Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Unschooling Tools : Television

 First I should make clear that whenever I mention "television" in our days, I am referring to the television.  And things that we view through that machine.  (For this post, I also may say 'television', and mean all video forms.)

Okay, then.  :)

In my email inbox the other day, there was an email called "Five Ideas For Limiting Screen Time", or something like that.  ' Course, I had to go see what it said.  :)
One of the ideas was to have children "earn" screen time.  For every whatever they did, they got a point for whatever they like--computer, ds, television, etc., a half hour chunk of it per point.
I thought "Oh my word.  You don't want your children to watch television (or having screen-time), so you're making it a prize worth winning? Like a very special treat?"  Uuummm.... huh.  I really don't understand how that's going to work (to de-value it).

We don't have three hundred channels, in our house. 
First of all, we're not willing to pay for it (much rather buy games and art supplies and have gas money to go adventuring), secondly, we're just not interested in spending our time watching commercials (so annoying), and thirdly, who needs it?  Between Netflix and the computers, we can watch any video under the sun.  Or request the dvd from netflix.

So.  Tv in our house.

Giant (to us) tellie downstairs in the rumpus room for the wiiheehee.
Upstairs in the livingroom we have Pbs, Discovery, and History.  I think that's about it.  Those are the only ones that are ever on, anyway.  And the Roku for Netflix is there, and a dvd/vcr player.
We have loads of vcr tapes.  (I began collecting them long before I had my children, and they're still around.)
We have a few dozen dvd's.
We have just recently put a small tv in Trevelyn's bedroom with another dvd player, as he has started sleeping by himself (!!!) and likes the light and to fall asleep to dinosaur documentaries at night.
So it's a tv friendly house.
And the tv is often on.  But not all that often watched.

Television isn't a prize, in our home, and it isn't looked upon with derision, either. 
No one has to earn it, no one is ever told 'No', no one is told what to watch... and no one spends all of their time only a couple of feet from it.  (Or even hardly any time in front of it, really.)
It's just a medium.
A tool.
A tool for learning about history.
A tool for seeing prehistory in action.
A tool for watching animals in the rain forest that we might not ever get to see and discover for ourselves.
And sometimes it's a tool for laughing at our silly, ridiculous, funny society.

One of the most common fears expressed by parents when they contemplate unschooling, is "my children would just watch tv (or play video games) all day!"
No, they probably wouldn't.
(To my mind, that's like saying 'Homeschoolers get no socialization."  Ridiculous.)
Unschooling is about offering up the whole world to your children (as much of it as you possibly can)... and when children are offered many amazing opportunities and flavors, they don't shun things that fascinate them or new and interesting things.  They may have preferences, and will assuredly have favorites (we all do), but they won't say "no" to things that excite them or feed their passion.
So that's what an unschooling parent does....we find many varieties and textures of soul food.

Sometimes that means television.

In our house, television looks like Magic School Bus.
And dinosaur documentaries.
It looks like skiing movies (video/documentaries) for Eric,
and Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, and How the Universe Works for me.
It looks like Martha Speaks and Wild Kratts for Madeleine,
and All Things Animals for Trevelyn.

Many wonderful things can be discovered and learned through the television (et al).
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy
  • America: The Story of Us
  • Myth Busters
  • How Stuff Works
  • How It's Made
  • Nova
  • How the Universe Works
  • Magic School Bus (check on youtube)
  • Rube Goldberg projects
  • Imax films
  • Blue Planet
  • Liberty's Kids
  • Shakespeare Animated Tales
  • National Geographic videos
  • Discovery videos
  • BBC videos
  • animal webcams
  • Nature
  • dancing (all different kinds of dancing on youtube!)
  • Walking With: Cavemen, Dinosaurs, Prehistoric Beasts, Monsters
  • documentaries about Egypt, evolution, the Titanic, ants, carnivorous plants, artists, humanity, space, prehistory, animals, Lewis and Clark, origami,  farming, religion...
All of these things are things we are interested in, and not many of them are things we could learn practically without television.
Certainly I'm not saying that we couldn't do it (unschool) without its aid.
We can unschool without any particular tool.
But this one is just one of many useful and practical things.  Like paper.  And rope.  And a vehicle to travel in.
Useful like a boxful of musical instruments, a stack of games, or an especially fine stick.

