Category Archives: what is work

Screentime and… What is Work?

Great article from Silvia Beier on the nature of work for many of us and what this means when we worry about screen time for our kids.  That’s right… look in the mirror!  And I don’t mean that in a negative way per se.  Just that a lot of the work we do looks EXACTLY LIKE what our kids look like when they are on screens — whether they are watching a TV show or vlog, or playing video games — either alone or with a mob of friends on a minecraft or terraria server.

I sometimes feel like the hard work they are doing understanding Terraria (“OK GOOGLE: terraria vortex wings”…) is EASILY as complicated as the software engineering work that I do for a living.  (They would probably love it!)  But for now… this PLAY is their WORK.  I see no difference between the WebEx meeting I had this afternoon — sharing screens and discussing a design with colleagues — as when my kids are working on crafting and defeating bosses in the latest game while discussing it all on Skype running in the background.  Some in the same room or across the house…. others across town.  Really.  It’s awesome, it’s natural, and it’s work.
OLD version
OLD version from

Silvia Beier, Are They Getting Their Work Done?, October, 2016

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What it’s like for our Sudbury School family

Family First and Peaceful Parenting

Our kids go to SVS.  What’s it’s like for our family is this (and forgive me if I’ve written this down before)… peaceful!  It’s peaceful.  Not that it is quiet… we tolerate a lot of “wild fun” around the house.  But there are things missing that I know are pretty common like homework battles (there is no HW, unless they choose it), getting-up-in-the-morning and get-to-the-bus-stop battles (there is no set time they have to be at school… just the 5 or 5.5 hours the state requires), no tears, none of this stuff.

It’s wonderful and amazing and priceless!

Off to Work!

What I also wanted to say was what it is like for me personally when the kids go off to school.  Frankly, it’s exactly the same as I felt when I was a kid and my parents went off to work.  Namely, they would go off and do their own thing for “a few” hours a day, they would later come back into the family fold, and we’d maybe hear a bit about their day at work, but maybe not, and that’s it!  It’s the same with the kids at school.  That’s their time to do exactly as they wish!  And we hear bits and pieces of it, but certainly not right when they get back.  They are usually physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, and/or starved, because they were too busy to eat!  So it’s usually “Hi, welcome home!” until they have recharged their batteries a bit back at the family cave.

Now granted, we try our darndest to do the same (give the kids complete freedom) around the house, but it’s not going to be quite like being independent at school for a few hours a day.  At home with Mom and Dad they are expecting a little help and parental care and we’re happy to oblige.

So that’s one of the really great things.

“There’s nothing more exciting than peace!” — Byron Katie 

I like that quote because it reminds me of a concept(and forgive me if this seems like a stretch) in technology standards and generally in technology/tools we use.  When there is “peace” (standards) at one level, it allows incredible creativity to bloom at a level up on the stack.  So in software, the standards of HTTP and HTML have allowed for the creativity of the web to happen.  In the home, the peaceful state we experience allows for the creative expression and development of all of us, especially our kids.

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Play – it’s how you get work done

EDWARD NORTON (from an interview on NPR)
“When I’m making stuff today, I still feel like the whole enterprise—for all the money that comes into it and all the sophistication of the toys you get—you’re kind of just trying to get towards that sensation where you’re playing in an unencumbered way. You’re trying to minimize the stress of the pressures that come with getting these kinds of toys and these kinds of budgets, and get in the same headspace that you were in then when you were excited about every little idea, and trying all kinds of crazy things.”


PETER GRAY writes about the research on this exact thing:

From his book: Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

From Chapter 7: The Playful State of Mind…

“Inducing a playful mood improves creativity and insightful problem solving” (p 136) — Gray describes things that have worked in experiments: funny videos to students before working on problems, giving candy to doctors before they diagnose!

