A Child’s Perspective on Unschooling

Today whilst driving in the car, my 13 year old son started to chat about how irrelevant he believes high school to be. He said something like, “Well, once you’ve learned the basics in primary school, why do you need to be in high school to learn all the other stuff? Why not learn what, how and when you want to learn? You don’t need to go to high school to learn stuff!” We talked about some of the possible reasons why governments and educators want teenagers to go to school and stay at school for as long as possible. We thought it was probably because they don’t trust that people actually want to learn, and that they thought it might keep them out of trouble, rather than “just wandering the streets”?

He thought perhaps primary school was more relevant than high school, because he can see the benefit of knowing the basics such as reading and mathematics, and wondered if primary school would be a quick way to learn those things.

I delighted, then, in telling him and his sister (who was also in the car) the story of the children who learned the entire primary school maths curriculum in 20 contact hours and we talked about how quickly you can learn something if you really want to learn it. 😉 He thought about it and agreed that primary school is as unnecessary as high school for learning things you want or feel the need to learn. (I’m not saying that unschooling is going to be the best choice for all families, but rather that school isn’t essential for learning.)

We went on to discuss the difference between learning something because you want to, versus trying to learn something because you “have to”, because you are being taught and tested on it, and we came up with a caricature in our minds to show the difference, as we see it, between schooling (either at school or at home, where the emphasis is on teaching rather than learning) and unschooling (where the emphasis is on learning rather than teaching). The picture was in two parts. Firstly, a school child with the top of his head sliced open (hence why it’s a caricature and not real life!), a teacher spooning in the information, and then the information coming out through the pen during testing time, possibly to be mostly forgotten forever after. The second half of the picture was of an unschooled child eating yummy “food” that is assimilated into his body and becomes part of him, which demonstrates a child happily exploring and investigating whatever he is interested in.

Tonight my daughter decided to draw a picture to represent her thoughts about what we’d been talking about. I figured it was pretty cute, so decided to share it. 🙂

A Child's Perspective

As Joyce Fetteroll so eloquently says,

“Teaching is putting information in; learning is drawing information in.”

Instead of teaching and testing, look for the learning! You will find it has been there all along! Instead of force feeding and over-stuffing, possibly ending up with a child who is simply no longer hungry, make delicious “food” and enjoy it together (or alone) and watch their eyes light up with delight as they savour the flavours of foods they have chosen.

A child who is force fed with knowledge she either doesn’t want, doesn’t see the need for, or doesn’t desire at that time, is a child who can sometimes decide that learning is “boring”, hard or irrelevant.

A child who is granted the freedom to follow his interests, learn what he wants to learn as he goes about his life, and spend an abundance of time with a parent who has eyes wide open to the abundance of learning that is happening, is a child who is likely to see learning and living as one entwined entity that is interesting, appealing and as natural as breathing.

Rethinking Population Growth


I love some of the insights into my childrens’ minds, that are brought on by casual conversation! My thirteen year old son, who has never been to school, is the one most often surprising me at the moment, with his comments, questions, observations and insights. Here is a current example:

Last night, on his way to bed, he came out with something like this: “I think that in a few years we will probably have exhausted the capacity of the planet to house our population growth. It’s too soon to send people off to another planet to live, so we’ll have to come up with some other ideas.”

Because he doesn’t go to school, there was no pressure to hurry him along to bed so that he could get up on time to catch the bus or whatever, so we were able to pause and chat for a bit about some ways of dealing with the problem.

His initial thought was that perhaps every country should adopt a one or two-child policy, like China. We chatted about some of the possible negative ramifications of that, and I was surprised to discover that he was quite aware of some things that people have done to enable them to comply with the law but still have the sex of baby they want, etc. Thank you Google/social media for expanding my child’s mind!

His next idea was that perhaps all people should live in cities, with REALLY tall high rise units, rather than spread out in separate houses with “wasted land” between the dwellings. He said that if the apartment buildings were really really tall, they could fit lots of people in it, and the saved land could be used for farming. He also thought that roof top gardens and vertical gardens up the wall would make a lot of sense!

Then he came up with some interesting ideas about how to make the farmland more productive, to be able to grow more food for more people. He had an idea of stacked garden beds, with each layer divided into cubed sections, each alternate cube planted out and the next one open to allow sunlight to get to the garden bed below. Then he decided it would be great to have angled walls of mirrors around the gardens to deflect sunlight into the beds from the sides, to  help things grow better.

