~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ screens as tools

one of this month’s learning highlights was following the world series. we took a special interest this year, as grammy’s team was in the series, and quinn had recent, fond memories of sitting on the porch with grammy and grampy and watching mets games. we had a lot of fun, even though they ultimately lost in the end. quinn has a pretty good grasp of the rules of the game now, but what i particularly loved was hearing him read the players’ names phonetically. my two favorites were cespedes (kes-ped-ease), which sounded like some kind of crispy snack, and moustakas – the first time he said it, it was “mouse-steaks,” yum!

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khan academy: computer programming

in the life of a lifelong learner, there is a balance to be sought in terms of how much screen time is beneficial (i am speaking of all screens here, including tv, movies, tablets, laptops, and smart phones). this is a matter for each family to resolve for themselves, and there is no single right answer. while i believe that the ideal way for quinn to learn how to set his own limits with most substances is to allow him to determine what feels best to him, to develop his internal sensors for “too much” and “enough” through his own experience, i definitely offer a ton of guidance, information, and firm boundaries when it comes to substances like high fructose corn syrup and screen time, given their ability to do harm, and my lack of trust in those particular substances to obey the usual rules of internal-enough-sensor formation. i find i am unwilling to let him expose himself to something to the point of doing harm, so i step in and make a top-down decision at times. i wrestle with when to do this and whether i am giving him enough room to trust himself, vs looking to an authority figure or other external source to determine his needs for him.

some of my workarounds, rather than be the mean mama who is always putting the smack down on his desire to play video games:

  1. i try to offer lots of other enriching activities while downplaying the presence of screens in our home; books, audio stories, toys, board games, and craft supplies are all in more prominent places than any screens.
  2. i set certain times of day aside to be screen-free (with the information shared freely that i watch his focus and attention decrease dramatically in the hour just after video games are played- therefore before school, and just before bedtime, screens are not available.)
  3. instead of “binge on whatever game you choose”  or “fall down a you tube rabbit hole” when he does get on a screen, i want him to see screens as a tool he can use to achieve his goals, rather than him being a tool to be used by the games, videos, and advertisers. again, i strew these screen-as-tool opportunities in his path, while not strewing endless video gaming opportunities there. he certainly plays games, but he is equally likely to be designing a game, or learning how to program a game, as he is to be playing one. some ways he uses the screen as a tool include stop motion animation, studying computer programming and math on khan academy, and word processing- for writing stories as well as typing up board game rules and card making.

it has taken me a while to articulate this distinction between tool use and vegetative-state screen use. it feels good to have a principle in place to guide decisions for a difficult-to-regulate substance like this, and i have never believed the all-or-nothing stance, in either direction, would be the best way to handle screens, for my household. i think it took me a while to step away from the continuum of opinions of whether screens are bad or good, to arriving at a place of accepting that we live with screens, and the question becoming, how can we live with them in the best way, to our healthiest advantage?

by the way, “strew” is probably the unschooling word that had the biggest impact on me and my style/approach to unschooling and nurturing lifelong learning. one of the biggest misconceptions about unschooling, is that it’s a hands-off approach to learning. i don’t think that was the intent, and it’s not how i understood it and applied it. i was/am always thinking of ways to strew ideas and potential projects and interesting experiences with potential to spark further inquiry. the key is choices: presenting enriching choices, and honoring the choices your students make and what they want to pursue learning about. you may have noticed i have quit tagging these posts as unschooling posts, now that quinn is attending public school, and that was more to not offend the unschoolers than because i actually think we have changed our approach. we’re still doing our same dance, and i am working hard to make sure public school doesn’t douse those sparks, that love of learning, in my son. still strewing… and i don’t just mean the legos that are all over the floor. they are… because we were building empires, with mixed up characters from every set, and fortresses, and vehicles. i am amazed at his abilities with them. as for me, quinn showed me that he knows how to find something positive to say, even when it’s hard to find a feature to compliment. “mama, your lego vehicle is very… large!”

