What? No More Books?

OK, so here it is. I recommended a book on Facebook to someone and got pounced on.

The story started with a mom writing about creating a chart of chores for her kids involving bribery (her word, not mine). I understand, been there, done that. But then I remembered a pivitol book I read back when our kids were younger that caused me to abandon the gold stars for a while.

The book: Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards. It was eye-opening. All I would get from the kids with the gold star system would be compliance as long as the rewards kept coming. What i should hope for is a kid who wants to show certain behavior, deep down. Hmm.

Made total sense to me at the time. By now I’m probably misrepresenting Kohn’s ideas and have made them my own version, but they are ideas that have followed me through life.

I can pay people to do what I want, I can bribe them with stuff they want, I just have to keep dangling the rewards. I wanted more for my kids. For them to do and want what felt right, regardless of goodies.

So I was happy to point out that some people believe that this gold star or bribery system might have some drawbacks, and I recommended Kohn’s book. Here is the actual post: “re. bribery: perhaps worth looking into what alfie kohn said about this topic in punished by rewards.”

I was not prepared for the backlash. From ‘parenting books make me want to vomit’ to ‘too busy being a good mom to waste time reading books by people who don’t know my kids.’ Really?

Did these folks not read one pregnancy book either? It’s certainly the first thing I turned to when I found out I was pregnant. And not just because we lived a bit isolated in Italy. I wanted to know all the minutiae about pregnancy and delivery. No one’s word was good enough. I had to know it all. Of course we all read books that fit within our framework of beliefs, so it started out with Leboyer, Odent, Spiritual Midwifery, Immaculate Deception, etc. I bet you even recognize some names here.

So what’s with the new moms? No more knowledge from books? Just lore and myth and experience? How does one get from what is to what could be?

We ended up as unschoolers, with many books and newsletters by John Holt at our side and bedside. He was the one who recommended Alfie Kohn and others we read. It all fit so neatly with our beliefs, there was no hesitation: Should we, shouldn’t we?

I’m not talking self-help books, though we grasped for them in later teenage years. Mostly books that opened our minds to new ways of raising kids, believing in our kids. That can be difficult at times when society tries to tell you exactly how they should be, what movies they should watch, what games they should play, what clothes they should wear.

Books I remember: Free at Last – The Sudbury Valley School; Stories They’ll Remember – Frank LordGreenleaf – An Autobiography of a ChildAlfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards; John Holt’s Learning All the Time and How Children Fail, etc., and on and on. All books that had a profound impact on me as a parent. The most important aspect though was not the question am I doing it right or wrong, but the question is my kid OK.


Children are all so different that one needs to keep on having faith in them and believing in them and supporting them, no matter how crazy it gets at times. No, I’m not writing my own book here or advising, that’s just what I felt. And at times I was good at it and other times a miserable failure. Then I would pick up a book and recover my faith.

Perhaps parents nowadays are not faced with such doubts as I was. Books are unnecessary because they know it all already or don’t want to know. Strange as this seems to me, I have to accept that the world might be changing and maybe books on children and parents are part of the past.

John Holt et al., I appreciate you took the time to write and open my eyes to a larger world and to my children. You made us part of a bigger movement that is still going strong. And I’m grateful to have been there almost at the beginning and able to contribute.

We learn from each other and we learn from books and we learn from life and our mistakes and successes. We should never shut out any source of information, no matter what aspect of life. A good thing that we get to pick and choose and have our opinions on what we read and hear and see. But quit reading? Never!

Board Games

Among my many interests, the one I have been neglecting the most in recent years is collecting, learning, and playing board games. But this has changed now!

I’m into my hobbies with a vengeance. As someone put it: I’m like a dog with a bone, I can’t let go. Yes, it applies here, too.

The modern history of board games is very interesting. What I call the modern history starts with the game of the year in Germany, or “Spiel des Jahres.” A history, alas in German, is here.

What’s important to me is that some clever and cool people got together and supported the idea of an annual selection and prize for the best game. This would spread the word that there are new games every year and some of them pretty damn good enough to earn the official game of the year stamp.

Somehow the word even spread to the U.S. and of course other countries, and now I’m able to play with people even though I’m far from home.

There were games before that, of course. Who doesn’t know chess and checkers and monopoly? But these games are different. I could rave about them all day long, but the best would be to try them yourself.

If you happen to live close to us, you’re lucky to have access to hundreds of these games on my shelves. But every town seems to have gamers that welcome new players. Check on boardgamegeek, it’s the online equivalent of ravelry for knitters. You’ll find us at the user name “gbergs,” and you can check out our game collection and some other stuff about us.

The first game to earn a prize from the “Spiel des Jahres” folks was “Hase und Igel,” a.k.a. “Hare & Tortoise.” That was in 1979, and they haven’t missed awarding the prize since. Not only that, they now have 3 award categories: game of the year, children’s game of the year, and gamer’s game of the year.

I would still recommend Hase und Igel to everyone, even after all those years. It’s a very simple game that keeps our interest. You know about Chutes and Ladders, right? I always wonder why anyone even bothered to waste resources on making that game, and yet people continue to buy it. Roll the dice, move along a track, and sometimes something happens because of a space you land on. No decisions to make, very brainless.

Hare & Tortoise has a track too. But you don’t roll a die or dice to move along. Instead, you’re propelled by carrots, which you receive at the beginning of the game. Of course you don’t get enough carrots to make it to the finish line, so along the way you have to replenish your supply by moving backwards on the track. Be careful though, because you have to have less than 10 carrots to pass the finish line. You might want to land on some of the fields that let you look at cards and do what they tell you. And you have to get rid of the 3 lettuce cards you start the game with, by landing on a limited number of lettuce fields and missing a turn. Perhaps that will give you an idea of how much more interesting than Chutes & Ladders this game is.

Hase und Igel is a game for 2 to 6 players, ages 10 to 99, though I can imagine a spry 100-year-old would still enjoy it.

So what’s the price for these games? That depends, they start in the $10s and go all the way to $100 and possibly more, especially if they’re out of print. But I imagine you’re not that hooked yet. You can get a good collection together with games that only set you back $20 to $50 apiece.

Think about it. You go to the movies, how much does that cost you? For a family of 2 to 4? And once you’ve seen a particular film, you most likely had enough of it, a one-time affair. With a game, you’ll be playing it over and over and over and over. Let’s say it costs you $40 and you play it 10 times, that would be $4 per game, not even per player. It doesn’t get much cheaper.

And compared to the price of yarn, don’t get me started.

If you’re in search of a hobby, this is a good choice. A byproduct of gaming, and one I’m counting on, is the mental factor. That’s my brain keeping engaged in a game and therefore hopefully slowing down its demise. As we get older, this aspect is becoming more important to us.

I’ll bet you would like to see some of my game collection. Here ya go.