video games

Stuff We Like :: 6.3.16

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Suzanne's back with lots of geeky goodness in this week's edition of Stuff We Like. 

Around the Web

JANE MY LITTLE SUNBEAM WHERE ARE YOU I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE: I know Amy already talked about how we’re going into mourning as The Toast closes its doors (fortunately, the archives will remain, so that we can catch up on Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter among other things), but I thought I’d take this opportunity to make sure that we’ve all got our copies of Texts From Jane Eyre by Toast co-founder Mallory Ortberg—we do, right? Yes? Excellent.

And while it doesn’t make up for the loss of The Toast, Mallory’s fellow co-founder, Nicole Cliffe, can now be found at The Guardian, writing about the Romanovs and Erma Bombeck (not together, but that would be an awesome fanfic).

In happier news, FILM CRIT HULK, my very favorite all-caps superhero/film critic has made a triumphant return to essay writing after a too-long absence (though I respectfully disagree with his take on Captain America: Civil War).

READER, I &*^%$ING MARRIED HIM: When Storytime Blows Kids’ Minds: The Power of the Plot Twist


at home | school | life

on the website: Amy and I recorded the first episode of The Podcast with Suzanne and Amy this week. Look for it next week!

on the blog: Apparently Amy’s obsessing over planning high school pretty much everywhere. (It’s going to be fine!)

on instagram: A little first-day-of-homeschooling nostalgia

in the classroom: There’s still time to sign up for my Hamilton class (and other great summer classes, too)!


Reading List

Obnoxious and Disliked: Although I adore Hamilton and have new love and appreciation for the man himself, my very favorite founding father is still John Adams, so I’m thoroughly enjoying David McCullough’s John Adams (yeah, I’m just now getting around to reading it — I’ve been busy!)

Just got The Mind Readers, the last Campion mystery written by his creator, Margery Allingham (though the series continues with books written by her husband); Allingham created Campion as a spoof of his contemporary, Lord Peter Wimsey, and he indeed comes off as Wimsey crossed with Bertie Wooster at the beginning, though by now I’ve followed him through several decades and he’s his own man, surrounded by an entertaining group of family members, old friends, and various detective inspectors, some of whom at least I’m hoping will show up in this final book

My current fantasy pick is A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, sequel to the original and entertaining A Darker Shade of Magic, about a magician who can travel across worlds from Red London (his home) to Grey London (our London, during the Regency period) and White London (where evil magic runs rampant)

I’m reading Jane Eyre with the 13-year-old, which gives me another excuse to link to The Toast, with The Best Part of Jane Eyre Is Guessing What the French Is (for the record, as an non-speaker of that language, my read-aloud approach has been “...and then Adele speaks in French for a bit.”)


At Home

Lots of video games in my house for summer break: Right now the 18-year-old and the 11-year-old (not to mention the 47-year-old) are obsessively playing Uncharted 4, which is convenient for me, the non-gamer, as Uncharted is my favorite video game to watch and I can’t wait to see what happens to explorer/thief/treasure-hunter Nathan Drake (who should totally be played by Nathan Fillion in the live action adaptation) in this, the final chapter of the series

Haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but the family is also looking forward to some tabletop gaming with Ghostbusters: The Board Game, a cooperative game (my favorite kind!) with some of the cutest pieces I’ve ever seen, including a very large (comparatively) Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man

And I know it’s a week away, but don’t forget to set your DVRs for the 2016 Tony Awards on June 12th, where we’re sure to get at least one freestyle-rap acceptance speech from Hamilton-creator Lin-Manuel Miranda!

Don’t Cut the Screen Time—Just Make Sure It Counts

Love this! Great read about homeschooling and screen time: "Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children."

During those idle moments when I’m too tired to think, I start surfing the web. Without fail, I’ll usually come across some kind of article warning parents about the perils of screen time for their children. I’ve read that screen time can hurt children’s social skills, can cause obesity, or it hurts children’s brain development. I’m not arguing that these points are completely false. Too much screen time isn’t good for anybody, but I’m growing wary of these articles. How about an article telling parents to trust their instincts when it comes to screen time?  How about an article saying that if your life is well balanced with many different activities throughout the day, including screen time, you don’t have to worry so much?

