Parent Perspectives

Youth is not wasted on the young. Adults are taking it away from them.

At least once per week, my sons each mumble the same phrase to me.  It might be on the way to school, still sleepy and wishing they could go back to bed.  It might be after a long day of sitting, practicing, repeating and testing, with very little play or physical activity.  It might be in the evening when I ask them to sit down and work on their book logs or worksheets.  It might be when they realize at bed time on Sunday nights that they have to get up in the morning and do it all over again in the weekdays ahead.

Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.

It is not that they hate to learn.  They embrace it at home – experimenting, building, talking, creating, researching, and exploring.   More than once I have seen a nugget of enthusiasm about a science lesson at school that involved an experiment or they come home bubbling to tell me a story about a notable person in history who made a difference in the world.  And then there are the moments of pride when they bring home good grades.  They know how important good grades are in the system they are in.

But the bulk of their days is spent doing work they don’t enjoy in a compulsory environment that they dislike.

Day in. Day out.  More of the same. Read. Calculate. Compute. Recite. Test. Repeat.

And I, like the supportive parent I am and want to continue to be, just smile and say that I understand, but it is important to go to school and learn.  I am telling the truth.  It is important to learn, but it feels hypocritical.  I now believe that there is a better way to teach my kids and I have not been able to bring it to bear for them yet.

This is their childhood.  It is the one time in time in their lives that they are supposed to be free.  They are supposed to play.  Yes, they are supposed to learn, but in this day and age, when we do not depend on seasonal harvests, when most families can relieve their children of hard labor, they should be allowed to be kids first.  They should be exploring, testing the limits of their abilities, following crazy, fun, silly and outlandish lines of thinking, randomly asking questions when they are curious and vegging out when they need it.

We need to change how we treat them as children, especially the ones who are miserable.  (If a kid is thriving in the current system, that is terrific, but I would submit that many kids who are doing “well” are not going to be prepared to do well as adults.)

Youth is not wasted on the young.  We are stealing it from them.  We need to give it back to them and let them use it to become the adults they are meant to be.


Why I am not freaking out that my kid cannot read.

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”


My first-grader is not reading up to the standard required by the state of Florida.  We just got a brightly colored, official looking scholarship warning that says if he does not improve, the system has no choice but to retain him.  The year is barely half over and someone has already suggested that he will be held back.  How’s that for a little smack of reality.

When I read it, I feel defeated and embarrassed.   The “pleaser” in me wants to jump on my kid and “help” him catch up.  More books.  More book logs.  More practice.  Let’s go get some flashcards and drill him instead of giving him time after school to play sports, invent games or take art classes.

He cannot fail first grade.


But, all of this is a knee jerk reaction, and thankfully, one that quickly passes.  After a deep breath, I settle into the reality of our situation and realize this is exactly the reason we are so grateful to have freedom to make choices in education, and why we are trying to open the Sudbury School.  There is nothing wrong with my kid, but he may not be a great fit for our current school.  That is okay.

We have been down this road before, so I am not as freaked out by this news as I was the first time it happened with my older son, 3 years ago.  Our firstborn tried three schools before we found one that was a good fit.  Each focused on a different set of learning styles and techniques.  It was not until we placed him at his current school that it clicked. And when it did, we went from Cs and Ds to As and Bs.  His most recent conduct grade was an “A”.  It was the first time he was not a discipline problem for his teachers since starting Kindergarten.  My kid did not change though.  His schooling did.  It met him where he was, it engaged him and encouraged him, and that made all of the difference.

The average school can be great for many kids, especially those who have historically been left behind, whether because of familial, social or socioeconomic factors.  The new standards and the system of accountability that are central to the modern American education system is a huge benefit to those who might otherwise be circumstantially ignored. They make sure that every child is covered.  Each kid is given tools needed to advance to a set of predetermined learnings. For those kids and on paper, this is a good thing.  If everyone has to comply, then everyone receives the benefit. No one is treated differently, and in theory, no one is left behind.

