elevating child care

A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time

The last thing you’re going to catch me doing is provoking parental guilt. So, I’m going to assume you’ve heard all about the hazards of TV for infants and toddlers: potential language delays, obesity, ADHD, and aggression are all things we’d like to prevent in our children if we can. But it doesn’t surprise me that parents ignore the research (and the American Academy of Pediatrics advisory) and turn on the TV for children under 2 anyway.  How can we blame a mom or dad for wanting to read a whole sentence in the newspaper, cook dinner, talk on the phone uninterrupted, have a few minutes of privacy in the bathroom, or just get a few well-deserved moments of peace? 

It baffles me that the experts give warnings and criticisms, but nobody offers parents viable alternatives to using TV as a babysitter. Thank you very much American Academy of Pediatrics, ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association) and many others, but telling us it’s wiser to spend time talking to our babies, reading, singing and playing peek-a-boo isn’t addressing our issue. Most of us are well aware that we need to spend lots of time and energy interacting with our babies physically and socially. We also need a BREAK once in awhile. It’s a little insulting to me when experts say, “no, no, NO!” and then give advice that ignores the reason most parents use TV in the first place.

The good news is that there is another option, and it addresses the needs of both parent and child. Babies thrive, parents can take breaks, and when we are with our child we get to “do less and enjoy more.”  It is simple enough that I was able to do it with three children (and I’m no martyr or genius), and I will never understand (apart from the fact there’s no money to be made) why it is such a well guarded secret.

The answer: instilling in our babies the joyful habit of independent play, adopting the lifestyle recommended by pediatrician Emmi Pikler and infant specialist Magda Gerber.

The trap parents fall into is the vicious cycle of using screen time to occupy a baby. That creates the very same problem we are using TV to solve — a child who does not entertain himself. Babies who spend time ‘watching’ unlearn what they are born ready and eager to do — what parents need them to do — daydream, explore, experiment, create play independently.

Although initiating thoughts and activities comes naturally to infants, extended periods of independent playtime don’t happen unless we cultivate them. This means establishing one or two safe, enclosed play areas for a baby (outdoors is wonderful if possible), and then encouraging him to routinely spend his “alert time” (between sleep, feedings and diaper changes) in these soon familiar environments.  We can watch and enjoy our baby, “floor sit” and eventually leave him to work or relax nearby, while he spends time learning from the safe objects and toys he chooses. In my experience, these rooms (or sections of rooms) are treasured by children way beyond the age they need them for safety. A child’s play space becomes the comfortable, therapeutic, and imaginative place where dreams are born.

Eventually, most of us will introduce our children to movies and TV. My advice: wait as long as you can, and then use it sparingly. Personally, I couldn’t bear the option of TV time because of the added pressure of trying to control it (to the already long list of toddler power struggles). It worked better for me to avoid it entirely until after the age of 3.

Exhaust the use of crayons, blocks, dolls and dollhouses, puzzles, shape sorters, play-doh, balls, books, wheel toys, sidewalk chalk (one of the best inventions ever), Legos, etc., before resorting to movies and TV. When children who are adept at occupying themselves seem bored, they are often on the verge of an idea for a new activity. Sometimes they need more of our attention, or a nap.

If you need entertainment for an afternoon lull and music isn’t engaging enough, try books on tape (or CD) before considering TV or videos. There is usually a good selection at the library. They don’t interfere with a child’s listening and learning skills the way TV does. They stimulate imagination rather than zoning a child out, and they aren’t as disturbing or scary as movies. The ones that come with books are great, too, and you can show your child how to turn the page when they hear the “ding”.

If we can postpone the use of TV (or break the habit in the early years), our child has opportunities to develop the neural pathways needed to be a good listener and learner, gross and fine motor skills, problem solving abilities, creativity and a strong sense of self.

We are all bound to make many parenting mistakes, but the love of inner-directed play, creative thought and solitude will be lifelong gifts that neither you nor your child will ever regret.

Please enjoy this inspirational video of 15 month old Joey demonstrating self-reliance, persistance, focus, ingenuity, inner-directedness and much more — SELF-DIRECTED, INDEPENDENT PLAY AT ITS BEST.

 

I share much more about fostering creative, independent play in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

Dr. Jane Healy’s books Endangered Minds and Your Child’s Growing Mind:  Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence examine in detail the effects of TV and video use on brain development.

Please feel free to share your frustrations and successes with the TV issue!

(Photo by texasgurl.)

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72 Responses to “A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time”

  1. Not sure if you read the second half of the Shaping Youth piece on “The Electronic Pacifier” because we actually concur on all counts, Janet!

    In fact, on page two of that piece you linked to, I ask the same question you do, “Why not channel our energy into redirecting parents appropriately, instead of turning toddlers into ‘vidiots’ at the coo & drooling stage!?—We’re not only allowing the branding of babies’ brains, but encouraging media devotion early on. Toss in the launch of Babyfirst TV on DirecTV & it’s a womb to tomb ideology & dependence that subverts the encouragement of creative play.”

    That said, I strongly feel that moderation vs absolutes is the way to go with ALL of this ‘expert-laden’ deluge.

    There’s a big diff btwn a parent using a screen to snag shower vs being falsely ‘sold’ on the notion that there’s some high-minded brainwave benefit to plopping junior in front of Baby media w/high stim kidvid under the guise of ‘education’ for hours. Bleh.

    I’m definitely in the creative play/amuse yourself baby camp BIG time, & echo staving off the screen so there’s not yet another weaning task for parents to deal with.

    My favorite ‘movie’ is a time-lapsed kidvid of a baby playing solo for 4 hours (packed into 4 minutes w/a fun soundtrack) with all of the sensory discoveries in the room caught on cam by his dad. So cool. Life is one big toy to a baby!

    Here are some similar articles on Shaping Youth touting creative play your readers might like:

    The Value of Unstructured Play

    The Case for Make-Believe Part One

    Defending Pretending: The Need for Prominent Play: Part 2

    Thanks again for the link love and great post.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Amy,

      Yes, I’ve read many of your articles and I love your blog…you’re one of my HEROES! (http://shapingyouth.org) I was shocked to read in your article that Zero to Three was a partner in the Sesame Street Baby DVD…so discouraging that they would throw in the towel and go the “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” route!

      I also wrote about the false educational claims of “Baby Einstein” : http://www.janetlansbury.com/2009/11/baby-einstein-is-no-genius/

      I’d love to see the movie you mention!

      Amy, thanks so much for the incredible service you provide! And thanks for reading and commenting.

      • avatar Sharalee says:

        I’d love to see the movie you mention as well?! If you can get back to it & provide us the link, that would be awesome!

  2. avatar MadameHilmar says:

    Excellent article. This is what annoys me so much about most parenting websites – the advice they give on how to entertain your 4month old, ads for mobiles, books for newborns and everything. When the solution is so much easier for both – parents and children!