If your child begins to misbehave, or you notice other negative consequences from letting your child play digital games or watch television, then by all means, create the boundaries you feel they need.  For me, I believe screen time should complement an already busy day. We watch a lot of documentaries and entertaining shows together as a family (about 30 minutes each at lunch and dinner), and as we watch, we laugh, pose questions, and sometimes get inspired to try new things. You might be surprised that we allow this during mealtimes, but my husband and I very much consider our program-watching part of our home education. It’s yielded too many good things to consider it otherwise.

In the late afternoon, the boys have about 1-1.5 hour to play digital games. After this, they either go outside to play if the weather is nice, or they watch some television, if the weather isn’t nice. At night right before bed, they also watch a couple of programs.

When I talk to other mothers and learn about their screen time allowances, I realize we let our kids watch and play more than most parents allow. But I also hear a lot about children’s misbehavior…or perceived misbehavior. They cry and fight because they want more television. They get lost in a video game and won’t stop, etc. I don’t know if it’s my boy’s personalities or the way we deal with screen time, but my boys never ask for more screen time or give us other trouble about it. At the most, I sometimes have a hard time getting them to quit a game, but it rarely escalates. I always allow them to reach a natural stopping point, which seems fair to me, so they are usually fine when it’s quitting time. 

Speaking of quitting time, we’ve kept the same schedule, which evolved naturally when my eldest was very young, for all these years. Our mornings and early afternoons are steeped in activity…lessons, playtime, time to create or run around outside. The late afternoons and evenings contain most of the screen time, though we often go outside for a while during this time too, and my eldest practices piano after dinner as well. Children crave routine, and I think this schedule has made it easier for them. They know exactly when it’s time to watch a little TV or play their games. They also know when it’s time to work on lessons, play outside or inside, make some art, practice piano, eat a meal, clean up, cuddle with mom, visit with a friend, take a family day trip, or do some other activity.

As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time.

One thing I have noticed with my boys is that the time they get to play a game or watch TV is extremely important to them. It’s the thing they look forward to most in their day. I think a lot of parents (including myself) can feel disappointed when a child values screen time over, say, playing outdoors, reading a book, or any other number of activities we like to consider “productive.” But I’ve come to see that my boy’s screen time is very productive. Not only are they learning skills through the games they are playing (or the programming we allow them to watch), they are interacting, collaborating, and having discussions with one another. When they aren’t playing, they often discuss their games with each other, planning strategy ahead of time. 

As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time. Also as their mom, I want to make sure they are participating in a variety of activities, so I consider it my job to facilitate time for reading, playing outside, going hiking, going on a field trip, time with friends, or even science experiments… all things my boys love to do, but they aren’t necessarily going to make plans to do these things like they would plan on building a zoo in Minecraft together.

Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children. Don’t let the media (or even me) make you feel bad for what works for your family.

So What If All They Do Is Play Video Games? A Homeschool Case Study on the Potential Benefits of Unlimited Screen Time


My son spends a lot of time on his computer. And when I say a lot, I mean hours… and hours… and sometimes even more hours at a time. Experts would more than likely advise that he is spending way more time than is healthy playing video games, watching YouTube programs, and being in front of a screen, in general. I’ve learned to blow those experts off, for the most part. I know that they mean well, but I’m certainly not convinced that the problems they claim exist by letting a kid have too much screen time, are actually problems when that kid is given unlimited access (without judgment) to the computers/game consoles/electronic gadgetry of his choice.

I actually contemplated a technology-free lifestyle when my kids were little. I liked the idea of all-natural toys, a focus on outdoor play, and reliance on imagination over television and electronics. There was one big obstacle, however. My husband and I both really enjoy activities that involve electronics, screens of many kinds, and new-fangled gadgets, in general.

So our family ended up taking a little different path. My desk soon had two computers. My kids had the option of working alongside me, or going out to play, or doing any of the myriad of activities they spent their time doing, pretty much any time and for as long as they wished. My kids reached for a keyboard and a mouse probably as often as they reached for building blocks and crayons.

