Should Fortnite Be Banned?!

This train has already left the station…

The issue of whether Fortnite should be banned, recently discussed in the media, I believe highlights a growing quandary we have in society. A process that is already underway, that there’s no point resisting. But its one that mainstream parenting hasn’t yet really acknowledged.

We no longer live in a disciplinarian, authoritarian society. With physical threats and punishments. It’s not the 1950s. Heck it’s not even the 1970/80s, when I grew up.

But parents and teachers are still trying to control children. In almost every way we can think of.

Food, sleep, how they spend their time (, what they must learn, when and how they must learn it (school again), and how long they’re allowed to do the things they love (eg. gaming).

Today we mostly no longer hit children, so threats are based on fear and shame instead.

Work hard at school, or you’ll end up poor and a failure.

Adhere to my rules at home, or you’ll face my consequences.

We do this because we believe we ‘know best’.

Hahaha. I mean this is actually totally laughable!

Anyone who’s made the effort to take a look at themselves, will appreciate how little they know. How many mistakes they continue to make daily. How they can’t get their sleep, food, work, relationships right.

And at the other end of the scale, let’s not even get started on all the clueless stuff the people running countries/the world do.

We also know so little about how life is going to be in the 2030s, 40s, 50s and beyond, our childrens’ adulthood.

So the idea that we should be controlling and limiting everything our children do, because we know better than them, is starting to seem nonsensical.

Now Fortnite has come along. Its a very enjoyable game. Children and adults want to play it. As with all gaming, if you look at it with curiosity, and without prejudice, you will find all sorts of interesting learning benefits to playing.

And as well as the benefits I often talk about, that are learned from video games like Fortnite; strategizing, team working, assessing risk, hand eye coordination, perseverance, problem-solving, earning, spending, artwork appreciation,

Video game art installation by Lawrence Lek

Studies have shown there are:

increases in brain development

boosts to learning capabilities

increases in memory, attention, and executive control

also happening.

Maybe another benefit to playing is that children would like to work towards a career in the video gaming industry, currently worth about $100bn and growing.

Or play Esports – professional competitive gaming – soon to be recognised as an official sport, and can already be studied at University in the US.

But one of the most important benefits, arguably the most important benefit, is that it enables children to play freely.

Without the interference of adults.

Something Peter Gray says in Psychology Today, and I think most people would now agree with, is essential for childrens’ development. And now with so much school, homework, and adult-led after school activities, is severely lacking in our culture.

“Children today are suffering not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”

Peter Gray

The Many Benefits for Kids of Playing Video Games

And with regard to the ‘violence’ in Fortnite, which is ungraphic, Gerard Jones writes in his book how kids need monsters, fantasy, super heroes and make-believe violence.

Concern about the violence also seems a little hypocritical, or there’s a bit of a double standard going on. There’s violence in fairy tales, cartoons, and films we’re happy for our children to read and watch.

Many studies have now shown there is no link between video game violence and violence in real life.

The problems is, that we don’t really want to be controlling and threatening people anymore like its the 1950s, including children. Because we now know that they’re people too! With genuine feelings, intelligence and ideas and everything!

And here’s the conflict. How do we continue to control children, if we are no longer authoritarian, using the fear of physical punishments?

Controlling people is really hard work, and takes much longer, without the fear of physical punishment!

So parents firefight, beginning with threats of consequences, which don’t work, when so much is misunderstood, and at stake, from a child’s point of view.

And end with marching into a child’s room to demand they stop playing.

Pulling the plug on the computer, or switch off the WiFi.

It can’t be denied, though, that this sticks in the craw, and is highly unpleasant and upsetting for both parent and child. (although some parents seem to revel in ‘showing them who’s in charge’)

How much longer can this kind of controlling of children go on for in our society?

Surely at some point people will come to comprehend that partnership and understanding is the only way to conduct any relationship, with children as well as adults.

With Fortnite for example, the key to understanding is firstly to think of it as just a very exciting game.

Like, er, football, let’s say!

Except its on an electronic screen, not a playing field.

Like any other exciting game, people yell, get angry, get joyful.

There are ecstatic gains and gut wrenching losses.

Children may play football for half an hour, or they may kick about for hours.

Like any other exciting game it’s not something that works with someone uninvolved coming in mid play and demanding that you stop.

Like Fortnite, football players wants to see what happens next, if strategies and benefits they’ve worked hard to build up are going to win over. If parents demand children stop at any time they see fit, clearly, those children are going to be upset and frustrated.

Imagine walking onto a football pitch just as a goal was about to be scored, and demanding that everyone stops playing! Because you say so.

It also means that children’s behaviour around the game might look like ‘addiction’.

If you don’t really understand what addiction is, that is.

Gabor Mate says in his Ted Talk about addiction, that addiction provides us with relief from pain.

What pain are children trying to find relief from if people believe they are ‘addicted’ to Fortnite? And if that’s what’s happening, the most helpful thing to do is help them with that pain, not ban Fortnite.

Behaviour such as becoming emotional when playing, being upset at having to stop playing at a crucial place in the game, sneaking time to play at 3am, does not mean children are ‘addicted’.

The more logical reason for this behaviour is that children know their beloved gaming time is limited and out of their control.

They are at school all day, then they have homework, then they have parents clearly disapproving of their current favourite thing. Limiting and banning it, without understanding it at all. This all makes it scarce and precious.

A way forward with Fortnite, then, might be firstly to understand it as a game, and to understand how the game works.

By asking your children.

And secondly by discussing together the time constraints the household has, in terms of school, homework, clubs, meals etc.

Are children exhausted from their merry go round of school, homework, and scheduled activities?

Is Fortnite is much needed relief from this?

Could anything be slowed down?

Could any scheduled activity be dropped in favour of time on Fortnite? Yes, I do mean that! Please see afore-mentioned numerous learning benefits.

What do they need you to help them with?

