Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cool Things This Week

Lots of cool stuff the past couple weeks:

  • We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for one of their homeschool days. I love that D shares my fascination with creatures of the deep, including cephalopods. We also all spent time playing at the beaches in Monterey, climbing rocks and finding sea anemones.
  • D and I went on a boat "ecovoyage" in the SF bay, with a local marine research institute. He helped throw over a large fishing net and catch fish, dig through mud from the bottom of the bay to find critters, got his turn to steer the boat, and we learned some cool stuff about boats in general and about plankton in the seat. I'm hoping D will still be interested by summer, when he can sign up for one of their camps.
  • D made up his own tabletop battle game, using his warhammer miniatures vs Zach's old army men, poker chips to represent each fighter's "healths", and cut out paper "targeters" for aiming and hitting each other. I was pretty impressed, and I think most of it just came from readsing bits and pieces of the warhammer book a friend gave us.
  • D got a new betta fish (after his first one died...). We're talking about getting some sort of rodent pet after the holidays, we'll see... 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On TV and video games

Up until this summer we had house rules about "screentime." TV watching was kinda flexible, but I had a goal of no more than 1-2hrs a day. If they were sick we'd do more. There were times when they were super into a new show and would constantly ask to watch more of it. We also then went through periods where they wouldn't even think to ask. We had a few games on our ipad, and D and i figured out a system where he would get 6 tokens every week, and each token was good for 30 minutes of time to play games. He could use up to 2 tokens in a day. There were weeks when he'd use up all his tokens in the first few days of the week and whine until the next monday about not having any more... then also times when he'd finish the week having only used a couple tokens at all.

These systems worked ok, but as we got into unschooling and I read more about it both from the academic/schooling side as well as some radical unschooling ideas, I started questioning our restriction of media time. For the first time I was finding out about studies that suggested that playing video games might actually be beneficial, rather than just rotting their brains as popular opinion believes. Huh.

So a few months ago I lifted restrictions. The boys were now able to watch as much tv and play as many games as they wanted. Soon after we got our hand-me-down xbox from my brother-in-law, and the xbox gaming began.

It was easy to feel good about the boys watching shows like Wild Kratts, How It's Made, and MythBusters. It was fun to sit with them as they watched TV and be part of their running commentaries about what was going on, and for D how he would make his version of that show differently. I played their lego star wars games with them on the xbox, and quickly realized how difficult those games were, how much patience and creativity and problem-solving was required in figuring out how to beat each level, as well as the cooperation and communication skills it requires for a 6yo to play the games with his 3.5yr old brother.

But I also had my reservations, my doubts. It's tough to sit by and watch them play for hours upon hours every day, often only stopping when it was time to eat, go to bed, or if we had plans outside the house to go on. I read that often kids "binge" for a while when restrictions are lifted and then they settle down and "self-regulate" but after 3 months or so they were still going strong with round-the-clock gaming. I will also sheepishly admit that part of the doubting voices come from my worry of what others will think about my kids playing games all day...which has nothing to do with them and everything to do with my own insecurities.

I'm still struggling with it, honestly. I really do believe in the benefits of playing games and these stories they watch unfold. I think they are learning and gaining a lot from that. I want them to have plenty of time for this active activity they love. But I also want time for other things. I want time for reading, and playing board games, and going to parks. I want them to have time to be a little bored, because that's when they seem to come up with really fun and creative things to do. I want time for building with legos. And I realize many unschooling parents will find huge fault in all this "I want" coming from me, the parent, but I do feel it is important to find some sort of balance.

The nice thing is, that when I do ask them to take a break from the game 90% of the time they are fine with this and happily turn it off. I'm trying to help them be mindful about how and why they watch tv or play games-- most of the time they love it for the love of it, but I remember one day when D and I were playing xbox and he couldn't decide what level he wanted to play and just seemed restless... like he was bored and didn't know what to do. SoI suggested we take a break and do something else, and he agreed. Sometimes they will get really frustrated with the game, and I try to help them notice how their bodies feel and their voices rise when they're upset, and notice that they may want to take a short break (perhaps we all only just then noticed that they went all afternoon without a snack and desperately need to eat something).

So, anyway, yeah, I'm still struggling a little with it all. I don't want to impose arbitrary limits again, but I do want to allow for non-game time during the day. I can plan park days and errands and other outings, but I also like having time at home where playing xbox isn't the default activity. Right now we're trying a few new things, like that we don't turn the xbox on in the morning before we take Q to preschool. That just seems to work best, as we then have plenty of time in the morning for eating breakfast, getting dressed, and maybe some lego or reading books together, without being rushed bc they spent most of that time playing games. And on weekends (when my husband is around, who is having a harder time with the gaming free-for-all) we're working out deals with the boys about when they want to play and for how long, before we move on to another activity to do together. Most of the time they are happy to compromise with us and we find something that works for all of us, without much fighting or stomping of feet.

So we're trying this out, and I will continue reading, researching, and observing, watching them for cues on how we are doing with it, and finding our way. It's a balance, and one I'm sure will shift and sway all sorts of ways as time goes on.

