The Lofty Chronicles: 5

This continues an ongoing series of posts about a young girl growing up
and pursuing child-led learning at Light Morning. The series begins here

with an introduction. Links to the other posts in the series are here.

The Irony of Pinocchio

Sage and Lauren with marigolds

You Can’t Just Say No (Monday, 2 September 1991) Our new grain grinder has just arrived. It’s an expensive machine whose large flywheel should make it much easier for us to convert wheat berries into whole wheat flour. Even seven-year-old Lauren can crank the handle with no trouble. She’s thrilled to finally be able to grind flour with the rest of us.

Unfortunately, the output is far below both our expectations and the claims of the manufacturer. After seeing how little flour it seems to produce, we use a timer and a measuring cup to run some trials between our older, harder to crank machine and the new one. The results clearly show that the new grinder will have to be returned.

Our daughter, however, has not been included in this decision-making process. Lauren’s eyes fill with tears when she learns that we’re going to ship back the beautiful new machine she’s been using to help make flour. All our reasons and statistics are meaningless to her. We who value making communal decisions by consensus have acted as though consensus is for adults only, thereby disenfranchising the littlest member of our community. We have, in effect, become a bunch of neighborhood bullies.

So for an after-lunch chore, Lauren and I go out to the woodshed where the two machines are bolted to a long bench. As we grind some grain, using first one machine and then the other, I explain that we can’t afford to spend over an hour on the newer, slower machine to get a day’s worth of flour.

“But we won’t make any final decision,” I say, “unless you feel O.K. with it, too.”

Sensing my sincerity, she looks at me reproachfully.

“That’s right!” she says. “You can’t just say ‘No’ and walk away.”

I hug her and agree that she’s right, that we’ve been wrong, and that we adults still have a lot to learn. Then the two of us run our own set of tests on the machines.

The Tooth Fairy (Wednesday, 4 September 1991) Last night one of Lauren’s front teeth finally came out. It had been loose for days and she’d been teasing us with it, pushing the loose tooth back up into the roof of her mouth with her tongue to make it appear that it had already fallen out.

But just before bed she had suddenly squealed, “I got it!” And under the pillow it went for the tooth fairy. Later, after Lauren had gone to sleep, Joyce exchanged the tooth under the pillow for a dollar bill. Talk about inflation! I remember getting a quarter.

This morning I ask Lauren if she remembers any dreams.

“I dreamed I was watching and listening very carefully all night,” she says, “to see if it was Mama or the tooth fairy that would put the dollar under my pillow.”

I smile and nod. Neither of us says anything more, but each of us can feel the seasons changing as another portion of the magical world of childhood is lost along with the tooth. There doesn’t seem to be much nostalgia or regret; just the slow letting go of one story to make room for another.

A Sand Castle for the Queen (Friday, 6 September 1991) We’re about to leave for a week at the beach with some of our extended family. Lauren’s first words upon awakening this morning are, “Daddy, put away the sun glasses so you can help me build a sand castle for the queen.”

She has apparently just emerged from a dream and has spoken the dream words aloud in her waking world.

Situational Playfulness (Thursday, 26 September 1991) Our friend Wes has brought his daughter Rosie up for a play-day, home-schooling morning with Lauren. I’m planning to take the two girls for a walk in the woods and suggest that Wes come along too. But Lauren objects to this. She says that if Wes joins the walk, I’ll spend all my time talking with him instead of playing with her and Rosie.

“So what you’re saying,” Joyce asks, “is that you don’t think Robert will be as playful if Wes is with you?”

“Daddy’s playful without adults,” Lauren replies. “But with adults? Not much.”

An Indian Burial Mound (Thursday, 26 September 1991) While Lauren, Rosie, and I are walking in the woods, we come upon an old pile of white quartz stones. I’m somewhat ahead of the girls, picking up hickory nuts, and overhear Lauren telling Rose, “This might be an Indian burial mound. When an Indian died they put stones over him. So the Indian would be buried under the stones. It doesn’t sound too comfortable, does it? But since the Indian’s already dead, it doesn’t hurt… too much.”

How Do Deaf People Think? (Sunday, 29 September 1991) At supper this evening, Lauren asked Joyce how deaf people think. She’d been paying attention to how she thinks in words, and wondered how someone who had never heard spoken words might formulate their thoughts. We’ll be turning to Helen Keller’s life story sometime soon.

A Talking Head (Monday, 30 September 1991) Lauren whimpered in the night, seemingly with a hard dream. Before going to bed, we had read a scary part of The Earthsea Trilogy in which Ged, a young wizard, was attacked by a gebbeth, a one-time human who had been consumed by and taken over by a malevolent power.

This morning I ask Lauren if she recalls any of her dreams. She tells me that in one of them she and her friend Nathan had come upon a place where there were a lot of bodies. Then they find the head of Alysia, who is Nathan’s sister and one of Lauren’s close friends. But Alysia is still alive and can talk with them.

“We’d better get you back on your body,” Lauren said to Alysia in the dream, “before it’s too late.”

The Irony of Pinocchio (Thursday, 3 October 1991) I’ve recently become aware of the irony of the Pinocchio story in relation to Lauren’s home education. In the Walt Disney version of the story, Pinocchio is walking to school when he’s lured away by two con artists who take him to Pleasure Island. All the truant boys on Pleasure Island, however, will soon be transformed into donkeys.

