Why I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time, Part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2011 at 09:08 PM

There’s a billboard in my town that makes me grind my teeth into dust. It shows a kid’s hands holding, on the left, a video-game controller and, on the right, a turtle. Then it says something along the lines of “unplug”.

I was ranting about it the other day and one of my sons rolled his eyes (nicely) and said, “Mooooom, they’re just telling people to, you know, go outside more.” And yes, I get that. But they are doing it in a way that makes me crazy.

The whole either/or mentality is what gets to me. By positing the game controller against the turtle, the message is “video games: bad, playing outside: good.” Why isn’t this a good way to get kids outdoors? Because if they reject the left side of that equation, they may automatically reject the right side. This kind of shaming argument runs a serious risk of turning kids off the outdoors.

It won’t bother my kids — they’re die-hard readers and campers. But I worked for years in a school environment, and I constantly had to take kids and convert them into readers — convince them that they were wrong about hating to read, about not wanting to read, about wanting to do anything but read. When you try to promote something good (reading, playing outside) by attacking something kids love, you are seriously not helping me.

I tie this to the “books are broccoli”* approach. Imagine a cartoon where a teacher is handing two parents a sheet of paper and saying, “Now, the way we introduce children to hating learning is to first get them to hate reading. So require your child to read 30 minutes every night and then fill out and initial this form.”

If you want to suck the fun out of anything that your child enjoys doing, I suggest you force them to do it for 30 minutes every night, fill out a form, and have you initial it.

What is the message there? Reading is broccoli. It’s good for you. You won’t do it unless we make you. Eat your broccoli. Read!

The kid who liked to read sees reading turned into an assigned chore. He gets the message: Reading isn’t cool, dude. It’s something no one would do if they weren’t forced to do it. And by the way, you don’t get to pick out what you read anymore. That book is too young for you; that other one is too old. And neither of them are leveled readers. Here, read this flat, melba-toasty book for a half an hour and then I’ll initial your form. Make sure you get your form signed or I’ll make you read it again. It reads or it gets the hose.

Who is that billboard for, anyway? And does that method work? If parents love the outdoors, if they hike and camp and garden and play outside, their kids are likely to be spending time outside having fun. Many parents, however, seem to be of the “do what I say and not what I do” camp. They are indoors on the computer, watching TV and movies, maybe even reading (!), and they are waving their kids outside. In this scenario, no wonder the kids are bitter, their pale little faces pressed up against the window watching Dad play Halo and Mom skype to Grandma.

The billboard seems to be a vague scold toward parents. “Tsk, it says — make your kids go outside. It’s good for them.” But would the billboard work if the kid on the left were holding a book? Or homework? Or art materials?

Adults want to control kids. They want them to do the things they want them to do, and they want them to enjoy the activities they want them to enjoy. In the 70s, bespectacled children everywhere were being told they were “reading too much” and they needed more fresh air. Banished to the outdoors, they might climb into a treehouse with a copy of “Treasure Island” in their back pocket only to see an angry parent down on the ground, yelling at them to get down here and put that book away, mister. You will run around and play whether you want to or not. Childhood: You’re doing it wrong!

These days, parents research on their iPhone for ways to get their kids to read more and limit their kids’ screen time as though it were a magical alchemy: Less Angry Birds = More Jack London. Either/or. You can’t read and play video games. You can’t play outside and watch TV. By pulling this string, I cause the reading activity level to rise.

You’re never going to convince an adult gamer that video games are bad for kids — not because he’s clinging stubbornly to his addiction, but because he’s amassed enough anecdotal evidence to know you’re wrong. Kids who play video games read (sometimes they learn to read so they can play the games), they problem-solve, they have raucously good fun with their family and friends. Trying to explain that it’s all bad, bad, bad just makes you sound like the Luddite codger you are.

Does it ever work to encourage activity A by denouncing activity B? Books are broccoli and kids need their broccoli so that makes TV and video games candy. Sweet, delicious candy. I’m in my 40s but even I know: candy good, broccoli bad.

The either/or approach focuses on scarcity. The glass is half empty, your day is almost gone. Your free time is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Don’t waste it on things you enjoy! Invest it in these more intellectually valuable pursuits instead!

An entirely different approach would be to present books as candy, the outdoors as candy. Wow. I think I just blew my own mind.

How different it would be if, instead of scolding children to stop doing A and go do B whether you like it or not, we just shut up and took them on a hike in the woods, then came home and read “Treasure Island” aloud while drinking hot chocolate.

How different it would be if, after playing video games together as a family, we read “The Hobbit”.

How different it would be if we read a book together then watched the movie version. Together.

Part one of why I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time? Our glass is three-quarters full. We have plenty of time — time to read, time to play, time to hike and camp and garden, time to play video games and watch a movie together.

