Oldie but goodie: Shining with Video Games

I wrote this article around 2012. My children were 9 and 6. We were living in India at the time. I feel like re-sharing this article today as I dwell upon Raghu’s passionate immersion in the world of video games for over 8 years.

At 15, Raghu, is still an avid video gamer and is active in several groups online. He adores his gamer friends and their shared humor, experiences, team challenges, support and much more. He thrives on the many connections between popular culture, music, politics, history, etc that come up in their conversations. And of course he loves the story-line, the graphics, the creative aspect of games, the sheer challenge of figuring things out and much more.

This article is still relevant today.

Shining with Video Games

I was trapped by the good-mommy-status I had conferred on myself when Raghu was little… timed sessions of TV and Videos, timed sessions with electronic things in general, only whole-grain food, no candy, no refined sugar, etc.  I was coming from the perspective that these things sucked children of their imagination, education, nutrition, health, etc. I was doing what I thought was best for my little one.

One day, when Raghu was about 4, and we were already home-schooling, I was inspired by Sandra Dodd’s web page on Media and realized something crucial:
When I was 8, I was an avid book reader and would often find quiet nooks around the house or garden to read.  However my parents would tell me to stop reading so much and instead go out and ‘play’.  When I was 16 and in 10th grade and would watch TV detective shows, they told me to stop watching so much TV and read books (what happened to playing outside?)  Now here I was trying to tell my son not to watch Magic School Bus videos or Little Bear on TV and go out and play or read a book.  Where and when did the cycle end?

I learned then that I was controlling Raghu’s growth.  Why was I so controlling?  Fear? Of  what? I had to dig within to go to the root of my fears.  Ultimately the control was eroding Raghu’s Shine, his natural inclinations. His beautiful sense of self was being messed with. Raghu was not exposed to video games till he was almost 5. He took to it like a fish to water. Upon being gifted his first DS he would not give up on a game till he cracked it. I stopped fighting what was obviously to him a real fascination and to my surprise a real learning/education. I was just beginning to understand what ‘learning’ or an education truly meant.

Now when we consider what true learning is, what true education is… why do we not equate everything in the world…. biology, astrophysics, painting, dancing, video gaming, cooking, plumbing, carpentry, tasting foods etc.?  Give everything the same value? We value an engineering degree to an apprenticeship in plumbing.  Why? A lot, I found, was rooted in our understanding of the word ‘success’ or a ‘real education’.

Coming Back to my fears and thoughts – It took time to accept that Raghu was ‘learning’ through video games.  He was engaged, focused, absorbed, intent… completely immersed in video games. He wanted to know when they were invented, why, how did the games come about, which characters, and what games did I play when I was little. He began to notice the music in different games, developed a love for Queen, Rock bands, and Pink Floyd (thanks to his Dad’s love for classic rock). Today he researches cheat codes, talks about cultural differences, languages, maps, directions, different genres of music like Blues, Jazz, scenes, characters and their development, life, death, real, unreal, philosophy, math, history, etc. to name a few.  All kinds of learning are happening constantly – As long as I do not get in the way with my criticism or negative energy.

My role is to be the partner he can talk with, converse and discuss with and make connections with.  He will often talk to me… starting with some random character in the game and end up talking about film making.  Everything in the world is connected. He uses math skills, logic, reasoning, advanced language vocabulary etc. sometimes all in a span of an hour. He even learned all about guns simply through an Ipad App. He started to identify, classify and even talk about cartridge types etc. He eventually went to a rifle range and loved it. He was a good shot.

Trusting that my children gravitate towards what makes them shine/learn/happy etc. brings peace to all of us. This is important. It is important to honor our own needs and those of our children. Our family communicates, talks, figures out things together. And we do not undermine what we each love.

If I had a passion I wanted to pursue I would simply pursue it.  I want to give my children that freedom. These days Raghu is talking about being a game tester, gaming critic and advocate for letting children play video games.  He also wants to be a food critic… for someone who can identify many ingredients simply by tasting and is quite a gourmand, this is a real possibility. He also wants to pursue his rock climbing passion. I no longer view video games as bad or good. I only look to Raghu. He directs me towards what he needs. Or he finds it himself. What if I combined food, gaming and rock climbing and a couple of grenades thrown in… Well he might be the next online whiz who creates a gaming version of Masterchef and throws in a level where you ride a horse and hunt animals for the meals you plan… and then you climb a virtual rock-wall to get to the kitchen.  Or maybe a giant video gaming relay race. I don’t know… does it really matter?

I embrace Raghu’s gaming and will help him just as I would have if he was asking to play tennis or asking for a class. It is all the same.