Now I do realise that there are some holes in his ideas (not just in his garden bed design), but for a kid who says he “doesn’t like gardening” and who spends a major part of his daylight hours sitting at a gaming computer (NOT mindlessly, in case you haven’t noticed), I was quite impressed with the way he was thinking this type of situation through.

I don’t fear the future and I choose not to meditate on onerous tales of the doom that apparently awaits us all; I prefer to focus my energies on living as well as I can, learning what I can, and helping to create positive choice. My hope swells when I hear “young people” (yes, I realise that makes me sound like an old fogey) thinking laterally and coming up with creative solutions to current or projected problems. And I especially love it when those ideas aren’t given in response to a teacher-assigned school project, but are rather the workings of an imaginative, interested teenager, thinking things through just because it’s interesting, not because it’s on the test, or in the curriculum.

Whether our children and teens are at school, or homeschooled, or unschooled, our planet is in good hands while ever they are thinking like this. Sometimes it is the seemingly wackiest ideas (like stacked vegetable beds with holes in them and mirrors around the edge) that just might save the planet.

I love that unschooled kids aren’t afraid to push the envelope, to think outside the square, to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of being teased or ridiculed, because instead of having to put their hand up in the classroom, or submit an assignment that might not be what the teacher is looking for, they are free to be themselves, to explore crazy ideas, and entertain possibilities that the establishment might scoff at.

What surprising conversations have you had with your kids, that give an insight into the bigness of their thinking?

A Gamer Self-Limits

My 13yo son is passionate (and I mean VERY passionate) about computers. Initially we thought he would follow a path towards the practical side, building his own computer, etc, and so we got a couple of old broken computers off Freecycle for him to pull apart and play with. He enjoyed doing that, and learned a lot, but a little while later when I suggested getting some work experience at a computer repair shop, he said that the experience with the old computers had helped him come to a place of clarity in terms of what he did and didn’t like doing. He realised that he isn’t really interested in the hardware side of computers, fixing them etc.

He is more interested in using them, creating computer graphics, gaming, making videos for Youtube, creating a website and Facebook page, researching, following incredibly interesting Youtube channels such as Vsauce, ChampChong and Mythbusters. (He recently got to have a chat and a photo with ChampChong at the EB Games Expo. I was so amazed at his decorum and confidence when stumbling upon one of his Youtube heroes. He didn’t go all ga-ga like I would have if I’d known who he was, but he also didn’t shy away. He was full of absolute confidence when walking up to him for a chat, to the point that I thought he was talking to someone he already knew!)

To support him in this interest, we managed to scrape together some funds to purchase an entry level gaming computer, headset etc, which he is making VERY good use of, let me tell you! He really enjoyed the process of researching different suppliers, different brands and infrastructure (probably not the right word) and then selecting the components he wanted and kind of building it virtually in a way.

gamer_self_limits_unshackledThen for his birthday this year, we got him a USB recording microphone. And a ukelele, just for something randomly different (his request).


He spends a major part of his life sitting at that computer, which brings me much joy. Truly! I know he is doing what he loves, pursuing his interest, and learning ever so much along the way. And he has also made some new friends and even met some face to face (I hesitate to say “in real life” because his life and their relationship is just as real whether it is via a computer or face to face).


(P.S. They didn't "just do gaming" when they met face to face, either. It's amazing how long they attempted to throw those tennis balls through that little tiny hole, and how much fun they had doing it!)
(P.S. They didn’t “just do gaming” when they met face to face, either. It’s amazing how long they attempted to throw those tennis balls through that little tiny hole, and how much fun they had doing it!)

I am more interested in supporting him in his passions, than I am in trying to somehow construct my own version of “balance” for him. We have talked occasionally about eye strain, and ways to combat it (he wants a pair of computer gaming glasses to help reduce strain when looking at computers etc. I think I want a pair too! Don’t tell him, but whenever I get the chance, I “borrow” them!). We also talk about needing to get up and move about every so often. It isn’t a demand or a forced thing, but rather a natural conversation, and the giving and receiving of information.

Just now, he surprised me (and hence the impetus for this post) by announcing that he’s set up a system for himself whereby while he is gaming he listens to a music playlist by Monstercat that goes for about an hour. When the playlist finishes, he stops what he’s doing on the computer (unless he’s in the middle of something that can’t easily be paused) and gets up to do something different for awhile, stretch his legs and so on.

