Technology and Unschooling
Happy New Year! (A bit late)
The holidays are over. Time to get back in the swing of things!
Our holiday season was a busy one but spending time with family was a blessing.
I’m just starting to feel like things are settling down again.
There’s still tons of snow on the ground and temperatures are struggling to get above freezing.
I feel a bit cooped up, as if we stay in the house for days on end. More time indoors tends to equal more time spent with technology. This made me realize that I haven’t talked about how technology works in our house and how it influences our unschooling journey.
Like many kids these days, my kids love technology/devices/screens. We all use tv, video games, movies, documentaries, YouTube, iPad/iPhone apps, etc. to further our unschooling on a daily basis.
Now, I know there are many opinions and all sorts of hullabaloo about technology use with kids. I’m not here to tell you what to do with your family, I’m here to share what we do and how that has shaped our unschooling path.
First of all, I don’t use the phrase “screen time”. I know it’s a catch phrase in the parenting articles, but we don’t differentiate “screen time” from say “paper time” (reading books, articles, magazines) or any other time. I also don’t categorize what’s on the screen as “educational” or “non-educational”. A Disney movie has as much value as a science documentary. A My Little Pony app has as much value as a “learn to read” app. Etc. etc.
If a principle of unschooling is that learning happens all the time, in any setting, from any medium, then there’s no need to categorize certain activities or value one over the other.
All of that to say, I don’t limit technology use with my children. At all. They are free to choose to use the tv, computer, video games, iPad, iPhone, or any other form of technology at any time, day or night for any length of time.
I came to implement this facet of “Radical Unschooling” when I looked at technology use in my own life. I use my phone for everything from connecting with friends and family, to banking, to shopping, to getting directions, to menus planning, to listening to podcasts, to referencing it as a pocket encyclopedia for everything under the sun. If I benefit from a plethora of technology use throughout the day, why would I restrict my children from the same benefits?
Like it or not, technology has a huge part in every area of our lives and it’s our children’s native language whereas we had to learn it at some point in life.
Aza Donnelly said it perfectly in a Christian Radical Unschooling Facebook page page I’m in
“Technology is here to stay. So why would I choose to keep my kids illiterate in a language that they may need in the future? A half an hour a day does not give kids time to explore the landscape”
This is why I choose not to limit technology use. I’ll admit that it is hard to let go of controlling “screen time”. Especially for our generation who lived through the fearful brand newness of all of this technology. We remember what life was like without it and our kids don’t. And won’t. You can’t go back in time. You can only progress forward.
I know there’s that photo meme that floats around that says something along the lines of “your kids won’t remember their best day of television”. Based on my memories from childhood, I would have to disagree though. Granted, my memories stem from who I was watching television or movies with, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of screens in my memory. Watching game shows with my grandpa, going to opening night of Disney movies, watching the original Star Wars trilogy with my Dad when he was sick over Christmas vacation, my Aunt blindfolding me and surprising me by going to the dollar theater to see Cone Heads, watching Julia Child and Jacques Pèpin on PBS got me interested in food at a young age and influenced my career choice as a chef. There are many more. I have fond memories tied to “screen time”. Why would I limit that opportunity for my children?
Now, unlimited technology has been something that we’ve done since they were very small. So they have been able to choose to use technology, without the fear that I was going to take whatever it was away when I deemed “screen time” to be over, for a big chunk of their lives. This makes all the difference.
I know parents who maybe only allow one tv show, or 30 minutes of iPad or video game time a day. They then rightly assume that if the limit on technology was lifted, their child would “over indulge” or “binge” on whatever it is. “All they would do is (watch tv/play video games/play on the iPad/etc) ALL DAY if I let them”. And that is probably true, because the child is fearful that that technology will soon be snatched back. So they get as much as they can in before that happens. My kids don’t have that fear that I’m going to take the device away, so they have learned how to truly self-regulate their technology use on their own. They know that they can put the iPad down and go have some imaginative play, and the iPad will be there to use when they’re ready to come back to it.
I also know that they aren’t “addicted” to screens. They can function happily if the situation calls for limited or no technology. We camped for a week and half in the Fall with no access to electricity or screens and they managed just fine (I think us adults had a harder time without our beloved screens).
So what does unlimited technology look like in our house?
It’s different from day to day and it’s different right now in winter because we can’t get out of the house as often.
I am a “tv in the background all day” kind of person. I don’t know if this is because I didn’t have a tv for a big part of my childhood or not. But I typically put on the news first thing in the morning, then maybe TED Talks or some of my favorite YouTube channels. When the kids get up, CarsBoy3 likes to check in with his favorite vlogs. They’re toy reviews, game play, or day in the life type vlogs. He genuinely cares for these people and has experienced so much through their lives. DinoGirl5 has a slew of iPad apps that she tends to first thing in the morning. Her Jurassic World game is the latest one. She feeds her dinosaurs, builds habitats, hatches new dinos, collects in-game currency, purchases new items for her world. The things she’s learned from that game alone are innumerable. Sometimes then we’ll put on a movie or show on Netflix or Amazon. This is never a passive activity. This isn’t “vegging in front of the tv”. Every movie, tv show, or documentary raises questions or gets us talking about something. Typically I have to reach for my phone to google a question that’s come up. We turn to YouTube videos to help answer the myriad of questions and interests that pop up throughout the day (5 minutes ago it was “what sound do ostriches make?”). At multiple points throughout the day, they choose to walk away from the tv or iPad and do something else non-screen related. Then maybe they’ll go back to it when they need to rest, or need to take a break, or just want to go back to it. They play seemingly silly iPad games right along with “Hooked on Phonics” or “Kahn Academy” (which they view as a game). They watch Shopkins or Lego toy reviews right along with MinutePhysics or other science YouTube videos. They are the captains of that ship. They choose what they’re interested in and what they want to watch or do. And they learn amazing things from all of it, whether it’s labeled “educational” or not. We like to watch a show or movie together as a family in the evenings. And again, it’s a time to bond and discuss what we’re watching. Then around 8pm when it’s time to relax, they use their iPods to watch YouTube Kids or play games. This gives them the opportunity to fall asleep when they’re ready. They typically don’t stay up all night on devices because they know the device will be waiting for them to use in the morning.
Technology plays such a huge role in our unschooling journey. It’s just as important to us as reading books, spending time in nature, or visiting new places. I look forward to the future advances in technology and how we can utilize it to continue to learn all we can about the amazing world around us.
More to Explore:
“Learning From Screens” episode on the Unschooling Life Podcast by Amy Childs
Screen Time Index page on Sandra Dodd’s site. (Links to lots of other screen time info)
“You Have to Limit Screen Time” on the Living Joyfully blog by Pam Laricchia
“Unlimited Screen Time?” On The Path Less Taken blog by Jennifer McGrail
January 20, 2016 / TaraMcDonough / 0