It wasn’t a perfect system. I’d be lying if I claimed I never worried about it, but any effort I ever made to control screen time only served to make it a more valuable commodity. If I placed time limits, for instance, I could be sure that each kid demanded they receive their maximized time each day. With no limits, they might spend a lot of time playing a video game, but they might also go for days without spending any time on the computer at all.

Another approach? Join in their screen-time games.

As my children became savvy consumers of video games, websites, movies, and the endless varieties of media now out there, I came to rely on them to educate me. Instead of worrying that they were spending countless hours playing a Harry Potter video game, I sat down with them and had them teach me how to play. I was actually quite bad at it, but my son, at six, was satisfied with my skill level. The girls tackled the game together, making it all the way to the end (where they conquered Voldemort – yay!) weeks before my son and I got there.  And yes, I found myself obsessing over the game, and together we spent hours playing, side-by-side—learning, improving, and having tons of fun together.

My son and I still reminisce about that Harry Potter video game. It was a good time of bonding for us. And he went on to spend several years where his interest in all things computer/video waxed and waned as often as the moon in the sky.  There was summer when he was nine when my son spent hours, day after day, baking bread. Weird, I know, but he did it. And I gained ten pounds because, honestly, he soon made bread better than anyone else in the family.

The idea of spending each hour of a day focusing on a new and different subject is as foreign to my son as having to ask permission to go to the bathroom. He totally gets the state of flow, and I have learned to measure his subject interest by weeks and months rather than worrying about it moment to moment.

When he plugged in to his most recent video game/computer habit, about three years ago now, I was under the assumption that it would last for a season and then he’d move on to something else, as had been his pattern. His attention span is getting longer, however.

We saw a level of commitment to computer games that I had not imagined possible. He was playing them from beginning to end. He began researching the new games, and following the industry the way I might follow the local news or developments affecting Kansas farmers markets (of which I am a manager). He began writing reviews of his own experiences playing games and he experimented with recording his own video game playing YouTube channel.

My son’s interest grew into a desire to create, and so he forayed into programming. His computer, for which he saved his own money and purchased by unassembled pieces, he built from the motherboard up. It has become a tool for his life that goes well beyond the video game realm. Via an online program, he now works on learning Italian every day. His favorite games are on the subject of nation-building and he spends a considerable amount of time now reading the actual histories of the places and people he encounters in these games. He puts both my husband and I to shame when it comes to knowledge of world geography.  He knows the chronological order of dynasties and dictators, world leaders and world wars. The historical and geographical subjects he is fluent in at the age of 14 are far beyond anything I encountered even in college.

It’s true, my son spends a lot of time on his computer, and I can’t imagine, at this point, how much damage I might have done had I insisted on only one hour, only once a day…

And just when I began to worry that he wasn’t seeing enough (literal) light of day, he picked up a bicycling habit to get himself around town and an O’Dark-thirty workout routine that includes sit-ups, push-ups, and timed aerobic exercise. (There may be a girl influencing things here, but I’m going to remain happy in my denial. I’m not prepared to write that essay, just yet.)

It’s true, my son spends a lot of time on his computer, and I can’t imagine, at this point, how much damage I might have done had I insisted on only one hour, only once a day…

Can kids be trusted to moderate their own time, even when that time involves screens and electronics? Do we have the same worry when they dive headlong into books? Do we obsess if they spend hours outdoors, watching ants crawl across the garden gate or collecting sticks to build a fort?

I think my son is evidence that children can be trusted to choose their own screen time, and to indulge in it when and how they please. It doesn’t mean that they will 100-percent make wise choices, or that they’ll always be drawn toward studying subjects we immediately recognize and value as adults.

But if we are going to trust them, we have to trust them all the way. Trust and find the balance, but don’t sit in judgment about time wasted. If all you can see is time wasted playing a video game, force yourself to look a little closer. They need our engagement, as well as our permission to engage. They need us to believe that even though it may be okay to prod them in another direction for a while; it is also okay to follow their lead. Our doubts, our worries, are only going to impede the natural flow of things.

I haven’t done it perfectly. I’ve let the experts and their advice get in the way more times than I care to count. But I’m here to tell you, that even if they do play video games all day, it is not the end of the world. It’s just the beginning, most likely. Perhaps a world you don’t understand or have little experience in, but it’s a valid world to be in, nonetheless.