Rogue Cheerios

by beccaborrelli

Did this sippy cup manufacturer intend for cheerios to reside here?

If I had to make an intelligent guess, I would say “no.”

Yet this is where the 16 month old daughter of my friend insists on putting her cheerios the few mornings a week I babysit.

More absurd than her choice to leave cheerios this way, was my compulsion to remove them from the plastic niche . Why? Clearly the cheerios weren’t hurting anyone… yet their presence mocked me from the highchair.

“Ha ha! We are rebels! We will not be constrained to the cereal bowl like good orderly cheerios!”

I pride myself for quelling a pedantic tendency to show her the proper way to eat the cheerios. Instead I watch her in quiet awe– placing a few cheerios in their cozy cup nest before eventually eating them anyway.


A 1981 US Consumer Product Safety Commission study of playground use scolded that children were “walking up and down a slide, climbing onto any aspect of playground apparatus that allowed a grip or foothold, and roughhousing.” 

Whatever will we do with so many child-anarchists.

Watch a child long enough and you will see they are quickly bored with the “proper” use of anything. Children always use things in the way they are not intended to be used.

This is play.


One childhood Christmas past, my sister and I received hair ribbons in our stockings. We pulled every color out of the packages and excitedly tied them into dozens of knots, then strung the knotty ribbons together to make a cool looking jump rope.

My mother came into the room and said in exasperation:

“That’s not why Santa gave you those!”

Which of course made perfect sense. After all now we wouldn’t be able to tie them in our hair. Yet somehow having an eight foot multi-colored jump rope seemed so much cooler…


The first undergraduate Art Education class I took was a Foundations course.

I loved my professor, he had the wisdom of someone 2 years from retirement, and the youth of someone who made art with kiddos most of his life.

The first day of the class, he started with a story. Not the syllabus. Not the text. Not even an introduction.

“One day when I was in the second grade, my teacher passed out American flag ditto sheets. It was probably Flag Day. We all sat at our desks, as she instructed us what to do. Take out your pencil. Print your name on the line. Take out your crayon box. Color the stripes red and white. Color the square blue. Color the pole brown. Color the ball on the top yellow.

And so we began.

In that class my desk happened to be by the window. Outside I could see the school’s American flag waving in the breeze. I noticed the ball on top was not yellow. It was gold. Of course I didn’t have a gold crayon, but I reasoned I could make gold by swirling some yellow and orange with a tinge of brown.

I was so proud. My flag looked superb. I picked up my coloring and walked up to the teacher’s desk to show her what I had done. My moment of genius. She looked at my coloring page, and then stood up in front of the class, holding it in front for all to see.

‘Look class, Joe is the only one who couldn’t follow directions.’

She crumpled it up. Threw it in the trash. Handed me a new ditto sheet. Sent me back to my desk.”


“Childhood– those first, fresh experiences of the world, unclouded by reason and practicality, when you are the center of existence and anything might happen– should be regarded less as a springboard to striving adulthood than as a well of rich individual perception and experience to which you can return to for sustenance throughout life.”

— Robert Paul Smith

When my professor told that story, I was mad at his former teacher. Monstrosity to the profession. I think these days I have a more holistic view of the issue.

If you read proposed and enacted education legislation from the federal level on down, it all reinforces the standardized philosophy of my professor’s second grade teacher.


There’s a book that shares the details of a study done with 1000 kindergarteners on divergent thinking- aka the ability to find many uses for hair ribbons and sippy cups.

Researchers gave 1000 five year olds an IQ test on creativity.

98% of those Kindergarteners tested at the genius level.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Almost all children are born with genius capability for thinking outside the box.

By the time those same 1000 Kindergarteners were 15 years old, only 10% tested at the same level. What happened in those ten years?

Probably lots of things. I don’t pretend to simplify a complex issue. Yet I think it’s safe to say children are consistently taught, in ways obvious and in ways hidden— the ball on the flag can only be yellow.

Which is understandable. The world would be pretty scary to navigate with multi-colored flag balls perched everywhere.