Saturday, January 30, 2016

Restart Update

A quick update: We ended our extensive media blackout. I realize technology is not evil. This wasn't the point of the restart. I had noticed some troubling physiological signs in one child, and happened to come across Dr. Dunckley's Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. We've always had tech free days and a week here and there. I thought it would be interesting to see if I noted the same changes she did in her book. Obviously, I don't need a book to tell me when our family needs a tech break. I do end this reset acknowledging, technology is a part of our lives that we'd do better to learn to moderate than abolish. There is a lot of good involved in its use. Normally, we share articles, recipes, videos, and funny memes. My children gathered around the computer co-writing stories, researching, and creating Keynote presentations. It is one way to connect to the world when it is not used as a consistent escape or substitute for real activities, family, or friends.

Overall, my children noted differences in themselves during the time off. Two children stopped experiencing headaches and eye strain. So, their tablets might remain unused, but mainly because the screens are too tiny and stress the eyes. Our iMac does need a glare screen for increased comfort. With our help, my sons must learn to recognize the signs before screen-time becomes too much.

We recognized there are moments when we're not fully present with one another because of a digital device. Yes, I love to get responses from Facebook and find exciting blogs. But, we do the same thing with books. We're constantly trying to read a book and eat, read and play a Monopoly game, or listen to an audiobook and do everything else. It can consume us so much we disengage for hours or days until the binge reading or listening has ended. While I didn't make any radical discoveries, it magnified areas of our lives that we'd let fall to the wayside.

We started working out as a family in place of media time. We enjoyed a couple more audiobooks than usual, probably spent more time at the library, which is hard to do. My eldest started back baking consistently. I mentioned in a previous post how I actually opened my new sewing machine. Dinnertime lasted a little longer with more lingering and just talking. We dusted off a couple little used boardgames. We constantly discussed our family movies and sports events. Naturally, we had to have our doses of Cam Newton and Stephen Curry. But, these are not terribly novel things. In another post, I noted I was more fully present. Before, I'd have them wait and forget what I committed to do. If I said it, I tried as much as possible to do it. It was a calmer atmosphere to a certain degree, but that's probably because four children didn't need to share one x-box. The children also shared space a little more readily, whether out of boredom or not I can only guess. When I limited my computer time, I focused better and completed tasks easier and quicker. More experiments than ever were completed, which they loved. It was a flashback to our earlier homeschool days, much more relaxed. Finally, my son,who has complained for weeks, he's unable to write a story did just that yesterday. He's been checking out tons of fairy tales, listening to audiobooks, and is writing his own story. He's increased his novel reading as well. Somewhere along the way an obstacle was removed. I can't definitively label it as cause and effect, so we'll go with correlation.

Honestly, I did feel as if I were robbing my kids and husband of experiences they enjoy. I constantly second guessed my decision, wondering if it was unfair. It was extremely hard for one child, who actually had emotional breakdowns. But, he admitted he loved being headache free. My other children didn't even really care. They enjoyed playing tons of games, eating by-products of my son's baking, and reading. I made a deliberate effort to observe and note the things they were really enjoying. It felt more like deschooling than anything else. I plan to continue what we're doing, but with the addition of electronic screen-time in doses that are best for each child. We gained time and focused togetherness.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Teaching What is Good

At the local pool on Thursday, I met a woman who mentioned she homeschools so she could teach her children what is good. After meeting parents homeschooling based on this concept of good, she initiated her own family's journey. This sparked a discussion between my husband and me about the meaning of  "good." In the midst of this conversation, we were feeling quite deep as we came up with differentiating between relative good and absolute good. This isn't new. The Bible speaks of it, Aristotle, other philosophers, and belief systems speak about this as well. So, we're looking at absolute truth.

When I accommodate my children's learning styles, learning difficulties, and giftedness, I am applying relative good. I am supplying what is good for that individual child to benefit his/her natural leaning. This is a normal part of homeschooling/unschooling. Teachers do it as well in the school system when they present information in various formats to engage different types of learners.

But, as I realized this lady was a Christian, I assumed she meant more than relative good. It brought to mind Philippians 4:8:

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things." (Chronological Study Bible, 2008) 
Absolute good means there are certain characteristics my children and all people need to cultivate to be well-adjusted members of the human race. Paul instructs the readers to focus on what is just, truthful, decent, amiable, and excellent. We are to imitate what is excellent. Galatians 5:22 gives a list of characteristics we are to exhibit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The Bible is not the only source of a list illustrating absolute good.

"Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him." 
(African Proverb, answersafrica.com)
A quick search revealed Aristotle created a list of twelve virtues he believed must be taught and practiced. He presented his list as being the balance between the extremes of excess and deficiency. His list is similar to Paul's: courage, temperance, truthfulness, modesty, friendliness, and patience/good temper are just a few. See the article entitled Aristotle's Ethics Table of Virtues and Vices by Central Washington University for the complete list (www.cwu.edu/~warren/Unit1/aristotles_virtues_and_vices.htm). Obviously, the study of ethics is much deeper than what I've discussed and can include other belief systems. Despite one's belief system, I think we can agree absolute good is absolute truth. Therefore, there are certain virtues inherent to being human. We must live out these qualities before our children in deliberate ways.

