Natural Learning Vs. Assigned Learning

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Today I’m going to address the third and final question of a commenter on my post My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling. [The comment has since been removed at the request of the author.]

3) It [unschooling] is premised on the idea that people don’t “love learning” if discipline is involved. My experience & observation of others is just the opposite – people tend to come to love those areas of life in which they apply the most discipline – and not just self-discipline, but where adults have taught them discipline.

On this particular comment, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Unschooling takes a lot of discipline- on the part of the child and the parent. The question is, what is that discipline being applied to? Remember that I haven’t always been an unschooler. Our homeschool has evolved from school-at-home to unit studies to eclectic and then finally to natural learning, so I’ve seen the outcomes of all of these methods. With regard to my children, they have retained the most information from topics that they themselves pursued on their own. Pursuing their own interests, in itself, takes discipline, so discipline is certainly not an issue. And whether the discipline is coming from the child or being taught by the parents is not the issue. The issue is what path will their education take? Yours or theirs?

When we were still doing unit studies and would be learning about a particular subject, such as American Indians, they really seemed to have a good grasp of what I was teaching them, and they did have fun doing it. We made false face masks and headdresses and visited a Lenni Lenape museum. They had a ball. Fast forward a few months- I asked some questions about the American Indians unit, and they hardly remembered anything.

Contrast this with a perfect example of my son, Dillon. He loves spiders- especially wolf spiders. I have never covered spiders, specifically, other than that they are classified as arachnids. So Dillon took it upon himself to find out everything he could about wolf spiders- books, websites, documentaries, YouTube videos, you name it. What did he get from all this? I now consider him to be an “expert” on wolf spiders. He can tell you where they live, what they eat, how long they live, how big they get- I could go on and on.

We spent four weeks on that American Indians unit, and even though they seemed to enjoy it, now they remember nothing, other than a few things. On the other hand, Dillon still remembers everything about wolf spiders and has increased his knowledge of them even more since then.

This is not surprising to me. I did the same thing when I was in public school. I remembered what I was supposed to long enough to make the honor roll and graduate in the top 10% of my class…and then I forgot it. It was no longer needed. What do I remember from school the most? The subjects I chose to take- mythology, theater arts, parenting (thank God I remember that, 11 kids later), cooking, nutrition. What do these have in common? My interest.

And I will go even further to say that, unless you have a need to learn something- and by need I’m not referring to a need to fulfill state requirements, but a need to learn something in order to achieve a goal- a lot of what is taught in schools is unnecessary. In the majority of cases, people will pursue a career in something that they’re drawn to- interested in. Is it really important that an astronomer knows that laissez faire means “hands off”? Does a historian need to know what alliteration is? And who exactly decided what is important to learn? This is why homeschooling is the ideal choice because these things should be decided on a case by case basis. Not everyone is the same. God created us to be unique individuals, and we should nurture that.

Before you jump the gun, let me just interject that I love learning. I’m learning all the time, and it is a good thing to be knowledgeable, but why you’re learning something is as important as what you’re learning. Alluding back to my high school days,- sorry for all the trips down memory lane- I took six years of German. Six. I should be a pro, right? Not so much. I could probably help someone in their first year of German, and it would end there. Why? I haven’t had the need to use it.

Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s great to report to the school district that you taught your third grader Euclidean geometry. It’s awesome to look back at those old homeschooling journals and see that your seventh grader completed a course on quantum physics, but are they going to remember it? Unless they have an interest in those fields, I’d say probably not. Why? Because they won’t need to use it.

This is why it’s so important to let your children’s interests come into play. This time is precious. Let them spend time pursuing things that they’re going to retain and possibly use in their future endeavors. I myself know how hard it can be to realize that our children may not care about the things we care- or think that they should care- about. Let them lead the way. Trust that they have the ability to increase their knowledge in the things that are important to them and that they will have the discipline to do so. That’s the best kind of learning- the kind that they won’t forget.

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Can a Christian Be an Unschooler?

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Today I’m continuing on with the second question posed to me in the comments of this post.[Please note-I have removed the comment at the request of the author. She was not intending to appear judgmental. She was just curious.] Here’s the question:

2) The method seems to put the child instead of the parent in the leadership position -which doesn’t mesh with my understanding of Christianity

This is not the first time I’ve heard the inference that unschooling is disobedient to God’s word. Again, as I answer this, this is how we do this in my family.

My children have boundaries. They also have responsibilities that I fully expect them to accomplish everyday. We have ten kids still in the house, so obviously, there are rules they are expected to follow. Believe me, my children know who the authority figures are in the house- and it’s not them!