BUT…and it is a big but, for those who are otherwise loved, supported, encouraged and parented, the pressure to reach certain agreed-upon milestones sets them up for a different and, in my opinion, a far more concerning problem.  In these instances, we are taking the self-discovery, self-motivation, and self-esteem out of learning.

If you are exceptional in any way, you have a problem because the system does not have the resources to go at your pace or to meet you where you are…whether that is FAST, DIFFERENT or SLOW. And in the case of different or slow, if you are not ready to move with the pack, you are behind.

Do you see the irony?

At 6, my son is curious, creative, funny, and clever, but he is not ready to read, or alternatively perhaps, the methods used by his school/teacher are not the ones that would help him read at this age.  Since the system is not designed to deliver individual instruction or to allow for differences in readiness, then if he is not on task, he is behind.  And behind, in this instance is punitive.

To make things a little more complicated, my son is a twin.  His brother has been reading for nearly 2 years, far ahead of the required timetable to advance to second-grade.  This situation is a no win for us.  Split them up and one gets a message that he is less than his brother.  Advance him and the system has to remediate a kid who is “behind.”

In a perfect world, my kids would have access to a variety of instruction that could accommodate a variety of learning styles. In a perfect world, there would be no timetable for learning – only the expectation that each child is moving forward and discovering the things they need to be informed, productive and prepared for their future. In a perfect world, my son would not have to repeat this grade level and double-down his focus on reading for another year, at the expense of covering other new topics.  He would be able to make the self-determination of how, when and why he learns to read.  His instructors and his parents (my husband and I) would support him and help him find ways to use the activities he wants to do as a means to the end.

It can happen.  It does happen.

Democratic, free schools like Sudbury schools allow it to happen.

In fact, a parent of a student at the Sego Lily School in Salt Lake City shares this perspective:

“By 2nd grade my youngest son was so unhappy in school, he announced he hated to read, and would never do it! That’s when I moved so he could attend a Sudbury model school. When he was 10 he disappeared into his room, with his computer…his dad was worried by this behavior…I was thrilled, because I could feel him learning! When he emerged from his room (weeks later), he was reading. He had gotten tired of not being able to excel at playing the video games he liked because he couldn’t read. What followed were lots of questions about grammar! He found a guy on Youtube who posted videos on grammar, and downloaded language structure into his own biocomputer/brain. Yesterday (3 years later) he finished building his own Gaming Computer. His interest in video games first led him to reading, and now to computer building! I worry that our children are forced to be so busy, pressured to perform, judged, scheduled, and filled with the fear of “making it in the world”, that they lose their ability to find their own path…to discover their own unique genius…why have we, as a society, stolen our children’s creative joy, exploration, and natural genius, simply to fuel a dysfunctional and soul grinding FEAR…of life.”

The reality that kids can own the process is seen every day at Sudbury.  Peter Gray, one of the schools most visible proponents, writes about it in a Psychology today article,

“Most Sudbury Valley students today are learning to read earlier, and with even less conscious effort than before, because they are immersed in a culture in which people are communicating regularly with the written word–in computer games, email, Facebook, cell-phone texting, and the like. The written word is not essentially different to them than the spoken word, so the biological machinery that all humans have for picking up spoken language is more or less automatically employed in their learning to read and write (or type).”

Still not convinced?

Check out any or all of the following pieces by parents, psychologists, doctors, teachers, etc.

If your child is on a different schedule, consider coming to learn about Sudbury School of Jacksonville.  Our next information meeting is Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at the Whole Foods on San Jose Blvd. at 7 pm.


Parent Perspective: “Have you lost your mind?”

Truth.  I am a little surprised that the reaction from friends and family to the idea of starting a Sudbury school has been wholly positive.  And for those whose reaction is a little doubtful, they are helping me to improve my pitch about starting the school.

