It’s OK to Have Unlimited Screen Time

11141203_708424129269470_6321678382145679367_n“But if I let them do whatever they want, they’ll just watch TV and play video games all day!”

This is a very common reaction to the idea of allowing one’s children complete (or even partial) freedom.  They will spend the whole day with eyes locked to a screen, completely cut off from the real world.  I understand this concern.  I have felt the anxiety that comes along with it.  I have tried limiting “Screen Time” in the past, and it has resulted in a painful power struggle that has only two possible outcomes (as is true with any power struggle).  Either I overcome and defeat my children, forcing them to bend to my will, or they are victorious, and I cower in the corner, rocking back and fourth in the fetal position.  I do not find either of these to be desirable.

So, what did I do?  Two things.  One:  I changed my perspective.  Even as adults screens are a very real part of our daily lives, and I would challenge you to add up the amount of “Screen Time” you have in one day.  It took some time, but I realized that my children’s brains would not turn to soup if they spent some time with the TV, computer, or tablet.  (I also found out that the more I relaxed, the happier everyone was)  I allowed them the freedom to choose, and, for a while, they chose to binge watch their favorite TV shows.  But after a while, when they realized that it was no longer a scarce commodity, they relented, and began exploring their other options.

Which brings me to the second thing:  I gave them other options.  There are so many things that most kids would rather do than watch TV or play video games.  Below is a list of things my kids consistently choose over a screen.

  • Light-saber battling
  • Painting
  • Looking for bugs
  • helping to prepare a meal
  • Riding bikes
  • Playing with play dough
  • Recording videos for their YouTube Channel
  • Playing in water
  • Racing
  • “Nature Talking” (An activity invented by parasaurolophus [8] that involves sitting quietly with eyes closed and listening/talking to trees)
  • Going to the park
  • Writing stories (Its even more fun If I staple together a few sheets of white paper, with a colored piece for the cover so they have a little book to write in)
  • Going for a walk
  • Building a snowman
  • Collecting leaves
  • Taking apart broken/old electronics (Last week was the toaster)
  • Doing mazes
  • Reading or being read to
  • Watering the plants
  • Building forts
  • Playing tag

I could honestly go on forever, but you get the point.  Sometimes it just takes a little creativity, initiative, and involvement on my part, but honestly watching movies and playing video games has become a last resort for them, when all other options have been exhausted.

~Dadosaurus Rex

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Summerhill

I stumbled across this while perusing the vast caverns of the interwebs.  It is a chapter of a book called “Summerhill” written by an educator named A. S. Neill, and the message resonated with me so strongly, I couldn’t help but post it here.  Enjoy.

“I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.

If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? So many insane sex crimes? Why the hate that is racism? Why the need for drugs to enhance life? Why backbiting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why degradation and torture? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaulted state of civilised eminence!

I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one that deals with the young. I ask these questions because those so often asked by teachers are the unimportant ones, the ones about French or ancient history or what not when these subjects don’t matter a jot compared to the larger questions of life’s fulfilment – of man’s inner happiness.

How much of our education is real doing, real self-expression? Handwork is too often the making of a wooden box under the eye of an expert. Even the Montessori system, well known as a system of directed play, is an artificial way of making the child learn by doing. It has nothing creative about it. In the home the child is always being taught. In almost every home there is at least one ungrown-up grown-up who rushes to show Tommy how his new engine works. There is always someone to lift the baby up on a chair when the baby wants to examine something on the wall. Every time we show Tommy how his engine works we are stealing from that child the joy of life – the joy of discovery – the joy of overcoming an obstacle. Worse! We make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.

Parents are slow in realising how unimportant the learning side of school is. Children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. All the prize-giving and marks and exams side-track proper personality development. Only pedants claim that learning from books is education.

Books are the least important apparatus in a school. All that any child needs is the three R’s the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom.

Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play: it puts old heads on young shoulders.

When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot: they shine in dialectics: they can quote the classics – but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking – the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to these of a world they have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning – it goes on separating the head from the heart.

It is time that we were challenging the school’s notion of work. It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics, history, geography, science, a little art and certainly literature. It is time we realised that the average young child is not much interested in any of these subjects.

I prove this with every new pupil. When told that the school is free, every new pupil cries, “Hurrah! You won’t catch me going to lessons!”
I am not decrying learning. But learning should come after play. And learning should not deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable. Learning is important – but not to everyone. Nijinsky could not pass his school exams in St. Petersburg, and he could not enter the State Ballet without passing those exams. He simply could not learn school subjects – his mind was elsewhere. They faked an exam for him, giving him the answers with the papers – so a biography says. What a loss to the world if Nijinsky had really to pass those exams!

Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.

I have seen a girl weep nightly over her geometry. Her mother wanted her to go to university, but the girl’s whole soul was artistic.

The notion that unless a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse – a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most schools inspectors.

