Get 'em Off Screens!
One of my goals for this summer was to expand my professional network and in doing so I came across Derek Lopez from @standupourkids on Twitter and I love this guy! His whole mission is to get kids to stand up and move. He asks a lot of great and challenging questions on Twitter and his thoughts and ideas seem to line up really well with my own philosophy of education.
On July 24, '19, he asked a question that totally caught my attention because a) he usually asks great questions and b) I think it's a really important question that parents and teachers need to be asking themselves. He asked:
What strategies and tactics are you using to get kids off screens and engaged in the real world?
As you may or may not know about me, the term "real world" makes me cringe as a teacher because that term, in education, is usually employed in comments like: "We need to get them ready for the real world." Read my blog post here about how I really feel when I hear educators saying things like that.
But when I read the question again, and thought a little more critically and with a more open mind, I applied the question to my own children, which I think was Mr. Lopez's intent. And then, I applied the question to my students and my classroom.
At my home, to get my kids engaged in the "real world", which is NOT the world that they see on screens, I have a few strategies and tactics:
1) We have books all over the place. I, personally, LOVE reading. I have books in the kitchen, in our bedroom, in my office. My daughters have books upstairs and downstairs and in their bedrooms. We have magazines all over the place too. We can turn off the screens and tell our girls to read a book, and they never have to look far to find one.
2) We have all kinds of toys all over the place. Inside and out. And on the topic of toys, it's important to me to let our girls play with whatever they want, however they want...provided their lives are not at risk. Injuries are okay, death is not. And don't read too seriously into that...we don't want our kids to get injured of course, but it is a risk we are willing to take. If they want to use a comb as a microphone, we let them. If they want to use a toy blow-dryer as a vacuum, we let them, but not as a gun, we don't support gun play. We don't believe there should be "rules" about how to play with toys, or just how to play in general. I could write an entirely different blog post about how we want to let your kids play, so I'll save that for later.
3) The other day I built a climbing dome for our daughters. We have a play house that they love to play in in the backyard, but recently our oldest (3 years old) began climbing onto the roof of it and jumping off. We didn't mind the climbing and jumping, but the roof was starting to cave in and it would be a little hard to resell it if the roof was broken, oh, and also, she might "get hurt real bad" if it broke with her standing on it. So we bought the climbing dome...it's more a little more sturdy. They have all kinds of balls and sticks (lacrosse, broomball, hockey, etc.) to play with outside as well. It's nearly impossible for them to be bored.
4) We just moved to a property of 37 acres. 36 of them are forest. The bummer is there is poison ivy EVERYWHERE. So when I find an environmentally friendly solution to that, we'll let your two and three year old daughters run wild, mainly because I as much as I want my kids to #getoutside, I don't want to deal with a two or three year old with a poison ivy rash for a week or two. I hate getting poison ivy as a grown man...it'll be worse for a little girl!
5) As I mentioned, we just moved into our new home. Our "forever" home. And since it's not all set up yet, I haven't been able to enact my fifth tactic, but in the (hopefully) near future, I will have a piano and other musical instruments available for play. Growing up, my parents had a piano in the basement and musical instruments were always out. My dad played in a number of bands and played a number of instruments, and music was always playing and was just a big part of my life growing up. In grade seven I had to choose an instrument to play and at first I wanted the trumpet, but eventually ended up with a tenor saxophone in my hands (and my mouth, I guess). I played in a bunch of bands, but spent six years playing sax and lead vocals in a ska band called the Rude Dudes and all that time played a HUGE role in me becoming who I am today. My parents never pressured me into playing or practising, but there was always something to pick up and play, and I want to provide that opportunity for my own girls, should they choose to pursue music or not. Admittedly, I'd love it if they did, but I'll support them in any positive endeavour they choose.
Our kids don't mind not being in front of screens, they love to play and use their imaginations, and they love being outside (our youngest doesn't always love being outside but it's growing on her). Thing is, it's easier for us as parents to just turn on the TV or give them our phone or a tablet. And we do it. Guilty. But, we remind ourselves and each other, that we have to put in the energy and the effort to keep them off screens. We can have all the toys and everything in the world, but as we all know, our kids will not play if the screens are on and readily available. But, again, it's on us to make sure our kids are moving and playing. We decided to be parents, and one of the consequences of that decision is that we also have to be more active as people and as parents to make sure our kids #getoutside and #getmoving.
Now, here's how I apply that question to my students and my classroom.
I teach grade nine and ten science. 14 to 16 year old kids and they are dependent on their smart phones. It's usually a pretty sad state of affairs, but one of my goals as a teacher is to teach my students how to use that technology in a meaningful way. I want them to find information with their cell phones, tablets or laptops, but more than that, I want them to do something meaningful with that information. The whole purpose of my starting this blog is to share my side of that discussion, so you can read as much or as little as you like about that, and you can even subscribe to this blog to find out more about how I feel about education if you want. Did I just plug my own blog in my own blog post?!
So part of what I want to do as an educator, is to get my students to use their screens in a meaningful way, but also, provide them with opportunities to use the information that they've found on those screens in a meaningful way and get them to interact with real people in real time.
For example, I want my students to learn about ecosystems and biomes in grade nine. So I'll ask them a question or give them a problem and then we'll go explore an ecosystem and see what kinds of questions they can come up with, then we'll use screens to find answers to those questions and solve problems to help promote the sustainability of those ecosystems. After all of that, we'll try to find some community organizations to network with and talk to some experts in the field (no pun intended...but I do love a good pun!) and some other community members to make the learning and the project as authentic as possible. That's the impossibly short answer to that.
In the classroom, as Mr. Lopez advocates, this year I'm going to try to do more to have more flexible seating in my class. I don't really know how yet, and it's difficult because I have to share classrooms with other teachers, but I know I can come up with something! Thanks to him, my students are going to have a lot more opportunities to learn however works best for them and to get up and move around in class! At least I hope so. Imagine having to spend four times seventy five minutes sitting in rows at desks five days a week! I made it through that system, but I know I would have benefited from more flexible seating. It might not help every student, but I know for sure it won't hurt them either!
I'm going to wrap it up here, but I could go on and on about how excited I am to try new things in my classroom...and eventually I'll post about more of it as it comes up, but right now, I have to go read a book to my daughter, let her "read" to me (she makes up stories based on the pictures she sees), sing her some bedtime songs, and put her to bed. That's the best part of my day!
Derek Lopez, @standupourkids, I hope that answers your question! Thanks for asking such inspiring questions!