Monday, October 30, 2006


Firstly, the photo I promised you from before still won't load. Grrr....will keep on trying.

After Friday night where a few of us were discussing Unconditional Parenting, I received a few questions and thought I might use the blog to further inform you, my blog reader, about what exactly UP is. I can tell you what it is not: it's not using time-outs, it's not about please and thank-yous, it's not about making children say sorry, it's not about praise, it's not about punishment. No praise? Whuh?! Hmmm, yep, no praise. A really good, short article about why praise can damage a child's interest in any given activity can be found here. If you do a Google search on 'Alfie Kohn' you'll come up with a whole pile of links which will give you more information if that whets your appetite.

But essentially it is about being reasonable with your child. And by reasonable, we mean not just cutting off what they're doing or interested in purely to serve your own need of being somewhere immediately, or because you're getting bored watching Harriet play with a flower for five minutes in the middle of the street when you were striding confidently towards the car and are mere metres away from it (and they say children are the ones with short attention spans?!). An example was seen by us just on Saturday - we were in a cafe where a little boy had just walked over to the 'children's play area' and had sat down to colour in a picture. His Nana cameover and said "Come on, we're leaving now". The boy was obviously upset and said, "But I just want to finish this" and her reply was "No, be a good boy and come on". Well, why couldn't the adults have just sat around for another few minutes? They then proceeded to stand outside saying goodbye to each other for more than long enough for the boy to finish his drawing. It just seemed to teach the boy that being "good" was about being quiet and doing what adults wanted him to do.

Now Papa Jimbo and myself are much more interested in Harriet being the type of child who questions, challenges, does, thinks, rather than one that complies and silently sits in the background whilst we sit and chat to friends (as nice for us as that would be!). It is a lot of work and to be honest sometimes all we'd like to do is bundle her up in the car without another word, drive to the cafe and have her sit quietly colouring in whilst we have dinner with friends. But what sort of child does that encourage? And what sort of adult does that produce? We have to be prepared to make the sacrifices that, from the moment we decided to bring her into the world, we should make to allow her to be all that she can be emotionally.

We're very happy to discuss this further here, so any questions, criticisms, befuddled looks, please feel free to comment!


Sif said...

I like this the more I hear about it... I have to admit at time I have cut my kids short because I thought what I wanted to do was WAY more important, or interesdting...

I really bloody annoys me that people love to have babies (kids0 but hate to recornigse that those babies are actually PEOPLE, not "little people (people in training), but actually PEOPLE, who are merely reliant on us, not subservient to us...

LOL, sorry for the rant, but yeah, when you decide to have a child, you decide to SHARE your life with that person, that means you have to give as well as take...

bin--in-the-oven said...

Does this produce spoiled children? Kids who know they can do whatever they want, when they want and their parents will just sit and wait for them?
Not a critisim, justa question :)

casso said...

No, no, please, come forth and ask! :o)

I think if you involve children in the decision-making process they often surprise you with their maturity. It's difficult with those under 3yrs, but definitely when they're older they tend to be engaged with their environment a lot more and actually be less selfish because you have focussed on how their actions affect others rather than how their actions affect only themselves.

Also, what constitutes a 'spoiled' child? I don't really think there is much of this in the under threes because they don't really have the capacity to think much beyond what THEY are, iykwim. Over four they have the ability to know that others can think differently to them and what UP aims to do is incorporate this difference into children by initially respecting them. If they are respected you'd be surprised at how they in turn will also respect others. It really makes a lot of sense.

One thing that's interesting to note is that if children are forced to apologise to others when they hurt them, they will resent the other child for making them 'get caught' and not be remorseful for the action itself. If however you take the time to discuss with the child that did the hitting how hitting hurts the other child rather than just 'force' an apology, the child learns that others matter. Just like taking the time to do it at all means they must 'matter' to us. ;o)

bun-in-th-oven said...

thanks for answering my questions. I will definately be reading more on UP.

Quick question... do you tell your daughter when it is bed/nap time or does she dictate that? Does she have a strict routine bed routine or feed-play-sleep routine?