Exposed to all of these activities, my kids love to read. They like to camp and hike and play outside. They like to take long dog walks. They like to play video games, and they love family movie night. They like TV.

I don’t worry about their screen time because it doesn’t negatively affect their love of literature, and they will happily “unplug” to play catch in the yard or go on a walk in the woods.

This is partially due to the fact that we have structured our life to allow time to enjoy all of these things. We haven’t pared their free time down to a thin shaving and forced them to decide how they want to spend their spare half hour per day of relaxation. It’s also partially due to something I’ll discuss tomorrow in Part 2.

Whenever you make it about “give up this thing you really love”, you are probably going to lose. Even if you win on paper, you are still losing in the ways that count.

You are sending all kinds of subtle, between-the-lines messages about what’s broccoli and what’s candy. You’re sending those messages every day when you choose how to spend your free time, too. Before they learn how to velcro their shoes, kids know when your words don’t match your actions.

We have to change our entire approach and start saying, “If these things are really important to us — as a family, as a community, as a society — then we need to start enjoying them, together.”

We need to show our kids by example and as cohorts that reading and playing outside and all the other healthful things we value are the absolute bee’s knees, the epitome of fun, the best possible way to spend a Thursday night or a Saturday morning. We’re unlikely to convince our kids if we don’t believe it ourselves.

So step one really is: Rearrange your life to match your values. Then you won’t have to preach anymore, because your kid will already know.

*Once again, I am using “broccoli” as code for “something good for you that you personally don’t like”. Feel free to substitute spinach or brussels sprouts or whatever doesn’t suit your fancy. Just remember whatever it is, it has to be good for you as well as something you have to choke down against your will.

Read part two here.

The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity

36 comments

Comment by amy on November 7, 2011 at 09:36 PM

SING IT LOUD, SISTER!! We are not actually a big screen time family--I rarely have the TV on during the day myself--and partly that's because of how it affects *my* particular kids. MY kids. Not yours. :-) But I am working, this year, on building scaffolding around my 2nd grader to protect him from getting the idea that reading is a chore, or feeling that it's not his decision to read. Know how to make an oppositional kid refuse to do something? Tell him to do it. And this is why his "reading log" never goes anywhere near him. I sent it in this week with a note at the top that says, "X reads for at least 20 minutes per day." And that's all. I wonder if the teacher writes down everything she reads and for how long? Isn't that how they encourage people to diet, because it's such a pain in the butt to write it all down that you'd rather just not eat? (Or is that just me? Maybe I'm oppositional too?!?!)

*sigh*

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2011 at 09:49 PM

i think you could create oppositional people by forcing them to log their activities!

Comment by kirsten on November 7, 2011 at 09:57 PM

AMEN!

And I really 'heard' the 'we have time' part. That's how I feel. We have time to play video games/watch movies/play outside/READ LOTS and all the other wonderful things we love to do. I admit I'd probably care more about how much screen time they had if we had less 'free' time. That time we have allows my daughter to take more dance classes (her passion) AND piano, and I don't know how we'd manage working around school schedules...

Comment by Annika on November 7, 2011 at 10:28 PM

But Lori! I like broccoli AND spinach AND Brussels sprouts! I can't even think of a vegetable I don't like! I CAN'T MAKE THIS METAPHOR WORK FOR ME!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2011 at 10:29 PM

kirsten — exactly. if screen time seems too much *of the little time they have*, the solution should be .. more time. ;^)

annika — PBS opera? skorts? flossing?

Comment by Tea on November 7, 2011 at 11:55 PM

I teach a whole course arguing against billboards and other headlines like this! Go get 'em Lori

Comment by Misty on November 7, 2011 at 11:58 PM

Thank you for having the courage to say that screen time does not equal the ruination of childhood. My three boys play lots of video games one day and none the next. They monitor themselves and read like crazy. We just teach them to keep a balance with all aspects in life.

Comment by shelli on November 8, 2011 at 01:04 AM

Wonderful post, Lori! I couldn't agree more!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2011 at 01:22 AM

tea!!! :) i would love to hear about what you teach in your course. :)

thank YOU, misty. :) i really believe campaigns like this work *against* the movement, and i would love for kids to spend more time outdoors - i just think we need to encourage that in a completely different way.

thank you, shelli! :)

Comment by Tammy on November 8, 2011 at 01:35 AM

Great post, Lori. When my daughter was 8, we walked by the "summer reading club" booth at the library. After giving it a lot of thought, she decided she didn't want to join because it makes kids think that reading was bad, that it had to be tracked and rewarded. I so dislike those challenges. My daughters, now 9 and 12, play video games, watch movies, and are avid readers with vast vocabularies.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2011 at 02:16 AM

thank you, tammy. :)

hate hate reading programs. again, it's all about the message underneath the message, right? no one is offering to throw you a pizza party if you watch 30 tv shows. :^P