Classroom walls and the National Curriculum narrow the teacher’s outlook, and prevent him from seeing the true essentials of education. His work deals with the part of the child that is above the neck and perforce, the emotional, vital part of the child is foreign territory to him.

Indifferent scholars who, under discipline, scrape through college or university and become unimaginative teachers, mediocre doctors and incompetent lawyers would possibly be good mechanics or excellent bricklayers or first rate policemen.

I would rather Summerhill produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.

In all countries, capitalist, socialist or communist, elaborate schools are built to educate the young. But all the wonderful labs and workshops do nothing to help Jane or Peter or Ivan surmount the emotional damage and the social evils bred by the pressure on him from his parents, his schoolteachers and the pressure of the coercive quality of our civilisation.

The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.

We set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. Since 1921 this belief in the goodness of the child has never wavered: it rather has become a final faith.

A. S. Neill MA, Hon MEd, Hon Dr. of Laws, Hon Doc.

Stop Trying To Control People

22thebestwaytocontrolpeople0aistoencouragethem0atobemischievous220a-default“Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.”   Shunryu Suzuki

3 Reasons People Are Complaining About Your Parenting

complain
When our children were younger, we were very conscientious about their care.  They didn’t drink “Kool-Aid.”  We mixed their juice half and half with water.  There was not often candy in our house.  We didn’t have network or cable television, and they would occasionally watch something from our collection of age appropriate DVDs (and by age appropriate, I don’t necessarily mean G rated, Cartoons, or Disney movies, many of which are extremely confusing and traumatic for a very young child)  We weren’t denying them anything they were asking for, but simply not giving them anything that was potentially damaging to their health and happiness when they weren’t even asking for it.

For some reason, this upset people.  A chorus of “You can’t shelter them forever!” was constantly ringing in my ears.  A phrase that never made much sense to me, because all parents “shelter” their children to a certain extent.  You don’t sit your 3 year old down to watch hard core pornography.  You don’t offer your 5 year old a shot of vodka.  You don’t drop your 2 year old off on the outskirts of town and see if they can find their way home.  Oh, and then there was the story of so-and-so.  You remember s0-and-so, don’t you?  Their mother never allowed them to have such-and-such, and when they finally got ahold of it they were obsessed with it and never did anything else!  You don’t want your kid to be like so-and-so, do you?  People were also constantly trying to undermine our parenting decisions.  Thrusting spoonsful of ice cream toward my 8 month old daughter, or putting on movies they knew we wouldn’t want the kids watching.  In short, it was extreme disrespect for my children’s wellness, and extreme disrespect for my wife and I as parents.  Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing, so they had to correct it for us.

Well, some years and a few kids later, things have changed.  The kids are older, candy is inevitable, and we now have a TV with Netflix and a computer with the internet.  But one thing hasn’t changed, we are still upsetting people with the way we raise our children.  The problem now?  Too much freedom.  We don’t force them to dress a certain way, we let them eat when and what they would like, they do not have a fixed bedtime, they decide who they do and don’t want to hug and kiss, and we have no limits on screen time.

Why then, are people still upset?  Isn’t this what they wanted?  For us to stop sheltering our children and to stop being so “controlling”?  But that was never really the issue.  The issue was that we were doing something different.  We were going against the grain, and we still are.  That is a problem for three reasons:

1. By doing something different we must be implying that the way they raised their children was wrong.

2. They are jealous because they wanted to do something different, but gave in to pressure to maintain the status quo.

3.  Society has taught them to fear what they do not understand.

So, to all you different parents out there, I say be yourself, do what’s best for your family, and don’t listen for one second to the jerks who try to bring you down.  Your children will thank you, and you won’t have to ever wonder what would have happened if you had raised them the way you knew was right.

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Oneness Vs Autonomy

“Step by step the longest march
Can be won can be won
Many stones can form an arch
Singly none singly none
And by union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill
Singly none singly none”

1280px-Moulin_dussart_01I heard these words sung on the radio today, and I’m trying to decide how I like them.  My first thought is a resounding “Amen!”  There is truly nothing that we “singly” can do.  Without the sun, without the earth, without our fellow creatures, and our fellow man.  We are all interconnected, and we can all band together in love to make the world a better place.

But then a rebellious thought rushes in.  What if I don’t care for marching, and would rather sit by the stream?  What if I’d rather be a rolling stone than a stone in an arch?  What if I am a drop of water that doesn’t want to “turn the mill?”  What if my aim is to evaporate, join the cirrus and float about in a wisp of white?

So, do we take the path of cooperation, or individuality?  Is there a middle ground between oneness and autonomy?

BONUS HAIKU!

Too Many Choices

I cannot make up my mind

I’ll let you decide

Take Charge Of Your Life

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“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward.”  ~Amelia Earhart

It is a wondrous thing to be an autonomous being, able to feel and to think and to decide.  Run your own race, and don’t let anyone keep you from doing what you know is right.

Are You Qualified to Teach Your Children?

