Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TV and Other Headgates: what I have noticed so far

When we lived in Texas, a little over two years ago, my oldest two kids went to school.  Since I just had the youngest two at home, I would usually put on an educational TV show in the morning so that I could "get stuff done" without interruptions.  My time limit on TV was one hour, but it would occasionally go to an hour and a half and sometimes even two hours on the really busy days - which were more often then I'd care to admit.  During the summer, I had the same "one hour" rule with the TV for all of the kids, but I would also let them play educational games on the computer sometimes.  By then, I had stopped watching the TV shows I liked (mostly TLC), when the kids were awake (at least for the most part) because I had noticed that even though it appeared that they were not paying attention, they could recount everything I thought they hadn't been listening to.  I kind of wanted them to occupy their minds with their own thoughts.

I remember having one friend who didn't let her kids watch TV shows (Joanne - and her kids are amazing, by the way).  I honestly thought they were missing out.  I thought of all the educational shows that were available and I thought it was too bad that her kids didn't get some of the good benefits of TV.

When we moved to Utah and I started homeschooling, I decided that TV wouldn't be an option during the weekdays.  The older kids were home and I wanted them  to learn to work instead of keeping them entertained while I did the work.  At first, work was pretty minimal for them, and I still had stuff to do once "school time" was over and they went out to play, but I found that even the younger kids could do quite a bit and were benefiting a lot from helping out.  I realized that I should have been having the kids work with me all along instead of putting them in front of an educational show.  The character building that takes place when a child learns to contribute and do hard things is so so so much more important than learning the ABCs from Sesame Street.

As I've cut out more of the wrong "headgates" in our home like the electronic or scripted toys, the computer games, too much "friend" time, etc.  I have seen some things taking place that I hadn't expected.

We are left with toys that one needs an imagination in order to play with, so I see some pretty elaborate imaginative play.  They are not used to the fast paced images on the TV or in video games so they are able to focus on the slower pace of beautiful music and language.  They read, they practice piano, they write, they sing, they listen - because they choose to.  They feel the intrinsic value of these activities, they are not so dulled by constant stimulation that they think these things are boring.

I've been thinking about this ever since we went to the Church History Museum last Friday.  When we walked in, the sweet ladies invited us upstairs to the "children's exhibit".  We told them we'd work our way up there, but that we wanted to see the other things first.  The children were so involved in the things that they saw.  They would read the captions and would excitedly tell me about them.  Even Bazinks was facinated by what everyone was saying.  We had visited the museum over a year ago, but the children got bored after a while and I found myself trying to read as much as I could, as fast as I could before they started getting into mischief.  Not this time.  The Sisters that were there were so happy to have such a captive audiance that they would occasionally come up to us and tell us some interesting facts about the displays.  The kids paid close attention to everything they said.  A couple of the ladies told us how impressed they were with the children.

We liked the children's display at the end of our visit, but they all were much more enthralled by the real things they saw downstairs (except maybe Bazinks, he liked fishing off Nephi's boat and building the Bountiful Temple at the children's display).

We watched a musical production the other day.  Everyone paid attention the entire time (except the baby, of course, but he did like the music).  Yesterday, they watched the entire "I have a dream" speech on Rock's iphone and they were glued to it like it was the most interesting thing to them.  Only Bazinks asked how much longer it was, but he still watched the whole thing.  They can sit through a Shakespeare play.  They can notice the subtle beauty in the world around them.  They delight in the way a certain violin plays a certain part in a symphony.  They enjoy the way words create images, "Ooh, that's a cool way to say that," they'll point out.   They are aware.

I was hoping that simplifying our lives and getting rid of distracting things would help them want to learn things, but I didn't know the extent of sensibility that they were capable of.  Heavenly Father endowed them with a keen sense of beauty.  They are capable of truly seeing things if we don't dull their senses with entertainment and stimulation.

People have expressed to me the concern (one I'm sure every homeschooler has heard) that if I shelter my children too much that they won't be able to function in the "real" world.  I would say that my children are learning to actually see and understand the "real" world and will recognize the counterfeit when they see it.  I think too many children are living in a warped sense of reality and will eventually have to have a jolt into the "real" world.  Unfortunately, it won't always be too pleasant.  Especially if the jolt comes late in life, or even more so,  if it comes in the next life.

I am sure glad children are resilient.  It has taken me longer to start noticing and being sensitive to the beauty and reality around me, but they are helping me along.  I started this experiment for the sake of their education.  I didn't realize the effect it would have on their character, their vision, their feelings and their whole being.  If I were to put my older kids back in school now, I would be sure to guard those precious hours they have at home with a simple, plain environment where they could think and ponder their own thoughts, learn to see true beauty, find who they are, and see the world as it really is.  Their childhood is so short.  It is a shame to waste it.

Here are some pictures of the children's display at the Church History Museum.  I didn't think to get my camera out earlier.


  1. Thank you for the post. I have seen great things as I have tried to implement headgate princples. I only wish I had done it sooner. Sigh! But I know they will still benefit fom it now. It has almost been harder for me then for them. LOL!

