Utopian Child Raising

[This is an article originally blogged by Keenan.]

Twin Oaks is a great place to raise children. At Twin Oaks almost every parent likes their kid(s) and likes being a parent.  Almost every parent is raising their children deliberately and consciously.  Although not all of us parents agree with each other, we all concur that there are many bad mainstream child-rearing theories and practices that we want to avoid/overcome.

Some of the Dakota's - Keenan, Kristen and Rowan (at an age that is not yet 18)
Some of the Dakota’s – Keenan, Kelpie and Rowan (at an age that is not yet 18)

Kristen and I just celebrated the milestone of our youngest having his 18th birthday.  We have been reflecting recently on our journey as parents, and we are very pleased with how the kids have turned out—pleased and relieved.  Why relieved? Our parenting practices were at odds with almost every mainstream child-rearing theory we read.  We weren’t so confident that we could know for sure that the kids would turn out great. According to those other theories, our bizarre parenting practices should have resulted in kids who are emotionally crippled sociopaths. But they aren’t—in fact, the kids are, by all accounts, altogether fine human beings.  I don’t want to gloat or embarrass the kids by describing how great they are—but take my word for it.

Kristen and I both had lots of experience with kids prior to having our own, so we were already quite skilled, or, at least, opinionated by the time we were holding a newborn. As the kids grew, we talked fairly constantly about how the kids were doing. We wanted to do things right; we would immediately work on any behavior problem that started to crop up, or, even better, recognize an interest early so we could kindle it. Through our experience as parents, our belief in the fundamental wrongness of how children are treated in the mainstream culture solidified.  If you want to try to give your child a utopian childhood the hardest part is letting go of lots of misguided mainstream beliefs about children. Honestly, doing things right is a lot of work, but if you want to know what we did and why, without further ado, here is the “Dakota theory” of how to give children a utopian childhood:

Rowan on his 18th birthday having lit the fire behind him with a bowdrill.
Rowan on his 18th birthday having lit the fire behind him with a bowdrill.

[Kristen and I have the last name “Dakota.”  This has nothing to do with any Native American people]

Current belief: Children are lesser beings who should not expect or receive the same polite and considerate treatment that adults give each other.

Dakota theory: Children have the same intrinsic value that all humans have and should be listened to and treated with respect. Specifically, parents should like their children.

Conclusion: Children behave well when they are treated as though they are deserving of respect.

Current belief: Children should obey authority figures.

Dakota theory: Children should be taught that they are responsible human beings and they should learn to negotiate for what they want.

Conclusion: Children who are taught to obey, learn to distrust their own judgment.  They also demonstrate less personal motivation. Children who are taught to negotiate show more task persistence and have a strong sense of self-esteem.  Unfortunately, raising a child who negotiates requires more time and effort from parents.

Current belief: Children need peers to develop normal social skills.

Dakota theory: Children develop better social skills without same-age peers.

Conclusion: Children learn social skills from the people they are around. Children in groups and in institutional settings are sometimes inconsiderate or cruel to each other.  Children who are around other children for much of the time, often develop dysfunctional behaviors from being with other, partially socialized, children.   Children who are around adults for most of their formative years develop better social skills than children who are in group childcare for most of their formative years.

Current belief: Children need to go to school to 1) develop social skills and 2) to absorb a body of knowledge.

Dakota theory: School exposes children to bad social behaviors. The body of knowledge in school is often outdated, inadequate, and inaccurate. Additionally, it doesn’t take much time to learn that body of knowledge at home.

Conclusion: Many children are exposed to unhealthy social behaviors from the bad behavior that inevitably results from large-scale institutionalization.  The body of knowledge that schools pass along is easily gained at home.  Typically, parents have other interests and values that schools don’t teach.

 

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Keenan, Kelpie, Rowan, Arlo

 

Current belief:  Children need to be punished, they need to be disciplined and they need consequences for their bad behavior.

Dakota theory:  Never punish or discipline children. Normal life provides enough consequences, no additional consequences are needed.

Conclusion:   Punishment has been proven to be ineffective at teaching children a new behavior.  Children feel punished merely from a parent’s disapproval—nothing more is necessary.  An effective “punishment” is making a child stop playing in order to explain why it’s not OK to hit or take another kid’s toy.  Frequently, merely calmly pointing out what the problem is to the child can make a child feel bad enough to stop the bad behavior and/or make restitution. Encouraging a distraught child to take a time-out is good advice for anyone having emotional trouble and isn’t really a punishment.

Current belief:  Misbehavior is due to a poorly disciplined child.

Dakota theory: Misbehavior is due to a poorly designed environment.

Conclusion: A toddler, set down in front of a coffee table with a lot of breakable glassware on the table will, inevitably, drop and break something.  This is not bad behavior.   Don’t punish the child; move the glassware. It is more likely that children will hang up their clothes on pegs than on hangers.  A yard with two swings and three kids creates ongoing strife. Often a child’s “bad” behavior is due to normal child-like behavior in an environment that is designed for normal adult behavior.  The easiest way to have a well-behaved child is to change the environment to suit the child’s behavior. For instance, if there is only healthy food in the house, then “food wars” become much less likely.

