norse myths, wii games and a whole lot of thinking

The latest episode of my waldorf guilt

If you haven’t been reading along, these are the posts in which I wring my hands over how un-waldorfy things can get around here, and how I tend to feel guilty about it. Or try to justify why I don’t feel guilty.

I’ve been feeling less and less guilty lately. Brought on by a confluence of different ideas from different people.

First was Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. I’ve already raved on and on about this book, so I’ll spare you. (Although if you can get your hands on the audiobook version, which Chabon reads, you must.) In my reflection on the book, I wrote this:

“There’s something about the way Chabon combines his Pulitzer Prize-winning style with the most base cultural references that captivates me. In his essay on Legos—one that had particular resonance for me as the mother of two Lego-loving sons—Chabon writes, “Time after time, playing Legos with my kids, I would fall under the spell of the old familiar crunching. It’s the sound of creativity itself, of the inventive mind at work, making something new out of what you have been given by your culture, what you know you will need to do the job, and what you happen to stumble upon along the way.” That making something new of what you have been given by your culture is a big part of Chabon’s genius. It’s precisely what he does in these essays, again and again.”

And one could certainly argue that Chabon made something new of what he was given by his culture when he took his lowly childhood love of comic books and fashioned it into a Pulitzer prize-winning novel.

Second was my reading of Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I’m planning to write a post on the book soon, so I won’t say much yet. But holy sheep dip, this book has so many implications for educators–for homeschoolers especially–about the skills kids will really need in the future. So many of Pink’s ideas are what I and a world of other homeschoolers have intuited over the years, but what a joy to get such heavily-researched validation!

Third was yet another insightful post by Lori at camp creek about not limiting what our kids learn from. (You may have already clicked on my link to this post in the sidebar–if not, go read!)

Which all led to the morning when Mr. T was trying to come up with a project for our homeschool history fair, based on his interest in Norse myths. I can’t remember who came up with the idea first–it may have been my suggestion after I saw how he was “enacting” a video game by jumping across the family room furniture. But somehow the idea formed: he plans to design his own Lego Wii-style game, based on Norse mythology.

map for norse myth wii gamemap of the nine Norse worlds

Now he won’t be actually making a playable game, of course. But he’s imagining levels and drawing pictures and narrating to me what happens in each. And we’re thinking of begging his big brother to help him make some stop-animation films for each level.

Here’s what he has so far. My waldorf guilt must warn you that there is a lot of virtual punching involved. But if you can hang in there, I’ll explain what I think the kid is getting from this.

norse myth wii game, level onemap of level 1


Object: Defeat Ymir

First of all, go to Ymir and punch him three times. He will jump to a ledge. Beware, he’ll throw icicles down! Also, jotuns will fall from the sky. They’ll only take one punch to defeat. 

Remember, don’t go into Ginnungagap or the sides of the board or you’ll die.

Go under Ymir’s ledge and pull down a lever. More ledges will come out of the wall. Jump on them to get to Ymir’s ledge and punch him three times. He’ll jump to a new ledge and the one you’re on will explode. You’ll fall to the ground.

Then, go under Ymir’s new ledge and step on one of the three red squares. Your teammates will step on the other red squares. Then Ymir’s new ledge will come down. Jump on to it and punch him three times. He’ll jump to the ground. Punch him three more times and the level will end.


How to get the magic box: in Free Play, be Loki or a different character that can jump really high and jump on to the island in the middle of Ginnungagap. Collect the floating box.

If you win:

You unlock Odin and his brothers and you can be them in Free Play.

How this level is based on Norse myths:

Well, there really wasn’t any levers, red squares, floating boxes, jotuns falling from the sky, or an island in the middle of Ginnungagap. Really, there wasn’t any Lego things whatsoever.

What there really was were the characters of Odin, Loeder and Hoenir, who were brothers and the first of the Aesir gods. There also was Ymir, who was the first of the jotun race, or a frost giant. Odin and his brothers really fought Ymir and they did throw him into Ginnungagap. I didn’t put blood in because I didn’t want it to be too violent, but there was blood in the story. Ginnungagap was a giant pit in the middle of Niflheim and Muspelheim, the first of the nine Norse worlds.

