Unschooling Journey

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

Tag: Screen Time

Getting in the way of learning…


Rightio, I had all the worksheets printed and ready to go. Clipboard? Check. Pencils? Check. Erasers? Check. Enthusiastic child? Check. Well…kind of.

Clay was excited about going to the aquarium, but seemed less so once I went through the worksheets. I wasn’t asking him to do much, a few pages, and he got to choose which ones he wanted to do, I wasn’t being unreasonable. A trip to the aquarium was expensive, it couldn’t just be a fun day out, we needed to do some learning today!

What. A. Nightmare. One word answers, copying exact sentences, scribbly illegible hand writing. And then he got all stroppy at me when I erased a few words and asked him to re-write them.

He wanted to go home.

Well that was a waste of money!


Clay and his friend were so excited. The King Tutankhamun exhibit had been a long time coming, they were skipping this way and that, and we hadn’t even gone in yet!

The doors open and they scooted around the first section, calling excitedly to each other “Come look at this!!”, “Whoa!!”. They were reading, listening, watching…and learning. All without a worksheet in hand, no pre-exhibit planning, no assignments, no post-exhibit test looming.

Who would’ve thought.

It made me smile, to see Clay so enthusiastic, so excited, chatting after we left and for well over a week afterwards about all the things he had seen and learnt.

It was an awesome day.

I cringe looking back, now, how I killed any sense of wonder, any free range learning, by forcing him to do worksheets and research before and after going to places like the aquarium, the zoo, a play. I mean, think about it, I come to you and say “Hey! Want to come to the movies with me? But hang on, you have to do this worksheet first, analyse the film afterwards, there’ll be a test too…”.

Seriously? No thanks.

Why do we find it so necessary to check boxes? To have someone else tell us what is important to know? I’ll tell you why.


We’ve been conditioned to believe that without being forced, without being coerced or bribed, we would not learn, would not want to learn. But that simply isn’t true! When a child is interested in something, stay with them in that moment, be engaged with them, converse, ask questions, offer information.

Unschooling Dad holding and talking to daughter

Unschooling Dad and son gaming

And if a child isn’t interested? Well, please think about that, do we really believe that forcing a child to fill out a worksheet is going to miraculously make it interesting? Make them retain information about a topic they do not care for long term?

And if not long term, if the information is not valuable enough for them to retain and build on, why are we so fixated on having them “learn” it?

Oh yeah, to tick boxes.

So next time you’re trying to steer your child down a road they are uninterested in, check yourself, ask why, throw the boxes out the window and instead just be present.


“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!!!

Expectations and Gaming with Dad


Children are born as blank slates, like a new computer file. I had a clear image of who my child would be, if only I could make the right inputs.

He would be sporty.

As a child (actually, as an adult too), I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life. I still recall with humiliation the sports classes where we each had to stand on a line (taking turns, you know, so everyone would have their eyes on me), and throw a tennis ball as far as you could. Then we got a score, which counted towards our grade. Wonderful. I wasn’t the worst (that was saved for my even less abled friend), but second worst was bad enough.

So, I signed Clay up for soccer when he was three (that was the youngest I could slip him in), determined that he would not go through what I went through each and every sports class. The little orange cones were set out, easy enough instructions, parents on one side, kids on the other. Kick to each other. Right.

Off he went, rolley polling down the hill behind me, bouncing on the ball…rolling on the ball…kick!! Ack. Wrong direction.

I think we went about half a dozen times before I finally accepted that him lying on the grass for half the lesson looking for bugs probably meant he wasn’t interested.

(I got some pretty cute shots of him, though, but I’m not sure the instructor was too pleased with our grass-rolling photo session in the middle of the soccer field).

So we left.

Next, on to athletics!! Surely Little Athletics would work, it was all about running and jumping! But no. He was happy to run (with his friends away from the line), and jump (over the guard rails around the oval), just not when/where he was supposed to.

Surf Life Saving? Footy? Hip Hop?? Nope, nope, nope.

Clay loved to move, just not in the way that these sports required him to. But wasn’t I doing everything right? Blank slate….inputting sport…why wasn’t it working??

My son was also going to be popular.

I was not popular in school. I lacked confidence (sports class perhaps??). I also didn’t have dozens of friends, I was shy, and found it hard to break into conversations.

