Lately the hot topic around the house is why we do what we do. The seven year old is questioning and the ten year old gets it. Boy, does he get it now, and he voices it. With each individual explanation given, the underlying message becomes more clear: that we have decided to take new turns in our family’s path, making choices that bring us closer to our ideals.
We like spending our time making things. We value the joy and pleasure of creating with our own hands. When the apparent need for buying a new thing presents itself, we first ask the questions, do we know how to make it ourselves/could we learn? or can we improvise and do without? Does buying something at the store rob us of the experience and satisfaction of making something ourselves? Sometimes we end up with something of far greater quality than the mass produced junk at the local box store, other times we satisfy our needs by designing a modest facsimile, and still others we fail miserably at our attempts, but we can laugh at the mistakes we learn from. In either case the results are the same.
We like making mistakes, not too big but just big enough to learn from. We want to take risks. This is a heady and complicated concept for littles but needs to be addressed in our home. We have in the past year moved out of the city, raised and butchered animals for our food, changed our routine and have begun to forge a different life. To my husband and I this is a dream, to the children? It seems kind of sudden. And so I have decided to compile a family manifesto. To be added to, written over, scratched out, cried and laughed over.
The first component of our family manifesto is ‘do’. To my mind there is more inherent good both physically and spiritually in ‘do’ rather than consume. My husband and I work every day to model ‘do’ for our children. You need something? Make it. If you don’t know how to make it let us help you figure out how to do that. We try not to go to extremes, although sometimes going this route it is easy to tip that way and we only expect what a seven year old can bring to the table when let’s say, making a table. Our children work supervised with tools and each have their own wood working area they made with the help of their Dad in the basement. A motley collection of discarded wood and interesting nuts and bolts along with their tools have turned many a cold day into a paradise of sawing, measuring and hammering.
One tenet of my partnership with my husband has been based on both of our willingness to both try new things and to go without when necessary. A tie that binds us is our inventive nature and it is a skill we strive to pass
I work by a few simple rules that help drive our days spent at home.
1.We have items of interest at hand. As our eldest has aged this has been the sometimes purchase of kits and not just the ingredients of a craft or handwork project. I am not a fan of kits but he likes directions that do not come from me. A need I do not mind filling. There are great kits out there that jive with us and also experiments that are well loved by them. I have lists with printed directions that sometimes include pictures for the nonreaders. These are kept both in a binder and when they are fresh in my mind to start working with I switch them to a clipboard I keep on the nearby bookshelf. I prep for materials the day before I plan to use them. Nothing thwarts my best laid plans more than having a bad day or low motivation. I find that ‘bad days’ are brightened by an activity.
2. I ‘do’ for myself. I set goals for my own projects both in content and timeframe. And I work on the projects while with the children. I love sewing both by hand and with the machine and writing has been a timely outlet for me of late. I have found that nothing spurs our children on more than my immersion in an activity that does not include the telephone or computer. I do not say no to those wanting to work peacefully near me even when I would like to. I feel frustrated by interruptions but the moment of setting them up gives me at least an hour of my own ‘do’. Getting out paints, extra yarn or maybe those beads they like sorting. We have a large round table for both our lesson work and
3. Low to no media. We do not have a television nor do the children watch the computer. We watch a few movies as a family a year. This is not a struggle for us. We have noticed that some of our children react differently to media than others and so it is what it is at our house. It works for us. We do listen to music radio with our children, our eldest enjoys classic rock. My husband and I listen to the radio and watch dvds when littles are settled in to bed and sleeping. We dip in to the occasional stories and books on tape and I have found the shorter stories around 30 minutes are best for us at present. The more time you have to ‘do’ the more you actually do.
‘Do’ cannot be constrained in a family culture that cultivates it.
Living rurally since last year has afforded us with numerous opportunities to show our ‘do’ every day. Nothing like the stewardship of animals and the vagaries of fencing to show ones ingenuity. Let’s just say I like to show up with lambs. Firewood? A year long activity for people with nothing to do.
The culture of ‘do’ admittedly brings on quite a mess. Some of my children enjoying cleaning up over others and don’t we all getting a little tired of cleaning up. No rest for the wicked so they say. It is always good to keep in mind that little mess now and then never hurt anyone. There are requirements. Usually ‘take that outside!’ and ‘If I cannot walk across the floor, it is too messy.’.
My husband enjoys fixing, an activity that holds wonder for the children. ‘Daddy fixed the lawn mower…. again!’ We like to keep several books showing diagrams of troubleshooting for small engines and simple electrical projects around and they are always perused when Daddy is taking apart another interesting piece of machinery. It does not hurt that this is a passion for my husband, done with joy. Nothing is ever broken, we like to say.
Movement can be considered a ‘do’. I feel a flood of relief when I see them hanging from trees, riding their bicycles up our hill and dragging one another around on sleds in the snow. Look at all that ‘do’, look at all that living and breath flowing to and from them.
There is a time for rest and not ‘do’ but that time is not now for our family. When hands and bodies are busy minds are open and flexible. ‘Do’ is at your finger tips in fact it is your finger tips.
A sampling of our family’s ‘do’ book list:
Earth, Water, Fire and Air by Walter Kraul
Snips & Snails & Walnut Whales by Phyllis Fiarotta
The American Boys Handy Book by D.C. Beard
The Foxfire Book
The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker
The Golden Path by Alan Whitehead
The Boys’ Summer Book by Guy Campbell (good all times of year)
Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Manual by Clarence W. Coles
and Harold T. Glenn
Canadian Scout Handbook
River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy