House Rules: Video Games and Music

Home Schooling Dream vs. Reality

Our initial home schooling dream had the kids studying Latin and Greek, speaking German fluently, finished with Calculus and starting college courses by the time they were 14, and running their own successful business selling artisan cheese made from the milk of our goat herd. Also, they would never watch TV or play video games.

Then the kids were born. It turns out that, in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I’m more of a Relaxed Home Schooler. This is also why I’m a Relaxed Housekeeper. We didn’t even teach the kids German, which both Jon and I speak fluently, although I maintain that the main reason for this is not laziness but our reluctance to give up our secret language. The kids are on track to do Calculus before they start college at or near 18. We never got the goats, although we have plans to get some when we return to the US, and we did have chickens for a long time. The chickens laid eggs for us, but we didn’t sell them. We just ate them.

Also, it turned out that the kids had opinions about stuff. They wanted to watch TV, and you saw that part about me and sanity? TV allowed us to sleep in every now and then and sometimes entertained the young’uns during what I call The Witching Hour — the 1 or 2 or 3 hours before dinner when you’re tired and cranky and so are the kids.

The kids also really wanted to play video games. We didn’t even have a video game console until Zed turned 8, but they had friends who had them, of course. The pull was strong for them, which Jon and I didn’t get, because neither of us has ever been into gaming in any serious way. I told the kids that video games would rot their brains. I said the same thing about TV. I still remember Zed saying to me when he was quite young, “But Mom, video games bring me joy.” Which was a pretty good argument from an 8-year-old, I thought.

We know plenty of perfectly nice, intelligent, and respectable people, adults and kids, who play lots of video games, and there are apparently studies showing that playing video games is good for your brain. I’d like to point out that most of the studies cited in the article I just linked to were done with adults, and I think it’s likely that there’s a significant difference between adult and adolescent brain response to video games. But here’s one study, done at BYU, showing that video games are good for girls when parents play with them. Interesting and specific! And here’s a TED talk by a neuroscientist about potential benefits of playing video games.

Alas, Jon and I still feel strongly about limiting them. And just to further annoy our children, we also limit music. So here’s how we do it.

Video Games

Our most successful scheme for video games has been Video Game Day: one day of the week is set aside for, yes, video games! This includes all games that involve a screen — game consoles, computer games, tablets and phones, etc. The morning of Video Game Day, I make a long and comprehensive list of chores for the kids and they spend the morning doing them. Also yelling at each other about doing them. If it’s a school day, they do school work first, of course. Eventually, usually around lunchtime, they finish the list, and after eating and cleaning up lunch, they get free rein with the video games!

I should mention that our selection of games and consoles is not vast. At home in Idaho, we have a Nintendo 64 and a GameCube, and our kids think it is cruel and unusual punishment that we don’t have a Wii. We don’t have any handheld gaming devices like the PS3 or Game Boy. While we are in Europe, we don’t have the game consoles, so it’s just computers and tablets. In case you’re interested, computer games they’ve played recently include League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, Runescape, Minecraft, Mount and Blade, Jedi Knight II, Civilization V, Dungeon Defenders, Castle Crashers, Don’t Starve, Torchlight II, Portal and Portal 2, and Realm of the Mad God.

There are some bonus days, usually birthdays and Christmas. And we are otherwise flexible when there’s a good reason. For example, while we’re here in Europe, eight hours ahead of most friends at home, sometimes the older boys get up at 6:00 am and play networked games with their friends who are playing at 10:00 pm the night before. Now that Zed’s at BYU, Jacob and Phin can occasionally play with him, too. It’s the modern social life, innit?


Our music rules are more complicated. Mondays and Tuesdays are Expand Your Horizon Days: after 1:00 pm, everybody can listen to music that is different from the contemporary music they’d normally choose to listen to. I’d call the kids’ music “popular” music, but they would get mad at me, because their music is obscure and cool, not popular! Expand Your Horizon music can be classical or swing or choral or something Jon and I suggest from our own favorites that we think they should know, which has included Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and Sting. It also includes anything in a foreign language.