Now for those who want resources, research, articles, essays on the beauty of video gaming in unschooling families, please do look up the links I will be posting on this site. Various family dynamics, issues, choices, violence in games, connections, types of games, online gaming groups for unschoolers, future plans, careers etc. related to this topic are all being discussed and have been discussed endlessly. The material exists freely on the web, thanks to many, many committed moms and dads and grown unschoolers and people like John Holt.

Welcome to a world where we can let our children shine with their own inner light.  Welcome to ‘Whole Being Learning’ and its possibilities.

Blog name hiccups

Ah there we have it… Don’t ask how… but when i transferred ‘TheBharadwajKnights’ over from Blogger into WordPress, i deleted a site address, thinking well… i won’t bore you with the details…It did not end well.  On the bright side, I successfully transferred all my photos and videos and posts, all the way from 2007!!!

So the site address will be The Bharadwaj Shine and the title will be The Bharadwaj Knights. Its all good cause the content is more important than what its called.

What is it about Knights and Shine, you ask?  Well, I felt like we were Knights journeying into the unknown, way back in 2007.  Years later I stumbled on our east coast ;Shine with Unschooling’ community/groups and fell in love with the word ‘Shine’.  Thats all. Its all Shiny either way.



Restarting this blog with a few recent photos.

Zoya and Avni figuring out stop animation and silly string. I love sudden immersions. 

My super niece Avni turned 8 and we created an art piece to celebrate it. 

Movie theater fun.  We watched Coco and fell in love with it. Avni’s birthday request. 

These 3! So grateful for the connections they share.

India Travels 2015

….My view this morning from our dining table. Out that shutter is a view of the Baner hills, treetops, tops of bungalows, and a garden that my mother-in-law created on our long balcony. This balcony stretches the length of 2 rooms and is what makes this home feel like a bungalow.  Birds are chirping outside. I should probably identify a few. I hear a koyal, some parrots and a crow.

We moved back to New Jersey in November 2013 after a year in Singapore and 5 years in Pune, India. Being able to make this precious, much needed trip to see our friends and family is priceless. The children have met some friends and some family thus far. Its been wonderful except for some allergic colds.

We had an adventurous start at the airport on our way to India. It took us 36 hours door to door (Somerset, NJ to Pune). Quite a long, impatient, tiring yet safe journey to our home in Pune. This is my view this morning from our dining table. Out that shutter is a view of the Baner hills, treetops, tops of bungalows, and a garden that my mother-in-law created on our long balcony. This balcony stretches the length of 2 rooms and is what makes this home feel like a bungalow. You can see remnants of last night’s Carrom session with friends. (What is Carrom? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrom) Zoya has been playing this classic Indian childhood game almost everyday since we arrived. She is enjoying how easily she is able to pocket the men. My mother-in-law and my dad at various times patiently played the game with her.

Today we will take a train to Indore from Pune Train Station in the afternoon. We should be at my sister-in-law’s home by 10 am tomorrow. We will get to sleep on berths in the train.  Zoya is not too excited by the prospect.  Raghu and I are feeling quite excited. My mother-in-law and her sister will be travelling with us.  They are seasoned train travelers and are excited to share the experience with the kids. During our years in India we did a few train journeys but mostly preferred air travel as a family. Why be on land when you can fly was Raghu’s point of view.

I have to go pack. I will buy a SD card reader in Indore and then upload some more pictures. I am inspired to write this travel segment into my blog because of my friends Britt Wagner, Bob Englander and Sylvia Woodman.  They have expressed an interest in different aspects of our travel. Thank you for your interest, its making me want to write and show pictures again on this blog that lay quiet for far too long.

For those who are following: I have merged my “The Bharadwaj Shine” blog with this older blog.  So now everything from the early journeys to who we are today is in one place.  It feels like the right decision. Peace, Hema

