How Are You Managing Your Screen Time?

Because I love technology and social media, I feel like I have been quite conscious of my screen time. Since more than a year, all notifications are off my phone. I use the app “Focus” to turn off the internet on my phone (it also helps with working with the pomodoro technique). After reading Adriana Huffington’s book on sleep, I also parked my phone – turned off! –  in a different room during the night and am awoken by an old-fashioned alarm clock. All in the name of limiting my screen time and not being dragged down the rabbit-hole of smartphones.

Sadly, I also agree with Jim Kwik who suggest that smartphones make us less smart!

However, all of this seems to not be enough to manage my time in front of a screen. Indeed, Catherine Price who wrote a book about breaking up with your phone, and a New York Times article that sums it up, suggests it took her two years!  When I heard on the news Apple is including such a control mechanism for parents and individuals in their next OS, I thought to myself I NEED THIS NOW and started researching programs for both me and my 7-year-old. This is what I found.

 

FOR ME: Space. Free app, upgrade available USD 1.99 (but actually I am not sure what the upgrade does).

I liked the design and step-by-step idea that “diagnoses” your particular problem (I am a “boredom battler”) as well as the pop-ups and idea of dimming of the screen. It is also free! That is a pretty great feature when comparable apps charge a monthly cost.

 

FOR THE KID: Habyts. Free for 14 days and after that USD 3.29 or 7.99/month depending on services needed. The more expensive upgrade include chores that your kid can do for extra points or minutes.

Further, Habyts was the only app I could find that both allowed me to set daily time allowances, remote turn off her device, as well as included the option of adding tasks or chores for her to earn more time.

 

5 days in

We have tried a for a few days and I appreciate the professional help! In addition, what has helped is the idea to limit and track not just duration of each session, but also the number of times one reaches for one’s phone and unlocks it. However, despite warnings, limits and general awareness-raising, it has not been very impactful so far for me. I have not yet met my goals of 1,5 hours max on the smartphone/day (my average is more like the double!) or less than 30 unlocks during a day. Two nights since I started this phone detox, I have also unfortunately late-night-binged on my iPad (where I did not install the program).

My child shows withdrawal symptoms as well and has been angry and demanding. I had to change the lock codes on all my devices as she “jumped” to mine when her time was up! However, the remote shut-down function makes the process of limiting the time (right now the same 90 minutes a day) easier than earlier and I recognize that it helps for thinking of other things to do that I am also off my phone!

I will follow up again when some more time has passed to tell you how we are doing.

How do you limit screen time in your family?

How can we better educate our children?

Have you ever thought about the difference between being imaginative and being creative? Last week, I went to a book launch where educator Dr. Naomi Adjepong of Alpha Beta Education Centers asked this question. She suggested that imagination exists just in our head, while creativeness is acted out. Her context was Ghanaian education. Are we educating creatives in Ghana?

At the same event, spelling bee champion Eugenia Tachie-Menson spoke on how education can be fun and how reading books for pleasure is a wonderful way of improving both your thinking and vocabulary. (The event was fellow blogger Golda Addo’s book launch for her novel “The Shimmer in the Photo Album”, Golda is in the orange boubou below, next to Tachie-Menson).

I am lucky to send my children to a private school where both teachers and administrators are happy to take up suggestions from parents, however, they tell me that more often than not the parents that approach them demand “more exams, more exercises, and more sitting in the classroom”.

Personally, I would rather see children under the age of 5 or even 10 spend more time outdoors playing than sitting still and quiet in the classroom. The start-up Tinkergarten, sponsored by among others Omidyar Group, is developing outdoor activities to encourage children “tinkering” or playing outdoors. Activities include looking at bugs, making soap bubbles, or building a bird nest for humans! They write on their website:

“Tinkergarten’s curriculum both engages and delights a wide range of kids ages 18 months-8 years old. As a season unfolds, unique themes and challenges build lesson to lesson. These themes and challenges evolve one season to the next as children progress through the program. In each lesson, an engaging scenario unfolds that allows kids to launch and direct their own play. No two kids ever have the same experience, because it’s the process that matters. Adults play a role, too, as they observe, honor and support their child’s independent exploration and playful learning.”

To prepare our children for the future, I believe they have to be able to read and write, count and perhaps also march in rows, but importantly, in addition, they also need practice communication, empathy, solving problems in groups, building things, asking questions,seeing new places, adapting to different environments, failing and dusting themselves off to try again.

Are we educating creatives in Ghana? And if we are not, what will be the consequences?

Photo : Paul Ninson

 

My Children Speak Three Languages: Here Are My Thoughts About It

My brother reads to my children. In Swedish.

In our family, we speak three languages: English is the common language that all of us speak, then I speak Swedish with the kids (which my children’s father can understand some, but cannot speak it), and the children’s father speaks Fanti, an Akan language ( which I only have a basic level of understanding and proficiency) with them. People around us speak either English or Fanti or other dialects of Akan, in school, my daughter is taught in English. We Skype with my Swedish family in Swedish maybe once a week.

