Hi, I'm not a mom but I want to learn about different kinds of educational philosophies in case I do have children in the future. I've learned a lot about unschooling already, and I like the concept.
However, it just occurred to me that kids often ask for toys, especially ones that watch a lot of television commercials and get told by certain brands what they should want. I read a parenting magazine once that suggested limiting TV time to certain hours, during a certain time in the day when kids are least likely to be bombarded by advertisements. Is that anti-unschool?
I have certain values that I'd like to pass on to my children including delay of gratification, financial literacy and making purchases wisely and not just buying things as soon as you see it.
I guess it's not such a bad thing if a kid had one or three cool toys, but what if the toy requests don't end there? If my 5 year old kid wants the latest hot new expensive toy from whatever brand (zhu-zhu pets, tickle me elmo, whatever)...should I just buy it? I'm not anticipating being rich in the future at all.
I don't know if I like the idea of doing extra "chores" for cash. I think you should wash dishes because they're dirty and you'll run out of dishes, not because someone's going to pay you. I was thinking of doing something like what a democratic/free school does and coming up with a budget for the year that everyone in the family votes on, even if they're 4 years old. Do you have a limit/motto when it comes to buying toys?
So these are my responses, I'm not going to claim that what we do is how it goes for all families but this is how I see it play out in our family, my ds is alomst 5. My responses are in blue.
"It just occurred to me that kids often ask for toys, especially ones that watch a lot of television commercials and get told by certain brands what they should want. I read a parenting magazine once that suggested limiting TV time to certain hours, during a certain time in the day when kids are least likely to be bombarded by advertisements. Is that anti-unschool?"
I think you need to clarify if you mean educationally unschooled or unschooled in terms of whole life. For our family we only have a computer for watching DVD's and netflix on demand, this is a choice we made a decade before we had a child and until he is old enough to be aware of this and care this isn't going to change (I have no idea what we will do when the conversation comes up)
"I have certain values that I'd like to pass on to my children including delay of gratification, financial literacy and making purchases wisely and not just buying things as soon as you see it."
One of the things that happens when you have a child is that they watch you and learn from what you are doing in your everyday life, everything you do good or bad is out there for you dc to see. So if these things are important than they will watch how you deal with them. On the other side of that children aren't little adults, especially when they are under eight, they are going to want things and right now, it's part of a kid. Especially right after they start having their own money, because it is a form of power/independence. But this becomes more part of the realm of parenting (again how much of their lives are unschooling).
"I guess it's not such a bad thing if a kid had one or three cool toys, but what if the toy requests don't end there? If my 5 year old kid wants the latest hot new expensive toy from whatever brand (zhu-zhu pets, tickle me elmo, whatever)...should I just buy it? I'm not anticipating being rich in the future at all."
Ds doesn't spend most of his time thinking about new toys, sure he likes to make birthday and holiday lists and tell me what he wants to spend his piggy bank on, but most of the time his happy playing, exploring, making things and being part of the family, he isn't always glued to the screen. Children are very good self-regulators given enough of a chance.
"I don't know if I like the idea of doing extra "chores" for cash. I think you should wash dishes because they're dirty and you'll run out of dishes, not because someone's going to pay you. I was thinking of doing something like what a democratic/free school does and coming up with a budget for the year that everyone in the family votes on, even if they're 4 years old. Do you have a limit/motto when it comes to buying toys?"
In our house we are on a tight budget for everything. We have what is casually referred to as a monthly school budget, it can be anything from art supplies, toys, books, etc. Generally I remind him of his choices of stores (I try to shop locally as much as possible) and then we talk about what he feels like doing a lot of this month. This month he chose a chess board and new water colors (he had used his last set up). The chess board was his idea after watching older kids playing at the library.
On top of being on a tight budget we are trying to keep down on the clutter in our house, this is another of those modeling things, if either dh or I get something new we go through our stuff and try to get rid of some things we don't use any more. We're at the point were we donate more than we buy at the thrift store (not that the house looks like it yet)
In terms of cash for chores we haven't gotten to the point where this is an issue. I don't think I would use the regular jobs that are done around the house by all of us for money but I also don't see an issue if my ds wanted to make some money in hiring him, it makes sense to me that his first job would be within the family.
