Confessions of a Reluctant Gamer: Playing Minecraft with my Kids

I should have known when I married my husband Jody — an avid gamer — that someday down the road our future children would be gamers as well, but I didn’t think much about it. I kind of thought my husband would eventually grow out of his gaming “phase.” I mean, grown men don’t play video games and Dungeons and Dragons forever, right? Right???

After 12 years of marriage I think it’s safe to say that the gaming “phase” is not a phase at all. It’s just a part of who he is, just as much as not gaming is a part of who I am. And I am OK with that. I may have fought it for a while (ok, for years and years), but I eventually learned that it wasn’t productive and I wasn’t going to change who he is, so I’ve mostly accepted it.

So now we have a 6 year old (who just lost his first tooth!) and a 9 year old (how did that happen?!) and they both LOVE computer games. Minecraft is a favorite in this house, as well as Roblox, Sims and a handful of others. Unlike my husband, who has accepted that I’m just not a gamer, the kids have not been so easily convinced.

minecraft

When they first started playing Minecraft I joined them a couple of times. I had a hard time moving my character around and — big surprise — just didn’t get into the game. So I stopped playing with them. I figured Jody could play with them as he enjoys it and they were placated…for a while.

Fast forward several months. Ava would periodically ask me to play Minecraft with them. I would find an excuse or tell her it’s not my thing or whatever. I just really didn’t want to play. However, when she asked me the other day, I considered my answer carefully. I know the game is important to her and I want to support that and be a part of it, even if it is hard for me. So I said yes. Ava was ecstatic.

I’ve since played with them a few times and I’ve gotten a lot better about moving around and was surprised to find that I was actually having fun collecting wood and other supplies for the kids to build us a house. And I was surprised by how well they shared resources and helpful they were to me when I didn’t know how to craft a stone pickaxe or torches or whatever. And how much they appreciated me playing with them. I’ve heard several times from both of them, “it was so fun when you played with us, Mom!” And ya know what? It really was.

And so I’m trying to do a better job about playing with them when they want me to even if it isn’t my favorite thing to do. Even if I need to vacuum or water the garden or load the dishwasher. Today I even initiated it myself and it was fun. The time spent connecting with them is priceless. Who knows how long they will want their mom to play with them. But for now they do. And for now I will.

I’d love to hear from you!
Do YOU play any computer/video games with your kids even though you are not into games? What has your experience been? 

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Learn Nothing Day 2013

From Learn Nothing Day by Sandra Dodd:

Unschoolers need a holiday.
When people ask if they homeschool in the summer, they say yes.
When people ask when they have a break from learning, they say never.
This has gone on for a long time now.

July 24 is Learn Nothing Day — a vacation for unschoolers.

As unschoolers, we tried our best to take advantage of our vacation day from learning, but alas, we failed.

We’ve only been up for a couple of hours and already we’ve learned things! I learned a new exercise as part of the Daily Hiit and that the kids prefer their bagels untoasted. Ava learned how to spell several words, the color of her friends’ eyes and their Zodiac signs (she’s creating some of her friends in the Sims game). Julian claims he hasn’t learned anything, but I am skeptical. He’s watched a few gaming videos on YouTube, played with the chickens, collected eggs and then dried off some toys in a centrifuge (salad spinner).

Both kids also proceeded to ask questions about why it’s Learn Nothing Day. Those darn kids and their questions. How do they expect to NOT learn if they are always asking questions!

It’s only 12:41 p.m. so we still have the whole rest of the day to try to avoid learning, but we are meeting friends at the pool this afternoon. Is it possible to avoid all learning while swimming and being with your friends? We’ll do our best, but this is going to be a challenge!

If you want to learn more about unschooling, you can check out my post What is Unschooling?. Just whatever you do, don’t read it today. I wouldn’t want you learning something on Learn Nothing Day.

Are you an unschooler? Did you participate in Learn Nothing Day? How did it go for you? Please share in the comments! :)

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Sew much fun!

One of the things I love about unschooling is that I’m often exposed to things/experiences that I might not explore on my own if it weren’t for my kids. One of those experiences that’s come up recently is sewing.

I’ve had my mom’s old sewing machine in my basement for years. I had a brief desire to learn to sew (beyond what I did in home-ec class in high school) when Ava was a baby. I tried sewing some diaper inserts for her FuzziBunz. My mom helped me with them and it was fine, but I never got excited about it. Once a few inserts were sewn, back into the basement the sewing machine went.

Fast forward nine years (has it really been that long?!) and my formerly cloth-diapered baby has expressed an interest in learning to sew. Some friends of her’s recently made doll clothes for her American Girl doll for Ava’s birthday and another friend sewed a dress for her own doll. There’s nothing like friends learning to do something cool to give you a little push in the same direction. Ava decided she wanted to learn to sew too.

I hauled the old White Jeans Machine from the basement and was pleasantly surprised to find it already threaded, since I really had no idea how to do it myself! Ava and I grabbed an old shirt and I set her up to practice. She loved it!

Ava learning to sew

Then the needle came unthreaded and it was up to me to figure out how to thread it again. Thankfully the sewing machine has a little diagram on it which made threading it easier than I thought. It took a little trial and error, but I got it going again. Woot! I got to learn something too! The practicing resumed.

A couple of days later we made a stop at my mom’s house to check out her fabric stash. Ava picked out a few fabrics to try making doll-sized pillows. And I chose several scraps to make into prayer flags for our sunroom — something I’d actually been wanting to do for several weeks after reading a guest post Create an Outdoor Space You Love on my friend Sara’s blog. I already added a few throw rugs and twinkle lights, but it still needed more color.