  2. I agree that many children are living within a warped, fake life. It is truly sad when they can't see beauty and real life all around them. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that they will have a wake up call in this life, because there are so many adults that are also living in this pseudo world. Perhaps the wake up call will come in the next life when they realize how much they missed.

    I too, have learned a lot as I have tried to implement Headgate principles in our home. I think I still have a ways to go. My biggest hang-up right now is friends. How do you control "friend time" when you live in a neighborhood?

  3. I usually hear from primary and school teachers how impressed they are with my children's attention spans. I've assumed it's for the same reason (since I don't live in anyone else's home, I can't be certain). I love your thoughts on their ability to see beauty, too.

    As for friends (in the above comment). We used to live in a neighborhood brimming with children. I had to institute "home days" in order to get the friend playing under control. MWF were play days (for an hour) and TuThSat were home days to play with siblings. It worked great once my kids adjusted their expectations.

  4. As always, I LOVE this! I have always felt just a tad bit guilty, because my kids don't have any friends. They are little and they are home schooled and so they just have each other. What I love though, is when they refer to each other as "my friends". Cuddle Bug will wake up in the morning and say "Where's my friends?" What's even more wonderful about it, is the fact because they were all adopted, they aren't biologically related and could therefore have been only "friends" with one another, but get to be siblings to each other instead!
    I am enjoying the spur of the moment conversations we have together, which I know would not take place if their minds were filled with songs from Sesame Street. I see a child-like innocence and maturity in them, that fills me with joy! :0)

  5. I love this post! Congratulations on raising such wonderful children!

  6. Thanks for the comments! I love the thoughts about siblings being our friends. My siblings remain such close friends to me even though we all live far from each other. I think if they can learn to get along with one another, they can get along with pretty much anyone else (how much harder is it to treat those closest to you in a kind way than those you don't know well?)
    I've tried to limit friend time in a similar way that Tricia has done. We also have a neighborhood full of children and they are often knocking on our door. They are starting to get the idea that the kids can only play on Tuesdays, Fridays and some Saturdays (if we don't have family plans). They also can only play on these days for a limited time (usually 1 hour on Tuesdays and Fridays and a couple of hours on Saturdays if we don't have anything else going on and if they've done everything that is expected of them).

  7. Growing up I was only allowed 30 minutes of TV a day, and my mom was a stickler on it. I always credited that as being the reason I have a long attention span and also why I don't generally like TV or movies. My husband though came from a home with unlimited gaming and TV access-so he disagrees with me when I say I want no or very limited TV time. Ah well, she's still in utero so I've got time...

  8. I'm not sure if I've commented here before, but I've been reading your blog for a while and have very much appreciated it. I only have 2 very small children so far and while I know I want to homeschool, I'm in the process of considering different methods. So I really appreciate learning from your experiences. This was so helpful. Even if I don't do full on Headgates style, I decided long ago not to do TV in our family.

    This post was not only informative it was really beautifully written and honest and clear. I may refer to it when I want to help people understand why we don't watch TV! My oldest is still not even 3 but I already see these attributes in him. He LOVES classical music and choral music and can play with intensity and focus for a very long time for his age. Even for my age, really. He is a boy in that he loves trucks and dirt and digging, but he hasn't shown any inclination for fighting or guns because he doesn't even know what they are! I'm not trying to protect him forever, but since he hasn't seen cartoons and movies and things, he's just blissfully unaware. In fact, when he is occasionally and accidentally exposed to a fight scene he gets upset because people are falling down! That's the only way he can describe it since he doesn't know about kicking or hitting or punching or shooting or blowing things up. I know he will pick it up somewhere along the way, but for now, I am so so so so grateful for the many many perks of our TV-free home!

  9. Beautiful thoughts, Karen. You have a gift for putting your observations and experiences into words. Thank you for your insights! I agree!

  10. Hello Karen! I think your children are amazing and you are absolutely on the right track! Don't talk yourself off of it.

    I think society bucks at us for many reasons and one reason being some people are simply threatened. Many people don't know what to do with people who think outside of the box. Remember we aren't suppose to do that. We are suppose to raise our hands and stay in line. Once I realized this I stopped being so worried about what everyone thought (and became patient with all those around who had good intentions) and just started focusing on doing the right thing for us.

    Keep up the good work!

  11. I'm new to the whole 'headgates' concept, though much of it resonated with feelings I've had for quite a while. I just wasn't sure how to implement. I have loved reading about the changes you are seeing in your children. Maybe you have it posted somewhere, but I'm wondering how you were able to thin out their toys. Maybe my timing is wrong right after Christmas and all (I SO wish I had read it BEFORE I bought all those toys!!). I'm so afraid if I try to take away some of my 9 yr-old's electronic toys, he'll get pretty upset about it. (I have 5 children 9,6,5,2,9mo) I would love to hear how you handled it.

  12. Hi Lois,
    I'll answer your question in an upcoming post. I'll try to write it tomorrow. I hope it's helpful!