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Our Early Homeschooling Experience with Screen Technology Before it Became Endemic

First published SSHED, Winter 2002, Beverley Paine

We are a family of happy users of technology. We take advantage of technology that suits our interests and situation, and use it thoughtfully. I think this is the key to managing a life immersed in technology – thoughtfulness. It's much easier to achieve than will-power, which usually needs to be employed when thoughtfulness isn't practised in the first place, especially with addictive technological goodies such as the television or computer.

In our early homeschooling days our television was used sparingly. The children didn't find it as exciting or interesting as play and other activities. By four years of age they we had taught them to turn off the box once a program had finished – sometimes to the consternation of another viewer who had just tuned in to watch the next program!

 

I believe our success was because we set a reasonable expectation that the children would comply with and set an example they could emulate.

When personal computers came on the scene and found their way into our house in the early nineties we followed much the same approach as with the television. Back then we used a timer to remind the children it was time to move onto to another activity, or to let someone else use the computer. "It's a tool," I'd remind them, "Something we use." But it also was a great toy, something that provided hours of entertainment, and, like all toys, it had educational value. I rebelled against the use of the computer as a ‘game machine' for quite some time until I began to pay attention to how my children were using this toy to learn many of the things I wanted them to know. Thomas says he learned to read playing computer games, because he needed to know what the text messages said in order to advance in the game or finish the quest. I began to abandon my censorship of games and to trust my children more. They didn't disappoint me and I didn't encounter any of the problems cited by Judith in the last issue.

Entertainment is mostly an evening activity in our home, a time we come together to relax. Sometimes we watch television; more often we watch a movie on video. Sometimes we play board or card games or simply talk. We occasionally play networked computer games as a foursome. These things we do thoughtfully, purposefully, because we want to, and I think that makes the difference.

Used thoughtlessly computers and television and video games can be powerfully attractive and addictive. I read about the theories and counter-theories and research, but I can only site my personal experience. I haven't restricted access to this kind of technology, or the purposes to which it is used, unless it was to insist that we consider our activity thoughtfully and ask "Is this what we really want to be doing right now?" Our bodies tell us the answer; what we need to be happy and healthy. My children seemed to know this stuff instinctively from an early age and I had the good sense to learn to trust them.

There are times when we binge – on many things in life, and that includes using the computer, like me for my writing, designing a web site, or playing the latest game. We might watch movies five nights in row, or indulge in a fortnight of soccer madness… Then we suffer the effects and bring our life back into balance, knowing that sure enough we'll binge again, but more thoughtfully next time. I think that our habit of talking about our behaviour and how it effects us as individuals and as a family helps a lot to keep life in balance.

It hasn't my experience that exposure to computer games and television has damaged my children's social skills, general academic ability or intellectual knowledge or effected their behaviour adversely, not even temporarily. We use computer games and television/movies to learn about the world we live in, the people that inhabit that world, and how those people express their desires, hopes and creativity through the medium of entertainment. It isn't a passive or socially isolating activity in our family, but I think that's because we engage with these elements of technology thoughtfully.

Parents interested in the health and development of their children will naturally offer a range of stimulating activities to encourage their children to explore the world. They place an emphasis on talking to, and playing with, their children. They encourage the children to join in with their activities and take an interest in the activities of their children. Homeschooling parents tend to be thoughtful about the whole process of parenting and that's why I'm not so worried about the negative effects of computers and television on homeschooled children.

 

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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