Lots of playdates. That would work. He would always have friends over, so that at school they’d know each other and be best of friends.

It didn’t work. He loved playing with his little buddies, one on one was fabulous, but get him into a big group and he seemed to become a bit…lost?

He would be intelligent.

I pushed reading on him at a young age (at 4 we started lessons at home), he picked it up easily. We also did a lot of maths, being sure to include counting and basic arithmetic in his day from the get go (Baby Einstein anyone??).

But at school, his reports didn’t reflect how clever I knew he was. Apparently he never finished his work.

He was happy. He was such a clever little thing, he had this amazing mind, would tell me all about nature and bugs, Lego and Transformers, stories from his vivid imagination. He loved to make us laugh, had the most infectious grin, and was hands down the best leg-cuddler in the world. He seemed to shine from within when he was in his own element. When he was free.

When it was just us, he was larger than life, I was completely in love with this little human being.

But my expectations were not being met. Societies expectations were not being met. He wasn’t great at sport, he seemed happier on his own or in small groups, and although I knew he was bright, the teachers were not so sure.

Could it be that Clay wasn’t a blank slate? Could he (*gasp*) have been born with an innate personality?? Could it be, that who I was expecting him to be, everything society expected him to be, wasn’t actually who he was?


Meet them where they are. That is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. It took a lot of soul searching and inner reflection to realise that my son is not me. He does not feel the need to be the best at sports, the most popular kid in school, or the most academically successful. All that time, the early years, I had been projecting myself, and my own struggles, onto this perfect, little, entirely unique, human being.

Ever since that realisation struck me, I have been trying to support who he is. And I’m still learning. Still catching myself projecting my fears, my aspirations, and societies expectations on to him. But I recognise it now for what it is, tell myself sternly to pull my head in, and re-focus on supporting his journey.

It’s taken me a loooooooong time to get to this point. We’ve been home nearly three years. That’s three years of us together pretty much 24/7. So when I see my husband next to me, supporting the decisions I’m making, listening and trusting the direction I’m going in, it amazes and humbles me.

Sure, I can get frustrated and defensive sometimes, when he questions some decision I’ve made, things that seem completely foreign to him.  But then I think about how he still has to go to work each day, he hasn’t had the three years of being with Clay, and being around the homeschool/Unschool community, to get used to some of the ideas I bring into our home. I realise that he isn’t questioning me because he doesn’t trust me, he’s questioning me because he hasn’t had the time to digest and learn the things I’ve learnt. He needs the headlines and dot points so he can align himself with where we are going.

Take “screen time” as an example. It wasn’t easy for me to give up on the restrictions. Society and my own background growing up said that this was a bad idea. Screen time, technology, playing computer games, wrong, wrong, wrong. I did hours and hours of research, reading, listening and talking to get to this point where I truly believe that limiting something Clay is so keenly passionate about is harmful, and that supporting his interests is hands down the best way we can parent. (Not to mention, I now believe that him spending hours on a computer is actually a really awesome way for him to learn).

The relationship we now have is beyond what I could have ever hoped for. He is 9, he loves spending time with me, he has long conversations with me, and he is honest about his actions and his feelings. He’s a really awesome kid. Being supportive of who he is, rather that projecting myself and my expectations, has been key to getting us to this point.

Me connecting with Clay…my first attempt at a survival world (and one of the first videos on his channel (head on over to subscribe!), so please excuse the quality!)

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Clay and Jess playing…

So when I realised that perhaps the relationship that he had with his Dad was a little disconnected, I suggested to my husband that he start gaming with Clay. Now, he was a gamer in his day, but (aside from the odd Mario Kart round), isn’t really keen nowadays. He’d even tried Minecraft before, but it wasn’t his thing. Still, he took on board what I said, found a game he didn’t mind, and begun playing it with Clay.

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Clash of Clans, great for bonding!!

My heart melts when I think about the difference this action has had, and it’s only happened in the past week! They’ve spent hours together, chatting about the game, laughing, giving each other tips and strategies to try. Just being together. And when they’re not playing, they talk more, they laugh more. It’s not just about the game, it’s about connecting. And it’s working.

So, meet them where they are, it’s an awesome destination.


PS. Check out this podcast with Pam Laricchia and Jen Armstrong, it has a great piece about Dads 🙂


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