Friday, April 30, 2010

Jace loves gamimg. Very often the first thing he wants to do when he wakes up is play a video or computer game. And probably just as often it's one of the last things he does before he goes to bed. It doesn't matter to him what type of game though lately RPGs (Role Playing Games) are his favorite. I know lots of people resist video games and there are many studies about the dangers of video games. I used to be a parent who whole heartedly believed that I must limit 'screen time' in order to protect my child from the brain draining powers of video games. We had time limits and rules surrounding games, they were used as leverage and I thought most bad behavior could supposedly be traced back to too much time spent gaming. And then I started reading unschooling boards.

Now, I'm not really big on the idea of doing something just to fit the popular definition of something. I don't think you have to publish anything to be a writer, sell a painting to be an artist, or let your kids do whatever the hell they want to be an unschooler. However, so many unschooling parents whom I respected on other topics were saying the same things about video games that I decided it was worth exploring. Even more so than the rally cries of unschooling parents the real deal-breaker for me, the thing that proved I needed to explore this idea of unlimited access to gaming is that I wasn't being consistent.

I figured out a couple of years ago that the things I find it difficult to be consistent about are things that deep down I don't believe. After all I consistently feed and clothe my children. I consistently tell them I love them. I consistently avoid HFCS and red dye in the food we eat. But I couldn't be consistent about this and that let me know that deep down I may not really believe what I was trying to do. Sure, if I noticed behaviors I thought might be linked to gaming or, more likely, I felt guilty about the amount of time he spent gaming then I would begin to get more strict about enforcing the rules. However, slowly but surely I'd always start to be inconsistent about it. So, I decided I should try this radical approach to gaming.

All I can say is WOW!

It has been several months now, maybe even approaching a year, since I let go of limiting his gaming. Some guidelines have remained such as a gentle word if I notice him becoming upset or a reminder that he needs to pay attention to and respect his own body cues for a break. That has been a process but one he has done really well with and lately he needs very few reminders from me about these things (admittedly he does still need that gentle word from time to time, just less frequently than before). That's really what unschooling is about- helping them learn to recognize their own natural limits instead of imposing my own. I realize in hindsight that this was my ultimate goal all along- I instinctively knew that my interference wasn't really helping him learn lifelong limits and that once he was away from my watchful eye he would overindulge and have to learn self control as opposed to parental control in a setting that wasn't as safe and loving as home.

Even though I realize my goal now I also see many other benefits to allowing him space to pursue something that captivated his attention. The pleasantly unexpected result is that Jace has found a way to bring gaming into many aspects of his life. He writes beautifully creative and descriptive stories based on games- either ones he's played or ones he wishes to create. Speaking of creating, he has taught himself to do just that- first by finding a website that let him create flash games and then moving on to more complex sites and even purchasing a book to help him with his endeavors. Recently he upgraded his membership on one of those sites to a "pro" membership so he can create three dimensional games. Through gaming he has also connected with other children who share his interests all over the world and shows genuine interest in learning about their cultures, languages and geography. He creates arts and crafts using many mediums so he can reenact games scenarios. He buys and sells games on eBay and in gaming stores and has learned about marketing, interpreting ads, finding the best value and an understanding of simple economic principles such as the laws of supply and demand, profit/loss and opportunity cost. He has learned the value of saving and delayed gratification when he wants a new game or game system.

He came to all of this knowledge not in spite of video games but because of them. He was given the freedom to explore a passion- a passion most of the world judges as frivolous at best and psychologically dangerous at worst. I admit that I swung between these two perspectives myself and in the beginning when he was binging on the games that had previously been limited I was concerned. But I trusted what my instincts were telling me and instead of my knee-jerk reaction to 'protect' him from this world I dug deeper and saw that what I really needed to do was help him develop the skills to guide himself through it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why we unschool

Today I realized THE reason I choose to be an unschooler. There are many advantages to unschooling, many of which I've already discussed on this blog, but those advantages are not what pulls me back day after day, even in times of doubt. So, what does?

