It’s (Unlimited Screen)Time in our Homeschool Unschool!

“All eyes up!” I said to little heads deep in pads and phones this morning. Six eyes stared back at me. They had passed the test. I was going to let them feel the full force of this win.

There seems to be a common thread in the unschool-homeschool community lately – screen time. How much is enough? Should it be limited, unlimited? I have tiptoed around this issue of technology in our homeschool many a time, even flirting with the idea of unlimited screen time for my children.

Well, the time has come. Did I hear you gasp? No, that was me. And maybe not just in my thoughts.

As I have said elsewhere in my blog,

If you have a well-developed conviction about avoiding technology and you’re the sort of person who doesn’t use it yourself, trust me, I totally get it. I have friends like you who would rather live in the countryside and be perfectly happy churning their own butter, raising hens and never seeing a computer screen again. But I’m not one of them. Recreating the past without my modern conveniences does not appeal to me and I don’t have any reason to think either is better or worse.

I have thought long and hard about it and it’s happening, people. I’m no longer toying with the idea. It’s becoming a reality as we speak. With the help of K9 parental controls – which I have heard nothing but good things about – I am actually going to let my children have all the screen time they want. The caveat, of course, is that their chores and their “sit down school” must be done. They are to eat their meals with no electronics at the table and interact with us. Beyond that, it’s going to be an electronic jungle.

My daughter already has a virtual pet cat. So it begins.

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I Don’t Buy the Hype about Preschool Education

Another study has come out saying how early childhood or preschool “education,” especially of the academic kind does not help children do better as they get older, but is anyone listening?

Even as I write this someone has sent me a private message with a list of things children need to know before they enter – get this – kindergarten! The list includes: know their ABCs, be able to write their name, count to 20, the ability to sit still for twenty minutes, memorize their phone number and street address. Wow. My kids don’t stand a chance!

We did very little preschool, choosing to do crafts and other unimportant things like playing outside, reading and singing songs instead. What a waste of time. I should have been holding Hucksley’s hand, teaching him how to write his name, which he still, at five, cannot do well. I’m such a failure.

What bothers me most about this push for earlier and earlier education is that California has tried in the past to make kindergarten mandatory and will try again.

No one is paying attention to the myriad studies that insist over and over that children develop at different rates and the best thing at younger ages is to let them play. This is where I agree wholeheartedly with the unschooling community that wants the government out of their children’s education altogether. Sounds perfect to me!

If you want to read about it, look into the research for yourself. Read David Elkind, read John Holt, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Thomas Sowell, amongst others.

Don’t go by popular opinion, ubiquitous as it might be, reiterated by politicians.

I’m afraid mandatory kindergarten is becoming more of a certainty every day at the expense of parental rights and I’m worried how the place we live will look to our children and our children’s children – if they will even have the right to homeschool or we will have creches, like the French.

Yeah, put me down for the Ugh size.

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Learning History – Three Things I Want to Teach My Kids

I have recently developed a fascination, no, that is much too tame a word. I would have to say I have grown an obsession with history.

I suppose it is a natural and necessary outgrowth of liking the memoir genre. Because what is memoir but history on the minutest scale anyway?

But I have lately been enjoying history on the grand scale as well – world history, American history – the broad sweep of civilizations, cultures and people, lapping up timelines that fill walls, innumerable books from the library, even the hopelessly biased shows on the History Channel – America: The Story of Us, The Men Who Built America and The Story of Mankind.

When I was in school, I found history unappealing.

It was either full of dates and wars that meant nothing to me or it seemed hopelessly disjointed and nothing that mattered personally, on a daily, moral or intellectual level. I mean, yeah, it was cool that so-and-so king built all these temples and the architecture was interesting to gaze at, but ultimately, what was my reason to know this – outside of test scores?

No matter how many facts I learned, I didn’t see why I needed to know them.

Which leads to my wondering how to teach it to my children. What is it that I want them to see, to know, to remember? How will what they know inform their lives, their worldviews?

In the world of easily accessible information, they don’t need to memorize dates and wars. I refuse to make history about test scores and I definitely don’t want to teach history out of a text book that gives them the state-centric view – whether nationalist or revisionist.

