Screen Time or Scream Time?

Screen time in the Ashworth house waxes and wanes. We have had periods when we didn’t watch more than two hours of television per day, and periods when we don’t watch any at all, but there are times that we watch too much television. Even if we limit TV time, when combined with one to three hours of online schooling and 45 minutes of video games after dinner, it adds up! My three boys’ eyes, attention spans, and indoor volumes suffer when the screen inches too far into our schedule.

Think About These Things

When we watch television we are in a trance. It’s hard to clean, read, write, anything. It’s difficult to multi-task while a TV is on. That’s because you have to watch it. You can’t watch two things at once, and what we watch will have our attention. During a school day I try to keep my kids focused on school, behaving, each other. I want them to get along and to learn so that they’ll someday be good men with a work ethic and a conscience (among other things). If they’re looking at other things, can they focus on growing and learning?

Philippians 4:8 instructs new Christians in just what kinds of things to meditate on: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” Humans, especially children, are like sponges. We take in everything that we meditate on, and then we share it either through our behavior or because of our testimony.

Scream University 

I am not anti-TV. We are a TV house. I just recognize what screens are doing to my children. Television shows make them overdramatic. Screens make them fight. They bicker over turn-taking. They suddenly forget how to share. They get frustrated and angry when they can’t make the mouse do what they want. They may think about throwing the tablet, TV remote, or themselves across the room as a result of screen time. They may scream; I may scream. It’s not fun for any of us.

Tips to Keep the Volume Down

  1. Keep the screens out of sight.
    Start the day with the TV hidden. Put the tablets in a drawer. Keep the computer in a separate area unless they’re being used for school. That goes for parents too…
  2. Set rules for time, volume, channels, games, and apps.
    Setting boundaries on devices is still teaching your kids skills: listening skills, coping skills, technological skills, etc.
  3. Keep a routine. If the kids know when they’ll get to use their favorite devices, when they’ll have to do school, and when they’ll have to share/turn off, the screaming decreases.
  4. Supplement with paper and pen. It may not be enough to have paper and pen. At my boys’ age, that would be enough for them, but mama likes them to read from actual books, color, and create. If it was all on the computer, I’m afraid they’d be bored anyway.
  5. Practice what you preach. I have a bad habit of watching Netflix on my laptop while I wash dishes. My seven-year-old asks me if he can help me in the kitchen at least daily. This is good. It’s a skill he needs, it’s helpful, and it’s quality time. If the TV is off in the living room, it should be off in the kitchen. It should be off everywhere.

 

Sheltering With Purpose

I hear it all the time when I talk about growing up in the country: “Your parents must’ve sheltered you!” It’s as common as “The S Word” when someone hears that I homeschool my kids. The truth is, I might have been “sheltered,” but I don’t think my parents did it by accident. I think it was purposeful. I think they had a determination to teach me things, prepare me for things, keep me safe. That’s different than sheltering.

At risk of sounding like a crazy chicken lady, I will stop beating around the bush. We protect our chickens from predators by keeping them in a pen. We build them a coop with a door, maybe a heater. We feed and water them. Would they be happier as free range all the time? Yes. They would be happier, maybe fatter, and might lay more eggs — but they would have a shorter life. Because we live in the country, many predators have access to our chickens. We have lost so many due to opossums, raccoons, owls, and illness. We wanted so much for them to be free, to run in the whole yard, but now we have to start over with a new flock, and we need to build the fences higher.

It is easy for us to teach our boys these types of lessons because we have animals as examples. These animals they see every day serve a purpose as well. “No, I’m sorry. We can’t let the dog run around when we go to Nanna’s. He can get run over. He can freeze to death (mini pinscher). He’s an inside dog for a reason.” We aren’t sheltering the dog, but we care for him. The kids understand this. People don’t.

People don’t understand why I won’t put my son in public school. Aren’t I doing them a disservice by not letting them learn how the other kids are learning? Aren’t I spoiling them with my love, my attention? What’s so wrong with public school anyway?

My decision to homeschool has little to do with public school. It has to do with protecting them, raising them, and teaching them. It’s not a slight against public school any more than my staying home with them is a slight against working moms.

My purpose as a parent and teacher is to prepare my boys before all else — prepare them for the world, the workforce, spiritual warfare, matters of life and death, politics, love, anger, and more. I cannot do this while sheltering them.

What’s your purpose? Ponder your purpose while you’re planning the coming year of school, the upcoming curriculum, family devotionals, and activities. If all I’m doing is sheltering these kids, and not purposefully teaching them, I’ve failed.

Staying Consistent at Home and School

I’ve heard it since I was round with my first overdue baby: “The secret to parenting is being consistent.”

My parents said it. Uncles and aunts said it. The doctor, the grocer, the pastor all said it. To a large degree I see it’s true, but on many days it feels the only thing consistent about our life and parenting is the chaos. This is especially clear now that our kids are old enough to homeschool.

