My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Friday, May 27, 2016

Screen Free Summer

With the nice weather upon us, we have all but eliminated screen time in favor of outdoor exploration. Some of my kids have had an easier time of this than others, but after a few weeks of "detox", the questioning has nearly ceased! I didn't realize it at the time, but my children's brains had become quite obsessed with games, even though they only got to play a short amount per day. I had felt good about myself because I compared our screen rules with the nation's averages (which are appalling, by the way), but it took cutting out games completely to notice how much even a little screen time negatively affects my kids. I know it is different for every family, but in our house all imaginative play had begun to revolve around Minecraft... all dinner table conversation was about Minecraft... it was driving me crazy! Each day they had a list to complete, including chores and schoolwork, and if they finished the list they could play for 15 minutes. This method worked as a way to get their lists checked off, but I was losing my interesting, interested, creative children. They only cared to complete their tasks as quickly as possible to get around to game time.

During our Easter Detox, I very quickly noticed their creativity returning. One day, of their own volition, they packed up homemade detective kits into their backpacks and went to solve mysteries in the backyard. Another day, they got out a random assortment of kitchen utensils and pantry items to create their own chemistry experiments. They began to build forts again in our basement. They got very interested in Rube Goldberg and simple machines, they can't wait to check on our garden each day, and overall they seem like happier kids. They still are allowed some screen time on some rainy days, but it has averaged out to only once every couple of weeks. I have begun to enjoy conversations with my kids again! And even better, they are starting to hold me accountable as well! If Lucian catches me checking Facebook on my phone, he will point out, "Mom, you know screens aren't good for your brain."

To clarify, we still use screens to watch educational videos, to look up information, and even to watch an occasional television episode. But there was something different about playing games that seemed to change the way my kids' brains were working.  And I discovered that there is some science behind my observation.

Like I said, I know screens affect each family- and each child- very differently. But in our home, we have discovered our happy medium for screen time, and it is next to nothing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Bit of Earth

I am not a green thumb. It's not that I can't get things to grow, it's that I have always been too intimidated to try. I have a mentally crippling fear of failure, so embarking on a quest that doesn't have guaranteed results is pretty difficult for me. But for years now, and I'm not sure why, I have been itching to grow my own vegetables. Two years ago in our old house, I planted a few things in our backyard: tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, and peas. Only the tomatoes and cucumbers grew, but we all loved running out to the vegetable patch to see what there was to pick. The following year, gardening fell by the wayside as we prepared our house to put on the market. But I knew our new house would have a vegetable patch. I was determined.

Our new backyard has a downward slope in the back, so we hemmed and hawed about how to set up a garden as the weather started to get nicer. But the warmer the temperature rose, the more nervous I got about the whole thing. What if nothing grows? What if I'm a failure at gardening? I read blog posts for beginning gardeners, checked out books from the library, determined to do this thing right. But inevitably I found myself shutting off the computer or slamming the book, more overwhelmed than I had been before. Soil PH and composition? What am I getting myself into? No matter that all of my gardening friends and family kept telling me just to DO IT. I was convinced I was going to do it all wrong.

I found myself starting to give up on the whole idea before even putting a single seed in the ground. So I got proactive. I figured the more I talked about it, the more it would have to happen or I would risk disappointing my kids. Paul and I decided on raised garden beds, and I began to plan with the kids what vegetables we would grow. We did some garden-related art projects. Paul built the garden beds with leftover wood that was given to us, and they look great! We chose The Secret Garden as our new bedtime read-aloud.

As I'm sure you know, The Secret Garden is about a contrary little girl named Mary who doesn't find joy in anything. She goes to live with her uncle and discovers a garden that has been untouched for a decade. She goes to work on this "bit of earth", and her heart begins to soften, she discovers joy and learns how to love. Oh, it is so beautiful! As our read-aloud was progressing, the weather outside kept getting nicer and nicer. Today was the day we filled the first box with soil and planted our vegetables. We were outside getting dirty and digging holes, and the kids each got to plant the vegetable of their choosing. I planted Impatiens in the flower bed by the front door and herbs in the small planters on our deck. I have never been so excited about getting my hands dirty! Suddenly I no longer care if nothing comes up. I think it will, but the experience of planting together was so fun and joyful that it was a gift in itself.

We came inside, got cleaned up and said prayers, then Paul opened up the book and read the title of the next chapter. "It Is Here!" On the day that we planted our garden, we got to read about the arrival of spring at Misselthwaite Manor. I feel so much like Mary Lennox today. I have been a little contrary myself lately, and I've had some trouble finding joy. My temper has been shorter than I want it to be, and my patience reserves seem to be running pretty dry. But today, working next to my husband and kids in the dirt, I felt so alive and excited! There is something magical about putting a dry, shriveled seed into the ground and expecting it to turn into something green and alive!

I don't know how much, if anything, will actually grow. But the prospect of having a family goal that draws us all together outside has put me in great spirits! I can't wait to see what comes of our little bit of earth.