The Hard Truth


Just a little precursor update: Our little CM study group working its way through Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study guide of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles has been so well received that I’m about to launch a second group today. Hooray! I’m so glad to see such an interest in CM’s methods in my area. I was so sad this past spring when the AO Texas convention passed me by because I had no one with which to carpool (it would have been a 7-hour drive). I sort of vowed to myself then that I would FIND SOME LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE, though I didn’t how that was going to work out. The CM study group just sort of landed in my lap, and by opening it up to folks in my area on social media, I have met several CM minded moms and built a little nature-loving, handicraft-making, classics-reading, folk song-singing group of friends. That is exciting to me! Maybe there’s a road trip in our future.

Okay, so now. On to The Hard Truth. Are you ready for this?

Television / Netflix / YouTube / tablets / Video Games / Video Game Walk-Thrus / will ruin your CM homeschool.

There. I said it. I’m sorry if that statement just destroyed your life. And, lest you think we are perfect here at my house, just know that we have a TV and a Netflix account and a YouTube login and FOUR Kindles and an iPad and two smart phones and a WiiU … and my oldest son was, what I would describe as, addicted to watching video game walk-thrus. So, yes, we have done it all, and we have backed away from much of it because I came to realize that was all too much. For our house, at our kids’ current ages (4, 6, & 9), these parameters have worked best:

  • No screens until after 4pm. Exception for Math U See videos and J4’s occasional (20 min)
  • All screens off when Dad gets home at 6pm (unless we opt for a family movie)
  • No YouTube except for very specific and parent-guided educational purposes
  • No screens in a vehicle – only books, audiobooks, or music
  • No video game walk-thrus. Period. Too addicting at this stage.
  • No using screens to silence our children in public places (There is a lot of outside pressure to do this.)
  • Minions Movie only once a day. Seriously, this rule was necessary.

I’m sure these parameters will change through the years, but we have settled on these because they keep screens from directly interfering with playtime, school time, and free reading time.

In the preface to Volume 6, Charlotte Mason wrote:

When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.

I ask you, what is more of an artificial environment than the on-screen environment? Mason, of course, was not specifically referring to electronic screens, an invention she likely could not have imagined. She was addressing the temptation to put children in an artificial environment in order to teach them when really the best environment for learning is the natural (family) environment.

Side Note: In Charlotte’s day and culture, children often stayed home with a governess until they went away to boarding school around age 9. Charlotte’s school in Ambleside, England, was a teacher’s school training those governesses, so it makes sense that she would address the future governesses (as well as parents) about how best to educate a young child under age 9.

The Monster We Invite into Our Home

Many of us have read the CM principles that address “education is an atmosphere” and have decided to homeschool rather than send our children to an artificial school environment. We are proud to see sibling teamwork, reverence for parents, and other family values instilled in our children as a direct result of keeping them home and keeping the family together. We encourage our children to learn something new every day when we hang our artist prints, display our bookcases, and keep paints, pastels, and Ticonderoga pencils (because they are the best!) close at hand for our nature journaling. But, are we also inviting a monster into our homes? One that gobbles up time for creativity, discovery, making connections, and other skills that result from masterly inactivity? (Masterly inactivity, by the way, is the hands-off – but eyes on from a distance – approach to parenting that allows children to enjoy freedom with boundaries.)

Here is the hard truth. The more screen time in which your young kids indulge, the less time they have for true, self-guided learning to take place. I’m convinced real education happens right after you hear the words, “I’m bored.”

I’m not saying my kids don’t get screen time, but I am saying screen time is not necessary, and there may be seasons in your family’s life when screens should be put away completely. I know that’s hard. We have a small house enjoy an affordable mortgage. On very hot or very cold or very wet days, this house seems to shrink. We have extra kids over here all of the time because my extrovert NEEDS them and because we are on very friendly terms with a neighborhood child who is also homeschooled and is functionally an only child (according to the Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman).

Some days you justwantthehousetostaycleanforfiveminutes! Or, you want to cook dinner in peace. Maybe you’re pregnant and exhausted or severely low on iron and vitamin D. Maybe you work a part time job that keeps you up late at night. Maybe you have a child with a disability that requires most of your energy. These are legitimate needs. I completely understand and have personally experienced each of them. Screen time can seem like an obvious and socially acceptable crutch to get you by, but I want to challenge you to find another, less addictive, crutch.

