long, drawn out debate on pros and cons and what is best. We don't just do it.

Uptight. We are a bit annoying this way.


Reading about educating children puts this whole new set of considerations on my life. Am I hands on, guiding and instructing, or am I hands off, letting natural curiosity direct their curriculum? What sort of environment do I provide? What does enrichment mean anyway? Should I stock my house with beautiful things (with beautiful price tags), all natural wood, organic cotton and bamboo, soft colours and textures?  

What about all the ugly among my creative manipulatives (i.e. toy shelf)? What about the dolls in night club wear with their not-BPA free faces molded into expressions of smoldering somnolence? What about the uniformly coloured emergency response figurines?  With their cocked guns and riot shields?  Do they quietly find themselves a new home, replaced by soft, blank-faced handmade companions, who serve as blank canvas for my little one's creative play?

Even if I believed I had the right to completely stage my children's environment, would I actually be able to pull it off? The plastic, the licensed, the inappropriate make their way into my home everyday, via grandparents, garage sale free boxes, roadside finds, and even, sometimes, by my own hand.

Is that bad?


I'm shooting for the middle ground. I think that if I can be an uptight hippie, I've already got the mental flexibility to pull of a balance between beautiful and garish. Organic and toxic. If my children desire big, clunky plastic monstrosities, then if they are to be found second hand for inexpensive or free, then they will have a resting place in our home, at least for a time.

Nature is a good guide. Nature isn't a positive or negative thing, it just is. It contains tongue-stopping beauty alongside heartbreaking brutality. I suspect this might be what is meant by an enriched environment. A mix of everything. Something for everyone.



  1. I think the key is balance. At least, that is what I'm learning at this point in my life. I've been blogging about that a lot lately. It's been difficult to accept that balance. That there *is* actually a balance-able life to be had and not completely one way or the other and that it's okay to have that kind of life.

  2. I always disliked the crappy plastic toys but figured that was really more a matter of taste than play value. The real problem was toys that had a story (usually Disney) attached that limited play. If Fred Flintstone couldn't ride in a VW because he doesn't in the show then I'd dump him. Otherwise he's just another doll, which is (ugly but) okay.

  3. As one working right now to find balance for our own little family, I really appreciated this post. Truthfully, I appreciate all your posts, but this one had a special meaning!

  4. such a great article that resonates with me so much!

    so, i read this article yesterday:

    which caused me to re-evaluate some of my ideas for what creates a rich play environment for children.

    do i dare admit that i was the parent that not only looked for the S&W table inside the classroom, but wanted one (ok, at least two, one for indoors, one for out!) for our home??

    rather than beat myself up for this contradiction, i actually consider it part of the parenting process, the constant cycle of question, evaluate, tweak, repeat.

    i think we can be firm in our beliefs while being flexible in how we implement them. thank you for the nice reminder that sometimes what is best for our children is being open, caring, and sometimes simply finding the positive and flowing with it even when it goes against someone's (even our own!) idea of what's best!

  5. Sometimes I am thankful that I fell into Home Education just because school didn't work for my dd like it had for her brothers.

    I have only recently read John Holt's Learning all the time and it was good to read it now with two years of living this way under my belt and not two years before to fill me with concern about whether I could provide a learning environment for my child. What amazed me on reading it was that my dd really has learned to read just a he describes - and without my 'help'. Ignorance was bliss!

    I'm not sure if you want advice or not but mine would be to go back to watching the child just like they say when you are first breastfeeding. Watch the baby: not the charts or the clock, or the books.

  6. Loving the VW symbol on the wooden car!

  7. What a great post! I am also a mom trying to find the right balance, and I know others in the same boat. Thanks for letting us in on your thoughts. You're not alone, and it's good to know I'm not alone in this either!

  8. Thanks all for the great feedback. I always appreciate your input, especially when I'm feeling all insecure about this child raising thing. It truly is great to know that so many of us run the same thought paths throughout our days. Means it's normal and healthy.

