What about "Educational" Materials?

In a discussion on the Always Learning list in March, 2008 (linked below), Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Resistance to things that look schooly or educational makes sense—we're promoting letting all those things go completely, especially at the beginning stages of unschooling, and we talk about how beneficial that can be for helping people to help them understand that learning happens all the time, that much of what is "taught" in school is learned naturally by unschoolers in the course of living their complete schoolishness-free lives.

I don't think it makes sense to criticize unschoolers for being anti-schoolishness. That goes with the territory.

Jenny Cyphers responded:
There was a point, and I can't define when that was, when "schooly" things stopped feeling inherently "bad". In the beginning it was somewhat reactionary, dumping out all the school stuff from my bag of goods, filling it up again with fun stuff, for the sake of being fun. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being concerned as much with whether something was "educational" or not, and started enjoying things for what was enjoyable about them or not.

Little kid toys that are constantly geared towards 3 and 4 yr olds learning the alphabet get old. I wouldn't intentionally go out and buy a toy specifically designed for a little one with the intent on learning the alphabet, however if I ran across something that seemed really cool, AND it had alphabet stuff within the workings of the toy, and I thought the recipient would enjoy it, I might purchase such a thing.

When Chamille was little, I taught a lot of dance classes for little kids. I used to buy stickers for after class, I have mixed feelings about sticker usage in classes, but little kids love them, so I used them. I went to an educational supply store regularly to buy these stickers because they had good prices and good selections. Chamille loved browsing all the "educational" stuff, and we bought stuff for her on many occasions at that store. Lots of stuff in those stores are interesting. My intent wasn't to make her do any of those things that she bought and used. They were purchases on a whim that got used sometimes and other times not as much. Lots of people go to those stores and buy workbooks and educational toys for their kids and go home and make their kids use them, with the intent at some knowledge being acquired through said usage.

I didn't fear pushing educational stuff on Chamille, I didn't go out of my way to avoid educational stuff nor go out of my way to get educational stuff. I think all of this goes back to intent. If my intent had been to get Chamille to learn how to read and spell and do math, on my schedule, I would've probably gone to that store regularly to buy more and more workbooks and chore charts and reward incentives to use in my homeschool curriculum. I don't have a reason to go to that store these days, I have more than a few completely blank workbooks and such sitting on our bookshelf, along with coloring books and maze books and puzzle books. They hardly ever get touched, except the puzzle books that Margaux recently discovered.

I'm not afraid of coercing my children into doing educational stuff. They do what they do, and I can SEE what they are doing and how they are learning and what they could potentially be learning from such things. It's something I store in my thoughts as proof that they are learning. All of that to say this; all that stuff is secondary, what comes first and foremost is my relationship with each of my kids, trusting them and honoring them for who they are and what they each need and want. If those things happen to be very educational, so be it, if they happen to be colorful dreadlocks, then cool. They all provide opportunities for learning, simply because someone is enjoying them.

Sandra, update/follow-up, 2022:

Pam's post (quoted above) is here: https://groups.io/g/AlwaysLearning/message/43407

Jenny's: https://groups.io/g/AlwaysLearning/message/43409

From either of those you can click to read the full discussion.
The larger topic is really about deschooling. The eventually-confessed antagonist, it turned out, had a new PhD, never did fully deschool, and her kids ended up in school before long.

It's easy for people to "yeah, but..." themselves way off track. It's harder to relax into considering that maybe those who did successfully deschool, and who unschooled well for years, are offering carefully-thought-out ideas for very good reasons.

Stages of Unschooling Triviality (connections, books...) Supplies for Unschooling