Thursday, April 02, 2015


Here's the thing: I don't know what I'm doing. Parenting, educating, all of it: I really don't know what I'm doing.

Here's the other thing: no one else does either. That is not to say that we're all utterly clueless, but we are all of us, to some extent or another, making it up as we go along. We're guessing.

This is what I keep coming back to when I think about choosing homeschooling and selecting curriculae and what I will and will not do with our children. We're all guessing and none of us have flawless foresight. I am making my best, most informed guesses, but guesses they most assuredly are. And that's fine. That's just normal.

It's comforting to think we "know". I know that Ontario public schools are, generally speaking, pretty great places to be. I know that there are scores of devoted, enthusiastic teachers out there in those schools. I also know that many are hampered and restricted by ministerial guidelines and that staffing cuts for budgetary reasons have left many schools with insufficient staff to supervise kids closely enough to deal with bullying and social issues. Maybe my kids would get fabulous teachers and have no social issues, or maybe they'd get a burnt out teacher and be tortured by bullying classmates. Maybe I'll be a fantastic home educator and my children will blossom in ways they wouldn't in a school environment, or maybe I, too, will end up burnt out and we'll all be miserable. 

Who knows. I sure don't.

We're guessing. Making deeply, painfully thought-out choices with as much information as possible, but we're guessing. I take my comfort in knowing that whatever we choose from one day or year to the next is still guessing.

So when it comes to computer and IT literacy, I'm merely making informed guesses. I recently read a blog post written by an unschooling mother who argues in favour of immersing children in technology, lest they resemble the uncomfortable octogenarians she references at the beginning of the post who cannot parse the phrase "Just Google it."

I can't say I agree (and I'm intentionally not linking to her post since I have no interest in beginning some sort of blogging flame war).

Her argument that this is the necessary language of the future is absolutely correct. Social media skills, technological literacy and an ability to learn and adapt to new interfaces will be invaluable as we and our children move through the coming years. With that in mind, I should definitely be handing my three year old a tablet, shouldn't I?

Arguable. But it is likewise arguable that there other skills my children also need to learn. Emotional literacy and empathy, the joy and appreciation of physical movement, mental math (she argues everyone carries a calculator on their phone all the time: true enough, but I've been known to forget my phone at home or forget to charge it; at least I can still add up my purchases without it). And then there's the importance of narrative, not only for telling a story but for grasping timeline and cause-and-effect, as well as the arts and cooking, not to mention the value of physical activity for health and wellness purposes. While all these skills and technology are by no means mutually exclusive, I also know that there are only so many hours in the day. And I know that shiny, new, exciting devices are extremely alluring. Maintaining variety in the spirit of moderation in all things is vital and a skill I - quite reasonably - do not expect my children to have fully developed at the tender ages of three and six years old.

So no, my children don't have much exposure to using technology themselves. They don't have a tablet, the closest to a computer game they've ever gotten is our six year old typing on a word processor, my phone has no child-friendly apps. They are almost entirely media-free, with movies largely limited to very rare occasions or when we are all down with a virus. And it isn't fear - which is the argument often made opposing our choice - that motivates us: it's priorities. There are, quite simply, other things that I want my children to learn first. Because if I am able to engender in my children a love of discovery and learning, a joy in new challenges and problem-solving without defeatism or fear, then I am confident they will embrace technology in all its avatars with aplomb.

But of course I don't know. After all, we're all just guessing.

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