“Lose the ‘Boob Tube:’ Alternative Activities to Engage Your Children”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Chris Stein, Getty Images

Photo Credit: Chris Stein, Getty Images

When it comes to television, I’ve gotten the ‘eye rolls,’ the “Oh, come on’s,” and just about every comment in the ‘pro-television’ corner … yet not from my son. Rather, these comments have come from other parents I know. Most people find a hard time believing that my son will be 4 years old soon and he still has not watched a television program or a DVD, nor seen a movie. That’s why, while discussing this with a mother at church this Sunday, I was shocked when she responded, “Good for you! I wish I’d done it.”

Although I have run into some like-minded moms, in general most parents I know have set their children in front of the television before the age of 2 – some as early as 1 year old or younger. Some have rationalized their decision with, “But it’s Sesame Street!” Others with, “Yes, but my baby is learning so much from those Baby Einstein DVDs!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I have my favorite Sesame Street character, and I think that the developers of Baby Einstein had a great concept. However, when interviewed about why they are making DVDs for such young children, even though developmentally it has been proven to be inappropriate before the age of 2, the creators of Baby Einstein had a ready response. Since they know parents are going to let their children watch anyway, they wanted to create something that (and this is a real big paraphrase here) wouldn’t be too bad. Huh…

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 years old not be exposed to media of any kind, and screen time for children older than that should be limited – kids 2 and older should watch no more than one to two hours daily. Despite that recommendation, the average American child watches three to four hours a day.

Very few children’s television programs are interactive. In fact, they can actually delay a child’s development in some areas. Think about it: most television programs flash rapid-fire images and concepts at a child to the point where their mind has no time to process what is happening – let alone respond appropriately.

I subscribe to Baby Center and in their “TV-watching guidelines” web article, they state: “The best way to approach television is to think of it as refined sugar. You want your kids to enjoy the seductive stuff without consuming it to excess.” This makes sense, and my little boy will certainly soon get to enjoy TV time. However, as I think about how much time he will spend watching television, and how I will keep his viewing time and content under control, I believe it is best to start out “tough” from day one. It will be much easier to relax my standards later on than to tighten the reins.

Baby Center has several excellent ideas for monitoring your child’s TV viewing, including choosing what to watch and your role.  They also have two other articles I highly recommend reading: TV for Kids Filled with Social Bullying, Study Finds” and “What to Watch: The Best Children’s Television.”

Here are several alternative activities you can use to engage your children and keep them busy in another way – even if you really just ‘need a moment!’

1)      Put the focus on reading ~ Most little ones I know enjoy story time. You can read to them, together, or have them read to you. Even if they are too young to be reading other than from memory, change the words around, or vary the story line – remember this is creating a strong foundation and enjoyment for reading. The myth that you must be sitting next to your child listening and watching as he or she experiences a book is not true! It is perfectly fine for you to ask your child to read to you while you are preparing dinner. No direct eye contact necessary!

Little Drummer Boy

Little Drummer Boy

2)      Invest in upbeat, interactive children’s music or story CDs ~ This develops their auditory learning, and gives them freedom to create images in their mind. Some come with a book and your child gets to hear someone else read to them besides you. These also tend to be slower paced, allowing more response time for your child.

3)      Invest in a child-friendly musical instrument kit (Target has some good ones) ~ Even if you have to “grin and bear” the noise for a bit, your child will love ‘playing along’ to a favorite CD or just making up their own tunes. Add a ‘marching band’ stroll around the house!

4)      Lay out miscellaneous craft supplies ~ Construction paper; small pieces of thin cardboard; fun little bits and pieces for gluing (buttons, felt pieces, googly eyes, stickers); scissors; glue and paste – let your child have an unbridled craft fest (parental involvement not necessary)! It doesn’t matter what they create, just that they are being creative!

Making Christmas Cookies

Making Christmas Cookies

5)      Venture into the great outdoors ~ Your backyard is fine and if you don’t have one, the nearest local park is great too. Children need to expend (lots of) energy and what better place to do that than outside. I have to force myself to do this on days when I am not up for a trek in a light drizzle, getting bundled up against the cold air, or am just plain tired. Yet when I see the joy all over my son’s face once we’ve stepped outside (in all kinds of weather), I remember what it was like to be a kid again.

6)      Cook or bake something together ~ Believe me, this is certainly my greatest weakness, yet I have found that simply letting my little guy stir up some powdered muffin mix in a bowl, and help me add a splash of milk and crack an egg is all he needs (besides to taste one when it’s finished) to feel like a real chef!

7)      Play a game, put a puzzle together, or build something ~ There is so much your child (and you!) will learn – about social skills and about each other, when you take time to play together.

Helping Mommy Houseclean

Helping Mommy Houseclean

These are just a few ideas, and of course you likely have many more to add. Let us know what you do when it is time to turn off the ‘boob tube’ – we would love to hear your activity suggestions!

And – for another perspective, check out fellow blogger Jen’s post: Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother of the Year).

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2 thoughts on ““Lose the ‘Boob Tube:’ Alternative Activities to Engage Your Children”

  1. I have seven children, they have all watched television. I also have a child with special needs who enjoys it. I do however stay very active with my children therefore they do not crave it. My 6 & 7 yr olds prefer to read a book or color and when the weather calls for it play outside. I think it’s all about balance and priorities. School and chores have to be done before TV or video games are allowed and even then there is a time limit. I don’t want to create zombies either.

    • I think you have created a wonderful balance for your children…and you are indeed correct, that is what it’s all about.

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