Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting

How We Tamed the Screen Time Monster

20160630_155520We are not “anti- screen” in this house, specially when it comes to educational stuff, however I don’t want my children to spend all day glued to screens.

I have learned that having the TV off is just asking to have them nagging me about watching TV all day so I turn it on to a music channel and that gets them off to playing with their toys or reading books instead of asking for a show.

My husband insisted on buying my oldest an iPad for Christmas (making his tablet fancier than mine, lol).  While I wasn’t opposed, I feared that he could become addicted to it.  Some families don’t limit screen time and it works for them but I soon realized that it wouldn’t work for us.

Things were great at first until fairly quickly my fears were realized, he started to ask to play with it more and more and get cranky if he didn’t get his electronic fix, sometimes he even seemed depressed! I didn’t like the changes that I was seeing in his behavior so something had to change.

I didn’t want to ban the iPad all together as it’s a very useful tool for homeschooling so I researched different methods to try to set healthy limits.

Some people have rules that a child has to do a list of things before they can use their screen, that doesn’t work for us well as I am not a morning person and it takes a while for my brain to boot up so Shammy likes to do some of his time while I am not yet coherent.

Our Solution
Our Screen Time Sticks
Our Screen Time Sticks

The first thing that I did was delete the Netflix app, my son was starting to binge watch cartoon episodes instead of using other apps, now Netflix is only watched on the TV and only once or twice a week, that has helped a lot. Then I needed to figure out how to limit his time without a struggle.

Enter our “stick” system, this was inspired by a token system that I saw online. I didn’t feel like printing, cutting and laminating tokens and creating a board to go with it so instead I bought popsicle sticks from the Dollar Store and took one of my kid’s cups.

The system is simple:

  • Every day my son automatically gets 2 sticks worth 30 minutes of “fun” screen time placed in the cup. He can use them one at a time and on rare occasions he can use them together to watch a long video. It’s an use it or lose it method, it doesn’t roll over and if he goes over time it can affect his second stick.
  • Bonus sticks of 15 minutes each can be earned by taking the initiative to do a chore or clean without being asked to or complaining about it.
  • Educational screen time is not limited and can be had at any time, provided he doesn’t have any pending chores. Educational time includes ABC Mouse, Scratch Jr Coding, Duolingo, Spelling City, Stack the States and similar educational games. He can also have unlimited Facetime with his father while he is at work.


How did it work?

He accepted the system without trouble and he knows exactly how much he can have and that when his time is up there is no point in asking for more unless he “earns” it. The tantrums over screen time stopped immediately, he no longer acts like an addict going through withdrawals and has no problem finding non electronic entertainment options.

We have been successfully using the sticks for over a month. He rarely bothers trying to earn bonus time and seems satisfied with having a 30 minute block in the morning and another one in the afternoon. He spend almost all of his time watching Minecraft Videos on the You Tube for Kids app which as annoying as it is for me to hear about them, some of them turn out to be educational and it does improve his Minecraft play.

At first my son was very good at keeping track of his own time but over time he either got sneaky or lazy and started to go over. Now I use the timer feature on my Fitbit watch to keep track, now that he knows that I am tracking he doesn’t go over anymore and I don’t have to remind him that time is up, he puts it away on his own.

Qustodio Parental Controls E-mail Report
Qustodio Parental Controls E-mail Report

I use Qustodio parental control software to restrict access and monitor activity. I get a daily e-mail telling me exactly what apps he used and how much time he spent on them or I can log on to their site at any time to review the activity.  If he uses a search engine I am notified of the search terms. It has given me a lot of peace of mind.

Their free account is enough for my needs but there is a Premium plan available if you want to track multiple devices or use extra features.

Posted in Random

Our favorite toy

I have always had shopaholic tendencies, I don’t always indulge them (either due to willpower or budget limitations) but usually whenever I would have an unexpected windfall I would splurge. Throughout my whole life there would always be something that I would obsess about and want to buy lots of. I’ve never been very vain so I have never had the stereotypical feminine shopping obsessions such as shoes, clothes make up.

