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Posts tagged ‘learning all the time’

The Octonauts and Sex Ed

Talking to our kids about sex has come up a bit lately. Any of my friends will tell you I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to discussing this kind of stuff. I have never had the kind of frank chats over coffee that were championed in Sex and the City.Β I’ve been into a sex- shop a grand total of once and I wanted to wear a disguise while I was there. I certainly didn’t make eye contact with anyone for the duration.

Now that it’s started to come up and I’ve been thinking about it, I think I know what I need to do. I need to answer the questions they ask. I need to get comfortable talking to them about the entire act, in an age appropriate manner. I need to talk to them about consent. I need to talk to them about respect. About what it feels like to be rejected. About what it feels like to be consumed by your desire. These all feel like Really Big Things to talk about and for a while I was stymied by how to begin talking with them about the Really Big Things without completely freaking them out.

And then I remembered Octonauts. For those of you who are (blissfully) unaware of Octonauts, it’s a cartoon on Netflix about 8 different “critters” who live in a submarine and use each of their different skills sets to stage rescues of other underwater creatures who are in danger. There’s no sex involved. What there is involved is a complete lack of consent. The Octonauts (led by a well-bred-accented-male-polar-bear, of course) never once, in all the one million and thirty two episodes,Β ask the creature they’re rescuing how they feel about the situation. They never say “I see you’re in a spot of bother, we could help you out if you’d like, this is our team, and this is what we think might help. With your permission, we’ll get started right away.” They just march on in and take over.

This irked me. It irked me for a while before I said anything. And then I casually mentioned this to my kids in the middle of an episode they were watching. At first they looked at me with blank faces. And then, with further discussion, they kind of shrugged and nodded and gave me a look that said “okaaaaaay Mama” and went back to watching. Every now and then in the ensuing months I yelled out in the middle of an episode “Did they ask the [narwhal] if it needed rescuing???!!!”

Once I remembered this, I remembered all the other times that I calmly and not-so-calmly demand that one or the other of my children listen to the other play-mate’s cries to stop. If I see something that makes me uncomfortable I ask them to pause, and I check in with both of them to see if they’re OK with what’s happening. Often one of them isn’t and we negotiate a different way of playing. If they’re upset I let them talk about how and why they’re upset. If they don’t want to wear shoes they don’t have to. If they want to shave off their hair they do it.

If I’m giving you the impression that we have this totally nailed, I need to just mention that they’re still kids, who get lost in the moment, who get tired, and frustrated, and lose their minds in anger. There are still those moments, which I think are pretty normal, that require a calming down period, a chat, a re-establishing of values and a reminder of respect and bodily autonomy and a gentle suggestion that the other person might appreciate hearing if they’re sorry.

I am realising that I am teaching them about consent in everyday life, have been from the day they were born. Thank goodness.

And thanks Octonauts.

How do they learn?

When people ask me this question, it could mean a couple of things:

The actual nuts and bolts of how they learn – what happens with their brain – I’m pretty sure they’re not asking about that.

The circumstances of how they learn – what opportunities will they have to learn – that could be what they’re asking. I’ll try and answer that question.

Everyday they wake up and they’re learning from that point on. They’re learning in ways I can’t see – how their body responds to the environment. What it feels like to walk around with no socks on on a cold morning. How hungry they are after not eating much at dinner last night. Whether their arm hurts after swinging off the fort yesterday. All of this is going on without my involvement, and to some degree without my input.

Sometimes the learning is more visible. We get water in these 15L canisters with wide mouths at the top. One of our regular drinking glasses fits over the top of the mouth. A couple of weeks ago we had some people over for dinner and Louis got up to get himself a drink of water and he (incorrectly) estimated that the amount of water left in the canister would fit in his drinking glass (well, I think that’s what happened). And he rested the mouth of the canister in his glass. Like, inverted the whole thing. Then, when he saw it wasn’t going to fit, he lifted the canister off and water went EVERYWHERE. One of the dinner guests’ eyes went wide and he started to panic a bit and I turned around to catch the end of what had happened and turned back to the guest saying, “Oh, it’s ok, that’s science. He’s learning all about physics right now. Honey, just go and get a big towel from the rags and soak it up.”

This is the circumstance of learning most of the time in our house. It’s usually messy.

Imagine if I were to try and capture these for a day? I would run myself ragged and annoy the crap out of my kids saying, “Hang on, hang on, I gotta get a photo of that!”

Here’s one that happened last night:

We got given a box of ripe bananas, which we love because we make ice cream and smoothies out of them when they’re frozen. After dinner, while I was milling around doing something, unbeknownst to me, Louis was hauling the box of bananas to the table, and he’d grabbed a bag to freeze them in.The first I knew of it was when he asked, “Could someone help me with this?” And I turned around and saw it all and was like, “Holy hell, he’s really keen!” So we did it together. Some of the bananas were too ripe even for smoothies/ice cream though, so we made a seperate “cake” pile. As we were finishing, I asked him to go and get a sharpie and write “cake” on the bag of bananas that were over-over-ripe. He’s NOT a keen writer. His relationship with a pen is fraught with difficulty. I asked him in a way that gave him 100% recourse to say, “No, I don’t want to.” Which he did. And I said, “Ok, I’ll get Joss to do it” as I was writing “c-a-k-e” on our blackboard (did I mention I made this blackboard??!!). It might have been his pride, or it might have been he saw me write it and thought he could manage it, but he said, “Oh, no – I can do it.” and he did. He wrote it in clear, beautiful letters that look like I could have written them. And now, when he goes to the freezer to get bananas to make a smoothie, or a cake, he’s going to look for that group of letters, and he’s going to know that they make the word “cake”.

These are the circumstances in which they learn.

Louis asked me if I could have another baby when he was 12 years old. I said, “No, I’ll be too old to have a baby when you’re 12.” Which sparked a conversation about eggs, and hormones and egg deterioration. And in an eight-year-old-appropriate way, he’s added to a small foundation of knowledge of reproductive organs, upon which to build at a later date. This is biology. And it’s sociology. This is how he learns.

I could go on forever. These kinds of things happen every day.

They learn about pollination by dreaming of plums while looking at spring-time blossom.

They learn about germination by listening to me swear when my seeds fail to grow yet again.

They learn division when deciding how big the pieces of cake can be while still having enough for one each. They learn multiplication when we pack a lunch and we each want two mandarins.

The learning is non-stop. It can happen on Sunday evenings or Wednesday afternoons and every moment in between.

I am not worried about how they learn. It is not something I occupy my time with. Or theirs. We honestly just live life.

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