The media ominivore’s dilemma

When I first posted about the Momentum Optimization Project, I was expecting just a few friends and family members to read it. But it must have struck a chord: As of today, it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times (although part of me suspects it’s my mom, clicking over and over again just to feed my ego). The traffic kind of freaked me out, to be honest–I’m an editor, not a writer, by trade, and I’m not really used to having people whom I don’t know read, comment, even ask me for advice based on something I’ve written. I should probably make it clear that I’m not an expert on anything, more of a curious questioner. And as far as getting my kids to keep things really need and orderly? It’s kind of hilarious that anyone would look to me for advice, because: I am a disaster. Seriously. I need one of these just to find my keys at any given moment.

Anyway, 100,000 views are bound to yield a few criticisms.  A few readers inferred that my insistence on the kids reading “real text (not comics)” meant that I don’t want them reading comics at all, or that I don’t think comics are valuable. Others thought that by limiting screen time and insisting on “creative time,” I was implying that computers are not in fact tools that can be used creatively, or that I think gaming is stupid. All of which is kind of hysterical. Seriously, media–tv, books (including comics and graphic novels), movies, music, online gaming and computers–makes up a huge chunk of our family budget, in terms of time and money. Technology and media are kind of priorities in our lives. We’d rather have new machines than go on vacation (and so, we don’t really go on many vacations).

My goal with the Momentum Optimization Project wasn’t to make the kids not play on the computer, or not watch TV. It was to remind them that there are other ways to spend their time, too.

I know that as a child in the 1970s and early 80s, I watched as much TV as I possibly could. But in reality, there was just not that much TV to watch. Five channels, with maybe three hours of programming per day that might be interesting to a child of any given age, all running at the same time. No DVRs or TV on demand, no streaming media, no 24-hour Nickelodeon or MTV yet. I could watch All The TV There Was To Watch, and eventually, run out of TV to watch. I’d get bored, find something else to do.

Today’s kids have no such limits forced on them. There is so much entertainment, available the touch of a button, that can be delivered right to their faces. And, despite the existence of some really terrible stuff (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives), much of what’s out there is ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY AWESOME. I’m quite certain that if I had Internet when I was a child, I’d have spent my entire adolescence sitting in my room watching SNL clips and searching some kind of irrefutable evidence to prove, once and for all, that REM was better than U2. (Because they were). And if I were a kid in the 2000s, I’d probably have grown pasty looking for LOST spoilers and theories or watching Epic Rap Battles of History until I, like my kids, knew every word to every single rap battle. I get that Everything is Awesome, but I would by happy if my kids would be motivated to, say, follow up on Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe by perhaps reading Carrie or at least looking up Poe’s biography on Wikipedia.

So, really, I’m not looking to put an end to computers (or comics) or to even put strict limits on either of them. I’m just trying to raise well rounded, media omnivores. As I’ve stated before, Newton’s Laws of My Family state that if they get involved in a video game early in the day, that’s pretty much what they’ll want to do all day. If I don’t point them toward other things, and give them a little shove, I know they’ll waste their free time away in a Minecraft or Steam bubble at the expense of all the other awesome stuff–music, sports, books, podcasts, movies–not to mention sunshine and face-t0-face socializing–that they could be enjoying, exploring, and learning from.

Anyway, when I started instituting “creative time” last winter, I generated this little Wordle and hung it in the kitchen. It’s just a hodgepodge of ideas so I always have an answer to “I can’t think of anything to do.”

DO SOMETHING wordle

 

There’s exercise, chores, good deeds, and even some ideas for using technology creatively. When it’s cold or rainy, or when they’re in the height of swimming season and don’t really need to be pressed for more exercise, I’ll let them slide on the “glowing screen” aspect, and suggest they do something active or creative–say, research some topic of interest or make a video or go on a photo treasure hunt–which might involve a computer or tablet. For me, the key is to make them use technology actively and creatively, rather just having them passively absorb content while sitting in a chair.