Homeschooling/unschooling makes it easier to model these virtues for our children. I'm not saying public/private schooled children are characterless or parents are unable to teach virtue. But, we're able to put academics on the back burner and take the time necessary to concentrate on character building. Sometimes that is more important than a textbook. Character shows the world who you are. My mom always said, "What's in you will eventually come out." So, we want to make sure as parents we're putting in good things. Another African proverb says,
 "What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn." (African Proverb, answersinafrica.com)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Screen-Time, Me, or a Little of Both?

Restricting TV and gaming is one of those old age debates in homeschooling/unschooling circles. I don't claim to have the answers or suggestions for other families. I can only share what I'm learning about my family. I admit, I am one of those parents who restricts screen-time, both passive and interactive. So, I thought based on behaviors seen in my children, we needed to do an electronic fast.

We're finishing week two of Dr. Dunckley's Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. She discusses the effects of excessive electronic device usage on the brain and body. She does note that many of her patients are on the Autism spectrum or have other psychological concerns. But, that every child (and even adults) benefit from decreased screen-time. Also, Dr. Dunckley distinguishes between passive (TV) and interactive screen time. According to the research presented in her book interactive screen time is worse. Her chapter on the psychological and physiological affects of electronic screen media describes how digital technology changes and stimulates the brain and body, affecting how we retain information and even causes cortisol (stress hormone) production to increase among other things. According to the research, the brain needs to rest from the constant bombardment of screen-time.

Most of the positive results we've seen in our children are not definitively cause and affect. Dr. Dunckley even admits this in some of the case studies she shares. But, it can't hurt to make more time for personal projects and family. She also encourages parents to choose problem behaviors to monitor, observe, and record occurrences as the program is followed. Physiologically,  I do have a son experiencing light sensitivity, headaches, and eye strain when using electronic devices. He's the main reason for the fast, since he's the most attached to his tablet and computer.

Otherwise, I believe the level of engagement and creativity we're seeing in the children has more to do with deliberate, focused family time than the devices themselves. Although, some might say eliminating the devices freed up some time. But, I don't think it's that simple. Starting the program involved creating an activity calendar, organizing all the items needed for activities/projects, and keeping my word. I've done a poor job of having the supplies available when the kids want to do projects. There's always a last minute hunt for some essential item. I just unpacked the new sewing machine I bought months ago to hem a costume. My 13 year old reminded me that we were suppose to make him the same knight's tunic I hemmed for his brother when he was 9 or 10. My youngest son discovered he likes to use the sewing machine and hemmed a tunic for one of his siblings. The kids are talking more, certain individuals are experiencing less meltdowns, and one child even mentioned this was the first time he/she had finished a lengthy book. I'd like to add, I'm not a big fan of endless hours and days of reading to the exclusion of active and hands-on living either. Although, obviously screen-time and reading don't affect the brain and body in the same ways.

I listened to a podcast by Pam Larrichia and I had to consider that just maybe TV and gaming become a problem when the child's life is lacking in some way. In this case, I became too hands off in an attempt to help them become more independent. I wasn't keeping up with our family reading or being deliberate about supporting their projects.

It's funny I restricted them when they've shown they're not controlled by it. They were hanging out with friends playing Minecraft, but asked not to do it anymore since they felt uncomfortable that some of the kids were taking it so seriously to the point of emotional breakdowns. Plus, it stopped being fun to them when it appeared all their friends wanted to do was play Minecraft. As I write this I realize my kids won't sit and game all day every day (hopefully). But, they need interesting additions and alternatives to their day.

More than anything, this time is helping us refocus as parents. It's easy to get caught up in work schedules, to do lists, and ferrying children from one activity to another. Once again it's not so much about the children, but us. We've been more deliberate about cooking, reading, crafting, and just relaxing together. As a matter of fact, we spent time tonight discussing our take on the Force Awakening and the cut scenes from their favorite video games. These are things important to them (husband included), and it's unreasonable to center on cutting these activities out, but the aim is to find a healthy way to make room in our lives for ALL of our interests. The goal has become to make our lives/relationships more fulfilling and rewarding than screen-time. Maybe, I'm the one who needs to learn how to handle screen-time.

We'll continue following the reset plan. I'll continue reading research and books on both sides of the debate. I want to read Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. I do believe excessive screen-time affects mood, reading comprehension, and attention span in certain children. Based only on my family, I see the emotional and physiological toll it takes on my children. Hopefully, I'll get to update the last week of the program.