I am quite confident that if I had instigated and insisted upon such a thing, and was trying to enforce it, his involvement in the process might be unhappy compliance, but with the idea being his own initiative, there is nothing for him to resent, or resist. He is learning to listen to his body, to find a solution that is fun and helpful, and he hasn’t had to endure any coercion (however subtle) from me at all.

I am actually feeling inspired by his decision, and think I might just go and stretch my own legs now. Bye! 🙂

Do “Violent” Games Make People Violent?

I am a pacifist, yet my children have all played with toy guns, swords, and now “violent video games”.

Yes, the two things can go together! My children are not me! They have their own interests and values, and I have mine, and that is okay. In fact, it’s awesome! Not always easy, but definitely good. I did not give birth to clones of the wonderful me. I gave birth to children who are unique individuals, with their own ideas and preferences.

I still don’t love the sounds of (fake) war when they play “violent” video games, but I focus on delighting in their enjoyment, interest and passion. And for what it’s worth, they don’t go around doing any of it in real life.

What My Kids Think

My children all say the same thing: It’s just a game!

I recently had a great chat to one of my boys (aged 16) whilst sitting on his bed watching him play what most people would call a”violent” game. He was relaxed, leaning back on a soft comfortable lounge, chatting casually with me whilst simultaneously pressing buttons that caused pixellated digitalised “people” to be artificially obliterated before our eyes. I was wondering what he thought of the fears some people have about first-person shooter games and how they can tend to blame violent crimes on “violent” video games. At the time we were chatting, we observed that there were hundreds of thousands of people all around the world playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2 at the same time as him. We wondered whether any of them had ever, would ever, or were at that time actually hurting (or desiring to hurt) anyone.

Dec and Brady Gaming_unshackled

Tonight I asked my youngest son (12) what he thinks of these kinds of games. Here is his response:

It stimulates your brain. You think about the strategy. For instance, you might see someone on top of a building; you can’t get out of where you are and you don’t have the right weapon for longer range shooting, so you use your brain to work around the problem. Does it make you want to go out and kill people? No. The whole fact that you’re shooting guns is irrelevant. It’s a strategy game where you want to win the match and it’s intense, fast paced. You can ignore the fact that you’re killing people. You don’t think about that. You just think about getting extra scores. It’s irrelevant that it’s supposedly ‘shooting someone’.

I asked him, “When you play a game like that, do you find that it’s a release of energy? Or do you feel MORE stressed after playing?”

It depends what happens. If you lose by a lot or something unfair happens, it can be stressful I suppose, but otherwise it can be a good challenge and really fun. You feel like you’ve achieved something.

Being non-sexist and all, I decided to also ask my daughter (10) what she thinks. She doesn’t play “violent” video games as much as her brothers, but she does occasionally enjoy playing Halo. I asked her, “How do you feel when you play a game like Halo?”

I feel like I am the person and I’m in a big adventure. I feel free and I don’t think that it could make me violent in real life. Because I could never actually shoot someone.

She has also played Skyrim a little bit, which has awesome graphics, and would be considered more violent than Halo.

Yeah I think Skyrim is a little violent but it’s not like I would get a real life sword and stab someone! Sometimes I do find it a little freaky, but it’s just so much fun because well, it’s just fun!

I tried asking my 19 year old son, but he said his brain isn’t functioning well enough to formulate his thoughts into words tonight. He got up at the crack of dawn today, travelled three hours to go to TAFE college, and then another three hours to come home late today after a full day at his course. So it seems all his game playing hasn’t turn him into a “delinquent” after all! Nor did “shooting zombies” turn him into a zombie!

What Other People Think

Many, many people make the assumption that “violent” games cause violent behaviour.

If you consider the huge number of people playing these games, why aren’t all of those people being violent?

If you consider the huge number of people playing these games, isn’t it statistically quite likely that, if a violent crime is committed, the offender will be a gamer ?

Does this mean that “violent” video games cause violence? I think that is a fairly large leap to make, and it is certainly not in keeping with my real life observations of people who play these games. Nor is it in keeping with the many, many other radical unschooling families around the world whose children have been raised in loving, connected homes with no arbitrary limits placed on game playing. Nor is it backed up by a recent study conducted by Texas A&M International University associate professor, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson. The results of the study suggest that “Violent games may help people work through their frustrations with real life and calm down without increasing aggressive behaviors in real life”. If a gamer (or anyone!) does commit a crime, it is pretty much guaranteed that there are some other pretty big factors involved; perhaps a dysfunctional family, bullying at school or a maladaptive personality. Rather than blaming the games, perhaps people could start using them!