Comment by Barb on November 8, 2011 at 04:00 AM

I am so glad you are blogging again! You always provide such good food for thought! Regarding screen-time, it seems that you and many of those that commented have children that are able to regulate themselves. I think a lot of the concern is that many children (and adults!) are not able to self-regulate. My nephew is a prime example. He is extremely bright, skipped two grades in school, but now, at the age of eighteen, his parents can barely get him out of his basement bedroom and pry the computer out of his hands, literally. He seems to have lost all desire to interact with real people in the real world. If you get a chance, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this blog entry which touches on this subject:
http://www.katrinakenison.com/2011/10/24/technology-a-boy-on-the-brink-of-adulthood-some-questions/

Comment by cyndi on November 8, 2011 at 04:58 AM

wonderful, wonderful post, Lori. thank you!

Comment by Kirstie on November 8, 2011 at 06:21 AM

"Who is that billboard for, anyway?" the same people who read leaflets about eating 5 a day and suddenly have an epiphany - I haven't actually met any of these people - but maybe they exist - on Mars?

"they will happily “unplug” to play catch in the yard or go on a walk in the woods."

However, my children don't do this. Maybe it is because they are younger? My 7 year old son would play Angry Birds all day to the exclusion of everything else given the chance. On the other hand, maybe its because he is like me? I have gone through phases where I needed somebody to stage an intervention to remove my laptop from my rigid hands. For both of us, it is better to have planned and limited screen time.

Having said that, perhaps he will grow up to invent the 'Angry Birds' of his generation. I can't, however, say that I am about to create a new Pinterest. I think the trick is to know yourself. (And know your child by participating in their screen time and reading time and outdoor time).

Comment by Jen on November 8, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Hi Lori.
First: "Adults want to control kids. They want them to do the things they want them to do, and they want them to enjoy the activities they want them to enjoy."

I respectfully disagree. I think most parents, most adults, want children to be happy and healthy and grow up to be caring adults. Many parents I know are not thinking of how to control children nor how to get them to enjoy things that they enjoy, but rather they want their children to discover activities that are fun and suit their interests and/or passions.

Video game issues stem from this because many do not promote happy, healthy, or caring. There are a lot of games that promote violence. In fact, for older children there are few games that leave violence out, even if we define violence as very graphic human violence. I have many, many concerns about video games. Many of the students I teach are addicted and say so outright. They choose to play video games over studying and doing their work. Between the links to poor eyesight and gaming, less time spent reading in favor of gaming, less critical thinking taking place during gaming, and poor sustained attention spans after screen time but an increase in attention levels after being outside and/or reading, it's no wonder people want the issue to receive attention. Video games are a candy of sorts; they provide little (some could say none) of value but can do great harm if left unchecked. I would argue that most screen time is unchecked. Your family is a minority, as I will get to below.

Second: You are fortunate to have the ability to raise your children in a way that allows your family to have large amounts of unstructured time that can lend itself to video games, reading, exploring, camping, and nature. Many, many, many families do not have that. A majority of your readers are homeschoolers or alternative schoolers; a majority of kids are neither homeschooled or alternative-schooled. This means a majority of students have unwanted, un-self-selected reading materials (dry ones, at that) shoved in front of them for many hours each day. To unwind when they return home*, many do resort to the video games, whether as a babysitter until Mom and/or Dad get home or just as a way to escape more reading. Additionally, not many students live somewhere that the outdoors is somewhere they can safely go or even know what to do with-it's never been modeled for them.

Modeling camping, hiking, reading, etc. requires having a parent who 1) enjoys doing those, 2) has the monetary ability to do those that require money (even if just gas money to go hike for those who don't live near anything outdoorsy), and 3) has the time to do those things. I would wager a large bet that children who don't read, who can't read at grade level but do spend large amounts of time on video games, have parents who either aren't home or can't afford the luxury or time to spend reading, going to the library, etc.

Lastly, not all parents care about their child getting out from in front of the screen. A billboard like the one you detail means well- it may be the only indication for a child that sitting in front of a screen may not be the only thing to do. It may spur some thought in a parent passing; maybe they will take their child outside to play catch when they get home. The billboard and its creators mean well. You may not like it because you are not the target audience for the billboard. I would suggest speaking to the sponsors if you feel it targets the issues in an ineffective way. Present them with your ideas.

*For reference, the public school bus picks up children in this neighborhood between 7:30-7:45. The students return home at 4:45pm. After homework (more forced, dry reading and/or math worksheets) and dinner, there's not a lot of time left to trek through the forest; in fact, it's not light out much longer after that. Most of the parents in the neighborhood are not yet home, so the kids can't be outside with the exception of a few teenagers that are allowed to play when their parents aren't home.