But there’s also an opposing perspective on this story. Children are usually lured to school by the pleasurable prospect of finding playmates and having a good time. In preschool, kindergarten, and even into the early grades it’s mostly fun and games. Inexorably, though, many young students succumb to the intense educational and societal conditioning which readies them for a lifelong conformity to the norms and demands of the conventional culture.

Essentially, then, it’s school that all too often transforms students into donkey-like beasts of burden — an ironic reversal of the classic Pinocchio story, at least through the prejudiced eyes of a parent who places a high value on home education.

Making Rhythms (Friday, 11 October 1991) Lauren kept me company on her bike this morning when I went for my morning walk. As we passed the pond she said, “Making rhythms is one of my favorite things. You can make rhythms with almost anything.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, like 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Or 1-2-3, 1-2-3.”

So we paused and beat out some rhythms on a nearby mailbox.

“Sometimes I’m making a rhythm,” she continued, “like at night or in the community shelter, and you tell me to stop. But I’m so attached to it that I’ve just got to finish it.”

Gun-Play (Friday, 11 October 1991) While working in the garden, I see Lauren running around with a long, gun-shaped stick. She hides behind a clump of ornamental grass, then shoots at an imaginary foe. Her behavior surprises and amuses me, for I often played guns while growing up.

When she runs past the garden bed where I’m transplanting onions, she tries to involve me in her game. I choose to surrender and ask her who we are and what’s happening. She tells me that I’m a farmer in a fort and she’s one of the guards protecting me. Joyce and Lauren have been reading about George Washington, whose early career as a military officer included building and manning forts in the Blue Ridge mountains, very close to where we now live.

Soon the plot changes and we become characters in Star Wars.

Later Lauren tells me that she watched GI Joe on the little TV in Ron’s basement this morning, where she’s allowed a small weekly allotment of TV time. This had probably triggered (so to speak) her gun-play. Perhaps if there were other kids around who were into it, Lauren might play guns more often. But I can’t recall it ever happening when she gets together with her friends.

The Perfect Kind of Work (Saturday, 12 October 1991) Lauren’s been hanging around while Ron and I put asphalt shingles on the roof of his new tool shed. For a while she plays on the ground with the remnant scraps of shingle that we’ve discarded. Then she climbs up the ladder onto the roof to see if there’s some way she can help.

Ron says she can peel off the strips of protective cellophane that cover the band of tar on each shingle. She does so for quite a while, thoroughly enjoying herself. Toward the end she says, “This is the perfect kind of work. It’s something that I like doing, and that’s helpful to you.”

That’s the attitude toward work that we’ve been fostering here at Light Morning. Not only for Lauren, but for ourselves as well. We have to set good examples, of course. We can’t encourage Lauren to enjoy work if our own work isn’t fun. We also have to welcome her to join a roofing project, for example, and to keep looking for other ways that she can truly help. Make-work is seldom fun.

Putting down floor boards

Lauren helps us learn to work, too. Enjoyable work is playful work, and children are masters of play. Day by day, Lauren models her mastery for us, if we could but see it. Her natural mode is spontaneous play, while we adults come from the pole of responsible work. Together we seek a common ground called pleasurable work. This will ease Lauren’s transition into adulthood and will help restore our inherent child-like delight in the tasks before us.

A Christmas Poem (Sunday, 17 November 1991) Joyce recently wrote a short poem for the Christmas cards we’ll be sending out this year. Lauren got so caught up in the excitement of it that, despite her previous claims of disliking poetry, she fashioned a poem of her own.

Christmas is fun and Christmas is nice
The children are singing and playing with ice.
And when they’re all done building snowmen and castles
They all come indoors to give Dad a hassle.

When it is morning and the sun rises
They all get up early and open surprises.
With a jump and a hop and a skip and a twirl
They’re all out the door and away with a whirl.

Lauren’s also been playing with attaching stickers to some rough pencil sketches. Below are two examples.

All Right, Dude! (Saturday, 30 November 1991) Lauren has been absorbed in a shareware computer program called Googol Math. It’s an arcade style game. The goal is to maneuver a small figure through various openings, past obstacles, and then jump him up to bump the number that’s the correct answer to an equation.

For example, the equation at the beginning of a game might be 9 + 8 = ?. There are eight numbers spread out across the display screen. Lauren has to figure out the correct answer to the problem, and then move her figure to where she can bump into it.

There are different kinds of math problems: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You score points for how many right answers you get before your avatar is killed by bumping into too many wrong numbers. There are also sound effects and on-screen feedback whenever a score is made — “Perfect, Lofty,” or “Lofty is the champ.”

Lauren’s been having a grand time with the game. She’ll lobby hard for computer time, then plug in her Googol Math diskette and go at it. We hear the beeps and whistles, along with her occasional comments like “I accept the challenge,” and “All right, Dude!” This latter phrase is presumably borrowed from Ninja Turtles lingo. In the meantime, she’s getting friendly with the computer and is practicing her math drills.

As Joyce says, “There’s no way she’d sit still for that long with a set of math flash cards.”

Waiting in the wings is School Mom, a similar but more comprehensive educational software program, and FasType, which teaches touch typing. It looks like the computer will be a helpful component of Lauren’s home schooling.

Crossover Nightmares (Saturday, 30 November 1991) Last night Joyce dreamed than Lauren had been abducted by a nefarious group of people. Also last night, Lauren dreamed that Joyce had been abducted by some bad actors. Both dreams verged on being nightmares. It’s a good example of what we at Light Morning have come to call bleed-through dreams.

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