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. 

The way it goes

I would like to share this random day with my readers:

This morning i woke up with very low energy levels. I sat with my coffee mug and chatted with Ravi, who had been working on his laptop till i woke up. He is in the middle of re-entering the work world that he happily left 7 months ago. We are also in the last phase of the interior work on our new apartment. The current apartment, rented, has to be handed back by March 30th. The work on our site has us embroiled, mentally, physically and energetically. So there was much for us to talk about.

Raghu woke up and joined us on the couch. He said he loved the sun’s warm rays falling on his bare back. He sat their sunning and started talking with us. The next hour went by discussing (with Ravi googling things for us) a light year, speed of light, how far Andromeda, the galaxy, is, what is a measurement unit, why measure anything, great Khali, the punjabi Canadian wrestler, tricks, trickster and how to trick people. Oh and also Raghu chatted about the Sherlock Holmes movie he saw by himself the previous night. ( I had fallen asleep and Ravi was asleep on the couch half way thru the movie.)

Raghu has been wanting to trick us.. General kinds… Pretending to be asleep, sneaking up on us and scaring us, stuff like that. But he has not always been successful. I gave him a wrapped candy this morning. He opened it and saw my carefully wrapped green plasticine roll. He was surprised at how realistic the candy looked like from the outside. So i wished him happy tricking, practical jokes etc. and mentioned that we’d love to be tricked. He does not want us to pretend to be tricked. He really wants to trick us. I mentioned the book on practical jokes i have. Raghu moved onto other things. I went back to my coffee and thoughts.

Ravi got some toast ready for breakfast. I got Zoya’s milk ready. She had woken up talking about a playdate. I went upstairs to hang clothes to dry. My helper was sweeping the floors and helping with the dishes. We had not swept the floors for a day and they were filthy already.

I spoke to the kids about not arranging any playdates for the next couple of days as i was busy with the new house site issues, Ravi was managing several things, we were exhausted by the little house help, cooking, dusting, washing up etc. i explained that since we had several outings till yesterday i needed a break from social things. They both understood and decided to watch a TinTin episode while eating breakfast. I was moving around the house with a phone to my ear, arranging for dog care during the upcoming homeschoolers conference, and catching up on grocery lists and texting a friend.

I started cooking lunch once Ravi left for his errands and the site. Raghu and Zoya were playing a loud, running around game. There were times i wanted to step in and sort out their loud quarrels. I stopped myself and smiled at them and noticed that they were simply being loud but were not really angry. They kept resolving their issues and played together… A made up game.

I had steamed beetroot in the pressure cooker. I asked the kids if they wanted to colour some fabric. They put down soft white cloth pieces and for the next 30 minutes or so played with it. We stamped, printed, stained, and had some fun. Raghu then chopped up the cooked beetroot for our salad. I mixed it all up and Raghu tasted it and approved it but said it needed more salt.

While i continued to make chapatis and cooked a cabbage sabji, Zoya created coloured sand sticky paper thingies. Beautiful little things…. I have no idea what to do with them yet. But for now all that mattered was that she could mix coloured sand and enjoy the sticky paper.

Raghu then sorted out his card collection, played with a lighter, watched the flame, went out for a walk, used a blade to create wooden pencil shapes from sticks and now he is playing a video game that involves wrestlers.

Zoya is walking around with her doll, humming a song, carrying a laundry basket and creating little home spaces for her baby. She is currently feeding her doll and has asked me to get her wooden clothes pegs the next time we go shopping. I just fixed up her little pink stroller.

Ravi just got back and is upstairs printing out stuff. I will go set the table and maybe all 4 of us will eat lunch together.

Its 2:30 in the afternoon and i do not know how the rest of the day will go. I might read my Natalie Goldberg book after lunch and watch a movie with the kids. Maybe i’ll feel open to playdates and a library visit (for Raghu’s next Bone book) as the day moves on. I shared with the kids first thing this morning about how low i was energy wise and how i could not plan an active day. But they know (just from them knowing my style of functioning) that my energy may go up and we can revisit all of it).

Some days are full of excitement and busy with planned and unplanned activity. Other days like today… Quiet, loud, happy, annoyed, smiling, singsongy, simple, at home, mixed up, ordinary, etc. I stay with the unfolding of the day.

