Unschooling Journey

Our journey from traditional schooling, to "school at home" and then on to greener pastures…

Tag: de-schooling

“Screen Time”


“Baby Einstein”, that was approved baby entertainment, right? I could pop the tele on while I get some cleaning done and feel I was doing a good job, that I wouldn’t be frowned upon by those in my Mothers Group for allowing him to watch TV.

Or a documentary, playing in the background. Classical music. That sort of thing.

From the very beginning of Clay’s life I was worried about doing things “right”. I read the top parenting books of the time (“Save our Sleep” anyone?? *cringe*), and they all said not too much television, it’s bad for them, rots brains, harms eyesight, turns them into zombies. Oh and definitely no electronic devices at the shops or if we go out for a meal, only crayons, colouring, books. They’re approved, good-parenting, stuff.

An over ambitious pushy parent reading a book about child development while ignoring her child's emotional needs.

As he grew, and became interested in iPads and computers, I would literally time the periods he was on. No more than 15 minutes a day, half an hour, one hour max!

Eeeeek. Timer had gone off 30 minutes ago. Mummy fail.

Even as we began homeschooling, all those fabulous “educational” apps, oh no no, he couldn’t do everything on apps or the computer. He had to read (books, of course, not screens, they’re different you see…), and write and regurgitate, plan projects and create neat little booklets and maps. That’s what learning looks like, right?

Minecraft, that’s where his interest in computing really started to boom. A friend introduced me to it, saying it was a fabulous game, her son had built amazing buildings with lots of rooms and winding halls. It was almost educational, we justified to ourselves.

Then they really got interested. Too interested. This can’t be good. Nothing of benefit would hold their interest for that long. They were becoming obsessed. And so the time spent on Minecraft was cut, 15 minutes a day max. That’s it. Off. No, I don’t care that you’re in the middle of building something or battling a Creeper, your time is up. I was being generous, really, some of his friend’s weren’t allowed to play at all. I was tempted, he got so stroppy and angry after his time was up…

No, you can’t go back on Minecraft today, you’ve had your time….now stop interrupting me while I’m trying to answer this Facebook post…


Removing restrictions on technology was difficult, it was a complete turn around on everything I had ever known to be true. As I explained in a previous post, removing the restrictions was a process for us. But once we were there, yes, Clay spent (and still does on many days) all day playing games.

In the beginning it was all about Minecraft, which eventually gave way to Terraria, and more recently he has begun exploring other games on Steam, like Scrap Mechanic and Stranded Deep. I was, of course, worried about this at first, waiting, waiting, waiting to see the signs of this elusive thing called “self-regulation”…

It was subtle at first, he’d take himself off and play outside when friends came over for Minecraft Day, then he began to take himself off for breaks when he was on his own. Then the “I’m bored” comments began. I recall feeling overly excited when this happened for the first time, but forced myself to be calm and casual as I made suggestions as to what he could do.

In the beginning, all he wanted to do was stay home and play, or play on his iPad or computer when we were out. But gradually he came to trust that I wasn’t going to take his games away, we spoke about how he had plenty of time to play as long as he wanted to, that he could play online with his friends when they were on, and I even went so far as to seek out more online playmates via the various Facebook groups I’m on. He then started to realise that the time he could spend playing “pretend play”, climbing trees, or paddling down a stream, was what was limited now, not his gaming time.

More recently, he has begun to seek out some of the things that used to interest him, things like magic, cooking, science experiments and chemistry. He has begun to take himself away from the screen and sit chatting to me about ideas, asking if he can “experiment” with this or that.


Choosing to come off his computer for a walk along the beach…

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…participate in activities…

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…and Jessie (having never been restricted) eagerly chooses other options.

Yes, most of the days when we are home are spent gaming. But he tends say yes to other things more readily nowadays, park plays and fun activities like the scavenger hunt this past week. In the beginning he would have said no, preferring to stay home. At the end of the day, it comes down to the economics of scarcity, the rarer something is, the more value it holds.

Yes, things are changing.

I doubt he will give up gaming any time soon, nor do I wish him to (I see great value in it now, more on that in a future post), but his interests are broadening, and he is comfortable with the knowledge that he can game whenever he likes.

The relationship I’ve developed with Clay since removing restrictions is so rewarding, the impromptu hugs and the “You’re the best Mummy ever!” comments fill me with conviction that this is the right path. Respecting his choices, supporting his passions, instilling in him the knowledge that he is exactly who he should be.

And that’s my end goal, because he’s already perfect, and I don’t need a book to tell me that.


PS. This week I was fortunate enough to have my worries about letting go of food restrictions addressed by the inspirational Pam Larrichia, Anne Ohman and Anna Brown on the Exploring Unschooling podcast. If you haven’t ventured down this road yet, have a listen, then let me know if you’ll join me in jumping in….here I go!!!