Comment by kelly @kellynat... on November 8, 2011 at 02:15 PM

This post really resonated with me; as a nature-lover, bookworm, who also loves a good gaming night, this was awesome.

Comment by Stacey on November 8, 2011 at 02:39 PM

Wonderful post. First I'm going to agree about the broccoli we love it in this house.

"The billboard seems to be a vague scold toward parents. “Tsk, it says — make your kids go outside. It’s good for them.” But would the billboard work if the kid on the left were holding a book? Or homework? Or art materials?" - As someone who chooses to live right by the mountains obviously they are an important part of life. But sometimes I think all the focus put on getting out into nature disregards the bigger picture of making a relationship with something that you have a passion about. I think it's telling about our culture that as soon as someone points out something that we either have too much of or too little of they create a matrix of proper "use" when really what needs to happen is for children to be given the time to have passion.

"hate hate reading programs. again, it's all about the message underneath the message, right?"- Oh I agree about this. I love that the librarians know us well enough that they don't even offer it to Alder. I have my own form of reading "program"; if we like a book we get to find more like it!

"how it affects *my* particular kids." This part of the equation is really missing. My son's mood is effected by the time of day he has screen time, we've learned this. Here is one of those, lucky to be homeschooling things, we work with it so that he can watch what he wants as well as explore the world, do art, see friends, experiment with (right now he's interested in domes and in sound). I can't really imagine what it feels like to be a school parent right now when they are given so many directives of what the kids should be doing and no time to do it, not to mention creating free time.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2011 at 02:53 PM

thank you, barb! :)

i would love to read the blog post - thank you for providing the link.

just off the top of my head, i would think there are probably a lot of 18yo’s who want to be on their computer 24/7. is that a balance issue? maybe, maybe not. adolescence into young adulthood is such a perilous journey .. if we think back, most of us have adult lives nothing like those years of our own. if he was still living in a cave in two years...

but i’ll read the article & give an informed response. :)

thank you, cyndi!

kirstie, lol. that’s why i describe them as shaming. they might make a person feel bad for a few seconds, but do they change anything? i’m guessing the click-through on billboards is pretty low.

i’m NOT against limited screen time - i don’t know if my post gives off that flavor. that’s a parental call, obviously. and i think it’s a parent’s job to help their child when they can’t help themselves. in this post i’m ranting about how we put one activity against another like rock’em sock’em robots and demonize some of them - unfortunately, things that kids love. i just think it’s a bad way to go about bringing in more of the good stuff we think they need more of.

i think you’re probably absolutely right when you say “maybe it’s because he is like me” - that’s my other point, of course - that we need to change our schedule/life/balance/etc. before we look to our kids to fix their issues. if we’re techno-addicts, they’re probably going to be the same, so start balance at the parental level. something like that. :)

hi, jen - thank you for your long and thoughtful response!

you are right - it was sloppy writing on my part to say flat out that adults want to control kids. i should have said *most* adults. i, who champion giving kids choice and control, know that’s true. i do think it’s generally true that adults want to control kids. they do want their kids to be one thing or the other, often heavily influenced by their generation. parents in the 50s had an ideal of an ideal son/daughter that was flavored by their time. back in the old days, reading novels was considered a bad influence; now some parents are up in arms about video games. adults have an idea of what kids should be doing, and they are the ones who get to make most, if not all, of the decisions about how kids live.

“I think most parents, most adults, want children to be happy and healthy and grow up to be caring adults.”

I hope so. :)

“Many parents I know are not thinking of how to control children nor how to get them to enjoy things that they enjoy, but rather they want their children to discover activities that are fun and suit their interests and/or passions.”

You are lucky to know *many* parents like that. :) Of course, this blog is about how to help children discover their interests and passions, so I know parents like this exist - I do think we are the minority, though, in the wider world.

“Video game issues stem from this because many do not promote happy, healthy, or caring. There are a lot of games that promote violence.”

“Video games are a candy of sorts; they provide little (some could say none) of value but can do great harm if left unchecked. I would argue that most screen time is unchecked. Your family is a minority, as I will get to below. “

i can’t even pretend to be the champion for video games. the violence issue is interesting. i would draw a line between a shooting game and the type of game my older, history-loving son loved like Civilization or Age of Empires. those games have violence, i suppose, since they include war. there’s a lot of gray area between Halo and Angry Birds and the puzzle-type games that my younger son enjoys like “Professor Layton”.

do they provide little or no value? this is arguable, but unfortunately not by me - i just don’t have the chops for it. those who are interested could google “video games are good for you” and read some of the opposing views. i’ve read steven johnson’s book “everything bad is good for you” which also champions video games.

is most screen time unchecked? that is not my anecdotal experience, but i believe you see that in your students. is my family a minority? again, that’s not my anecdotal experience, but i’m perfectly willing to believe i’m in the minority - i usually am!

