In early February, back to back blizzards dumped nearly four feet of snow on my city, a place in the country that averages maybe 18 inches of snow per winter. That much snow is especially challenging when you live in the city and there is no place to put it all and “snow removal” is more of a case of “pushing snow around where it will be least in the way of traffic and pedestrians.”
Long story short, the storms meant school was cancelled and local government was closed, and at the height of the second blizzard, unauthorized drivers could be ticketed or arrested for being out on the roads. Moms everywhere struggled to keep cooped up children occupied and unwhiny without turning on the TV and letting them have at it.
Of course, it doesn’t take a monster snowstorm to be stuck in the house with bored kids. Parents who work at home, or parents with lots of little ones may find themselves in the same boat. And while many of us would love to interact with our children all day long, someone has to cook dinner and wash the laundry and schedule doctors appointments, or just might want 5 minutes alone from time to time.
While the AAP recommends no TV at all for children under two, and less than two hours of screen time (including computer) for older kids, I have no particular objection to television. We don’t have cable, so my kids watch primarily PBS or selections from a small collection of various DVDs. We do try to limit the amount of TV they watch, and there are certain cartoons they are not allowed to view whenever we do go someplace that has cable, but I don’t feel like turning on the TV from time to time is a bad thing.
However, I like to save TV for when I really need it. For example, the times when I have a splitting headache and need to lie on the couch in relative quiet; or when I need to call our health insurance company and it’s bound to be a complicated and frustrating conversation; or when it’s 5PM, both kids are tired and cranky and running around and bothering each other, and I’m trying to cook and keep tripping over the cat because he wants his dinner. Those are the times I put on the TV, because it’s guaranteed to give me 20 minutes or so of quiet time before someone wants something.
I’m the first to admit that sometimes I struggle with sitting on the floor to play with my kids. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing with them, it has more to do with an ever present itch to do as much as possible and be as efficient as possible and get to the next thing on the list. But I’ve found that if we do activities that draw me in more, it’s easier to remain fully present and to lose myself in that precious time with my kids.
And for those times when I really need a few minutes to fold laundry by myself, or make a less important phone call, if I find something that really draws my kids in, they are more likely to stick with it.
Some ideas that have worked for us:
- Visit your local library and cultivate the children’s librarian–Not only are the books from the library free, a knowledgeable children’s librarian is an incredible tool in not only helping kids love books, but in discovering talents and interests in your kids. The librarian at our local branch knows my kids by name, and also knows the things they like. She recommends books she think they will like all the time, and she hasn’t been wrong yet.
- Read aloud and revisit old favorites.–It can get boring reading the same simple books over and over again. I’ve gotten around the dullness factor by reading chapter books aloud to my 5 and 3 year olds, and I’ve been choosing books that I enjoyed as a child. The benefits are two-fold. I get to introduce my kids to wonderful stories, and I also get to reread a story I haven’t heard in years.
- Books on tape–Many libraries have a sizable audio section. Books on tape allow you to get your chores done, and older kids can follow along in the book.
- Try some creative art projects that don’t need as much supervision–For example, one rainy day, I cut paper grocery bags open so they lay flat, then taped them to the floor and traced outlines of my kids on them. Then I gave them a pile of markers, crayons, glue, yarn and other random items and they created self portraits. It was fun to see what they came up with, plus they were able to work with minimal supervision from me, so I was able to sit nearby and pay bills.
- Bring the sports inside.–Some days, particularly in the winter, we’re so busy with errands or preschool that by the time we have some down time, it’s too dark to go outside. So I let my kids rollerskate in the house (we have wood floors). A friend lets her kids ride their scooters inside because she says some days it’s the only exercise they get. Christmas gifts from my brother-in-law included an indoor bowling set and a basketball hoop with a soft indoor ball. If you can ignore the noise, it’s a great way to wear them out before bedtime.
- Make your own Mad Libs–When a 5 year old and a 3 year old are involved in creating a story, it gets pretty funny (not to mention random). Make up a story, then remove words and replace them with others. This is a great way for older kids to learn sentence structure.
- Send them on a treasure hunt.–I got this idea from a blogger who doesn’t even own a television. She made a treasure map for her kids, complete with wrinkling the paper and dyeing it with tea to look old. I didn’t go that far, but I did make a map of our house and the “treasure” was a pile of stickers and new art supplies.
How about you? Do you struggle to avoid turning on the TV? What activities do you like to do with your children that allow you to really connect with them? Do you have any tips for keeping kids occupied without turning on the television?