No matter what, I find historical accounts, however dry, however “objective,” hopelessly biased and yet endlessly fascinating.

Appropriately then, the one time I did find history interesting was when we studied the Indian Independence struggle. The textbook was heavily nationalistic and yet one that sought to appease the myriad faiths and philosophical leanings of fiercely Indian parents who sent their Indian but English speaking children to a school established under the British system of education. In the midst of that struggle, history acquired a new meaning for me, I think.

Even as a fifteen year old, I understood something about living in the in between, about divided allegiances. I understood, on some level, however murky, that people were imperfect and deeply flawed.

Seen this way, what’s the point of history anyway, I seem to have decided. There are no clear cut boundaries, no winners and losers – it only seems that way until the next battle, the next war. And let’s not even get started on how it is constantly revised and rewritten, even to protests of that’s not how it happened! 

So I gave up history for the pleasures of literature, of no clarity and tons of speculation. Fact was stranger than fiction and I preferred the solace of stolid stories.

But then, I came back. When I came to Christ, suddenly history became important. There was an objective truth somewhere in the narrative, I realized, and it was important – the most important thing was not about how individuals perceived things, life was more than a tale told by an idiot. There was more to sound and the fury than more sound and more fury.

And so, as I stumble along, no, tear along, learning things I never before found interesting, here are three things I want my children to learn from history:

The story of history is the story of God’s love for his people

People often mean things for evil, but God uses them for the good of those called by Him. The battles, the wars, are important to know, but they have to be remembered as only a backdrop. God’s redemption is often the main plot against the background of man’s sinfulness. I would hate for us to miss this as we study.

God’s Word truly does endure forever

Empires rise and fall and the grand sense of Ozymandian waste we feel should be balanced by the grand sense of grandeur God offers by showing us how he has always cared for His own from the beginning of time. The story of God’s redemption does not begin with Christ’s birth as is often erroneously noted but with the promise of His birth to His people and the response of faith by those called by Him.

It’s ALL important and we cannot know how it all fits just yet

For all my complaining about how I left history behind for the promise literature offered, I soon realized that literature had its own flaws and similar ones at that. Not everything can be tied up with a bow, some things are just there, not understood, not deciphered but that does not mean they are lost. Nothing is lost in God’s economy but we cannot always know this side of eternity how it all fits.

History is fascinating, full of kings, queens, monsters, and ordinary people.

It offers lessons to our souls beyond what living in the present has to offer, but ultimately, for all the adventure, for all the inventions, for all the discoveries, the reason we are attracted to it, I think, is that we find ourselves in it.

And we find, more than anything else, a great and faithful God.

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How Long Do You Homeschool?

“Just two hours a day? Is that enough?” my father asks me.

His seventy-five year old voice is still firm halfway across the world. I have just told him how our homeschooling is going and he’s curious, a little doubtful but more skeptical than anything else.

Just two hours, I reply, thinking, This will never make sense to him.

I went to private school, beginning at age 3 and I loved it. I excelled at it.

I’m not sure if I liked it because I was good or the other way around but school was like my second home. I certainly spent most of my day there. Beginning in first grade I left my house at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon.

Some of that was just commuting to school and back. Then there was recess and lunch break and time for down time even during classes, but I understood what my dad was asking – Is it enough?

Look, I get it. Frankly, I struggle with this question, too. And I don’t think I’ll ever be done struggling because school is part of life.

And it is a question life throws at everyone – is it enough? Did I do enough? Did I earn enough? Did I get enough sleep? Enough protein? Did I read enough? Have I done enough work today that I can be content within myself to rest now? Is it enough?

I remember when I quit my real estate work-at-home job to be a full time mom. My daughter had just turned two and my middle son was eight months old. I remember asking myself if it was enough to say enough – that I was working as much as I could and was beginning to get overwhelmed. It was okay to step back and admit I was human, limited, finite.

But more time in school does not always equal better education.

All I include into our homeschool attendance records is what I can document and test. But a good education encompasses so much more.

A good education does not necessarily break down into subjects, compartmentalized, organized, tested, completed.

