chapter three - "environment"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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Today we are going to be talking about our child's environment with Jennifer of The Humble Buttery. Jen and I actually met at Del Mar Heights Elementary and met again through our blogs many years later. Thank you Jen for co-hosting with me...

"I was given the gift of boredom as a child." Don't you love that line? The gift of boredom. I don't remember having very many toys and books growing up, though we could have. I remember my mom telling me that my brother and I might want more things but we didn't need them. Some of the most fun I had as a kid was spending hours outside playing in the backyard and making quills out of the smaller pieces of bamboo broked off from the front yard and making daisy chains with little yellow flowers with stalks that tasted like lemons if you chewed on them.

I loved that the "Environment" chapter not only explained that limiting choice and the loud single-experience toys was the right thing to do but even explained how to sort through your toys and how much to remove. At first, when I read to go through and take away 1/2 of the lot and then 1/2 again, I was a little worried.

What if my son begs for a particular toy that he used to love playing with or what if he becomes bored?

So far, we've done the first round of halves and we haven't missed a thing or gotten bored yet.

I confess that I'm struggling with purging the books, too. I'm having a hard time with that part. Yes, I will try to only have about a dozen out for my 5 year old to choose from. But I'm not ready to remove the rest, they'll be living in our living room library with the rest of our books. I think I remember reading that that was OK. I hope so. I want to provide as much calm and peace for my children as I had.

I took to purging to the kitchen, too. We spend a lot of time there. My kids are 5 and 2. I have put away plastic plates, cups and flatware from IKEA that I had really stocked up on. They might come out for an outdoor party. But for everyday, I have brought out my white ceramic salad plates for them to use (they are also IKEA -- I wouldn't do this with any of my heirloom china) if they want to get themselves a snack. There are clear plastic cups if they want to get themselves water and we serve drinks for meals in glass cups.

Just last week, right after the tabletop swap out, my daughter, who just turned 2, wanted to get raisins for a snack. I watched quietly as she took her time to climb up on a stool, get herself a plate and bring it to the kitchen table. She got out the raisins and poured herself a portion. She took the raisins back to the cabinet, climbed up on her booster chair and ate her raisins. This was all completely unprompted! I was stunned.

Our kids are capable of so much if we just let them.


Jen, I love the way you interpreted your children's environment even to the dishes they use at the dinner table. This is brilliant. I really would have never thought of that. Out of survival I just use plastic kidwares but if I want Henry to eat like a big boy he needs to be given the chance to have a big boy plate. I think this must have been the way our grandparents did things {which always seems to be best :)}.

In this chapter I did a lot of underlining and notes in the margin so I thought I would type out some of my favorites and use them as a jumping off point for discussion.

Regarding toys {and more specifically 'clones' multiples of the same thing... ie. my son and his collection of Lighting McQueens}. "Our best intentions to increase the circle of love surrounding our child can have the opposite effect. By overwhelming a true connection with too many superfluous ones, we can send the message that relationships are disposable." WOW.

"The frustration of having "nothing to do" is usually the start of something wonderful. We rob children of opportunities to test their own creative mettle when we step onto every breach and answer every sigh with another toy or offer of entertainment."

and finally...

"To a child, a mountain of toys is more then something to trip over. It's a topographical map of their emerging worldview. The mountain, casting a large symbolic shadow, means "I can choose this toy, or that, or this one way down here, or that: They are all mine! But there are so many that none of them have value. I must want something else!" WOW. WOW.

I hope this discussion helps with your thoughts on removing the "stuff" I feel like if husbands, mother in laws, uncles read this they would understand that we are not trying to be a wet blanket, all we want is to raise good little humans. And "stuff" does not help.

I please share your thoughts...

*Above is a photo of Jen and her dad at Torrey Pines State beach {a little slice of heaven}.

21 comments:

  1. I love this post. It's something I have been thinking about. I have a 1 year old who just had a birthday and we are overrun with toys. I took the step this week of ordering a large toy basket and told my husband she could only keep what fit in the basket. The basket is big mind you but still I think there has to be limits.

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    1. What a great idea to have a single basket to set your limit. Isn't it crazy that a 1 year old is already overrun with toys. I've been there.

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    2. I was just looking at my 10 month olds basket of toys thinking that he needs one basket. I love the idea of keeping it in one contained space. There are really 3 toys he really likes and the rest are cups, wooden spoons and pots.

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  2. I did this last year. We've always had limited toys, but I went drastic and got rid of nearly everything, and also removed all television characters from clothing, lunch boxes, etc. Nobody even noticed. You will actually see results in imaginative play, especially if you also don't have a television. Chuck that too.