The thought this brings up for me is whether or not a parent should impose their views about the value of a toy to their child. I don't mean pointing out if something is badly made, but making an actual value judgment on the toy itself. If I am giving him money to spend on what ever he wants then I mean "what ever he wants" I'm not going to use my relationship with him to make him choose differently. In our family there is only one caveat which is I have a really hard time around the electronic noise making toys, so I do remind him that if he chooses one of them it needs to be played without side or when I'm gone, that's just part of being a member of the family knowing there are just somethings that don't work for others (just like I don't make him eat food he doesn't like).
Okay I've babbled late enough into the evening. My only other comment is that it really is hard to imagine what it is like having a child, there are so many different personalities that no matter how much you plan ahead you just don't know what you're getting into.
We are on the unschooling spectrum. We are not radical in all areas though we are in many. (We limit screen time and sugar consumption. We believe kids have a responsibility to help around the house.) How people feel about those types of issues will probably influence their answers.
I have bought my kids TONS of toys. Most of them I have selected since our kids are still young. Most have been purchased at thrift stores or from craigslist. Almost all our toys are geared towards creative play. I read somewhere that kids benefit from having a wide variety of toys to explore the world with. Every one of our toys has a spot on a shelf or in a drawer or bin. I've known kids that had so many toys that just laid on the floor (literally knee deep in a huge room.) Those kids did not know how to play with toys because it was all so overwhelming. Because our toys are neat, the kids can easily see them (except costumes that are in a dresser) and access them. They naturally rotate through their toys. For awhile one toy is popular then later it's another.
My son LOVES to play at his "bakery" (a wooden kitchen) with playdough. We have costumes I bought for $1 or so after Halloween. Rubber boots that can serve as firefighter boots (or whatever the kids think of.) Grown up shoes and clothes from the thrift store. Wooden trains, a tent with a tunnel, shape sorters, puzzles, a stroller, dolls, a weebles treehouse, legos, puppets, musical equipment, cozy coupe cars, shovels, buckets, etc., etc. Cooperative play games (Harvest Time and Snowstorm are the most played.) Did you notice nothing is a character? Very few have batteries. We have a lot of art supplies and several hundred books that have all been read multiple times.
We don't allow our kids to watch TV, though our son can get on youtube or watch documentaries (or play a very select group of computer games) while his sister naps. He knows who Thomas the Train is even though he's never seen the TV show (we have 2 Thomas books we were given.) He also knows the Winnie the Pooh characters from a couple books. He thinks the Toy Story cowboy is Cowboy Kirby from the great book "Splitting the Herd." He is not obsessed with the characters he knows. We just bought both kids matching train pajamas. They're Thomas but Thomas was not the draw, it was the fact that they were trains.
When we go to the store, my son naturally wants much of what he sees. The other day I bought him the rain boots that look like firefighter boots even though he has two pair of rubber boots at home. However, these were real firefighter boots and my son is really into firefighters. How could I say no to that request? But the majority of the requests I just nod my head to. He rarely asks for the things he sees once we are away from the store.
Actually, for his birthday last year he only wanted one thing--a battery operated toy guitar with a plug in headphone microphone. He saw it in a toy catalog. We got it for him even though he already had a battery guitar without a headphone because it was the only thing he asked for. He has played with it quite a bit.
For his birthday, he got $20 from his grandmother. I told him he could put it in his piggybank until he decided what he wanted to buy. He told me he wanted to use the money to buy his sister a piggybank just like his. A couple months passed before he said, "Can I use my money to buy this?" We were at the store and he wanted an overpriced sidewalk spray painter. I told him if he asked me again in 2 days I would bring him back to get it. About a month later he spontaneously asked me to take him to the store. He spent the whole $20 on the painter and extra paint. (Enough for about 4 play sessions.) I would not have chosen that gift for him because of the expense, but it's what he wanted and it was his birthday money so I agreed. He thoroughly enjoyed using it. I doubt if we'll buy much replacement paint.
We budget a certain amount of money each month for toys. (It's not a lot of money.) Although I tell my son we must choose how we spend our money wisely, I haven't shared budget numbers with him yet. I'll do that someday. I think young children should just be given toys as part of their life-tools. As they get older, they need to start earning the money to buy stuff. I think it is reasonable to help a child find a way to finance their desired purchases by offering to hire them for assorted jobs. Our kids have to help around the house because families work together, but if they want to buy something special (that I don't feel I should be providing) then certainly they can get a job to earn the money they need. (We haven't started allowance yet.)