Staying Consistent at Home

Although we often feel like failures in this department, there are a few things we can count on in our house. They may be few in number, but they pack a punch.

  • Sabbath
    We keep the Sabbath in our house. We may be less strict with toys and activities than some Sabbath-keeping families, and more strict in other aspects, but the weekly observance is the same. Our kids can count on the Sabbath. They can depend on church, lunch with the grandparents, and a relaxed day.
  • Discipline
    It may have been a rocky uphill climb, but we have finally landed on a system of discipline that works well for us. We stopped spanking, and our kids do push-ups for disobedience. It really has stopped a lot of behaviors that we were not happy with (including our own). The push-ups give the kids a chance to slow down, calm down, and breathe.
  • Love
    No matter what happens everyday (as I said, we live a hectic life), in our house the kids can count on love — hugs whenever they want them, lots of kisses and cuddles and encouraging words.
  • Nap Time
    Sometimes we aren’t at home for nap time or the kids sleep in the car. If this happens we skip nap time. If we’re home, though, the kids can count on nap time at 2 p.m. every day. This recharges Mom, gives the oldest an opportunity to have quiet time, and gives the two youngest some much-needed sleep.

Staying Consistent at School

Our homeschool is not consistent in any stretch of the imagination, but we’re working at it. At this point in time there is very little the kids can count on, because we just changed our curriculum. Since it’s so chaotic, we try to keep the things that we can as consistent as possible.

  • Rewards and Praise
    We try to reward the kids for school work, both in game time (either video games, or the games on their school program). We also like to use stickers, along with hugs and kisses (which works the best for the youngest two!).
  • Same Time
    I try very hard to have at least some class time at the same time each day. This affords my son the opportunity to think, “oh, it’s time for school,” at the same time each day. It also gives him a special time that’s just his. When the others are old enough to have school daily, I will give them their own time as well.
  • The Subject Matter
    We tried a curriculum that only taught sight words for reading, but realized our son responds better to phonics. We finally chose a system of learning that we’re happy with, so now we are sticking with it. We’re sticking with a curriculum that reflects our beliefs as well as what we learned, so we’re better able to teach them.

A Routine

It’s so important to have a routine. Since we’re not in a place to have a consistent routine in our house, we’re at least going to discuss a routine every morning, and that will be consistent. We can call it The Breakfast Battle Plan. This will be a solid start.

Square One

 

There’s a reason that trial-and-error has long been a system of experimentation. It works in science, math, multiple choice. We’ve found that it works on the farm. Which end of the garden is the best soil for tomatoes? How much water do the plants need during the hottest month? What food helps the chickens lay the best? What kind of boxes do they like to roost in? If we make this fence higher, will the goat stay in the pen? No. If we add barbed wire? No. I think trial-and-error is exactly how some goat farmer long ago figured out that only electric fences will keep goats in the pen 100 percent of the time.

It’s all well and good when we’re talking about farm animals. We have the time to make adjustments. We have the resources to build, maintain, and redirect our animals. We have time to replant, time next year to try again, a grocery store to buy produce in the meantime. Trial-and-error is helpful on the farm. It works. Square One isn’t a huge threat on the farm.

What happens when our homeschool hits Square One? I never expected our homeschool to be a trial-and-error experiment, and even now, I am dissatisfied with the view from where we sit at square one.

It all started when my son’s disinterest in reading began to manifest into him not reading, refusing to sit quietly to learn, and conveniently forgetting his sight words just minutes after going over them and over them. Instead of yelling at him, making him sit longer, and more often, or starting over with the curriculum I knew was not working, we went back to square one.

The important first step? Assessing our child.

The program we were using was reading-only for the first year! When your kid isn’t interested in the reading, this can be a problem. So, I wanted a curriculum that included more than reading at his age. Although he wasn’t too interested in reading from a book or going over sight words on flashcards, he did love the computer. Games, typing letters, drawing, and more, he loved the computer, so I went to work finding a curriculum that was computer-based. I’m largely unorganized with recording homeschool hours, scheduling homeschool hours, and saving examples of work, so I searched for a program that had a built-in record-keeping system. 

When it was all said and done, I chose a program that my son loves. It is 100 percent online, but offers printable worksheets. It tracks time, grade level, and progress, as well as offering incentives and games. It’s exactly what I wanted and what he needed.

So, what’s the problem? 

I don’t like surveying the “race” around me and standing at the starting line with my kid. I feel like picking him up and carrying him through the race, when I should teach him to run it on his own. I want to skip through the alphabet and phonics, and buy him chapter books. I cannot remember not being able to read. As a five-year-old I would read my Granny books at bedtime until she fell asleep. I read and followed hymns in church. I don’t remember a time when I looked at a word and sounded it out. Ever. It’s hard for me to walk along with my son hand-in-hand, waiting patiently for something to click the way you’d expect a runner to find his stride just before he goes on to win the race. I’m not satisfied with waiting.

