In 2011 Ryan and I made the decision to uproot our family from a comfortable existence in Michigan, the only home I had ever known, to pursue a dream of ours in rural Tennessee. Numerous blessings have gone hand in hand with this move including our desire for a simple life focusing on family and faith. However, life in the middle of nowhere also brought the stark reality that our kids do not and will not have the opportunities to participate in as many activities or experiences as other children might have. We live about 30 miles from most anything. We have eight children. I’m a stay at home mom. We have a handicapped eleven year old and a new baby. Luke does not do well on outings ("WHY DIDN'T YOU BRING LUKE?"), and the baby also is not outing oriented. She’s just not the easiest child that’s ever been born. That’s our current reality. In spite of these many hurdles, I still want my children to have access and exposure to various experiences that I believe will not only interest them in some way, shape, or form, but may also allow them to explore future endeavors and interests. I believe that a well-rounded life is always a positive trait in spite of where one’s life may lead.
Until recently, I wasn’t exactly sure how to make these experiences occur for our kids, and then one day while doing online yoga, I had a lightbulb moment. I had never considered exploring activities within the online world. What if I could take my disdain for screen obsessions and turn it into something positive? What if each child had an individual tablet tailored specifically with whatever they desired to learn about - an entirely educational experience at their fingertips? What if each kid was granted access to download apps that would provide exposure to activities such as Yoga? Gymnastics? Pottery? Art? Chemistry? Archery? Sewing? Knitting? Cake Decorating? Coding? Geography? The list was potentially endless. What if instead of zoning out on meaningless online gaming we replaced the meaningless with positive educational experiences? I started to get excited.
I chatted with Ryan about it and he was on board so the next step was to present the idea to our kids and hope that they were as excited as we were. They were. We also wanted them to be invested in these tablets if we were willing to purchase them (and granted, these are not $500 tablets – more like $50 tablets). Also, we would initially encourage free apps, but we also wanted to create an opportunity for them to earn money towards apps if they found a particular something or experience that really interested them. Below is a list of tasks/rewards I created for the kids. Each one is worth a specific dollar amount to fund approved apps that are not free. Caleb and Mya have really gotten on board with this concept.
Last Christmas each child was gifted with a Walmart gift card. Ryan and I decided that if they were willing to use their gift card toward a tablet, we would foot the financial difference on the condition that these tablets were to be used for only educational purposes. All six immediately agreed. They loved the idea so the next day I ordered six tablets and six cases. (our tablet station along with a few pet rocks)
A few takeaways – We allow the tablets M-F from about 4:30-7. We have dinner, chores, and bath time in there as well so all in all they probably have an hour to 90 minutes of online time.
Some of the kids enjoy the concept more than others, but if they want a screen, this is their option. Some of the kids opt to go play outside when presented with educational tablet or no screen. A few of our children will pick the screen all day long even if they are only allowed to learn. I think it’s a good compromise all the way around.
We still allow fun screens on the weekend - movies, ipods, xbox, etc from 3-5 – unless it’s a beautiful day, then we usually put the screens away.
This has really transformed our family from a bunch of zoombied out screen addicts to something I not only feel good about but also feel like the screens are enriching their lives and not sucking their brains out of their skulls.
Just keep livin!!