Nifty fact:

The Star Wars planet Mustafar was based on Muspelheim.

First, I have to tell you how incredibly excited Mr. T is about this project. He thinks about future levels endlessly, and begs me to take more dictation. So there’s deep immersion.

Second, there are lots of writing skills at work here. After I wrote Level 1, he said, “Now do the dot-dot thing.” 

I knew what he was getting at. “You mean put a colon in?”

“Yes, a colon.” And he came to check that I did it right. On the next line, after I typed object, he said, “Now put a colon.” 

How can I not be charmed by an eight-year-old who requests colons in all the right places? 

I asked him if he’d consider adding the How this level is based on Norse myths section (hoping to make sure the project looks somewhat educational for the homeschool fair.) Mr. T was happy to. He said, “Can the narrator be funny in that part?”

“What?” I didn’t see that question coming.

“You know, funny. Like this.” And he proceeded to narrate the section above, influenced, I’m pretty sure, by the disclaimer page that follows each Magic Schoolbus book. My favorite part is Really, there wasn’t any Lego things whatsoever. (I’m not fixing his grammar at this point–he’ll learn to use the right verb tenses in time, but for now I want to keep intact his eight-year-old voice.) I love how he’s picking up the notion that one can write with personality and humor, even in nonfiction. 

“Oh, and I want to add a nifty fact.” A nifty fact? I have no idea where he got that phrase. From National Geographic Kids? From one of the many behind-the-scenes books on comics that he’s read? When I asked where he got this particular nifty fact, he ran upstairs and brought down his Star Wars encyclopedia. Surely wii games and Star Wars books are just the sort of “crap” that Michael Chabon writes about; my kid is using crap to learn how to make his informational writing captivating. 

He’s using just the sort of right-brained thinking that Pink writes about to put this project together. He’s researching Norse myths and considering the wii games that he likes to play. Then he’s applying his research to design a game that takes into account those myths while also being entertaining. Silly as his project may sound, I’m convinced that these are the types of skills the kids of today will need in the future. It’s not the content that he’s working with that matters so much, it’s the thinking skills involved.

If content like wii games is what captivates my kid, I’m willing to go with it. And, surprisingly, I don’t feel even a smidge guilty.

19 comments… add one
  • melissa s. Feb 14, 2010 @ 19:22

    I just read this to my (almost) 6 year old and he wants to play this game AND read about norse myths. Success on all levels, methinks!

    Also, thanks for introducing me to Mr Chabon. I can no longer play legos without thinking about “snap-on asses” (and giggle every time!)

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 10:52

      If you and H haven’t read D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, it’s a fabulous place to start.

      And Mr. Snap-On Ass himself wrote the introduction to the newest edition! More proof of Lori’s point that everything is connected!

  • Dawn Del Rossi Feb 14, 2010 @ 20:02

    This is so wonderful! I love it! We’ve been taking about the dictating thing but none of my older 4 have any thoughts on what to dictate, I think I’ll share this with them and inspire them.

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:03

      I think some kids fear that they need to come up with something impressive to dictate. Remind them that it doesn’t have to be a story that you write down for them. It can be anything they might want to remember.

      One trick you could try is to just pay attention to what they talk about. When they start telling you about something they’re excited about–no matter what it is, and it very well might not be a story–ask if you can write down what they’re saying.

      You can also make out the dictation to be something you’re doing for yourself. Say something like, “I really want to remember the things that excite you when you’re this age,” and ask if they’ll repeat what they told you. If they still don’t want to offer dictation, you could try to write down what you remember anyway. Then read back what you have, and ask if you got it right. Maybe they’ll embellish.

      Might work, might not…

  • Angela Feb 14, 2010 @ 23:32

    I love it! And I can feel Mr. T’s excitement from here.

    Thanks for both the suggestion for the Pink book … and the perfectly timed reminder to shake off the guilt. I had a gloomy morning of self loathing after realizing that I’d COMPLETELY spaced on two activities I’d planned and was just sure the kids would love. Of course THEY didn’t even notice because they were too busy enjoying other things. We can always do those things another time, right?!?