There is a reason why I keep putting “violent” in quotation marks when referring to video games. There are some key differences between depictions of violence, and actual violence.

If you look at a person playing a first person shooter game, what do you see? A person, usually sitting on a soft, comfortable lounge, holding a plastic game controller in their hands, often chatting with friends, sometimes laughing, looking at pixelated images on a televisions screen, and certainly not hurting anybody.

If you look at a parent walking into the room where their child or teen is playing a “violent” video game, you may see the parent roll their eyes, you may hear an angry, frustrated tirade, you may observe a subtle or not so subtle judgment of the game and the person playing the game.

Which is more damaging to the gamer? The game itself, or the judgment of their choice to play it?

What would happen if parents could

  •   accept their child/teen’s choice to play a particular game
  •   delight in the fact that they are enjoying their chosen activity,
  •   trust that they will be okay, and perhaps even
  •   play the game alongside them!!

A child/teen playing games with the support, interest and involvement of a loving parent is much better off than a child who feels judged, shamed and guilty for playing. It’s certainly been true in our experience and I have discovered that I care much more about connecting with my child and respecting their preferences, than I do about connecting with the idea that “violent” video games cause violence. Because, to be honest, I just don’t think it’s true!

Recommended Reading:

An Unschooled Child Learns to Read

I didn’t teach my son to read.

He never did a workbook or followed a learn to read program. He never used “readers”. You know the ones:

The cat sat on a mat. 
The cat was fat.

Does that make me a bad homeschooling parent?

I don’t think so. In fact, it was a conscious choice not to “teach” him something I knew he was capable of learning without coercion or pressure or expectations or “lessons”. It was a well thought-through decision not to turn reading into:

  • a structured, sequential process
  • memorising a list of rules (most of which have about as many exceptions to the rule as keeping of the rule!)
  • a phonics program
  • any one of the multitudes of other “methods” for learning to read

I was tempted to use all those things! In the early days of our unschooling journey, my childhood dream of being a teacher had me perusing the homeschooling message boards and websites, searching through the plethora of learn-to-read materials produced by the billion dollar education materials sector. But I resisted. And I’m so glad!

Now don’t get me wrong. My son did not live in a wordless vacuum. He was living in a supportive family environment and getting out and about in the “big wide world”, and was therefore surrounded by the written form of our English language.

Our house was full of books.

We went to the library.

We read together. A lot.

He saw me reading. A lot.

We played games that involved – unsurprisingly – words and letters.

There were words all around him. On television (yes, even there), on street signs, in the letterbox, on cereal packets, in recipes, and so on.

And, being naturally hungry for knowledge as all unstuffed children are, he asked lots and lots and LOTS of questions. “Mum, what does that say?” And I would simply answer his question. Sometimes I would, in about one sentence, add something interesting, such as, “See the last two letters? A and H together say ah” and he would store it away in his busy little brain.

We went about our life, and then one day he walked out of his room holding a chapter book and simply said, “I read this book, it’s cool”. I think he was about six, maybe seven. Now I have to admit, I thought he was pulling my leg, perhaps just wanting to be like his big brothers who could already read! I asked him, curiously but not derisively, “That’s awesome! What was it about?” He proceeded to tell me the whole story! I was shocked!

To understand why, you need to realise that my older two children had learned to read while they were at school, so this was my first experience of partnering with a child who was learning to read naturally, without pressure, without “teaching” or testing or readers or programs. I tried not to jump up and down with maniacal parental pride, choosing instead to revel in his own happiness at his new skill, which had obviously been developing quietly inside his brain as he’d gone about his days, quietly decoding the written English language.