Another re-post from my old blog:

When people find out that our children are home-schooled (Well, unschooled actually) They usually respond by shifting the conversation to a more comfortable topic, such as…well, anything but homeschooling.  However, when speaking to less timid folks, the conversation can quickly turn into an interrogation.

“Whats wrong with the schools in our community?”
“Didn’t you go to public school?”
“How will your children learn to socialize?”
“How will they learn to take instruction?”
“How will they learn discipline?”
“How will they get a job without a diploma?”

And then there is my personal favorite, “What makes you think you are qualified to teach your children?”

When I was first confronted with this question, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to answer it.  I came up with all kinds of legitimate answers, as well as finding statistics comparing the performance of home-schoolers to children taught in public school.  But no matter what answer I came up with, it still didn’t feel right.

I then realized something that has completely changed the way I look at my children’s education.  I am NOT qualified to teach them.  My critics were right all along, I do not have what it takes to educate my own children.  But the good news is, they are qualified to learn.  Every child has within them the capacity to learn from their surroundings, without school, without a curriculum, and without a teacher.  So maybe you don’t have a teaching degree, but don’t let that stop you from allowing your curious, and resourceful children from learning naturally, and with joy, on a daily basis.

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”   -Albert Einstein

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Inside an Elementary School

Occasionally for work, I make visits to local elementary schools.  I have the opportunity to see the way many (if not most) children are spending the bulk of their waking hours.  Having four young children myself, I know what they are capable of.  Children are creativity machines, always singing, dancing, building, digging, experimenting and exploring.  They have a tremendous drive to take in as much of the world around them as possible.  They are bursting with excitement at the newness of everything.  Imagine having 200-300 of these little imaginative beasts crammed into one area!  What would that look like?  What would they learn, create, and discover?

Well, I have seen what it looks like, and it is quite disturbing.  Today was my first visit of the school year to a few local elementary schools.   Each of the schools I visited was the pretty much the same.  None of the children spoke (At least not loud enough for me to hear).  They moved silently in single file lines, and the only sound was the commands and reprimands of the adults.

You couldn’t have asked for more docile and obedient children, but the school staff still found reasons to chastise.  One student put out his arm, and ran his hand along the wall as he walked (still in line) toward the cafeteria.  “Aiden, the wall does not need dusting!”

As I made my way through the school, I heard a teacher inform the students that they ought to walk “Single file through the hall please, quiet as a butterfly,” on hearing this, one of the more spirited children gently flapped her arms (like a butterfly), “SASHA!  We are not birds!”  Whoa.

It was pathetic.  The teachers were really grasping at straws.  On my way out I heard “Why would you put water in your hair!? Why? Just, WHY!?”  I turned to see a boy, not drenched as I was expecting, but patting his slightly damp head with his hand.

These are young kids we are talking about, anywhere from 4 to 10 years old.  I can’t believe that I am the only one who doesn’t think this is a natural or healthy way for them to behave.  And it is not enough for them to be silent for six hours, and walk in single file lines, but they need to keep their arms at their side, not touch anything, and whatever you do, don’t let any of them put water in their hair.

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Bonsai Children

I found this post while revisiting one of my old blogs.  I thought it deserved a re-post.

I have a fondness for bonsai trees.  They are quite amazing, and if  I had the patience to grow them, or money to buy them, my home would certainly be a bonsai forest.

As I was sitting and thinking of the techniques used in growing bonsais:  The pruning, trimming, clamping, and wiring.  And thinking also of the outcome:  The size, the artificial appearance of maturity, the constant care that is required.  I compared these aspects to those of their wild counterparts, which are tall and majestic, with spreading branches, elaborate root systems, and no need for human hands to care for them.

Is it unfair for me to draw these same comparisons between the schooled mind, and the mind that was free to learn for itself?

At school, children are shaped into a form that may not be natural for them, but is acceptable to society.  They acquire an appearance of maturity, but it is merely an illusion based in fear.  They are kept contained for 6 hours (or more) a day so that their roots cannot reach deep into the ground, and find their own source of happiness.  Without school, children are limited only by their nature.  They are free to become themselves, whether that be a shrub or a sequoia, they will be themselves, and in that, there is much joy.

The main difference is that the growth of the bonsai gives a sense of joy and accomplishment to the grower, while the growth of the wild tree gives a sense of accomplishment and joy to the tree.

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Jacques Fresco: This Shit’s Got to Go!

There is not much I can add to this, it pretty much speaks for itself.

“I’ve watched humanity set the stage for it’s own extinction. I’ve watched as the precious finite resources are perpetually wasted and destroyed in the name of profit and ‘free’ markets. I’ve watched the social values of society be reduced into a base artificiality of materialism and mindless consumption, and I have watched as the monetary powers control the political structure of supposedly free societies. – I’m 94 years old now, and I’m afraid my disposition is the same as it was 75 years ago: This shit’s got to go!”  ~Jacques Fresco