Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Weaning teenagers from screens!

Well, hello again, and a (somewhat belated) Happy New Year to you all. Over a month since my last post, tut tut. I can partly explain this by the weeks of work put in just before Christmas to produce issue 5 of the home ed magazine I publish with my friend and colleage Lorena. Here it is:

I'm sure I'm allowed a quick plug on my own blog so here's the website Go and take a look - Issue 1 is free :)

Anyway, this time of resolutions has had me thinking about what could stand a little change around here. We've got into a bit of a rut over the last couple of years really. The pressures of everyday life piled up and my mojo upped and left, taking with it much of my spark and motivation for home education!

Don't get me wrong, it's not that we've done nothing. Good old life learning has been put to the test and come up trumps. We've cooked, decorated, walked the dog and cared for the chickens. We've learned from TV (thanks Horrible Histories!), laughed (thanks again, Horrible Histories!) and shopped on a budget. We've had trips out, near and far. There have been all kinds of achievements, from football success to drama accomplishments, GCSEs passed, books read. The two eldest spent a week and half sailing on the Tall Ships Cruise.

But I have become a bit concerned about the over reliance on screen based interests. All that above doesn't take up huge amounts of time and, all too often, the Xbox, computer, Wii or TV appear to be the default activities. The things everyone chooses to do when they first get up, or come in from wherever we've been, without much thought.

Now, I have nothing against gaming. Over the years I've seen proof of the learning that comes from them, often in the most unexpected ways. For example, T has an excellent knowledge of world flags from playing football games. And some months ago I was most surprised to learn that one of the Xbox games that I thought involved pretty much nothing more than as many hours of shooting as you could cope with actually followed battles and weapons of the Second World War with a great deal of accuracy and which we could then put into context.

More recently they've taken to Minecraft which fascinates me because of its incredibly rough and simple graphics. I would have thought that these days nothing short of HD quality would impress, but it appears that the attraction of this game is in its substance, which it appears to have in spades, over style, and that impressed me.

And I'm a fan of gaming myself. My particular favourites are Civilization IV, The Sims and Emperor and I have in the past spent a great deal of time on them. And that's the point really. No matter how educational, they can be very addictive. Very. It's easy to find that hours have gone past while you're trying to build the perfect house and there is no time left for anything else. And then the lure of going back to it the next day can be almost irresistible.

And so I find that, if left to their own devices, probably three out of my four children will do little else. I've tested out the advice much touted that they will tire eventually and move on, but it just doesn't seem to happen. Maybe it's my fault, maybe I'm just not that good a motivator, but totally autonomous education in our house does seem to lack some variety!

Fortunately, as the New Year starts I find that my mojo has returned. I've managed to wade through a lot of the heavy stuff that was holding me down and I've gained some brain space to focus on the gaps in our home ed. And the first thing I'm tackling is the screen time! 

New Year, New Rules. No more Mister Nice Guy! Screen time now has to be earned. I've been getting my teens to think of other things they would like to do, interests they could be persuaded to pursue. I'm getting them to sit down with me each morning and set some goals for the day. These could involve some GCSE work or a bit of Maths on the BBC Bitesize website. Their list could include cleaning out the guinea pigs, trying out a new recipe or practicing a photography technique. We'll put some trips into the plan, with groups or as a family. And we'll make sure there's a lot of variety. But the gaming and undemanding TV will come last, to be used as a wind down instead of a reason to get out of bed!

But I'm going to need to be strong. It's all too easy, when the going gets tough, to give in to the pleas and bargains and let my guard down. There will be days when I'm feeling so overwhelmed having to juggle my own work and the household chores that I'll struggle to find the brain space to keep the education going too and it will be tempting to allow the Xbox 'just this once' to get a few hours of uninterrupted time!

So, I'm making my pledge here, in the hope that I'll then be more likely to stick to it! During term times and week days (we like the structure of taking weekends and school holidays off) gaming and 'TV surfing' is strictly limited, to be enjoyed only after periods of involvement in other activities of choice!

I'll be back to report how we're doing. I'd love to hear your views too - do you have self regulating children, or do you have to play the role of screen police too?!!


  1. Good luck with that Jane, I know from experience it's not an easy task. I suppose it's the same principle though as with drinking and overeating; we need to adopt the very useful motto - everything in moderation! Works for screen time too.

  2. I have to admit our house can get a bit like that too and the easy option is to give in to the Xbox but we have made a big effort of late to only allow ds1 on after he has done his IGCSE work and something productive. It's an ongoing battle though!

  3. I find the same here. The wii and computer are the default activities for two of my three children. One will self-regulate, the other two less so. And one in particular would spend solid days, possibly weeks, sat in front of the screen.

    I do think they are useful tools. And educational. And far too useful to keep the kids quiet and occupied when I have lots of work on. But I've started to moderate their use, simply because any obsession tends to exclude other opportunities.

    So, I try to keep mornings for other stuff. And if we are still in the house in the afternoon, then screen is ok. But everyone has to be off in time for tea. Occasionally I've had a no-screen day and last time that happened they all played monopoly, for the first time in 2 or 3 years :)

  4. Thanks for your comments - nice to know it's not just us! We've had some interesting results here already and I'll be back to report soon!


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