Looking through my highly disorganised old photos on the computer, I was unable to find one of my son reading but I did find this. During the time he was working out this "reading" thing, the kids discovered this fun little computer game where you could add your face to funny pictures. I found this one that my son had made, and think it's a perfect fit for this post because it shows how, even when "just playing" on a computer, our children are surrounded by letters and words! And, just as importantly, fun. :)
Looking through my highly disorganised old photos on the computer, I was unable to find one of my son reading but I did find this. During the time he was working out this “reading” thing, the kids discovered this fun little computer game where you could add your face to funny pictures. I found this one that my son had made, and think it’s a perfect fit for this post because it shows how, even when “just playing” on a computer, our children are surrounded by letters and words! And, just as importantly, fun. 🙂

Here in Australia, we have what is called “The Premier’s Reading Challenge”. It “aims to encourage in students a love of reading for leisure and pleasure, and to enable students to experience quality literature. It is not a competition but a challenge to each student to read, to read more and to read more widely.” One year I asked my son if he would like to participate, and he simply said, “No, I don’t need a certificate for reading. I just read because I want to read.” Now, I’m not saying that the Challenge is necessarily a bad thing, and I like that it isn’t a competition, and the book lists are usually quite inspirational, but I wonder how something like this achieves its goal of encouraging a love of reading for leisure and pleasure, when it is all about achieving goals and earning a certificate? Of course, if he had wanted to do the challenge, I would have supported him in that endeavour. I wonder, though, how many children participate in things like this to get the certificate, the recognition, the affirmation, and I wonder if that takes something away from the pure pleasure of reading as an experience in and of itself.

Another opportunity that was presented to my son a few times came from a friend who goes to school and likes competing. He would try to get a group of children to join him in a competition of his devising, whereby they would see who could read the most books, or the most pages, or for the longest time each day, etc. My son, again, was simply not interested. Again he said something like, “If I’m reading a book, it’s because I’m enjoying reading it, I don’t want to have to read more or faster to beat other kids.”

I love his authentic awareness of reading for reading’s sake, rather than to complete a challenge or win a competition.

He has read many novels over the past few years. Series such as Zac Power, the Andy Griffiths “Just” series, Beast Quest, Deltora Quest, Harry Potter, Narnia, The Ranger’s Apprentice, and many others. Over time he realised that he got bored with a series if it had too many books. He never did read the 10th book in The Ranger’s Apprentice series. And that’s okay. I’m glad he worked that out about himself, and I’m glad I learned to honour his preference.

Over time he has moved towards a preference for online and non-fiction reading. He gets most of his stories in electronic format through gaming or audio books. Initially I found this somewhat disappointing, as though it meant I was no longer this “amazing, successful unschooling mum whose son had learned to read without being taught”. I would keep suggesting a different book I thought he might be interested in, or I would put a novel in his christmas stocking, thinking it might reignite his interest in reading.

Eventually I remembered that he IS reading. A lot! It just isn’t in novel form. And realistically, what is so bad about that? Why are novels, and books in general, seen as the bees knees when it comes to the determination of knowledge and academia? He reads every single day. On his iPod. On his computer. On his Xbox. In gaming magazines. And so on. Books are one source of reading; there are many, many others.

Dr Alan Thomas is a developmental psychologist, author and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education. He has done a lot of research into how children learn informally, including the learning-to-read process. Here’s a video interview with him. If you want to skip to the bit about reading, it’s at 2.50

Have you got a story about a child who learned to read without being “taught”? I’d love to hear from you!

Wanna read some other encouraging stories of unschooled and homeschooled kids learning to read? Check it out:

Learn to Read Homeschool Blog Hop


An Imperfect Unschooling Life

So, here’s the deal. I’ve been thinking of deleting this blog, or at least taking it offline. Why? Because, well, I’m not perfect. And neither is my family.

Bet you thought we were, huh? 🙂

© Roza | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I mean, don’t all bloggers have this amazing, perfect, ideal life? I guess you could be forgiven for thinking they do, but in reality, what you read on anyone’s blog is only ever a fraction of that person’s life. For the most part, people write about the good stuff. The “successes”. It can be scary to put yourself out into the public eye, opening yourself up to possible judgment and scrutiny, so it can be tempting to whitewash things a little bit, or shy away from writing about the challenges. Most people don’t want to have their weaknesses or bad days recorded forever on the world wide web, especially those who write about their children.

Like other writers, I don’t want my children to feel embarrassed by me sharing stories of them having a hard time, or struggling with something. (For the record, I do ask them for permission if I write about them, and they are old enough to have a preference. When people write about their very young children, I do wonder if those children, when they are older, may regret being a “household name”, but I guess it depends what is written. I know for sure that when parents write derogatory, insulting things about their children online, it is completely inappropriate. I’m sure you know the kind of posts I’m talking about. Shooting a hole in your child’s laptop, anyone? Making them stand in the street holding an embarrassing sign? No, thank you! I respect my children way too much to write about that kind of thing publicly. Or to do it in the first place.)