    Mother lode, I love your blog. I ended up bookmarking many more things than I'll be able to do when I visited, but, still, thanks for the inspirations!

    Parasombra, watching the kids is one way for me to avoid going overboard with the parenting/educational philosophies. It's hard to buy into it too much when I can see what works and what doesn't right in front of me. I have never, ever seen the kids use a toy like it was intended to. If they ever received a new toy and wanted to know what it 'does' I'd be worried, but they are both very people orientated and use the toys as mere props in their games. In that way, it doesn't matter if it's a waldorf doll or a tickle me elmo, to Smootch it's a baby or a dolphin or a customer. I think it's a good thing, that the imagination triumphs, but maybe it means that they are just really out of touch from reality :D I'll keep watching and see how it turns out :)

  9. As a teacher, I love parents like you - I'd be heartbroken if I taught in your community, lol, I'd want your kids in my class:) Kids like yours are open minded and bring so much imagination to mundane tasks because they've been allowed to play and explore. As an aunty to a 1.5 yo and a 4yo, I always think through 3 things when I buy or make gifts:)
    1.will she enjoy it for more than a day?
    2.Is it something her parents will approve of, do they have room for it?
    3.Is it educational (in any of the 8 multiple intellegence realms)

  10. It is so nice to know that there are people out there who have similar beliefs and ideals in regard to childraising. People think I'm mental because I make coloured rice for play, and because my kids don't watch TV, and *gasp* because I like to play with my kids instead of sending them off to their rooms to play with their toys. I love that you let your children make their own mistakes, they will learn so much faster than just being told 'no, you can't do that'. We are all bumbling through, even those of us who read everything, and soak up every child related book we can get our hands on.

    thanks again for a fab post - as always x

  11. Oh gosh, I can relate to this. I'm a lot like you - I'd call myself a modern, vegan hippy girl. I've decided that I'll live my best life as an example, and that I won't restrict everything my children are exposed to. I want them to be able to make some judgements themselves. For example, they used to LOVE McDonalds (they're not vegan), but I read them a book about factory farming. Now THEY'VE decided to eat hamburgers from a much animal-friendlier restaurant. To me, that's much more powerful than if I imposed the restriction.

  12. That was very well said. It's so hard to live the balanced life. When you're in the middle, you have critics on both sides. I'd say you're doing great. BTW, our car is 11 years old. We're shooting for 200,000 miles. :)

  13. A good read and well thought out. Sounds like you're doing a great job and will find the balance for your family.

  14. I love this! I think I'm in the same category.

    So, when you said: Even if I believed I had the right to completely stage my children's environment, would I actually be able to pull it off?

    For some things, like the all-wooden-toys-all-the-time, I get to a breaking point where I just can't keep it up. I'm realizing that I just don't have the stamina to pull of things that don't speak to me. We each have our battles, right?

  15. Hi, I have been reading your blog for a long time. I found you when I was searching for a pattern to make a little red riding hood cape for my daughter.

    I don't post on blogs but I thought I would today.

    You are not alone in your parenting style and balance is everything. I remember when my boys were babies and I promised myself I would never put them in clothes that has the image of a cartoon on the front. Well that was foolish and, if i had never allowed them to have them, selfish. Children have a right to creative play. If we are to truly allow them the freedom to develop, replacing their toys with faceless dolls and wooden blocks would be selfish. Teaching them about capitalism and how toy manufactures, TV shows, and movies make us want to buy things helps them learn about the world while still enjoying the things that are in it.

    I agree that balance is the key.

  16. Like many, I agree that balance is key. Although I want my kids to live and learn in a safe, positive environment, the world isn't all organic, safe or beautiful and to keep them away from reality for the sake of security doesn't do them or the world any good. I also think having a future perspective in child raising is helpful. Not only what kind of person do I see them becoming but also what do they need in order to navigate this world. As always, thanks for sharing your journey and inviting others into the conversation.