As far as working together on a budget, I think that's reasonable in a limited fashion. We decide the overall amount of the kid related budget and they can help develop how much goes towards activities and how much goes to toys and books. (I'm not sure about the whole voting thing, I'd rather it be a discussion.)
I think commercial TV is pretty evil. The whole toy buying thing is just one reason. (Our son doesn't really understand the concept of TV. He just knows kid documentaries. We don't even watch kid movies.) We don't have to put up with the toy-crazies that TV/movie watching kids can have. It's pretty nice. (I did buy my kids and their cousins zhu zhu-type pets for Christmas. My kids play with them because they're fun. My TV watching nephew was thrilled to get it because he'd seen it on TV, but I don't know that he actually liked it. They don't live up to expectations if you've seen them on TV.)
BTW, I do buy a lot of duplicate toys. We had two sets of roller skates before our daughter came along and two cozy coupe style cars. When friends came over there was a set of skates or a car or a pair of rubber boots or whatever for each kid. A lot of parents have stated they thought this was a brilliant idea. Since I buy these used, they usually don't cost much, but it has made playtime a lot easier around here.
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Thank you for both of your responses! I should've known that kids who busy exploring won't ask for too many toys. After I submitted my thread, it occurred to me that I forgot all about the option of saving up allowance/pocket money, which is a little different than being paid to do stuff in the house. It's not so much that I'm anti-getting popular toys. I know hot wheels can be just as great as a puzzle set and a jump rope can be just as good as a computer game. I was just worried that I wouldn't have enough money to get toys every time they spot one, and I wasn't sure if it defeated the purpose of unschooling to regulate TV. I'll try really hard not to put value judgments on toys, and come up with a consistent way of making purchases. I like the idea of making a shopping list before you go to a store and then sticking to the list, instead of walking out of the store with 5 things you didn't even intend on buying when you walked in. Thanks for your responses!
When ds saw commercials for toys on tv, I used to make sure to show him the real thing in stores. They rarely seemed as exciting in person. We'd talk about how well made it was, whether it looked like it would break easily or not. We'd compare prices online and see if we could get a used version if he was really interested in it. He just happens to not be the kind of kid who wants everything he sees. He has pretty specific tastes and is generally happy with his purchases. He did have a few experiences with things breaking easily and we would return them if it happened right away while being used in a reasonable manner.
I started giving him an allowance with no strings attached (no chores, no enforced savings or donations to charity) when he was 6 (would have started at 5 but dh was unemployed) so that he could decide what he wanted without having to plead his case with me. I wanted to get out of that dynamic and encourage him to prioritize his wants. That worked well for him. The allowance was big enough that he could buy something each week or save for a month for something more expensive (it was $5 a week at that age). After a year or so, I noticed he wanted more expensive things but felt it was futile to save for months and months so he would just buy something cheap instead of saving. I increased his allowance and noticed he went back to saving for things once the time frame was more reasonable. That meant fewer junky toys in the house.
He has always been good about delaying gratification. I don't think I did anything to cause that though I possibly reinforced it somehow. Because money is tight, ds sees quite a bit of savvy consumerism. I broke the screen on his handheld nintendo DS so we've ordered a new screen and I'll fix it. His first reaction to something breaking is "maybe we can fix it" rather than "let's buy a new one." He saw me fix the car, recently... We check freecycle, craigslist, ebay, thrift stores, and yard sales for things we need.
These lessons all come very naturally to us but I suspect it would be more difficult if we had a higher income. Ds would realize the limits were coming from us, not natural ones of limited resources. And I know I'd prefer to buy a new whatever now and then instead of trying to fix the old one!
I think example is incredibly important when it comes to these issues. My family in general consumes slightly more than I would prefer, but since DH and I sometimes buy things just because we want them, this is how we deal with DS also. We're not that great at budgeting, so we do all of this pretty much on a how-does-it-feel type of basis. Usually if we're at a store and he asks for something inexpensive, we get it. If he asks for something expensive, usually we've been able to agree on something cheaper instead, occasionally we go ahead and buy it if we feel able, or sometimes we just say we don't feel we have enough money at the time.