    And thank goodness you are telling your Waldorf Guilt to stuff it. Your kids are perfect examples of why we shouldn’t judge the “crap” kids enjoy as crap at all.

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:20

      Yep, you don’t need to feel guilty about not doing activities you thought would be fun, when your kids were happily doing other activities of their own accord.

      (We probably should feel more guilty about having activities in mind that we assume will excite them–which is something I’m often guilty of!)

      Yes, let’s just stuff the guilt all ’round.

  • spaulukonis Feb 15, 2010 @ 7:42

    I still struggle with the same sorts of guilt (although I don’t think of it as Waldorf guilt). I think it can be especially hard with boys, or at least has been in my family. It’s harder for us moms to see past the boy fun into the learning bits.

    T is, of course, a brilliant child, and with brilliant parents to guide him, he will dazzle the world.

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:27

      I was pretty lucky to have my older boy–whom you know so well–eloquently and ceaselessly argue for why technology mattered to him, why it was important and even educational. He’s made me crazy but he’s taught me so much.

      Mr. T owes him a boatload of gratitude. I have a different perspective with T, owed in no small part to my oldest.

  • marta Feb 15, 2010 @ 8:43

    I commented some weeks ago with an example of the game my son and his friends are creating… and I didn’t add I also have that guilt feeling (and i’m completly NOT waldorf…)! We don’t own any game system, the only game he plays is Spore on the computer. Still, his mind is all about visual/spacial/movement thinking… even his writing at school involves lots of happenings within happenings… so anybody would say he was too much involved with videogames!!!!
    Maybe it’s just the way the human mind works – specially the male mind 😉 – and I like to think that mythology is just the ancient form of nowadays virtual games… (we do not own any game system because 1. They’re expensive; 2. Too much time consuming (we don’t homeschool); 3. The games the kids end up inventing are far more creative than the ones that can be bought, imho)

    (and pardon my English – not my mother tongue…)

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:37

      How I wish I could write so elegantly in a second language, Marta!

      I think you’re on to something when you note that today’s virtual games are much like ancient mythology. There’s something very similar about them–in the powers that certain characters have over others, in the importance of the stories that surround them. I think both the tales and the games often have a particular draw to the male mind.

      My first “waldorf guilt” post was about my guilt in owning a game system. I’d rather we didn’t, but my older two–teenagers–lobbied for it and paid for it. Of course, it’s the eight-year-old who actually plays the games now, but I’ve come to see the value in his play. Still, I admit to monitoring his play pretty carefully. I can’t completely let go of the guilt. 🙂

      • marta Feb 15, 2010 @ 14:13

        🙂 thank you!

        I subscribe to the idea that it is good to have guilt, so that we focus on what matters. The same with the food they eat, what they watch on tv, etc…

        My children go to friends’ and play Wii about 4-5 times a year (sp. the boys, 9 and 4 yo). It is enough to feed their imagination and satisfy their curiousity without being glued to it for every single waking minute while at home. Last Xmas my in-laws intended to gift them a game system, which we vetoed. They got an Ipod instead. They spend a lot of time shooting home movies with it… but at least they are moving around and filming their own stories with playmobil, action man, lego, etc…

        The 9 yo only reads Harry Potter. He read one Captain Underpants when he was 6 or so and didn’t want to follow up. Sometimes I pressure him to read other stuff… and I was only lucky with Calvin&Hobbes. But being now at page 500-something of the 7th Harry Potter, he has read about 3.000 pages in just 2 odd years!!! (just wonder why he still makes so many spelling mistakes though ;))

  • Just Peaches Feb 15, 2010 @ 9:27

    I have so many thoughts on this post but I’ll limit it to two:

    Crap – I lamented when my son entered grade one and discovered the Captain Underpants series. I didn’t tell him that he couldn’t read the books but when I flipped through one of the books I just couldn’t believe that there were books with talking turds. What is interesting though, is that my son (and later my daughter) read a couple of the books and then didn’t have any interest. Fed on a diet of good books they learned to discern for themselves what was “crap”.

