This is a picture of my perfect homeschool moment: We are in New York City, waiting for The Lion King to begin. My sons have never been to a Broadway show. They are mesmerized by the grandeur of the theater, and I am giddy with anticipation of seeing their faces light up when the show starts. This is the most exciting kind of “educational moment.”
But the truth is, most of our homeschooling involves no grandeur, no lesson plans, and tons of video games. This is not to say we don’t do cool stuff. We do pottery and skateboarding and swimming, and well, you’ve heard the list before. It’s a dream-come-true childhood, really, all the fun stuff they do. But there’s a lot of time in between Broadway shows and private horseback lessons, and almost all that down-time is filled with video games.
Today we had the whole day at home. It’s always fun to have a day at home because we drive into Madison and Chicago a lot. The day was feeling great. I was able to write and we had lunch together and the kids snuggled with me on the sofa while I read New York magazine. But by 3pm I realized the boys spent most of the day with their Nintendo DS’s, and a few hours of watching CatDog episodes they have seen 100 times. I got pissed off. I said, “Everyone turn off their electronics. Whatever you’re doing. Turn it off. Go read or something. Go play with the goats.”
There is a pause. The boys look at me to see if I’m really angry or if they should try arguing a little bit.
I look at them. I see they are worried I am angry, and I don’t want to be an angry parent. I don’t want to scare the kids. I worry that if the kids are with me all day, with no school to mediate our relationship, then I really have to be a well-behaved parent. So I fix my face so that I look loving and nice.
The nine-year-old says, “But you told us we could be in charge of our video game decisions because we make good decisions for ourselves. Don’t you think we’ve made good decisions today?”
I forgot I told them this. I say, “No. I don’t like your decisions today. Wait. No. Your decisions are fine for you just I don’t want to see you playing your DS all day.”
“We watched CatDog. You told us you think CatDog is funny.”
“I don’t care. Go outside and play. Climb a tree or something so that I feel like you are having a charmed childhood.”
“How long do you have to climb the tree? Fifteen minutes.”
“Put on your coat.”
“I don’t need it. I won’t be out that long. And I want to be able to see my watch for when we are done in the tree.”
“Forget it. Just play the video games. We are not doing forced, timed, tree-climbing. I’m insane.”
“It’s okay, Mom. We’ll go outside for fifteen minutes. You’ll feel better. And anyway, we already turned off our games.”
Of course they came back inside and got their coats. And of course they played longer than fifteen minutes. And of course I let them play video games the rest of the day.
And they were right. I did feel better. But not because they played outside. I feel better because my friends sent me tons of links to discussions about why video games are good for kids. And I read them while the kids were outside. One of the best page of links is here, from Sandra Dodd. Some of the things I read:
If you practiced piano eight hours a day would you say it’s unhealthy? Then why are video games unhealthy?
If you don’t play video games you do not understand that world enough to know what’s going on. But that doesn’t mean there’s no learning.
The best way to show respect for a child is to embrace his interests.
It’s hard to watch my kids play video games all day. It’s not how I imagined their childhood would be. I mean, I imagined it would be in school, of course. But I imagined, also, that it would be full of the magic of a Broadway show. I just keep telling myself that I need to create a childhood that is enchanting for them, not me, and I’m pretty certain that their idea of enchantment is video games.