If we're not actually at a store, it depends again on the price and how badly he seems to want it. For a while he was collecting little toy cars, and we had a deal where every time we went to the store we could get one, so he would frequently ask to go to the store. This was a little scary in terms of where it would lead, but realistically it was doable. I try to take him somewhere most days, so for a while our most common outing was to the store to get a toy car. The cost was less than we would have paid for parking at some other destinations, and it didn't take too long for him to get bored. When he asks for more expensive things and we're at home, it depends on how badly he seems to want it (and I've come to feel I can often tell the difference). Yesterday we went out and bought him a skateboard because he asked for one and seemed to really, really want it badly. It cost thirteen dollars, and he has been very excited and played with it a lot. However, most things like that that just suddenly come up, I would say "if you keep really wanting that for a long time, we'll try to find a way to get it." Most things that come up like that are quickly forgotten, and those that aren't we do eventually try to get.
I am kind of excited for the day I feel like he can understand an allowance, because I do get nervous about balancing all that sometimes, and I'll be happy when he can make those decisions himself. I was recently considering $1 a day because he's still pretty fuzzy on the concept of weeks, but I think he could understand if we actually handed him the money everyday to put in a bank or something.
DS is almost 4, and we haven't really dealt with commercials yet. We don't have an actual TV, all of us find we can watch the shows we really want to see on the internet, often with less commercials
Also, buying used stuff is great. We try to shop at thrift stores when we can, for ecological and financial reasons, and also order things on Ebay sometimes. DS is usually almost as happy to order something as to go get it from a store right away.
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Oh, one more thing: when I worry about spending too much on the kids, I remind myself of how much it would cost to have them in preschool. Thinking about toys and so on as home-schooling supplies puts it in a sort of different light :)
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We don't unschool but I have given a lot of thought to the role of toys in our lives. We also try and live in an environmentally conscious way. I think toys are very important and we choose them carefully. We also avoid licensed characters and the kids don't watch tv. DS is almost 4 and he has a rich imaginative play style. We'll probably avoid tv for another year and if we do allow some access, make it fact-based. We avoid plastic unless it is safe and manufactured in a safe place. Most of our toys are wood and well-designed. I don't buy toys that are poorly made or manufactured unethically. I avoid anything manufactured in China for the kids for about 20 reasons. We try to limit our consumption and want our toys to last through multiple children; hopefully after are kids are done they'll be gifted, donated, or thrifted. Toys that meet this qualities are usually more expensive and thus we buy fewer of them.
I don't know what we will do when he is older and has his own financial resources, either from an allowance or gifts. At the very least we will discuss at length what a purchase means in the broader sense.
We haven't had TV since DD was 2, and the reason is commercialization. We have Netflix and YouTube and its not like the kids don't watch stuff, but they choose from a huge variety of shows and no commercials. So that helps a LOT with the "I wants".
Also, we don't "shop". I haven't been to a mall in years. We run errands that don't take us to many places where there are tons of sparkly new things. We do, however, go to the thrift store regularly and there they can each pick a toy, and they're always thrilled with the stuff even though it is used and sometimes looking a bit shabby, lol. I think shopping at thrift stores is a great way to get kids away from the idea of "new" being better. My kids don't have that concept at all. New-to-them is as good as it gets, lol.
It has been hard in the past because it's not like we can't really afford to buy them stuff, and I used to HATE it when my mother used that as an excuse. Instead, a while ago, we introduced an allowance. They don't have to do anything for the money and it's never used as a tool to manipulate behaviour. They get it each week, no matter what. It's for them to spend on toys and trinkets as they please. Then we are off the hook except for birthdays and special occasions, or just rare treats. The allowance seems to be teaching them about saving up for something, buying crap that doesn't last, etc. though sometimes I think they are still too young to really get the whole delayed gratification thing. And we track our family finances monthly and they have been told that we set aside a certain amount of money each month for various things (including savings!) and in the "non-essentials" category there is only X amount of money. Their allowance is their share of that money (and is tracked accordingly) and they see it as part of the family and how money works in a family. At least, that's what I hope they get out of it!
