Unschooling, room and video games

We finally moved. Yay! We’re paying £100 more per month for this property than in our last, but we can still afford it and the quality of life is just so much better. This house is much bigger than the one before. I never really realised how much space, organisation (or the lack of) impacts on the children – the way they choose to play, the way they choose to spend their time, etc. In our previous 3 bed semi-detached ex-council house built circa 1960s, there was no space for half of the stuff we used to keep in a large 2 bed flat built in Victorian times. So all our bookshelves and things had to be kept in the shed and because I get an asthma attack everytime I walk into that spider web infested shed, I stayed out of it generally. Could not ransack through all of the boxes to find something I wanted or needed. The kids’ quality of homeschooling suffered a little. I totally believe in the benefits of strewing, something I’d learnt in my radical unschooling days. Lack of space in our previous house meant that we had to keep half our homeschool stuff out of sight of the children, and that meant we didn’t have much to strew. Coupled with living in a rural location where their primary caregiver, their mummy – i.e. me, is a non-driver, and homeschooling becomes a rather stunted and limited activity. There wasn’t much to do or see and it was getting pretty boring. It was not working. The children got so bored at one point that they were happy to consider school. I actually limited their video game time to 1 hour per day at that place, but on hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have, given how lacking the place is in terms of things to do. I couldn’t really blame them for wanting to go on the games.

Now in this house, a Victorian mid-terrace 3 bed house, it has enough room for ALL our stuff to be displayed. And in fact we’re now able to put in not just one, but two or three tables, so each child can have their own little space to do their own thing. From the day we moved in, I noticed a change in the way the kids interacted with each other and with us. They had a lot more space than before. All their toys and prized possessions were out of the shed, and all their books… their 100s of books… were finally out in the open, sitting beautifully on bookshelves they can reach and pick out of. They also had a lot more nooks and crannies in the house to play in. A lot of space. A lot of possibilities. No longer were they bickering all day long, grumpy and unable to think of things to do. Now because we’re still in the process of buying new chairs to match the many tables we now can put in the house, we don’t have chairs to sit on and well, because the kids evidently prefer sitting on chairs rather than working on the floor, I decided to stall any “schooly” type work until the chair issue was sorted. So most of the time the kids just reverted to general unschooling most of the day, plus I get them to read a bit, I read aloud to them books from the Sonlight curriculum still (because they love it too), and I get them to do say 1 or 2 pages of work from any workbook of their choice per day. Now prior to moving here, I had not realised so many workbooks I bought for them before our previous previous move had been relegated to shed storage due to that tiny old house we had to live in the last half year. Now that all the books are out in the open on the shelves, I can see we have so many unfinished workbooks.

It’s working well for us though, this current quite unstructured way of doing things. The kids have a lot more free time and… well just generally, they are happier. They love going out to places, and here in this new place, we could take buses to meetups and things. It’s more fun and the home ed scene more busy. Admittedly though, we are still in the process of getting the whole house ready – our broadband and phoneline connection are a pain to sort out and BT – yes I’m looking at you. You really need to pull yourself together. Your service is a disgrace. We don’t have enough chairs and things and need to buy some more furnishings. We have only just gotten curtains and so glad we finally don’t have to sleep without them anymore. So we haven’t actually made it to any HE meetups or activities as yet, although I have been checking online at the local groups for activities and can see there are loads.

I took the very difficult decision of banning video games in the household as I notice that even after we moved here, into this big house with all it’s unschooling possibilities, the kids were still hooked on their Wii games. Not only that, all they ever talk about during meal times, in between game times, etc., were always about the Wii game characters. Now I know my kids are intense. Just like me. They get obsessed with some subject and that will be all that occupies their minds all day. But I was NOT happy with their obsession with PLAYING games. It’s like watching TV to me, maybe less of a passive activity than watching TV, but still not much of creativity or self-direction going into it. It’s like wake up, eat breakfast, straight onto the games. 6 hours later, still on the games, bleary-eyed, a bit grumpy and not looking very happy, actually a bit aggressive, but still refusing to come off the games unless mummy calls an ultimatum.

