In chatting with other parents, I often feel like we are the only household on Earth for whom “screen time” is not a major source of conflict. This is incredibly ironic, too, because we work in the tech industry. “No, we do not arbitrarily restrict our daughter’s access to devices,” I explain. My interlocutors clutch their pearls. “Experts say that if you do not have a rule about only thirty minutes of screen time a day, you are a very bad parent,” they respond.
Every time someone brings up the issue of screen time – how their child is “addicted” to video games or social media – all I can think about are those anti-drug public service announcement commercials they would run during kids’ programming in the 1980s. The father finds his son’s drug stash and storms into his bedroom to confront him about it. “Where did you learn how to do this?” he shouts. “I learned it from watching you,” his son replies.
“My kids don’t play outside.” When was the last time your family went hiking together?
“My kids don’t read.” When was the last time you curled up with Pride and Prejudice and some Earl Grey?
“My kid is a junior and still undecided.” They grew up in a household where no one had passions or hobbies, but sure, they might spontaneously identify a vocation when they are twenty years old.
Why does anyone expect their kids to crave something they don’t want to do themselves? Childhood is about constructing an aesthetic, and you are not going to micromanage your child into an aesthetic. If your kid sees you sacked out on the couch after work pounding chardonnay and watching vapid television shows, congratulations, that’s your household’s aesthetic. If you want your kids to be better than that, you have have to be better than that.
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that it provides us with endless opportunities to model being a lifelong learner and to form a nexus in our own lives with what our daughter is studying. Here’s an example for you.
For our history curriculum, we use Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series. We are now on the second volume with our seven-year-old daughter, which covers the Middle Ages. We were reading through the history of Australia, New Zealand, and the Polynesian Islands. While no one knows how the aborigines arrived in Australia, the Maori people arrived in New Zealand during the time period corresponding to the Middle Ages in Europe.
Naturally, we covered the legends of Maui in discussing New Zealand. E loved this, thanks mostly to the Disney movie Moana. We compared how Maui was represented in the movie (the Polynesian version of The Rock) versus how he is represented in Polynesian legends (a prankster child).
Disney did not get everything wrong, however. The central conflict of the story – that Moana’s people were historically gifted wayfinders, but for inexplicable reasons, they stopped exploring, is part of the real archaeological record of these cultures.
The story of Polynesian wayfinders is extraordinary. They essentially used Stone Age technology to craft massive canoes from giant trees and wove coconut hair into durable material for sails. And those vessels were mighty enough to cross the Pacific Ocean. They’d load all their pigs and chickens into the boats and skip from island to island. And then they mysteriously stopped for a long period. Then they mysteriously started back up again. No one knows what was responsible for the hiatus. (These wayfinding traditions are still a major part of life in the region.) The green rock Moana carries around is also accurate to the region.
Our discussion of Polynesian wayfinding was so engaging that I ended up buying a book on it myself, On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact. Our daughter’s homeschool assignment thus became my leisure reading. I have the sense we will be talking about the history of the Pacific Islands a lot more in the future.
We are also studying ecology for science this year, and we found ways to connect our history lessons to our ecology lessons. (This happens a lot more than one would think. I have come to imagine the timeline of the world as different empires fighting to control their respective biomes, because those resources are the wealth of nations in its most basic form.) While studying about Australia and New Zealand, we learned about coral reefs, how they impact life on islands, artificial reefs, and conservation. We are in the process of building a model of a reef. When we make it back down to the Florida Keys, E will have an entirely new context for our snorkeling adventures.