Can you let them finish their match, or play another match?

Give them 20 minute or 10 minute warnings?

Let them know at the start of the evening what’s coming up, and agree together how long they can play for?

And also realising that like lots of passions that any of us have, it won’t last forever.

Although if its forbidden or limited, it’ll probably last a whole lot longer.

A note of caution though. A relationship that’s previously been about control may take sometime to heal. But it’s definitely worth it. For the long run too. When the very serious life problems start cropping up.

Our society can’t go backwards, to the 1950s, when due to the threat of harsh physical punishments, what parents said was law.

Unless we have some kind of Handmaid’s Tale revolution of course. Hope that’s unlikely.

It means that we’re going to need to decide how to go forward in our treatment of our children. It could mean the end of schools as we know them, some (fairly distant, admittedly), time in the future. And certainly a change in attitudes of fear and disapproval around childrens’ gaming and time spent on computers.

We’ve still got a long way to to go though. Think I’ll be an old lady before I see the majority of parents treating their children like human beings who can, in the right conditions of trust and collaboration, be just as wise, if not wiser, than them about what they need.

But yes, this train has definitely now left the station, and there’s no going back.

I won’t be replicating the parenting of control and ‘because I said so’, of forty years ago. As long as my relationship with my children is consistently the opposite of dinosaurs like Piers Morgan and Lorrine Marer, talking in the article at the top, about ‘little brats’ and Fortnite, then I’m on the right track!

Further reading:

Sense and Nonsense About Video Game Addiction by Peter Gray

Jane McGonigal’s Institute for the Future Gaming to improve real life and solve real life problems

Constance Steinkuehler, Professor of Education and Game Based Learning at the University of California

Daphne Bavelier, University of Geneva, Studies of the brain playing first person shooter video games.

Let Me Tell You About Kids Without Control by Happiness is Here


Handwrite Your Own Way!

A recent Instagram post about my five year old doing a bit of handwriting got me delving a bit deeper into the topic, in regard to my older two children. And as is often the case, insight, truths, and a few feelings about school, came from simply asking them about their experiences.

My son, who’s ten, has handwritten almost nothing, since starting home educating. He writes plenty, but it’s typed.

He said that when he handwrites, he feels stressed. He said it comes from school, and trying to make his writing neat. Trying to do it in the way the teachers wanted.

He doesn’t speak badly of his teachers. He says they asked for improved handwriting in a ‘nice’ way. Pupils got ‘moved up the board’, if their handwriting was done in the ‘right’ way. There might be praise, and certificates.

Teachers would comment on work accordingly, telling pupils to work in this way or that on their handwriting.

Nothing Victorian or anything!

But he actually screws up his face and clutches his stomach when he talks about handwriting. Even now, three years after leaving school. He left in Year 3, so these feelings are from when he was only seven years old.

Also asked my daughter, who’s thirteen, how she felt about handwriting. (she hadn’t heard mine and my sons conversation)

I had thought she liked it, and enjoyed trying different styles, and trying to make it ‘neat’.

Well kind of. She said she disliked the way her handwriting was controlled at school. She wanted to write in her own way, forming the letters the way she wanted to, and using whatever pen, pencil, chalk, paint she wanted. She felt, and still feels, from those years, that her handwriting isn’t good enough, neat enough.

This article by Happiness is Here talks about how children can learn to handwrite themselves, in their own way, in their own time. Rather than crushing their joy and enthusiasm with laborious step by step, do it this way, sitting at a desk, in the correct position, school instruction and practice.

Even though school methods are no longer draconian, it’s hard to disagree that there will also be a psychological consequence to whatever the school uses to encourage what it wants children to do. Be it the ‘board’, stickers, praise in front of others, certificates, or just general marks and comments on work.

They instill in young, developing brains a desire to please authority figures, and to avoid feeling humiliated in front of others. Undoubtedly at the expense of individuality, creativity.

Maybe this was a good result a hundred and fifty years ago, but in this day and age?

And for what?

In the end does it really matter, if a child’s handwriting is a little irregular, or in different colours, or if they wrote not sitting at a desk?

Because the crazy truth is, that with all this school instruction, most adults’ cursive handwriting ends up pretty much illegible anyway! And do many people actually handwrite more than a few words, or sentences, now?

Despite this, handwriting can be a beautiful skill. But if someone needs or wants to improve theirs, in a more formal way, there are many apps and books.

Wouldn’t take long, for a teen or an adult, who’s motivated, and who as an adult, developmentally now has the dexterity and fine motor skills, to make it a fairly easy learn.

Maybe this issue seems like a small thing. But all this stuff contributes to people’s confidence, self esteem, self belief. So it’s a shame, there in our plain sight.

Had they stayed in school, I wouldn’t have even thought, or known about this, by the way! They wouldn’t have thought it worth telling me, and I wouldn’t have thought it important. Don’t like writing? Well suck it up, unfortunately.

They type everything now.

And in a few years, if either of them need to handwrite, for something they’re choosing to do, say a GCSE, they will. Other types of Level 2, 3 and 4 qualifications can be typed.


To have to handwrite these things, in 2018, would be a bit daft!

Wonder what else gets needlessly corrupted, spoiled for people, in the school environment?

Reading? Creative writing? Maths?

Definitely feeling glad that all three are free to do it in their own way.

“We adults destroy much of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do. We destroy this capacity above all by making them afraid, afraid of not doing what other people want, or not pleasing, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong.

Thus we make them afraid to gamble, afraid to experiment, afraid to try the difficult and the unknown. ”

John Holt, How Children Fail


Growing Up with Unlimited Video Gaming

Any unschoolers with children gaming many hours a day?!

A believer in the learning benefits of playing video games, I still retain some murky concerns, stubbornly lodged in my hard wiring.

This interview, with 19 year old unschooler Xander Macswan, gave me some always welcome relief on this issue. Making me consider some points I hadn’t considered before.