Most of the people I have shared the concept with have asked questions and smiled. Some nodded and moved onto to other topics or wished me the best of luck.  And then there were the ones whose eyes lit up, who see this as the school they have been looking for their son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.  They want to know more.  When will it open?  Where will it be?  How much will it cost?  What happens when you finish with your Sudbury education?

I was expecting something different.  In talking with other founders who have launched a Sudbury School, each has shared with me the stories of adults who have had an overtly negative reaction to the idea that kids can be in charge of their own education.  Some got downright angry.  A few even tossed out threats.

For those of you who are considering Sudbury for your child, or are planning to support the decision of a family member or friend to embark on this journey, be prepared for the negative nancy to come along and blurt out, “Have you lost your mind?”

It is for you that I share this essay borrowed from Johanna Schmidt, a longtime Fairhaven School parent and author.  I have copied the text from the Fairhaven School blog.

Are You Thinking Sudbury Parents Must be Insane?

Back when both of my children went to a highly rated public Montessori School, I occasionally ran into acquaintances whose children attended Fairhaven School.  I smiled and nodded politely as they described the model of this “free school” where the kids decided to do whatever they wanted all day, while thinking “Are you CRAZY?”  I couldn’t believe that any intelligent and loving parent would take such a risk with their child’s education.  Didn’t we all agree that solid education was the only way a person could accomplish anything in this mad world?  Were their children sad misfits who simply couldn’t survive other more conventional models of schooling or were they (the parents) impossible idealists completely cut off from reality as we all know it?

Understand, I am a career educator, started teaching right out of college and never fully stopped.  I have taught in public schools, private schools, taught adults, children, and currently teach and administer a program at University of Maryland, partially because I want to be able to afford to send my children there someday.  So I have a lot invested in the world of education as we know it.  If it’s all a big mess than what on earth have I been doing all these years?  If kids don’t actually need teachers, then surely college-age students don’t need me.  How threatening is that?

So.  Here’s what happened.  My eldest son B, got up to 7th grade, where the high-performing public Montessori school took especial pride in preparing a high percentage of their students to successfully test their way into the math and science public magnet school in our area that has the reputation (there’s just no other way to say it) of being the ONLY option for people who can’t afford private school.  We were told that all the 7th graders would be doing between 30 and 100 math problems a night, in homework, in order to increase their prowess and take their rightful places as rulers of the planet.  And I broke.  I snapped.  I couldn’t see it, couldn’t do it, couldn’t subject my child or my family life to it, suddenly thought “Good grief, K-12 is all institutionalized academic rigor and stress and tests, then University is more institutional academic rigor and stress and tests….what kind of education is that, really?” and I compared my own paltry schooling but extremely happy childhood with the one I was providing for my son, shook my head in disgust, and began looking for alternatives.

One thing led to another and I found myself on the back porch at a neighborhood party while two enthusiastic parents related how their son, who had been miserable at a neighborhood public school, actually enjoyed going to Fairhaven, was happy and acting more responsibly at home, and was occasionally cooking them eggs for breakfast without even being asked!  Will you think less of me if I admit it was the promise of my progeny becoming some sort of unpaid cook/housekeeper that made me start to listen?  And once I started listening and entertaining dangerous thoughts, I couldn’t stop.  Then I visited the campus and I was sold.  I wondered “How could a place that feels so good be bad for my sons?” In retrospect, I wish I had had the emotional courage to ask myself years before, how could a place that felt as bad as their former school felt, possibly be good for them.

My husband and I took a deep breath, clutched each other’s hands, and in the face of more raised eyebrows than you can shake a power point presentation at, we jumped off the educational cliff.  That’s what it felt like to me, enrolling at Fairhaven.