 

 

 

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Something to consider: Kudoso’s new router is a screen time management system

So, Engadget reported this week on a Kickstarter campaign for Kudoso, a router/software combination that enables you to limit kids’ screen time and encourage them to complete chores, schoolwork, play outside, etc. Essentially, it locks kids their gadgets out of the internet, and via an interface that parents control, allows them to earn time on various sites by completing particular chores or activities. It looks like it might be a few hours of set up time, but if it works, it could simplify things some families.

Kudoso's new router/software system limits screen time.

From Engadget.com

I’ve moved toward the “unlimited earned time” model with my kids, but I think something like this might be super effective in helping younger children to diversify their behavior and learn some good habits, while still allowing them to engage with media. I like that it links with existing electronic tracking and teaching tools, like Kahn Academy and Fitbit, which can make it possible for some rewards to automated.

However, one question many parents have asked me about my system is how to confirm that kids have, indeed, completed their chores if you are not  at home to check that the bed is actually made or the laundry folded. I’m not sure (yet) how to work around that, with this or any system.

I’m not quite intrigued enough to plunk down the cash at the moment, but will be following the reviews.

Here’s the story from Engadget. And here’s the Kickstarter page.

If anyone tries it, please let us know how it goes.

 

 

A quick note on comics

Quite a few people have taken issue–and reasonably so–with my distinction between comics and “real text.” I regret my word choice here: I hadn’t intended to imply that comics are not “real” text. I am a huge fan of comics and graphic novels for kids, and they make up a large portion of my kids’ media diet. However, my goal for the List was to get my kids to prioritize their time–to make them tend to the tasks they MUST accomplish before they settle in for hours on the computer. During the school year, that means getting their assigned reading done: my daughter would have pages in textbooks or an assigned novel, my son is expected to read five news articles per week. Invariably, they would put these tasks off, or not do them at all. And they never seem to think of it as  “homework” since there’s nothing to hand in. My first iteration of The List (which was a hand written scrawl and is not posted on this blog) did not make this distinction, and my daughter responded by reading only graphic novels (and mostly ones that she had read before). I don’t want to discourage that behavior, but she needed to be pushed to engage in longer and more challenging texts. So during the school year at least, comics and graphic novels are considered part of “creative” time, since it doesn’t feel like a chore to have to read them (I make no such distinction in the summertime edition of list). In fact, I treat my daughter to a new comic as a reward whenever she finishes a text-driven book.

I’ll post more on this later, but for now I just wanted to acknowledge those who felt my wording did a disservice to comics and graphic novels, because on review, I totally agree with them.

Momentum Optimization Project: Summertime edition

First of all, thanks to everyone who has visited and taken time to comment on the Momentum Optimization Project. I’m absolutely gobsmacked by the response–I guess all my friends who saw our List on the kitchen wall and commented that I really ought to share it were on to something.

Enough readers were wondering what I was planning for the summer to put a fire under my ass to make a summer plan. Summer is a really busy time for me, work wise, as the books I work on tend to go into production in the spring and they’re always late by May, which means I spend much of June and July trying to catch up. It’s also my favorite time of year to be not working–my little sleepy neighborhood comes to life in the summer, with the beach and the seasonal restaurants and music and tons of events. So my goal in the summer is just to get the entire work day done as early as possible–I get up in the wee, wee hours, around 4:30, and work until lunchtime. And then I have the afternoon to enjoy with the kids at the beach, or to work in the yard, or whatever.

To clarify: I do not do any summer camp stuff–the kids are on their own, but I’m in the house. My office is in the basement, which is also where the other computers live. Because I don’t have to get the kids up/dressed/out, I can work straight through the morning. As a result, I’m way more productive than I am during the same hours in the school year, when my morning is disrupted by the school launch pattern (after all, I have as much, if not more, of a momentum issue as they do). My goal is to keep them out of my hair during those work hours, and at 11 and 14 years of age, I think that is a pretty reasonable expectation. And in fact, it pretty much worked out last summer without any plan at all. But they did make a mess of the place while I was working. I’m trying to break that pattern this year.

So here’s what I do, and I’m quite certain it won’t work for everyone.