What unlimited gaming may lead to in the future for unschooling children?

I have thought a fair amount about this. Focusing a lot on the obvious things, such as gaming art, design, or coding. Video games are a 100 billion dollar industry, and growing. So one with great prospects. The interview made me consider, however, that it could also lead to something less directly linked, such as choosing a career that involves adventuring, or travelling, or being a real life hero and helping people, like the interviewee, Xander.

But even if gaming doesn’t lead clearly to a career direction, by developing and pushing characters and their choices, Xander explained how gamers can really explore themselves through gaming.

Exploring decision making, ethics, reactions. How they work with others, what are their different skills.

So great for deciding what the heck you want to do with your life.

Study or training is the relatively easy part, once you know what you want to do!

Xander also talks about coming to a point when he decided that he could try and do what he’d been doing in the games, in real life.

He describes how, fairly suddenly, he felt highly motivated to go out into the world, to explore ecology, to travel, go adventuring, solve problems, help people.

Having done these things so much within gaming, he wanted to try them in real life.

He also considers how gaming might be different for the person at school, who may be exhausted and busy, and with restrictions imposed by others. They may be using gaming to switch off, as a way to escape reality.

Unschoolers, not needing to escape schoolwork, the many subjects, homework, exams, assessments, intense peer pressure, etc, can totally focus and immerse themselves. With a fresh open mind, knowing they have time to game out many different scenarios.

These are very different reasons for playing, which will likely result in a different experience, and different benefits and things learned.

Xander also made the point that, having had the freedom to explore the consequences of playing video games all the time, he could also then choose whether to continue to do that or not.

As an adult he’s not now still playing video games all day!

He’s doing a broad range of things.

The same with sleep, bedtimes, food, etc. Those who grow up with restrictions imposed by others, long for the time when they leave home and can decide for themselves how much or how little of anything they have. Which can lead to a messy few years/decades of adult life.

(adults raise your hand if you have great self regulation when it comes to food, alcohol, sleep, etc….anyone??)

Unschooled children have already explored/are exploring all the consequences with these things that they want, in the supportive environment of home. They don’t have to start it all when they leave!

We’ve been unschooling for almost three years now. I still consider myself very much deschooling, and probably will always be (think deschooling is more for adults than children).

This interview gave me lots of hope and excitement for my three children, who are avid video gamers, and play as much as they want.

Thanks to Radical Unschoolers Facebook group for originally posting the interview.

Can I Accept We’re Just Not ‘Joiners’?

Tried a new home ed group the other day. In this awesome building, Stevenage Museum. (beautiful pic is the Museum’s, from many decades ago). It was lovely and chilled, no expectations, do the activity if you want to. Got me thinking a bit about my attitude to kids’ groups, clubs and activities.

Generally, we’re just not ‘joiners’, or group people really.

Been finding this out since starting unschooling.


My kids always knew.

But it’s taken a while (nearly three years) for me to listen.

Society, and schools in particular, seem to have a bias towards extroverts.

A norm of being able to learn in a large number of people. Along with an expectation to be very social, enjoying lots of group activites.

In the culture I see around me, school children not only are at school all day, followed by homework. They are then at scheduled, adult directed activites for many nights a week, often plus the weekend.

This way of life is fully ingrained in my way of thinking too. Even though we’re home educating, my mind wants still wants to mould us to that model.

I have always felt lacking, different and wierd for not enjoying those things myself. As a child, adults frequently remarked of me, “Oh aren’t you quiet? Are you shy?”. The same happens to my own children. I felt like there was something wrong with me.

So I’ve spent the past few years pushing my children to attend lots of organised activities. Believing that group activities will prevent them from becoming hopeless lonely weirdos! And thinking that others will be more accepting of our choice to home educate, if I can tell them about all the most excellent groups we go to.

All this kind of stuff is maybe what’s at the root of that “what about socialisation?” question. Did school set this odd, outdated yardstick of being in a large, noisy, scheduled group, for many hours a day? And why are we so fearful about letting our children be alone?

Susan Cain:

In a way education by its nature favours the extrovert because you are taking kids and putting them into a big classroom, which is automatically going to be a high-stimulation environment. Probably the best way of teaching in general is one on one, but that’s not something everyone can afford. So, school ends up becoming this place where introverted kids learn that they have to act like extroverts.

As adults, some of us might learn really well in a room of thirty other noisy people. Some of us, well not so much. Why would it be any different for children?

Schools operate this way because of financial constraints. But as preparation for life it’s limiting. Lots of jobs do involve working alongside large numbers of people, but plenty also don’t.

I think another reason I pushed my children to attend groups and activities, is because I wanted them to learn lots of different skills. To become ‘accomplished’, somehow. Like a nice Edwardian lady maybe, haha!

l’ve grown up thinking there’s a magic ‘window’ for learning in childhood, (which might originate from the ‘critical period’ hypothesis about language learning). For musical instruments, languages, dance, sports, etc. That children have brains like sponges, and so must, sometimes with little motivation, grind away at these things for years throughout their childhood. In order to aquire a skill that may, possibly, bring them happiness sometime vaguely in the future.

Although it works for some children, I now think this idea can do a bit of damage.

We end up associating learning musical instruments, languages, etc. with slog, pressure, and being only for children.

That it’ll be too late when you’re an adult to do these things.

Which of course is not true.

Whether the ‘critical period’ theory is correct or not, it’s loads of fun to learn something new as an adult.

When you really want to, and you’re choosing yourself when and how you learn it.

If you’re busy, leave it for six months. Pick it up again. Leave it for five years! It doesn’t have to be about the speed at which you learn it. But the process, the fun.

So why, when of course I don’t have the same large numbers of children/financial limitations as schools, and I no longer believe that childhood ‘learning windows’ are particularly important, am I still thinking our learning needs to look like school?!

And no scheduled groups all week..