I give them freedom in learning, not a free for all. My children are encouraged to pursue their own interests to their hearts’ content. I am there to guide them, offer suggestions, and ensure that they are treating each other with respect. I do not put them in a room and say, “Okay, kids- have at it! I’ll be back in an hour or four!” I jest when I say this, but I get the notion that some people truly think this is what unschooling is all about. If anything, unschooling requires even more parental involvement because we have to have our eyes and ears open all the time and pick up on the tiniest clues that tell us what our children are interested in, so that we can find resources and activities that our kids may like.

Another comment I’ve seen in many a blog post is (I’m paraphrasing) that “God’s word teaches us to train up our children, and unschoolers don’t do that because they are not giving their children formal lessons.”

Okay, let’s stop right there. The verse they’re referring to is this:

Proverbs 22:6-
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

What is this verse speaking of? Certainly not how to teach math, grammar, or geography. It’s speaking of training up your children so that they are obedient to God. So that they do His will. That’s it. And, unless the four versions of the Bible I have are wrong, there’s no addendum that says:

And be sure to use Abeka or an another quality curriculum when you do this, so that it’s done properly.

Please don’t think I’m anti-curriculum. I have tons of it. I’m just making a point that there are many ways to teach your children about the Lord or any “school subject” that do not involve textbooks. There’s nothing wrong with using them for that purpose; there’s a lot of really good literature out there, but it’s not the only way. Another great passage that gives credence to this is:

Deuteronomy 6:6-7
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This is what unschoolers do! We don’t view learning as being done at certain times- it is happening all the time! And specifically speaking of teaching our children about God, this happens throughout the day, and, as I’m sure it is with traditional homeschoolers, as well, it is a natural thing.

Read the Bible to your children. Talk to them about sin, redemption, and grace. And do it in whatever way you choose because, no matter how you do it, God knows your heart. And He knows mine.

What are your thoughts?

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Homeschool Evolution- Year Round Homeschooling

There's No Place Like Home

Today Hip Homeschool Moms has published a post written by yours truly! I actually wrote this before our transition into unschooling, so it’s been interesting to go back and read it again. In this post, I discussed about why we chose to school year-round and what difference it makes.

Be sure to head on over and check it out!

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Five Quirky Things about Me

There are quite a few things about me that others might find…odd. That’s okay. It’s what makes me an individual, right? Time to spill the beans!

1. The background on my laptop is from the Messin with Sasquatch commercials. What can I say? I love Bigfoot!

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2. This ties in with #1- I really enjoy the shows “Monsters and Mysteries in America,” “Destination Truth,” and “Finding Bigfoot.” I have loved cryptozoology since I was a child, and now that’s rubbing off on some of my kids.

3. I really love soggy food. Cheesesteaks, hoagies, pretty much any kind of sandwich- the soggier the better. My favorite cereal is Corn Flakes, and I usually let it sit in the milk about 10 minutes before I will eat it. There can’t be any crunch left.

4. I can’t fall asleep without the TV, and I have to be watching something I really like. (Lately my nightly show is “Destination Truth”, thanks to Netflix.) If I can’t find anything worth watching, I can’t fall asleep. I will actually wake up if I hear an infomercial and have to get up, and, once again, find something to fall asleep to.

5. I’ve been known to make a really creepy face that scares the pants off of my little ones from time to time.

So there you have my written confession. Come on, you know you do some weird stuff, too! Tell me all about it.

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Homeschool Evolution- Year Round Homeschooling

Today Hip Homeschool Moms has published a post written by yours truly! I actually wrote this before our transition into unschooling, so it’s been interesting to go back and read it again. In this post, I discussed about why we chose to school year-round and what difference it makes.

Be sure to head on over and check it out!

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Weekend Review- We Got Out of the House!

This has nothing to do with questions, but Kenzie looks cute, doesn't she??
This has nothing to do with anything, but Kenzie looks cute, doesn’t she??

As far as the past couple of months have gone, this has been the busiest week inside the home and outside of it in a long time. Snowfall has finally come to a standstill (I hope I didn’t just jinx it), and we’ve actually been able to get out of the house. Progress. Yay! I’m actually really excited from the change of pace. It was loooong overdue.

On Sunday we finally got to church after missing a full month because of the snow. We had a guest speaker who talked about her years in foster care and an abusive marriage, but how through it all she was triumphant because of God’s grace. I’m glad that my kids were there to hear her testimony.

Monday our church had free haircut day- a Godsend for our family. I took eight of the kids with me, but only four of them actually needed haircuts. The other children like to go because there’s free food,

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free stuff,

You can kind of see the free tables behind Arianna and Caollin.
You can kind of see the free tables behind Arianna and Caollin.

and there’s a huge gym to play in.