It's a tool that has connections to just about everything that's interesting.
In our family, it works to sometimes inspire an idea, sometimes make us laugh, sometimes gift us with greater knowledge, and often to show us the beauty in this world.

We don't say 'No' to those things.  We like "Yes!!" much, much better.

*       *       *

This post is part of the Unschooling Tools series.
Other posts are Unschooling Tools : Games
Unschooling Tools : Math Play
  Unschooling Tools : For Creativity
Unschooling Tools : For Reading


  1. I love this post!!!!

    You went where I didn't and know what I'm glad you did!!!!

  2. Great post!

  3. We like Yes! much better, too! Well said, Stephanie.

  4. Thank you Stephanie. This is pretty much our attitude about TV around here too (so different from when I first began this parenting journey).

    "It's just a medium.
    A tool.
    A tool for learning about history.
    A tool for seeing prehistory in action.
    A tool for watching animals in the rain forest that we might not ever get to see and discover for ourselves.
    And sometimes it's a tool for laughing at our silly, ridiculous, funny society. "


  5. Hooray! a sensible vision of the television, so refreshing to discover such a balanced perspective on it...but I wouldn't expect anything less from you : )
    our viewing favourites are different here - of course as we are in the UK - but we watch daily doses of dancing, enjoy animal documentaries (usually in small drips as S is still only 4 and 10 minutes is usually enough), and she watches the Muppets, Charlie & Lola and Top Cat when the mood takes her.

  6. I do limit television, but my girlies' favorites on the odd afternoons when they do watch are Chased by Dinosaurs (for both), anything evolution-related (the bigger one), and anything princess or ballet-related (the littler one). On Family Movie Nights we often watch a documentary, because it's the only thing everybody can agree on!

  7. We have recently started watching documentary's and we love them. We don't have cable, so the only thing we watch on our t.v. is Netflix and DVD's. Mostly when Emma watches t.v. its PBS on her computer.

  8. Yes, love this. I have made the same comment myself about limiting screen time by offering a reward of, um, screen time. Ridiculous, much?
    We live overseas and get about 8 channels, only one of which is kid-oriented and only part of the day. So they watch DVDs mostly. (Disney and PBS, you know, hard core evil stuff. Learning shapes with Donald Duck. Horrors.)
    Not sure we even miss cable enough to get it when we go back to the states. The kiddos are pretty content with DVDs and PBS computer games. And as far as I can tell, their brains have not rotted yet.

  9. I love this line "And the tv is often on. But not all that often watched." That is how it is in our house.

    I love not having commercials since we cut cable(the husband is thinking of getting it again) I'm just fine with Netflix, YouTube, and our DVD's.
    Another tool to explore, entertain, and learn.

  10. What a great post! This is very much how we use the television in our house also. It is a fantastic learning tool. :)

  11. I am glad you wrote this. We do not have cable. My kids adore PBS, doc. on Netflix, and rented movies for family nights. If I don't want the tv on I just tell them to turn it off. Not to mention they have learned so much information that they might not have ever learned through the television set. I always joke that when they are graduated I will thank PBS for helping them on their way in their education.

  12. This is fantastic! I like what you say about using it as a tool, like anything else we may use. There is so many things to do in life, TV is not a big deal to us. I prefer to have no TV but anything can have value.

  13. I love the especially fine stick. We have a few of them too!

  14. WE also use video/ TV/ computer/ Netflix as a tool a LOT... sometimes we turn it off though, because it's just noise in the background when we are busy doing something else. :) I am glad I found your blog. Come see what we do at our home.

  15. We don't have a TV or cable and I refuse to get either. I'm not interesting in the bills, the commercials or living by the TV schedule. We do have computers which gives access to anything under the sun though. I completely agree with this post apart from "And the tv is often on. But not all that often watched.". At that point it become background noise and people get used TO that background noise. That is how you get adults who cannot sleep without the TV on. I don't like the idea of raising children in a house where the TV is always on, particularly if no one is watching it. Personally the jabbering annoys me if no one is watching it anyway so unless it is actually being watched, it's OFF. I'm not talking about watching on doing something else at the same time, I'm talking about plain not watching. If you hardly spend any time in front of it why must it be on at all?


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!