I believe that the most important thing my children will learn in their entire lives is who they are and unschooling is the best way I've found to allow them to learn that. Everything else they need to know in life will flow from that sense of self and anything that doesn't come from that place of authenticity isn't worth knowing, IMHO.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Birthday John Holt

Yesterday was John Holt's birthday. For those not familiar Holt brought to the forefront the idea of unschooling through such mediums as his popular newsletter, Growing Without Schooling, and the library of books on the subject he authored. Holt was a true revolutionary who recognized that not only could children learn without schools, they should.

In Teach Your Own he makes his views about schools clear:

"I have used the words "home schooling" to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth in the word is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't a school at all. "

I do recognize that not every parent can or should homeschool their child, much less unschool them. I also realize that schools are necessary for this reason, and that they do the best they can. This is the same reason that canned green beans are necessary. Fresh green beans from an organic garden are the healthiest possible choice but aren't available to everyone. Some people opt for green beans from the farmer's market because they can't, for whatever reason, grow their own. Other people will buy frozen green beans and still others will buy them in a can. Canned green beans do still have some nutritional content but not nearly as much as their fresh picked counterpart. This is how I view schools. They are doing the best they can with what they have. The green bean manufacturers aren't bad. The people eating them aren't bad either. But there is a better way.

So it goes with schools. A crowded classroom with an overworked, underpaid teacher who can't possibly attend to every child's individual needs is not the best place for learning to take place. There is a better way. Thank you John Holt for recognizing this decades ago and blazing the trail for the rest of us.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I'm not sure if anyone is still out there, I pretty much abandoned the blog after my last post that stated I wasn't sure what the future of it was going to be. Lately I've been having some unschooling thoughts and found myself wishing I had an outlet for them when I realized I DO!! :-)

A lot of things have been going on with the kids lately that were causing me to doubt myself. I have never really doubted unschooling or doubted my kids abilities to learn what they need to learn. I realize (thankfully) that the doubts stem from my own insecurities and my need for approval. I thought I was past that but there's nothing like motherhood to shine a light on areas where you're still a work in progress.

My specific issues have been wrapped up in Jace. He enjoys video games and electronics. A lot. He has gaming on his mind from morning until night. He plays games, creates games, emails people about games, reads magazines and books about games, sketches out ideas for games, draws comics and writes stories based on games, reenacts games with legos and action figures, makes videos about games, spends his allowance on games, (surfing eBay, Amazon, and Gamestop for the best deals and even occasionally selling one of his older games at these places)and talks about games. I didn't really think much of this. This is who he is, what he's passionate about for now, and anything else is artificial. I was happy that he'd found something to love and that he's a happy 11 year old who still likes sharing his passions with me. Enter the naysayers.

Imagine a judgemental, incrdulous tone with all of the following:

"It's such a nice day, shouldn't he be outside instead of playing video games."

"Jace never talks about anything but games.You can't even have a conversation with him."

"Why doesn't he ever do anything."

The thing is these things were starting to get to me, they had me thinking that I was wrong, that I should just MAKE him do something else, anything else. But when I contemplate what that would really mean, sacrificing his spark in order to please others I just can't do it. So instead I've come up with some responses for the naysayers:

It's such a nice day, shouldn't he be outside."

He does spend time outside. Quite a bit actually, but only when an activity sparks his interest. Ture, he does prefer to be inside, as do I. But it's okay, outside is not morally superior to inside.

"You can't even have a conversation with him."

I have conversations with him all the time. He also has no problem talking with other kids his age and adults. Maybe the problem is that you want him to talk about what you're interested in instead of listening to what he's interested in.

"Why doesn't he ever do anything?"

He does plenty. Just because you haven't taken the time to watch it and see the value in it doesn't mean there isn't any.

At the end of the day I realize that actually I'm quite impressed with the diversity of ways Jace incorporates gaming into his life. He is learning economics, reading for information as well as pleasure, problem solving, managing his time, creating art in many mediums, sharing information with others, thinking critically and so much more. He is passionate and engaged. And all on his own, without any need for me to push him.