Pretty fabric

After I helped Ava a bit with sewing her doll pillow, I was excited to get to work on my prayer flags. I ended up needing my mom’s help with loading a bobbin, but once I got that down, I was set. It felt good to made something and I’m happy with how they turned out. I plan to make a second set for Ava’s bedroom.

Homemade prayer flags in my sunroom

I think it’s pretty awesome that my mom’s old (can I call it mine now?) sewing machine sat for years without getting any love, but when the time was right, it was here for me, for Ava, for us. I’m happy to have it and am thankful that my mom passed it on to me way back when. I’m excited to see what kinds of things we create using this old machine and curious to see if my son will want to play with it too. He’s done a tiny bit of sewing on it so far that first night I got it out. Time will tell. I do know that this time around the sewing machine won’t be retiring to the basement any time soon!

I’ve since started sewing a little dress for Ava’s doll. I’m mostly just playing around, but I’m having fun and isn’t that how all of the best learning takes place anyway?

If anyone has any tips for teaching kids to sew or fun, easy sewing projects for adults and kids, I’m all ears. A friend of mine just told me about these paper sewing sheets for kids and I plan to print some out for myself as well as Ava. And I just came across 10 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids. I’m guessing there’s a whole lot out there if I just start looking. Yay sewing!

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Just when ya think you’ve got it all figured out…

We’ve been unschooling for a relatively short period of time, but over the past couple of months I felt like things had really started falling into place. I felt like I gained an understanding of what unschooling is all about — and what it isn’t. Like I was saying YES more often than saying NO and it felt good. Like I could let go of the little things and not sweat the small stuff. Like I started to really “get” what my kids needed from me and how to provide it. And we were all getting along SO. WELL. And it felt great. And perhaps I started to get a little self-righteous ’cause I knew what I was doing (or at least I thought I did). That’s where I made my first mistake — thinking I had it all figured out.

And then this thing happened that shattered my confidence in my skills as an unschooling mama and as a parent in general…

defeated

The long and the short of it is that there was a misunderstanding between me and my 8-year-old daughter Ava and it turned into an ugly, UGLY, sad battle of wills (good Lord, we are both stubborn as hell!) that left both of us in tears.

I thought my husband had told her one thing and I was trying to support what I thought he’d said. Turns out (I learned the next day) that he never said it. (Had I just asked him what he had told her instead of assuming, I’m pretty sure the whole thing could have been avoided. Yes, that is what you get when you assume.)

That night I pretty much went against everything I had learned and been doing for the past couple months and I’m sure that caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration on my daughter’s part. And once we were in the thick of our “battle of wills,” I didn’t know what to do. Should I “give in” and rescind what I told her? Will that be “letting her win?” Do I stand my ground no matter what the price? Does it really matter if she does X, Y or Z? Do I even know a damn thing about anything right now??

Ugh. UGH!!!

We were obviously not going to get anywhere continuing what we had been doing. I felt terrible and was at a total loss. I had no idea what to do other than to pick up my phone, retreat into my bathroom, close the door and ask for help.

I texted my good friend Rebecca (also an unschooling mama) to ask for her advice. She listened. She reassured me. And she gave it to me straight, but without judgement. It helped me sooooo much. I also let myself feel my feelings (something I think my sister Carrie would have been proud of) and let myself cry. And I had a little talk with myself, “You don’t have to know what to do 24/7, Amy. It’s OK to make mistakes.”

Once Ava had calmed down and I had taken several deep breaths, I took Rebecca’s advice and talked with her (Ava). I let Ava see that I’d been crying. I told her how I was feeling. I apologized for our fight and told her that parenting can be hard stuff and I don’t always know the “right” thing to do. She came to me for a very welcome hug and we sat together for a while.

Eventually I asked her if she had any suggestions on what we should do (one of Rebecca’s tips). Guess what? She did! We came to a solution together and it all worked out — not the way I had thought it would when our “fight” first began and probably not the way Ava anticipated either, but it worked out and nobody was in tears. Nobody felt that they hadn’t been heard. Nobody went to bed that night feeling defeated.

I later came across this quote from Buddha that I think illustrates nicely one of the things I learned that night:

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.– Buddha

Although that night didn’t go “according to plan,” with the help of my friend, working through my feelings and talking with Ava, I conquered myself. And that kind of victory was pretty sweet.

autumnleavesquote

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What is Unschooling?

living_learning_holt

Unschooling is based on the belief that children learn best when they are internally motivated. Unlike homeschooling which is essentially doing school (following a curriculum) at home, unschooling allows children to explore their interests and learn without the restrictions of a curriculum. 

Teacher and author John Holt — one of the founders of the modern homeschooling movement — coined the word “unschooling” in 1977 to mean “learning that does not look like school learning, and learning that does not have to take place at home.” He believed, “there is no difference between living and learning…it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate.”

Pam Sorooshian explains unschooling like this: 
“Unschoolers simply do not think there are times for learning and times for not learning. They don’t divide life into school time or lesson time versus play time or recreation time. There is no such thing as ‘extracurricular’ to an unschooler – all of life, every minute of every day, counts as learning time, and there is no separate time set aside for ‘education.'”

There are many other names for unschooling including “natural learning,” “life learning,” “experience-based learning,” “delight-driven learning,” and “independent learning,” and there are a ton of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are just a few: 

Over the past couple years we started our own unschooling journey, which I plan to write a lot about in the future – including how we began on this path. However, I first wanted to provide a little bit of a background information to explain some of the ideas behind unschooling. 

I welcome your questions. I absolutely won’t have all of the answers, but I enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

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Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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