Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have we squelched normal childhood behavior with electronics?

It's the season of Christmas performances for children.  I've been to several for my children, and have noticed that the young siblings of the performer, who in past years must endure boredom, threats from parents to "Be quiet!" and even brief removal from the performance for a walk around the building or a well-placed swat on the behind as a reminder to behave no longer have to endure such atrocities.

They play games on a parent's cell phone the entire time, and no one even realizes they are present. At a recent performance, a small boy curled up against his father and was lost in his car-chase game. He didn't bother anyone.  But what did he miss out on?

 He was about three, and three-year-olds are not known for their ability to sit still.  Before cell phones existed, perhaps mom or dad would have had to take him outside to allow him to run around for a few minutes, and then they'd bring him back in to endure the rest of the performance.  This child didn't whine for a snack, he didn't laugh at his sister, or make faces at her, or try to get her to laugh.  He didn't ask, in the way of many three-year-old, innumerable questions about the performance.  He didn't play with his toy cars and accidentally send one across the room.  He just sat quietly with the phone and didn't bother anyone.

But he wasn't normal.  In the entirety of human history, parents have had to manage the behavior of three-year-olds, to the amusement and understanding of those past that stage of life, and to the aggravation of those not yet there.

My youngest child is 5, and during the performance while she  watched her sister, she said she didn't want to sit there and watch (I told her she had to), she said she wanted a snack (which I provided).  She played with toys.  She whined.  She smiled at her sister.  Finally she lay across my lap and rested.  I expected her, at 5, to be able to remain in the room for 45 minutes without going outside for a walk.  She was normal.

When mine were three, I prepared for outings by packing snacks, small toys, crayons, and paper. I expected that at some point we'd have to leave the performance and walk around outside.  If the behavior went from 3-year-old wiggles to defiance, they might have (very rarely) gotten a swat on the behind as a reminder that Mama Is Serious.

While waiting for food at a restaurant with toddlers and preschoolers, my husband and I took them on walks around the restaurant or outside.  Inevitably, someone would find them adorable and would want to talk to them, pleasing both child and all adults.  They were normal.  They were living real life, and they were interacting with others and coping with boredom in the same ways that small children have coped with such things for all of human history.

They have reached school-age with their attention spans intact and with the ability to handle some boredom.  They do not expect entertainment by me: if they whine about being bored at home I helpfully find them a chore.  That quickly teaches them not to ask Mama for help with alleviation of their boredom.

TV and other electronics are a treat, not an expectation in our house.  They don't happen every day.  People fear that their children will be behind others if they don't start learning how to dress princesses on the iPad when they are two; I assure you that my 8-year-old, who had no computer time until she was of school age, and who still has very limited use, can Google answers to questions (if she can only spell well enough), knows about YouTube, and is learning to type correctly. She learned how to use the computer with startling speed, certainly much faster than I learned.

She was old enough, when we started using the computer, to actually need the information she might find on the computer.  She has also played enough games to be able to understand what her friends are talking about so she "fits in" with others.    She won't be a video game champion, but that is perfectly okay with me.  Friends come to our house to play in the creek, visit the chickens, and play in the playhouse.  When we drove 700 miles in one day, they watched movies on a portable DVD player.  I am not opposed entirely to electronics.

My husband and I have had to listen to whining that could have been easily squelched with electronics.  I have to tell them sometimes to go to their rooms and don't come out unless there is blood, fire, or vomit.  Sometimes I tell them that they are driving me crazy, and I tell them to go outside, and I might even lock the door after it closes. Didn't your mother send you outside?  Mine certainly did.

But that is real life, isn't it?  Children are supposed to let you know they are with you. When  a two-year-old is awake and quiet for more than a few minutes, it should be because they are getting into trouble, not because they are lost in a video game.  Children are a lot of bother.  They need to be shown, when they are small, that they are capable of playing alone instead of being given an electronic device for entertainment.  As they get older they need to develop hobbies.  Children need to learn to fill that ache of boredom, of loneliness, with some activity, either for fun or as work.  

If they do not learn this skill as children, they become adults who play video games all day, or watch TV in every spare minute, or binge eat.  It's easier to watch TV than to read a book.  It's easier to play video games than to take up a new hobby or call a friend or cook a meal or work in the garden or walk around the block.