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karate practice: universal set 2

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lunar eclipse right before bedtime (he didn’t see all of these, but he did see the first part, in total eclipse.)

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sunset walks with sticks are always a learning experience.

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quinn’s glasses were on their last legs this month, and so we superglued them and went in for his annual eye exam. in between telling the optometrist jokes, quinn revealed (and it was the first i had heard of it) that he had been playing football at recess. “it’s kind of hard on my glasses because i don’t really know how to play, so i keep ending up at the bottom of the pile,” he said.

“i’m more of a baseball guy.”

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dungeons and dragons; addition with carrying, multiplication, storytelling, strategy, reading, reference book use… the learning opportunities in this game are endless, and quite enriching.

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cursive; since it is no longer taught in our public schools, quinn has continued working in the handwriting-without-tears cursive workbook he started last year at ols. he likes doing it, his handwriting is very legible, and the curriculum includes games, which is even better when it comes to quinn. pictured here, he is playing a game of pencils up-and-down, where i tell him to close his eyes, and he practices whatever word his pencil lands on. sounds silly, but it seems like a game kids really enjoy, and they end up practicing all of the words in the end. (this could be used with any assignment that is a little bit boring but doesn’t need to be completed in a specific order.)

if you’re interested in reading about the scientific evidence for the benefits of learning cursive handwriting, this new york times article is a good place to start. here’s a taste:

In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia.

so, you know, if you think engaging more cognitive resources and training self-control is for you….

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for a few months, my work schedule has had me at work until 4:30 to make sure the fish are fed and tucked in for the night. we have finished that phase of research as i write this, but while that was going on, i would pick quinn up from school and he’d spend the last hour of my day hanging out in my office. he would often listen to sparkle stories on his headphones and do some chosen work. one day (october 8th, to be exact) he had a day off from school while i needed to work, so he spent the whole day with me there, and before the day began, we made up the schedule above. he held to it religiously, setting a timer for each 30 minute period and transitioning accordingly. we ate our lunch out in the salt marsh together. i was always exposed to both my parents’ occupations as a kid, and i like that quinn gets to see me doing what i do. i know it’s not feasible for all parents, for example, i imagine that rich’s kids didn’t get to watch him welding fishing boats – i’ve never actually seen him weld, i just take his word for it that it’s what he does all day. at the fish lab, there are a few tasks here and there quinn can help with, and occasionally he gets to feed the fish, which he loves.

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last list item: feed fish/karate. quinn  has earned 2 black tips on his orange belt!

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cooking tacos: quinn brought home a time for kids magazine from school, and read every scrap of it. he found a recipe for tacos in it, and decided he’d like to make the recipe. suddenly, my kid eats tacos!

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the proud taco chef

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other cooking highlights: he baked another apple pie (he can almost do this independently now…) and “decorated” his pizza. definitely an uptick in the kitchen involvement lately.

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apple cider local family gathering: this was quinn testing out some new curious chef  knives (intended for kids who want to help in the kitchen) that i found at fred meyer… he could cut through apples with them well, but our apple/peanut butter/candy corn mouths did not turn out like the ones we saw on pinterest (speaking of using screens as a tool, and not being used by them, i stay far away from pinterest other than the results that come up in google searches i specifically enter for specific projects). 😉 quinn helped with chopping an apple or two at the cider fest, but mostly he mingled with kids and instigated a game of pokemon monopoly, which was the perfect thing for him to be doing.

he also got cornered at one point by a couple of the kids who wanted him to take them upstairs, where they weren’t supposed to be playing, and because he wouldn’t take them, they called him a scaredy cat. i heard about it later, and when i checked in with him, his face fell and i could tell it had really bugged him. he told me what had happened, and i asked if he had decided not to take them upstairs because he knew it wasn’t right, and he said yes. so i told him, it seemed to me, that far from being a scaredy cat, he was actually pretty brave, because it takes a lot of courage to stand up to friends. that seemed to change his whole demeanor, and he relaxed and smiled.

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