Going to some home ed groups can be helpful in making friends.

But instead of panicking and thinking for some reason the kids need to have LOADS of same age friends (like school!), I’ve finally got the message that for now they seem happy with one or two good ones. The big two also have online home ed friends.

If they seem like they’d like more, I can help them with opportunities to make more. If they want.

That’s a note to myself, by the way.

(Not going to investigate here the slightly odd idea that school is the best place for kids to be ‘socialised’..phew, that’s a relief..)

Seems that my belief that my kids must attend loads of groups stems from the two fears I always have running through my deschooling.

(note: deschooling is mostly for parents, I reckon, and is probably never finished!)

That unless what we’re doing resembles school in some way:

– Others will disapprove

And the good ole catastrophising

– I’m ruining my kids’ lives forever…!

I’m not saying we’ll never go to a group activity. This post is about us going to one! And the home ed groups we now choose to go to are really lovely.

Lovely (small) home ed group

But some also haven’t worked so well for us. It’s a relief, for all of us, that I’m on my way to working this particular deschooling issue through now.

And this one has been a real stickler!

The kids don’t HAVE to go, every day, all week to group activities, because of standards set by schools, and the bonkers fears in my head.

Got their whole lives to make friends and learn things.

Lovely stuff on our own

Further reading

When Socializing Isnt All It’s Cracked Up to Be by I’m Unschooled Yes I Can Write

Interview with Susan Cain on society’s bias towards extroverts

Great read for parents of non-sporty boys No, my son doesn’t play sports! Really, it’s ok.

Article examining the critical period hypothesis of learning.

The Temptations of Curriculum 

It’s happened again!

Every so often I stop seeing my childrens’ joy, focus and learning in everything they are already doing, and revert back to thinking they’re not ‘doing enough’.

My schooled mind eh.

As I often write about in this blog! The ‘shoulds’ start to come out to play. And amongst things I start feeling I ‘should’ be doing, is structuring my children’s days with some good ole National Curriculum. Follow the set courses for their ages in the individual subjects. Ideally at a set time on a set day, even?!

(Instead of talking about insurance, property value, property developing, architecture, arson, supermarkets, community facilities, graffiti, neglect… y’ get the picture)

But phew what a relief it would be for my schooly self to see that they were working their way through the course for their key stage.

I could feel secure in the knowledge that they were doing their learning in the culturally acceptable way. A way that there is written evidence for, that I can see and understand. And best of all, I could tell naysaying friends and relatives about it!

See, THIS is what they’re doing! Haha.

And when I say ‘naysaying friends and relatives’ I actually mean the voices in my own head. Mostly.

What it’s like in my head.

I have tried coercing my kids to undertake National Curriculum related learning, especially when we first began homeschooling.

In the beginning they liked some of the computer programmes, apps and courses I found for them. Some were the ones that operate like games, but stick in subject questions to be answered before you can progress to the next bit of the fun game.

Alongside these they were playing their own complex, computer sandbox games. Developing their own detailed worlds. Designing, planning, negotiating, buying, selling, playing, socialising. Without the ‘educational’ interruptions. After a while they just opted for those instead.

Of course they did!

Because despite the already lameness of a game that interrupts your play with educational stuff, they were just not interested in those subjects at that time. And even if they were, coercing anybody to undertake a set course you have decided they should take misses the point.

As humans we want to find out about the things that interest us in our own way.

Children are no different.

And at this point in history, with access to so many different types of information, we absolutely can.

We might read books, magazines, blogs, watch TV programmes, talk to people, Google, watch YouTube, visit places, listen to podcasts or radio programmes. Or we might take a course. Or just look at stuff. Anything really, that we find works for us.

The point is, we choose how, what and when to learn, and when we get the chance to do this we are focused, and enjoy it immensely.

Sometimes we are aware we’re learning. More often we are not. We’re in a state of intense concentration that has been described by Amy Spang in Life Learning Magazine as ‘flow’.

We’re just enjoying ourselves, basically!

Curriculum, that is, what someone else has chosen to include for us to study, when we should study it, and in the methods we should study it, takes away the personal, individual and motivated way of learning all humans are born with. It usually takes away the ‘flow’.

We end up finishing topics just to check the box and move onto the next one.

The move to secondary school is often where this standardised type of curriculum learning often solidifies into a meaningless chore, moving from subject to subject every hour.

Being stuck there, lots of children try to make the best of it. They try to please teachers and achieve the ‘right’ answers and grades, concluding that they like some subjects, and dislike/are no good at others.

And after all that, thirteen years of National Curriculum at school has not even fully prepared us for a so called ‘decent’ job.

Are we joking here? It’s only prepared us for the next level of education; the degree, or ‘proper’ training, that we then commence in order to be ready for a career.

Are there really thirteen years’ worth of set curriculum stuff to be learned BEFORE we even get to a college or a trainee position? On top of all the great stuff its possible to learn naturally, throughout our lives, from birth to 18?

I’m not saying that a class of 30+ school children with one teacher can learn six school years’ worth of arithmetic in twenty hours. Neither am I saying that every child is motivated to sit down and do twenty intensive hours of arithmetic study! I’m exploring the difference between school and unschooling here, and how it relates to thinking I need to coerce my children to complete curriculum.

Moving forward to the situation at age 18 and older.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that very few jobs require single degree subject knowledge in order to actually get the job done, we have come to a nonsensical place where we judge suitability for employment, and a person’s worth, with degrees.

I accept that to access certain careers, my children will need qualifications in certain subjects. But when they get to a stage where they have ideas about what they’d like to do, they can then choose to undertake those qualifications.

They may enjoy them, or they may see them as a necessary evil. But the point is they will be choosing what and when. At any time in their life! They wont have had years of being forced to study the National Curriculum, which is at best a guess of what we need to learn to live our lives competently, and what the majority of us will forget most of after leaving school, as outlined in this article by Will Richardson.

