Our homeschooling life has taken many forms as my kids changed from year to year, and changed their minds from minute to minute. I have learned so much about me and them and brains and neurons and history and science and love. We’ve always emphasized the experiential in our family learning life, textbooks be damned, mostly. No matter what assignments or activities we did as a part of our learning, one thing was always clear. What my kids did not want was to be told what to do.
I could have made them obey. But I was determined to earn it. I had to make what we were doing interesting and empowering enough for them to hop into the wagon. It didn’t always go the way I’d hoped. At first, I spent too much time on Pinterest and not enough time watching my kids. It turns out they are curious little creatures. And once I started following what they were curious about, I got curious too, and pretty soon we’d learn a bunch of awesome shit together. Sometimes by scrolling Pinterest, together.
But they still don’t like to be told what to do. So now I let my Moodle do the talking. Moodle is an open-source Learning Management System that can be built on your own website for free. I wanted to learn how to used the tool. Thank goddess I have Beard Man to meet all my IT needs…and so much more. I’ve had so much fun building classes with projects and topics to explore. Our site features a colorful custom background and uses Open Dyslexic font, designed for those who read in three dimensions, pictures, or just with a unique neurological path, like at least one of my kids. Love me some Moodle and HTML fuckery.
All of the videos, experiments, games, and even some reading gets called my curriculum and I plunk it into Moodle lessons. They access the website on their iPads, and together we look at what we have on tap for stuff to do this week. See, it’s not me telling them what to do, it’s the Moodle. That’s stupid logic, but somehow that’s the effect it has on their kid brains. And then we all have fun. Boom.
This year’s curriculum plan is tech and creative expression heavy. Now is not the time for rote memorization of meaningless facts and figures. The human brain is built for recognizing patterns – it is what has made us successful. I fully believe it is my duty as a parent and educator to provide my kids with as many rich and engaging experiences of every kind as I can, to connect them with big ideas and critical thinking skills. And MATH concepts. Their brains can do the rest. Our future needs brains with more connections than containers.
Shockingly, our summer of video-games-as-a-full-time-job has had some pleasant side effects. The kids are now better at recognizing their own screen time limits, and have asked to have a couple of apps limited through our parent settings to help them keep their balance. They asked for the limits. One kid had an organization revelation as she organized her digital world, and it spilled over into her physical world, growing her ability to manage her own belongings and coordinate more aspects of her calendar and social life. It has all been accompanied by a deepening self-awareness. The other kid discovered reading in a real way for the first time, gushing over what had happened by chapter 12. “The only time I can be still is when I’m reading a book.” Says the kid who plays Minecraft and Roblox for hours, laying or sitting quite still, it must be said. I acknowledge it must feel different to her body to be playing an interactive game with her thumbs than it does to imagine a whole book world with her mind. Her conscious connection to an activity that brings calm gives calls on me to recognize that she established this idea through the dopamine haze of an iPad. So maybe our kids are more doomed from our screen naysaying than they are from the screens themselves.
And also I’m certain I could produce a bevy of studies that would trounce everything I’ve just noted. There are no perfect answers. So take what works for you and leave the rest. Screens or no screens doesn’t likely make that big of a difference in the end, but how you as a parent administrate it, does. Do it consciously, with a connection to their development as a conscious human being.
We cannot separate academic health from mental health, either. Keeping the kiddos connected to people who enrich their lives is harder than ever. I used to go out and play with kids on my block, now my kids go online and play with kids on Roblox. Neighbors come to play in our Minecraft worlds from the real-life neighborhood and suburbs around us, from Silicon Valley, and a few small towns in the Midwest. Where I grew up, in a small Midwest town, many kids I knew were friends with the kids of their parents’ friends, because everybody still lived there. I appreciate that while it is different, that dynamic is present here – the kids of friends I am in contact with after 20+ years are new friends my kids have connected with in the virtual neighborhoods of Minecraft and Roblox.
My big kid says her online friends can cover about 80% of her people needs, so she knows she’s working at a deficit. Acknowledging that we are all likely at a social nourishment deficit helps us be gentler with ourselves and each other. Even the most solitary of us need a bit of people time.
Until the pandemic, satisfying our curiosity meant museums, parks, travel, and city adventures with friends. I am ragingly aware of my privileged position here. Our joyful explorations served every day to remind me of how much I have, something my contracted, but safe, pandemic lifestyle continues to do. Every kid should get to have as much fun as mine have. It isn’t fair, so feeling thankful is weird unless I acknowledge this truth and listen to those without privilege and support their initiatives for equity.
Much love to all the pandemic parents, rich or poor, supported or struggling. We are all in this together. We have to be.