Tag: education

“Screen Time”

We get the “my kids are doing nothing but play video games/watch tv/look at a screen and I can’t stand it, what should I do?” question about once every week or so on our  (now huge) Christian unschooling Facebook group. It has become the norm. We are all kind of tired of it. Really. For many reasons. Mostly because we hear the fear, we know the paradigm shift hasn’t occurred yet, and  we know it will be a fight to get there, and that part is exhausting. The following is a recent response that I wrote while super-short on sleep 😀 but which ended up covering all the basics in one place.

To pull from something my dear friend Pam often points out; how much time is “nothing other than game on their PC/ds/Wii”. Do they get up to get a drink? Go to the bathroom? Eat something? Sleep? If they are doing those things then clarify. They are doing something other than just playing games. They are probably getting up. They may even jump around, do other things. They may spend a few minutes getting something, look something up, they may even go play with something else for a while, go outside, play together beside the tv, they are very likely doing something else too. We need to see those things and recognize that no, the child is not spending “all their time”, they are spending more time than we feel comfortable with.  When we start out with a generalization, it is really hard to get from the viewpoint of seeing it in a negative light to seeing “screens” as many different types of learning and internal things going on and the screen itself as just the media they are getting those things.

Rachel watching anime.
Rachel watching anime.

My husband spends the majority of his day in front of a screen. Working, playing, socializing. He does many different things and yes, he has always preferred doing things in front of a computer screen to elsewhere- there are just so many more things to do, it is a vast world full of many, many types of media in one place- no huge mess to clean up when he wants to play a game, he can write quickly and efficiently, read quickly and move between many different things to read, watch a movie, change the movie, and so on.  It is an amazing, miraculous thing that allows us to communicate with our friends across the world (he collaborates with people all across the US weekly on huge projects), work anywhere (he works with people from all across the globe) and so on. It is amazing that this technology is available in our lifetimes and our children get to learn the language of it now, easily, without fear.  Our kids are going to live in a world where much of their time is going to be in front of the computer. Some people won’t, but the vast majority will. They will use it for work, for play, for socialization, and as unschoolers we have the freedom to let them learn it right now, first hand, and be proficient at it. This is a huge boon compared to kids who are stuck in a classroom unable to look things up as they are interested. Our kids will be well prepared for the future, right now.

 “Technology is here to stay. So why would I choose to keep my kids illiterate in the language that they may need for the future? A half an hour a day does not give kids time to explore the land scape.” ~Aza Donnelly

That said, if you are still really uncomfortable with how much time they are spending, then you get off the computer (you are here, reading this, communicating with others, online) and do really cool things out where they will see. Things that they will love. You make things available that go with what they love on their games (you will probably have to get online to research those things). You find things that associate with what they are doing so there is a connection- if they are into a game that has an associated tv show or other media then there are probably lots of  products out there related to it- pick up a book connected with it, or some figurines, or whatever. If there is a website that has info about the game they are playing (hints, a walkthrough, a wiki- my kids learned to navigate the internet and read because they loved looking up info for their games) put it on your screen and show it to them. If the fact that they would be reading it on a screen bothers you, then you can often buy  a gamers guide but they do get expensive. Offer to help them create a database of the characters and their skills, or print up ones you find online for quick reference. Pick up a gaming magazine for kids, or a book about the collectibles or whatever. Find ways you can connect with the kids where they are, ask them about the games, the shows, whatever. Bring them healthy finger foods if you are worried about what they are eating or that they aren’t eating enough. Ask them about the game, what they are playing, the plot, the people in the games. Let them know you are thinking about them  and want to encourage their interests. Find some aspect you can understand and join them where they are.

Issac playing online with a friend.
Issac playing online with a friend.

This will help you connect with them and really get a feel for what they are getting out of all the things they do on that form of media, and maybe even why. And as they feel you are really trying and aren’t going to “take it away” and that you aren’t frowning about it at them, they will loosen their hold on it a bit and gradually they will start joining you in the cool things you are doing (not all), they will start looking at the books, playing with the associated toys or crafts, and so on. (Many of us have minecraft posters on the wall, or Pokemon, or Skylanders, or Terraria, and books, and action figures, stuffies, houses full of geek references.) Meeting them where they are will help you feel connection with them again (which is usually where the parents panic when they start feeling the kids are doing “nothing but screen things”.) It takes time for both sides, but it is like learning another language and our kids get to do it first-hand and be prepared for this changing world where screens are an everyday all the time part of our lives.