So, note to self. Please stop thinking about forcing, sneaking, coercing them to complete curriculum stuff now!

I really have no right to remove their chances to discover things in their own way.

To use up their vital energy and enthusiasm learning what a group of strangers have decided they should learn, for their age, this year. Which the group of strangers may then change next year.

I have faith in my children that they dont want to be incompetent in this life.

And as such, with our attention and help, learning is everywhere for them. In everything they do.

Maybe they’ll design their own curriculum as Caitlyn Scheel describes for Praxis. We’ll go on to support and facilitate them in choosing whatever courses and qualifications they choose, in their own time, if they wish.

“All I am saying is this…Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves. And we learned as children we could not be trusted”. John Holt.

Acknowledged, this is some hard to swallow stuff for those unfamiliar with unschooling.

I’m not trying to persuade others.

This blog is my childrens’ and my journey deschooling ourselves and trusting each other.

But there absolutely is a revolution happening in our culture, in terms of the way we see and treat children.

For more information, I recommend the courageous and thought-provoking writing about consent based education by Sophie Christophy, Happiness is here, Life Learning Magazine, Racheous, Wendy Priesnitz, and Carol Black.

Unschooling Panics Part 3: I wish my kids would read and write, not play on screens!

My children have been gaming on their computers for a few hours now.

I’m aware that I have started doing a bit of pacing about. Fretting.

I need to get them doing something ‘more constructive’ (what does that mean?) It must be damaging (why?). This is not learning (it is). They are not reading or writing (they are!)

That voice in my head is such a nag.

I’ll cut to the chase. I would just feel better if they were reading books. Even better if they were also writing about something! No more pacing and fretting. I would sit back and feel smug and satisfied. My work here is done, oh yes it is.

Since beginning unschooling, I’ve tried not to have this prejudice against anything with a screen. I’ve tried to view my kids’ screen activites with the same reverence I have for books and writing.

But just trying to make yourself feel differently never really works does it?

So its time for me to explore why I seem to have put reading, books, and writing on paper on a pedestal for my children, and disparage so called ‘screentime’.

So where have my fears about screens come from?

Only this morning there was yet another hand wringing article on breakfast news about screentime, saying amongst other things, it has been linked to slower learning and obesity. Clickbait articles doing the rounds on social media, using phrases such as ‘digital heroin’ also feed into my standard issue mother guilt.

Maybe I feel that somehow the electronic screen will melt my child’s brain or something equally unfounded and irrational!

I had a look into it. I found that studies showing links between screen use in children and negative outcomes are poorly designed. There is actually no evidence at all for this, as shown in this post by economist Emily Oster.

And not to be silly, but isn’t reading books often also all the things people identify as problematic about screentime?

It’s stationary, solitary, mostly indoors. Books provide escapism in a fantasy world. Reading can be ‘addictive’ and antisocial. Who wants to be interrupted when they’re reading?! It can also be physically damaging, causing eye strain or poor posture.

I still have this idea that ‘proper’ learning is only done with books and writing. My school years, along with our culture’s ‘book worship’, have well and truly hard-wired this into me. I cant help but blindly believe that my children must be wasting their time, unless I see them working through National Curriculum workbooks, their desks piled with books and bits of paper all in progress. Not computer screens with computer games!

But yet again, my schooly brain is coming up illogical.

In fact the opposite is true.

In spending so much time at school learning to write, and handwriting rather than typing most schoolwork, we may as well be teaching them to operate a spinning jenny. Handwriting is a wonderful skill, which many people find a pleasure to learn and practice. But it is hardly ever used now, apart from birthday cards and post it notes!

We’ve looked through those National Curriculum workbooks and textbooks, and boy are they dull and meaningless. Learning out of context, without interest or motivation. As unschoolers, just what we really dont want.

In comparison, for example, because they want to, Anabel is learning some Russian through one of her games at the moment, and Andrew is engineering in one of his. And once I take a genuine interest, asking them what they are doing, letting them show me the things they are excited about, and proud of, I see how much they are doing within their games.

They are continually reading and writing. Well, typing at speed on a keyboard. They are designing anything and everything. Creating characters and story telling. Strategising and problem solving. Socialising, and group working.

“Gaming takes a lot of effort. A person who doesn’t want to put effort into things, wouldn’t be at all interested in playing video games. Video games are for people who really enjoy solving challenging problems, putting to use their out-of-the-box thinking and long term focus to help them achieve their goals. People don’t seem to appreciate that”.

Karen James,

But most importantly, by working freely, making choice after choice in their own worlds, they are discovering who they are. For me, there’s nothing they could be doing more important than this.

We are lucky to live in a time where ANYTHING can be learned at ANYTIME in their lives. What’s the rush to get everything by age 21?

A degree and the once in a lifetime funding it needs is in most cases wasted on an 18 year old!

What’s fundamental to me now, and the whole reason we are home schooling, is that they don’t have their energy and enthusiasm sapped by being force-fed a distant group of authority figures’ learning choices, all day and evening, five days a week.

As an aside, I wonder why we home educating mums don’t proudly post photos of our children playing computer games to the same extent we post photos of them reading, visiting museums, building lego or frolicking in nature?! I’ve posted a couple, but it’s hard to do. I’m just so bloomin grateful when they’re den-building in the woods I want to show it off! However, my gaming posts have been my most related-to posts. I guess a lot of us are in the same boat worrying about too much ‘screentime’, and it’s good when someone normalises it as (a big) part of home education.

Perhaps our culture’s reverence for books, and disparaging of screens, is confusing to children.

They are surrounded by adults, at work and play, on smartphones, laptops, ipads and consoles.

We limit their ‘screentime’ with pursed lips and worry, but go gooey-eyed with approval when we see them reading books. They must wonder why we parents talk negatively about all this electronic stuff that sparkles with information and fun, whilst using it all the time. It must make little sense to them.

