I recently received an email that asked a couple of great questions that really spoke to a larger issue, one that gets brought up a lot.
There are two things I’m wondering if you can help me understand. I’ve read your posts on no tv limits and no bedtime. At what age did you begin that with your kids? I’m wondering if that’s something I should consider starting now for my 3 yr old, or if I should wait until she’s older. What are your thoughts there?
First, I would caution anyone – at any stage of unschooling – against making any extreme changes all at once. (Ie: Kids have an 8:00 bedtime their whole lives, and mom one day announces, “From now on, no more bedtimes. Stay up as late you want.”) Such a drastic step rarely goes well, causes stress and chaos, and makes it far too easy to slip into a mentality of “anything goes,” which is the antithesis of thoughtful unschooling. Instead, say “yes” more often. Take baby steps. Make gradual changes. Follow Sandra Dodd’s advice of “read a little, try a little, wait, watch.” Think of the goal of having a happy, peaceful, respectful relationship with your kids… not of giving them total freedom (which doesn’t really exist anyway.)
A few days ago, I read a post from a well-meaning and frustrated mom who’d recently started unschooling, and had done away with a set bedtime for her very young – 3 or 4 year old – daughter. The girl was literally staying up all night, until 4 or 5 in the morning. She was making noise and making it difficult for others to sleep, and she was (understandably!) exhausted and cranky the next day. The current situation was clearly not working, for anyone involved, but mom was confused about what she should or should not do about it, because “unschoolers don’t have bedtimes.”
ALL kids, unschoolers or not, need sleep. ALL families, unschoolers or not, need to work together to respect everyone’s needs if the household is going to operate as one cohesive, peaceful unit.
We don’t have set bedtimes – for any of our kids – but sleep and the nighttime routine are definitely one of those fluid, ever-changing things that we often have to re-evaluate. Most nights, I don’t know when the 16 and 13 year old go to bed, because I go to bed before them. They’re usually happily playing on their computers, and/or Skypping with friends when I say goodnight. They go to bed when they’re tired, and sleep as late as they need. When our schedules change for whatever reason, they use their alarm clocks, and/or go to bed a bit earlier each night to get re-acclimated. The 9 year is usually up when I go to bed as well, although I will often ask him to either play more quietly, or go to bed to read/watch TV if he’s being too loud for others to sleep. He sometimes has issues with volume control when he’s playing Minecraft and Skypping with his friends, so we talk a lot about respect for others who are trying to sleep (particularly his dad, who has to get up for work at 5:00 AM). As for the five year old, we’re actually working with her on this. Within the past several months, she wanted to keep up with the “big kids” and started staying up later and later. Which actually would have been fine – her favorite late night activity is usually coloring, which is completely quiet – except that her body wasn’t allowing her to sleep in in the morning, so she just wasn’t getting enough sleep. So we worked with her on getting to bed earlier… doing quiet things, reading books, laying in our bed with us, etc. These days, she’s staying up fairly late, but she’s started sleeping later as well, so she’s well-rested. We all got a bit off our routine over the holidays, with all the activity, people visiting, etc. So we’re currently finding our way to back to normal. Assessing, evaluating, making changes where they’re needed.
And television? It’s a great tool and resource, so yes, I wouldn’t arbitrarily limit it any more than I’d limit books or blocks or art supplies. If your house is fun and happy and interesting, television becomes just another cool thing that your children could choose or not choose in any given day, no matter their age. If it’s been previously limited, just move slowly. :) ”Sure, you can watch another show.” ”Of course, I’d love to watch Strawberry Shortcake with you.” TV watching, like anything else, goes through ebbs and flows. Sometimes they watch a lot, and sometimes they don’t watch at all for weeks at a time.
One other thing, we do a daily quiet time where she plays in her room for while. She’s an introvert and will happily play in her room on her own for hours at a time, much longer some days than we typically request of her for quiet time. It’s seemed to work well for her and gives her an opportunity to recharge and play in her own space without her little brother getting in her way. After reading more about unschooling though, I guess I’m questioning that, thinking maybe we should just all her to choose how and where she wants to play during that time as well, instead if restricting it to in her room. Do you have an thoughts or insights on that?
I’m a huge introvert, with a busy life and four kids and a husband and a house to take care of…. so the idea of spending hours alone in my bedroom sounds positively dreamy to me. It sounds like your daughter really enjoys it, so I think it’s great that you’re facilitating that for her. There’s no need to require it though. Some days she might not want it or need it. Some days she might want to play with her brother, or just talk to mom. I’ve found that my kids and I will naturally come together and move apart multiple times throughout the day…. sometimes playing together, sometimes working on our own things but in the same space, sometimes in our own space completely. And while there are certainly times (especially towards the end of a busy day) when I’ll say something like, “I just need a couple of minutes to catch my breath and have a sip of coffee”, I pretty whole-heartedly disagree with the advice that’s often given that advocates “taking a break” from your kids.
We’re all a team, choosing to spend time together. The years when they are young and needing and wanting lots of attention from mom go so fast, (So fast. SO. FAST!) so I do my best to embrace them. At the end of the day, what I really want is for my kids to know that mom was there. And the fact that you’re searching, and asking questions, and evaluating tells me that you want the same thing.
(Want me to answer a question in an upcoming blog post? Send it here.)