HOW Unschooled Kids Watch TV
TV, Learning, Choices and FOOD
Today Hannah (14) is cooking a gourmet meal for all of us (7 people).
Yesterday she watched a cooking show (not sure which one) and then went to
the TLC website and printed out the recipe. She asked me to take her to the
grocery store to get the ingredients, which I did. It ended up taking a lot
longer than a usual shopping expedition because neither of us knew what a
few of the ingredients were. I don't cook much outside of people's
favorites, as it isn't much of an interest of mine.
We came home and she began following the recipe, chopping, mincing,
simmering, filling the kitchen with wonderful-smelling and beautiful-looking
We are about to sit down to: Southeast Asian Coconut & Lemongrass Broth with
Scallops and Shrimps...Watermelon Champagne and Fresh Orange Drink...with
Champagne Poached Strawberries with Mascarpone for dessert.
I attribute this meal to TV and our unschooling lives. And to Hannah, who
did the whole thing by herself.
She COULD have spent the day in front of the TV, that would have been okay
too, but this is what she chose to do today with unlimited TV.
And it smells reeeeeaaal good in our house right now :O)
Jacki (Gold Standard)
Close up of Hannah's meal
Southeast Asian Coconut & Lemongrass Broth with Scallops and Shrimp
A Thinking Child
Someone wrote at UnschoolingDiscussion:
I agree that there are many
things TV does better than any other medium, but I have a hard time
accepting that it should receive equal weight to other activities,
or be accepted entirely uncritically.
Pam Sorooshian responded:
Keep reading, Kate. (Critically, I mean <g>.)
You do not yet have a sense of what a "thinking child" is really like.
My 13 yo, 16 yo and 19 yo and I are all sitting and watching "Arthur"
right NOW. While I type.
It is just ending and it is the episode where DW, little girl, is
careless with her grandmother's doll (a valuable doll from her
childhood). The show just ended and my daughters are engaged in a
conversation that was first about why DW was so thoughtless in the
first place (how she's treated in the family, what info she was given
about the doll, etc.) and second they are discussing how the adults
handled it and whether it was right that, in the end, DW got to keep
the repaired doll. And so on.
This is definitely critical thinking viewing. There is no other kind in
our house. "Arthur" is a show aimed at much younger kids and is
animated and deals with school issues a lot. My kids ALL watched it
together just now and enjoyed it and then turned it off and talked
about it a bit and now they're all off doing other things. Roya is
making candles (and a big mess), Rox is getting dressed to go to a
DestinationImagination team meeting, Rosie is reading a Lois Lowry
In my park day group, the unschooled kids with freedom of choice to
watch tv really clearly have their critical thinking engaged when
watching tv. They "work" to get the joke, for example, on the Simpsons.
They ask questions—they make connections to other things they know.
TV is a more active experience for them than other kids. I know this
from listening to them talk about it.
Also, they are not necessarily the kids who watch the most tv, though.
My kids watch little tv—they don't watch ANYTHING except things they
really want to watch. That sounds obvious, but I think it isn't
obvious to those who think that kids will be sucked in and trapped if
the adults don't prevent that by setting limits.
Instead, think about helping become "thinking viewers" by watching with
them, talking about the shows, and also help them learn to turn it off,
not by MAKING them turn it off, but by making sure they have other
things to do that are as enticing as "another" tv show.
In a way, how much tv they watch is an indicator for unschooling
parents as to how well we're doing in creating a rich and stimulating
Don't carry this too far—there are lots of times when watching tv IS
an important part of that rich and stimulating environment, but what I
mean is that if we noticed one of our children watching tv in a "glued
to the tube" zombie-like mode, for hours and hours, day after day, we'd
respond by examining our unschooling lives, not with the knee-jerk
response of: "This is too much tv and this kid needs to have limits set
2013 note from Sandra: Rose Sorooshian was 12 or so when that was written. She came to watch MUCH more TV—still, because she wanted to. She gave a workshop on the learning that comes from TV at a symposium in Albuquerque in 2012, and one in Los Alamitos in 2013. She has been on panels about the value of video and video games.
They don't just "sit and watch."
