I never imagined myself to be the typical Asian parent. Maybe genes are stronger than will? I also never imagined that I would have anything to blog about parenting at all. And if you follow this blog, you know this is not my first blog post about it. I’ve talked before about my struggles to balance work and screen for my son before and strategies we employed to get him to do more, my experience teaching him programming when he was 8.
The COVID19 lockdown has thrown many of those strategies out the window as both Parchayi and I have busy work schedules with our respective new roles. Hard screen time limits are currently impossible as all social interaction happens on devices. Equal screen time and other activities also seem untenable. So we are employing different strategies for different skills and trying to get towards developing good habits as opposed to hard limiting screen time.
So without further ado, here’s what we are doing for different skills:
For the last few months, Ahan and I are on a reading challenge. Every time he gets one whole book ahead of me, he gets 5$. So far Ahan has read the entire original Oz series by L Frank Baum (and all the original Oz books are free so it doesn’t even cost anything!). Now he’s reading the Five Find Outer’s series by Enid Blyton. I made it sufficiently challenging for him by also reading the same books as he is at least half the time. As a positive side effect, this has got me back to levels of reading that I had before Ahan was born. I used to read 30-50 books a year and maybe this challenge will get me there too! So far Ahan has made 10$ this summer and read about 15 books. He has a lot more time to read than I have and sometimes just the challenge of it makes him put away his screen and sometimes because the books get interesting enough that he needs to finish them.
Here Khan Academy is a lifesaver. Ahan goes into 6th grade next week. And this summer by doing just a few exercises in Khan Academy every day, he has managed to finish the whole of 6th-grade math, almost all of 7th-grade math, about a third of 8th-grade math and even some Algebra 1. It is super easy and kids don’t even realize how far they get by just spending a few minutes with it every day. Also, you can easily keep track of progress.
Ahan’s been learning Piano for many years now. Practicing has always been – “I’ll do it later” or “I’ll do it at night”. However, when COVID started, he started watching Hindi movies. A movie every night and most nights he was too sleepy to practice Piano. So I just turned off the wifi on all devices until 8 am (I use Google Wifi – review here). He normally wakes up between 6:15 and 6:45. That gives him enough time to practice Piano and catch up on reading so he can keep ahead of me early in the morning. Also keeps him from waking us up too early in the morning. As a side effect of this, if he wakes up really early and is done with Piano and has read enough, he will even go and make tea for us! Total win-win. In addition to that Ahan has discovered Band Lab – a free music creation service, and is spending some time composing his own tunes including music for his game, Blob Attack.
Ahan was big into making portraits and his major focus since last year was to make portraits of celebrities. All we needed to do was to make sure he devoted some time to it. Lately, his focus has moved from portraits to making art for Blob Attack. He’s learning how to use digital drawing tools – mainly Paint.net (free software that is kind of like Photoshop), making sprites (using Piskel – also free).
We still tuck Ahan in and every other night and Ahan and I “chit-chat”, generally about Physics. He calls it the “bore me to sleep” time. He doesn’t remember much of what we talk about the next day so it takes a lot of repeats but after a few repeats, he does remember some things.
By now you all know I wrote a book about teaching kids code based on my experience teaching Ahan. The book is consistently in the top Kids Programming Books on Amazon. These days we do a little code together every day and are making some progress on the second book and a lot of progress on Blob Attack. Pre-register for it on Google play. This image on the left is a 4k wallpaper that you can download made while Ahan testing the limits of the game by making his blob invincible.
Implementing Soft Screen Time Limits
The devices Ahan has access to are – an Android phone, a Windows laptop, and a Nintendo switch. I have parental controls on all those devices and have limited all of them to an hour or two every day. This gets exhausted in the morning, forcing Ahan to ask for more screen time. Asking for more screen time used to automatically trigger questions about what other activities were done in the day. This went on for some time. Now, no questions are needed. As soon as morning screen time is exhausted, Ahan automatically does some work – used to be half-hearted but now it is getting better and better and then comes and asks for screen time extensions.
In fact, some activities (like finishing tasks in his game) are taken seriously enough that he ignores his friends – NRN and LTR are his responses to demands to play something right now – until he finishes his planned activity.
I’m looking forward to the middle school years. I’ve read so much. I’ve also learned so much – like how to use the Google Cloud – while trying to teach him to make his game.