The “red note”…



I remember the walk (or drive if I was feeling particularly lazy….or if it was cold…or too hot…or…) to school all too well. I remember trying to skip over the cracks so I didn’t invite any bad luck, holding my breath the last ten metres before entering the grounds in a ritualistic fashion…perhaps today would be the beginning?? Perhaps today, something would have clicked, something the teacher tried would have worked, to get Clay to “do what he was told”.


There’s that look. She’s standing at the door now, calling kids name by name to leave the classroom. Yep, he’s last again. She locks eyes with me and motions for me to step forward, “Not a good day today…”, it would begin, or, “It started out well, but then…”.

The dreaded red note in the diary. From the sports teacher (who, lets face it, probably didn’t look favourably on a boy deciding that he’d rather climb a tree while  a serious game of soccer was meant to be happening), or the art teacher (man she was the worst, grumpy old lady, should’ve retired years ago!), or the softly spoken music teacher (no, sitting on a mat with a drum in hand and expecting him to wait his turn to tap it three times probably isn’t going to work).

What was this awful thing that my son had done? Oh you know, he skipped rather than walked between classes and had to hold the teachers hand, spoke without putting his hand up, splashed water on a friend while at the drinking fountain (did I mention it was hot that day?), oh oh, and my personal favourite, he thumped a kid back after he got clobbered with a broom handle. Apparently he failed to mention that part of the altercation to the teacher as he was being dragged to the principle’s office….at not even 4 years old. I wonder why he didn’t feel safe enough to explain his side? Interesting…


Clay is a climber, bouncer, runner (although not in the athletics-style-straight-line, manner). He’s always been a mover. That’s a big reason why school didn’t work for him, he can’t sit still.

Parkour is awesome for kids who need to move (vertically as well as horizontally). The key is to find the right mentor, though. We tried a class for a couple of terms, he really enjoyed it, but struggled with the part where he had to sit and listen to instructions. I’ve actually found (as I de-school myself), that I am very similar. I have to really concentrate when someone is talking to me, I tend to zone out and need to force myself to make eye contact to keep up with a long conversation. But show me something, or give my hands something to do while we chat, and then I will remember, then I will take in what you’re saying.

This is frustrating for my husband, who can’t understand why he’s had to explain to me a dozen times how to turn on the heater. Show me please, and make sure I’m not distracted by my phone while you’re doing it.

It’s funny, I didn’t realise how much I would learn about myself on this journey, how much of myself I had learnt to mask. How many of Clay’s “quirks” were also my own.

Anyway, back to parkour. I knew I didn’t want to give up on it, it really was the perfect activity for Clay, he was always watching parkour YouTube videos, and practicing his own moves. But the only other class I’d heard of was on a Friday, which (at the time), was Minecraft Day. So when the holidays rolled by, and we weren’t hosting Minecraft Day that week, I took him to a class. He LOVED it. So much so that when I asked if he wanted to move Minecraft Day to a Thursday (at the risk of some friends not being able to come) he jumped at the chance, no hesitation. It was one of the earliest memories I have of him choosing something over Minecraft.

Whoo hooooo!!

We were about 6 months into Unschooling when this happened. Despite reaching our goal of un-restricted technology, I was still freaking out at times…albeit more quietly, on the inside on a good day…rocking back and forth in the corner crying, thinking “What the hell am I doing!?” on a bad one.

So this was something to celebrate. Calmly, on the inside. I didn’t want Clay to detect that I was ecstatic about his decision, these were my insecurities, stemming from my upbringing, with traditional dos and don’ts swimming around in my head. I’d done the research, I knew that projecting my fears onto him would make him feel like I was disapproving, rather than celebrating and supporting his passions. It would bring about him feeling that he was less than he was “supposed” to be. So I kept my joy to myself, and we switched days…calmly, like it was no big deal.

Isn’t it funny, how we automatically value one thing over another, even though we’ve never thought to question it. Why is it that I’m ok with him jumping and climbing up walls, but worry about him expressing his creativity through building medieval villages, carrying out role-plays with friends, or working as a team to solve a problem. It’s been hard for me to question my beliefs, question what I’ve always known to be true. All part of my de-schooling process I suppose!

Back to Parkour. We take part in two classes every fortnight, with an amazing instructor. Gone is the rigid class, now he gets to participate when he wants, have a break when he wants, and is never expected to sit down and listen. I think finding the right mentors for our kids is key, just as I don’t want to project my presuppositions on his choices (and influence his decisions too much), I don’t want others to ruin what is an amazing opportunity just because they believe kids need to learn something in a particular fashion.

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Parkour up walls…

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On anchors…

IMG_8747 (2)In nature…

I love parkour days, the kids run and jump and get dirty, and I get to hang out with some amazingly inspiring Unschoolers. I think it’s important to surround ourselves with like-minded people, getting bogged down in conversations about curriculum and “grade level” makes us second guess ourselves, when actually, the real world is a whole lot more interesting to play in…


PS. Read more on de-schooling here…http://livingjoyfully.ca/blog/2013/02/why-deschooling/

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