Lastly, here are a few links I've found useful/informative as I think all this over:

EDIT 12/7/2014: Of course, I wrote this and all of a sudden in the past couple of weeks a change has happened... I realized one day that the boys had gone a whole weekend without even asking to turn on the xbox at all. They still have days where they'll spend the whole afternoon playing video games, but overall their game playing has calmed down in intensity. I'm sure that when they get new games they'll ramp back up again for a while, but it's nice to finally see the natural balancing out happening after all. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We met up with a new-to-us local homeschool group on monday, and had a great long afternoon playing at a new park with them.
  • D and I tried out the YMCA pool. He's not interested in doing formal swim lessons, but loves playing around in the water and I think just me and him spending time at the pool every week could get him to a good place. And, it's fun. 
  • We picked up a new batch of Scooby Doo books from the library and the boys are continuing to enjoy them.
  • We attended a different park day where kids of all ages played out this massive battle using homemade foam-and-duct-tape weapons. D and Q had a great time, and are plotting out how to make their own foam weapons now.
  • D drew out a map of some of the planets in the Star Wars/Clone Wars galaxy, with markers for who they are occupied by (republic/separatist/neutral). 
  • D continues to make up his own version of just about everything he experiences, telling me stories of new games and movies he wants to make, and made-up animals he has dreamed up, and stories about General D the Jedi Master, etc. It's not always easy for me to listen patiently to his sometimes-endless monologues about things, but I love that he creates these worlds in his head. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finding our group

One thing I have been missing about D going to school has been the easy access to a bunch of other kids his age. It's been tough trying to establish a new social circle here, and at times I have longed for the ease of D seeing the same group of kids every day at school and finding friends that way. I don't really consider myself anti-social, but I am an introvert and so extending myself to try to connect with others is exhausting. I joined one or two homeschool groups soon after we moved here in the summer, but then D was having such a hard time not wanting to leave the house, so we didn't always (or even often) make it out to park days. And even when we did I felt it was really difficult for D to go join in with the group of kids who already all knew each other.

Still on the lookout, I found out about a different local group and on Monday we went to one of their park days, and to my amazement and relief the whole thing just felt so great. The parents were very warm and welcoming, immediately introducing me and the boys to everyone else there. And more importantly, after a few minutes of sticking by my side, soon D was out running and playing with the other kids and having a great time. For the first time, it felt like he really connected with the other kids there. We had a great time hanging out at the park for a few hours. Many of the parents there seem to be more on the unschooling/life learning side of things, which also felt great-- homeschooling is a strange enough choice, opting to unschool can feel even more lonely at times. It's good to have a few like-minded souls for support and sharing.

The moms there then told me about a different meetup that happens on fridays, where kids of all ages meet up for these epic mock-battles, which sounded totally up my boys' alley. So we went to that as well, and many of the same families were there, and again my boys both joined in and had a great time.

I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I feel really good about this new group of people, and plan to become a regular at their park days. It feels like we've kinda turned a corner. And I figured this would happen, sooner or later-- that we may just need to spend a bit more time searching but would eventually find a crew to join. I feel like we're starting to really find our groove, and it's really nice.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We visited the Hiller Aviation Museum nearby, where the boys got to sit inside a cockpit of a real boeing 747, and see a bunch of old-timey airplanes and helicopters. 
  • D has been very reluctant to read chapter books with me (me reading aloud to him), but I grabbed a Scooby Doo "beginner" chapter book from the library (it's very short, can be read in one sitting) and he was really into it. I picked up some more from the library yesterday, and he was just as excited to read those with me as well. The books themselves are kind of terrible, but I'm happy for him to be excited to read books that are a step up from picture books. 
  • We joined the local YMCA, D and I are excited to use their indoor pool during the week. 
  • We had two birthday parties this weekend, one of which included pony rides, a bounce house, and a petting zoo. D's favorite was feeding the goats. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • Last week we visited friends in Wisconsin, which was awesome and wonderful and fun. We got to drive and see a bit of the Illinois and Wisconsin landscape, spend lots of time playing and hanging out with our dear friends, D & Q tried out a bunch of new(to-us) video games, etc. It's been a challenge to find friends for D here since our move this summer, so it was pretty great to get to watch him hang out with his best buddy again. 
  • D's interest in warhammer miniatures has been sparked again, and he and Zach had an animated conversation this evening about miniatures, and about war weapons and tanks (both from the game and real, from WWII). They also set up a small battle with Zach's old army men.
  • Dinovember has started again, we did it last year and all had a good bit of fun with it. I've got some fun ideas for our dinos this time around...
  • Yesterday we went to the Bay Area Science Festival, which was all sorts of awesome. We saw remote-control robots, we built a couple simple machines incorporating hydraulics, D tried his hand at hacking a key code, we watched a demonstration on effusive vs explosive volcanic eruptions, I got to touch a real (dead) squid (the boys refused, only watched), and a bunch of other really cool stuff.