Swedish is hence the language my children hear the least of.

My thoughts around teaching them my language are:

  1. It is extremely important to me they speak my mother-tongue. It is the lauguage in which I can express myself best and it is the carrier of my culture. My children speaking Swedish is non-negotiable and I am envisioning them speaking Swedish fluently as adults, on a level high enough it would not immediately be possible to tell they did not always live in Sweden.
  2. If I, their mother, speak Swedish, they will too. I therefore try and speak as much in Swedish with them as I can. Honestly, I constantly disappoint myself and end up speaking English much more than I intend to, but I try to be forgiving, switch to Swedish when I realize I am rattling on in English and say to myself that “tomorrow is a new day…”
  3. To increase my children’s Swedish vocabulary, we read books every day. I try to read to them every night I am home for about 45 minutes (5 nights a week). We have many children’s’ books in Swedish, but I also do direct translations from books in English (and the one in French!). We also converse around pictures in the books.
  4. Mixing languages is ok. The Multilingual Children’s Association agrees and calls it “harmless and temporary”. If my children speak mixing English and Swedish, and they do that quite a bit, I might translate to Swedish in my response to them. For instance,  they might say: “…and kaninen [the rabbit] fall down”,  I can respond “Ja, den ramlade…” [Yes, it fell]. But I don’t want to coerce them into speaking Swedish as I don’t want there to be any ill-feeling towards the language. At times that means I will be speaking Swedish and they will respond in English. Good enough.
  5. We spend at least one month in a Swedish-speaking environment every year. I think it is sometimes good to be emersed in the language and “forced” to speak (but I am not contradicting myself, the force that comes naturally from speaking to someone who prefers Swedish is very different to be made to speak to someone who speaks both languages).
  6. I take help from technology. When my children play iPad games or watch movies, I make sure some of them are in Swedish. It is also a great way of adding the cultural aspect of life in Sweden such as current favorites Barnen i Bullerbyn and Astrid får en lillebror.
  7. I think of next steps. However, I realize my children lack some specific vocabulary, for instance, words for play in Swedish (My child: “Hello, let’s play HIDE AND SEEK”, Swedish child: *blank face*), so I would love to organize playdates for them with Swedish speaking children. I know a few here in Ghana and am aware of a Swedish family moving to our town soon. Likely my Swedish would improve with some more practice as well!

If you have experiences with a multilingual life, I would love to hear your story!

Thanks to Charlie’s comment and Nadja’s facebook post which inspired this post!

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting

My #2016bestnine on Instagram

Last year I increased my presence on Instagram and ended up with 244 posts which were liked a whopping 6971 times! Thank you!

(and if you are not part of the 800+ people who follow me yet, I am @KajsaHA there too!)

You apparently like:

  1. Me graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in African Studies from University of Ghana
  2. Me taking a selfie with an umbrella and a yellow Ginko Biloba tree at the Mall in Washington DC (steps away from where people did NOT assemble for someone’s inauguration last week)
  3. My daughter Ellen zipping up my dress.
  4. Smiley husband and I on a night out at the National Theatre.
  5. An intimate sibling embrace.
  6. Girls being silly in new swim caps.
  7. Garden marvels (it is palm nut kernels!).
  8. Long shadows on one of the shortest days of the year.
  9. Live broadcast technology that allows my mother in Sweden to follow my graduation in Ghana (see #1)

Comment on what you want to see in 2017!

 

This is Surprising About Having Children

I was recently asked: “What about having children was something you did not expect?” It was a good question. I had to think for a bit. Many things were just as expected: The joy of seeing your children run towards you, the tiredness you feel from never ever getting to sleep enough, the 1000s of photos (10,000s?) on my hard drive of every single cute thing they do, feeling conflicted when I leave the house without them, singing my childhood songs with them. But what was a surprise?screenshot-2016-10-07-12-00-00

After wading through my sleep deprived and sluggish mind, I found a recurring surprise in relation to my oldest child, a talkative five year old (I hear they all are talkatives). The frequency of which she thinks and talks about the miracle of her being my child is a surprise. How many times she asks: “was I really in your tummy?” or exclaims “min mamma”, “my mommy” with an emphasis on our bond. I think I had somehow expected that my child would take her being alive, her coming from my tummy, her being our child, as a given as she knows nothing else.

That a kindergarten aged child is able to reflect on the miracle of life, and does so almost every day, was a surprise. And a surprise that amazes and thrills me. I am happy to entertain this rather deep and at the same time basic thought. I reread her favorite books in the genre “Hur jag blev till”, “How I was made”. She often asks for and can listen to the story of her own birth time and time again.

screenshot-2016-10-07-12-05-54Maybe all of this is a reflection of my own fascination with the serendipity of life and the magic that mysteriously brings us our little ones, but then still it blows my mind that my child is in a sense just like me! At the age of five!