In the summer, I just let them stay up pretty much as late as they want, and then sleep as late as they want in the morning. Yes, that means they spend a lot of the nighttime hours in front of screens, and after my husband and I have gone to bed. I set the limit on the computer at midnight, but they can stream TV in their rooms after that if they want to. It’s summertime, after all, and when I was a kid I spent the long summer nights in front of the TV and I’m perfectly fine (at least I think so). They’ve proven themselves pretty responsible about Internet use, and the older one does a solid job of policing the younger one online (although the younger is more of a night owl and at least once last summer I woke at 4:30 to find her still sitting awake, watching Futurama reruns on Netflix). Clearly, this is not an option for every family, but I feel ok about letting my kids have some free range, both online and in the real world.

My general rule is: Sunshine = no computers (rainy days are another matter). I don’t specifically say “no computers in the morning,” but since all the computers are in our basement, where the “room of requirement” and my office share a large, open area, the kids are basically banned from the basement, and thus the computers, during my work hours. They can watch some TV upstairs  in the morning, as long as they’ve done The List. And the summertime List is different from the school year List. Or at least it will be, since this will be the first official summer of the Momentum Optimization Project.

Here’s the revised List for this summer:

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!

 

The big change here are that they now have several chores that they are both expected to complete each day (including cleaning the bathroom), in  addition to the old “your room is tidy” rule and spending just a little time on summer school work. These chores will be permanent–they’ll be expected to keep them up during the school year as well.

The old list had a “pick a chore” rule, and a separate chore chart. That’s been replaced with a set of index cards, strung on a binder ring, with a different assigned chore for each day.  I started with a short version a few weeks ago:

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

This index card method works better than an assigned schedule (this on Monday, that on Tuesday), I think, because it’s more flexible. If we are not home for a day, or just slack off (and we do slack off sometimes often), we’re not waiting an extra week to, say, have the bathroom cleaned, just an extra day. And I can easily tweak the schedule as we go, by adding/subtracting/reshuffling the cards.

So, now we’ve got a 14-day cycle, with a mix of big/small chores; each day, they are assigned one task in addition to the “daily chores”  on The List, Here’s the current rotation:

  • Purging boogie (find 3-5 things that you don’t want/don’t fit/can’t use and put them in the trash or donate box)
  • Clean out the van
  • Help plan and make dinner (my husband suggested this one; he wants them to figure out what to cook, do (or help with) the shopping, and help prepare a meal)
  • Bathroom: Weekly clean (this comes up twice a cycle; I assign the upstairs to the elder and downstairs one week, and reverse it the other, since upstaris generally gets messier than downstairs)
  • Straighten up the room of requirement
  • Clear and dust your desk
  • Clear your dressers/shelves and dust them off
  • Dust everything else in your room (trophies, books, headboard, poster frames, windows, ceiling fan)
  • Purge/organize one drawer in your room
  • Sweep floors downstairs (granted, this needs to be done every day, but it’s not something I’ve ever relied on them to do. So, we’ll make them do it once a cycle and see how it goes).

And finally, I’ve added in what I think of as a late afternoon re-boot, to force them to get involved in end-of-day household recovery as well:

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I'll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the tv).

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I’ll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the TV).

I’m already realizing that I need to add another bullet: Evening pickup (i.e.,  go around the first floor and pick up anything you’ve left in the living room, dining room, etc. and put it away–it’s mostly shoes and books).

This might seem to leave a lot of room for computer time, and it does, but not to a degree that I think is problematic. After all, in the evening that “free” computer time is competing with evening card games, bbqs, pool parties, and other face-to-face family and friend time. So while they might sit for six hours one night glued to Minecraft or one or another Steam game, there’s plenty of nights where they don’t have time to even look at the computer until 10 or 11 pm.

So that’s the plan for this summer. And to paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower, planning may be useless, but planning is everything. We’ll see how it works and tweak as we go, and report back here. I encourage anyone who’s trying their own list to report back as well.

 

The Importance of defining your terms: Cleaning the bathroom

The revised List has my kids each giving one bathroom a quick daily cleaning, in addition to a weekly cleaning. I’ve learned that they need a checklist, or else they’ll just look at it and shrug (“Looks clean to me.”). So, I’ve posted directions in each bathroom, and set each bathroom up with a set of cleaning supplies so there’s no excuses. And I’m hope the constant reminders to “put things away” will help us all to get a better handle on clutter. Husband and I will still have to clean the bathroom periodically–but it should be less of a chore for us if the kids take on some of the regular tasks. Here are my directions for the kids:

I'm making them do a very quick wipedown each weekday, and then a heavier cleaning will go into the chore rotation. I'm sure they won't do it perfectly, but I hope it will get them into the habit of keeping the bathrooms clean.