As a culture, however, it is understandable we hold books in such high regard. Years ago, the printed word was revelatory as a way to communicate with large numbers of people. Access to books and print was utterly transformative. Learning through books could be a way out of poverty. Books were entertainment, art, knowledge. Truly amazing. And not everyone had this access, so books were extremely precious.

It would be great to help my children understand this. I think this would help them value books as the incredible medium they are.

A great thing to be acknowledged, to myself mostly, is that we live in a different time now, my children are not going to be living in my past. There are many ways now to access information, entertainment and art.

Books are just one, wonderful way.

But back to electronic screens.

It seems as though maybe I am somehow afraid of technology for my children. An irrational fear, not based on anything scientific.

“If I let them, they will play on them all the time…”

Well sometimes they will. And that’s a fantastic thing, given what they learn from them.

They may especially want to play all the time if they are used to having their use of them restricted.

Through their devices, my children can quickly and easily access a great deal of information. They can create and explore their own worlds in huge depth, in ways I don’t understand. So maybe I fear a loss of control over them. That they will overtake me. Leave me behind, with less power.

When I see them reading books, or writing on paper, I feel it’s all a known quantity. I feel I know what they are doing. I can see it quickly. I can also show others whom I fear may be critical of our unschooling. So it seems all this maybe somewhat about my need to control, and to justify what I’m doing to others!

Hmm, think I might be getting somewhere now…

Definitely need to curb my micromanaging!

Thanks Homeschool Snark. I love your Batslaps.

I also feel strongly, as an aside, that our culture’s ‘book worship’ also means that reading at school is pushed onto kids when they are not ready.

Although much teaching in schools is now delivered in different, more experiential ways, children are still forced to read books they are not interested in, at times when they don’t feel like reading. They are assessed and critiqued, moving through ‘levels’. Thinking about this matters, because some children’s reading survives this, but some doesn’t. Maybe they’re the kids who grow up to be adults who think reading isn’t ‘for them’, and this is a shame. I hope my kids, now they’re out of school, have access to the books they want, that they can read when they want.

A note about the direness of school reading:

With the world’s bookshelves loaded with fascinating and inspired books, the very manna sent down from Heaven to feed your souls, you are forced to read a hideous imposture called a school book, written by a man who cannot write: A book from which no human can learn anything: a book which, though you may decipher it, you cannot in any fruitful sense read, though the enforced attempt will make you loathe the sight of a book all the rest of your life”

George Bernard Shaw

Concluding, I must make it clear that I’m not trying to put anyone off books. I live for reading. Always have, ever since I can remember.

I would love for my children to be able to gain the same pleasure, find the same refuge I have, within books.

But they are not me. They live in a different time.

It’s unhelpful and confusing to them, for me to be inexplicably valuing books over their electronic activities, for which I have now worked out there is plenty of fabulousness, and zero negative evidence, for my childrens’ education.

Having had this exploration, maybe I have cleared the way a little in my mind, that I can now move beyond my blind book worship and screen prejudices.

Abandon that negative, meaningless term, ‘screentime’.

Go forth to meet my kids’ passions for gaming, apps, and tv with equal joy to books and writing!

With as little fretting, restriction, and disapproval I can manage?! Certainly going to try.

Further Reading:

Sandra Dodd’s website has further reading on book worship and screentime.

Jane McGonigal’s books, Reality is Broken, and Super Better, argue how the expert collaborating and problem solving skills of gamers could be used to resolve real world issues such as oil supply, poverty, and climate change, and how ‘living gamefully’, could help us all lead happier, healthier, more engaged lives.

Many fantastic articles, detailing the incredible benefits of computer games for children, compiled here by Unschooling Mom2Mom.

10 Things That Are Worse For Your Child Than Playing on the iPad by Lulastic and the Hippyshake, is a wonderful, put your mind at rest read.

Unschooling Panics Pt.2. What about socialisation?

A few things I’ve been asked recently, are how will my children learn to be with people they don’t like, how will they learn to negotiate, and how will they learn to deal with bullies, if they’re not at school?   

I guess this falls into the idea of ‘socialisation’,  which is never far away when people ask about home education. I’ve seen my childrens’ inner core of self confidence, their team-working and negotiating skills absolutely bloom in the past eighteen months. But I know I had all the same socialisation concerns about homeschooling until a couple of years ago. Without ever having thought about it a great deal, I had a vague, abstract notion that home educated children would be on their own all day, being lonely, and socially awkward. Let’s say ‘wierd’!

One of my fears used to be that my children would be different, or wouldn’t fit in. Probably what I meant by wierd in this context. But ironically, was that fear in fact generated from my school days in the first place? Where I remember the pressure to conform, and avoid humiliation was paramount? I feel now that being unique is a fantastic, highly desirable thing to be in life, in a career, and in making friends. So many situations call for people who stand out, have the courage to be different, are comfortable within themselves, and are brave enough to go against the mainstream. Isn’t this in fact what most people want for their kids? But many of us will remember it was a hard thing to be at school.

But back to the negotiating, and the dealing with bullies and difficult people thing.  I wonder where we, myself included, got the idea that years in a room with the same thirty children the same age, was the only way for children to become ‘socialised’? And what about what children do the rest of the week? No socialisation there?  If we take time to think about it, there are numerous better ways to provide children with social learning than children all the same age in an unvaried, indoor environment. It tends to create hierarchies full of pettiness and peer pressure, that children are ill-equipped developmentally to deal with, particularly in their younger years. And essentially, they are trapped.

And as an aside, no one should have to put up with abuse or bullying, should they?  Schools have anti-bullying stances and policies, which are, however, often ineffective in the face of the psychological tactics of the bully. It’s pretty much sink or swim, often without either the development, or the life experience a child needs to cope. A school child cannot escape their tormentor(s), day in, day out, year after year. Any parent who has had to deal with their child being bullied knows that it is luck of the draw as to who gets bullied, and that despite school policies, there can be pretty much no answer to it. It is a harrowing, scarring experience, often with no end until the child leaves school. At the extreme end of this issue, school children have taken their own lives due to bullying. And is all this what we think of as ‘learning to deal with bullies’? 