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    1. You have made such a good point about characters. In the book Payne talks about how dolls should have very little on them so that the children can imagine their doll to be whomever they want. I love this idea. It reminds me that kids can create their own characters. Henry get's a little obsessed with all sorts {Lighting McQeen, Darth Veder, Spider man} I don't even know where it all comes from {assuming school}. I wish he was into Dinosaurs or Chickens... I don't know??? I think eliminating all the "character" items is a good step :)

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  3. I've taken this as a call to deep purge every room, little by little. Chaos at our house is definitely not limited to my kids' room, and I also noticed that everything is easier with less- even just getting dressed, it occurred to me that I wear about 10% of my clothes! But it's so hard to a. part with items that are still in good condition or worth money, and b. stop shopping!! What I'm telling grandparents to do for my kids, I must do as well- no more impulse clothing buys for the kids just because I'm at Target, no more cheap t-shirts for me from Old Navy just because. Just as you spoke about things being disposable, Alexis, that is how I feel about many of my things- I don't want quantity if they are not meaningful to me.

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    1. I absolutely agree that things hold greater value and meaning if there isn't an abundance of stuff. I was in a friend's house recently and the home was quite small and had very few items, but you could tell that each thing has a specific purpose and it was also beautiful. I think that's how I'm going to filter the rest of my rooms. If it doesn't have purpose or beauty, it's not staying :)

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    2. I love that idea, "if it doesn't have purpose or beauty, it's not staying!" I am going to write this on a cute note to keep in our home as a reminder! I am 100% guilty of keeping to many things, mostly because I don't find the time to clear it out, but that time is worth it! Luckily my kids totally get it, they have been through many purges of "stuff" to know it's the way of life for them, now the time management needs to kick in! Greta has a great family rule, which we tried for a while but didn't stick with except for bdays and christmas. When something new comes in something old must come out. They keep a bag in garage for donations and when it feels she drops it off. I have a pile of stuff in the garage that just doesn't seem to leave. OOPS. need to be better with the follow through. THanks for the reminder with this chapter. I have not read the book or this chapter, I hope to, but I wanted to give my thoughts in on from what I gather from the post. :)

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    3. I love that you brought this up... in the book the Payne says that you can't just clean out the kids rooms and not do it yourself... it is pretty hypocritical if your kids have 10 toys and you have 30 pairs of jeans right?? or if there are piles of stuff in every room it sends a mixed message. This is another example of this book being a book about life not just parenting.

      I agree.... about the cheap disposable clothes. It is so easy to throw a 7 dollar T in your cart at Target but that T won't last and because of this it is disposable. Less is more, right.

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  4. This was one of my favorite chapters and I love reading all the comments here. Jennifer, I totally agree with you on surrounding ourselves with things that have purpose or beauty. Aesthetics and home have always been forefront in my life. Alexis, I also love the quote, "The frustration of having "nothing to do" is usually the start of something wonderful." At ages 2 and 5, I feel like my girls still sometimes need a jumping off point for free, creative play. I try and provide that by rotating materials, toys and ideas throughout the week. I often set out a new project at night that they wake to the next morning. It could be a craft, rock painting or a shoebox for making a diorama from things they collect outside. In our living room, we have a big open rug where we spend a lot of time on the floor. I have an old plant pot that I fill with legos or blocks or tinker toys and I usually change it up weekly along with setting out one of our board games. In their room, I'll leave a bin with sheets, clothes pins and flashlights for impromptu fort making and they have a small stack of library books and favorites on their bookcase which gets rotated every few weeks. I definitely believe in curating their space, making it beautiful, accessible and interesting. It seems to create engagement and makes for a lot boredom which in my house often leads to bickering, instead of that something wonderful he talks about :)

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    1. Meant to say, it makes for a lot LESS boredom, which in my house often leads to bickering, instead of that something wonderful he talks about.

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    2. you are an inspiration for me... I don't know if it is an excuse or if it is true but with the ages of my kids I feel like all that you are saying {which I aspire to do} is pretty hard. Conrad and Henry are on such different stages. I feel like when they are 2 and 5 these things will be possible and I can not wait... I love the idea of a bin filled with impromptu fort making supplies... that is my goal!!!!! thank you!!!!

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    3. Thanks Alexis, you are equally inspiring! For sure, independent play has evolved as the girls have gotten older. And make no mistake that it isn't always successful. All the things I do have been learned out of necessity. I am a stay at home mom, trying to start a business, so I am working from home with the kids around, which is challenging to say the least. In order for me to have time and sanity, the girls need things around that they can do independently. Setting things up for them really does encourage them to play better and makes them happier. Yes, who doesn't love impromptu fort building or a new craft set out when you wake! :) Thanks again for the wonderful discussions!!