We have been in our little cabin in the country for exactly a year and a month now, and it seems I am just as impatient with farm life as I am with homeschooling. If I start the hens on layer feed, I want them to start laying right away. If I plant a seed, following the specified instructions, I want it to produce a plant at the very least, but would love to also have it bear some kind of fruit or vegetable. But, life doesn’t happen that way.

Everything we do seems to be some kind of trial and error, and only one thing is certain. King Jesus. If I teach my kid that Jesus is his Savior, and teach him to love, and to have a loving relationship with God and others, but never succeed with reading, do I succeed?

I wish I could come up with an answer to these tough questions. I’m praying that I can.

Christmas Peace for the Homeschool Mom

As Christmas approaches, our house becomes alive with excitement. It’s as if even the logs in our little cabin vibrate with delight. Our little family is one that celebrates Christmas. We open presents, read books about Santa, and bake brownies for the police and fire departments, among other things, but we also have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas. We have friends that just use the holiday season to spend time with family, and we think that is also a fantastic use of holiday time.

Despite someone’s holiday traditions, Christmas beliefs, plans, or none at all, it seems that it still ends up being a stressful time for a lot of families. This can be especially true of homeschool families.

While school teachers are busying themselves meeting goals and completing tasks before the end of the semester, homeschool parents are busy trying to squeeze units in before the holidays, or trying to make them stretch until the holidays. The holidays bring other stressors for our little homesteading family—weather changes, food prep, winterizing the house, preparing shelters for the animals, maintenancing the cars, planning for spring, extra costs for travel, and more. At a time when things should be calm and enjoyable, time seems to speed up, and this homesteading, homeschool mama starts to lose the race before it even begins.

Christmas Peace

This November I began reading a book written by a local friend called Christmas Peace for Busy Moms, and it has been a wonderful experience. It’s a five-week study that brings God into our daily life, to offer the peace we long for during the holidays: a peaceful heart, a peaceful day, peaceful relationships, peaceful surroundings, and a peaceful holiday. This is important stuff!

I spoke at church this week on the topic of prayer, and during the course of the sermon, I realized myself that prayer is the means by which I can find peace. It’s not just by reading a book, doing a Bible study, or even fellowshipping with other Christians. Prayer.

Prayer is how we bring God to us. He wants to be with us, and we often do a lot of things to stand in the way. During this holiday season I’m going to try my best to bring God into our homeschool experience through prayer. Yes, we do other things. We try to participate in the Adventurers program, and we go to Sabbath School and church. We also try to read the Bible at home (which ends up being Bible stories from books), and we like to learn memory verses.

To be completely honest, though, a lot of these things add to my stress. Planning adds to my stress. Driving 50+ miles to church three times a week adds to my stress, even finding time to sit down with a book every day adds to my stress, and I want peace.

Christmas Prayer

Because I want the peace that only Jesus can offer, I am prepared to begin a new holiday tradition this year. I’ve tried advent calendars and other fun traditions like unwrapping and reading a Christmas book every night for 25 days. These things are fun, but again, they add to my stress. This year I’ll try something different, something with less work, and abundant rewards.

Since we pray as a family each evening already, I’m going to start a Christmas tradition that will take little planning. It’ll be focused directly on Jesus and only on Jesus, and it’ll bring Him closer to us. Since I’m sure you’re dying to hear it, here is the plan:

  1. Prepare 25 prayer cards surrounding a topic of your choice (emergency services, our country, our church, our pets, our mailman, sick friends, the sky is the limit).
  2. Connect the 25 prayer topics in some way with the Christmas story (compare public servants with shepherds, pets=animals in the stable, mailman=angel/messenger, the church=the stable, etc.).
  3. Connect the 25 prayer topics with Jesus! (Finding a verse is a good idea. For instance, portions of Psalm 91 would connect with emergency services/protection, and various verses in Genesis would connect with pets. You can also decide to just use verses from the Christmas story here).
  4. Write down your children’s prayer requests and place them into a request basket (or homemade manger). Read them each night and celebrate and thank God when they are answered.
  5. Print a coloring sheet off for each day. Make 25 sheets times the number of kids you have. Easy peasy. I’m starting with a simple coloring sheet this year, and may do a craft next year. Time will tell!
  6. Make notes and put into your envelopes at the end of the day to remind yourself what worked and what didn’t! Adjust next year, or scrap it altogether.

Do you have to have special traditions to make Christmas special? No.

Just like Jesus makes Sabbath special, He makes Christmas special. He makes every day special. Let’s invite Him back into the festivities. After all, He’s the Reason for the Season!