That to me is just not working out for us. I have tried introducing them to programming and creating their own games instead. Or even, just encouraging them to draw. Draw their favourite characters and scenes from the games, if they want. My middle child is interested, but that doesn’t interest my eldest nor my youngest at all (but perhaps my youngest is too young still). My eldest is a bit of a mystery. She is what you’d call a “non-emergent child” in developmental psychology. She does not seem to have any self-direction, any idea what to do with her time or life, always relies on others around her to give her ideas. She could just sit there and do nothing much the whole day without picking up a book, picking up a pen or pencil, if games were banned. She would just not do anything, unless she gets an idea from her little sister or I ask her to do something. She has little confidence in school work and I think that may be the reason why she doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. She will absolutely NOT touch a single book or paper, unless someone tells her to. Today she was reading the Boxcar Children, but that was because my younger daughter found the book in the bookshelf and then told her to read it “cos it’s a good book”. So for the whole day I’ve been seeing my eldest read the book. I asked her before bedtime what she thought of it. She just said “It’s good.”

She is a good rule-follower though. If you gave her a schedule and told her to stick to it every day, she would, like clockwork. But she would only do the bare minimum required of her. Hey actually now that I think about this, I guess she’d make a good employee. Haha.

But I don’t see that fire of enthusiasm in her in most of what she does. I think some studying routine would do her good in terms of improving her basic functional skills so she could do research or learn things on her own in future.

She is so quiet and anxious when she’s in school though that I cannot imagine school would be a great place for her at least for now, as past experience shows.

Anyway, I’ve decided to enroll her in some Little Arthur’s Homeschooling KS3 courses or some sort of correspondence course. For the time being. Just so she has some semblance of formal structure, because it feels different working with a tutor (even by correspondence) than working with mummy.  Little Arthur’s only does English, Maths and Science for KS3 anyway, and I actually think that’s just what we want. I don’t want to overburden my daughter with too much studying (seeing as she just doesn’t seem to be fired up about ANYTHING she studies, ever, so it is possible she just hates book work), but it will give her some formal structure as well as improve her functional skills. Cost-wise, it is not that expensive. And then after she’s done with it daily, she can do whatever she wants. Anything but computer games though. I feel I have to put a firm foot down about that point from now on.

I’m still thinking of enrolling her in an online high school when she’s going to start studying for her GCSEs. Don’t really think it is worth it paying for KS3 now as she isn’t really into studying, and I suspect she just likes it because she likes being on the computer. And there might be a possibility of her going to mainstream school or college once she hits 14 too.

Ever since I banned video games, the kids have been well, tested. They have mentioned the “bored” word a lot more, which is to be expected, as they start having to figure out what to do with their time rather than just going on the games and allowing the games to decide for them what they can do with their free time! I really don’t mind anything they’d want to do really, as long as it’s not games. I’ve seen it long enough to know that every time they surrender their free time to games, they are just being lazy at thinking of how to spend their time, and allowing the games to decide for them what to do – for instance, save Princess Peach from Bowser, or win the next Mariokart race, or whatever. I’ve tried only limiting games to say, 1 hour a day each day, before. But all that does for them is that it makes them yearn for the games even more intensely all day long, looking forward to that 1 hour of precious game time. So I could take them to a fun park, show them an interesting activity, bring them to see friends, etc. But nothing will matter more to them that day than that 1 hour of game time they are gonna get at the end of the day. Or the next day. If they’ve had their game time early in the day, prior to doing other things. And you can bet that all through meal times, play times, etc. all they will be nattering non-stop about will be the video games. And just that. There really is nothing like it. I have never seen anyone in my life just talk about Mario and Luigi and Princess Peach nonstop throughout the day, every day, from the moment they wake till the moment they sleep.