    I’d even take it a step further tho. I have heard several women now saying they feel guilty to leave the little one to himself too long even though he is not complaining. He must feel lonely. So they go and interrupt while instead they could sit down and watch him play. It’s not only the children who don’t need TV, parents don’t need one either !

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, and yes, I agree! And I have also felt like those moms you describe. We are so worried, especially as first time parents, and it’s hard to trust that our babies will let us know when they need us…that what they are doing is perfect, it’s ‘enough’. One of the reasons I was drawn to the work of Magda Gerber (and Emmi Pikler) is that it is about trusting, rather than acting out of fear. And if you trust that babies are capable, you find that they truly are.

      Side note: One of my daughters played for 3 HOURS STRAIGHT outside while I was videoing her at 4 months (slept and played). I kept running out of tape, and I was starting to get a bit concerned about her being so independent! She is 13 now, and still her own person, very creative, likes her solitude. And she’s a little stubborn sometimes.

    • avatar Andrea Rothenburger says:

      I agree that parents don’t need TV, either! I would much rather sit and watch my son play than turn on the TV any day. The things he does make me laugh, amaze me or make me say “Aww” on a regular basis. He is far more entertaining than any television program. It took me a while to convince his father of this. My partner used to come home from work everyday and immediately turn on the TV. After a few weeks of me continuously redirecting my son’s attention away from the TV (we live in a small 2 bedroom apartment and my son’s play area is in the same room as the TV, unfortunately) my partner saw that I was getting annoyed. We have both always been on the same page about not letting our son watch TV (or at least as little as possible) but he didn’t realize how much the TV pulls our son’s focus away from anything else. I encouraged my partner to leave the TV off and just sit and watch our son instead, and he has discovered how entertaining our son really is. Now the TV in our house is only on after our son has gone to bed for the night, and we enjoy peaceful family time of watching our son discover his toys, his body, our living room, the lights, windows, sounds outside…everything about the magical world he lives in and it is far more rewarding than keeping up with the latest TV series.

      Sorry, that got a bit lengthy.

  3. avatar Lisa C says:

    Great post! My weakest times of day first thing in the morning and when I’m trying to cook dinner. I’m tired and hungry, and my son almost invariably wants my attention during these times, so it’s so tempting to turn on the TV. But I resist the urge as much as possible. I’ve learned that after having his morning milk, he CAN entertain himself while sitting on the potty. And having him help me cook dinner is a great learning experience for him. If he just wants to be held, I can strap him on my back in the mei tai and he can relax in peace and quiet instead of zoning out in front of the TV. I still cop out and use the TV sometimes, because I will need that break right then and there, but I do try to limit it. I think he plays very well on his own and I want to keep encouraging that.

    • avatar janet says:

      Lisa, thanks! And, YES, mornings and evenings are hard for me, too. But I always noticed when my children were infants and toddlers that mornings were when they had their best energy and played really well.

      I think it’s hard to be patient when we are sleepy, nerves jangled, and need to slowly wake up, while our child settles in to working on something. But I think it’s worth the struggle for a child to be able to begin the day with activities that stimulate rather than numb the mind the way TV does. I remember a perceptive mom (who used TV and movies quite a bit with her 4 athletic children) telling me that she noticed a big difference when her children “zoned out” in front of screens in the morning. It had a dulling effect on the way they performed at sports, and everything else, for the rest of the day.

      (Once again, not trying to stir up guilt, just sharing what I thought was an interesting observation.)

      • avatar Jordan T says:

        Hi Janet!
        Thank you for this great article. It compelled me to stop letting my almost-3-year-old watch TV first thing in the morning. He is an earlier riser than I’d prefer and I just didn’t feel ready to jump in to activities at 5:30am so I’d let him watch a few shows so I could have a little time to wake up. We also have an almost 1 year old and I really didn’t like having the TV on for the older one because he would watch too. I now let the older one watch one show after the little one goes to bed.

        I have to say, it’s only been a few days of no TV in the AM and I’m SHOCKED by how different his behavior has been. He’s a very active boy and always has been but his energy seems less crazy and more focused and he’s just all around easier when he doesn’t watch AM TV. I put together a big box of craft supplies (paper, paints, pipe cleaners, Styrofoam balls, paper tubes, etc) and he jumps right into creating instead of TV and I can still sit and have a cup of coffee because he’s totally entertained.

        Are you aware of any research on how AM TV affects kids?

        • avatar janet says:

          Wow, I would love to share your experience on FB. Would that be okay with you? Regarding research, there are plently of studies about TV’s mind-numbing effects…so it makes sense not to subject children to this first thing in the morning, but I’m not aware of studies specifically about TV in the AM. There may be something in Endangered Minds by Jane Healy (which I link to in this post).

        • avatar Angela says:

          I totally agree with your observations. I’ve noticed most dramatic behavior changes with pm TV though. If we let our 4 year old daughter watch TV late in the day, it’s like her brain becomes frazzled… Our little girl who goes to bed so nicely is suddenly replaced by a screaming, crying, whining child I barely recognize! We’ve had to forewarn our babysitters because it’s so bad!

  4. avatar Miven Trageser says:

    I do hear a lot of guilt from moms about using the TV with their little kids. It seems many people absorbed the idea and the APA recommendation that it’s better not to, but they do anyway, and continue to beat themselves up about it.
    What I see as most challenging is that self-directed, independent play works best when a baby/toddler is well fed, well-rested, not teething, not cranky, not anxious about separation or change, etc. and when some kind of routine of playing in a safe space has been set up, which takes discipline and effort on the mom’s part. TV occupies many children just fine when none of these things are true.

    • avatar janet says:

      Miven, I agree…TV occupies a child just fine anytime if that is the road one wants to take. Conditions for independent play are not always perfect, but if parents resort to TV for all the numerous reasons you suggest, both the baby and the parent can easily become more and more dependent on it. There are far healthier ways to comfort an uncomfortable baby. They might be more hands-on, but are temporary inconveniences that keep a healthier goal in mind…a child who does not depend on the distraction of TV to fix every dull moment. Once TV becomes an option, the child (and parent) are tempted to turn it on every time play is not going smoothly, or there is a lull in the action. And yet, boredom is when real creativity begins.

      Also, as I’m sure you know, Miven, play is highly therapeutic and can help a child process a host of issues that might disturb him, including anxiety, separation, changes, etc.

      • avatar janet says:

        And, yes, it takes a little discipline on the parents’ part in the beginning, but has ENORMOUS benefits in the long run — makes the parent’s and the child’s life so much easier.

  5. avatar Susan Leibowitz says:

    we have a tv. we don’t have cable. we rarely watch. the other day my 2 year-old daughter put on a hat and said she wanted to look at it in the “black mirror.” I had no idea what she was talking about. She went running into the living room to look at her reflection in the tv. I thought that’s a good sign.

