Last Sunday I wrote about a rut the girls and I had gotten into involving way too much screen time and my realisation that this needed to change. We’ve had just over a week without screens almost entirely. The exceptions have been two episodes of Play School – where the girls were set the task of finding some inspiration for afternoon activities – and a couple of iPad apps for a few minutes after dinner on two nights. These were literacy apps like Eggy Alphabets and Busy Things UK.
Having this much unstructured but screen free time has been an interesting development. We’ve gone screen free in the past for periods and it seems each time is a little different, depending on how many other activities the girls have during the week (including days a childcare or kinder). This time around we’ve had LOTS of fun, a few whingey I-want-TV moments and a bit of hard work for me… TV really is an amazing babysitter! This is what I’ve discovered…..
1. When Miss Three and Miss Five haven’t got screens to rely on for entertainment they rediscover their extensive picture book collection….. piles and piles of books everywhere! This is interesting because Miss Three has never shown this much interest in books and reading ever! It’s definitely a great thing! Miss Five and I have worked our way through a few chapter books including the first of the Wishing Chair books which was a favourite for both of us.
2. The girls are much, much more active – obviously! Outside play is big and long and involved. And the best thing about this is that they are ready for bed before 7am and are asleep within minutes of the light being turned out. Sadly this has not equated with sleeping through the night for Miss Three who is STILL a shocker overnight and ends up sleeping with Mr Good and I almost every night.
3. While screen free means I have to much more actively involved in keeping the girls busy, I have found this quite a creative and motivating position…. I kind of feel like a teacher again coming up with interesting and engage activities to do with them. Miss Five is really interested in words and language, loves writing words and finding connections between books. We happened to come home last week with three books about wombats so we’ve spent lots of time looking at the similarities between the words and pictures and stories and talking generally about wombats. We also found a favourite book “Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker” which we’ve read every day. We also listened to the music on YouTube and watched some clips of a Russian production of the Ballet. I have to admit I have loved this part and feel that same satisfaction I felt when coming up with lesson ideas for my classes when I was teaching. But I have to be careful not to turn to much into the ‘teacher’ and take the fun and spontaneity out of our days.
4. Spending time together with the girls and with the whole family is lovely. We’ve cooked together, gone for long walks/adventures, planted bulbs, plays games and puzzles and snuggled with books. And this has been in every combination, Miss Five and I, Miss Three and I, all three of us, Mr Good and the two girls separately and together and the whole family. All without a screen to be seen.
5. I have had very little time to do the things I need to do or want to do, except the housework which they have been helping me with…. sort of. I used to easily find an hour or two to concentrate on my uni work, to read a book of my own choice or to get dinner ready… or to blog. Now I’m lucky to get fifteen minutes where I can really focus on something other than them. My latest assignment is being done in frustratingly short bursts, dinner takes for ever as I try to help with the latest lego creation at the same time and reading for pleasure is strictly for once they’ve gone to bed. Now some would say that this is as it should be, if I’m home all day with kids they should be what my focus is, but I NEED some of these other things to keep me from going crazy.
So will I continue with screen free? Yes, for another week or so, with just the odd show or ipad time thrown in there. In the long term though, no. I see lots of benefits from some TV and some time using devices. It sparks the imagination and breeds curiosity. Because of TV we’ve explored abstract art which is Miss Five’s main inspiration for all of her paintings. Because of TV the girls have long and involved role play games, taking on characters, establishing the setting and creating a plot. Because of TV they’re vocabulary is much broader than it might have been otherwise. And because of TV they have seen people, places and animals from all over the world. Good quality children’s TV without ads – which we are lucky enough to enjoy in Australia (Thank you ABC!!!) – has so many benefits… even children’s author and literacy expert Mem Fox agrees with this. Even when books could have delivered on some of these things, it is often TV that draws their attention and leaves them wanting to know more. I feel the same way about good quality iPad apps and websites. They add to the rich fabric of life rather than detract from it….. as long as it is all in balance and not a mindless staring at the screen for hours on end. And that is what we will be avoiding from now on.