From an emailed question:
I am very new to unschooling- yesterday was my first day, and all the kids did is play our Wii. I have been homeschooling them their entire lives following a Charlotte MAson approach, and I found them fighting learning. But after living my whole life believing that too much screen time will rot your brain, this is a hard thing to accept. Could you help reassure me (and my husband) that things will be ok?
First, good for you for recognizing that something wasn’t working, and seeking out alternatives! That is a huge step that many don’t take, due to fear or uncertainty.
Second, I cannot stress enough how normal it is for a child (or for anyone) to temporarily binge on something that’s been previously limited. If the Wii was something that they were only able to play at certain times or on certain days, it would be much more strange if they didn’t rush to play it as much as they could once that restriction was lifted! Wiis are fun. One thing that I see happen a lot is that parents will begin unschooling, panic about their kids’ electronic use, and then reinstate old rules and restrictions. Then, when they try again, and their kids again spend huge amounts of time on said electronics, the parents throw up their hands and say, “See? This doesn’t work for us! This happens every time!” Well yes, of course it happens every time. When you limit or take away something – anything, whether it’s book or a skateboard or a video game – it becomes more desirable. If a child has to worry about the next time that you’re going to take it away, of course they’re going to use it as much as they possibly can in the meantime. It’s human nature.
What’s happening right now – for you and your children both – is “deschooling.” Stated simply, deschooling just means the period of adjustment needed to rid yourself of schoolish thoughts, of the misconception that learning is something that only happens at certain times in certain ways, of the belief that some things (ie: books) hold more educational value than other things (ie: video games). It’s a time to break out of old patterns, and to learn to trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust the process. It’s a time to relax, and play, and read, and practice just being with your kids. It’s a chance for your kids to learn that they can play the Wii if they want… or play outside or watch TV or read or draw or build something or bake… and that it’s all equally available. The longer you and your children were involved in school, or traditional school-at-home, the longer the deschooling process will take. Sandra Dodd has a large collection of deschooling links that will help.
As for the screen time: “Screen time”, as overwhelmingly often as it is used, is a really odd and unhelpful term when you think about it. It takes dozens… hundreds, an infinite amount… of different activities, and deduces them into one, often maligned and misunderstood, thing. Sure, screen time can mean video games. It can mean entertainment. It can mean work. It can mean play. It can mean communication. It can mean writing, creating, reading, researching. None is better or worse than the other, and all have their own intrinsic value. I’ve been out of bed for about two hours. I watched a TV show on Netflix while I answered some emails. I texted a friend. I did some editing on my website. I uploaded a picture. I checked something on my bank account. I read a chapter of a book on my Kindle. I did a little writing (I’m still doing a little writing :)) I researched something I was talking about with one of my boys. All “screen time.” My husband, who works as a budget and payroll director, is on his computer pretty much the entire time he’s at work. 9+ hours of screen time a day.
When it comes specifically to the Wii, or to video games in general, a lot of people would advise that you let them play as much as they want, and that they’ll eventually self-regulate. There was a time I would have said the same thing. But while I certainly agree with the first part (Yes! Absolutely, let them play as much as they want, especially right now while they’re deschooling) I’ve come to realize that when parents say, “self-regulate”, what they really mean is that they’re waiting for their children to play at a level that they, as the parents, are comfortable with. But it doesn’t work that way. Or at least it shouldn’t. Everybody is different, and every season is different, even for the same person. Kids have different interests, different passions, different ways of learning, different ways of interacting with the world around them. Different from you, and different from each other. They may go through seasons where they play a LOT of Wii, or watch a lot of TV, or read a lot of books, or play a lot of sports. If unschooling, and unschooling well, is the ultimate goal, then the parent’s job is to support the children in all their pursuits… to help them, to encourage them, to ride the ebbs and flows of their interests with them… whether they’re interested in chemistry or makeup or history or art or beating the next level of their favorite video game. When you stop looking at life through a schoolish lens, you see that there is no separation between “educational” and “non-educational” pursuits. No distinguishing between learning and living. It’s all life. It’s all intertwined. It’s all learning.
And finally, a little bit of testimony about what “screen time” looks like in an unschooling house, in a house that treats it the same as any other activity, with no more or no less value:
At the time of this writing, my kids are (soon to be) 8, 11, 15, and (soon to be) 19. My 8 year old, and only girl, is the most extroverted of my kids by far, so the internet – and Skype in particular – has been a wonderfully helpful way for her to keep up with friends and family in between visits. She recently got her own email account (www.tocomail.com – a great starter email for kids!) and she likes to email as well. She has her own Kindle, and she loves taking pictures of herself and her family and her pets, and making little videos. She goes in phases with video games. Right now, she’s really enjoying an online game called Star Stable, that she plays with her cousin, and at various times with myself, my parents, and her aunt and uncle. Super fun. She can take or leave movies most of the time, but she does like TV. Some past favorites have been Good Luck Charlie, iCarly, and My Little Pony. She’s also super physically active. She loves dancing, jumping on the trampoline, and playing with the pets. She just recently started rehearsing for a local homeschool theater company’s spring production.
My 11 year old loves cooperative games online, and he also enjoys keeping up with his long distance friends through messengers. He likes YouTube, and has some favorites he watches regular. He watches some TV and movies on Netflix, but the amount ebbs and flows. He plays the bass guitar almost every day. He also loves sports, spent several years doing karate, and is enjoying his second season of flag football. He’s a huge animal lover, and talks about maybe being a vet one day.
My 15 year old researched and saved up for a year to build his own dream gaming computer. He spends a lot of his time playing computer games (mostly bought through Steam), and Skyping with his friends. He watches TV the same way I do: when he finds a show he likes, he binge-watches in little marathon sessions until he’s watched the whole series. He’s recently taken an interest in movies as well, and is currently working his way through a list of “must-sees”. He’s also a musician, and spends several hours every day practicing his guitar, writing music, and conferring with his band mates. His band, The Cringes, recently had its first paying gig, has begun recording, and plans to have music available for purchase by the end of the year.
And finally my 19 year old. He has one of the most impressive gaming computer setups I’ve ever seen.
He loves the truck simulator games. He also runs a Minecraft server, is active on Facebook, and regularly chats with friends on Skype. He’s not much of a movie guy, but he loves watching TV shows on Netflix, particularly medical shows and real life crime series. He’s taken some courses online, most recently a small engine repair certification course. He has always loved engines – and fixing anything and everything – and working outdoors. He’s thought about a career in both. In his spare time, he’s teaching himself how to play the drums. Right now, he’s applying to jobs (everywhere from grocery stores to movie theaters) while he decides what he wants to do next.
What I ultimately want for my children – and for myself, too – is that when it comes to technology, they’re able to enjoy it for everything it has to offer; to use it confidently without guilt or shame in whatever way or amount makes sense for them at that time in their lives; and that they recognize it for what it is: just another tool for learning, for communication, for entertainment, in a vast arsenal of possibilities.
And truly letting go and trusting unschooling – trusting that YES, it is okay when they play Wii all day, or all week, or for a month until they solve that game – has allowed them to do exactly that.