  6. i still would like to know what a parent is doing (or not doing) for a baby to play independently for 3-4 hours straight….

    i would also like to know how many times a day this baby is playing like this…?….2-3 times a day for 3-4 hours straight…?…..if not then what is the baby doing for the rest of his 10 hour day beside the time it takes to nap..eat…and change a diaper….?….

    does that baby ever protest beign in his “safe” space…?….what does the parent do when this happens…?…..

    i feel like i have set up the right conditions for long independent play to happen according to gerbers book and what i have read on this site……

    safe play space…?….check.

    interesting yet simple play objects…?…check.

    baby…?…check.

    what am i missing…..?….

    it seems to me that the little soul i was gifted to care for wants to do things way before his time….like…he wants to sit up so badly….but cant do it on his own yet….so i will watch him try to sit up from a back lying position….after so many times….he looks at me as if he is pleading with me to sit him up…..i know that this is his least mobile position…so i try to resist….but i usually end up giving in after a while…..

    on a good day he will play independently for an hour or so before needing a “recharge”……his thing is rolling…..he is not necessarily into his objects but using them as a reason to retrieve discard and roll to the next thing….he will stop and explore a few objects like the spatula..wooden spoon….metal bowl…or random piece of string hanging from a pillow or something…..but after he has done a few laps across the floor and explored a few objects…he is ready to get up……

    i find my self avoiding his gaze a lot of the time when he is on the floor…..especially when i trying to get something done (like get dressed in the morning)…..because i know as long as he thinks i am not watching him he will play….but the minute he realizes i am looking he drops everything and starts “pleading” to be picked up….

    help.

    ps….i KNOW there is a such thing as baby boredom…gerber may say it is not boredom but lack of stimulation or uninterest in a toy…..but this sounds like the same thing it me….

    ..the idea of constantly putting your child in the “safe” space for 80% of their waking hours…even if you are switching out the play objects just doesnt sound right to me…..please enlighten….

  7. avatar Natalia says:

    I have been really loving all your articles and sure enough most come along just as I am hitting a new hurdle of what to do with my daughter who is 19 mths. The temptation for tv is there but i have resisted and found myself this week, when I just needed to wash up and sort the kitchen, getting out some raw penne pasta, a saucepan, wooden spoon and a bowl. I said it was cooking time and sure enough she played with it for 20mins whilst I had to do “my thing”. When she was done playing she came to me to show the pasta in the bowl, but I was not finished cleaning…… so i brought out the dustpan and brush so she could clean up all the pasta on the floor and sure enough she was busy for another 10 mins. Perfect timing, she came to me again and said “all done”, so we went to the cupboard and put the brush away and she then said “goodbye brush”. The added hilarious moment was when I looked around she had already put away her saucepan and bowl in the cupboard.

    She made me so proud.

  8. avatar Fernanda says:

    Hi Janet! I find all of your articles really inspirational but this one REALLY helped me. We didn´t have tv at all when our first boy was born. When the older one was about 4 we gave in but only dvd videos were allowed so we could choose what he watched. Very recently, only 4 months ago we decided to allow tv at home… ¡our older boy is already 8 and he really wanted to watch tv just as all his friends did! Even when he went to a friends house, the only thing he wanted to do was watch tv, to catch up what he was missing and be able to chat about that with his friends I guess. We thought maybe time had come to have satelital tv at home with LOTS of rules -which we cannot always follow- like only 1 hour, only certain programs, no advertisement watching allowed, etc). Now the thing is there are two other boys, 5 and 2 years old sharing the same house, and hence, being exposed to tv as well. Even with all this rules we do our best to accomplish, my youngest boy got completely captivated by tv, turns it on, knows which programs he likes and sits on the couch sucking his thumb. Oh no! We allow only Wiggle & Learn for him and a few more in that style. However I noticed his self directed play changed. Now, for example, when we see the train he wants to attack it instead of waving goodbye as we always did. But the worst of all happened when the other day he came pretending to be a warrior, kick boxing the air. He looked at me in a mischievous way and said: Mom, do you know my name? My name is advertisement!
    Tonight husband and I were reading your article together and feel grateful for your words but still cannot find a good solution: how to address diverse age siblings interests and respect and care for their needs at the same time when dealing with tv?
    Love, Fernanda

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Fernanda! This is a great question and I am flattered that you ask me. This is a situation that I have experienced myself to some extent… I’m going to give this some careful thought and get back to you…if you don’t mind. I may put this up as a post. Thank you for trusting me! Love, Janet

      • avatar Fernanda says:

        I´ll be eagerly waiting your answer. I do trust you because all you say abounds in common sense and expertise. Please let me know when your answer is published so I can come back to read it. Thanks again, love,
        Fernanda

        • avatar janet says:

          Fernanda, this is a tough one for sure. My youngest (of 3) was exposed to movies earlier than my older 2 were (by 3 years old he watched the occasional Mary Kate and Ashley movie). But my middle daughter recently reminded me that they used to have to pretend they were going to bed when their younger brother did. Then when he was in bed, they watched a movie on the weekends, which probably made it even more special for them. (We’ve always kept movie and TV watching to weekend evenings…until late middle school/high school when our daughters began to watch an occasional favorite TV show after doing their homework).

          • avatar Sheila Garey says:

            I too have very divergent ages in my household and this is a big deal for us as well. We’ve got a 21 year old (in 3 weeks), a 15 year old, a 10 year old, a just turned 4 year old and a 14 month old. When my 4 year old was the same age as the baby, he could care less about the TV, however my little guy now wants to watch it. We do use Signing Time with him on occasion because he loves the music and we use signs with him and his older brother. I would love to hear your input on this as well.

            • avatar janet says:

              Hi Sheila! I’m not familiar with Signing Time, but research has shown that children do not learn language effectively from watching videos. Infants and toddlers need language modeled by humans. They need the interaction. So, the video might be entertainment, but it isn’t an educational tool for very young children.

              In regard to the divergence in your children’s ages, for me that made it easier to limit EVERYONE’s screen use. My older children had to wait until the younger one was napping or sleeping and it became a special privilege. When the younger one was old enough to watch something with the older sibling, it had to be age appropriate for both. The funny thing was that the older children became very protective of what the younger ones could see (even more protective than I might have been).

  9. avatar Carolyn says:

    Hi, love the post. My son did not start to watch tv until after he was 2. I was very aware of other kids obsession with it and I was almost scared to let him watch in case he too became that moody kid who always needed it on, even in the background. It was a slow start at first, we had a new baby in the house and the tv was my only way of getting some time alone with the baby, just ten minute snatches. A year later and he’ll watch anything up to and hour and a half a day – spaced out so that i can complete necessary tasks with his younger brother. I’d like to reduce this time but my 3 year old refuses to play alone unless I am in the room. He’s more clingy now that he’s ever been and I’m left wondering what I’ve done wrong? I’m a stay at home mum and all my time is spent with him and his brother, I’m left thinking how can he possibly need MORE of my time? I want him to play independently so I can give his sibling much needed one-on-one time, but the tv is the only way I can accomplish this. Please could you offer guidance? Thank you so so much, Carolyn.