The first thing I noticed was different about B. after he started at Fairhaven was that all of his health problems evaporated.  Asthma, allergies, digestion problems, all of which he had suffered for his entire K-6th grade years.  All gone. He didn’t take many classes that first year, and that really freaked me out.  But he was happy and healthy, and my husband and I decided maybe we were just giving him a well-needed break.   He was doing such interesting things and had great friendships so I knew it wasn’t an entirely bad move, but we weren’t complete believers yet;  I kept worrying about my son’s pathway to college.  I couldn’t see it. If I list for you here my son’s involvements and accomplishments, and why I now believe my son will be able to create a future for himself, it will sound an awful lot like bragging, and B. will not allow me to publish this blog.  He’s a thoughtful, modest fellow and would prefer to impress you in person. If he chooses to go to college, he’ll go.  I can see that now. He’s fourteen.  Why, I ask myself, why, why, why did I think I should be able to see it any sooner?

Parent Perspectives: A life of learning

This is my typical day.  I awaken, shower, get dressed, eat something and brush my hair and teeth and help my little guys do the same (although my husband shoulders more of the morning work than I do, by far – thanks, honey!)  I drive to work, after dropping off my son at school.  I sit at a computer, send messages, prepare memos and reports and answer questions.  I plan events, figure out how to solve problems and communicate with colleagues, clients and fellow professionals.  After the day, I move through a well-choreographed dance of kids’ activities and assignments, all the while running a direct selling business and this blog.   Occasionally, I even find time to read books for pleasure, do projects, watch TV or play games.

When I read this list, I am struck by how so many of the skills needed to do these things were learned outside of my traditional schooling.  My mom taught me the basics of personal hygiene and domestic duties.  My dad taught me to drive. I am self-taught with the skills needed to send an email or design a visual presentation.   I sought out the training needed to learn to plan an event or advocate for my company.  I took advantage of training offered in my community or workplace, and if could not find what I wanted there, then I went further to look on-line or to gather information from others who I admire.

I am not done learning.  I am hungry to learn more.  I am finishing up a class on-line for a new crafting skill.  I listen to audio books in my car.  I watch videos or news shows to get caught up on current events or dig deeper into something I have come across during the day that interests me. I sign up for lectures, attend luncheons and read blogs.

The core skills of reading and writing were learned in school and for that I am grateful, but my learning did not start in preschool, nor did it finish at the end of my schooling days. It began the day I was born and continues even now, as I learn how to prepare this post. It is a journey and every day brings new information to digest and choices to make.

That is lifelong learning.


As humans, we are wired to want to learn.  In fact, some might say that it is essential that we do.  Gerald Fischer, of the Center of LifeLong Learning and Design at the University of Colorado, states,

Lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a possibility or a luxury to be considered. Lifelong learning is more than adult education and/or training — it is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire.

But who is instilling that in our kids?

Nowadays, kids sit passively in school, receiving information that is usually not relevant to the real world.  For the record, I do not believe that is because the system is out of touch, but because the system is too massive and bureaucratic to keep up. It takes months or years to affect change and in the mean time, kids are growing up and aging out, unprepared for what is expected of them or needed from the modern work place.

Fischer uses a great analogy that really hit home for me.  Right now, choice in traditional education is the equivalent of a television with 100+ channels.  A passive watcher can pick one of the many channels, but the information provided is static and someone else decides what content to use.  Yes, we can switch the station, but we are still a passive recipient of the information, no matter what channel we pick. Worse yet, we are couch potatoes, staring at a screen, just watching and watching.

In the real world, we want people to get up off the couch and engage.  We want them to actively learn and challenge the way things are done to see if we can do them better. And with new information being poured out into the world with each passing second, we want people to be adaptable, to make proactive choices, to fail fast, to grow and prosper.

If we expect that of them at age 18 or 22 or 30, then we need to teach them how to do that when they are children. We need to give them the freedom to learn what they want so that they can determine where they’ll find their place in the world.

That is what “free schools” offer.

The Philly Free School shared these thoughts,

The students decide what to learn and when to learn it, every day.  The school IS its students, situating it forever in the now and the yet to be. I can think of no other way that a school can hope to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century. They are poised for whatever comes next, because they ARE what comes next.