Home educated kids attend different groups, classes, and trips, with different children of all ages, along with many different adults. They also have playdates, social meet ups, and online friendship groups. Plus of course their general interactions out in the real world. Because of the variety of groups and activities, and the opportunity to follow a child’s natural learning styles and interests, the situations are less claustrophobic, and emotions are less intense, than at school. However, homeschoolers certainly encounter plenty of difficult characters and situations. And they are highly motivated to work through any problems, as they have chosen the group or activity themselves, and don’t want to have to walk away. But, more healthily, and like in the real, adult world, they are free to ultimately leave a toxic situation. 

When it comes to learning, are all of us able to learn well when surrounded by thirty other people, coughing, sniffing, moving, talking? Do all of us thrive socially, and in terms of our wellbeing, when continually surrounded by a lot of people? Well some of us do, and some don’t. For some of us it’s pretty detrimental.  

Despite the above I’m not actually trying to do down the school social experience here! Clearly many children have rich social lives at school, gain many social skills, and make lifelong friends. And it is felt to be the only viable option for the majority of parents in our country. Its just that the balance of thought on home educated socialisation is overwhelmingly negative. By pointing out all the social opportunities home schoolers do have, and that as a provider of social experience, school life certainly has its flaws, maybe this can be evened up a little. And considering that even if being homeschooled does make children, when compared to the mainstream, a little different or unusual, without the peer pressure of the school environment they are often able to embrace this and blossom within it. Knowing who they are in this way, will be a positive thing for the life ahead of them. 

A couple of unschooling blogs who put it all so much better than me: I’m Unschooled Yes I Can Write and Girls Unschooled.

Unschooling Panics Pt. 1. Where is all this heading in the long run?!

I’m letting my kids decide what they wish to pursue. I’m not coercing or forcing them to learn anything. So what’s to become of them long term if they haven’t had years and years of maths? How am I not panicking that they’ll become unhappy and unsucessful if they don’t learn about oxbow lakes, square roots, and past participles? I am! Of course I’m panicking! 

When the kids have spent the day in their pyjamas playing Minecraft, my schooled mind wants to dismiss what an incredible learning experience they’re having as worthless, because they’re not sitting at a desk and writing. And then spiral into a panic about where they will go and what they will do when they’re older, to get qualified and experienced, ready for the adult world. 

I guess qualifications are at the forefront of mine and most parents’ minds as the gateway to interesting and fulfilling careers. However, this isn’t necessarily always the case, as more companies remove a degree as a prerequisite, and there is a continuing debate as to the value of academic qualifications. Its also a fact that any parents, unschooling or not, have to accept their adult child’s choices in life, including if they reject the exams system and take a different path. Its also worth pointing out that qualifications can be taken at any time in my kids’ lives. Throughout their lives. In fact, rushing to take everything by the age of 21 is probably pretty unwise. People now often have several careers in their lives, and there is only one chance to have a degree financed by a low cost loan. It would make more sense to use this later in life, when we have more clarity about what we want to do.  As an unschooling mum, however, its my role to provide my kids with options, information, and suggestions. So I need the possibilities for unschooled kids laid out. Then my logical mind can reassure my school-taught mind! NB. A lot of this post also applies to all home educated children, not just unschoolers.

GCSEs and A Levels

Subjects are studied repetitively for years at primary school and secondary school, whether children like them or not. Subject matter that can be learned with no prior knowledge, by a motivated unschooled child at age 14, 15, 16. There is often a period of a few years, around, say, 9 to 14, where it seems unschooled kids don’t know what school kids know. But because they choose themselves what to research, and what interests to follow and skills to master, and because they can choose at what age, and how long to take to study, they are likely to, in the end, have a deep understanding and mastery of the subjects they do choose. And instead of being burned out, have a positive learning ethic for life.

Unschooling kids can learn at their own pace, instead of, as they do in secondary school, moving subject and room every hour. Does anybody find it easy to focus and learn knowing a loud bell is going to ring in 60, 30, 10 minutes, telling us to move on to our next room/group of people/subject? And rather than five subjects a day at school, and eight to ten GCSEs in total, unschooled kids have the option of starting younger and spreading exams out over several years. They also need not be put off a subject they may otherwise enjoy, by teachers they either dislike, or who’s teaching style they cant connect with, or by other disruptive students. 

GCSEs can be taken:

At home via online course/textbooks and past papers/join a home ed subject group/with a tutor/join a free ‘mooc’ (massive online open course), and then take the GCSEs at a local exam centre.

At college at age 16, either on their own or alongside another courses, such as GNVQS and BTECS. 

Or they can work their way up to degree level missing out GCSEs and A Levels. Start the BTEC qualifications of their choice at college at either level 1 or 2, depending on their ability, and work up. Or take 60 points’ worth of Open University courses, or take an Access to Higher Education course at 19+.

As an alternative to formal qualifications, unschooled kids may take other online and college courses. They may undertake an apprenticeship or work experience, or take a coding bootcamp, or do volunteering.  This link contains a lot of articles about the value of work experience, apprenticeships, and short specific courses over higher education.

Despite what I research and believe about unschooling, the school way of learning can’t help but be hardwired into my mind. So I do have a mild panic every so often. I have to say, though, after a year of doing this, it’s happening less and less. I’m still pretty new to unschooling, so no doubt I’ll change my mind about lots of things as time goes on, just like we all do. But I’ll add to this post as I discover more. And it’ll be good to have it to refer to it when I have my crises of confidence! 

A Year On. What’s Been Fantastic

Many of the things that have been fantastic in the past year, the ones that I can think of straight away, are the things that, since leaving school, there have been no more of.