I think my kids may have some kind of video game addiction. Or maybe they’ve just inherited my intensity and my obsessional tendencies. Except they only express that in the subject of video games. Whereas for me, it was in learning all I can about anything that interests me – egyptology, vaccinations, science, you name it. Or maybe they’re just “outdoorsy” people and get bored out of their minds when they are inside the house. And now being winter, it’s not exactly the best time to go outdoors. And I’ve noticed that the people I know personally who unschool actually do not own any games consoles, or even TVs. They use the computer but only sometimes, to view some Youtube videos of interest for example, or to look up Wiki or to Facebook or write blogs. They just don’t have that phenomenon of their unschooled kids sitting in front of tellies playing on their games consoles and they have bright, inquisitive children whom you cannot miss when you see them out and about.

Yes you do read a lot of unschooling blogs saying it is perfectly fine for kids to be on their consoles all day long. And maybe it is, but what if you as a parent choose not to own such things and therefore your child has no choice to play games or not and they just don’t get games, period? I guess then, your child would not run the risk of game addiction when young.

For my kids now, I think the only way is to ban games and try to allow them to channel their obsessional personalities into other things they like. In fact I’m even thinking of packing away the games console to the storeroom for good. Only to be taken out for special occasions such as Christmas perhaps. I would happily throw it out but I think my husband will object (see where this comes from, lol)

At the moment, the new house is GREAT for unschooling. I am seeing the kids take more control of their free time ever since the games ban. I don’t know when I’m ever going to re-introduce games again for them, but I will when I think they are sufficiently motivated enough externally to not need to turn to games to decide what to do with their free time. Homeschooling does give children a lot more free time, but it also is important to note how the children use that free time because I think it says a lot about the child. A child who does not know what to do with his free time, and relinquishes all control over it to video games, is a child who really needs help to develop more. And by more I mean more parental involvement, more attachment parenting, and more introspective parenting, more sensitivity to the children’s needs.

I am glad to unschool again as I’ve always felt this was the best way, as nature intended, for a child to learn and find out what makes them tick. Some children just need a little more help than others to do this. Like mine. But the past half year living in a too-small house in the rural countryside where I cannot get around on my own much because I can’t drive? Well that was not good for the home ed at all. And I’m glad to leave it all behind for now.


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2 thoughts on “Unschooling, room and video games

  1. Really interesting post. My kids go through phases on console interest, but seem to be very minecraft oriented. That doesn’t have structure in it though, so they’ve got to make their own plans/designs and I quite like talking to them about that. Do you think there’s a difference with that kind of game?

  2. I don’t view Minecraft in the same vein as I do Nintendo games because of the way it is used. There is a lot more scope for them to direct their own activity when they go onto the Minecraft platform, especially if they go on multi-player mode or servers. I introduced my kids to Minecraft years ago, way before it was popular, so they got into it at a time when no one else they knew played it. When they played on servers, they might see the same “friend” every day if they log on. I bought them each (only my daughters, as my son was still too young to understand this) a little EEEPC 901 laptop so they could get on the game at the same time.

    Over time they lost interest. Said their usual “friends” don’t come on anymore, and that the new people on the servers would only be there like one day, and then they never come on again. So they felt the quality of “friendships” they made on the servers deteriorating as the game got more popular. It was clear to me my kids liked it most for the social aspect, although the creative aspect was also a draw, the social aspect was what made it a winner.

    Nowadays they only go onto their Minecraft accounts if there is a new Minecraft update, because they want to play with the new additions in the game. The introduction of horses for example, in one previous update, had them playing the game for a week straight. But it soon got old and then once again, their laptops are just sitting collecting dust. Not sure why but maybe the graphics on Minecraft are not as nice as the ones they get on their Nintendo consoles, and the biggest reason is probably the lack of a ready-made storyline and purpose on Minecraft means they always will prefer Nintendo or any other gaming platform to a more open-ended one like Minecraft. My kids really don’t seem to prefer open-endedness in terms of activities, although I try to help them be more comfortable with self-directed activities.

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