Homeschooling, Homesteading Mama to DD ('02) and DS ('04)
depending on who i am talking to i am either a radical unschooler or not an unschooler so my opinion is coming from a very informal place.
we do not limit toys in the way of not letting them get what they want because we do not approve.
we have a set weekly amount of cash that we set aside for each kid and they can pretty much get what they want. the amount isnt determined by chores or anything other than "we can afford X amount". they either pick something in that price range or save it up for something out of the price range. our 5.5 year old saves really well- she can fully see the benefit of waiting a week for a more expensive item.
we have certain ethics that we hope to pass on, we teach about consumerism and how we try to no tto purchase just to purchase. AND we have a baby in the house so we have some ground rules about nothing coming into the house that tests positive for lead (with the strips you buy).
i am also a waldorf minded mother so I try to always show natural, organic wood alternatives.
right now my daughter is into beyblades. (sp?) she has 3-4 and we keep them from the smaller kids because they are made in china.
i tried to enforce my values as rule and it felt very restrictive and coercive.
now, i leave them free to make up their own minds- and they do.
we have bought enough $1 store variety type toys that break instantly so my oldest has zzero desire for that kind of thing anymore.
its a process.
I have the philosophy of freedom within a healthy environment. So, if TV viewing is a concern, may parents will forgo the TV. My kids are sensitive to chemicals so foods with artificial coloring and flavors are nowhere in our home. We shop online and at health food stores only where it's not around.
I've read so much research about advertising to children and it's effects that I do not want my kids around that either. So we don't watch TV. This is what works for our family.
Whether or not limiting TV is "anti-unschool" depends on who you ask I guess. Personally, we have a tv that only comes out of the basement every once in a while for a movie. We've had times when we had tv with a few channels and didn't limit it at all, and for our family it was not a beneficial thing. I think of our choice as a lifestyle choice and not as a limit, though others might look at our situation differently and that doesn't bother me too much. DS sometimes does watch tv at a friend's house or if we are traveling and in a hotel, and I don't feel the need to limit it in those places.
That said, I don't think getting rid of TV or exposure to commercials is going to solve this problem. DS (who is 5) rarely watches any of that and he still asks about toys all the time. Especially if there is a big toy trend (sillybandz!) he is exposed to them through the kids he meets at the playground or gym or the kids in our neighborhood, etc. So I think no matter what you do with regards to tv you have to figure out a way to deal with the situation.
Also, I don't think unschooling means you have to buy everything your child asks for, who could afford that? For example, if my son develops an interest in horses and really wants his own horse I can't just go out and buy him a horse. For one, it would be a big financial issue, but also there are other considerations we would have to make--we move every 3 years or so with DH's job, so buying something like a horse isn't very feasible, also we know nothing about caring for a horse so just buying a horse out of the blue would be a poor decision IMO, for us and for the horse. But, since I do want to follow my child's interests and support and encourage him, I would look for places where he could take horsemanship and riding lessons and be around houses. I would want him to have the opportunity to learn how to care for a horse and be surrounded by horses. That doesn't mean we'll ever be able to buy a horse (though I supposed I wouldn't rule it out, just not something we can do right now), but I can do whatever I can to support his interests in ways that work for our family now.
I would take the same approach to toys. I don't think it is always about what we can afford either--I find that to be a pretty simplistic way to look at things. I mean, of course if you can't afford it that is one thing, but there are lots of things we could afford and choose not to buy because there are other things to consider (like I mentioned about the horse, the fact that we move frequently, our knowledge of horses, etc., some of those things can be overcome and some can't, at least at this point in time). Also, for a lot of things I might initially say I couldn't afford, I have to admit that there is usually something we could do in order to afford the thing. I mean hey, we could always sell our car so we could buy a horse, kwim? So personally I don't think it is easy as saying that if we can afford it we should buy anything our kids are interested in or ask for. I do think it is important to take our kids' requests seriously though. We can ask a lot of questions, find out why it is that he wants this particular toy. We can look into other options--can we get this item used, can we find a different version that is more affordable, etc. I also try to ask myself WHY I want to say no, and sometimes that can be pretty telling. I really don't want to attempt to control his desires and interests based on my own.
If my son is given money of his own, I do think it is important to let him choose how to spend that without judgment. And I'll admit that I find that hard since I definitely have a personal aesthetic when it comes to what kinds of things we bring into our home, and he doesn't always have the same idea in his head. But I just don't feel right about telling him how to spend the $20 grandma sent him, so I take him to the store and let him choose. The only direction I give is helping him figure out what he can afford to buy since he can't add up the prices and figure it out on his own at this point.