Obviously, the first one has to be no more school run! No more unhappy hour getting them up and ready for school. Waking them up, chivvying them to get dressed, have breakfast, get bags ready, check homework, pack lunch.


No more homework. Was never sure why we required small children to be indoors in a room at school all day, and then gave them another 30 mins of homework a night. I understand purpose of primary school homework to see if they have understood what’s been taught, and no problem if they get it wrong, and to only be ten minutes a night. But somehow it never works out that way.  For years tears and fear of failure, until they seemed to just resign themselves & get it done. They learn there’s no other choice.

No more being forced to read dull school reading books every single day. Having to read aloud when it is required of you, and have your reading ability critiqued. In however kind a way it’s done, who wants that? I believe people learn to love reading in spite of school, not because of it.

No more learning things chosen by someone else, that have no meaning to you. For example maybe at some point in their lives my children will want to learn about the Mayan civilisation. But they would like to choose if and when, rather than have to do it when someone else decides. Then they will make it mean something.


Being able to enjoy learning about something without having to write reams about it. There’s plenty of time for this for my children at an older age. When they have chosen the areas they wish to study in, understand about exams and qualifications, and the requirements of work. The point for small children is surely to nurture their enthusiasm by doing, rather than spoiling it with dull questions and writing. Now they learn by just get stuck into things practically, having discussions, watching programmes, using apps and websites, taking workshops, visiting places, and following where their interest takes them. And writing if they want to, but they no longer need to be put off learning something by the thought of having to write about it, to achieve someone else’s learning objectives. 


No more massive influence from peers and older kids at school. The pettiness, hierarchies, bullying, shaming and scorn that is the result socially, when 30 children of the same age are forced together in a room all day every day, being told to listen, not talk, and sit still. Then let outside for two short breaks, with lining up and not talking at either end of the breaks. No matter what they were in the middle of, so often things can’t be resolved or played out. Neither of them are now primarily concerned with the ever present strain of ensuring they fit in, and don’t humiliate themselves, as they did at school.

Being able to socialise with who they want, when they want. Realising it’s quality not quantity with friendships, and nuturing and developing those friendships. These friendships from their school days, from their life outside school, and the home ed community, have deepened over the past year, without the pressure and pettiness of the school environment. All three of them see friends several times a weeks, plus skype and facetime socialising most days. It’s been a wonderful to witness Anabel, in particular, blossom socially.

Being able to visit museums, galleries, parks and attractions whenever we like is a joy. Going out with my three is just about my favourite thing to do in the whole world. No schedule. We go where we want, and spend as long as we like there. In additon we get great rates at attractions with all the amazing trips organised by our local home ed community, often with educational workshops too. And no crowds and queues. The places we have been this past year have been incredibly enjoyable.

image image image

For me personally, becoming interested in so much more, has been a sort of awakening. Like the world has opened up, full of possibility. And to see it happening to the children too, it goes without saying, has been extremely exciting. They ask questions all the time, like they did when they were younger, and we have some great discussions. Because of the questions we ask, and what we notice and discuss, everything we do, including, or especially, the mundane, has the potential to turn into something interesting. 


I’ve got to add at the end of all this, that despite all the above I have no complaint against individual schools. We have encountered wonderful people who work so hard within them. They are doing what is required of them, under pressure from every direction. And I cant imagine, at this moment, another way to mass educate people, within a budget. For me, the system itself is just unworkable. Designed in a time when few people had books in their homes, and authority, rules and discipline were unquestionable. We live in a different time now. We all have so much knowledge at our fingertips. The idea of authority figures deciding what should be learned, trying to teach it to 30+ children at a time, with fewer and fewer resources has to have its days numbered.

There is so much more that’s been fantastic this past year. Too much to list here at this moment in time, although I will keep adding to this post I think.


A Year On. Some of What’s Been Difficult.

We’ve been home educating for over a year. I havent blogged in all that time, but I think I’m ready to reflect a little. I’ll start with this post about some of what’s been hard.


The most difficult thing has been the effort required to go against both the mainstream, and the hard wiring within me, of the school way of doing things. It doesn’t come easy. I was at school for thirteen years. My children were at school for seven.

So I worry are we doing the right thing, have I made a catastrophic mistake? A bolt of anxiety through my gut.

Are we ‘doing enough’? Seeing other home educators’ children working through curriculum, working in a structure, with timetabled sessions. We don’t work like that, and if we did I think we may as well send them back to school. But I can’t help but feel inadequate and panicked when I see this in the home ed community.

The general, constant worry of it all.

Going against the mainstream means walking through life knowing that most people we know, and meet, literally have NO IDEA AT ALL of what unschooling is. We are faced with  misconceptions and daft comments, from people who have probably thought about home education for about 3 minutes their entire lives.

The amount of hours homeschooling research and admin takes, has taken some adjusting to. Just this aspect takes a couple of hours a day. Reading articles and books, researching subjects and resources, booking activities and classes. Making sure I feel on top of what’s available that I can offer to my children. Knowing all higher and further educational options. Organising playdates for them all several times a week. But it’s enjoyable and fulfilling. I love the learning aspect of it all for me. It’s a new way of life, devouring knowledge and being interested in everything.

There’s been plenty of arguing and bickering over the past year, and that’s wearing. They are in close proximity to each other for many hours every day, which can be difficult for anybody. I think they do very well as such. Their relationship has in fact improved enormously since they were at school. Despite the bickering, they are able to cooperate, show kindness, plus have a laugh together. Which is so wonderful. Not actually sure now, because of how their relationship and their maturity has improved, whether this point belongs in this post, or the post of ‘things that have been fantastic’!

A year on, these things have been hard, but as my confidence and knowledge grows, they’re getting easier.


Yep. I do need those Real Housewives though.

Getting ready to lay down what’s been most JOYOUS! in our first year. Oh yes!!