Put down that iPhone and get in the cage

Published by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Seriously, people, the lengths some parents will go to to get their child to play outdoors.
I know I saw this more recently elsewhere but I can't remember where and I've trolled G+ looking .. Brainpickings? Bobulate? If you know, enlighten me and I'll tip my hat in the right direction.

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 pitting it against something kids love (comics, video games), you REDUCE the chance they will approach that good thing with interest and an open mind.

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 — or rewarded for doing 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 Minecraft = 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” aloud.

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’re losing credibility. You’re losing their attention. You’re losing their trust.

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

Birds in his head

Published by Lori Pickert on October 24, 2008 at 10:19 PM


by Alastair Reid
My son has birds in his head.
I know them now. I catch
the pitch of their calls, their shrill
cacophonies, their chitterings, their coos.
They hover behind his eyes and come to rest
on a branch, on a book, grow still,
claws curled, wings furled.
His is a bird world.
I learn the flutter of his moods,
his moments of swoop and soar.
From the ground I feel him try
the limits of the air —
sudden lift, sudden terror —
and move in time to cradle
his quivering, feathered fear.
At evening, in the tower,
I see him to sleep and see
the hooding-over of eyes,
the slow folding of wings.
I wake to his morning twitterings,
to the croomb of his becoming.
He chooses his selves — wren, hawk,
swallow or owl — to explore
the trees and rooftops of his heady wishing.
Tomtit, birdwit.
Am I to call him down, to give him
a grounding, teach him gravity?
Gently, gently.
Time tells us what we weigh, and soon enough
his feet will reach the ground.
Age, like a cage, will enclose him.
So the wise men said.
My son has birds in his head.
This lovely poem seen on Jora’s blog, Domestic Reflections.

No child left inside

Published by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2008 at 02:47 AM


Schools suck the fun out of everything they teach. Do we want schools now to suck the fun out of outdoor adventure?

This legislation, in my mind, is a perfect example of the kind of thinking that has caused many of the problems that the Coalition is concerned about, not the kind of thinking that can solve them. Every time we see a national problem, and especially if that problem has anything to do with children, a hue and cry goes out to solve that problem through the school system. The attitude seems to be that every problem can be solved by piliing yet another set of required courses and examinations onto the backs of schoolchildren. Don’t you see, you members of the Coalition, that the school system and our reliance on it to babysit our children and to force onto them an ever growing list of “educational” demands is the problem? And don’t you see that the more we attempt to regulate school activities through government mandates, the more restrictive and antithetical to the spirit of discovery school becomes?

Peter Gray, Psychology Today “Freedom to Learn” Blog

One suggestion Mr. Gray makes for increasing children’s time in the outdoors? Less homework.

Watercolor prints

Published by Lori Pickert on October 8, 2008 at 03:34 PM

Here’s a great project for your nature journal.

You can use your watercolor paints to make monoprints in your journal.

Select some leaves and flowers. If you are in a park or public place, be sure it’s okay to pick fresh leaves; otherwise, look for fallen leaves that are still flexible.

Paint onto the leaves. Be careful not to leave too much paint on the leaf. The first few you try will be experimental. You’ll learn as you go.

Sometimes a leaf is so shiny it won’t hold paint. Try painting the underside. Does it have a different texture? The underside usually has more prominent veins and might make a better print.

This is what happens when you use too much paint! The print is still beautiful, though.

Carefully lay your leaf on the page. You can just rub the back of your leaf, or you can use a scrap piece of paper to press it flat and rub gently over it.

How many different colors of leaves can you find?

Try mixing your paints to match your leaf exactly.

Is your leaf just one color? You can paint on a mix of colors.

Remember it will take a minute for your prints to dry. You may want to bring along some extra sheets of paper for practicing and for printing on while your journal pages dry.

Don’t forget to write in your journal where you were when you made your prints.

You can bring along guide books to identify plants, trees, and leaves; if you want to, you can label the ones you know.


Published by Lori Pickert on August 30, 2008 at 03:02 AM

I highly recommend the documentary Where Do the Children Play?, showing now on PBS.

Free play is slipping away from children’s lives. Yet time spent building forts or exploring outdoors, caring for animals, pretending or problem-solving with peers are now being shown by a wide body of research to be essential to healthy development, spiritual attunement, and emotional survival. Open-ended play in places that offer access to woods, gullies and gardens, ditches, boulders, and bike paths enhances curiosity and confidence throughout life.