    • avatar Carolyn says:

      PS I guess I should have said that the problem here is to get TWO children playing independently and safely. That I suppose is my problem. The rare times I have each child alone (perhaps at the weekend Dad will take one out) they play wonderfully alone and I never have to switch on the tv. It’s just so difficult to acheive this when it’s just me and them, especially at their ages (1 and 3) when they cannot be fully left alone with just each other.

      • avatar janet says:

        Hi Carolyn! I’m glad you clarified, because that changes my response. So, it seems that your issue is more about siblings than it is the ability to play independently, right?

        One thing I recommend is a separate play area for the baby, like a gated off area in a larger room, or a small room that’s just his. This serves several functions… Your older boy can keep his “older boy” toys safely away from his brother and have privacy. Your baby can play safely and freely without things being taken away, people saying NO, etc. It doesn’t need to be a large space. Big brother can play in little brother’s “room” when you’re nearby and he’s in the mood to be kind to his brother or at least not hurt him. Little brother can leave his playroom when you feel comfortable watching the boys and placing big brother’s smaller toys out of reach.

        The important thing is to present this positively… big brother has special spaces and little brother has a special space, too.

        If you do this, there will be a period of adjustment and probably some complaints from both of them (as with any change in routine). That’s okay. Just acknowledge their feelings and be sure to let both boys know in advance about the plan. Include them in the plan as much as possible… “Which toys do you think should be in little brother’s room?” “Little brother, what do you think? Do you want the blocks to stay in your room? Where would you like them to be placed…in this corner here?”

        Remember that regardless of how you handle things, siblings argue, hit, take toys away, etc. They need opportunities to develop their relationship independent of our wishes. The book Siblings Without Rivalry offers great wisdom.

  10. avatar Christine says:

    what do you do for a child with sensory processing dysfunction? our once ‘high needs’ baby became a toddler with spd. one of his ‘issues’ that we work with is teaching him how to engage in independent play. after a few minutes activities bore him, usually because he masters them (puzzles, books, etc).
    until the last few months, he has never been able to play without always demanded someone’s attention and constant companionship, touch or involvement. so i have been guilty of using the tv (albeit PBS shows of a more ‘educational’ nature) to cook dinner, take a shower, and just take a break from my very demanding and sometimes draining child.
    we also use it in the car during our morning (not afternoon) commute. his other issue is transitions. he does not handle them well. but once we introduced the dvd player we had an easier time of getting him into the car. of course, we only got this when he was 25 months, but i still feel guilty about it. although, my husband says, better 25 minutes of peace than a road raging angry and stressed out mommy driver.
    any input you could provide, or thoughts, would be much appreciated.

    • avatar Christine says:

      i also want to add that we have had him in OT for 4 months and have seen a tremendous improvement in the areas of independent play and transitions. and we have since been ‘weaning’ him from the media usage. but when he is tired or stressed out it is something we allow, because the alternative is nonstop screaming that cannot be dealt with in the same way it can for a neurotypical child.

      • avatar janet says:

        Christine, he sounds like a very bright guy. And your thoughtfulness around the TV issue will pay off. Keep doing what your doing to wean him off the TV. If he’s mastering puzzles and books easily, give him harder ones to experiment with!

        Stories and songs on CD are GREAT for car rides and are more brain-active and less addictive than DVDs.

        One of the findings mentioned in the latest AAP announcement was that TV use causes disrupted sleep, which impacts behavior and learning. I’m no expert, but I would imagine that quality sleep is especially important for a child with SPD. So, just keep these things in mind, but go easy on yourself, do your best and please keep me posted…

  11. avatar Kristina says:

    Hi Janet,

    I follow your site and love many of your principles. I attended the Waldorf school as a child and believe that many of the school’s philosophical principles are similar.

    Fast forward 20 years and I have my own 2 and 1/2 year old son. I’ve just gone back to work this year with my husband (we live in Italy) and my son stays with my mother in law while we work.

    I have tried, since my boy was young, to cultivate independent play…with little success. My son has a tremendous amount of energy and we are exhausted from our daily routines…we have often resorted to letting him watch his favourite TV program which is Pippi Longstocking, dubbed from Swedish into Italian! Suffice it to say, the program gives him many nutty ideas…

    Recently he has started to hit us and throw things and get very upset if we say no I won’t allow you to… when he climbs on furniture or hits us or when we turn off his program, etc. He is very mischevious –more than he has ever been. He is of course a sweet, loving boy, but has more energy than we can handle. We usually try to take him outside everyday. We teach and sometimes must plan our lessons at home. I would love not having to use the TV with him but we have run out of ideas and energy!

    Do you have some tips for us to foster independent play at the toddler stage? We don’t have the possibility to create an enclosed space, but he has his own room and his playthings are stored there in bins and he has a carpet to play on. Unless we play with him he will usually end up getting into trouble or jumping wildly and dangerously on the couch, doing sommersaults and the like.

    One activity that he loves is reading stories with us–we have a large collection. He also likes to play with his little figures and animals and farm. Sometimes we will do art-but always together, and rarely, we work on puzzles. He often gets frustrated with the puzzles:)

    Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Kristina! Is your boy wearing braids with pipecleaners in them? :) My daughters loved those books. I’ve never seen the TV show, but I imagine it’s a wild one!

      Your boy’s bedroom sounds like a good place for him to play safely. Would you consider placing a gate at the doorway and making the room completely safe? It seems that you have two issues here…independent play and establishing behavior boundaries. I’ve written a lot on both of those topics. Here’s a post about fostering independent play with a toddler: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/08/solo-engagement-fostering-your-toddlers-independent-play/

      Remember that it’s normal and healthy for your toddler to be rebelling and I understand that TV can seem to be the easiest way to “wrangle” him. But this short term “fix” can create a “passive entertainment” dependency…and the stimulation of the TV can also exacerbate his “hyper” behavior. My best recommendation is clear boundaries. Be very clear and firm about stopping him when he tries to hit or otherwise hurt you. If he jumps on the coach, gently, but firmly stop him. Encourage him to express his frustrations in appropriate ways. Give him pillows to punch. Let him holler all he needs to. Be there to comfort him, but don’t give in to his demands for more TV, or whatever it is.

      If you are up for trying to wean him off of the TV habit, try keeping some of those special toys he likes (the figures and such) in a box for special occasions (like when you need to get an hour of work in, or a long bath, etc.). Also try the stories and songbooks on CD. Those were a life-saver for me and I swear one of daughters taught herself to read by looking in a songbook while the music played.

