The 1st Law of Thermodynamics

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I say this to the kids all the time. I usually call it Rule #1 - "no fun." It's become a sort of game, me blustering into the room and thinking I'm funny, the kids rolling their eyes. But there's something more.

I want children who choose what's right because that's what they choose, not because I say so. It takes a lifetime to develop that kind of wisdom, but humor is a good place to start. Irony forces us to read faces and vocal intonation to assess whether someone is telling the truth. This is a critical skill for any young man or woman, and even young children are capable of it. When I play the fool, the kids have a chance, in a lighthearted sort of way, to gauge whether I, an adult they know and love, am telling the truth or not. They are required to listen carefully and not get led astray by my language. Most importantly, they must check what I've said against their own internal values.

"No fun?"

Nope, that's just Joe making a joke. Move on.

Plus, it's a lot of fun.

The Storytelling Landscape

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Telling good stories is easy when you embed them in the landscape that surrounds you. Find a rock, a tree, a river, a place. Then play there. Later, during a quiet moment, tell a story about a gnome or a squirrel, or whatever, that happened upon a similar place. Don't think about it too much. Let the story reveal itself to you through the leaves, the rocks and the wind. Most important of all - don't doubt yourself. Believe in your story, or change it. Return a day or a week later with the kids, and watch what happens. Imagine if you filled every bush, every canyon, every crack in the cement - with stories.

A Word of Thanks

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This is Silke Markowski. She is the soul - the angel, if you will - behind Off Grid Kids. I (Joe) am just the messenger. Everything I share, I share because of her. A Waldorf educator for over 30 years, Silke has touched the lives and hearts of more children, and their parents, than most people can name. And she's no bull**** either. She's the real deal, pure unadulterated life, having helped raise hundreds of strong, independent boys and girls, many of which are now grown men and women. I will never be able to repay the gifts she has passed on to me, but I have promised myself one thing - I will try. Off Grid Kids is, in part, an attempt to pay it forward to other parents, teachers and human beings, and most important of all - our children. I have been given a great fortune in life, that is, happiness. I believe I am required to give it back, to share. I expect to stumble frequently. I am sometimes too cutesy, too clever, too awkward, dorky or daft. I am full of self-doubt. There are a million reasons why I won't succeed, but Silke is one reason why I will.

Quick and Easy Stick Figures

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See below for simple instructions.

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These quick and easy stick figures are a cinch anywhere. All you need are sticks and grass. In this case, I used yucca fibers because the grass was too brittle midwinter. Once you get the basic stick figure down, you can embellish with seed pod dresses and any flamboyant materials at hand. I made all the figures in this post in less than an hour, about 1-2 minutes each, and I’m hardly a crafty guy. It just takes a mild effort, and willingness.

Remember - you do not need to make anything perfect. Children will make dolls out of pens and pencils or bits of leftover food. The point is to stimulate the imagination, not anatomical correctness.

Experiment with what works best for you.

 

The Basic Storytelling Loop

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Here's how it works. Make a fairy boat from twigs, grass and mud. Or whatever. Then let the kids play with it. It doesn't even matter if it sinks. Just laugh. Then, after lunch or during a quiet time, tell a story where a mouse (or a fairy, an ant, etc.) finds a small boat along the river and sets sail on an adventure. Don't have a fairy boat? Make a little house, or a fort. You can refer to a child's backpack, or a tree with a unique shape. Anything. Take 1-3 concrete things from your day and use them as anchors in your story. It could even be a piece of gum - imagine what an industrious little ant could do with a piece of gum!

This ties reality into the imagination, and vice versa, because after the story, the kids will inevitably want to play out some of the story line in their play, in which case they may need to make boat, in which case there might be a boat in the next story... This is the storytelling loop.

Rule #1

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Whether it's playing with your children, going outside for a walk, or telling a story, always remember Rule #1 - do it because you want to. If you seek to connect with your child, DON'T do it by forcing yourself to play dolls or build sandcastles that you don't want to build. Find a way to make it fun for you. And if eating healthy is important, buying green or eating organic - make sure that's what you want and not just something you've guilted yourself into for the kids. This is my number one rule. If I don't like the game, or the activity, I don't do it. The kids always have the freedom to do it on their own. But if they want me to be a part of it - then I have to enjoy it. The authenticity that comes from this far outweighs the rare occasions when we disagree. This will sometimes take time to find the activity, or style of activity, that suits the two (or more) of you, but it's worth every effort. Even a two year old knows when you're feeding them bull****. Give them the real thing. You.