As far as I remember it started when I was a pre-teen with books, during my teens it was candles, in college it was gadgets, in my 20s it was metaphysical supplies (mostly crystals and statues).

Then I became a mother. So going into my 30s my obsessions weren’t even for me. My first obsession was cloth diapers, then baby carriers. Now I feel like I’ve outgrown that. My new obsession? Legos. Boy oh boy have I been living vicariously through my boys. An advantage of a tight budget, is being able to refrain from going crazy in the toy aisle.


Legos are the toy with the fondest memories from my childhood, more than Barbie, Easy Bake Oven or My Little Pony. I never had any Lego “sets”, I didn’t even know that minifigures existed or that there were wheel attachments and moving components to build cars and other things with. I just had a box with an assortment of basic random blocks that were handed down from some other kid and that gave me endless hours of fun.

This is why Legoland is my favorite theme park, that inner child that never grew up squeals in delight every time I go.

I started by buying sets with the “excuse” that they were for Shammy but I would build them first to “make sure that no pieces were missing”. It turns out that I still love building just as much if not more.

Unfortunately Lego brand toys are expensive!  So I really enjoyed the Netflix type Lego rental service that I got to try cheaply with Groupon and allowed me to build a $400 Star Wars Death Star for less than $20 but Shammy was too sad about not being able to keep the sets forever so I canceled it.

lego death star

By now Shammy is truly a Lego lover and now when I buy sets they are truly for him only. He loves following the directions and building the same thing over and over. Thanks to Pinterest there are many brilliant ideas on how to incorporate them into school making them an even better value for us.

He has even turned into a bit of a brand snob and I don’t blame him. We have tried generic bricks from the dollar store and mainstream competitor brands but it just isn’t the same.

Speaking of value. Until recently I had no idea that Lego investing was even a thing! I was able to snag a hard to find set last year for $20 and it’s already worth $80. As much as I want to play with it I have kept it in mint condition as a rainy day savings fund. There is even a thriving market for used sets.


I have also taken to buying a set on clearance at Target that I know still fetches full retail value or higher online and I “flip it” to then afford the set that Shammy wants to play with.

While some people buy Legos as a college fund, I am nowhere near ready for that kind of commitment but it does mean that whenever I see a set at a great discount or on clearance I will probably snatch it.

Posted in Parenting

Camping with Kids

We had our very first camping trip with kids, it took us long enough considering that my husband and I met while camping and even our handfasting/wedding was a camping festival. The last time we camped I was heavily pregnant with my first but then car seats took over the backseat and we had the logistical challenge of how to fit gear and kids in the car.

We finally overcame that challenge and had a weekend trip to a festival and aside from some mishaps such as our tent frame breaking during setup and having to rig things with duct tape, bungee cords and rope to avoid a 30 minute drive to civilization for a new tent it was a relative success.

The boys had fun and while it was a completely different experience for me, I enjoyed seeing them play in nature, dancing around the fire at drum circle and being kids.

Some things that I learned about camping with kids:

  1. don’t use the old pre-kids packing list or you’ll end up driving 45 minutes to the closest store because you didn’t pack underwear for your 4 year old.
  2.  If your car can’t fit a kiddie pool, make sure that your kids tolerate showers or at the very least like to get wet with a hose. That was quite the loud scene for the whole encampment to enjoy after the kids had a tad too much fun playing with dirt.
  3.  Two tubes of bubbles from the dollar store that look like lightsabers will provide endless hours of entertainment even after all of the bubble juice is gone and will keep the kids from playing with the dirt and requiring a very loud screaming filled shower.


So aside from needing a new tent and having to train the boys to not act like a shower is medieval torture, I would go camping again.

Have you gone camping with kids? Any tips to share?