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I read a great article not long ago about growing up in the 80s. It touched on the usual debates; did we have it better? Do kids have too much access to electronics these days? Do we helicopter parent?
It got me thinking.
Recently we noticed something that concerned me at home. My four-year-old, Gray, is struggling to learn to read. It pains me to write this because to me, he is perfect, but a small part of me worries that he might not be prepared for school in September.
We noticed that there are things he is good at, of course. He is fantastic with numbers. His math skills are far beyond what we’d expect for his age.
He is also particularly good at puzzle solving, thanks to a few excellent apps on the phone/tablet and is also adept at a few games we let him play. One app called ‘Monument Valley’ is a puzzle solving game based in Escher style landscapes, aimed at adults. Husband and I find it tricky, but he blows through it like nothing!
He can equip different items required to solve different puzzles, remember complex sequences of directions through dungeons and his hand-eye coordination is superb.
But he is only four.
The thing about us 80s kids, is that we often demonise electronics but wouldn’t we have been just as involved if they’d been this far advance when we were young?
I don’t want to stop him playing games, I think his capacity to learn new skills, understand problem-solving and recognise cause and effect have greatly benefitted from them. But.
But I worry about his struggle to learn his letters. (He seems to have almost a mental block at times!)
So, we decided to kill two bird with one stone!
From now on he is only allowed a maximum of half an hour of game time per day (*With a few exceptions such as playing apps waiting at the doctors etc.) and, most importantly, it must be earned first.
We have started going over his trouble areas with him; going through the alphabet, using his wipe clean activity books to have him trace the letters in the hope he will finally memorise them.
We also have one of these VTech learn to write pads. This pad speaks the letters, shows him how to draw them and then has him trace it. It has capital and lower case and also a few ways to play, such as by trying to guess the letter hidden behind an animal and so on. It has been a game changer.
The other day he went through every single letter of the alphabet and traced them all, in lower case, completely by himself. I was thrilled!
I think this balance, earning something he loves by doing his ‘homework’, which in turn helps him develop an area he is struggling in, is definitely working for us.
Sometimes it blows my mind how competent he can be in one area, while still barely a beginner in another, then I remember, he’s only four!
It is amazing how quickly they grow and learn yet how they are really still just babies! I guess I never expected to have to implement gaming bans until he was a brooding teenager! Life is so different these days. The 80s are so far behind us already, we are playing by different rules now and most just haven’t noticed!
We have been practicing recognising and naming the alphabet, phonics and writing the letters every day. Within a week we have already seen an improvement in his pronunciation, remembering the letters and his tidiness of drawing them!
By restricting his game privileges, we have also seen a recognisable increase in independent imaginative play. (Not to mention, less ‘stroppiness’ and ‘laziness’ when we approach him to do other activities!)
I am in no way condemning video games, we are a major gamer household, as I’ve said, but I think maybe that is the reason we didn’t notice how much we were allowing them!
Gaming is a great past time but too much really can be detrimental, especially at such a young age. Fortunately, we realised our oversight quickly and can hopefully maintain a balance going forward!
A thought that did upset me over all of this was, ‘was he struggling because we weren’t paying attention? Were we not doing enough?’ But then I reminded myself; Gray attends nursery, who have never once mentioned he was having any issues and always reports that his skills are at the expected level for his age. We both work to financially support our family and while we read him bedtime stories, play every day and try to teach him as best we can, sometimes it’s hard to recogise when things are overlooked.
As we both work, our family time is precious.
I miss my boys terribly when I’m at work. I want to spend my time with them playing, cuddling, talking and focusing on just being together and being happy. My husband, who works more hours than I do, finds quality time even more precious as he gets less of it.
As Gray is our eldest, we have no frame of reference for where he should be. I have spoken to other mums who have said their kids couldn’t read when they started school and they did just fine, caught up quickly and had no trouble. That’s great! But I have been a strong reader since I was young. I can’t help but feel if I don’t put in the effort now to give him every advantage and prepare him as much as I can, I am doing him a disservice.
As his parent, it is my duty to prepare him for what life holds. School is just the first step, and I’ll be damned if I don’t at least try to make that first step just a little easier for him.
I will still worry, but I’m his mum, it’s my job. But I am so proud of him, seeing the skills that I know will flourish when he’s older. I’m going to do everything I can to help him be ready for school in September.
I want to be the type of parent that, when he’s grown and looking back, managed to get it just right. Rewards earned for hard work. Fairness and firmness. Caution but also freedom. I want him to understand why I chose to do the things I did and be grateful that I raised him the way I did.
I just hope I can get it right, for my little boy.
What do you think? Do your kids play video games? Do you do ‘homework’? Have your kids already started school and do you think they were prepared? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this subject!