Add to that the fact that I have no idea what skills the children will need in the future. Sure, there are the usual reading, writing and arithmetic – our heaviest emphasis at present – and I would never want to divorce wisdom from the fear and knowledge of God as revealed in the Bible.

But beyond these two givens, I think of their education as something organic and eclectic.

And for that, our two hours of seated work for a six and five year old are plenty of time.

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Less is More in our Homeschool

I love change. On some days.

On other days, I love the safe, solid, even stolid, routine we follow. And I begin to expect it. And then comes fall. Lovely, golden, orange, red and chilly fall. And, as regularly as clockwork, I turn inward, wondering more often than I expect, Says who?

In those moments, I am thankful to have cycles within cycles, a time to reap and a time to sow.

Fall comes along each year as a new beginning, a chance to restructure, reinvent, begin again, begin better. If you have children, you know you need those. And even if you don’t, a new starting line can be invigorating in time management and the achievement of specific goals.

This fall, right on time, I made some changes to our routine. I went contrary to my controlling nature, contrary to my scheduling side and contrary to my wanting-everything-to-be-predictable side. But in doing that, I clung to my convictions and instincts. Apparently, it is possible to be quite schizophrenic within ourselves.

The biggest thing I did? I started sleeping in.

Even as I say that, something inside me screams, “Lazy!” But I discovered that I could pour out my day tirelessly for the children if I only got to sleep in until eight or so instead of waking up at 5:30am to be “ready” for them when they awoke. So I did it.

They wake up, have breakfast, entertain themselves with video games and television (“Blasphemy!” something screams inside me again. “TV before 2?”) while I have time to wake up on my schedule and get ready for the day. It also forces them to learn to get along and do more things on their own without being told.

Self-motivation is high on my list for them as a desirable skill.

Another structural change to our day was embracing a looser structure for educating the kids. There are definite advantages to the classroom structure but I have always favored unschooling for doing more than one subject at a time and tackling learning organically.

My research background in Gatto, Holt, Elkind and the Moores convinced me how our homeschool was to be tackled and yet the classroom structure seemed more predictable and I stuck with it. Then I realized I didn’t want to make the mistake this mom made (and corrected, eventually.)

I want to teach the way my children learn best; I want to teach the way I teach best.

And if that means changing some habits, so be it. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the ideal way. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will never run into difficulties or that now it’s a yellow brick road all the way, but it does mean that I am aware of what’s most important – I am free to change.

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When Homeschool Schedules Attack

It has happened again. The homeschool schedules have attacked.

Or maybe the changing weather does this to me. October makes me want to escape, take a break, run into the wilds and never return. Except I really love my couch. And my bed. Oh, and let’s face it – I do love the internet.

But when a few days ago, I became aware that all my day dreams began to be about a vacation and not having to follow a schedule or to put more accurately direct a schedule, I decided something had to be done.

I grew up with schedules for everything – and I really do mean everything.

Television watching had a time. (I still have guilt feelings about turning on the telly before one p.m.) Bathing had a time. Eating was on schedule. Studying was to be done first thing in the morning. There was a time for coffee, tea, snacks, lunch and dinner.

If something, anything, was out of place, it was noticed, cataloged and commented on – by everyone.

I must have liked this eternal Groundhog Day or at least felt comforted by it but today, it feels like a straightjacket. And so I have to acknowledge that while, for the most part, schedules are amazing things that help us achieve everything we want to, sometimes, they make us feel like automatons.

So all this week I have labeled Unschooling Week. Not just for my children, but for me as well.

I’m de-scheduling myself.

For school, we will be visiting pumpkin farms, museums and zoos. Worksheets will be banned. I will be doing nothing on schedule or at the very least I will be doing everything with a heaping dose of creativity and ease. It’s an experiment of sorts.

If it works, we’ll tack on another week.

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Schedules and the Importance of Starting Over

In my supposedly brutally honest moments, I will admit that there is no such thing as starting over.

Each time I fail, starting over gets harder.

That time I quit writing every day, that time I decided to sleep in instead of waking up early to exercise, that time I started to get lazy about cooking homemade dinners, they all add up and starting over gets harder each time.

After all, isn’t the definition of perseverance keeping on keeping on when you have nothing left to keep on keeping on? Maybe not.