    Video Games – For years I resisted investing in a gaming system. When my son was T’s age, he would map out games and levels on paper from what he’d gleaned from other boys games. Finally, I gave in and bought him a DS. Since then he has replicated the theme song from one of the games using Garage Band; he has replicated a level of a game using free downloadable software and attempted to create his own game. It’s this curiosity, the desire to understand “how” it all works that makes him really excited.

    I think we all probably struggle with some level of guilt. That being said, I think if we’ve done our jobs well then, at some point, we have to trust our children’s intuition.

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:48

      I have to say that both of my boys fell pretty hard for Captain Underpants! But they also love more “noble” literature like ancient mythology from many cultures. I’m coming to see that they learn from it all.

      I loved reading about what your son’s DS playing inspired! More proof of why we shouldn’t judge what interests them.

      I think a little guilt is healthy–it keeps us focused on what matters to us. But ultimately we need to keep a balance between what we believe and what our kids can teach us, just as you’ve pointed out.

  • Chris Feb 15, 2010 @ 11:01

    Parents this astute and self-aware don’t need to have guilt. I say this without disdain but more of an observation of our culture: kids are tossed in to the system and left to fend completely for themselves. There’s loads of ‘crap’ out there and most parents are completely careless and unaware of what their kids are doing. I’d be more terrified of my son hero-worshiping a child his own age and having that kid be one of the key factors in my son’s developing self-awareness and identity. A video game or two is harmless compared.

    On the other spectrum, I’ve seen parents shelter their kids from anything our culture has to say or offer, almost denying the age they live in. Not sure how that is going to turn out when a 6-year-old becomes aware he’s living in the 21st Century in a few years.

    The key is balance. Please remember the foundations of the Waldorf philosophy was established almost 100 years ago. They didn’t have the tools and inventions we have today. We need to integrate them in to our lives (most likely, they already are) not run from them.

    I find your blog and ideas very insightful and inspirational. Thanks for sharing!

    • patricia Feb 15, 2010 @ 12:33

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Chris!

      I’ve always meant these “waldorf guilt” posts to be a little tongue-in-cheek. Really, I’m making fun of myself and my worries over the years regarding technology and the stuff of our culture. The truth is, what started off as worries for me have really become fascinations: I’m endlessly intrigued with what my kids have learned from technology and the most base stuff in our culture.

      I think you’re absolutely right that balance is key. As I wrote to Just Peaches, we need to keep in mind our own values, but we also need to be open to learning from our children, as well as from our changing world, from new research, etc. I can take what I like from Waldorf theory, but I don’t need to let it limit me and my kids.

      The danger is in going forward without considering and thinking along the way.

  • susan Feb 17, 2010 @ 7:33

    I’m so glad you are shaking off your guilt on this score. 🙂 i like to point to TV and video games as a possible cause of the Flynn effect (rising IQs over the 20th century). I have found that in the right doses the kids’ screen time inspires them and they are active and processing rather than dull-eyed, absorbing consumers.

    • patricia Feb 17, 2010 @ 7:47

      I sure do like that last line of yours. That’s just what I’ve seen in my kids.

      And I know you’re conscientious with the dosing. Otherwise Greta wouldn’t say things like, “It has always been my dream to watch this much television.” (That child never fails to crack me up.)

  • Sunitha Feb 18, 2010 @ 6:46

    I woke up early today with this guilt in my mind about not writing or reading enough. I am a home maker with no kids and so plenty of time on hand. I crochet, talk on the phone a lot and otherwise read. Coming to why I woke up early: I started browsing online for courses and books to read to help improve my writing. After an hour of answering some questions on MTI online university and looking at different writing courses like fiction, short stories, article writing etc I chose to pursue reading essays hoping this will be helpful to improve writing my blog. The internet, as you know is flooded with information. However, I have been on your site for the last hour or so enjoying your writing especially the one on essayist. Its informative and encouraging. I feel nudged in the right direction finally. I will come back more often to read you work. You have a great blog.Thanks again.

    • patricia Feb 20, 2010 @ 0:20

      I’m flattered that you’ve spent so much time here, Sunitha! How exciting that you’ve chosen to pursue reading essays–there are so many amazing essayists, and reading them has been such inspiration for my own writing. I hope you find some that you enjoy, and that they inspire you as well.

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