This really is a great ministry because they advertise it throughout the shelters in the area, so we get to provide some comfort to those who need it the most. Besides that, the hairdressers give great haircuts!

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Some of the hairstylists are church members. Others are generous people who donate their time every month for this good cause.

On Tuesday, Arianna, Devin, and I all got to go to WIN- Women’s Inspirational Network, also at my church. We always look forward to this because it’s a great time to hang out together. The younger kids all play in the nursery with volunteers. Bless their souls. I alone always dump seven kids off with them. Anyway, we get to see friends,

Devin with two of her friends
Devin with two of her friends
When God made Arianna, he broke the mold.
When God made Arianna, he broke the mold.

eat from a delicious pot luck meal, and hear a guest speaker. This month we had a beautiful woman from the Philippines speak about growing up as a squatter only to have God do amazing things in her life.

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We always have a wonderful vocal performance, too.
We always have a wonderful vocal performance, too.

And to put the icing on the cake, this was our raffle night. Proceeds will go to scholarships for women who cannot afford to pay for the women’s retreat. There were so many prizes, and my daughters and I all won something. Arianna won three necklaces, Devin won a basket of jewelry, and I won a basket of medicine and first aid supplies (always needed in this house), a basket of toiletries for my husband, and a toy kitchen for the kiddos.

Just a glimpse of the raffle prizes
Just a glimpse of the raffle prizes
My prize stash
My prize stash

Wednesday Devin had to go back to the eye doctor for a contact lens check and to order her contacts. It was pretty packed there, so Devin had her nose buried in a book, while Luke just had fun browsing.

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The rest of the week was, as always, filled with gaming and creativity. Arianna is going strong with her theatrical makeup.

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Lapbooking and making story books were also hits this week.

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Lastly, Arianna made a flower headband, and Brendan came for a visit when he dropped Dillon off. Dillon has been with him since Tuesday. Brendan even took him for a haircut because he didn’t feel like going for the free haircut Monday.

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Isn't he handsome??
Isn’t he handsome??
Just kidding.
Just kidding.

Friday will probably just entail some more grocery shopping and more spontaneous learning.

What have you done this week?

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More Unschooling Questions Answered

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Boy, my recent posts on unschooling have opened the floodgates for questions, and that’s great because I’m still new to this whole unschooling thing, too. Please don’t mistake my passion on the subject for expertise because I’m surely no expert here. Having said that, I’m excited to attempt to answer these inquiries the best that I can. Always remember, though, that unschooling looks different in every home, so I can only refer to our experience with it.

Here is part of a comment that was written for yesterday’s post.[Please note that the comment has since been removed at the request of the author.] I will follow it with what I hope is a satisfactory response.

1) The majority of unschoolers I know have grown up to be rebellious young adults. I cannot help but wonder if this is related to them not learning school-related discipline. They might learn certain academic subjects quite well, but I am concerned about the character development.

I’ll start with the section on rebellion-

I really can’t answer this in a completely factual way because I have never met any other unschoolers. This homeschooling method is rather rare, so I’m surprised to hear that anyone has met so many formerly unschooled adults that an opinion like this could be formed in the first place. I have, however, met many, many rebellious young adults who graduated from public school, so this is where I believe the lack of “school-related discipline” theory is flawed.

My oldest child graduated from public school. He used to come home daily with tales of the “discipline” taking place in his school. Kids texting, painting their fingernails, listening to music, and doing each other’s hair during class was a rather commonplace thing. My son’s science teacher actually gave up halfway through the year and would just sit at his desk for the entire period because the kids were so unruly. Obviously, discipline in the schools is becoming quite the rarity. So, rebellious adults from public schools-check.

When I was in public school, the local Catholic school was well-known as a haven for rebellious teens, and I’m pretty sure they were given much discipline there. So, rebellion in private schools-check.

I don’t know any homeschooled adults, but I have read plenty of anti-homeschooling tirades written by none other than people who were formerly homeschooled. And I mean traditional homeschoolers, yet traditional homeschooling is full of structure and discipline.

So from this information, I can come up with these points:

Public school kids can become rebellious adults.
-Private school kids can become rebellious adults.
-Homeschooled kids can become rebellious adults.

And I’m going to take a gamble and say that

-Unschooled kids can become rebellious adults.

Notice the broad spectrum of learning and discipline styles. Rebellion can happen in any kind of environment, certainly not just unschoolers.

Now onto the section about character development.