Current belief: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s bad

Dakota theory: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s OK.

or perhaps not
or perhaps not

Conclusion: “He’s just doing that to get attention!” is a statement some adults make to indict a child’s motives and to grant the adult permission to punish the child for bothering the adult. But, attention from an adult is essential sustenance for a child’s emotional well-being. Once a child receives an adequate amount of attention, they are full and will go off and play, only to return later for another helping of attention. If we say with scorn of a child who’s crying, “he’s just crying because he’s hungry, I’m going to spank him” it sounds cruel.  “He’s just doing it to get attention,” should sound equally heartless.

Current belief:  A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through psychoactive medication.

Dakota theory:  A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through counseling and behaviorist reinforcement/extinguishing techniques.

Conclusion:  Psychoactive drugs have immediate side-effects and long-term physiological consequences. Changing a child’s chronic behavior problem without drugs is vastly more time consuming, but results in a more emotionally healthy child.

Current belief: A child might become emotionally crippled from spending too much time with a parent (or parents).

Dakota theory:  strong family connections help create an emotionally healthy child.

Conclusion: Studies of poverty, mental illness and crime consistently show that parents who physically or emotionally abandon their children create the pathology that leads to dysfunctional adults.  On the other hand, outstanding and high-performing athletes typically have at least one engaged and supportive parent. There is not a bell curve here; it’s linear; the stronger the family connections, the more emotionally stable the children are as adults.

Current belief:  Children should be kept protected and secluded from real-world experiences. They should live in a separate world called “childhood” until they are completed with their schooling and are able to enter the adult world.

Dakota theory: Children are part of the world. It is healthier for children and the world for children to be included in almost all aspects of the adult world.

Conclusion:  Children in their early teens want to distinguish themselves from younger children; they want to act like grown-ups.  Mainstream culture allows few opportunities to show their maturity, so these young teens turn to bed behavior, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, swearing and having sex as ways to show their “maturity.” However, teens who have the ability to take on real responsibility, like, for instance having a part-time paying job demonstrate their adult-ness through taking on these healthier parts of being a grown up. Throughout their teen years, teenagers should have the opportunity to do part-time, intern, and volunteer work to explore their interests. This serves several useful functions; it keeps teens busy, it allows teens to develop maturity and responsibility, and it gives teens a wide range of real-life experiences which should help prevent the all-too-frequent situation where a young adult goes into debt to pursue a degree only to discover after graduation that they hate the work that they have spent years training for.

kids with ballons

 Give your child a utopian childhood in just 10 easy steps:

1)     Enjoy the company of your children. (That’s really the main one, since so many parents don’t really enjoy the company of their children, and the children know that, so they misbehave. No child-rearing theory can overcome parents who don’t like their kids.)

2)     Accept every request as legitimate. (default to yes, rather than default to no).

3)     Don’t punish.  Don’t discipline. But, rather, explain.

4)     No sarcasm. Don’t laugh at kids.

5)     Learn what your kids like.

6)     Laugh at kids’ jokes, listen to their stories.

7)     Try to understand their emotions.  Have empathy.

8)     No school; homeschool.

9)     Talk to the kids about the adult world.  Encourage discussion.  Explain values through storytelling using real examples. Let them know fairly often what you think is right and wrong.

10) Share whatever you are passionate about with your children. Expect them to be interested in your life.

Posted 28th April 2014 by Keenan

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Utopian Child Raising

Mid Winter

by 

from the East Wind blog,

Winter is ambling along here in the heart of the Ozarks. The days are growing longer and spirits are rising. As an Erie, PA native it has been wonderful to see my first serious snowfall at East Wind in the three winters I’ve lived here. The weather this winter has been kind to a northerner: plenty of freezing cold with a sprinkling of sunny sixty degree plus days. The farm is busy with a number of projects, including butchering season and the building of our new shower house.

Fran, the Foopin manager, starting in on a pig quarter

Foopin, the dedicated food processing room, has been bustling with the butchering of several pigs, cows, and deer (along with all the year round dairy processing, of course). East Wind’s freezers are filling up with tenderloins, bacon, ribs, hams, beef, and a variety of tasty sausages. If you have no experience and want to learn about butchering, this is the place and time to do it!

Liesel and Mardock beginning on a deer they hunted as Indo and Roxy discuss mammal anatomy.

Just north of Foopin, garden manager Andrea took advantage of a nice warm day to harvest spinach. The garden is largely dormant at this time of year, but there are cold hardy greens- spinach and kale. The garlic, planted late fall, is slumbering under the snow and mulch waiting for spring growth. Riding on the success of last year’s experiment, onion starts in the hoophouse will be transplanted to the main garden in spring.

Andrea harvesting spinach.  The new shower house, under construction, is in the background.

Construction on the shower house began in late summer with Brandon leading up the demolition of the old site, hooking up water and electric, putting up all walls, windows, doors, insulation, and the roof. The summer crew worked incredibly efficiently to get the structure solid and weatherproof. Beckie is heading up the completion of the project. The siding is nearly finished and there is much to do in the interior. Below you can find a short timelapse (my first dabbling) that was taken during August with the summer crew (it looks best in 720p!).