 

Plank Pullin’: Crying into the Dishwater

For the first time in several years (at least–can’t remember the last time honestly) I am joining in a weekly meme: Jessica’s Plank Pullin’. Hop on over and read hers (which I totally identify with, or would if we actually had people randomly stopping by– in our case we still have all elderly neighbors and my kids are the ones going visiting.)

So, if you have been paying attention you know we are doing an experiment this week. In case you don’t have the energy to read through my wall of words here’s a run down:

This week I am fasting from telling the kids to do chores or insisting they do what I ask in general (the fast policy is ask once then let it go–it is not required obedience because I am asking not insisting).  They are 13, 11, and 9.  They know how the house runs.  There have been nightly fights since we instituted the “kids are in charge of the dishes” rule 6 months ago and I have had enough as have they–thus the fast (which may extend to all the time–usually my character fasts do in the end).

 

The problem is, my attitude about it stinks, as does theirs.  I can’t fix theirs but I CAN fix mine, which is where this week’s plank pullin’ comes in.

We have been doing pretty well– I had been making sure I asked for help only when the kids weren’t actively busy with something.  So if I said, “Hey, could someone run down and check the laundry” someone usually would.  But last night my attitude with a healthy dose of hormones reared its ugly head and when you live in a house with pre-/teen girls, THEIR hormones are also raging.

We had spent all day out shopping– the exhausting sort– and I was exhausted, wiped out, and REALLY didn’t want to do dishes.

See, growing up my parents didn’t get a dishwasher until I moved out– why should they when my brother and I made perfectly good dishwashers.  They got it when I moved out because my middle brother was busy with all sorts of after school activities and was never home to DO dishes, my other brother being a baby.  I’m not bitter. So I grew up hating doing dishes even though when my brother  helped it was kind of fun.  Despite how we acted around our parents we really enjoyed each other’s company and made doing dishes fun.  The result of this is I hate doing dishes but don’t mind so much if it gives me a chance to hang out with someone.

When I asked for help last night everyone decided they would rather do something else.  So I sobbed into the soapy water instead of yelling (because if I am on a fast and call it that then I rememberand I refused to yell–though BOY was it tempting.)  This led to a big wet, whiny talk with God about how I hated doing dishes alone and why was I the one who had to pick up all the slack and do all the extra work that needs done and how the kids know my love language is service and not one of them could be bothered to even offer to help and waaaaaaaahhhh.

Now remember, part of this experiment is that I want my kids to get a better attitude about work and not go about bossing each other and to quit looking at work as something to be avoided and foisted off on others.  Here I was whining about how I wanted my kids to come in and naturally offer to help without even being asked and that they wouldn’t even do it if I asked gently.  Meanwhile God often has to kick me in the rear (or shut down my computer) to get me going in the proper direction even though I should know what He wants me to do (I do have a conscience and the Holy Spirit uses it liberally) and even when He straight out asks I tend to balk.  So my love language is service and here I am whining about serving because I want others to serve me instead meanwhile I don’t pay near enough attention to the service that God is asking me to do.  Hmmm.  Big ol’ plank there.

And then, after all my whining and fussing I realized there really weren’t that many dishes after all (a little over a sink full) and suddenly I was done and I remembered that doing dishes isn’t really that bad and I was just really pulling the same stunt as my kids (why do I have to be the one to do it, why can’t someone else.)

A few minutes later, though still disappointed in my kids, my attitude had recovered.  I walked into the office and my boy ran up to me and said, “I know I didn’t help with the dishes but look, I cleaned up your desk for you!”  And he did, my desk looked really nice (and everything was where I usually put it so I could find it– and yes, it did make me feel loved–I have a very silly heart. :))  A few minutes later Rach asked, “Didn’t anyone help you with the dishes?”  I replied that no one had and why would she expect someone else to if she wouldn’t (okay, a bit of attitude lingering but her younger sister is the one who usually steps in and helps and Rach knows it).

Obviously I have some personal heart issues/attitude to address before I attempt to address those in my children.  So I consider it temporarily adjusted– I know I will have more adjusting to do but that is really what a fast is usually about (for me anyway) and fasts tend to bring out the big heart issues God wants to work on right now and this one is a doozy.