I think it’s important to note that we are not radical unschoolers. Radical unschoolers do not enforce rules in their homes. In this form of unschooling, children can decide when they go to bed, what they eat, what they will do with their time, whether or not they will brush their teeth, and are not expected to do chores. THAT IS NOT WHAT WE DO. We have ten children; that’s a lot of cleaning and laundry and dishes to do, and we all have set jobs that we do. My children make messes, so they will help clean up. My children eat, so they will help with dishes. I am very strict about this aspect of our life because a family of this size will not function if we are not a team, which brings me to the other aspect of character development.

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We live in close quarters with each other, so learning to get along is crucial to a peaceful (as peaceful as you’re going to get with twelve people under one roof) life. My children are also being raised as Christians, so serving others is a high priority here. You will often find my children weeding the neighbor’s garden, shoveling her driveway, or helping their Grandma at her house. I can assure you that character development is not an issue here.

Some of you may notice 11 kids here. Our oldest is 20 and no longer lives at home, which is why I always refer to just 10 kids.
Some of you may notice 11 kids here. Our oldest is 20 and no longer lives at home, which is why I always refer to just 10 kids.

As for character development in public school…well, I wrote a little about that here.

If you’re interested, I wrote a post back in January giving a basic rundown of a typical unschooling day. Feel free to browse my archives, as well, because I frequently write about what our days are like.

I hope this has given you a better picture of what our unschool philosophy- our life philosophy- is all about.

Any other questions? I’d be more than happy to address them.

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My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling

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Last week, I wrote a post entitled Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling? Today I received a comment that expresses a common sentiment about unschooling, and to be honest, was a concern I had about it, as well. The basic premise is that sometimes in the world people have to do things they don’t like, and everything about unschooling is all fun and games, so how are they going to learn how to do things they don’t want to do? Another fear expressed was that unschoolers will potentially not acquire enough knowledge in life to truly succeed. These are both valid concerns, and as I stated before, I felt a little anxious about the same things, until I actually started unschooling. Seeing this method of learning in action has completely changed my point of view, so I thought it was important to address this issue now.

Here is my response to this comment:

I agree. This is one of the things that took me so long to finally make the unschooling decision. To clarify things, I’m not a radical unschooler. There are things that my children have to do everyday, even if they don’t like it. Chores, math (although I did just purchase a, hopefully, more interesting math curriculum), not all of my kids enjoy reading, but it’s important that they do it.

And as for high school- that’s a little more structured, but it still centers around their interests. For example, my daughter will be in 10th grade next year. She loves the show Sherlock, so we’ve designed most of next year’s curriculum around the subject of private investigation. Does that mean that she’ll sit around everyday doing nothing but watching the show? Absolutely not. While that show and others will add to her learning in the area, that’s not where it ends. She’ll also be taking Psychology, Logic, Kinesics (The science of body language, especially microfacial expressions), she’ll be reading the classic Sherlock Holmes books and will probably do some creative writing in the same genre. A deacon at my church is a PI, so she’ll have a go-to person for any questions. Now she’ll also be taking astronomy- not that that has anything to do with this subject- because she loves it, and I found a wonderful book for her to use which can be used as a supplement. This book teaches astronomy through art, combining 2 of her favorite subjects. Her main book for astronomy was specifically chosen because it doesn’t include the math so often in astronomy textbooks. She has no aspirations of being an astronomer, so why dampen her love for it with math that she’ll never use? Also straying from the curriculum is advanced algebra, which she is taking next year because she wants to go to college. I found a great curriculum that she’ll hopefully like. And, honestly, math is her least favorite subject, but she applies herself and is taking higher math courses because of college. Lastly, she’s also chosen to complete a Language Arts curriculum, as well, which really isn’t necessary considering the amount of time she’ll be spending reading and writing.

Unschooling isn’t just about sitting around, playing all the time- especially as they get older. As the kids grow, they realize that there are certain things they’re going to have to do to reach a certain goal, and they do them. Unschooling is about taking what they love and expanding it so that a whole other world of possibilities awaits.

Does this clarify things at all? What do you think?

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Sorting Things Out- Limiting Screen Time

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This is a sight you will frequently see at my house. My husband and kids are tech junkies. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a bad thing. Technology is the way of the world today, and it’s here to stay, so being knowledgeable in this area is certainly an asset. Having said that, it brings up certain issues regarding boundaries. Specifically the dilemma of limiting screen time.

Now, when I say “screen time,” it can mean anything, well…with a screen- TV, computers, tablets, etc. I know TV is a problem for many people, so the same discussion can be applied to that, but our main issue is gaming. My kids (and husband) love it.

