Monday, February 25, 2013


I want to talk about Purim candy.  What does candy have to do with unschooling? 
Radical Unschooling involves
  • free choice about what activities to pursue 
  • unlimited media time (TV, computer, video games, etc.) 
  • (these on the theory that ALL activities that children pursue are satisfying some desire to know something about the world)
  • no bedtimes 
  • and no junk food restrictions
All this is about having the confidence that children make generally wholesome, healthy choices when given the freedom to do so.  I began my parenting life as a restrictor.  I restricted junk food and I restricted TV.  This seemed logical to me.  Junk food is not healthy for the body.  Ergo, I should not allow my children to eat it.

Unfortunately, this didn't take into account psychology: the intense yearning that deprivation leads to, the overpowering desire that permeated their lives and didn't leave as much room for those wholesome foods and activities I was so desirous of them experiencing. 

I'm not saying this happens to all or most children.  Whenever I read something about TV watching or eating different things (gluten, sugar, food coloring, etc.), I look at my children and my experiences, and I make observations and weigh the situation with as many factors as I can take into account, and I make a decision.  I'm saying that I didn't like how my daughter was reacting to my restrictions in the way that I was doing it.

I read a book that my friend Channie recommended as I discussed here called Are you Hungry by Hirschmann and Zaphiropoulos.  It changed my parenting and my life to a much less stressful way of living.  I love the idea of people listening to their hunger and what they are hungry for in order to give them a balanced approach to eating and nutrition.  I tried it out and loved it.  (I think I even wrote a review on Amazon for this book, I am so enamored of it.)  I love the theory behind it and I love how it plays out in real life.  It does recommend not limiting and restricting food.

As a general rule, we don't have much junk food in the house.  I'm not much of a snacker and I don't buy candy unless one of the kids asks me to put it on the grocery list.  If they ask for it, we buy it and they can eat it whenever they want, however much they want.  If they finish it and ask for more next week, or ask for a larger quantity, we buy it and they have open access to it. 

On Purim it has always been my policy (even before I read this book) to let the children eat as much as they want.  Aside from the fabulous memories from my youth of eating ZERO healthy food the entire day of Purim, and only eating candy (we were restricted from junk food generally), I think less junk food gets eaten if the children have unlimited access.  I find, first of all, that they feel like they have unlimited junk, which is beneficial psychologically because it is the opposite of deprivation, and leads to an abundance mentality which leads to generosity and the ability to moderate or restrict themselves, instead of a scarcity mentality which encourages hoarding and binging because you don't know when your next opportunity (if ever) will come.  Secondly, they eat less.  They open more, but they don't eat it.  They open one, take a bite or two, open another.  I throw out so much candy that is tasted and discarded.  Usually, they eat a lot at first (of which they don't actually eat as much as open), and then the rest lasts for weeks and weeks because they are sick of it.

Since I read this book, I've noticed that although my children do eat somewhat more candy than they do the rest of the year (because there is just so much around), they aren't that interested in it.  It isn't incredibly exciting, it doesn't have that glittery, seductive pull, they are equally inclined to drop a candy and pick up a cucumber or a pepper, and I don't feel bad that they are eating so much candy.

When I first read the book, I was hesitant because I was brought up with the idea of candy and junk food being used as bribes or rewards or as treats to look forward to and anticipate.  I worried that I was cutting off a means of swaying my children's behavior (if you sit quietly and let me cut your hair you can have a lollipop; if you sit quietly in shul you can have candy; it's shabbos!  shabbos party!  candy!!) and cutting off a source of excitement and pleasure from their lives.  How many of your youthful happy memories have to do with anticipation of candy?

I did trade those things.  My kids are not especially bribe-able with candy or junk food.  And although they certainly enjoy candy, and are happy to eat it, their reaction is somewhat subdued compared to the excitement I would have liked them to associate with Torah or holidays. 

Overall, though, I delight in the value of moderation and self-monitoring and the ability to make intelligent decisions that unschooling encourages.

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