Sorry for all the q's. This is my first bub and I'm keen to learn as much as I can.


Jimbo said...

Nope, she goes to bed when she's ready. This causes some level of hassle, but since we've never really been routine type people it doesn't really bother us.

I'm sure Casso will have more to say on this one too ;)

casso said...

Hey there

Just to clarify - this has nothing to do with UP as such. ;o) When Harry was a baby (ie: under 6mths) we would *roughly* follow a reverse order, ie: wake, feed, play, feed, sleep. Mainly because she'd wake up crying, feeding would soothe her and then she'd be happy to play. But we never enforced that, it just basically evolved as how she liked to behave.

The main aim of the feed/play/sleep routine is to get your child's internal clock regulating to bein rhythm with the adult world, which is fair enough when they're over about six weeks or so in my opinion. Also just the common sense of getting a child tired through play before having them crash into sleep.

Now that she's older it's like anyone: you can't make anyone go to sleep if they're not tired! So we just play with her, take her cues by reading her body language and gauging how much she's done during the day. It's pretty much all about learning to read your child's cues. Harriet has always been a great day sleeper but a crummy night one. :o) Every day (well, except today having said that!) she will reliably go down for a 2hr nap during the day and then tends to start fading around 6pm. However there are some nights where she is still kicking strong at 9pm! Going with the flow and not tying yourself down to strict times is actually very therapeutic for the parents as (I believe) it is for the child.

Any more questions peopl? Come on! We're ready for 'em! Don't worry about offending us!

Jen - Faithful Servant of the Adventurous Duo! said...

Up sounds very interesting and what you were saying about respect breeding respect sounds spot on :)

But I am wondering how UP fits into the school years? How does a child that has been dictating when, what and how for their early years then fit into a structured school environment where the day runs by a set routine?

casso said...

Hi Jen!

Just to calrify, UP isn't about the child 'dictating' the day. It's more an awareness of them being a person and using both their cues and your own to regulate the ebb and flow of a day's rhythm. So although Harriet may want to do one thing and I want to do another, some days I get my activity and some days she gets hers. It's just about being reasonable and open to the fact that yes, she may actually prefer to go to the beach rather than to the bank but hey - the bank still needs to be organised!

As for schooling...well to start off with, I have a fundamental problem with the idea that mainstream schooling is in fact any way a preparation for 'real life' (just on this, I hate the way people use this term all the time, as though whatever it is that we're doing isn't real life!). It may be good preparation for someone who becomes middle management, but it tends to only want to produce people who think and act a certain way; that certain way is by no means an encouragement for creativity, ingenuity, or individuality. There are just so many stories about successful people who discuss just how hopeless and misunderstood they were at school.

On a personal front I was always gret at school - I loved it and did really well (modest huh? but it's true and in fact I'm pointing out my own flaws through what I have already outlined are the weaknesses in I must be good middle management material with little creativity!). Yet in reading more and more about educational theories and how they continually work against creative thought, Jimbo and I have found it very difficult to choose a school at all for Harry. We have found one that we put her name down for, but finding a school that *didn't* have a focus on grades and didn't encourage homework was near nigh impossible. Sad, huh?

But to directly address how UP fits in with schooling - it doesn't. But I don't agree that schooling is something that is good to fit in with (iykwim). The day-to-day practicalities of meeting time requirements ("The bell has rung, time to go inside and stop playing") and deadlines ("This page is to be read by tomorrow") are hopefully, in a good UP-like school, be tempered by such ideas as leaving a child who is enthralled in their book to just sit there and read it through, rather than force them to engage in the activity of the afternoon. Plus there is a group benefit to responding to some time cues - everyone is in one place at the one time, so all can join in certain acitivies at once - so hopefully the compliance required by the bell is offset by the bonus of having that group dynamic.

There are definitely a lot of issues involved with schooling, but the aim of using UP in these early years is to encourage Harry to understand the motivations behind actions, rather than just being forced to follow mindlessly what adults request. That may cause problems with her and her teachers at school perhaps, but in all seriousness, won't that force her teachers to have real and compelling reasons to do what they request? I don't expect them to like her (or us) for it. :o)

Enough dribble from me. I'd love to engage more in this if you'd like to discuss it further.