Throughout the entirety of human history, people have had to overcome boredom without electronics.  Perhaps we should continue to practice this skill and, most importantly, because adults today at least grew up without cell phones and easy access to electronics, teach them to our children.  Children are worth the bother.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chickens on Pasture

After about 4 weeks old, the chickens, Jumbo X Cornish Cross broilers, have enough feathers to live outside without supplemental heat.  They are also large enough (I hope) to deter attacks by hawks.  Although I lack a secure chicken house on pasture in which they can spend the night, so I'm still having to carry them back and forth from the chicken house to the pastured area, at least they can roam about all day without supplemental protection.  Here's a video of them enjoying freedom.They are inside electrified poultry netting.  I opened the door to the chicken house in hopes that they'd roam about and find their own pasture, but they really just don't want to move.  They'd rather sit in front of the food container and eat.  When I take it away, they move more as they look for something to eat.  This breed is not like my "normal" chickens, who are never still unless they are laying an egg or taking an afternoon nap.  The rest of the time the "normal" ones are chasing bugs, scratching in the mulch, or just walking around.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Providing chicks with pasture in November (and getting them out of my garage!)

Just in case you were wondering, it's not a good idea to raise 17 Jumbo X Cornish Cross chickens in your garage.  I raised 9 chicks of traditional breeds in my garage, and their manure and mess was not a problem.  Although I read all the information I could find about raising Jumbo X Cornish Cross chickens, which are similar to the breed of chicken people usually eat from the grocery store or from most farms, I did not truly realize how quickly they would grow.  They eat voraciously, and what goes in, must come out.
Here they are inside the garage in the "brooder" made of baby gates and hay on the floor

Because it's November, and too cold for the chicks to stay outdoors unprotected, I tried a couple of methods of letting them have some time outdoors, but discovered that they could not stay outdoors long without heat,  or else they required constant supervision to ensure their safety from hawks.

Outside in the hoop house where they belong

My husband and I built these hoop houses, some from bent cattle panels, and some from PVC pipe, covered them with plastic, and now I have a solar-heated chicken brooder that protects them from hawks.  This structure will not protect them from four-legged predators, and it won't keep them warm at night.  However, depending on the weather, I can take them outside when the sun strikes the structure in the morning, and I bring them back inside the garage in the late afternoon.

I am able to do this because I am at home during the day and I can monitor the temperature under the plastic.  Usually, I start out the day with the plastic completely closed, then in an hour or two open the ends, and, depending on how hot the day becomes, pull aside some of the plastic on the roof.  The first time I tried this, I went out to check on them an hour after I put them in, and they were panting from the heat.  I opened the plastic, and they were fine. Another day, a strong wind blew aside the plastic and I had to catch some of the chicks.  Now that I understand how it works, I leave them for a few hours, but please do not leave your chickens in this structure all day without checking on them.  

Edited at 12:09 PM: I just got back inside from checking on them, and it's quite warm here--75 degrees or so today.  Even with some of the plastic pulled back, they were still panting, so I made some further modifications with some plastic chicken fencing to allow them more air, and laid some tin roofing along the sides for shade.  My "normal chickens do fine in the heat of a South Carolina August day, but I was concerned that these might not be able to withstand even a little discomfort.

It's also not at all secure against four-legged predators or safe to keep them in during the night.  I have them inside a fenced garden, which is inside an electric fence, so they are safe (but I'll never say they are completely safe) during the day.  Mr. Raccoon could easily climb the fence and get them at night, though, but he's not usually active during the day.  

I take them back and forth into the garage in a plastic tote.  They hate this.

Catching them is becoming more and more difficult, and they dislike the experience, but I believe I make up for the 5-10 minutes of anxiety while I catch them by allowing them the fun and nutrition available in the hoop house.  And, that's a whole day that they are doing their business outside, where it belongs, and enriching my garden soil in the process.  I have discovered that if I take the food away for a couple of hours before it's time to catch them the little beggars are so ravenously hungry that they rush to the feeder and I can catch them without chasing them.  These birds don't eat with one eye watching for predators like my other chickens.  I've never been able to sneak up on a "normal" chicken.

In the future, I'll get these chicks in late August, perhaps, so they will have warm weather while they are babies and can mature in the cooler weather of October, when they have feathers for warmth, can stay outside all the time,  and will be large enough to deter most hawk attacks.