Child led learning within parent enforced boundaries
Children growing up in today’s world are surrounded by technology, and being homeschooled doesn’t make you automatically immune to the draw of screens. During the early years of learning to navigate this territory with our quickly growing children there were many days I was ready to toss all the devices out the window. Instead, we have chosen to set up boundaries that allow our family to benefit from the positive side of technology without letting it consume us.
Communicate with your kids
I believe the most important thing that we have done and continue to do is stay in dialogue with our kids. If we are just imposing rules without any conversation with them we aren’t taking advantage of a great learning opportunity. This child before me won’t remain a child forever. They will become an adult with full access to all the technology available, so our goal during these growing years should be showing them what it looks like to set boundaries and put up guardrails so that they will be more equipped as they enter adulthood.
Set up boundaries
In our home all computers, tablets and phones are locked and only my husband and I have the code (which we change frequently). When a child wants to use a device for something they present it to us and we can unlock it for them. Our kids understand that this is a way to help them stay accountable while they’re in these growing years. Unlocked devices are used out in the open so we can further provide accountability. When Jason and I are both away from home we have an extra iPhone that we consider our “home phone”. Our teens can use the voice commands to call or text us if we go out, without it needing to be unlocked. They also take turns using this phone to listen to podcasts or music, or things like Adventures in Odyssey. They bring the phone to us to be unlocked if they want to switch what they’re listening to. Our computers and tablets are used for math (Teaching Textbooks), creative writing using Google Docs, and music lessons (Voetberg Academy). Our children use the internet to find videos or articles that will teach them skills in areas like leather working, building and repair, electronics, animal care, cooking, baking, or music theory, to name a few! Raising self-learners means allowing them to use the resources available to advance their own education, and the internet is a great resource.
The thing that we draw the line on, however, is mindless entertainment by way of video or computer games. Every family is different, but I’ve found that allowing any of this type of entertainment during the school week leads to reduced creativity and learning in those delight directed areas. Two or three times a month we choose a time when the kids get 90 minutes to play computer games, and in our current season that is plenty.
Look forward when setting up expectations
My oldest son has always been drawn to technology. It is his top choice when it comes to delight directed learning. In the early years of his interest he did not have any skills and so just wanted to play little computer games. It was very easy to motivate him with the “finish what I’m asking you to do and then you can play on the computer”. We did this for awhile but I had some wise older mentors who had observed how this system evolved as small children grow into teenagers. The desire for more complex online entertainment grows with them and so does their desire to master those games. Rather than risk leading him into a life of unbalance we decided to change gears, and require him to use that computer time for things that were productive. It took some time to figure out a good place to start.
One of the early options we began navigating was Scratch, which is a free programming language and online community. It is a program used in schools and homes, and although they say have a team monitoring the online community to make sure it stays “friendly and respectful”, I still was uneasy about it. Fortunately, you can download the Scratch program to your computer and then disconnect the computer from the internet to allow your child to work without the option of the online intersection.
This also helps your child to use their time productively. I find that websites like Scratch are presented in a way that makes it too easy to skip the actual learning part and just spend time playing the games created by others within the website instead.
Keep them challenged
Technology in general is an “easy” activity, set up in a way to make hours pass quickly as we are drawn in more and more. As time went on I looked for computer activities that took brain power and didn’t come easily. We provided Leo with books similar to this one on Python coding https://amzn.to/3L4m9v9 and as he mastered the concepts he moved on to other computer languages that he researched on his own. Now at fourteen he follows online tutorials to learn things like how to use Blender, a complex program that has taken him two years to learn. He also took a course on website design and I then hired him to set up this one for me! It was a win win for both of us as it helped me with a project I couldn’t find the time to do, while giving him skills that could come in handy in his future.
We keep computers in the middle of the main family room to help anyone who uses them to stay on track and accountable. Boundaries don’t just keep kids safe, they help them to feel secure.
We’re still in the middle of navigating technology with our kids. There are no generations before us to lead the way and share their wisdom in this area. It is a complex world that is changing daily, and requiring us to change with it if we want to continue walking with our kids, helping them make wise choices. There is no one *right* way to handle this subject, but ongoing open communication with our children and supernatural wisdom from the Holy Spirit are the two best tools we have.