  12. avatar Mel says:

    I just discovered your blog and I love what I’m reading.

    My little girl is a high-need baby and rarely naps during the day (never has been a good napper); she has a short attention span and does not play independently with her toys for long (15 mins). I am guilty for using the tv as a babysitter whilst I cook; reply to emails; make phone calls etc. She is also very active and does not keep still enough to finish her food so I often put on her favourite programme and she will keep still long enough to eat (10-15 mins maximum).

    I’m really want to wean her off the TV and promote more independent play. Maybe the toys we have are not age-appropriate and does not keep her interest up. We have lots of stuffed animals; a doll with a stroller; wooden blocks; duplo-type blocks; cooking set with “pretend” food (but no kitchen); stacking rings; stacking cups; donkey bouncer; balls of different shapes and sizes; musical instruments; an aqua-doodle mat (but needs a companion to play) etc.

    Some of the toys are kept in 2 large storage bins. Today I was wondering if the toys were not “inviting” enough and I took out some of the toys and set them up around the living room. This seemed to perk up her interest in them a little but she still wanted my participation after 10 minutes.

    My questions are:

    1. What other age-appropriate toys do you recommend? I recently bought some wooden toys (awaiting delivery) consisting of lacing beads; fishing set; plastic animal and sea creature figurines; wooden puzzles and cuttable food (with velcro fastenings); water beads and in the process of making a light table. Please bear in mind that we have limited space.

    2. How should I present the toys so they are more inviting?

    3. How do I go about lengthening my baby’s attention span and promote more independent play?

    4. My baby seems to like books but when left by herself tends to give-up after 5-10 minutes. I like the sound of books on CD. What books can you recommend?

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    Mel

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Mel! Thanks for your great questions… Since they require rather long answers, I hope you’ll be patient and give me a couple of days to respond. Straight off, I would say that if you want to wean your girl off of TV, I’d turn it off during mealtimes for sure…. for other reasons, as well. Healthy eating for little ones means focusing on the meal. TV discourages focus and awareness. So, I’d tell her beforehand that you are going to discontinue that and trust her to eat all she needs while you sit and pay attention to her.

      Another quick note: The toys you have sound wonderful… I think this is more about the addition of TV (which encourages short attention span) and maybe some other things that aren’t supporting your wish for her to play more independently… I promise to get back to you!

  13. avatar Mel says:

    Hi Janet, I didn’t realise that you’d already responded until I just checked back on this post.

    For the last couple of days we have cut-down on ALOT of TV. Surprisingly there was not much protest and mealtimes have been rather pleasant. But no improvement in the independent play.

    Anyway I look forward to your more lengthy reply.

    Regards!
    Mel

  14. avatar Mel says:

    Hi Janet

    Just wondering if you’ve given my questions anymore thought. Love to hear from you soon!

    Regards!
    Mel

  15. avatar Melissa says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I also think it’s REALLY important to emphasize that it’s different with each child. My oldest son loved loved loved books on tape/CD, with or without the actual book from about the age of 2. He spent hours listening to Winnie the Pooh, Ladybird (from the UK) and many others, lying on the floor, scooting trains around a wooden track. My daughter didn’t catch on to audio books until she was about 10, but could draw for hours. We ended up buying big rolls of packing paper and covering a very low coffee table with it and just let her loose. No markers, just crayons and colored pencils, and huge timeout if any of the drawing ever left the paper (so we knew we could just leave her to it).

    Also, reaffirming the point that if they seem bored, don’t rescue them, but sometimes a redirect, or a check in whether they are hungry or tired. This is something they often don’t know themselves, so it’s up to you as the parent to help figure it out by being consistent in sleep and eating patterns.

  16. avatar Lisa says:

    Thanks for the article. I have been adamant about not resorting to tv, even in the evening when we are all tired from the day, and hungry for dinner (that I have to make). I’ll admit, when my son was young, it could be (very) challenging. When he was little, I would strap him on my back (I learned this from my own mom) and he could watch what I was doing and be close to me and be safe in the kitchen but my hands were free. As he got older and more mobile and capable, I started to set him up with something to play with before slipping over to the kitchen: a pile of blocks or legos, a line up of cars, a bunch of stuffed animals…. That never lasted long enough, so i’d sometimes strap him back on, but he’d soon squirm to get down and go play again. Eventually I’d spend 10 minutes building an elaborate train track that he could then go nuts on with his trains. Now he’s almost 5, and my problem is trying to tear him AWAY from whatever he’s engrossed in when dinner is on the table. Looking backward, I can now see the slow progress toward independent play and the ability to self-occupy. It is a learning process! It takes time and soooo much patience! Some kids take to it more easily than others, but provided a fun and safe play area, they’d almost all eventually want to be there than get underfoot in the kitchen (or whenever) and unsuccessfully nag you to play with them.
    Good luck, moms. Soldier on you warriors…

  17. avatar loretta says:

    this is perfect timing! My daughter likes to watch while I cook, but she’s too big for her wrap now and she’s so curious…Until I get a learning tower or something, I need to make some playdough so she’s happily occupied! We don’t even have a tv, but I can certainly see the appeal at certain times. not worth it in my eyes though! thanks for the excellent ideas, as always!

  18. avatar Carrie R says:

    I SECOND THIS completely. I love your article. Kids need to discover often on their own but with you near :) TV is junk not only for kids, but for adults too. I find a rare program I really enjoy anymore. Im so much more interested in experiences. I love your emphasis on the outdoors too.
    Great video, so precious. Where did you get that ramp? It would be perfect for us!!

    Thanks,
    Carrie

  19. Hi Janet, I would love some suggestions for setting up a safe play space for a four month old – what would you include?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Christie! This is exciting! The ideal would be a playpen outdoors and playpen or floor play area indoors as well. It’s best to have two so that they are readily available and user friendly for you. You can either do the indoor one in stages, i.e., a playpen to start with and a transition to a floor play area later, OR start with the larger space and maybe enclose it a bit to give a cozier feeling. You could do that with furniture, etc., the idea being that a vast space can feel overwhelming for a baby that young.

      At four months, your baby doesn’t need much in the way of objects. Magda Gerber suggested starting with a simple cotton scarf, bandanna or napkin positioned like a little teepee so that the baby can grasp it easily. Also, small wiffle balls and teething toys, like those wonderful wooden ones. Stainless steel mixing bowls are good, too. (I’ll pop back here with some links for you!). But keep it to a couple of objects to start out with, because your baby is probably very focused on his or her hands and we don’t want to distract with a lot of *stuff*. There’s a really great booklet all about play that I wish I had when my children were small: http://www.rie.org/product/simple-toys-make-active-babies I’ll come back to add more links!

