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Arts & Culture

Raising Artists In San Diego

Rob, Enzo, Lizette and Sophia Greco holding plush toy headless pigeons made from recycled fabrics.
Angela Carone
Rob, Enzo, Lizette and Sophia Greco holding plush toy headless pigeons made from recycled fabrics.

A few days ago, I posted a slideshow featuring homemade Halloween costumes made by the Greco family. Rob, Lizette, and their children Sophia (11) and Enzo (10) make their Halloween costumes every year, along with plush toys and sculptures (also called softies), comic books, drawings, furniture and more.

The Grecos are a family of artists living in South Park, and they structure their lives in an unorthodox and surprisingly creative way.

One of the unique aspects of the Greco lifestyle is the way Sophia and Enzo are educated. They don't go to school. They are educated at home, but they are not home schooled, at least not in the way the term is usually understood.


According to Rob, a middle school teacher at The Children's School in La Jolla, the term that best describes their philosophy is "unschooling." (There are unschooling communities here in San Diego).

The unschooling model has been around since the 1970s, and doesn't employ curricula or a grading system. Instead, unschooling uses a child's interests and curiosity as the foundation for learning.

In the case of the Grecos, art plays a big part in how that curiosity unfurls into a learning path. Lizette, a working artist, says "We didn't decide we were going to focus on the arts, it's just what we're interested in."

Rob adds, "Art is a great medium to learn about anything. Learning just happens organically, based on what the kids' interests are."

You know how kids always ask those questions like, "Where do stars come from?" Or, "Why do dogs have tails?" (How did parents deal with these questions before Google???)


The Grecos use such questions as launching pads for trips to the library, internet research, expert interviews, extensive sketching and even sculpture and costume making.

Each leg of this process is a family affair, guided by Rob and Lizette, who make technology their ally. "In an internet age, it makes things a lot easier, having access to information and access to people who specialize in a certain field," explains Rob.

They document their lives and projects through various websites, personal tumblers, and Flickr. As a result, the Grecos have tapped into a nation-wide community of fans, artists, and like-minded families.

Rob says he often gets asked how he reconciles teaching at a school when he believes in a different method of education for his children. "As much as I can, I try to inject my philosophy into the teaching that I do in the classroom. That's specifically why I'm at the school that I'm at; it's a progressive school that looks at learning in a different way...It's more about process and exploration than it is about content."

A couple of years ago, Enzo, then 8, became interested in meat. He wondered, "where does meat come from?" Enzo started drawing slabs of meat, sausage links, and salami, filling an entire sketchbook with meat-related drawings, diagrams and maps. He did research on the internet and took out books from the library. During regular trips to the supermarket, Enzo could be found peering through the glass at the meat counter, studying the various cuts and animal parts.

Based on Enzo's meat drawings, Lizette began making plush versions of meat slabs and cuts (with the rest of the family consulting). The family spent a month in Buenos Aires, where Enzo's meat interests deepened, inspired by the diverse kinds of meat and salami available. Multiple tastings ensued, and Enzo designed his own salami labels for the plush salami made by Lizette.

The whole project culminated in an art installation featuring the plush meats with signage and design by Enzo and Sophia. And, naturally, Enzo was a butcher for Halloween that year.

When asked if she knows how unique her life is, Sophia smiles, "My friends often tell me they're jealous of how much time I have to work on my projects." These days, Sophia is especially interested in cooking. She holds out a box full of dollhouse-size slices of red velvet cake and other food items. True to the Greco process, her cooking interests have translated into miniature polymer clay figures of food.