Is there any room for screen time in the homeschool family? Should we stick to nature studies and unplugged, outdoor play, or is there a place for learning and entertainment through screens for the modern homeschool family?
Sigh. Yes, I start this post with a sigh because I know it’s a controversial topic and there is always the possibility that my words will make another mother feel that she has failed in some way. I know that because I have felt it myself, and the choices I’ve made about screen time for myself and my family.
So let me start off by telling you, dear mother of beloved children, that I have no idea how much screen time you or your children should be having daily, or if they should be having any at all. Any article I read that tries to make other mothers act out of fear and guilt, I just go ahead and skip it. That’s not what’s happening here, I hope!
I might surprise you here, but…
This post may not be going where you thought, since I am a homesteading, homeschooling, natural health, gardening type of woman, but…I am not anti screen time at all!
I really appreciate all the amazing things we can see and learn through a screen! We can access some remarkable resources and rather than reject them or talk about them in a negative way, I’d like to use them properly, with joy and gratefulness!
Yes, I love the inspiration on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook (I only follow uplifting, inspiring, or helpful accounts). I blog, I watch my YouTube channels, and I research things online all the time. I conduct business my online, and I consider Amazon.com to be my personal storage unit of things I don’t need right now.
Programs for entertainment
I also love watching shows and movies! My husband and I both love an occasional British mystery drama, several cooking and gardening shows, a intriguing documentary, or an artfully made film. These things bring inspiration to my life.
Well, I may not be able to stay awake through an entire episode of “The Crown” all at once, but who says I can’t watch it in 20 minute segments?
Pros and Cons
When it comes to my children, I acknowledge that entertainment through screens has it’s positive and negative attributes.
Screens can show us beautiful places and interesting animals. They can be artistically and visually inspiring, give us a hearty chuckle, teach us new and interesting skills. Many wonderful resources for Christian families come through screens, and help us know and walk with God.
The information we consume through screens can also fill us up with loads of stress and drama and create an atmosphere for coveting what we don’t have. It can also waste boatloads of time and tempt us to be lazy.
Quality management over minutes management.
I guess what I’m thinking of here is that it’s much more important to me WHAT we are consuming via our screens above how many minutes we are with them each day.
It is so odd to me that “screen time” is often all lumped into one category, as if the quality of what we are consuming is of secondary importance. It isn’t! It makes all the difference.
There is screen time that enriches our lives, and screen time that dulls us and teaches us to suckle on the teat of entertainment as if it’s the nectar of life.
So how many minutes/hours of screen time do we get everyday? Well, if we’re talking about churned out cartoons or daytime tv, or (my favorite one to thumbs down) THE NEWS, then the answer is exactly 0 minutes. We don’t need that insipid drivel in our home or minds, like, ever!
We don’t follow sports. This is because I do not enjoy watching/listening to them at all. I know that it is perfectly possible to enjoy sports in a manner that is appropriate, but all I can feel when consuming sports entertainment is all the other things I’d rather be getting done. Like dishes. So sorry sports fans. Still love ya. If you want me to come to you Super Bowl party, I’m in charge of snacks!
Video games. Oooo, hot topic alert! We have none. Do I think they are horrid? No. (Certainly there are some games that are horrid, but I’m talking about games as a category of entertainment, even the family friendly ones.) Do I think they give back joy/enrichment/inspiration commensurate to the time they take up? I do not.
This is very much my personal decision, and I’m completely comfortable with the fact that other families decide differently about video/computer games. There are just other ways (better ways I think) for me and my family to spend our time. I understand it’s a gray area for some families, and that alright. It’s pretty black and white for me. I don’t want video games. That’s all.
Screen time for education
Now, I know that there are many schools of thought when it comes to using screens for a homeschool education. What about apps that help kids practice math facts or phonics? What about learning about science and history through Netflix? Online tutoring, online research, etc.
Well, we’ve done all those things (except the tutoring) and in my experience, using the apps to learn math and phonics could backfire. My kids were more interested in the game aspect, and while they may learn the concepts, they were missing out on the practice of diligence.
Yes, I want them to flex their diligence muscles rather than being entertained. Because for me, the point of doing the work is not just that the facts and systems get memorized. It’s that my children learn how to concentrate and learn what it feels like to apply themselves to the pursuit of new skills and knowledge. So the apps just didn’t help us meet our goals for an educational experience. I deleted them after a few months.
As for the science and history shows, they have made these subjects come alive for my kids. Now, we also have lots of books filled with fun facts and info, and I have found that reading combined with shows about science and history is perfect for us. I’m not strict about which one comes first. Reading may inspire the search for a show on a particular subject. Or watching a show may inspire the wish to read more about something. For us, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube provide fantastic resources when used judiciously.
I know that there are programs for school at home that are conducted online, and that’s not something that I have first hand experience with. Although many people find them helpful, that’s not the childhood experience that I want for my family, but I understand that it’s a valid choice for some families, especially those with older kids.
I try and stay flexible
As for the rest of the daily screen time question, my take on consumption is much more open. It’s “however much is appropriate for that day.” On frigid winter days, the kids can’t play outside all evening and we enjoy staying cozy and that often involves screen time, among other things.
On the pleasant and busy days of spring and fall, our screen time almost disappears. I actually have to force myself to sit down at my computer and get the necessary things done. And the kids are outside having such adventures, they just don’t need to watch anything.
Oh yeah, and sometimes I’m pregnant and can’t move three inches with out barfing. I cannot even tell you have grateful I am for Shawn the Sheep in these moments.
Sometimes there is a need for quietness throughout the house, and a calming nature show is the perfect thing to settle us down. Not always. Sometimes we need a book, or audio book, or drawing, or laying and looking at the clouds. But sometimes we choose a screen and enjoy that, too.
No begging, borrowing, or bribing!
I won’t allow my kids to beg for bargain for screen time, I won’t use it as a reward for good behavior or take it away because of bad behavior. I won’t feel guilty for letting my kids watch quality shows but I’m extremely careful about what influences them (for screens or anything else.)
What if they just beg and whine for screen time?
But what if they are just begging to watch TV or play games all day and they don’t want to do their homework or play outside? Well, this has happened even in this home where I’m pretty careful about the screen time. In these cases, I have just put the TV into storage or a few weeks. (We have no tablets or game screens, but I would say the same for those.)
This not because I was angry or I wanted to punish the less-than-desirable-begging and whining for TV. I realized that they just needed a detox. When they got up the next morning, I let them know that the TV was on vacation for a while, and they were not to ask when it would be back. After a few weeks of detox, all was well.
The bottom line
So here’s the bottom line on my take about screen time: I want to be thoughtful and thorough in my choices of what I consume, and not allow screen time to distract me from my responsibilities and goals. Like good food, I want to consume information through screens in a way that is nourishing and enjoyable, without being gluttonous or addictive.
What about you? How do you handle screen time in your home? Are you ever tempted to waste time on a screen? My biggest temptation is Instagram, and my smallest temptation is Twitter! I love Gardner’s World, my kids love The Great British Baking Show, and we all love the YouTube channel “Smarter Every Day”. What do you love, what do you let go?