Some days you just want to snuggle up with a classy, kid-friendly movie and your kids and a bowl of popcorn (and then, of course, you have to vacuum up the popcorn). Screens can be a nice instrument for passing time safely and family bonding. But, screens are addicting, and that is the characteristic of screens I want to emphasize. ADDICTION

Are You Addicted To Your Kids Having Screen Time?

The kids can be detoxed. You can hide the remotes and the charging cords from them, and after significant whining they will go do something else to amuse themselves. What I want to address here is whether YOU, the homeschool parent, are addicted to your child sitting still, not making a mess, and not interacting with anyone or anything. Sounds a little scary, right?

I’m not here to throw a stone from my own glass house. I simply want to make us all aware of this threat because our culture is not going to do it. Screens are very socially acceptable and readily available, and the false sense of safety we parents feel when our child is plugged-in is very addicting. It’s the opposite of an educational atmosphere. Even in classical and CM forums, I have seen parents (including myself) ask how much screen time is too much. What kinds of entertainment are other homeschoolers allowed to use? How much computer- or app-based learning is too much? Instinctively we know it’s a threat, and we are looking for an answer. But, there isn’t a right answer to the question of “how much?” And, I’m not going to give you an answer to that question. What I want to do is re-frame this entire argument so that we all understand it is the parent who is the driving force behind screen time. We are the addicted ones.

I hope that wasn’t too harsh. If you need help with this addiction, please reach out to a supportive, non-enabling adult for help. I’m here for you. We can do hard things!

Until next Friday (or so).

I’m reading:


Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:



11 thoughts on “The Hard Truth

  1. These are our exact rules as well. And some days it *still* feels like too much screen time, mostly because of the grasping attitudes that seem to surround it. It helps that we don’t have tablets or game consoles– a hard but good choice for our family.


    1. I hear ya. I’m sure our “house rules” will change as the boys grow and their schedules change. It was just such a revelation when I realized their screen time is for me, not them. I’m the benefactor. And, also, that taking measures to ensure screens aren’t competing with real-world learning (and real-world leisure) is totally worth the effort — so they have time to learn and know how to relax without electronic devises. Keep up the good fight, Melissa! 🙂


  2. What about mama? Do the rules apply to you as well? I try to run a blog and the majority of the time is spent on it after kids are in bed, but there are occasions where I have to work on the computer before 4pm and dad gets home. It’s easy not to do any screens after dad gets home! We love our family time! But while little one naps and 1st grader finishes school, Amazon Prime/Kindle education games are great quiet time activities! I feel like a hypocrite if I tell my kids “NO SCREENS!” while I’m trying to get something done on my computer or smart phone!


    1. Our house rules do not apply directly to me. Although I do not take calls or check messages during Circle/Morning Time or while my kids are completing assignments*, during their free play or free read time I do listen to podcasts (often while folding laundry or washing dishes), take phone calls, put things in my Amazon cart, and sometimes (if I think I’ll get a good chunk of time) compose at the computer (I work as a freelance writer). I never sit and watch TV until the last kid is in bed at night (partly to set an example and partly b/c I’d never hear the TV over the kids!). But, I will TOTALLY and very intentionally sit with a cup of tea and a novel after school work is done! Often that turns into them hauling their library books in for me to read to them.

      *We have two kids in Ambleside Online Form 1, which that means most of their assignments are read aloud by me.


    2. When I had a napping child in the house, I totally made some of that time screen time for my rambunctious older kids. A sleeping child is a beautiful thing, and that nap must be protected!! But, when I had a Year 1 and two nappers, we usually did school during the nap. Different strokes for different folks (and seasons). 🙂


  3. Thank you for this post – I shared it with my CM discussion group as we were talking about education as an atmosphere and your post tied in so nicely. What you wrote was definitely an aid to our discussion and was very helpful.


      1. So true! I have wanted one for years and finally set one up online because trying to do one locally seemed hopeless. It is working well though, and I love the opportunity to discuss her volumes with other women!

        Liked by 1 person

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