“You are fortunate to have the ability to raise your children in a way that allows your family to have large amounts of unstructured time that can lend itself to video games, reading, exploring, camping, and nature. Many, many, many families do not have that.”.

absolutely true, and that was the point i was making. if nature and reading are getting squeezed out, we need to look at what kids are doing all day and prioritize. “kids need more unstructured time” is something i’ve said over and over and over again. how many kids get free reading time at school? not many. how many still have recess, and how many of those have nature spaces at school? not many.

if nature isn’t available to kids, that’s an issue - but my point was simply that demonizing video games and TV doesn’t work to get kids out into nature or reading more.

you are right about those kids who have no opportunity to get outdoors and whose parents aren’t modeling reading - but how does that change what i’m saying? if kids love video games - and have unfettered access to them - and want to play them to unwind during their small amount of free time - all things that i said myself in my post - then how does it help to posit books vs. video games or outdoors vs. video games if those kids have no natural access to books or the outdoors? it doesn’t. again, if these things are important to us - on the family *or societal* level - we need to prioritize them.

i hope you’re right about the billboard affecting a parent, but i admit i’m feeling cynical about it. that parent who doesn’t read, who doesn’t take their kids to the park, who lets their child use video games unchecked, as you say .. i doubt that billboard is going to make much of an impression.

re: your school bus schedule .. i can share this. when i was running my private school, i had students who were dropped off at 7:00 a.m. and picked up at 6:00 p.m. every day. during their very long day, they were at before-care for awhile, rode the bus to school, had their whole school day, then rode the bus to after-school care. when they were picked up at 6:00, they still had to go to after-school activities like dance and ball practice, eat dinner, do homework .. not a lot of time for those kids, either. the kids lucky enough to attend our private school got nature walks, long recess breaks, outdoor classes, and trips to the local park for science- and nature-based lessons. but the public school kids ... not so much.

i’m always thinking about the other kids - the kids who *aren’t* homeschooled, who *don’t* have parents who are helping them discover their passions. some of them have great schools, great teachers, involved parents. some don’t. most of them don’t have the kind of relaxed lifestyle that we’ve chosen, and they don’t have hours of unstructured time every day to pursue their various interests and hobbies. i do address myself to my audience, which is mostly homeschoolers, but i never stop thinking about all the kids, as well as the great teachers i’m friends with who are trying to make a difference at school while struggling with issues like kids who “hate to read” and “hate to learn”. i’ve been there myself, and my beliefs are informed by my former students as well as the homeschooled kids i’ve known.

that said, i still think it’s ineffectual to demonize video games and TV; i don’t think that approach is useful. rather than spending money on billboards, i’d rather see companies building outdoors spaces at schools. having owned a school, i know it can be done extremely cheaply! rather than programs that buy two or three cheap paperbacks for children in need, i’d rather see that money pumped into their local libraries and bookmobile programs. i’d like to see kids having free reading time in school and teachers having the time and freedom to read aloud to students. sigh.

thank you again for your very thoughtful comment, jen!

thank you, kelly! :)

stacey, i have no idea why i pick on broccoli - we like it, too. :) i should really pick on boiled spinach.

“[S]ometimes I think all the focus put on getting out into nature disregards the bigger picture of making a relationship with something that you have a passion about.”

love love this point, and i’m thinking about barb’s friend up above whose 18yo is on the computer 24/7. is he texting friends or is he programming? is he reading sci-fi fan fiction? is he writing a political blog? he’s a young adult; maybe he’s way off track or maybe he’s *on* track to doing something he’s really passionate about. i’d have to know a lot more about it to have an opinion.

i’m afraid the whole “get out into nature” thing is a bit hollow. the proof is in the pudding. are families going out to the parks? if not, why not? are they walking in the outdoors together, gardening together? are there community gardens? if not, why not? we can’t slap up a billboard and pretend that it’s video games’ fault that our kids aren’t holding a turtle.

“I think it's telling about our culture that as soon as someone points out something that we either have too much of or too little of they create a matrix of proper "use" when really what needs to happen is for children to be given the time to have passion.”

love love love this statement. you know i like to harp on how adults/parents/teachers are always pushing kids toward some vague “ideal” that completely ignores that one child might be an outdoor nut and another might be a future computer programmer. if these things have value - reading, the outdoors - won’t kids be able to recognize that for themselves *if they are given the chance*? and if we aren’t giving them the chance, that’s on us.

“I can't really imagine what it feels like to be a school parent right now when they are given so many directives of what the kids should be doing and no time to do it, not to mention creating free time.”

giving over the majority of your day/week/life to school is a big deal. it leaves you with just a tiny portion of your day to control, and they send homework home. those parents are under tremendous pressure.

thank you, stacey - love what you had to say!

