Small Computer Day

I have a netbook; a little laptop that I bought years ago but don’t actually use all that often.

A few months ago, the kids started using it and Elias in particular could spend hours on it, mostly playing games. Because we are unschoolers (or whole life learners), we do not have a school schedule, don’t follow curriculum and spend most days doing what we feel like doing. Jenny, who is the oldest and at the end of what would be grade two, frequently picks things to do that resemble “school work.” Elias would rather just play all day and so that is often what he does. I’m sure it sounds detrimental to most people but I believe I’m letting him have a slightly longer childhood than most kids get and I’m glad I get to give him that.

For awhile, Elias spent every day on what he calls, “the small computer,” playing games and not really engaging in anything else. I waited. I hoped that he would just burn it out of his system if he did it long enough. I had friends who had experienced that and so I gave it time. It had worked with other things (puzzles, for example) so I figured it would work with this. Nothing changed. A month went by. Getting him to turn it off was becoming a fight. And speaking of fighting, he fought with his siblings way more often. So, after taking a deep breath, I told him that we were going to take a little break. I hid the small computer.

After a week or two, he asked whether he would ever get to use it again. I decided at that point that once a week, specifically on Wednesdays, he could use it all day. It comes out of its hiding place (the kids still don’t know where I keep it) on Tuesday night after they are asleep, and is waiting for them when they get up the next morning. Part of the deal is that if we are busy on Wednesday, he will have to wait for the next Wednesday to use it. Small computer day is only on Wednesday.

Now that doesn’t mean that he never uses the main computer or that I wouldn’t let him use the netbook on another day for a short period of time, but the only day that he gets to use it as he wants to is Wednesdays.

I have had conversations with other unschoolers about whether they limit screen time. Most don’t and it works okay for them, but most who I have talked to also have only one child who is old enough to use the computer or have some sort of device for each child (tablet, laptop, etc.). One of the biggest stresses for us was the arguing that came with it when someone else wanted to play a game or use the computer. That has mostly gone away since changing the rules to one day a week. And the fact that Elias gets to use it from first thing in the morning until he goes to bed seems to help as well. He looks forward to small computer day, is willing to share with his younger brothers or older sister but is still the main user for the day as he has the greatest interest in it.

Today is Wednesday, small computer day, and the three boys are hanging out around the computer, Erik and Ben watching Elias play games. Jenny is off doing her own thing (a reading comprehension work book, actually) but ends up watching some of the time as well. I will have a fairly productive day if I want to because the boys are so well occupied. Tomorrow they will go back to reading books, playing outside, drawing pictures, making up games with each other and living outside of the computer. In some ways, having this whole day to use it makes them appreciate the “real world” more than they did before.

This is just what works for us. Some people will cringe at the thought of a whole day spent on the computer, others will cringe at the thought of him having no access to it for the rest of the week. But in the end, as I have said many times, you do what works for you within the framework of your belief system. We unschool but we do have rules and discipline in our house. It’s not really authoritarian but probably more traditional than most other unschoolers. But it works for us and that’s what matters. 🙂

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