If you are thinking that your kids should be more in control of what and how they learn, Sudbury might be a fit for your family.  Join us this Sunday, January 11, at 3:00 pm to learn more about the efforts to open a Sudbury model school in North Florida.  Click here for details.

Parent Perspective: By the numbers…or not.

Around the world, millions of people waking up today and focusing on new numbers for their new year. Lose 10 lbs before the summer.   scaleOr work out 3x per week. Read 100 books by the end of the year. Spend 15 minutes per day meditating. Regardless of the merits of the goal, using numbers can be tremendously motivating. For many, numbers keep us moving forward when we might otherwise give up.  Even small goals can seem more achievable with numbers. “I will have one cookie, not 12.”  And many would say that without measurement, there is no way to define success. Measurement via numbers is how the world evaluates job performance, company health and the efficacy of processes.  Sales people have goals which roll up to company revenue. Athletes and teams set times to beat, averages to improve, and wins (and loses) to record. Politicians need votes to win elections and polls to see if their work is well-received by the constituents they serve. Numbers hold us accountable to the roles we play and goals we seek to achieve as individuals and as members of a group. Numbers can also help an outsider make a judgment about a system, activity or pursuit that they are not actively engaged in. They offer hard data for the person who is not doing the work themselves. They show progress. They are “proof.”

However, using numbers to evaluate a system is not always straight forward.  We don’t judge the success of a gym by the weight-loss stats of its membership, although one could surmise that if everyone is dropping LBS like crazy, it is a very effective gym. However, that would imply that the gym can control who walks in the door, with what abilities and how much effort they put forth while they are there. We don’t determine the success of a library by the number of people who have read the books they checked out. That would assume that the library can control the quality of the writing or the schedules and intent of the readers.

Never the less, there is really one visible example of using numbers to make judgments about individuals that aim to prove a point about a larger system. Education. In traditional schooling, the numbers are mandatory. They are compulsory. You can’t NOT get scored because without the numbers, outsiders have a harder time determining what is working or what isn’t.

But the kids in the system may not be better for the score, even if the system is.

walnutcove-grades Kate Atkinson wrote a blog post on the Huffington post earlier this year about how grades and numbers have an unintended consequence, beyond the proof of merit of the system.

If you are in high school, there is a good chance that you have felt defined by your GPA, ACT scores, numerical averages, test grades or the number of AP courses you take. You may have felt inferior to a peer whose class rank is above yours. You may have been looked down upon because you take “regular” math instead of Accelerated Calculus. You may have felt less intelligent because everyone you know is taking more AP courses than you. For the majority of my high school career, I have been just like you. I didn’t share my unimpressive class rank with anyone. I lied about the B I received in math class because I knew my peers would think lesser of me. I constantly allowed low test grades to make me feel inferior.

Kate is made to feel “less than” because she is compared to the mean in order to achieve a holistic view of the system, but it does not serve her as an individual. As an advocate for a Sudbury school, I am not anti-grades, anti-testing, or anti-accountability. Instead, I am FOR giving humans the choice of how, when and on what they elect to be evaluated. The person who chooses to dance with hopes of professional dancing knows evaluation is part of the gig. For the student who elects to go to college, aspiring to be an engineer, accountant, or doctor, etc., course grades are an essential part of determining progress and preparedness for the tasks is expected. The difference is that the person makes the choice to be evaluated. If a student like Kate subjects themselves to a score or grade, they have a choice about how to react, just like a person who sets a goal to lose weight can use the number to motivate themselves. And if the number is not what they had hoped, they can see it as a success or failure. That is up to the student.

One of the most asked questions I hear about Sudbury is about how students who are rarely tested are able to perform in the “real world.” Again, I go back to choice. If I choose to work for someone or do something that requires testing, training, metrics, etc., then I also understand the role that those numbers play in my ability to be successful. If I don’t like the score, I change my methods. I work harder. I ask for help. Or I try something else. The fact is that traditional schooling is the only place were humans are involuntarily evaluated with little to no consideration to how it impacts their sense of worth or personal path.  No evaluation of a diet, exercise regimen, new year’s resolution, exam from an institution of higher learning or job evaluation forced upon humans because, in every case, the person makes the choice to be evaluated. But kids don’t have that choice…that is, unless parents give them a place where numbers are treated very differently. Enter Sudbury.