 

Games We Play: About games and learning

This is part 1 of a series.  In this post I explain why we play games and how we play them so that kids don’t kill each other because they are loosing. I will also talk about how we adapted games to suit different age levels and how our games have changed as the kids have grown.Future posts in this series will give more specific games, ways we have played them, and the educational benefit of each.

Everyone was talking about games yesterday, which got me thinking about our favorites.  We play a lot of games around here–video games, board games, computer games, physical games, word games, you name it.  Games are a big part of an unschooling lifestyle and we, despite being a non-competitive family, love games.

We have found that games are the perfect prompt when nothing else will get a kid moving in the right direction.  When boredom hits it is time for a game.  A long car ride or a visit to the doctors office means it is time for a game.  A quiet evening or a rainy afternoon is time for a game.  Games are what happen when we have a guest, or when someone is away from home, when we are out of movies, or when we are waiting in line.  A question, more often than not, is enough to prompt a game.  Because we don’t do traditional school the kids think of questions as games.

“How do you spell…..?”

“Can you find….?”

“How do they make….?”

“Why do you think….?”

Occasionally a statement will start it.

“Nibble, nibble little ___________, who’s been nibbling on my ____________?”

“I have ____ _____and I need ____, how many more do I need?”

“I spy with my little eye something ______  .”

Sometimes the game is a simple question answer game, sometimes a game is on the computer, on the Wii, verbal, physical, a board game, a scavenger hunt, whatever suits the moment.  And almost always, the game gets adjusted to suit our needs.  Very seldom do we play strictly by the rules and  often (much to the consternation of my mother-in-law) the rules get tossed completely.  Games of Scrabble degrade into a crossword game of how many words can we make fit on the board.  Games of toss degrade into how far away can I get and still catch the football.  Even video games degrade into a game of pretend (Mario has spent more time being a brother to someone else than looking for Sunshine sprites) or games of dress-up (my kids have designed numerous superheroes for City of Heroes though they have never played the game.) More often than not it starts when someone playing a traditional game says “what if” and we all try to see what the results will be.  Sure it means that we don’t remember the original rules for most games but we get to adapt and create and learn all sorts of things we wouldn’t be learning if we stuck to the rules.

When the kids were younger we adapted every game so that it was simpler to play (we didn’t buy Jr. editions because those are usually boring but we simplified the rules so each child could play and enjoy themselves).  We also found that usually it is better NOT to keep score.  Yes, we keep score when we play with grownups but if we are playing ourselves we don’t.  Instead we focus on having fun and coming up with ways to make the game better.

If we do keep score then we use handicap or allow those who are at a different stage of learning to have different rules so the game is less frustrating.  When we play word games then the non-reader (or early reader) gets points for recognizing or spelling any real words instead of 3 letter words (like in Boggle).  If they are very new readers then they get a partial point just for finding a word even if it isn’t spelled quite right–I correct their spelling so they know next time but they get a half point for trying to find a word.  As they learn they get less of a cushion and are expected to do it right.  Now that I have all readers with only one new reader we play more by the original rules without much frustration.

My goal is for them to love the games without being frustrated at not having the knowledge or understanding to actually play. We find that by adapting the games to each child’s needs  they still enjoy playing even if they are not very good at it, and the bonus is that as they play and we adapt the rules they get better at the game until they get to the point where they can actually play the game for real.

Building cricket houses

Another thing the kids did while we were at the cottage was build fairy or cricket houses.  The found a section of land where crickets played and with a multitude of sticks built mini houses.

This is actually what lead up to building lean-tos and forts that they could actually play in.

To build your own break a whole bunch of sticks to similar lengths.  Stick four sticks straight down into the ground  in a rectangle or square then lay the the branches around the outside lincoln log style.  When finished you can try makeing a roof–Rachel used sticks, Essie used leaves.  Honestly you can do this however you like and let the kids see what works for them.  I only made a few suggestions–they spent several hours working on them without my input at all.

Finding education in vacation or Learning, Learning, Everywhere

In July, Sandra Dodd hosted Learn Nothing Day.  Our family, after a bit of discussion, decided not to take part, not because we didn’t feel that we unschoolers didn’t need a break, but the kids decided that there was no way they could learn nothing all day.  They figured out that even if they were lying in bed all day or staring at the wall their minds would be full of ideas and figuring things out and that spending a day learning nothing would mean being in a coma or something equally undesirable.

