As lockdown continues and families continuously adjust to new norms of every day life I have found myself looking at how we pass our days.
I grew concerned about how much time my children were spending staring at screens, I felt that all encompassing mum guilt and I didn’t know how to shake it. We chose freedom, we chose being able to get out and explore, to play and to learn by doing. We did not chose sedentary learning on a screen, but that is what we have a lot of the time now. So what could I do?
Of course we continue cooking, baking, gardening and exploring our local area, but I can sense the boredom of a groundhog day scenario creeping in. I can detect the slightly more argumentative tones, see the subtle eye rolls and my heart feels their resistance.
I was worried, I have never really limited screen time intentionally. I believe there is learning to be found everywhere and I completely support the idea of children learning autonomously. My eldest son learnt to read by playing skylanders having been failed drastically by school teaching staff. He also knew all about how different rocks and minerals were used to create dyes for clothes which he learnt from playing ARK Survival Evolved, and I have been told enough random facts about all manner of subjects that they have aquired through films, tv shows, youtube and games to know not to doubt their value. However, previously we were going out, attending classes, social get togethers, workshops, museums etc… so I guess the screen time fit in around all those things and never caused me any concern. Now, it was becoming a huge part of our lives and it made me feel uncomfortable.
So I took to the ever supportive internet, home ed support groups of parents who can relate to my concerns, who may have experienced similar feelings and radical unschoolers who have no limits on screen time.
I asked “What can my 5 year old possibly be learning from watching these gaming videos on youtube?!” The first answer, and the most obvious and basic, was “He will be learning how to play the game better!”
This blew my mind, I am not going to lie. You see, he has figured out a way to learn to build bigger builds and achieve new levels on his game without needing to find an instruction book to read. Do you remember the days of getting a new game and studying the booklet that comes with it to figure out what does what? How do you learn to play a game if you cant read? well simple, find someone who can play it and get them to show you. His confidence in his own gaming has grown, I observe this when he excitedly wants me to come and look at the fantastic house he has built on Minecraft or when he cheers with excitement at completing a difficult challenge on Roblox. How could I have questioned that learning?
But I want to look a little bit deeper into this, because I know there will be others out there, like me, who ask the question “How is that going to benefit him or his future in any way?” I think I need to consider one of the other more well thought out answers which came on my original question. “He is practising his skills in observing, in picking out the relevant information that he needs, in listening to what someone is saying while watching what they are doing. When he then goes away and plays his game he is practising processing what he has seen and learnt and putting it into practice.” Just like that! There it is. How can any one question how that would benefit him long term. Taking what you learn and putting it into practise. It is so simple.
I had a response pointing out perhaps it was *my* thinking that was the problem. This was a fair point that I also couldn’t disagree with. When asked “If he was spending his time reading, would you be worried about “booktime”?” and I replied honestly, no I would not. My daughter loves to read and as a younger person would often be found with her head in a book and I never had any concerns, she went on to achieve high marks in her English. And several of my friends embraced their childrens love of books by assisting to create book clubs. I think of my eldest son who would spend hours upon hours well into the night working on a drawing. I never grew concerned about his “paper time” Instead I allowed him to embrace that passion and enrolled him onto the Arts Award and was proud of him achieving both his Bronze and Silver awards.
Another answer that I also received was a consideration to those all important social skills that people want their children in school so badly to learn. “He is listening to the way the players interact with each other on team speak. He is picking up on tones of voice, expression, he is hearing the way that friends joke and how their voices change when they are discussing a strategy.” Yes, he is getting to listen and observe all of those things in a context that he doesn’t get inside the house amongst family, and at the moment while not going out and mixing with friends he doesn’t get anywhere else either. Understanding and being able to detect changes in a persons tone of voice is an important skill and I know that he has developed this because he will be talking to me through a video and will then know when he should return to concentrating when the tone of voice changes.
So I took the advice of some of these fellow parents and rather than go the route of strict monitoring of screen time and removal of devices I watched with him, I asked questions and listened to his answers, I joined his world. It was eye opening!
And he came off the device and snuggled under a blanket to watch a movie with me, and he enjoyed his walk out learning about false nettles which he proceeded to pick the flowers off of so that he could try and “prank” his older siblings, and he set the challenge of something new to bake (doughnuts) and he took the time to listen and watch the wind blowing the long grass in the field with me. He didn’t seem to feel as if he had to chose between one or the other. Knowing that both were perfectly acceptable seemed to make everything that bit more inviting.