On Capone, Elvis and Learning

A few minutes ago Raghu was watching a video with me online, where we saw images of the soup lines during the Great Depression.  He immediately connected it to what he read about Al Capone in the Horrible Histories Book.  I learnt from him that during the Great Depression Al Capone tried to buy his way into the heart of the public, during his court trial, by setting up Soup Lines for the unemployed.

Often such moments happen during my randomly busy days and I’m unable to remember the connections made or the moment passes and the next time i’m at the computer my mind draws a blank.  today per chance the video froze and so i decided to blog this right away.

I also found it amazing that for a boy who normally does not read novel-length and novel-typesize books, Raghu read the Horrible Histories book on Al Capone cover to cover.  It amazes me the information that he squirrels away.  I may never truly know what my child has learnt, where he learnt it, why he learnt it, how he learnt it and when he learnt it.  But I know that he will learn what he needs, when he needs it, etc.  You get my drift.

Raghu’s love for guns, the mafia, gangs, is leading to an interest in history, geography and many other ‘subjects’.  I love the mix of information and flow of connections in our house.  Raghu said he loved the story of Al Capone.  He loves watching The Godfather series with Ravi.  And since Ravi has a clear hold over facts and figures and can talk instantly about directors, movies, dialog, films, historic facts etc, the 2 really enjoy their discussions on Scarface and the like 🙂

As Raghu plays around the house he might hear us conversing about a topic and he jumps right in with his connections, information or sometimes a joke he heard about the topic.  This is something Ravi and I now welcome. Sometimes it feels like our conversations are interrupted too often and we might tell Raghu to hold his thought while we complete our train of thought… but mostly its a joy to have him and these days even Zoya jumping right in and giving us their world view.  They can influence the actions in this house and have impact.  I think for a child this is real-time learning.

Zoya has been parading us with dialogs from a diverse variety of movies.  She will say something from 3 idiots “jahanpana tussi great ho” when I bring her something she likes 🙂  Or she might put her lyrics to the tune of  “Return to Sender” (Elvis).  Try singing this to the tune:  “Nana (Ravi) is verrrry grumpy, and not being nice, so I said to the postman, his letter comes back, Return to Sender, address unknown”.  Its so funny!  And the song has the desired effect and Nana is less grumpy right away.  She makes up songs like this in tune to many Hindi and English songs.  Sometimes nonsensical, sometimes circumstances will be reflected in the lyrics 🙂  We all enjoy her way of communicating.. thru her songs.  She tells us how she feels, what she wants and even asks questions.  Raghu has been helping her with holding the tune and finding the right rhyming word.

My children and I are learning way more than just facts and figures.  We learn about emotions, personalities, the world and why it is the way it is (a topic that is rehashed every few weeks as my ability to talk about it improves and my children ask more complex things), our selves, our family and its dynamics, what is money and why some people want more of it and some don’t.  Etcetera.  And if I’m sad and they notice it, we talk about it.  Sharing my emotions, sharing how I dealt with an emotional moment, is important to me.  Often Raghu will know exactly what I need or want and will make wise suggestions… go for a walk Amma or he might ask if I want a glass of water.

Raghu advised me recently, “You know Amma, when you get angry and you want to not be angry any more, then you just need to forget what happened.”  Ravi and I rarely, these days, get truly annoyed with each other.. its usually circumstantial stuff, rocky centers due to a cold or some such…. and yet… this piece of advice from my 9 year old was in alignment with what I have been learning from reading Byron Katie. I was indeed grumpy with Ravi that day and my grumpiness vanished. And I continue to learn.

Simple pleasures

 Zoya loves playing on the kitchen floor with a large steel plate, in which we arrange tongs, candles, camphor tablets and some little plates.  She likes burning camphor and allowing the smoke to coat a plate and then draw on it.  We love the smell of camphor!

I like how random our life is.  And if i fight this disorderly chaos that our interests bring about… then I feel low and angry and annoyed with the kids and myself.  So observing the laughter, joy, peace that the randomness of things in our life brings… makes me peaceful.

Raghu, Ishan (our neighbor) and Zoya helped me wash our Duplo lego blocks… that Z still loves to play with.  They had a blast with all that water and a running pipe… that was helping me clean the terrace as well.

I even ended up giving Snowy a bath… which she did not like.. but was easier for me with all that water being used by the kids.

Playing with fire, water and mud is still Zoya’s favorite way to spend time.  Give her sand and water and hours can go by.  Raghu has definitely moved on and is not as engaged by these elements any more.  However he does love fire and will talk about carbon to Zoya and about burning different materials to me.

Simple Pleasures indeed.