Sometimes, perseverance (and the ensuing success, no matter how hard won) can be as simple as letting go of the previous effort and making a complete break with it. And the best way to do that is to establish a new starting line.

So you lost the last race. Or stumbled. But you have the freedom to start another.

This became clearest to me when I started a 365 Days of No Yelling (at my children) Challenge with my friends. I realized that most of my temper tantrums occurred in the mornings – the most challenging of times with my children because there were chores to be done, then school and, let’s face it, sometimes working with children is like herding cats.

But there was another piece to this challenge and that was me.  Because the way I saw my success or failure contributed to my struggle.

My internal dialogue told me early on in the morning that it was no use, they had already started to be difficult and it wasn’t even nine, and I should just give up and call off this challenge because, hey, if I didn’t scream and lose it, no one paid attention to me anyway. I needed a new starting line or lines, many, many little starting lines.

If one hour went badly, there was always another. Every day was another opportunity, every week a new beginning. A new starting line was available when I wanted it.

Suddenly, starting over didn’t seem that hard.

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The Technology Taboo I’m Breaking Today

There has been an article floating around the internet lately and chances are you’ve seen it.

“Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids play on iPhones or iPads!” it announces, making those of us who have come to appreciate the ease of use and creativity Apple offers our own kids feel guilty.

Should we really let our children play on our handheld devices, laptops, video games?

After all, aren’t there countless studies out there about how technology negatively affects their growing brains, their ability to function in “real life,” whatever that is?

Look, I get it. I find it quite annoying when I’m trying to have a conversation with my husband at breakfast and he’s looking at a computer screen, too.

But then I think a few decades ago, that same head would’ve been in the pages of a newspaper. Those same eyes that I complain are reading Google news would be scanning the latest stock quotes in the print version of the Wall Street Journal.

What is so different except the medium?

But these are kids, you say. There is difference between a grown man reading the daily news on the computer screen and little children addicted to their electronics. And to that, I would have to cry “False dichotomy!”

We throw the word “addiction” around far too lightly.

I am on the computer almost all day. My work as a homemaker and blogger requires it. Our bank accounts are online, the details of our investment and retirement accounts are online, the fastest way to get a stock quote is online, most of our school curricula is online, recipes as well as my meal planning happens online.

Also, I am a writer. Much of my research for home and school and work happens online.

In short, I am on the internet and using my laptop almost all day. Am I addicted?

My husband is an electrician – is headdicted to his power tools, his electric meter, his smart phone for filling in his time sheet at the end of the week? Sure, almost all these things can be done with a pen and paper, but they take much longer and I don’t see any inherent goodness in pen and paper over a laptop screen.

I struggled with this stigma of letting my kids use electronics for years.

I felt guilty for chatting with my friends on Facebook. I should be out plowing fields, I told myself, milking cows, herding sheep. After all, my children should know how to live in the real world. Oh, wait a minute. We didn’t live in a little house on the prairie. We live in suburbia and we homeschool.

I should be out plowing fields, I told myself, milking cows, herding sheep. After all, my children should know how to live in the real world. Oh, wait a minute. We didn’t live in a little house on the prairie. We live in suburbia and we homeschool.

The children have all day to play freely in their rooms and in the backyard. They have imaginative toys, colors, paper, pens, stickers.

They sing, they fight, they do chores, they play act, they learn to cook. We read together, they have pull up bars to hang on, trees to climb and, oh yeah, they also have controlled access to a computer where they learn to do math and read. They get one on one instruction from me but they also get to practice and play at their pace and learn when they want. Is that really so horrible?

If you have a well-developed conviction about avoiding technology and you’re the sort of person who doesn’t use it yourself, trust me, I totally get it.

I have friends like you who would rather live in the countryside and be perfectly happy churning their own butter, raising hens and never seeing a computer screen again. But I’m not one of them.

Recreating the past without my modern conveniences does not appeal to me and I don’t have any reason to think either is better or worse.

And for those of you who equate all technology with television – have you seen kids play video games? I don’t mean in an arcade. I mean, really have you watched the difference between someone playing video games and watching television? Do you notice how different that is from watching television? Someday, I will actually get a video of my son playing video games. He barely sits down.