New member Max and Richard nailing in a board.

Of course, there is plenty of time for recreation in the winter time as well. This past week, a group of about ten communards hiked out to visit the ‘Ice Pillar.’ The pillar is located up a tributary valley to Lick Creek and only forms under certain conditions.

A pillar was indeed formed!  A great way to spend part of an afternoon.

It has been a long time since my last written post. So long that a couple people were getting worried about me (shout out to MoonRaven growing the communal spirit in NYC)! Holiday traveling and dealing with the business left me with little spare time these past couple months. Soon I will have more time to jump back in the blog saddle and get back to at least once a month posts. I am SUPER interested in what YOU are curious about living at East Wind. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback in the comments! I am constantly looking for blog inspiration. Until next time, here are the dairy cows in the orchard:

Three generations: grandmother Marmalade to the far right, mother Jackie Brown to the left, and daughter Mary Jane up front.

Post written, pictures taken, and video created by Sumner

Mid Winter

Tackling inclusivity and social justice at the Communities Conference

This labor day the oldest, largest, egalitarian, income-sharing commune in the country, Twin Oaks Community, is hosting the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference. This conference is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about, learn from, share, teach, and network with communards, communitarians, and cooperators experienced and aspiring. This year’s theme is particularly exciting as the conference tackles the topics of inclusivity and social justice. Read more below about this year’s conference and register now to reserve your space.


Communes, cohousing communities, ecovillages, co-ops, and other Intentional communities of all kinds are a response to problems in society. They are a recognition that some of the essentials that make community what it us, mutual support, love and caring, sharing lives and livelihood in a meaningful and satisfying way, are lacking in the world. Not all intentional communities share the same political or social views. Some mirror the trend towards isolationism and protectionism we see politics today. But most value, at least in theory, diversity, equality, and sustainability, and want to help create a world that works for everyone.

Intentional communities have a unique opportunity to address oppression and privilege. And while most value dTOCC conversationiversity, they often struggle to achieve it. Why? This is one of the questions that will be addressed through many of the workshops at the conference this year. How do racism, classism, hetero-cis-sexism, and other forms of oppression play out within intentional communities? How can they become truly accessible and inclusive spaces? How can people with privilege, especially white people and men, let go of their privilege or put it in the service of others? How can intentional communities help address oppression in larger society, both directly and by providing accessible and relevant alternatives?

The theme of this year’s Twin Oaks Communities Conference is Inclusivity and Social Justice. Held every year on Labor Day weekend, Sept 1 – 4, 2017, in Central Virginia, this conference is a unique opportunity to connect with other community builders and seekers, and experience community while learning more about it.

TOCC workshop

In addition to covering other topics of interest and importance to intentional communities, like legal structures and fundraising, and the usual opportunities for networking and sharing, we’re excited to host this opportunity for intentional communities to look at how they are perpetuating these issues and how they can become powerful agents for real change.

Here’s a selection of workshop titles (a full list of current confirmed workshops can be found here):

  • Why is My Community So White?
  • Building Resilience through Disaster Preparedness
  • Will Raise Money for Sanity
  • Black and Native American Land Legacies & Intentional Communities
  • Community Land Co-ops and the Decolonizing Urban Ecovillage
  • Legal Clinic for Intentional Communities
  • Sacred Clowning: The wisdom of the fool
  • Attracting Diverse People to Intentional Communities
  • Together as one body: gender, power, and multiplicity

We look forward to seeing you there! Register here.

Tackling inclusivity and social justice at the Communities Conference

Fire and Ice

Responsibly managing one thousand acres of land is a big task that requires a community sized effort to do well. Winter is the key time for big forestry and ranch maintenance projects. Last week a controlled burn was executed on two areas, about one acre in total. The day was calm and below freezing for the most part, with just enough wind for an effective and safe burn. Jeremiah led the burn, his third at East Wind. Plenty of communards were on hand to keep an eye on the fire and direct it as necessary.

fire1
Before the ‘big’ burn a large fire break was created around the entirety of the area to be burned to ensure an easily managed fire.

Fire, whether man-made or natural, is important for various ecosystems such as prairies and forests to maintain health and diversity. This controlled burn was intended to clear brush and recycle crucial nutrients back into the soil. Burns promote diversity by favoring species adapted to fire such as wildflowers. These fields will also warm up faster in the spring time, due to the ash and soot on the ground, which will kick start microbial activity in the soil.

fire2
Andrea and Indo help build the fire break.

Once the fire break was established it was time for the field to be set alight. Buckets of water, running hoses, and hundred of gallons of water hitched to a tractor were readily available just in case the wind picked up.

fire3
The ‘big’ burn sweeping across the brushy field.

fire4

fire5
Nearby treelines were the most at risk areas for the fire jumping the fire break.  Plenty of people were on hand to keep the fire under control.

All in all the day went perfectly, without a hitch. The fire never became dangerous and the burn plan was executed as intended. Thank you to everyone who came down and helped out!

Post and pictures by Sumner

Fire and Ice

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