Comment by denise on November 8, 2011 at 02:57 PM

Well said! We have always loved being outside - hiking, exploring, foraging, gardening, visiting farms, observing and learning outside. And I can tell it is good for all of us. It is important. BUT I have always felt uncomfortable with the shaming of games/computers. My husband is a software engineer who is passionate about what he does and LOVES his work. Why would I denigrate what he does to my own kids? My husband played video games as an interest and is a brilliant man with a good job, a big heart, who loves his family, and loves being outside. I would never tell my boys what he does is bad or less valuable than someone who is, say, a biologist. And while we have video games and computers in our home, we also read aloud, play board games and chess all the time, and go outside a lot. It is all about balance, after all. Being homeschoolers I suppose we have the luxury of balance. But we choose this life (and make sacrifices to have it) in order to explore ALL aspects of what we love, what interests us, and have that balance. I can only imagine how hard it must be for families with such a limited time with their children every day, juggling work and school. And billboards shaming them into anything is just ...

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2011 at 03:25 PM

denise, ha! my husband is also a software engineer. :) the demonization of video games and the either/or mentality ignores the well-rounded person who likes the outdoors and his computer, likes video games and board games, like to read AND watch tv and movies. ridiculous! we know it's not true, so their argument falls flat.

AND .. the saddest part is that i think it IS important to champion reading and outdoor time for kids. just NOT THIS WAY.

"I suppose we have the luxury of balance. But we choose this life..."

i don't think non-hs'ers can let themselves off the hook that easily. if these things are truly important to us as a community and as a society, we need to make sure that public school kids have them! nature spaces and gardens at school! free reading time and reading aloud! it's all about choice, and they can choose it, too!

we need to take the shaming billboards down and use them to build treehouses on the playgrounds. ;^)

Comment by patricia on November 8, 2011 at 03:48 PM

Lori, I think this is my favorite line in the post: "These days, parents research on their iPhone for ways to get their kids to read more and limit their kids’ screen time as though it were a magical alchemy: Less Angry Birds = More Jack London."

Ha!

In my neighborhood, the billboard has the same message, with a frog. You and I are cut from the same cloth, because as soon as I saw it, I immediately asked my 10-year-old, "What do you think of that?"

He didn't understand the logic at first, so I explained it a bit. And he said, "Well, they're not really the same thing. Just because you like video games doesn't mean that you don't like being outside."

Bingo!

When my son is outside, he often goes swashbuckling through the forest. He's outside, but he's still in his own magical world! Did he get that from video games? Somewhat, sure. Playing Age of Mythology has also led to deep reading of the mythology of many cultures, and to a fascination with ancient history, and that influences his play just as much. When he gets off of the computer, he often goes to his desk and writes about and charts out elaborate games of his own devising. Then he goes back outside and acts out his scenarios.

Does he ever go outside and examine rocks and insects? Sure. But more often, whether he's outside or at a computer, he's experiencing the world through his own lens and interests. None of these activities preclude the other. Instead, I'd argue, they influence and energize each other. They're all parts of the big circle that forms my kid's inner world.

I wouldn't change his world…for the world!

Comment by denise on November 8, 2011 at 04:14 PM

Exactly. And I think for school kids perhaps more outside time should replace mindless repetition and rote learning (like 3 hours of homework a night for a 5rd grader) time inside *instead of* replacing the screen/game time which actually builds skills that will be useful in the future! :)

If nature, treehouses, gardens, and wild space was more important to cities and communities and families, it would be more important to schools!

Comment by Amy on November 8, 2011 at 05:50 PM

Lori, I so enjoyed your post and, I hope this is okay with you, said so on my blog. Here's what's never mentioned: outside can also be boring. It can, really! My kids will go on long walks, but unless they are walking many more miles than their usual couple of miles, it's the same miles. It's the same places, same view, same neighborhood, same things to see and do. Obviously, we pack up and go explore other places as well, but I've never understood why "go outside" is always lauded over indoor (read activities that involve media)? Also, for kids with different temperments, different learning styles and needs, outside can be overstimulating, draining and exhausting. I've seen my two (now 12 and 14, always unschooled) come in from a day in the woods and both will squirrel away and do something on the computer or read or listen to music for hours after. It's as if they need that time to process their day spent in nature, like they need to find their reset button, even, that they need to find a way to center themselves, reconnect, which is quite the opposite of how nature is viewed, is it not? (As in, nature is where one goes to center and reconnect).

And just to respond a bit to some of the comments--it's a mistake to assume that children aren't finding their inner landscapes, joys and passions in media, books or other interior persuits. My kids know how to build a fire and make buckskin pouches, use knives, forage for wild greens, plant a garden and swim in the ocean all day long, but not one of those things has provided the joy and growth that my son has enjoyed due to playing Minecraft over this past year, or similarly, the discoveries and knowledge my daughter has gained reading feminist and social justice writing on-line. I have such admiration for their minds, their abilities and I see no reason to distrust that they know how to find balance in their lives.

