Imagine if less meant MORE!

Let's face it, it's hard in this day and age to resist the onslaught of TV, movies, commercials and the multitude of screen-devices. Then there's the enormous piles of cheaply made 'plastic fantastic' toys, and easily mastered, highly repetitive, (and often mind gratingly annoying) battery operated toys!  

And before long, as the toys accumulate and threaten to take over, you feel like you are living in your own life-sized claw machine. You start looking above your head for one of those moving claws bobbing about threatening to grab a prize for the kid staring hopefully in through your living room window who's just gambled a dollar of his pocket money!

Image from darkcloudsabout.deviantart.com 
Which got me thinking about how it might be possible to 'strip down' our kids' play spaces a bit to focus on how 'less' can be 'more'... 

While all toys have their place, I admit to being a big fan of:
  • 'plastic free' days;
  • rotating (plastic / battery operated) toys so there are not so many out all at once;
  • keeping some toys / gifts hidden away in a cupboard, which can be accessed like our own little toy shop for a bit of excitement on 'special' occasions (eg. tired and irritable on a cold, rainy day);
  • using the toy library ( - if you happen to live in Victoria, Australia - find your nearest toy library here, and see a previous post about toy libraries in general, here );
  • toy swapping between friends;
  • recycling where possible;
  • exploring nature and natural elements;
  • creating sensory rich, open ended play spaces and activities; and
  • generally finding the play and learning opportunities in normal, everyday activities... 
Image from www.digitaltrends.com
Tackling screen-time is a whole other ball game. There has never been greater urgency for us, as parents and educators, to look closely at kids and screens. I got curious, and found out a few facts worth considering ...

Did you know… 
“on average, preschool children spend 
32 hours a week with screen media” ?

Follow the link in the title to another great fact sheet from the Government of South Australia/ SA Health: “Give the screen a rest, active play is best”

Australian Guidelines for screen time: 
  • Children younger than 2 years should not spend anytime viewing TV or other electronic media
  • Children 2-5 years: less than 1 hour per day.
  • Children 5-18 y.o: less than 2 hours of screen time a day for entertainment (excluding educational purposes)
According to The Mayo Clinic, too much screen time (over 2 hours per day of TV/ computer use/ video gaming) has been linked to  
  •  obesity;  
  • irregular sleep (resisting bedtime and having difficulties falling asleep); 
  • behavioural problems (emotional, social and attention problems, including bullying other children);  
  • impaired academic performance; 
  • desensitisation to violence and normalisation of violent behaviour (having been exposed to too much violence on TV, in movies, music videos, computer games); and
  • of particular interest to me, and perhaps the most obvious side effect of too much screen time is that it leaves less time for active, creative play.  
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood - reclaiming Childhood From Corporate Marketers have a fantastic fact sheet: here ). Some of the benefits they list of reduced screen time include:
  • helping prevent childhood obesity; 
  • helping children do better in school, have a healthier diet, be more physically active, and are better able to engage in schoolwork in later elementary/primary school;
  • preventing later behavioural problems; and
  • decreasing children’s interest in it in later years. 

Medline Plus, an American national health information site, highlights that screen time is sedentary, requiring little energy exertion.  It lists some great practical ideas to encourage less screen time as follows:
  • Remove the television or computer from your child’s bedroom
  • Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework
  • Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer
  • Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on the radio instead, or have no background noise
  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time, and turn off the TV when the program is over. 
  • Suggest other activities, such as a family board game, puzzle, or going for a walk
  • Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day
  • If it is hard not having the TV on, try using the sleep function so it turns off automatically
  • Challenge your family to go 1 week without watching TV or doing other screen-time activity
  • Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy
So, whilst we managed to survive the first two years of our little one’s life, essentially television-free (whilst he was awake, at least!), I am acutely aware that the biggest challenges around limiting screen time are ahead of us.

Some ideas we try to stick to, and good ideas I've heard from friends with older kids include: 

  • TV on Friday and Sunday late afternoon only;
  • Pre-recorded or streamed (commercial free, carefully selected) programs only;
  • No TV during dinner or when eating;
  • Role modelling;
  • Enjoying other activities - talking, reading, puzzles, cooking, going to the beach/park, music, dancing... and
  • Dis-owning your television - that's right - being TV free completely! (see how one inspirational family chose to live 365 days TV free over at Nothing if Not Intentional here
On a lighter note, keen to stay committed to our ‘no TV for or in front of baby’ rule, here’s a little structure we built one afternoon to obscure our little munchkin from the TV screen we turned on in desperation- sleep deprived, with low to non-existent energy levels, not able to bring ourselves to do anything else on a cold Winter’s afternoon… TV-less baby play space  
 
Follow the link to see a great list compiled by Childhood 101 of 9 ways to motivate children here, which highlights reducing screen time.

I would love to hear from others as to what strategies, routines, ideas you’ve tried to keep a lid on TV and other screen time activities in your house!

"Here's to creating more from less"... Imagine that!!!

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