Just when I was thinking, our family isn’t “perfect” enough to have an unschooling blog, I received a super encouraging message about my writing, that caused me to think that maybe there is a reason to write after all (apart from the fact that I enjoy it, of course!). Then I remembered back to a time when a homeschooling mum came up to me at an event and thanked me for writing about unschooling. At first when she said, “I read your blog post!”, I was a wee bit worried, thinking she was upset with me, because she is a strict school-at-home parent. She surprised me by sharing that she had been challenged by my post, and her parenting and approach to homeschooling would never be the same. I was humbled, and encouraged, and I decided that if just one person is encouraged by my writing, it is worth it. If just one person is inspired to consider unschooling, it is worth it. If just one person is challenged to parent more respectfully and gently, it is worth it. If just one person is encouraged by knowing that a grieving mother can live a happy life even while carrying that love scar, it is worth it.

I hope to keep it real on this blog, to share a balance of both “successes” and challenges faced by this imperfect family. I think it is better for readers to see real and imperfect families living with hope, rather than elevated, seemingly “perfect” families presenting themselves on a pedestal behind a white picket fence.

According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, imperfect can mean a number of things, including defective, but the one that most fits what I am trying to say is: “a continuing state or an incomplete action”. In the words of Sonny in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end… if it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.”

We’re not finished yet!

We don’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a better day. There are plenty more moments left today. Right now. It’s what we do with each one that matters.

And for now, I will continue writing about it.

From one imperfect (unfinished) family to another, I send out love and encouragement to keep embracing each moment, living it to the full and forgiving yourself for the moments you regret and the weaknesses you perceive, remembering that the light still shines, and another moment is ready and waiting. Not tomorrow or next week or next year, but right here, right now.

Perhaps if all of us chose just one person to encourage each day, just as someone encouraged me, a multitude of people would be inspired to continue on with their passions, knowing that they really can make a difference and be an inspiration. Even if they’re not perfect.

Gaming in Schools?

My daughter loves a show on TV called “Good Game Spawn Point”. It’s a super fun, interesting talk show about all things gaming. She was watching it tonight when one of the hosts suddenly declared:

Sometimes I think I learn more from video games than I ever did in school. Maths, science, problem solving, reading, history, geography, how to work as a team…

© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

It was an intro to the next segment of a show: an interview with a teacher who has begun to integrate commercial video games (such as Formula 1 Racing, Sonic Racing etc) into the classroom, mostly into science lessons, “to make it more interesting for the students”.

When asked what inspired her to begin using commercial video games as a teaching tool, she answered: “I play a lot of games myself, and when I play them I realise that with a lot of games, you actually need to apply a lot of skills like maths, logic, problem solving, team work in multiplayer mode… When I watch the kids playing games, they’re really motivated and they like it, so I investigated different types of games that I could put into the classroom.”

Bajo, the host of the show and interviewer for this segment, observed some children in the classroom, who were trying to find out if talking on a phone, or holding it on your shoulder, distracts you when you’re driving. The conclusion? “So far we’ve learned that driving without a phone is much safer than driving with a phone.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like rocket science, but I’m sure the kids absorbed the lesson more effectively, and had more fun doing it, than if they’d just been told the information or had statistics presented to them.

Bajo asked the teacher if she had seen many improvements in how they learn, to which she replied, “Yes, because they are having fun so they understand it a lot better. When we introduce concepts that are not familiar to them and we actually put a game into it, they connect with the game and they’ll be less fearful of the topic. They’re more likely to actually want to learn it. The kids who are normally really shy won’t be shy when they play the game because the games do encourage you to have a go. It’s okay to fail in the game.”

At one stage the children were all asked to sit around the edge of the classroom, while two were selected to play a game on the Kinect (Xbox) console. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure (two children playing while the others look on), but it seemed to be so based on other footage they showed. One of the “children” was Bajo, the presenter.

After they had played the game, the teacher gave her assessment:

“You displayed some really good teamwork skills. When Daniel gave instructions, you followed them. But I think you got a little bit distracted sometimes, waving your hands, and Daniel was trying to get you back on track.”

Okaaaaay well, again, not rocket science. But at least they were having fun, right? Even if they were somewhat “distracted”.

Some of the children were asked what they like about being able to play video games in the classroom:

“Well, the games are fun and they help you learn better.”

“Everyone gets to participate and it’s really fair.”

