Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

TV-Free Family for a Week
by Rachel Johnson

Our family decided to unplug our two televisions for a week. It’s not that we don’t believe in the entertainment and educational value of TV or that we dislike watching it. We find value in having a television (or two) in our home. However, we all agreed to find out what it would be like to be without that media for a week – a chance to examine our priorities, find ways to broaden our horizons, rediscover creativity and maybe change some habits. We’re a very busy family so we don’t watch tons of programs, but we do use TV for relaxation in the evenings, learning new information, recreation and as background noise for the girls as they fall asleep.

When all is said and done, the viewing hours add up more quickly than you’d think. It had started to seem that at least one television was on every second we were home. If I wasn’t watching a movie, then my husband was watching the History Channel or sports, or the girls were watching Disney or Nickelodeon. I started to feel like my life happened inside a box of cartoons, wars and sitcoms with nonstop background noise.

I suggested the idea of a TV-free week to my family. I wanted it to happen before the new season premieres, and my husband wanted to be sure not to miss the Kansas City Chiefs football games, even the preseason games that begin in early August. Thus, we needed to do it immediately, but we didn’t want to force it on our children. We wanted it to be their choice as well, so we all discussed it. Laina, our six-year-old, jumped on board immediately, but Lexi, age nine and a half, took some convincing. She still wasn’t completely sure she wanted to join us. Eventually, she agreed.

When I woke up that morning, I unplugged both our televisions. We did set some rules for ourselves. For one week, we agreed:

• not to watch TV at home or at anyone else’s house
• to limit computer time
• not to read books individually

We realized that anything, including television, computers and books, could become a way to escape reality, hide from others and numb our minds. For one week, we wanted to go beyond that. We could read books together, for example, but not on our own. With no other preparation, we plunged into this program.

Day One: July 26, 2004
During the day, we didn’t miss TV at all because we were busy. After spending the morning at the zoo viewing the new reptile exhibit, we met a friend at the park for a picnic lunch and playdate. On the way home, however, we became anxious. What would we do after an active day, if not relax in front of the television? We discussed the possibility of going to a dollar theatre and felt relieved to have an out. Once we got home, however, we couldn’t find a movie we all wanted to see. We decided to fix dinner and talk more. After having chicken stir-fry, we decided to forgo the movie. Instead, we found a new gluten-free, dairy-free recipe for chocolate angel food cake, and made it. We even completely cleaned up the kitchen rather than leaving the dishes for later. Then, the girls went swimming in our two and a half foot pool while I wrote. Later, we read some of the fifth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events together. The day ended on a positive note for all concerned.

Day Two: July 27, 2004
We ran several errands during the day, which made it easy not to watch the dreaded box. When we got home, we made chicken curry for supper and ate. Then, I went to work (I teach ESL a few evenings a week). When I arrived home, the TV was on because the girls had convinced Daddy I wouldn’t mind; I guess they’d just had it on for about an hour. I was upset because we’d made the decision as a family, and I wished they’d waited to change the decision together as well. We turned it off and all talked for an hour, sharing our thoughts and feelings about keeping the television off for the remainder of the week. I enjoyed the intense conversation, because we were all honest and took the time to listen to each other. We were amazed to discover that we were more connected than when we simply watched the tube. Afterwards, we played card games together before going to bed. Okay, there had been a slight setback, but we all pulled together in the end. Habitual behavior is difficult to break.

Day Three: July 28, 2004
Lexi had to be taken to the ER, and we had little choice but to watch TV, because all the waiting rooms had television sets. It’s difficult to get away from TV for a week. In the end, Lexi was fine but needed to rest at home. Since she didn’t feel well, we turned on the television for the day. All Lexi could do was lie on the couch and watch TV. Of course, Laina and I just happened to watch with her. I’m okay with our joint decision. When your child is ill, nothing matters but helping them heal.

Day Four: July 29, 2004
Another television-free day. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can do a week of no TV, but that it just won’t be seven sequential days. In the morning, I caught up with a lot of chores at home – email, writing, paying bills, cleaning the house, and making phone calls – while the girls played together. There is a marked difference in how they interact with each other since we unplugged our televisions. For instance, they have fewer arguments. Maybe they just needed a break from the tube? The girls and I played Cranium and read books together this afternoon. Then, we went to pick veggies from the garden. For the first year (this is our third attempt), our corn grew, so we finally had fresh corn-on-the cob. The stalks were short, so the corn was short too, but at least we had corn! We ate some of it raw, and the ears tasted sweet and delicious.

Day Five: July 30, 2004
Today, we took a field trip with some unschooling friends. We piled into two minivans and drove to Lawrence, Kansas to engage in a Survival Science activity. The kids had a great time with all the learning experiments and projects, their favorite being the scavenger hunt. We relaxed at home tonight, reading and catching up with email.

Day Six: July 31, 2004
Another day at home reading books (we moved on to the sixth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events), playing Scrabble and chess, talking, and laughing together. We even put on an Avril Lavigne CD and danced around the living room.

Day Seven: August 1, 2004
We packed a dinner and drove an hour north to meet homeschooling friends at a camp for the day. For three wonderful hours we swam in the lake. Afterward, we consumed roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, took a hayride, played sand volleyball and talked around a bonfire. The day was gorgeous and relaxing. I love long summer days like today, where we hang out with friends, both children and adults mingling and sharing. It’s easy not to watch TV when you’re outside all day!

What We Learned:

This expulsion of the television has certain advantages when wisely applied. Modern technological aids like the television and computers play an important part in our lives. We want to have them available to use when the need or desire arises for education, entertainment, or connection. However, we don’t want to let them rule our lives; we don’t want them to become habits that disrupt connection with others, dealing with reality or critical thinking. Balance and moderation are key, and for our family, allowing each member the opportunity to find his or her own balance and moderation is important. Over the course of this week, I think we connected more, tried new experiences, experimented and explored more, and basically reawakened some parts of us that were dormant. If you want to find out what a TV-free learning experience can do for your family, I highly recommend the experiment. We enjoyed it so much that I’d like to do it at least once a year.

Lexi’s Perspective:

I’m glad that I can choose what I want to watch, because I choose not to watch it as much. Sometimes I’d rather read a book, listen to music or play a game with my whole family. Other times I do like to watch TV, but most of the time I like to watch educational shows like the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. There are times when I like watching cartoons or movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I’m glad my parents give me the choice.

Rachel writes poetry, children’s stories and narratives, including Wake Up Running.  She also teaches English as a second language, tutors online and homeschools her two daughters. She loves to read, explore nature and train for marathons. Rachel lives with her husband and children in Kansas City, Missouri.



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