Monday, January 11, 2016

The Story I'm Telling Myself

Land Of Stories by Chris Colfer
Initially, I started off the year intending to plan, plan, plan. Get out the homeschool binder, organize, and have everything set for the remainder of the year. Over the Christmas break, I started reading BrenĂ© Brown's Daring Greatly and just finished Rising Strong. It was as if I had a personal therapist in my living room. At the end of the day, I realized that much of the preparation and planning have been more attempts to avoid imperfection, create certainty in an uncertain world, and holding on to self-doubt. I'm not saying don't plan, but personally I've been planning out of anxiety. So, I've recognized I need to stop and listen to the story (from Rising Strong) I'm telling myself about decisions and moments in my homeschool. Many times the story is based on assumptions, half-truths, and fear. I'm no longer afraid to admit I'm all about keeping it simple, doable, fun, and affordable.

I accepted a scarcity mentality. I never knew homeschooling had to be hard until I started listening to other parents, and later reading blogs. I became embarrassed by not having battle scars when others were sharing their difficulties. Note, I'm not saying there haven't been difficulties or struggles along the way. But, I always operated from the stance I was "enough" and capable of homeschooling. I started believing we were lacking in curriculum and outside activities. It's as if I took on the mantle of self-doubt to fit in. I looked at other people and borrowed their troubles. I'm wondering if taking on this mantle has caused the "deficiencies" I see now. Meaning, maybe I created them. I created the scarcity mentality Brown describes in Daring Greatly. I forgot to be grateful for the ease of teaching I experience(d) with my children. I overlooked the joy of learning with them and the self motivation they display. Maybe, I needed something to worry about to fit in. I am by nature a worrier, looking far into the future to bring problems into the present.

I convinced myself shame was the way to inspire. I think of the times I used shaming when a child didn't understand a basic math, made grammatical errors, or didn't know a history fact, using words like "ridiculous" or "unbelievable," all with an exasperated breathe and eye roll. So, I set up a cycle of fear of being wrong and feeling less than. I think back to my days at the blackboard, staring blankly at the day's math problem feeling stupid and embarrassed. Thinking, until I started homeschooling, I'd never understand math. Now, I can't even believe all the problems I had as a child. I stopped being scared to get it wrong. In Daring Greatly, Brown quotes (p. 65), Peter Sheahan as saying, "The secret killer of innovation is shame." I'm killing their creativity and the failure resilience it takes to innovate. It's my shame rearing its ugly head when they don't know something I know I've taught them or feel they should know. It's not even about them; it's all about that blackboard experience.

I attached my self-worth to my children's accomplishments. Just because I homeschool doesn't mean my children have to succeed at a higher rate. It caused me to look ay my children as products I'm creating instead of human beings with their own minds, aspirations, and needs. I was kind of liking the whole tiger mom thing. I saw my children as projections of all my handiwork and teaching. According to Brown, this is also shame.

I'm too focused on what people will think when they see my children. Also, I think this is cultural as well. Growing up in the South, I was taught to always dress my best, have the best manners, and show society, I'm not what they think African-Americans are. My self-worth was tied up in my grades and how well I helped my mom around the house. It was an eye opener to realize I'm worthy just because I exist, not the things I accomplish. This has bled into my homeschooling.

I avoided vulnerability in my homeschool. Brown describes vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure (Daring Greatly, pg. 34). I think homeschooling is vulnerability personified, which is an extension of our parenting. We've made this statement we're capable of giving our children a quality education, and then we're put out there for family, friends, and strangers to either appreciate or criticize. Vulnerability is owning our decisions and ignoring the opinions of unimportant people in our lives. We all need people in our lives to provide loving, constructive criticism or advice. This list should be short.

We are uncertain on how this whole homeschool journey will end. As in life in general, we don't even know what tomorrow will bring, much less years. I have a tendency to not enjoy the moment out of fear of waiting for disaster to strike. Brown calls this foreboding joy. I can think of a million disasters lurking around the corner to attack at any moment. I can't stand not knowing.

 I remember the day in my youth, when I declared as an 11 or 12 year old I would never feel emotion again. It was after my parents' divorce. I've never accepted the transience of joy. Instead, of finding joy in the moments I'm given, I withhold experiencing the fullness of life. From that day, I never cried again until a day in college. It's scary that I can remember the times I've cried since then. I prided myself on being strong and never letting my guard down. I spent years not even being able to identify any emotions except anger.

 We're taught to be strong, Black women, never showing weakness. My love often comes out harshly. When I say, "It's ridiculous you don't know your multiplication facts yet, I'm sick of this." What I really mean is, "I'm scared that not knowing your basic facts is going to hinder you from doing the higher level math your career path requires." Regardless of whether this statement is true or not, as Black parents, many of us have been taught harshness prepares our children for the world they will encounter. Feelings are equated with weakness. I do believe it's why some of our children and young adults seem so angry and disengaged. It's time to rethink some of our parenting techniques. They're doing more harm than good in many instances. Anger is the only acceptable emotional outlet. Brown describes love as risky, uncertain, and scary (p. 34). We have to be willing to put it all out there. I want our home to be a sanctuary.

That my family, homeschool, and I are enough is the story I'm choosing to tell myself and them.