Meredith, in response to a new poster writing "Is there anything you
could encourage your child to do other than sit and watch?":
While bouncing back and forth between Spongebob and Fairly
Oddparents, my dd (5) built assorted sculptures with marshmallows and
toothpicks, designed and created two different styles of backpack,
drew a gazillion pictures and wrote about some of them, wrote letters
to several differernt people (including Spongebob) and made her own
envelopes, sorted and counted the money in her piggy-bank, made a
cake, asked to try a new food, and generally bounced around the
livingroom, dancing, spinning and jumping. When she finally came to
bed she used the most words I've Ever heard her string together (she's
not very talkative) to explain the plot of the last episode she had
—Meredith (Mo 5, Ray 13)
Holly's Eclectic Tastes
an Emmy moment
posted on the AlwaysLearning list, 9/03
Holly wasn't watching the Emmy awards, she was reorganizing Barbieland with
her friend Kristy. I was watching, though, and in the tribute to those
who've passed away in the past year, three people who've figured in Holly's
TV/movie-viewing life were named:
I know the first two did lots more things, but those are what Holly
associates them with.
Victor Garber was one of the presenters. He played Jesus in the movie of
Holly wasn't watching it, but a lot of it was reminding me of Holly and all
the joy, ideas, songs and discussions that have come from her interest in those
September 21, 2003
Another day, I wrote:
At the age of eleven, Holly has had very little exposure to the idea of what is kids' stuff and what is not, and so her television and movie tastes are personal and calm. She will watch Teletubbies on the same day she might watch Stand By Me or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She likes music, she understands The Green Mile, and she's analytical about the messages various PBS children's shows intend to present, about school or self esteem or history or math. It's fun for me to watch her watch TV.
Ages and Sensibilities
Once someone's relative expressed surprise that an unschooling family had allowed a thirteen-year-old boy to watch Breaking Bad (written in Summer 2015, in a public facebook group). I saved some comments:
It's not so much about letting him—he is allowed to freely choose what he can watch and play, and free to choose how he spends his days. He loves Breaking Bad for all the reasons every one does, and he wants to go visit Albuquerque and that whole area of the US now (and handily we have friends there).
Sandra / I wrote:
He self directs his learning in all areas of his life, they both do, (with some guidance from us, and good principles we try to live by and therefore hopefully for them both to learn from and live by also if they choose too, and we help him/them to find answers to his many questions as best we can to) and he surprises us daily with what he is learning and what he is interesting in. Lately astral travel, the moon landings, parallel universes,the world wars. Movies you would be surprised he chooses to watch like 'The Great Gatsby', 'Big' 'Waynes World' along with films like 'Fury' and 'Captain Philips,' 'Twelve years a slave'—very diverse and always leading to more discoveries, interests and learning.
He is learning about the world he lives in and he gets to choose the parts he wants to know and learn about, and some of this world is indeed very interesting and often shocking, but it is balanced out with lots of wonder and beauty, and amazing mind-blowing stuff that is part of our world too. It's an Education, just not the way most people are used to, and as a family we are learning that it might just be a little more relevant and useful for this ever changing, fast evolving and awakening world we live in and with the most incredible (and fast) technological advancements ever, and therefore old ways changing fast too. It's a brave new world and Sam wants to be ready for it.
My kids (grown now) advise me on which shows they think would disturb me. Breaking Bad was one of them, so I avoided it, though I walked through the room while Marty or Holly was watching a horrible scene a couple of times, and they showed me interesting (non-disturbing parts) sometimes.
They also advised me against Toy Story 3, and Coraline. So it's not by age ratings. It's by knowing that person.
Sometimes people who aren't familiar with the way my kids grew up have expressed surprise or concern, but they were picturing a different scenario and it might easily include kids who are being controlled and then sneaky, who watch a show in secrecy and are too afraid to admit they did, or a dark cinema a child is stuck in until the expensive film is over (instead of the couch at his house, with a remote control he well knows how to use in hand—and with scary shows, often MUTE is all it takes to save oneself from the boogey-man, which is a lesson in the power of music).
Nobody I know is *making* any child watch a show for one second longer than he wants to, and when a person can get up and leave, or mute/pause/stop, that's more power than is usually laid on hypothetical children. On top of that, the parents are there to soften, explain, or ride the crazy story (and they're just stories) with their kids.
There were things my kids watched that seemed rough and scary, and some were little kids' shows. Devyn (six, and living here) watched the Disney Pinocchio the other day and said afterwards that she was afraid he was going to die. Neither Devyn nor Pinocchio suffered any harm. But if she had wanted to do something different, she could have.