You cannot convince me that it is passive in any manner.

In fact, Megan McArdle says perhaps the most appealing thing about video games in her book The Up Side of Down a book I think every parent ought to read. She talks about how failure is fundamental to learning and there is one place that children realize as fundamental to learning by failing and trying again and again – their video game console. Here is the same idea reiterated in a blog post.

A wise parent once said about technology, “Do you know you can turn it off when you don’t need it?”

We laughed, perhaps you did, too, reading this, but most people who shun technology don’t seem to accept that. Instead of shunning technology altogether, why can’t we learn to use it as the tool it is?

It would seem strange if people shunned paper tomorrow, wouldn’t it? And yet,throughout history, people have hated whatever new technology came out, claiming the older better, more romantic, somehow more morally sound.

I call humbug.

Steve Jobs might have been the ideal parent. Or he may not have been.

I’m not seeking to emulate him.

I’m seeking to please God, emulate Christ and raise my child in the freedom and conviction of the Holy Spirit who is unchanging and eternal. Technology doesn’t faze Him and it doesn’t scare me.

This post originally appeared here.

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Says who? Mom, Rethink Your Schedule

I taught my older kids how to play tic-tac-toe today.

My four year old didn’t like losing. You can see his attempts at solving this problem.

First, he tried making his Os over the Xs to escape the inevitable end. Second, he made his own board and decided he would fill it with only Os so he could win. When that didn’t achieve the desired response, he connected random Os from three different boards and declared that he had won.

Unfortunately, stickler that I am, I had to remind him that there were rules to this game and he wasn’t playing within them.

It was only then that he cried and gave up. And whined, “But I want to win!”

I think many moms would do well to remember and ask as he does, in his own way, “Says who?”

Says who? It’s a decent question. Ask it, ask it humbly, truly wanting to know the answer, but ask it.

It is not rebellious to question why you are doing the things you are doing especially when you’re spending all day doing them.

I am not referring here to convictions, I have written about those elsewhere. I am referring here to the thousand things moms think they ought to do because, well, there’s no because. Why do you cook a certain way, spend a certain way, do the work you do, make the choices you do, or don’t?

Who says things have to be done a certain way?

Sure, there are some things we just have to grit our collective teeth and work through, some others must be embraced and loved, but a large part of the day is clay, waiting to be shaped into something useful, something beautiful.

And by not asking that all important question, we allow our time to slip away to whim.

So ask.

And then try a million little ways to tweak your day, your schedule; use all your creativity, all your resources before you give up and say you can’t win.

Because somewhere along the line you might just hit the mark.

Be a four-year-old.

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Fit It In your Schedule (Without Too Much Work)

Ah, for leisure. For the days that advertisers sell us on. Days with nothing to do and nowhere to go – lazy summer days, hammocks, the beach, you know, lies. You know that’s what it is, right? You know what else days like that are? Boring.

Vacations aside, work – given focus and the right amount of time, with controlled interruptions – can be incredibly fulfilling.

So here’s a technique that will help you fit it all into your schedule. Well, mostly all.

In Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit,” he talks about a technique called sandwiching.

He explains how developing a new habit sometimes can be jarring. (Anyone who has started a new exercise routine, a new job, even a new year’s resolution knows this.)

He gives the example of how radio stations playing new songs. Sometimes, he says, the effect of a new song was so jarring, that even though it would have been liked by almost everyone, just because it was new, it was rejected. DJs refused to play it. People switched radio stations.

Why? Simply because it was new. It was not a habit. Yet. It was different.

Here’s what you do instead: sandwich it into your schedule.

Find two things that are normal in your routine. Say, coffee and a shower. Then add in the one new thing you wish to do between them. Say journaling or reading or working out. Wake up just fifteen minutes early to leave time for that extra activity.

Do your first (habitual) activity, set the timer for fifteen minutes and do the new activity. When the timer goes off, stop and move on to the second (habitual) activity.

Voila! You just sandwiched something in.

Now go pat yourself on the back for doing something radio stations have been doing for a very long time!

Sandwich it in. You’ll see. It works.

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