I have seen many parents dismiss their children’s interests, describing how frustrating it is to sit through a boring children’s programne for the 10th time in a row or how irritating the voice is of their child’s favourite YouTuber. These parents are missing a wonderful opportunity to share joy and develop a deep, close relationship with their children.
My youngest two love the Minions and were aware there was a movie coming out at some point. It’s not a film I would choose to watch myself so I could have just not mentioned when it came out or I could have waited until they pleaded to go or taken them along grudgingly waiting for the movie to be over and then complained to other people how I had sat through a silly movie because I’d ‘had’ to take my children to it. I chose instead to suggest going to see it out of the blue one afternoon, I spent most of the film looking at the children and feeling joy at their joy, seeing their excitement and enjoying their giggles.
There have been many instances since where we have been able to share jokes from the film, talk about the parts we found funny, they have shared joyfully with me the things they loved about the film and who their favourite characters are. None of this would have been possible if I had chosen to belittle their love for the Minions, if I had decided that although I was prepared to ‘put up’ with allowing them to see it and do them a favour by taking them along I was going to let them know I was only doing it for them and that they should be grateful. Instead I chose joy and happiness, I chose to be open to sharing something they love and know that it is me who should feel gratitude that they are prepared to share their love and interests with me.
My eleven year old, Jenna, is sitting on my bed chatting to me about some Minecraft fanfiction she is writing. She just used such phrases as “passive voice”, “present tense”, and “third person” correctly in context. She has never had a grammar lesson in her life.
In other news, she has seen six Shakespeare plays this year (it was her stated year’s goal, unprompted, to see as much Shakespeare as possible this year), raves randomly about Chaucer, and emails me poems. This kid didn’t read until she was almost nine, and has spent most of the last three months watching YouTube on her phone almost non-stop.
I have had periods of thinking that Jenna would be highly unlikely to choose to do anything in the next few years that outsiders would perceive as having educational value. She has always been interested in history, but otherwise I have spent a fair bit of time “translating” into educationalese for grandparents etc. Who could have predicted that all of that intensive YouTube and Netflix would turn out to have taken a little detour into reading and discussing A Level grade English Literature materials, via Minecraft role play fan groups and Buffy references?! (For the record, I’m genuinely as delighted in her love of Kawaiichan and quoting Giles [from Buffy] and photo manipulation as I am of the Chaucer and Shakespeare – but it’s certainly easier to point out the latter as evidence that Something Is Happening.)
Another additional comment: Yesterday, I mentioned that I have a huge hardback Complete Works of Shakespeare. She said, “Oh I know! I found it months ago! I have read most of it, well all of the sonnets and lots of the plays – but I sort of skim-read the histories… I’m not SO keen on those.”
We live at the end of a cul-de-sac where lots of other children live. Our children spend a lot of after-school hours playing out with them – riding bikes, roller-skating, playing elaborate make-believe games. Today it’s a Saturday. They wanted to all play with our seven year old’s new playdoh ice-cream factory but I can’t really fit all the street’s kids in our house and some are very young. So I set them up in the sunshine outside on the driveway with a vinyl tablecloth, the playdoh and all the playdoh toys. I would have been pretty uptight about doing such a thing a few years ago – unschooling has allowed me to feel much happier and joyful about finding ways to help them all do this. There are more kids out there playing than are shown in the picture and one of those in the picture is younger than two and speaks no English.