  20. avatar Deb says:

    I agree with this article. I also think family traditions and being included in them… is part of being in a family, it’s a ton of fun, and being under three years old, shouldn’t exclude someone! In our family, college football, is HUGE! On Saturdays we watch college football. We dress up in the “gear”, we have great food, we have great fun! Our kids love it and really enjoy it. They are also playing a lot while the game is on. They love learning the lingo, reading books about it, and having a blast with it. I don’t have kids with problems playing independently, or with attention issues, or even aggression… just FYI.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, that just like everything else, I think the “no tv until 3″ or whatever age type rules can be taken too far, and kids can miss out on a lot of fun. Sure, we have to be careful, and I do watch what comes on between… as some of the commercials are NOT appropriate! I often have other activities or “jobs” to be done in the other room during those. We also tend to “tivo” the game so we can fast forward those… but there are options to deal with that, and still allow our kids to be part of family traditions, which YES, may indeed include TV!
    Just my 2 cents!

  21. avatar Cristen miller says:

    What about sesame street? Appropriate at any age?

  22. avatar Malissa says:

    Again I am so thankful to have found this information. My husband and I got rid of the TV about 7 years ago. We both spend our time doing either creative things or reading…etc. The televsion basically became a big dust collector! My son who is almost 2, I thought I would be doing him some damage by not showing him anything, since ‘tv’ is everywhere. I thought I might be keeping something away from him. So I recently bought some Baby Einstein DVD’s to show him via our labtop. He has been watching 20 mins a day. Lately though he’s asking more and more to watch a DVD. I just saw a video about what watching does to a young developing brain and I am going to go stop immeadiately with watching, cold turkey! Personally I find TV/movies aren’t healthy for any age! I feel far away from reality if I sit in front of a television. Why would I want to do that to my son!

  23. avatar Helen says:

    I don’t know if you will still see this as it is an old post, but anyway. My problem is a bit different to most. I have a 4 year old who is severely physically disabled. He can do very little for himself and cannot play with toys in any meaningful way so cannot entertain himself for very long. He can’t even turn the pages in a book for instance, he loves tv understandably as this is one of the few ways he can be entertained without intensive adult input, and so for obvious reasons he watches quite a lot, especially as he is exhausted when he gets home from nursery. I also have a 19 month old who almost never watches the tv when his brother is not at home, but obviously is exposed to it when he is far more than I would like. I don’t really see what I can do as taking the tv away from my older son takes away one of his few pleasures and one of the few ways of entertaining him. I would love to live in a perfect world where my younger son watched no tv at all but don’t see how this is possible. I therefore feel constantly guilty for him being exposed to it without really knowing what to do about it.

  24. avatar Martha says:

    Hi there, thanks for the great blog, it’s such a help. I feel like I’m really stuck in a tv rut with my son (nearly 3). He watches maybe an hour of tv a day, sometimes a little more. It is generally whilst I’m feeding my baby daughter to sleep in the morning and then whilst I’m preparing dinner. I don’t like it but it feels like a life saver and keeps me sane and gives me a moments rest. HOWEVER, I would like to stop, for his sake. The thing is, many of your suggestions are for infants and about helping to teach them. What if you have missed that boat? My son is very high intensity and even in quiet play he requires a level of involvement from me that, in the course of the day, I need a short break from. Tv allows that break, but I would prefer something else. could you recommend somewhere I can find some very practical, instructive, clear ideas on genuine alternatives that might help me to find moments of space in the day without tv? I feel stupid that I can’t work it out for myself but feel genuinely at a loss. If I try and get him to play independently (and we try A LOT) it rarely succeeds and mostly ends in him crying and holding onto my legs! Thanks.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thank you, Martha! Don’t feel guilty for something you consider a lifesaver, but the morning viewing session is the one I would delete if possible, because morning is the time our children usually have the most energy for playing and allowing them to spend that time passively viewing is not the healthiest set-up for their day. The key to helping your boy play more independently is understanding how to take a more passive role when you are “playing together”. Here’s a post with some details about that: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/08/solo-engagement-fostering-your-toddlers-independent-play/

  25. avatar JulieK says:

    Other than random snatches of tv at relatives houses where I couldn’t get them to turn it OFF, my son was TV free until about 2.5 years old. Even then, I only let him watch his Signing Time videos 2x a week for a couple months b/c I was reviewing the product. I noticed how QUICKLY “can I watch a video” popped into his vocabulary even with THAT limited viewing.
    Since the review ended (and even though I feel those videos are actually among the best choices for kids to watch when they are watching TV {personal opinion!}) we cut back slowly and now he might watch a video 1-2 times a month. The frequent requests to watch a video faded as well. Our 1 year old has never watched TV so far.
    It’s certainly one less battle.
    However, he NEVER wanted to play independently. He always wanted me to be with him/holding him. The best I could do was the Pack & Play slowly building him up to about 15, maybe 20 minutes of independent play. It wasn’t until he was about 2 years old and we got a huge train table that he started to play independent for 30-40 minutes without me needing to be WITH him.
    His younger brother is GREAT with independent play – although I’m not SURE if I can really call it independent when he has an older brother as a playmate! :) It’s been so great watching them play together!!

  26. avatar Amy says:

    Any advice on ditching the TV once you have an addicted 4 year old? We waited and didn’t start until maybe plane rides when he was just under two. It’s been a slippery slope for us and it has definitely become my way of controlling his behavior in the afternoons. I have an 18 month old that I really don’t want to see go down the same path. Can we just quit cold turkey? My son LOVES TV.

    • avatar JulieK says:

      I personally would do the cold turkey route, b/c I like clean and fast solutions :) (it won’t be pretty but you will avoid all the decision making moments about “is it okay THIS time”…
      Otherwise, if that is not your style, just wean off slowly but keep him busy. Maybe do a lot of out of the house activities while you’re dialing back so he doesn’t really notice the lack of TV… I think it’s just about reteaching him that there are other things to do. I think a 4 year old will respond well to other activities like painting, playdoh, etc…

  27. avatar Kim says:

    I love your posts, Janet. I’ve been following your page for about a week so far and am really appreciating the articles. I totally agree with the alternatives to “tube time” for babies and toddlers. TV should not be a babysitter. Your points and suggestions are very important and helpful and I do not disagree with you. I hope you won’t mind my sharing some personal testimony because I think TV kind of gets a bad rap. As a teacher and a mother, I actually really believe in Baby Einstein and other “baby” videos that revolve around music, art, colors, movement, footage of other babies doing things etc. I think if used properly, this media can be a supplement and sometimes and enhancement to every day learning. My daughter (now 3.5) has been speaking in complete sentences since she was just a little over 1 year. At that time it was two or three word sentences. Then at 17 months, she did something I’ll never forget. She said, “Mama, look, I have a pen, see?” in her crystal clear, sweet little 1.5 year old voice as she proudly showed me the pen she picked up. She had been watching Baby Einstein regularly since infancy. When the pediatrician asked us at her 2-year check up if she knew at least 25 words, my husband and I looked at each other, stunned, and responded, “25? Umm… yes, more like 2500!” Honestly, I wasn’t exaggerating much. Family, friends and strangers alike often ask in disbelief, “HOW old is she?” because she has such a vast vocabulary and can articulate her speech and her feelings better than most kids her age and older! In addition, her imagination, communication and exploratory skills make me proud every single day as I watch her engage very well in both independent and interdependent play. Do I think this is a result of watching Baby Einstein? Eh, maybe not. Maybe it is because we have always done the types of things that you recommend in this post as well. Do I think that watching educational TV shows has caused her language and/or other delays? Absolutely NOT. In her case, I believe quite the contrary. Maybe she is the exception to the rule. Even today she has moved on to “Little Einsteins,” “Sid the Science Kid,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” all of which address different subject areas. I can honestly say she has learned so much from them and I have appreciated them as a parent because they give us a reference point for important lessons. We refer back to those episodes when we find ourselves coming upon those topics in real life. Even she will notice correlations on her own and say, “Mommy, that’s just like when Daniel said…” In any case, I really believe that TV is not entirely terrible for our kids. It just needs to be used productively and responsibly.

  28. Parental discomfort with our little one’s momentary discomfort has a lot to do with our cultural preoccupation with distraction for all ages. Really appreciate this post. I just can’t help but share everything you write!

  29. avatar Sarah says:

    Thanks for this great post! With my first child, I restricted TV, but when I had my second child, it kind of fell apart. Sometimes, putting the TV on for them is the only guarantee that they won’t kill each other for a few minutes! They have the ability to play nicely with each other, but when I’m cooking dinner, I’d rather not have to break up fights between them every 5 minutes. LOL. I do all the other things you mentioned as well as reading tons of books over the years. I always know what they’re watching, and make sure that it’s a show with good lessons/values. We try to play outside every day if we can, too. It’s all about balance.

  30. avatar bunnieknits says:

    Mom of 4, all grown up, chiming in in defense of a little TV time. With no guilt at all, I will freely state that the TV was on some of the time when my kids were growing up. What was NEVER on was so-called “kids’ TV”. They were raised in the days of Sesame Street which was banned from our house. Yes, some people may love that show, but all it does is teach kids that edu-tainment is doled out in 3 minute increments. I’m not sure they ever watched one single episode, and believe me, they were not interested in The Young and the Restless (my secret pleasure) when it came on the tube. There were times when I thanked God for the invention of the VCR. One of my sons watched Back to the Future and Top Gun until he had those tapes memorized. He’s now getting his PhD in theoretical physics at Stanford, so I don’t think it put too much of a crimp in his psyche. My other three kids are equally successful, and are all well-balanced, active, sociable, happy adults despite the TV being on a few hours a day. TV was never viewed as a treat at my house, but like a couple previous posters have said in other words, it was sometimes a convenient way to keep them in one spot long enough for me to get supper on the table.

  31. avatar Renee says:

    Hi Janet,
    I loved your article! I have 3 boys (7, 3, and 1) who can play amazingly well on their own. However, I do have one concern- and it isn’t with tv. I started using audio stories with my oldest instead of tv time when he was younger. He LOVES audio stories. In fact, I worry that it is an obsession. I worry that he no longer spends enough time playing because he spends so much time listening to stories/audio books. He always wants a book on! If he is playing lego, coloring, eating, whatever, he wants something to listen to. I feel silly for worrying because it could be so much worse (an addicition to tv, for example) but I worry that he isn’t spending enough time alone with his own thoughts to guide his play. He is an incredibly smart boy and he does think a lot but is it really healhty for him to be spending so much time listening to books/stories?

  32. Great article. And reading a few of the comments takes me back… and back… and back, because it’s a long time ago now, 43 years. We didn’t have TV when our three boys were small, except for a year living in a rental house in Scotland. No audio books either – we thought it was better to read to them anyway or tell them stories we made up to suit. It’s so true that they are all different and respond differently. One of the bunch wouldn’t play for more than 10-15 minutes by himself, but fortunately his brother – older by 15 months – was a nurturing, protective child and had a vivid imagination that served them both from when they were 1 & 2 years old. At 2 & 3 they played in the garden, played with trains etc inside, loved books, occasionally got into mischief such as finding the flour in the pantry and having a jolly time tipping it all over each other. Back in Australia they did a lot of running and playing and building gnome houses outdoors as well as playing together quietly inside, and drawing or looking at books. As they grew older, there were carpets turned into boats and great adventures under tables with cloth caves and tent cities. The next one was 5 years down the track and from babyhood loved to sit on the floor and play… he was a constant fascination to watch, as he played, and played and played. He loved toys, and played with them, whereas the other two made use of anything and everything and weren’t too fussed about whether it was a ‘toy’ or not, except for a few things like trains. They all loved it when there were chickens in the back garden, and once, when we had a country stint, a calf. It helped so much that their dad also loved babies and children, spent loads of time with them, and somehow just seemed to know how what to do to keep them engaged and happy. I was lucky that he was home early enough for me to cook dinner without distraction.

  33. avatar A.K. says:

    Hi Janet. I just had a pretty lengthy discussion about this with one of the parenting groups I’m involved with. I became so discouraged by responses that included, “my child get’s lots of things that they don’t need (books, toys…), why is TV different” and “my child is learning from what they watch (he/she is learning to speak spanish words…).” A member brought up a valuable point that perhaps something can be learned from TV, but why does it need to happen at 2, 3 or 4 years of age, why not 7 or 8? I feel when we turn on the TV for young children we send a message to them that play is not enough, they need to be entertained and often a child’s behavior will reflect that message. For example, the child might stop playing independently, request TV frequently and struggle with feelings of boredom. Just some thoughts I wanted to share. I love your blog and this post. Thank you!

  34. avatar Rick Ackerly says:

    fabulous video

  35. avatar Ashley says:

    Hi Janet,
    Do you happen to know where your friends found that wooden platform that little Joey is playing on? I would LOVE something similar for my baby! If you know of any places where I can find other things like that, please let me know!

  36. avatar Beth says:

    I get frustrated reading articles about self-directed play. I missed the chance to get my now 27 month old daughter started on self-directed play in infancy. what does one do if you’ve missed the first year? I also wonder if this notion of self-directed play leaves out certain personality types in children. My daughter is an intense little girl and really wants constant contact with me. When I am making dinner, for instance, she will sit down and draw for maybe 10 minutes max, Play in her wooden kitchen for another seven minutes, then push one of her puppets around in the stroller through our apartment for another 12 minutes if I’m lucky. But like a homing pigeon she always comes back to me, demands to be fed, wants to be held, wants mommy’s engagement. So how does one help a very intense and emotional child to learn this, after a year old? This seems to be a big gap in the Magda Gerber outlook. Please help because I have had to resort to TV watching when I need to make a business call and I feel so defeated at times doing so.