The Pressure is On.

2014 is nearly over.

And I am only “half” ready.

If 2014 is any indication, the time will zip by.  On the one hand, I am excited about a fresh start.  But there are HUGE unknowns that loom ahead.

The biggest one is the daunting challenge of how to change the course of our kids’ education.  The amount of time we have to make a meaningful change seems like it keeps getting smaller and smaller.   I know that there are others of you out there who are feeling uncertain of the path your kids will take too.  Maybe you have a teenager and you feel you only have a few years left to make a difference.  Maybe you are coming up on a transition from elementary to middle school or middle to high and you want to do something before your kid settles in to the next school.

Regardless, we all feel time slipping away.

For me, with each day, the pressure is more intense.


I think schools are feeling the pressure too.

Public and charter schools have more required of them, with less funding and, in some cases, with less time to impart the knowledge needed to pass the standardized tests that measure the success of their teachings.  The test scores not only impact the kids, but are often computed into the ratings of the staff’s performance and can affect the schools’ funding.

The stakes are high.

Maybe that is why so many traditional school systems are starting earlier and earlier to get kids ready.  Whether it is having middle school kids pick a track for high school that aligns with a specific career or college path, or piling on more and more homework to “help” with preparation, schools are requiring more instruction and more work in an effort to push kids to be their most successful.

In fact, I recently read an article about a kindergarten in New York who cancelled its end-of-the-year show in order to devote more time to college and career prep.

The interim principal writes,

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.

And currently, the determination of who is a strong reader, write, and so on, is a series of assessments…standardized tests. Not a successfully executed end-of-year show.

I do not fault the school for making the judgment call.  In fact, if I was them, I may have done the same thing.  If you can only be successful as a school or as a system if your students do well on a test, then surely, you must prepare for the test.  Starting earlier is a natural conclusion.

However, there are several problems with the way our system has evolved.  First, not everyone does well on standardized tests.  Moreover, even if you do well on tests, the methods of instruction most schools use to prepare kids for the tests is ideal for only a fraction of the population.  Generally, traditional schooling is not multi-sensory.  It is lecture based.  It utilizes rote memorization.  Most people don’t learn that way.

In addition, success in life is more than being able to do well on tests. I want our kids to have schooling that reflects modern society.  They need to learn to be self-motivated.  They need to learn to be adaptable.  They need to be able to be curious and innovative.  To achieve this, schools need more individualization.  More customization.   More interaction. More experiential-learning opportunities.  They need to be given freedom and responsibility.  They need opportunities to practice making choices for themselves.  They need to become accustomed to taking responsibility when those choices don’t pan out the way they’d like.

To the contrary, traditional schools pick the time, the place, the lessons, the curriculum, the delivery methods and the measure of success. Kids decide on next-to-nothing about how they are taught and that is doing them a disservice.

I also think that the assumption that a show would not help the students become “strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers” is also flawed.  Time and time again, we learn that life’s softer pursuits can be a great teachers.  Music. Art. Games. Theater. Sports. Cooking. Gardening.  All of these things require reading, writing and decision making.  They just cannot be assessed on a test.  And really, shouldn’t our 5 year-olds have an experience that exposes them to the world around them and allow them to lean into learning things that really interest them?

Shouldn’t we all have that?

When I was looking for a path that would give my kids the best start in life, I NEVER would have predicted that I would be an advocate for something like a Sudbury School.  No grades. No grade-levels. No lesson plans. No tests.

That said, I have come to realize that while some kids are getting exactly what they need from traditional schools, there are plenty more kids would thrive in a new or different environment. Sudbury may not be for everyone, but if you are feeling the pressure to find something else that might be a better fit for your kid, consider joining the effort to open a Sudbury School in North Florida.