Jen - Faithful Servant of the Adventurous Duo! said...

Thanks Cass for clarifying about UP in the first statement :) my perception was a little off with that one. I was just picturing my having to do banking while I had K and A telling me they wanted to go to the park :p...but I can see what you mean now.


My teacher shell just threw it's spikes up while reading your response the first time :p but I re-read and I can see what you are saying.

[quote]It may be good preparation for someone who becomes middle management, but it tends to only want to produce people who think and act a certain way;[/quote]

I can see what you are saying, I am just struggling to come up with workplace settings that do not require some type of team work, time keeping routines? I know that there is the artist field, but really when we are talking about majority of workplaces they all follow some set routine, with management hiarchies (sp?) and expectations that need to be met. From the mechanical workshop right up to the lawyers office. There will always be some type of deadline and expectations that must be met. I don't wholly agree that children as young as 5 should be subjected to set routines, as there are in schools, however surely the routine itself is setting them up for the working life they will 'most likely' encounter in the future. (I wont say 'real life' because I do agree with you on that point!)

[quote]that certain way is by no means an encouragement for creativity, ingenuity, or individuality.[/quote]

I would have to say that I see your point of view..but I see things from a different viewpoint. If we are looking at 'creativity, ingenuity and individuality' meaning that they choose when, where and how they wantto do things, what they want to do and follow their own paths in life then I completely agree with you that schools don't (and logistically would struggle to attempt to) meet those requirements at all. I tend to look at schools fostering 'creativity, ingenuity and individuality' within the classroom settings. My knowledge is in the primary system so that is what I will be referring to. We have many different subject areas. From Prep through to Grade six the children are learning literacy, numeracy, science, technology, health, arts, physical education, music, lote. Within the curriculum many of the 'subjects' are taught in an 'open learning' way. In which the children do choose the way in which they learn to an extent. Science lessons are not dictated they are free emplorations to determine cause and outcomes. Maths lessons are hands on rather than copying sums from the board. Literacy is very much hands on open exploration of finding the right way in which the child will learn the most effective way. I have watched and encouraged children over the years to find their own 'creativity' to harness what they are good at and try and make that skill, that interest stretch to help them in all aspects of their learning. Although they are in the group, 'pack' type situation, i believe they are not faceless members of the school system but rather individual children put into a structured environment while being encouraged to find their own individuality within the group (geeze I hope that made sense!)

[quote]The day-to-day practicalities of meeting time requirements ("The bell has rung, time to go inside and stop playing") and deadlines ("This page is to be read by tomorrow") are hopefully, in a good UP-like school, be tempered by such ideas as leaving a child who is enthralled in their book to just sit there and read it through, rather than force them to engage in the activity of the afternoon.[/quote]

I agree with your statement here. I would like nothing better than to allow a child to continue reading when they are enthralled in a book or continue an activity they are loving. I have scrapped lessons in the past to continue on with what they children were currently loving. Hoever I do agree that mostly it is a hard thing to do as there is so much that has to be gone through in the day and not enough time to do it. (again I know that that is the exactly what you are saying about schools :p )

I struggle to envision how an UP school would be able to run though. I think the notion of 'how' the children learn is wonderful. What you have said about UP sounds terrific. I just struggle to see how it would work when it is more than one on one. IYKWIM. It would need to be 1 teacher to 3 student ratio at least to work I would imagine.

I don't expect that Harry's future teachers will 'not like' you for using UP. From everything I have read about Harry and what you have said I would absolutely love to have Harry in my class. She is a gorgeous little girl and has no inhibitions about exploring her environment! this trait alone would be wonderful in the classroom.