 

Less isn’t more–but it’s easier to keep clean.

Today, Apartment Therapy summed up all my household goals and aspirations in one short, clear, and illuminating little post. The secret? Minimize all the stuff that clutters up your house and your day. Check it out:

Dirty Little Secrets of Tidy Families. They narrow it down to four basic things:

  1. Less stuff.
  2. Less web surfing.
  3. Limits on tv.
  4. Don’t let temporary messes become permanent.

I can’t say we are anywhere close to meeting these criteria yet, but at least we’ve got a plan in place. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps.

 

 

Optimizing the workforce: Learning to delegate (and learning to be stubborn)

A confession: I hate housework.

I get no joy from making floors sparkle, or from a sock drawer that is arranged by color story, and don’t even get me started on the puzzling degree of laundry room porn that keeps popping up on my Pinterest  feed.

Somewhere, a world exists where people like doing laundry so much that they devote what used to be living space to it.

Somewhere, a world exists where people like doing laundry so much that they devote what used to be living space to it.

Seriously, if I had enough money to or square footage to devote a sunny room of my home to a glorious laundry facility, I’d just hire someone to do the damned laundry. I just need the clothes clean and folded–and put away–and for the house tidy enough that I don’t feel compelled to make excuses for a mess. But even that level of tidiness is a challenge for my family: None of us are particularly particular about making things just so. We’re kind of aiming for good enough.

When I was a kid, my mother managed to keep a house of similar size and population always looking tidy through a combination of extreme editing (she eschewed knick knacks, which she referred to as “dust collectors”), practical choices (dark carpets and surfaces that “hid the dirt”), and a solid housework schedule (she cleaned/dusted/put things away all day, every day). The rest of us had few to no responsibilities for household chores. I’m not kidding. The most I ever did was straighten my room once in a while, or start my laundry, which my mom would eventually put in the dryer and fold and often even put away. It was, looking back, a pretty sweet deal for us kids and my dad. But the point is that keeping that very tidy house very tidy was pretty much a full time job for her.

The thing is, I have another, almost full-time job, and my husband has an often more than full-time job. We split the work on most household tasks fairly evenly, but that’s not to say it’s really 50/50—more like 35/35, with about thirty percent just not getting done.

However, the changing demographics of our household have made available new labor resources. My little boy and girl are now a teen and a tween—virtual minions!—who could and should be picking up that last 30 percent.  Of course they should be. But why weren’t they?  Well, because I never made them. Never really taught them how to clean their room, or the bathroom, or anything. Frankly, I never really learned these things myself.  I would tell them to clean the bathroom, and let them procrastinate. I would pick up (or more likely, just ignore) the shoes, books, sweaters, and other random detritus they leave in their wake when they walk in the door and pack their schoolbags for them before they walk out it. It was just easier to do it myself (or ignore it all) than to argue with them, or even to just take the time to show them how to do it/do it with them.  That’s because I have very, very little patience. That lack of patience (and lack of interest) is probably why I never learned these skills and habits from my mother (I am still notorious for just dropping my crap on the table when I walk in the door myself). It also makes me a total pushover—the kids know that if they whine and procrastinate enough, I’ll cave and do it for them.

So, on the advice of my husband, I’m making it a goal to learn to delegate, and to learn to be stubborn.  This week, I just stopped picking up after them at all. If they leave their shoes, a dish, or anything in the living room, I call them from wherever they are and make them put it away, even though it would be way less work for me to just put the stupid dish in the dishwasher myself. It’s a chore, really, yelling down to the playroom for them to come upstairs and directing them on what to do. But it’s already paying some dividends: Himself is getting better about picking up after himself in general, and Herself has finally started clearing her own breakfast dishes without me asking her to do it. Don’t get too excited: The dining room is still of crap that doesn’t belong there (much of it mine). But, tiny victories, you know?