“Much of the research I cite in this chapter was conducted by people who don’t necessarily use the term “play” or “playful” in describing their hypotheses and findings. They talk instead about “pressured” versus “unpressured” states of mind, or about positive moods versus negative moods, or about self-motivated tasks and goals versus those imposed by others. But from the perspective of this chapter, all such research is about play. Play is unpressured, self-motivated activity, conducted with a positive frame of mind.” (Footnote 4, Chap 7, p 244)

On his own work: “…I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I’m focused only on the current task of researching or writing.” (p 140)

From his blog: Why Hunter Gatherers’ Work is Play

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Thoughts on “Dreaming of an unschooling village”

Interesting article you wrote:
Dreams of an unschooling village

Our family moved to Framingham, MA to be close to Sudbury Valley School. Let me address a few points you hit on in your article:
– learning from real life
– free play
– nature

The tricky thing about this is that a lot of work today is not work that works well for kids seeing what is going on — “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”. There are plenty of hours in the day for them to see me working at my computer. But that is BORING after a few minutes… they can’t help out. And when they are older, the Sudbury model makes it easy to incorporate apprenticeships or other “real world” learning into one’s day as approprate. The idea that one can have a cohousing or other intentional community where many/most of the parents are around and doing things that are of interest to kids is slightly flawed in my opionion for a few reasons.
1) young kids are mostly not going to be interested (see FREE PLAY below)
2) the young adults could learn a thing or 2, but the chances that there will be a match between work interests is slim)
3) most adults are going to be working either offsite or even if onsite, it’s not necessarily going to be interesting to kids.

And then there is work work, but in MA (and most places I assume) one can’t work until you are 14. LINK

Much more common is finding matches in hobbies. Avocations rather than vocations. Artistic and music pursuits, sports, cooking, gardening, hiking, etc, etc. So that’s very valuable of course, but this will mostly be outside of traditional work/school hours as far as the adults are concerned. So one is still left with what would be interesting to do during those mid-day times. My answer, especially if both parents are working: SUDBURY VALLEY SCHOOL

Sudbury Valley School!
“In a survey of hunter-gatherer researchers… all said that the children in the group that they had studied were free to explore on their own, without adult guidance, essentially from dawn to dusk every day. They were allowed such freedom beginning at about age 4… on into their mid to late teenage years, when they began to take on adult responsibilities.”

This mirrors glimpses I see at Sudbury Valley School. Much of the activity one sees w/ younger (4 thru pre-teen) qualifies as “play” in most people’s definition of the word. Not until people reach mid to late teenage years (young adults) do people shift substantially into thinking about “work”… either more academically minded pursuits or otherwise focusing substantially specifically on how they plan to make a living.

Sudbury Valley School! If the trees, fields, huge climbing rocks, stream, fishing pond, pavement for basketball/4-square/scooters/etc isn’t enough, it abuts a state park which students can visit freely (age 8+ with another or 13+ by self)

Check out all those barefeet in the photos of the kids at school.

Having unlimited access to “outside” is a huge plus to Sudbury vs traditional schools.

But also don’t get too excited! It’s not like anyone HAS to go outside. What if you want to use a computer inside all day? What if you are happier in a city? You can’t predict how it will all work out. But the fact still stands… even if you are inside working and playing inside all day, it’s important to know you can go outside and there is a nice outside to go to. It’s your choice.

Sudbury Valley School (in particular) is in suburbia. And it’s the type of American suburbia which is just out of reach of substantial public transportation. Nearby downtown Framingham has some limited buses and access to a commuter rail line that goes to Boston (50min, 30min by car) and Worcester. But getting around mostly means cars (or taxis, or walking/bikes). But several families (including ourselves) have moved close enough to the SVS campus that our kids can easily walk or ride bikes to school. Some do so through the state park. Others on local roads. When our kids are older, they are maybe going to wish they had a car. And/or that they we lived in the city. And maybe that they didn’t have to help mow the lawn. Such is the flip-side of all the wonderful nature. We’ll see! I actually think Framingham is the best of both worlds. Close to shopping, and a short trip to the city, but still with all the beautiful woods and farms.

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