This post is listed under the category Parenting and is part of my effort to write more about my children on the blog.

 

My Children on the Blog

So in-between blogging, researching, and teaching, I do have a private life. The main part of that life is my two children. I have mentioned them every now and then here on the blog, like when they were born: Selma in 2011  & Ellen in 2014, and in a post on our racialized lives “You are yellow and I am brown” and in a post on how to carry a baby Ghana style (one of my few videos). 

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However, I would like to write a little more here on the blog about my children, things we do together, and challenges we face as a family. I will do so under the category: Parenting.

While some might feel one should not “expose” children online, I see my online life as a part of my life and it feels strange to “hide” them away from my blog. Also as my children grow and frankly become more fun to hang out with, I think I have more to say about them, their activities, and about life with children more generally. I am mindful of that they are their own people who should get to tell their own story, but until they start their own blogs (oh, what a dizzying thought!), I think I can say quite a bit more without compromising their integrity.

If you have ideas on topics you’d like to read relating to life with children, do leave a comment!

When your child is sick with malaria

The blog posts you had in mind to write is the last thing on your mind. I mean, in tropical Africa on the one hand, it is just another day with play at home, plenty fluids, and ice cream in the afternoon – not so much different from a weekend without play dates. 

On the other hand, it is a time where I deeply connect with parents in this region who feel a hot forehead and it means more than a few days of recuperation at home. I think of families who live much further from a clinic than we do, cannot travel there in the comfort of their own air conditioned car, and do not simply hand over their health insurance to the nursing station before seeing the doctor.

My body aches for the parents who maybe have to go door to door, knocking, to look for the money needed for transport and care of their little one, increasingly weaker by the minute. In Ghana, malaria is endemic and has affected history and continues to shape contemporary life. It kills, and according to WHO Ghana reported more than 2500 malaria deaths in 2014, but it also cast its net wide as more than 1.5 million people were reported ill with malaria over the same time. That means, malaria is seen as nothing more than a bad cold. “Take your meds and rest”.

Now my malaria-ridden kid (or maybe it is not malaria, the test came back negative, but the zealous doctor still wanted to do the treatment) is sleeping here next to me and I feel mostly calm and grateful. When she wakes up, I will give her more paracetamol. I have food in my fridge and money in my bag. I have the doctor’s cell phone number if her condition is not better by tomorrow.

Can you tell I am still worried?

This post is the second in my new series of more personal posts to be posted on Fridays, Personal Fridays. Although, I have to admit today is Saturday. 

Mmofra Place – A Children’s Park in Dzorwulu, Accra

Today, I was invited to the opening of exhibit Our Climate: Think. Act. Change! Organized by Mmofra Foundation in their huge park-to-be in Dzorwulu ( Next to Marvels) and curated by Foundation For Contemporary Art.

I was happy to see such a promising space, lovely trees, a stage and space! I couldn’t even see the end of the park! There was a beautiful breeze as we sat under trees and listened to the speeches of the opening: Minister of Lands gave a personal rendition of his written speech, Architect Ralph Sutherland sat down and gave a heartfelt and touching talk as well as partners like the German Embassy and British High Commission and WASCAL.

I was also sad to think of how rare such an initiative is in Ghana. We build on all plots, chop down trees and lose out on greenery, breeze and relaxation!

The exhibit was varied and fun. I especially liked the “simple” things like the herb garden, the chair under greens and sculptures made from scrap. And the green bird mascot!

I hope many can visit Mmofra Place and be inspired to do something similar close to where they live – plant a tree, clean up a patch and be creative!

Here are some photos to inspire. Find more on Mmofra Foundation’s Facebook Page.

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Running a Marathon OR At Home with a Two-Year-Old

Being at home all day with a two-year-old is similar to running a marathon.

She sets off into any direction and fast! She has a flair for dangerous things (electronics, sharp objects, vases filled with water…) and as soon as you do not pay attention she might have thrown all textiles in the house into the water-filled zink or emptied her lunch plate into a paper suitcase (both has happened to me today!) Before you even have time to get angry she is on a different project. She laughs and dances, sings and claps.

And then off again. Where is she now? Gotta run!

Street “Hawkers” in Ghana, Handiwork and Child Labor

I just came back from a weekend in the Western Region and really enjoyed my time there! On the way back, we stopped a few times along the road to stock up on different food items. Our first stop was Elmina, where we bought crabs.

The street vendors or “hawkers” as they are referred to in Ghana catch these crabs and then tie them in sets of 8 to a large grass straw. How you tie a live crab is beyond me, but it is exquisite, beautiful handiwork! 

 

Crabs and numerous other things you can buy from your car. Many times, just like you see in the collage above, the items are sold by children. In Ghana, 1 million children do this type of job according to the International Labour Organisation.

But that is a different blog post…