“People don’t usually think video games can be educational, but we’ve found a way to make it educational, because it’s, like, more interesting than getting a paper and pen and just writing down stuff or copying down stuff or just getting a book.”

Kudos to the teacher for trying to modernise the classroom, but I question whether simply making it more fun by the inclusion of video games is really enough. I’m sure it is better than without the games, but the use of the games in the classroom seemed …. Dumbed down. Scripted.

The games were being used as a tool to try to get the children more engaged in the teacher-driven curriculum. Using what the students love to “teach” the lessons the teacher wants them to learn, to complete the tasks set down by the teacher. It seemed to simply be a more creative, modern way to “put information into children’s heads”.

Having short turns of a game (accompanied by expected outcomes and lessons to be learned) and sharing it around thirty children is very different to the natural learning that occurs when children are thoroughly engrossed in and captivated by a game. It is very different to a child at home getting deeply into the levels and complexities of the game, solving puzzles, exploring complex worlds, completing levels and challenges that sometimes take hours or more.

How wonderful it would be if the teacher was able to trust in the intrinsic nature of children to learn through play. If the learning flowed more naturally, as an unscripted side effect of playing the games; if the games were more central rather than just serving the teacher-driven goal. Who knows where it might lead!! Imagine groups of children engrossed in gaming, with the adult interacting naturally, playing alongside, chatting to the kids while they play.

Funnily enough, that is actually what does happen in an unschooling household!! 

Whilst the teacher began her journey by recognising the learning that was naturally happening when she played video games at home (without anyone expecting her to learn, or feeling the need to “teach” her by using the games to draw out “lessons”), she ended up failing to transfer to the children in her care that same trust in natural learning as a byproduct of gaming.

As Steven Johnson says in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter video games are not “rotting our brains” but are in fact becoming more and more sophisticated tools for learning, posing new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds measurably sharper. There really is no need to dumb them down and turn them in to “lessons”.

In the words of the final girl interviewed for the show, video games in the classroom “make everything seem fun, even though it’s really boring.”

Kids are smart! They would obviously prefer to be able to do gaming and other fun things in the classroom, but they’re quite able to learn from the games without having to have that learning scripted for them. And in fact, they are more likely to intrinsically learn something new and “cutting edge” if they are able to really delve into the complexities of the game, rather than focus on completing set tasks that supposedly help them learn what the teacher wants to teach them!

I am so very glad that my unschooled children are privileged to live in an environment where there is absolute trust that learning happens. All the time. Every day. Even while gaming. ESPECIALLY while gaming. And without a lesson needing to be taught.

Gaining from Gaming


I recently wrote about “Scary Screens” and my journey towards trusting rather than fearing THE SCREEN!

One form of “screens” seems to cause many parents so much angst, and can often have journalists racing to their editors with an alarmist article ready for release upon the easily-scared, anti-screens public. It is commonly known as gaming, and includes Xbox, Playstation, Wii, Nintendo DS, Computer games and probably other mediums I can’t even think of right now.

Gaming (also known as video gaming, or digital gaming) has come a long, long way since the Parker brothers created Monopoly. And it’s also progressed in cyber leaps and bounds since the first ever “video game” was developed way back in 1947 (bet you didn’t know they’ve been around that long!). And there is certainly very little resemblance to the games my brothers and I used to play on our Atari. Gosh, the excitement of the various line drawing designs of basketball, hockey, table tennis and soccer were almost as exciting back then as Xbox Kinect is today! The sound of the ping and the pong of the little cyber “ball”, and the race to stop that little dot from getting between the gaps in the lines kept us glued to our big old chunky TV set for hours! 🙂

The parents of this current generation (that includes me) grew up in a VERY different reality to the children of today. Marc Prensky first coined the term “digital native” to describe the children who have grown up in the age of digital technologies. Some digital native children will be lucky enough to have “digital immigrants” for parents (those who were born before the existence of digital technology but have adapted to it to some extent later in life). However, it is still common for us to struggle with the degree to which our children seek to embrace and interact with their digital world. It is something we never really experienced as children. The attraction of the screen, and its saturation in our culture, is something we don’t really understand, in spite of the fact that we use computers etc. Our experience with digital technologies is something we’ve adapted to. In contrast, it has been part of our children’s worlds for their entire life.

