It's screen-free week this week. Inspired by a recent viral video entitled "Look Up", many of the people I normally chat with in online places are off spending time doing other things. Maybe they're playing with their kids or getting outdoors or working harder… Maybe they're cleaning their homes or baking bread or meditating at the bus stop. I'll never know, because they're not instagramming it.
On Sunday night, just after I'd shared a little note about Screen-free week on the Spiral Garden Facebook page, Huz announced that he might give it a go. We told the owlets that screen-free week was coming and asked if them if they felt like participating and they scrunched up their noses and said "Why?"
You see, after many years of thinking and battling and wafting and waning between lots of screen time and very little, we've found a happy balance. We don't always use screens in moderation. Sometimes we use them constantly. Sometimes very little. We use them when and how we need and want to, in a way that suits our family. By some families' standards it is a lot. By other families' standards it is not much at all.
What we've found is that life is too full to sit in front of a screen all day. Sometimes just hanging around daydreaming is more fun. We've also found that there's too much great stuff, accessible to us via screens, to eliminate them completely. Even for a week. We live in a time where information, entertainment and social interaction are freely available and immediate. How lucky are we?! Living in this time means our way of life, and especially home education, is so much easier. No opportunity to learn or question or read or find out is ever missed. We can all learn so much faster! We can spend time on creative work and receive feedback for that work almost instantly! We can even sell that work right now if we like. We can find a recipe or figure out what plants to put in the ground right now, standing in the garden. We can find out the weather report or connect with friends in an instant. How great is that?!
The time I've spent on screens has introduced me to communities of supportive people and like-minded souls who I wouldn't have met otherwise. We have friends we spend time with each week, all of whom we met online first. Huz and I have goddaughters because of screens! My world is smaller, less isolated and certainly enriched because of them.
Our owlets each have access to screens and, while we do recommend, for a portion of most days, that we move our bodies and use our brains for things like daydreaming or creating, they spend lots of time using screens. I wouldn't say that our connection suffers because of this. Usually we will spend time watching or playing with them. We share information about things we read or saw or heard or played and we operate as guides for this screen-filled world. We'll go on bush walks and pause to photograph the wonderment there. Even Tiny collects pictures for her screen. And when we go back home, we talk about the time we've had and what we've seen. Connection is not a thing we lack.
Our owlets play! All day! They've not forgotten the skill. It is their most-used learning tool. They get outside. They make mess. And with the benefit of an institution-free life, they have the freedom to devote a large chunk of the day to it.
Nostalgia plays a big part in our feeling that screens are a bad thing, I suspect. Remembering childhood in a time before i-Devices and Minecraft, if we really hearken our minds back to childhood, for many of us, screens were part of the picture. Cosy afternoons by the fire, watching the Goodies, Danger Mouse or Inspector Gadget still define wintry childhood evenings for me. School holidays playing Alex Kidd or Wonderboy 3 on my sister's SEGA Master System were fun for a while… My childhood was not destroyed.
I think we forget that technology has been around in one form or other for a very long time. And before that there were books… As the Louisa May Alcott quote goes "She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain…" We've been having this discussion with ourselves for a long time.
If anything, we have built a life here with more opportunity. We spend less time mowing. And cleaning. And we ditched the television in favour of choosing our own ad-free viewing online. And thanks to screens, I'm able to run a business from home and find information to help the owlets learn what they need so they don't have to go to the local school. We've shifted priorities.
Empty playgrounds have more to do with how busy we have made our lives. We fill our days with school and work and after school activities and there is just no time to stop and play. We focus on work and being busy all the time - so much so that we've forgotten how to wind down. We're exhausted and brain drained from being in an office/school room all day. We feel like being quiet… and there's this phone in our hands that will help us be quiet while still being busy and connected to others… Are screens the issue? No. We are.
For most of us, screens are not something we need to free ourselves from. They're something we need to learn to use in balance, if we choose to. It's all about making healthy and happy choices and using screens mindfully. Here are our top tips for finding balance in your nest:
1. Daydream. Reserve a portion of the day for play and a big portion for daydreaming. Be comfortable doing nothing for a little bit. Get a good night's sleep if you can.
2. Play/watch/work on a screen only when you want/need to. Do it when it's fun! Don't do it because there's nothing else or because you are bored. Boredom inspires creativity. Use it.
3. Lighten Up. Have fun with your time online and on screens. Screens don't hold or restrict your freedom in any way. Using/watching/accessing screens doesn't make you a bad person/parent. They are just a tool. Let go of the guilt and enjoy.
4. Choose what you watch and access on screens. Look for new and creative ideas and ways of thinking and using screens. Enjoy them! Cut out as much advertising as you can. Don't just accept what the mainstream media chooses to expose you to. Seek your own answers to your own questions. Create your own lens for the world and share it.
5. Connect with like minded community online. If they live near to you, organise to spend time with them in person, regularly. Pick that thing that you all share in common and make it about that. You might be surprised to find what else you have in common.
6. Engage with people but don't get embroiled in online arguments with those whose views are hugely different from yours, trying to convince them of your point of view. They will never come to agree with you and you could both do without the anger, upset and waste of hours of your life. Agree to disagree and move on.
7. Talk with your owlets about what they are watching/playing. Show interest. Get involved. Share your interests and enthusiasm too. There's a lot of great stuff out there to explore. Do it together and share the love and excitement where you can.
8. Remind each other not to get stuck for too long. Listen to your body and each others' needs. Move your body. Go outside. Shake things up. Point out great things going on around you, like sunrises and sunny days, and share them together. Become observers. Instagram/blog it if it helps!
9. Do all the things! Provide lots of real life distractions in your life that bring you joy. Get out fun things to do - together or on your own. Read a book, grow your own food, paint something... Get a hobby! Make a list (or a Pinterest board) of things you are bursting to do and do them!
10. Abundance. Create a life that is so full and exciting and love-filled that you don't have time to fill the gaps with a screen. Life is too short to spend it worried about all the things you should go without. Fill it with what you love and make it varied and fun!
PS. Huz decided not to go screen-free after all… It's also International Composting Week so we're focussing on that ;)