Again, thank you for this post, Lori. I'm so looking forward to part 2.

Comment by Steph on November 8, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Magnificent post! Thank you.

Comment by Nikki on November 8, 2011 at 11:40 PM

Beautifully written post! I love how you connect time with the choices we and our kids make. Unschoolers have plenty of time to do so many of the fun things we love, whether or not "society" says these things are "valuable" or not. We are always learning!

Blessings,
Nikki

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 12:41 AM

hi patricia :)

"Well, they're not really the same thing. Just because you like video games doesn't mean that you don't like being outside." i think when a kid gets there immediately, that's all that needs to be said!

i love your point about how if a child is well-centered and in control of his own world (which touches on what i wrote about in pt 2), then he is going to fold all of these things in, and he's still controlling his world.

"None of these activities preclude the other. Instead, I'd argue, they influence and energize each other." yes. it's how they're incorporating and using it all that's so fascinating.

denise, yes yes yes - i agree with you completely. :)

amy, i loved your post - and here it is for anyone who hasn't read it yet:

http://www.onbradstreet.com/2011/11/there-is-no-scarcity-unschooling.html

love your point about the kids retreating to their computers after O.D.'ing on the outdoors — we're always like that after a long camping trip! it's just balance, right? you dig deep into one thing and then the pendulum swings back.

i agree with you (of course) about children finding their passion in media or other interior pursuits .. it's just silly to say that one thing is better than another. a kid who likes to read and write books is, what, better than the kid who likes to watch and make movies? or play and program video games? yeah, i don't think so. the key (as i discussed today in pt 2) for *me* is .. are they actively working with it? involved? making? contributing? if they're just beached on the sofa like whales taking it all in like brain krill, okay, then - you might have a problem. ;^)

thank you for your wonderful comment & blog post response!

thank you, steph! :)

thank you, nikki! :) i think the truth is, *everyone* has plenty of time - they just don't want to face how they're spending it.

Comment by estea on November 9, 2011 at 02:31 AM

Luddite codgers get the hose.

but srsly, this is my favorite post on this blog ever ever ever.

every kid on my block has that 30 minute reading thing. it makes me crazy!!

really loving all the comments. so much thoughtful discussion. i will be chewing on this post for days.

xo

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 02:42 AM

thank you, estea. ;^)

Comment by Sheila Ryan on November 9, 2011 at 03:27 PM

Ever notice how propaganda doesn't work? Especially blatant, obvious propaganda?

Remember those "Smoking Is Cool" posters, the ones that sought to demonstrate the uncoolness of smoking by associating it with stock images of the Sub-Human Homeless? I would have been on to that trick even when I was a teenager. As it was, I was in my twenties and had already quit smoking -- but those posters almost made me want to resume the habit as a protest against stupidity.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 04:01 PM

yes! and young kids can smell it just as well as teens. they know when they're being patronized. there was an anti-bullying commercial some years ago on nickelodeon that made my boys crack up laughing every time they saw it. you really just have to cut straight to the point with kids; if you foul up the message delivery, you lose them.

another good one is the "this is your brain — this is your brain on drugs" commercial they ran every 15 minutes on MTV. how many teens took that seriously? instead, they turned it into a slogan, a t-shirt, and a joke.

if you respect kids, you have a better chance of having them respect your message. contrast those "smoking is cool" ads with the recent "the truth" anti-smoking commercials — those are smart, sharply designed, and point the finger of blame at corporations rather than shaming kids.

Comment by Sara on November 12, 2011 at 04:13 PM

Yes! And imagine how much more productive it would be if instead of the "Unplug" campaign there was a "Connect with Your Kids" campaign? It's parents not taking the time to actually BE with their kids that seems to be the problem to me. And no time to ever actually follow through on interests and ideas. Busy busy busy parents and busy busy busy kids.

I love this post, and the Part 2 also. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 04:26 PM

YES, i could not agree more. if parents, rather than fretting about their kids watching tv or playing videos, sat down to watch spongebob or play the video game .. what would happen then? family connection is all — it's mutual respect, love, and caring. i have never, ever said "hey, let's go do X" and had my sons not jump up to do it. if we hike and camp and go out in the country to draw, it's because that's important to us, and first it had to be important to me — because i'm the one with the driver's license.

the "unplug" campaign reminds me of the campaign to buy a few books for kids in need rather than hooking them up to the library. YES kids should all own books, but bookmobiles bring books into their neighborhood and then they'd have ALL the books! again, what's missing is the connection. the community needs to connect with the parents — *we already have the resources*. we just need to help families use them! the parents need to connect with the kids — and if we create the opportunities to make that easy, fun, and free, we encourage it to happen more often. feed what you want to see.

what if we took the "unplug" campaign and put that money into creating more programs for families at the local parks and nature centers? a general tsk-tsk to unplug just doesn't do the job for me. not when we could, again, create opportunities for people to learn about and use the resources we *already have* that are open to everyone. instead, someone always comes up with some hot new idea. we need to stop thinking of new ideas and support the resources we already have.