Published by Lori Pickert on June 5, 2008 at 03:31 AM


The creek flooded its banks and made a temporary lake behind our house.

The temporary lake brought a new temporary pet — a baby snapping turtle. With the woods and the creek in your backyard, it’s easy to adopt a little bit of wildlife, watch it, feed it, learn about it, then let it go again.

Last year we found a box turtle just getting into the road and brought him home for a couple of weeks, then carefully returned him exactly where we found him — except, you know, about 12 feet further on his way, on the other side of the road. Turtles are so slow, and pickups so fast.

For it was rather exciting. The little dry ditches in which Piglet had nosed about so often had become streams, the little streams across which he had splashed were rivers, and the river, between whose steep banks they had played so happily, had sprawled out of its own bed and was taking up so much room everywhere, that Piglet was beginning to wonder whether it would be coming into his bed soon.


Reggio and kinesthetic learners

Published by Lori Pickert on May 6, 2008 at 01:30 PM

I got a great question in the comments to my interview at The Artful Parent, and I wanted to share it and my answer here.

Hi Lori,

What a wonderful interview! Thank you for the information. I have been doing some research on Reggio, homeschooling and other philosophies. I currently am a special education teacher in the public school system. For the most part I love my job; however, there are MANY things I don’t agree with. I have a almost 3 year old and 8 month old. I am reseraching my alternatives for them when it comes to education and I have a question for you. Everything I am reading seems to be art based, what if a child isn’t much into art? My daughter for example will paint, color, playdough, etc.f or about 10 minutes tops, but when it comes to running outside, dribbling a ball, or playing on a playground I can’t get her in! I guess I am wondering how she would fit into such models? Thank Eileen

Hi, Eileen - and thank you! While many people focus on the visual arts aspect of the Reggio approach, the Hundred Languages actually embrace kinesthetic learners - children do learn in different ways and can engage with a subject and express their knowledge by building, dancing, performing skits, dramatic play, and in many other active ways.

And while the visual arts (e.g., drawing, painting, collage) are important, an active child might be more engaged with building models, sculpting clay, creating large-scale dramatic play structures (e.g., child-size vehicles, buildings, rooms), etc.

The idea isn't to try to funnel a child toward visual arts, but rather give them a whole smorgasbord of choices - books about buildings and bridges and other structures *with* a fantastic array of blocks and other building materials, a great dress-up trunk *with* a stage to dance and perform on, an art studio with a quiet nook to draw in *and* an array of exciting things to build and scupt with. And when a child shows a particular interest, paying attention and providing them with what they need to take the work further.

If you are interested in the Reggio approach specifically, if you delve a little deeper you will find wonderful garden- and park-centered projects to read about.

Since you already know your child has a strong desire to be outside, you can meet her halfway and provide her with tools for learning outdoors - magnifying glass, binoculars, bug box, field guides, sandbox, outdoor building materials (rocks, shells, pinecones, etc.), a work area outdoors (perhaps a small table), scarves for running and dancing, a garden... We set up easels outdoors with pencils, oil pastels, and paint so that children can paint and play and draw and play - and there are so many exciting things to learn about outside!

You can read the whole interview and all of the comments here.

Nature journals: Observational painting

Published by Lori Pickert on April 20, 2008 at 08:49 PM


Along the same lines as observational drawing, we will concentrate on looking closely, noticing details, and doing our best to paint what we see.

We will try to paint the colors exactly as we see them.


First we do an observational pencil sketch. (If you want to try ink, make sure it is waterproof.)


Then we add details in color using the watercolor techniques we have practiced.


Because we're working in our sketchbooks and the pages are not as heavy as watercolor paper, we’re careful about using too much water — and we use an extra piece of paper under the page we are painting on to absorb any wetness that soaks through.


Things to do while making observational drawings and paintings in nature:

4.08-j-waterc-woods2.jpg • Talk about what we see.

• Ask questions about what we see — and remember them, so we can look up the answers later.

• Talk about what has changed since we were here last.

• Write descriptive words in our journals.

• Pay attention to everything around us — not just what we can see, but also what we can hear, what we can feel.

• Make sure we take everything with us when we leave.


See also: the complete list of nature journal lessons (as it grows!)

You may also be interested in the complete list of art activities.


Most of our nature journaling will be done en plein air. But don’t overlook your local nature center. You can get up close and personal with birds, reptiles, and animals that you will be lucky to see from a distance when you’re drawing and painting outdoors.








See also: the complete list of nature journal activities (as it grows!)