Monday, October 6, 2014

Consumerism and Children

We live in an age of consumerism. Advertising messages bombard us to buy, buy, buy! Surrounded by so many messages that tell us our value is tied to a particular product, how can we as parents and teachers help our children be resilient under such onslaught? I was recently asked this question and it made me stop and think about how I help my own child (and students) to not be caught up in rampant consumerism. One activity that I realized is really helpful in this area is to completely step out of the consumer role and instead become the producer for a least a little while. When we experience making something by hand we begin to see the amount of work and skill that went into creating that object. It frees us from having to fit some pre-ordained model of what we should be – we create according to our own whims and desires of what we ourselves value. The process of making something ourselves often leads us to question where the components and raw materials come from. We become aware of natural resources and may strive to reduce waste or recycle materials.  When we make something ourselves, especially as a gift for someone else, we forge personal connections and tend to cherish and keep those kinds of gifts that we receive.   Handmade objects no longer are disposable because we have seen how much work or creativity went into making them.  Items of quality take on more importance and we strive to make them last longer, rather than buying something cheap and treating it as disposable.

So where can we begin? Make something, anything! Be creative! Start small and make items with your children that you can “consume” yourself such as food or objects that you or your immediate family can use. Cook, make bread from scratch, sew, knit, crochet, hammer and repair objects. Decorate something that already exists such as bedazzling jeans or painting old canvas tennis shoes with acrylic paints.  Experiment with gardening - grow flowers, herbs or vegetables. Find something that resonates with you and your family that you would like to make.  If you lack the skills, then slowly teach yourself or take a class. It doesn't have to be perfect or professional. The goal is to participate and create, to open up creativity and connections.  For example, I like to make yoghurt at home. It is easy and reminds me of how past generations made everything themselves. While some of us might remember the awkward sweater or clothes made for us by relatives as children, we can now as adults value how much time and work went into making those items.  Past generations often had no choice, if you didn't have the skill to make it, you often went without. Now we have choices, but let us make wise choices – those colored by our own values and not those of the marketing and advertising industry.

Marla Nargundkar is an AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, GA

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