As I lay in bed next to my daughter I write to you with so much amazement in my heart, I need to share this joy with you.
There is so much fear surrounding technology and children, aka: “screen time for kids”. Unfortunately most parents are making their decisions based on these fears. I’ve spent much time these last few years working through my thoughts around this limiting term and what it implies. I have come out the other side of fear somewhat unscathed and clear headed and choose not to use the ever frightening catch phrase “screen time’. The terms “screens and screen time” immediately conjure an image of an object being stared at with little else happening other than plain ol’ “entertainment”, “distraction from real life or from something more productive or educational“. Unfortunately when these terms are used within our conversations and within our own thinking not only do they muddy the waters of our understanding of what is actually going on for our kids but we also neglect to look a little deeper at what our kids are actually interested in, what they might be learning, or getting to know what they love and why they love it. We may also miss the opportunity to jump in their world and enjoy it with them. We lose out on the opportunity to learn about our kids.
SUPPORT OVER CONTROL
My daughter spends a good amount of time using her iPad and desktop, she uses different apps, plays games, makes or watches videos. She has also been using my old laptop more often lately when it’s not being used at the kitchen table where we all enjoy watching a favorite show or movie together while we eat, make art, play or tidy up.
We let go of limiting her access to any of these technological tools when she was very young. Instead of limiting her access or controlling how she used them I chose to sit with her as she watched her favorite videos; when she started playing games I would watch her play and when possible download the games on my phone or computer to play simultaneously with her in the same game. We play together in Minecraft, Star Stable, Roblox as well as games like MyHome. We love playing together, we laugh a lot. We also have the chance to discuss a variety of topics while we play. Questions pop up based on the game’s story line, the tools we’re using, the place we’re in or the music we’re hearing. These questions may lead to me offering an answer or when I don’t know the answer I say “I don’t know, let’s see what we can find out” at which time Google comes out to play and down a rabbit hole we go where many wonderful surprises await and much learning happens. If I’m not playing in the game with her I am usually close by easily accessed to help with anything from getting mods for her game, helping to spell something, searching for a helpful YouTube video or playing with my son while she is immersed in play. Our home is set up so that we are close to each other, not on different floors in different rooms separated from one another. I have no problem relocating and setting her up multiple times a day with the laptop, a snack and her water bottle in the living room or kitchen or bedroom. Depending on where the action is we all settle into that space and flow together within it. Even when we are all using some kind of tool in the same space whether it is iPads, laptops, TV, we are still connected because we are still active participants in each others worlds, not disconnected checking in once in a while.
TRUST OVER FEAR
Despite feeling confident in not limiting access to her iPad, our computers, Nintendo Switch or our television there have been times when I still felt fear. How could I not when we see and hear messages daily “kids can’t be trusted to navigate these technologies, it is our job as parents to limit them, tell them what to watch and when to watch it. If they have unlimited access they’ll do nothing but use their screens! Our children are becoming addicted to their screens!”. Thankfully these fears pop up less and less the further along I go. Here is why: I trust my daughter. I trust her rhythm. I trust she has the ability to learn how to make decisions by thinking critically. I trust that she knows when she will need to put her iPad down because I see her do it all the time. I see her watching videos, put her iPad down, run over to her toys, spend hours building an elaborate world for her LPS’s then acting out a detailed story line. I see how she then jumps on to the laptop to play Minecraft for a while then draws, dances, goes outside, looks up Minecraft videos or plays the piano. I see her flow through her day without me managing her choices, at all. I am definitely involved in all aspects of her day but the difference is, I do not control her decisions, ever. I help her. I bring her snacks when she’s deeply involved in something. I play with her. I ask her, without attachment to her answer, if she’d like to do X or Y with me. I have become flexible with when and where I do things depending on where my children are settled and playing.
My daughter moves between and within her interests, all with peace and ease. I see how she weaves in and out of playing piano, dancing, painting or playing with LPS back into watching videos or a favorite show and how it all interweaves within each other creating a landscape of creativity. This kind of creative flowing rhythm is not possible if I interfere by telling her she needs to stop doing one thing to move on to another ~ another being what I think is a better use of time or a better conduit of knowledge and education. How could I know that, though? How could I possibly know exactly what is being learned while she watches a video or plays Minecraft or builds a set for her LPS’s then records a short film? I can’t know. I can though observe over time how she integrates new ideas, inspiration and knowledge. I can though see how she is learning how to read and write while having fun playing and flowing through her days. The compass that guides her from within her heart and mind is like a beautiful dance, everyday being stretched and grown stronger and stronger. She is supported throughout her dance, not belittled or diminished or controlled or limited. Her dance that sways from interest to interest: iPad, story telling, LPS, Minecraft, piano, dance… they are all of great and equal value in her world. And the beautiful by-product of this glorious play? Learning.
“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves… and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” ~ John Holt
The most important factor within our family and home is connection. It is the foundation for all decisions, all actions. Every conversation my husband and I have about our children always, always boil down to connection. Every action, every word is guided by connection. What does connection have to do with Minecraft? Any struggle to control my children will inevitably erode our relationship. Any attempt to limit them will eat away at our connection and connection is paramount. I can feel when I have messed up how it affects our connection. I know what kind of damage control can have on a relationship between child and parent, between two people. The work starts now, not when they are teenagers when they have freedom away from you to finally make choices without your control. The work starts now.
We don’t choose connection out of fear of what will be, though. We choose connection out of love. Love of who our children are without any desire to change them to fit our ideals. Love for our children’s interests even though they might not be what we to love to do. Love for what our children find fascinating because we find them fascinating. Love for what they are learning because we are learning too. Love for having the honor to walk next to them along their path.
THE JOY OF WITNESSING HER PLAY
So, here I am laying in bed as my son sleeps between me and Lem. Lem is happily building in Minecraft, she felt inspired to build a store like one of the stores we visited today. As she began building she asked for my help to spell the name of the store. Each letter is built with blocks on the face of the store. The layout of the store is then complete, shelves stocked, cash registers ready to receive paying costumers. She then moves on to build a theater. A village is being developed. As she builds she tells me the villagers’ stories, what they like and what they are doing. She creates a story as she plays and I get to witness it. She learns to read and write while being in the deep flow of play and I get to assist her. The complexity of her imaginative play is astounding. The speed at which she’s learning to read while playing is remarkable. It is worth repeating: this is not without my being there for help though, this is very important to remember. Unschooling does not mean hands off parenting. Unschooling requires a dedication to being involved, attentive, engaged and helpful. I am honored to be that for my kids.
“Self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge.” ~ John Taylor Gatto