Imagine you’re living in the 1800s on a homestead. You’re living in this cute little log cabin (let’s ignore the fact that it would be freezing in the winter) and there isn’t a technology screen in sight for the next 100 years. Your little kids play happily in the dirt with a few homemade toys (embrace the dirt, friends, just for a minute). There isn’t a huge toy bin, box, cupboard, room, etc. spilling out materials all over the floor. When you tell your son to go bring in some firewood, he knows there won’t be any dinner until the wood’s in the stove (let’s not go crazy, that doesn’t mean he wants to bring in firewood, but his chore has a large impact on family life).
Doesn’t it sound nice? Kids exploring nature, imagining, and doing real family work? There’s little need to entertain them because there’s plenty of work to do and when there isn’t, their imaginations can run wild with the space provided them.
This is my ideal. I am constantly thinking about how this or that must have been so much better back in the “good ol’ days.” I have to remind myself that it wasn’t perfect. And of course, how can I wish to be rid of the endless opportunities for education and service that modern life brings?
But still . . . I really wish for those days when my kids want to watch TV all the time or they don’t want to pick up the huge piles of toys because they’re going to get them out again almost as soon as they’re cleaned up (sometimes they’re right, and I wonder if there’s a point to teaching them to pick up ;).
I want my kids to have the imagination and responsibility that comes from living a simpler life, and I’ve occasionally yearned to sell everything and move to a big patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
But I am also a proponent of fortifying my children against the distractions of the world, the distractions of Satan. Our children have so much good to offer the world, but if we don’t teach them to use technology wisely and to persevere through tasks that don’t bring immediate gratification, then they won’t be prepared to thwart distractions and temptations when they’re older.
So I persevere through the modern challenges, letting go of my longing for the challenges of earlier time periods. I talk to my kids frequently about good technology use, and I try to help them enjoy the benefits of technology while working to keep it from ruling their thoughts. I minimize the amount we let into our home and throw out things that no longer serve our family, aiming to create a home culture where stuff is not the focus.
It takes a lot of diligent work—rotating toys, throwing out clutter constantly, keeping a loose schedule where chores and play have adequate space. It takes a lot of saying no—to too many play dates, to too many distractions (even my own distractions), and to the kids when the boredom leads to whining and a desire for a technology distraction. Once they steer their boredom into an activity, sometimes prompted by me, and have a clean space to build their imaginary world, imagination takes over. It’s amazing to watch. With a few open-ended toys (or household items), their games span for hours, and interruptions for anything on my schedule is nearly impossible.