Feel free to comment below and I will reach out to you with details about our upcoming information meetings.

Happy new year and much joy, prosperity and health to you and yours in 2015.


Minecraft, Candy Crush and mix tapes.

My kid loves Minecraft.

Every morning, I come down the stairs to find him building, battling, surviving in this weird pixelated world. I have tried to understand his obsession.  Heck, I even bought a book about how to play, but I admit, I don’t get it.

As the mom, when it comes to Minecraft, I thought it was my job was to:

  1. Strictly monitor and restrict them amount of time he spent playing.
  2. Watch out for cyber-predators and/or ultra-violent content.

Turns out that I may have only needed to worry about the latter of the two.

This past August, Forbes reported on the topic in an article entitled, “A Surprising New Study On How Video Games Impact Children.”  They share the findings of Author Andrew K. Przybylski, Phd., who conducted a study of “2436 male and 2463 female young people, ranging in age from 10 to 15 years.” The study is entitled “Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment,”

…The findings do indicate “that electronic play has salutary functions similar to traditional forms of play; they present opportunities for identity development as well as cognitive and social challenges.” In other words, video games are comparable to other kinds of imaginative play.

Huh?  You mean all this time, there is a really good chance that I have been telling my kid not to PLAY at his favorite EDUCATIONAL activity in the world?

I know that play is critical, but I had just assumed that he needed to be outside with a ball or a bike, using Legos or creating with paints, paper and glue.

The Sudbury Valley School encourages kids to spend their time doing what they please.  That includes packs of kids playing video games in a social setting.  This is tough for some parents who are considering the Sudbury model.

If you are like me, you are asking yourself, “How will they learn anything?” and  “What if that is all they do?”  Their blog has a FAQ section that covers this popular topic.

[Some kids] spend tremendous amounts of time playing video games and [outsiders] see it as mind- numbing. We know – because we see the kids and we know the kids – that it’s the opposite of mind-numbing, that they only play a particular video game until they’ve mastered it and then they go on to something else. They also play in an extremely social situation with other kids, talking all the time, and they develop very deep social relationships. And we know that the kind of concentration they put into each video game is mind-building and not mind-numbing…

Video games like Minecraft foster creativity, ingenuity and social behavior.  Heck, even games like Candy Crush are beneficial to a point.  Adults who play have a chance to take a mental break and generate a small “win”, maybe a badly needed one on a tough day…so I have heard. (I might be on level 416.)

Wallpaper from kretas95

In fact, Minecraft itself is getting notoriety for being an education tool.  In a recent online article, shares:

Through experimenting and working together, kids begin to develop skills in creative thinking, math and geometry, and even a bit of geology. And to complete large tasks, they need to plan a strategy, define goals and work together to execute and see the mission through — sort of like having a real job.

In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Research published a study comparing children that played video games to those that didn’t. “Video game players, regardless of gender, reported higher levels of family closeness, activity involvement, attachment to school and positive mental health,” Paul Adachi and Teena Willoughby, the authors of the study, concluded. “Video game players also had less risky friendship networks and a more favorable self-concept.”

What society deems is a waste of time has changed over the years and I am guessing we all have done something to fill the time that was not super-productive on the surface.  (Again, Candy Crush.)

Listening to music and making mix tapes was my “time-waster”, but it didn’t feel that way to me.  In retrospect, I can even find value in my hours and hours of hunching over the tape-recorder.  I learned patience (because I had to wait for the right song to come on the radio), organization (because I had to decide which songs I wanted, in what order and for what length of time on the cassette) and generosity (because we all know that it was the ultimate gift.)  Maybe it was not algebra or The Iliad, but I was having fun, I felt good about myself when I was making them, and I probably learned a thing or two.

I know that I have to re-frame how I see the role of video games like Minecraft in my house.

Lesson learned.