Comment by Julie Wallbridg... on November 18, 2011 at 11:22 AM

I think you have outlined this well. I have always believed that balance is the most important thing to strive for in life (work/life, play/chore, sit/run etc.) Spending too much time on any one side seems to cause upsets (at least for me) like feeling isolated or disconnected. What I appreciate most is that you are describing the importance of QUALITY time with your family, self, kids etc. If you are present with your kids, they will respond to whatever is going on.

I also read recently that the greatest predictor that your child will be a reader is not how often you read to them, or how early they learned to read but simply and only how many books there were in the house. Now I would argue that means the parents place a lot more importance on reading that someone who did not have books lying around the house. My daughter is 5 now and just learning to read. All her life I have scouted second hand stores and filled shelves in every room with age-appropriate reading material. All her life, she has played with them. Now she enjoys lining up her chapter books on the bed even though she is just learning to sound out the alphabet. We read t her every night, and other times of the day too and so far it seems to be an enjoyable thing. I really appreciate the heads up about not wanting it to become a chore. That never crossed my mind.

Also, thanks for the permission about the tv my children watch (probably 30 minutes to an hour a day on average - especially days that they are home) - we have an organic farm with loads of outdoor entertainment and people often remark on how our children must always be outside and must never watch tv. But they do. We don't allow unlimited screen time (where I think the troubles come into play), but relaxing next to them in front of a show has been a lifelong pleasure for our family. Hopefully our kids will be well-rounded and balanced about the choices they make in the future.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 02:08 PM

that really is an odd statistic about the reading/number of books in the house. i would imagine that putting books into a house with parents who don't read would not magically turn the kids into readers, but who knows.

your daughter's obvious caring for/valuing her books seems a natural development of parents caring about books and reading and filling every room in the house with books. re: it becoming a chore - i think many parents have experienced the bad switch that happens when reading together at night (one of the most enjoyable parts of the day) becomes a requirement by the school and suddenly is a time of balking, tears, upset, and conflict. *anything* can be a chore if you treat it that way and make it mandatory. i think it's up to parents to refuse to let reading be turned into a chore.

re: people saying "oh, your children must never watch tv" - i bristle when people praise my boys for reading (in public) and say how nice it is to see parents who don't allow ipods or handheld video games - i always say, "oh, they have those, too!" i hate that 1, they imply my boys are reading (which they think is so positive) only because i'm forcing them to and/or don't allow them other pleasures *and* 2, that once again they are implying that no one will read unless someone takes video games out of the equation. sigh.

it sounds like your kids are already well-rounded and balanced - i think that experience is what guides them later, when they're making their own decisions. :)

thank you for your comment!

Comment by HomeGrownMommy on September 21, 2012 at 10:16 PM

What a breath of fresh air! I am so glad I found your site!

I recently stumbled on (actually, I think it jumped into my hand on its own, but that's another story!) a book called "Light Up Your Child's Mind" and the author is talking about project-based learning (Dr. Renzulli). This was my first, mind-blowing introduction to this idea of learning.

Then, I started to research it more because I desperately want to incorporate this into our homeschool learning environment - I have three that are *school-aged* and three more coming along behind them.

So, here I am! I think my favorite part about your article (besides the fact that I see you coming back to respond so often - thank you!) is your description of your homeschooling day! It sounds like heaven! How do I do that at my home? I know we have different families and different needs, but I'd sure love to learn a little bit more so I felt so free about our school day - my kids absolutely love to read and be outdoors but they also have a healthy love of videos and computer games! :)

Thanks for your input!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 22, 2012 at 10:34 AM

 

hello, and thank you! :)

if you are interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling, i have to recommend my book ;o)

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/books

and you can read the pbh posts on this blog

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/tags/project-based-homeschooling

I think my favorite part about your article ... is your description of your homeschooling day! It sounds like heaven! How do I do that at my home? I know we have different families and different needs, but I'd sure love to learn a little bit more so I felt so free about our school day...

a big part of why our day looks this way is because of project-based homeschooling. :) the bulk of my kids’ learning is self-directed and grows out of their deep interests. we spend very little time on non-project learning, and we spend a lot of time doing real, hands-on work. so our lives are skewed toward activity, research, reading, making. and we have plenty of time for leisure pursuits. :)

check out the book (maybe your library has it! or you could ask them to stock it :) and the blog and then you might want to join our forum. we welcome questions. :)

good luck, and let me know how it goes!

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