The rest of the week — weekdays after 1:00 pm and Saturdays all day — everybody can listen to whatever they want. We try to have them turn it off at about 9:00 pm, so there’s quiet before bedtime, and we try to switch between listening to music on headphones and out loud. It bothers me when everyone is puttering around with earbuds in so I have to gesture wildly or throw something at them to get their attention. (I only throw soft things.) Sundays we listen to religious music or nothing at all.

So there you have it. We welcome suggestions for Expand Your Horizon music days! Not for video games, though, as we have no trouble with that.


  1. Mom, the PS3 is not a handheld gaming device. ;)

    1. Ha ha. I meant to check on that, because I was pretty sure I'd get something like that wrong. The PSP? DS? Those are handheld, right? :)

  2. Replies
    1. The kids can listen to anything that would expand their horizons, but I don't think anyone has listened to country yet. I probably won't suggest it. :) Although we do listen to the Carter Family and I should introduce the kids to some Johnny Cash. Old Country can be pretty good.

  3. great post. I really enjoyed it I am sorta homeschool Judith this year. It is a challenge, but I think that will serve her best interests in the end. Judith is highly amused at how excited I get over literature and math. She is not used to her teachers getting "sparkly eyed" over a topic.

    1. It's sad if Judith hasn't seen teachers who are excited about their subjects! And it will be great for her to see your enthusiasm. Are you using K12 or something else or winging it?

    2. Communications I've seen between the cousins frequently mention music, and even attending live performances. While I'm not usually familiar with the groups referenced, I do get the impression that they seldom fit into the categories "classical, swing, or choral". But I could be mistaken.

    3. Well, I guess most of the time Expand Your Horizon music doesn't become their favorite stuff and isn't cool enough to warrant public excitement on Facebook. But I think they do enjoy it and they have gone to live performances of all kinds of music without complaint, even classical. Even organ! And I've even dragged the Skinner cousins to one of those. I don't know if they loved it or not, but they came.

  4. I remember video Game day. I always thought it was a great idea but not one we could use. Khalil is just so obsessive that one whole day would lead to full on every moment. Now that he is older we let him do what he wants on the computer for an hour a day. Usually he plays pc games people have made and put online.

    In the end you have done an amazing job Homeschooling. You are the only one from N VA who I knew homeschooling that is still homeschoolng. Plus you got one already into college with 2 close to going soon. You did an amazing job Erin. You should be extremely proud of the work you have done. You superwomen you :P

    1. Thank you, Veronica! I am really proud of the kids and thankful that they're turning out well so far, but I feel like part of that is in spite of me and not because of me, if you know what I mean. :)

      Video game day ends up being about half a day with necessary breaks, because everybody has to take turns. When Zed first got the Nintendo 64, we let the kids play as much as they wanted for several days, just to see if they would start to self-limit, but it didn't seem like they were going to. Even though they play only once a week, the older boys still manage to talk about video games a lot. :)

      Kids are all different, and some might not need any restriction. I do have a couple of kids who would probably be fine without any official restraint, but the others can be a little obsessive. That's why we like one day instead of every day. When we've let them play every day (or nearly every day) for a shorter period of time, they tend to rush through everything else just to get to the video game part of the day.

      We still feel like there's way too much screen time, though, because even though video games are restricted, the older kids have Facebook and other social networking stuff they do every day (sometimes throughout the day), plus almost all of our school work is on computers now that we're traveling. It's a work in progress and a constant struggle that I figure is just part of the real world these days, something they'll have to learn to live with and limit on their own.

      As far as home schooling all the way to college, I think a lot of people home school for elementary school and plan to send their kids to high school or middle school or whatever. I always planned to home school all the way through and I actually enjoy the kids and their learning more the older they get. There's a lot of stuff I wish I'd done better. I always dreamed of being one of those amazing literature teachers who open up a novel to deeper understanding, with the aha moment. You know those types? I had great teachers like that and wanted to be that teacher for my kids, but I wasn't. I guess only one of them is off to college so far, though, so maybe I still have a chance.


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