I’ve read literature supporting both sides of the issue, and, to further complicate things, there are arguments that I agree with on both sides. (I find that I’m always complicating things for myself. It’s in my nature.) So I’m going to work through these arguments and see if I can come to some sort of conclusion.

I guess I’ll start with the unlimited screen time point of view. First of all, there is much to be learned from any of the applications these mediums can be used for. The internet is great for researching, reading, and connecting with friends. Who needs encyclopedias when we’ve got Wikipedia, right? And while many people outright loathe gaming, there are so many things to be learned from it.

For example, in Minecraft, geometry and logic, at the very least, are used to build structures- elaborate structures. There’s math. You can make maps. That’s geography. You have to learn what substances to mix with what in order to make things, such as glass (fire and sand). You can also use flowers to make different types of dye. Science. And there’s also an abundance of vocabulary words shown. When you hover over an object with your mouse, it will tell you what the object is. It can be as easy as “wood” or as difficult as “iron ingot.” Language Arts. That’s coming from my limited understanding of the game; I’m sure I’m missing a lot, but, hopefully, I’ve made my point.

Another game popular with my family is World of Warcraft. Again, I wasn’t too thrilled when my husband went out and got the WOW accounts- until I actually took the time to watch this game for a few minutes. There is so much strategic planning and so much going on at once that my head would be spinning, but my kids are great at it. They’re better able to focus on more things at once while still noticing little details in the background. And mapping? Let me tell you, because of this game, my kids’ map skills blow me out of the water. If we ever get lost and have only a road map to help us, guess who’s going to be navigating, and it’s not going to be me!

Pretty cut and dry, right? My kids are enjoying themselves while learning so many things, so what’s the problem? Well, that’s what I’m getting to.

The use of electronics, especially gaming, can be extremely addicting. And I know that I’ve said before how it’s great when my kids can immerse themselves in their interests, so what’s the difference? Well, it’s a fine line for me. First off, kids need exercise. They need to get out and breathe fresh air. I also happen to know that there are so many things that my kids truly enjoy that will get neglected if I don’t step in. Devin enjoys reading and art and Sherlock. Dillon loves origami and drawing and science experiments. These aren’t interests that I’m forcing on them; these are passions of theirs that they, unintentionally, start to neglect because of being unable to self-regulate. Devin has always been the type of girl who will easily read 3-4 books a week. She used to sit and read for hours and hours everyday. Just recently, however, she asked me to remind her to read because she forgets when she’s on her computer. Okay, that’s a big mayday. Devin never needed to be reminded to read before, and she recognizes that there’s a problem, so she’s asked me to intervene. Not good.

Right now I do have a period of time everyday that the TV goes off and all electronics are to be turned off. You would think I was pulling their teeth at the looks on their faces. And then come the excuses.
“Mom, can I look up science experiments on YouTube?”
“Can I go online and look up Mongolian Death Worms?” (Yes, Dillon actually did research them the other day.)
“Can I watch a makeup tutorial? I want to know how to make my own eye shadow.”
“Can I go on Minecraft and build a donjon instead of drawing one?”

And now I’ve gotten to the heart of the problem. I truly do think that there has to be a limit on electronics, but the harsh reality is, even if these are excuses, they’re still supporting the exploration of other interests- and that’s what I’m trying to promote in the first place! I just can’t win! Am I actually hindering them with this rule by removing the best tool there is for researching? It’s so exasperating!

And here’s where you come in! This is where I need your advice. Have you been through something similar? Do you regulate screen time, especially if you’re unschooling? How can I find a happy medium? I can’t tell you enough how much I’m looking forward to some fresh opinions on this topic. Hopefully, I’ll talk to you soon!

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Sorting Things Out

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been writing a lot of posts lately with the hopes of encouraging others. I think that’s my spiritual gift. Having said that, I obviously don’t have all the answers, and there are several things that I’m trying to sort out in my own mind. Things like Should I regulate screen time? and As a Christian, what are my thoughts on birth control? These are just two of the slightly incoherent thoughts I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around lately because, truthfully, I don’t know what I think of these things, and it really bothers me.

So, I’ve decided to start a sporadic series of posts entitled “Sorting Things Out.” My goal is to get your opinions on these, and other, matters that I just can’t seem to make a decision on. I say “sporadic” because there won’t be a set period of time for these posts. They’ll just happen randomly as a therapeutic effect to help me sort my thoughts.

If any of you have specific topics you’d like to discuss, leave a comment or email me. I’m really hoping to get a back and forth dialog going with you. I get to post my opinion here. Now I want to know what you think.

Tomorrow I plan on posting about the pros and cons of screen time. Hope to see you there!