And so, as you can imagine, even our vacation was full of learning.  I had originally intended to do a slew of posts on the subject with pictures but life got in the way so instead I will share the condensed version.

I have already mentioned how we stayed with friends ( a former missionary to Ecuador and private school principle, my dear friend–his daughter, and her 2 year old who is bilingual.)  Lots of learning went on there on which I already touched briefly.  After spending a few days with them we headed to the beach to stay with my dad, stepmom, and baby brother for 3 days.  In that time the kids and I…

discussed how waves work, why the ocean is blue/green, how the tides work and why, how undertow works, how storms affect the ocean, how erosion works, and what lives at the bottom of the sea.

We saw dolphins and pelicans, as well as numerous other small birds that follow when the fish run (silverfish –I believe) were running and many animals were feeding just off the coast.  We also got to watch a fisherman catch a sand shark, a stingray (and get stung), and another kind of shark that I can’t remember.  We got to see the animals up close and had the opportunity to pet them (um, no thank you?)

(Above is a dolphin swimming in the sunrise, they were hard to catch but we saw enough that I got a few photos.)  We also got to experience many sand creatures and learn about biting flies that come in due to a storm at sea (ouch.)

We learned what sand is made of and how rocks are formed.  We scavenged the beach after high tides to sea what the waves had grabbed the day before.  We found a pair of flip flops, 2 boogie boards, several shovels and rakes, and a few shells plus a jelly fish.

We road the bus and road bikes on the board walk which led to a much needed reminder about bike safety and the rules of the road.

We discussed how magnifying glasses work, watched fishing boats go by , learned the difference between an island and a penninsula.

The kids made friends with another family and got braver about going out in the waves.  Issac hung out with the girls older brother and dug huge holes in the sand.

All three kids spent the moments before high tide digging deep holes and trying to find ways to keep the incoming tide from washing them out.  They learned about different sorts of barricades, erosion, and how quickly the ocean can fill in a hole.

We also visited a shipwreck museum and saw items from the Titanic, the Edmund Fitgerald, and other ships, learned how sea divers recover items from shipwrecks and clean them, learned about and bought some hermit crabs (their first ever pets due to hubby’s animal allergies).  We walked miles and miles, saw a lighthouse, visited our friends again and learned about cryptography, did a scavenger hunt, took a new way home, learned about how to save gas while driving, visited our friends at As We Walk, and saw all that God was doing around us–there was a ton of character developing going on that I am not even getting into.

We are still processing all we learned several months later.  Discussions are still going on about various ideas and concepts that were gleaned from our trip.  The kids now want to go back and visit both our friends in DC and Deb’s family–they have plans for DC now that they have been to the area and are figuring out what they want to see (I think a few museums at the Smithonian are the plan for this next trip).  This has led to discussions of all that is available there and planning and organizing on their part (I try to stay out of it except to limit the cost and number of places).  And I, like my three crazies, cannot imagine a day without learning.

Finding Education in Vacation: Mexican Restaurant

We went to an authentic Mexican restaurant with our friends.

The kids got to try several new things including fried plantain (they already LOVE Mexican food but this one had more variety than our local one.)

Kayla comes here all the time because this is where her daddy works.

She knows everyone and they all love her.

And unlike my own kids, she knows what she likes to eat here (including the EXTRA spicy picante sauce.)

She also taught us a new game, similar to follow the leader.

Unschooling Photo Journal 9

I should probably mention that the last few days we have spent all afternoon at the pond, and I have been taking LOTS of pictures, mostly  trying to capture the perfect “jumping in” shot, so, you will be seeing a lot of those.  Especially now that Issac has learned to jump in without fear and the girls are perfecting their various jumps and dives AND i discovered that out on the paddle boat is the best place for action shots.

Unschooling photo journal 2

One of my favorite things is the togetherness of my children.

Sure they fight but the stigma of “brother” or “sister” is lost when they are constant companions.

Brother and sister take on their old meaning of loved one.

Their companionship and friendship is a blessing.

Though they may not recognize it until they are older.

And when there is discord they are learning to fix the broken ties,

quickly and effectively,

Which will also be a blessing in the future.