Doing Nothing Days

Doing nothing is not always easy.  It has to be created, these spaces for doing nothing. 
These days Raghu goes for rock climbing twice a week. Zoya randomly goes for open swim and a swim lesson every week. We have a steady weekly playdate with a friend and her children that both kids love. And sometimes like this week, we have an outing.  Zoya signed up for an Aquarium visit/class to learn about sharks and penguins.  A lovely busy week of choices we all made. But this morning we knew we would be spending our day at home.  Doing Nothing.
Our day so far: I am enjoying setting up my bedroom studio corner, catching up on cool FB links, reading up on math and design and finding a local studio for artists to draw from a model.  Raghu has been exploring his new PS3 game, talking to me about various topics ranging from social activists to when should a tea bag be removed for ideal flavor.  Zoya woke up thinking and breathing Minecraft and quickly immersed herself in a new house creation and watching Stampey videos.  Both of them are now deep into Minecrafting and creation and intense conversations about Stampeylongnose (this guy who creates lovely videos of his Minecraft world).
As you can see, a day of doing nothing is never really nothing.  Its just a pressure free, open ended, generally home bound space created lovingly, to let us all rest into our natural interests and rhythms. I resist thinking about the growing grocery list. I resist everything but the unfolding of the day.  
After intense socializing or a playdate/gathering or drives to and fro from classes we all need a “do nothing” space.  Some call it down time.  We call it “doing nothing”.  Implying you can relax and allow the day to unfold without any time limits.  Follow whims and doodles and thoughts to their logical conclusion or not. Cook simple meals and laugh loud and silly. Every few hours Raghu will ask me if we are going anywhere… and i remind him that we are indeed not doing anything today.  And we smile knowingly at each other.  I love our Doing Nothing Days.  

Death and Eulogy

Last evening a few hours after i posted about the Jatra and mentioned my Dad’s gracious cousins who hosted us, one of them died.  I will simply call him Kaka for this post. Kaka means Dad’s brother.  Here even a cousin is a brother or sister. Suddenly Death was real and alive and in our home and hearts.

The news came suddenly like it happens often times. We were sitting and drinking coffee around my parents dining table in their Bangalore apartment. Raghu and i were playing Pictionary. Raghu had started a new personal game as we played Pictionary. He would role a dice and assign actions to each number. So he would say (to himself) if I roll 4 I will eat a spoon of corn, if I roll 6 i will draw, if I roll 5 I will stop playing, etc. It was slowing down our game but was funny to watch.  He kept taking decisions all thru the evening based on a roll of dice.  And in the middle of this slow evening came a call.  
The voice on the other end sounded distraught and mixed up.  Slowly over a couple of calls within a few minutes we all knew that Kaka had died. It had taken his older brother and hospital authorities an hour to start the inevitable process of declaring the death.
As the evening wore on and my dad got ready to leave for Huballi, i found Raghu crying alone in his room. I sat and massaged his legs. We talked about how everything is energy. How we get attached to so many things in our lifetime.  We spoke of life, living and the need to move on.  Some call upon death, some can keep death at bay. I told him of my Dad’s grandmother waiting for 3 days on her deathbed for him to arrive. Within a few minutes of his arrival she died. Raghu felt Kaka’s death acutely for a while.  He had just met Kaka and had chatted with him.  The sudden death left Raghu bewildered, sad and wondering about how life can change in a split second.
Raghu also shared with me that Kaka had asked him to create a presentation on the Agnihotri family. He wanted my help to create this. My dad and i were quite moved by his earnestness. And i wondered about that dice game, the roll of dice, chance and the apparent randomness of life. 
Rest in peace dear Kaka.  Ravi and I will remember your joyful presence and immersion in Hindu rituals, your sincere smiling presence and total immersion while conducting a pooja, and the conversations we enjoyed at Dharwad during the Trust meetings. Raghu and i will create a beautiful something, that reflects the Agnihotri history. 

A Jatra

My father took us to Kundgol this last Sunday. It is a small, sleepy hamlet near Dharwad. There We have an ancestral home cared for by my Dad’s cousin.  It is an Agnihotri home. A home that has seen several generations of Agnihotris.  The previous night I shared with the kids about how the house is, about the bathroom, about the food, the Jatra itself, the crowds etc. This Jatra is a yearly event with decorated bulls, Brahma pooja and some famillies are honored with a role to play on the Bullock carts. 

The drive into Kundgol was lovely.  We were surrounded by green fields and some parts of Huballi’s factory ridden terrain.  Raghu and Zoya met their twin cousins for the first time. My dad’s cousins gave us quite a welcome.  We had a traditional lunch on plantain leaves.  Raghu had plain ghee and rice and ignored the rest of the food.  But he is managing to politely navigate social norms. He talks to me in my ear and tells me what he can eat.  Both children managed to find their groove.  They used their iPads for a bit.  They walked up our little path to the local pond.

Sometimes i wonder if we would thrive in a small town in India.  I love small towns in India.  The big urban regions make me feel quite out of sorts. The cement, the lack of gardens and trees and lack of quiet… I can go on.  So i shan’t.  Suffice to say small town India is beautiful and easy on the eyes.  I love the ambling buffalo and sleepy quiet. 
At the end of the day someone asked Raghu how he felt about the day.  He said the best part was being surrounded by a home and environment that was a part of his ancestry and that everyone in the house was connected to his blood line. It was a lovely summation for me too.