I am thinking more and more as I talk with you on this that I need to make an effort to get my hands on this book and have a read ;)

Just out of this age does Harry understand about compromise when as your example stated:

[quote]So although Harriet may want to do one thing and I want to do another, some days I get my activity and some days she gets hers. It's just about being reasonable and open to the fact that yes, she may actually prefer to go to the beach rather than to the bank but hey - the bank still needs to be organised![/quote]

Mine tantrum in this particular situation. The three year old in particular as he understands that he is doing 'my thing' rather than 'his thing' . And although I am trying to teach him what compromise means (ie, going to the park after chores...(his activity)) it is still a daily struggle..Even Angel will tantrum when she wants to go one way while I really need to go another (and we do go her way often ;) lol)

casso said...

Thanks so much for your reply Jen. Let me start by saying that in no way was I discussing teachers in my post - rather the system that they are asked to work within. Just so we are clear on that point. Most teachers I have met (with only a few notable exceptions) have been terrifically inspiring. :o)

I am just struggling to come up with workplace settings that do not require some type of team work, time keeping routines?

I think we're talking at slightly crossed purposes here. I am referring not to the sructure of a day (whether you're an artist or not, the post office is only open a certain number of hours for you to send off your print/manuscript!), but rather to the structured thought processes involved/required in a system that encourages a set of known responses.

For example, the idea of being graded; the notion that no matter how much fun you had or how many new things you learnt, a project will ultimately be graded on things that shouldn't really matte - like how well other people in the class did (this is obviously more relevant in HS) or whether you have written down the correct answers on a sheet. In one-on-one schooling, grading wouldn't be an issue at all, it would all be about the journey and process of learning. So assigning grades seems to be a very superificial construct for parents to be informed on how 'well' (*wince*) their child is doing in school. Ergo, how smart/stupid their child is.

On the creativity issue, I guess where I'm drawing a lot of my opinions from is this concept of praise and rewards. On numerous child psych tests over the past 50 years it has been shown that creativity decreases if children are graded or praised on their activity. Since the schooling system actively encourages a praise/criticism dichotomy through it's grading structure, children are essentially asked to relinquish true crativity of thought if they wish to be praised/graded well.

Say there is a child with some form of difference that hasn't been 'diagnosed' for everyone else to then recognise their 'difference'. ummm...let's say that one child learns only through doing rather than sitting and quietly engaging on their own. The 'doing' child may be just bursting full of amazing, creative ideas. However the teacher is asked to look after the education of 30 students, not just this one, and consequently the unique approach to a problem that this child may have offered is not an accessible option. In that case not only is that child being denied the opportunity to express themself, they are also denied the opportunity to demonstrate to others what they are capable of and, in turn, teach by their different approach.

Does that make sense? And again, I hope you can see in what I'm saying that the teacher here is the meat being squashed in the overstuffed 'expectation sandwich', so I am in no way taking issue with teachers; more the politics of education itself.

As far as 'UP schools', I am currently reading (not at all far into it and it has gone by the wayside the past couple of weeks) another book by Alfie Kohn called 'The Schools Our Children Deserve' - he is actually coming at his parenting ideas from being an educational theorist, so you would no doubt be interested in his multitude of educational tomes. So far in this book he lamets the lack of real uptake with progressive educational approaches in the system, despite ample evidence that existing programs are failing. I can send it on to you after I've finished if you'd be interested (might be a while though!). :o)

On the negotiation issue, no, I know that she doesn't realise that's what 'we're' doing. But I figure that if I approach it with that attitude from this age and engage her in conversation about it, I am setting the groundwork for MY way of thinking when she does become old enough to engage in discussion with me.

Ok, enough from me. It's 9pm and neither of us have eaten and there is no dinner on the go yet!

Have really loved chatting with you about this Jen, please feel free to discuss more! Although I do just write straight off the top of my head and don't proofread, so plese excuse anything that doesn't make sense or is misspelt/typos, etc.

Cheers, Cass

Claire, Ola & Mia :o) said...

These UP schools you are talking about sound just like a particular type of school my friend was telling me of recently. Unfortunately I can't remember the name for the typ of schools but I will find it out. If you oknow Perth/Freo there is one of these schools on just behind North Beach on the West side of hte train tracks. It is where the kids choose whether they will attend a class or not! So if they prefer to play or read or do art over Math, English or Science they can. They given the room & allowance to dictate their own schooling from kindie all the way thru to yr 12!!! I'll post again once I've figured out the name of this style of schooling - maybe it will help you locate similar schools in the Sydney area.