According to the Interactive Australia 2009 report on the state of gaming in Australian culture, the average age of gamers is now 30. Are these, perhaps, adults who were forbidden or limited as kids, and who are now able to play when and for how long they choose, and so they are reveling in their new freedom?  Or does it simply speak of the fact that gaming is, dare I say it, fascinating and enjoyable? Yes, I can hear the naysayers crying out, “But what about the South Korean couple who got so obsessed by their gaming that they neglected their real baby?” And I will say, there is something more going on there! There was something seriously wrong with this picture, and with the people themselves, to be able to make a choice such as that. It is not the game designers neglecting to feed and care for the baby. It is the parents. Out of the multitude of people who play video games, when there is one case of something going wrong, everyone blames the game. When David Staniforth recently died after a blood clot in the lung, apparently caused by sitting still for too long, it was the video gaming that was the featured issue in the media. The father was actually quoted as saying, “He had probably been on all night, on the computer at his desk, on Facebook or gaming — one or the other.” After that, his son’s friend said Chris felt a pounding in his chest but eventually fell asleep. The next morning, Chris and his friend were going to apply for jobs and Chris collapsed outside the job center.” So it was assumed he spent all night gaming, then fell asleep, then woke “the next morning” (after staying up all night?) and then collapsed and died. If he’d been sitting down for that length of time reading a book, I can’t imagine anyone blaming books for his death! But once they would have. It was once the humble novel that was the target of suspicion and fear mongering. It was said that people who read novels would be day dreamers, and unable to fit in to society. Reading books was not revered in the same way that it is today.

When tennis ace Serena Williams underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot, no one suggested that people should stop playing tennis. When people suffer from the same condition after a long plane flight, no one suggests that plane flights are bad and should be severely limited. Instead, it is recognised that getting up and moving around occasionally, and keeping the blood flowing, will help to prevent this problem.

If gaming is the cause of neglected babies, or deep vein thrombosis, then why aren’t more gamers suffering from these problems? The reality is that many, many people play video games, and they often play for many hours in one session. And the vast majority of them lead happy, productive lives! If they don’t, then instead of blaming the game, perhaps it would be more pertinent to ponder the big picture of their life, and contemplate the possible causes behind why the person is drawn to games, or screens of some kind, to that degree, and to the detriment of their own happiness. Are they unhappy because they’re gaming? Or are they gaming because they’re unhappy?  The people I know who enjoy video games play them simply because they… enjoy them! And they do not neglect other areas of their lives.

Researchers are beginning to realise some of the benefits of video games. Research carried out at Bristol University on 700 children aged from 7-16, showed that children learn a range of strategic thinking and planning skills as well as other valuable learning outcomes, through playing video games. An article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that gaming increases creativity and the ability to pay attention to more than six things at once (coimpared to four with non-gamers). Research Professor, Peter Gray, Ph.D., outlines the many benefits of playing video games in his recent article. The supposed “link” between video games that depict violence, and violence in real life, is now being questioned. And Science Daily reported in September last year that gamers had solved a science problem that had stumped scientists for over a decade. It took the gamers three weeks.

I could write more, but realistically people will usually be able to find evidence to supposedly support almost any theory anyway, so I will simply finish by sharing our family’s experience; what we’ve found to be GREAT about gaming, the ways in which I have seen my children benefit from playing video games.

  • Joy!
  • Social connection (the pleasure of gaming with friends or family IRL or via Xbox Live or Skype)
  • Teamwork
  • Opportunities to practise conflict resolution skills when aforesaid teamwork is lacking! 🙂
  • Problem solving skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Spatial reasoning (Have you ever tried to navigate a virtual race track at high speed?!)
  • Memorisation (I get so lost when watching them navigate their way around complex worlds)
  • Reading skills (no, it’s not “reading the classics”, but it is culturally relevant contemporary language)
  • Mathematical thinking and calculations
  • Computer programming skills
  • An all-round good time! 🙂

There would be more, if I stopped to think about it. What about you? Have you discovered benefits in addition to the ones I have listed?

Please note that for unschooled kids and teens, gaming usually plays a very different role when compared to school kids. It is one option of many on offer throughout the days and nights of “free time”, whereas school children often use gaming to detox from the hours spent in the school environment. So the two scenarios will tend to look and be very different. I highly recommend this page, if you’d like to learn more about gaming within an unschooling context.

I promise that my next post will not be about screens! But it will certainly be written on one. And read on one too.

Image credit: lhfgraphics / 123RF Stock Photo