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  5. there is no secret in my family that i love to purge, but there is one area i never touch: books. we have books on the shelves, by the bed, on our desks, everywhere, but i find comfort in them. gaia has always been raised with books surrounding her, and there are times we are just lounging on the sofa and she comes with a pile of her own choosing and we read for hours. she is a bookworm like her mama, so i am having a really hard time with payne's advice of only a few books out at a time. again, this is all meant as suggestive guidance, so what works best for some may not be the best for others.

    absolutely agree with one basket or bin for toys and nothing more. great idea!

    and you are so right alexis with the point of not being hypocritical. while out the other day, i picked up a bracelet just because it was cool and gaia asked, "why do you need that mama?" damn, she is already smarter than me. needless to say, the bracelet went back on the shelf and she taught me a lesson {again}.

    and nothing made me smile more than when i read "the gift of boredom" ~ oh the imaginative greatness that blooms from this gift.

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    1. I'm in agreement about books- that is the only thing I absolutely said no to purging. We do donate books from my kids' library if they are no longer beloved but for the most part our house is one giant library and I'm always brainstorming ways to incorporate more bookshelves. Because of my job, children's books (and books for us adults) will always be a vital part of our home environment.

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    2. The way that I have interpreted this part of the book {and I am yet to do it.... so I too am "nervous" about it}... is to have a "family library" a place where we drawn from to look at books... if we check one out we return another. The thing that did make sense to me about this is 3 things...
      1- the importance of mastering something... knowing it, absorbing it, understanding it.
      2- kids love repetition. I don't know if I have every read to H without him saying "again! again!"
      3- when I was a kid I remember my grandparents having a couple books and a few toys for us at there house. Those items were gold. I would have listened to my Nana read The Three Little Bears all. day. long.

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  6. Jen, I share your struggle with the books. When we were purging before we moved, I was surprised at how easily my son who is six was able to discard so many of his toys. The books however were a different story. I remember coming home from work and not even being able to get out of the car before he ran over to me with some books he had found that he hadn't seen in a while. He was so excited. It was the one pile that neither him nor my 10 year old daughter really wanted to part with and so we didn't.
    The gift of boredom was given to my son last night as I was making dinner. He wanted me to "play". Instead of trying to match up cards in a game of concentration, in between stirring pots, I said I couldn't. He went outside and built up a fake campfire with collected sticks and rocks and pretended to roast marshmallows. This game of make believe went on for while!

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    1. That is amazing.... I feel so torn and unsure about the times that Henry wants me to play with him. Of course there are times that it is impossible but then there are times that it is possible but maybe not exactly what I want to do... when these times come up I usually make myself {doesn't that sound terrible} to play with him... I think that one day I will want to play with him and he wont want to play with me. This happens a lot though... like 10 times a day. I am struggling to find a good balance. I don't want to be the entertainer and I know that is ultimately not healthy for him. Still working on that....

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  7. I think this chapter was one of my favorites. The gift of boredom really struck a cord with me. It really took the pressure off having to feel like I need to keep the children entertained. I felt encouraged to leave them to their own devices and imagination.

    I actually heard my 4 y/o son say a couple of times now, "I'm bored." (Where did he learn that phrase?) I responded by saying, "Only boring people are bored." (Ugh, I'm becoming my mom.) I try not to step in and let him be bored. Sure enough, a little while later, his sister and him are building a fortress in his bedroom. (Well, that's a description of a perfect day. ;)

    I also love books too much to purge, but there are some in the library right now that sing, play music, and make sounds (!!). I think it would be ok to let those go. ;)

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  8. a little late to the discussion (and so many good points- in the post and in the comments), but wanted to add an observation about books. it has been until recently- with my younger child- that i've seen the effects of "too many books" and the major need to purge them. when jacob was little, i had not long before taken a children's literature class in college. i learned so much from that class- and selecting/reading books with jacob became a major passion. it was our favorite thing to do. we'd get a new book, and it was a huge deal. we'd read it again and again. we'd discuss the pictures, we'd talk about the story- beyond the story. i'd ask him questions... one of our favorite books was called noah's ark picture book (had no words). we'd take forever to "read" that one. he could actually read it to me- using only the pictures and his imagination :).

    now... with hailey- it has been an entirely different experience. our lives got busier... we got more STUFF. she inherited tons of books- from her brother, from family members... books have become mounds of "junk" shoved into her large bookshelf. So many of them, that it's to the point that few hold special value. So many that the ritual of reading- and re-reading certain ones doesn't happen. There's this need to pick new ones- whether they're special or not, just to justify having them on the shelf. This has been bothering me for a while. I know that my experience with each child cannot be the same, but i am positive that reading can be a positive experience for her like it was (and still is) for him... time to purge- in a big way.

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