Jen - Faithful Servant of the Adventurous Duo! said...

Ah, yep I do understand what you are saying and it does make perfect sense!

I didn't take your post at first to be teacher bashing :p and I completely agree with this statement:

[quote]the teacher here is the meat being squashed in the overstuffed 'expectation sandwich', so I am in no way taking issue with teachers; more the politics of education itself.

I can definitely understand what you are saying. I hate the politics of education..really hate it. If it was just about the teaching I would run to work each day :p. Our governments/ education departments strive to find the 'perfect' format for teaching children when they are really just driving the teachers mad with continually changing things that don't need to be changed at all...or reinventing the wheel for the 500th time! (sorry mini vent)

I can see what you mean now..I was seeing it as a structure problem rather than a thinking problem.

The grading information that you gave is very interesting as well. I have been extremely annoyed with the grading system in HS ever since finishing HS myself. At that stage (it may have changed) if you were to do 'Art' subjects (like Drama, Eng Lit) regardless of whether you were to get the highest grade possible you would still get a lower university entry score! I can understand that you shouldn't be able to get into medicine with those subjects as your base of score but the lower scoring prevented many people from getting into education courses! Which enrages me as obviously you need people from all fields and interests in education.

I can see that the type of school you are talking about would be wonderful for children. Especially the type that Claire, Ola & Mia mentioned! I would also love to know the name of it so I could look it up.

Thanks for clarifying about your methods with Harry as well. I hope you didn't think I was being critical with asking? I am just trying to determine whether I would have success with UP with my 3yr old starting now. He is an extremely strong willed individual ;) and I am wondering if this type of method would help our relationship or make more struggles. Although I am thinking it would probably help as he probably feels he is not being understood or respected at times...

I will look for UP today :p . Oh and when you are finished the other book I would love to borrow it. No hurry :)

Jimbo said...

Claire - I'm pretty sure that's Beehive Montessori School you're talking about, but it only goes up to Year 7 (12 years of age).

bun-in-th-oven said...

One more question.. when your DD is at school and will be praised for reading quietly, sitting properly, getting "good girl for..." etc.... and she doesn't get that sort of praise at home... how will that affect her?

casso said...

I have no idea how that will affect her! I don't think anyone knows quite how anything will affect/change someone else, especially a person that I don't really know yet (Harry definitely has her personality but it is still highly malleable).

All I *can* know is that her teacher/s won't be promoting her intrinsic interest in any activity by praising her. But the other point is that we can't expect anyone other than the two of us to unconditionally love Harriet, so she will receive praise and criticism all the time from others.

In fact she already receives a LOT of comment from others. For example at music class she is one of the more involved children and loves to dance and play with the instruments she's given (whereas most of the others are just busy running around the room). Today she was doing some hardcore dancing and the teacher said "Good dancing, Harriet!". Harriet immediately stopped dancing, looked at her and came over to me. There was no need for the praise, I wasn't able to stop it or anticipate it (I mean really, does she *need* to be praised for enjoying herself??!!). So Harriet stopped enjoying something as a result.

What could I have done? Well, nothing. I could have talked to the teacher about ti afterwards, but she's only a young girl, it's only an eight week course that we're nearly through and it was only a once-off comment.

However in school, well, that's a different matter. We are quite deliberately taking her to a private school so that we have the ability to intervene and discuss the method of teaching at a high level. The school we have chosen for her is quite open to alternative methods of education and we are going to an information morning with the Principal on Thursday at which we will be bringing up topics such as these (the other big one is homework).

If it turned out that the praise and criticism were adversely affecting Harriet's interest, skill or personality then we would obviously step in and discuss the issue with her teacher. If that failed to elicit required change, then we would take it further - higher talks, change schools, even homeschool if required. But that's a whole other kettle of fish.