  37. avatar Jennifer Cousineau says:

    Thank you so much for these great ideas! I have a 3.5-year-old, who I know I let watch too much TV/movies. He plays pretty great independently, but being he is my only child, I feel really bad leaving him to play/read/color/etc. by himself; I feel like I’m ignoring him or being mean when he asks me to play with him and I’m doing dishes or cleaning the bathroom, paying bills, etc. Any advice/suggestions?

  38. avatar Amanda says:

    Thank you for your post. I am currently researching alternatives from TV. I have three year old boy girl twins. We held off on introducing TV until after two and half years old. But now it’s hard to break the habit. I’ll be completely honest it’s not hard to break them from the habit of watching TV it’s hard for me to break my own habit of putting them in front of it. Just being honest, I’m completely aware that I am the problem. They aren’t turning on the TV, I am. I homeschool my twins and spend an enormous amount of time with them. I give 150% when I’m with them. But, I find that I need at least three breaks a day so that I may maintain the patients that I need. I am currently turning to TV exclusively for these brakes Usually lasting about an hour per break. I have gone from being an advocate to no or little TV and now I am using it on a daily basis. I know how unhealthy this is for them but I do find that I am a better mama when I am with them (Which is 100% of the rest of the day). I so wish to find safe alternatives but am finding it difficult for their age. It’s not like their babies, their mobile very active three-year-olds. Can you help me? Are there any activities for three year olds to do while mom is taking a break? I love homeschooling them (and they love ot too). I feel like we will never get these young years back. Want to form a solid family foundation. Any advice you have or if you could steer me in the right direction would be so appreciated! Please help. Thank you

  39. avatar Cami says:

    Having met my husband already into my 30s and overcoming some cycle issues, we prayed fervently for fertility once we married. Quickly we became pregnant with our first son. 4 mo after his birth, I was pregnant again. They were born 1 yr and 10 days apart. Hubby and I adopted an attachment parenting philosophy so I stay home with our kids and try to let them grow in a loving environment, not focused on my conveniences but rather putting their well being first. However, as you can imagine I was a new mom with a big baby and a little baby. Breastfeeding is very rough in the beginning and baby #2 has a very demanding temperament. I am ashamed that TV has been used in our home much more than we planned. Hubby and I grew up in tv-centric homes and have memories of our parents zoning into Cheers rather than engaging with us. We didn’t want to repeat that and we aren’t exactly. We typically watch our shows after the kids are asleep, except for my husband’s occasional Star Trek episode on Netflix or me checking in with the news from time to time (if we get a signal). But the kids are watching a variety of PBS shows and a few favorites on Netflix. We are discerning of what they watch and have been good at avoiding commercials since we use Netflix and do not have cable. Yet, I ache to improve… To make tv a rarity and creative play the forefront. I appreciate the article. If anyone reading this has practical ideas for how to fill a day with 2 toddler boys (near ages 3 and 2 now), taking into consideration that neither goes to preschool outside the home, I am open to suggestions. Even a sample schedule of the day is helpful to me! We currently live in a small condo while we save for a house. I am really wishing we had the blessing of a backyard to create a safe outside environment. But for now, we are mostly inside until we trek out to a park. Sorry for the length of this but I wanted to paint our picture for you in case anyone out there can give me great advice. I am a creative person but I lose my creativity when I feel like I also need to cook, do laundry, pick up lots and lots of messes made by boys too small to get on board the clean up train. I am a former elementary school teacher with a Masters in Education but staying home with 2 wild toddlers is a whole other ball game! Also, my boys don’t sit much for coloring pictures. They are very physical… Building train tracks, blocks, wrestling, building forts and knocking them down… That sort of thing. Sounds fun but for 12 waking hours a day? Additionally, hubby cannot help much. He is entering a new program studying full- time for his career change. He will be studying about 60-80 hrs/week. So consider me on my own for the next 7-8 months. Ideas? Many thanks to anyone who can offer advice.

    • avatar Ashley says:

      I have five children, ages 2 months to 7 years and we’ve never had a TV. We have lived in a variety of housing and are currently in a 3-bedroom apartment, so I completely understand not having a backyard. We also have most of our things in storage so we don’t have many toys. I would recommend having quiet morning play time while you get household tasks done, followed by lunch and naps for everyone. Even if the boys don’t take naps, they can still play quietly in their room. My two year-old will ‘read’ books in his room until he falls asleep. I take a nap every day so I can have some time to myself (I homeschool so we’re together all day long). After nap we all go outside to play or swim. It’s good to get outside and burn off energy and maybe have some mom-chat time for you. Then dinner, stories, and bed – around 7 or 7:30. The key is to have lots of sleep for the kids, and have at least part of your day outside the house. I’ve found that if we don’t go out each day, by the end of the day everyone is tearing each other and the apartment apart. And don’t despair if they rebel for awhile about being left and alone and having nap time. Eventually they’ll get used to it. It’s not bad parenting to have time to do some things for yourself!

  40. avatar Sophia says:

    Any advice from parents on entertaining a. 2 year old in a household where we don’t have many toys or junk to keep toddler self entertained? Yes I’ve let him play with bowls and spoons and pasta dn rice, but that got old in, oh, 20 minutes. I read an earlier response if someone who had a box with pond pond etc, but I hate buying junk made in some third world country by some child. We don’t have a yard and my son wakes at 5, so taking him outside at that time is outbid the question. Help?

    • avatar Jane says:

      Sophia, I just posted a reply below with a few of my own tips about incorporating toys into your home environment. I hate the junky toys on a number of levels. I teach my 14 yo to recognize that many of the toy companies do not really respect children, they offer junk then try to manipulate the children to wanting it.

      There are many beautiful toy catalogs out there that offer lovely toys, that you won’t mind so much if they’re left out during the day. I’ve always loved Magic Cabin but there are many others. Our living room has a small book case with musical instruments. The coffee table has drawers that contain wooden dollhouse dolls and accessories. We have a wooden dollhouse with a cloth cover, and a wooden barn with some lovely wooden animals. Under the sofa are trays of puzzles and some four wheel scooters (I let the kids scoot around the kitchen and dining room).

      I have baskets of wooden food from Haba and some wooden toy kitchen parts. It all blends in and is not ugly.

      In the family room, the coffee table is actually a train table. There are tubs of toys under it.

      In a corner of our informal dining room, there’s a folding cabinet from Lakeshore with craft supplies. There’s a white board on one of the outside and a felt board on the other.

      I have a “Learning Tower” up at the kitchen counter where my daughter “helps” me cook and talks to me while I do the dishes.

      I could go on and on, but what I’m trying to say is that we changed our approach to decorating and our children have a lovely home environment that keeps them very busy and happy.

  41. avatar Jane says:

    I so agree! I had a wonderful mentor when my oldest was born, who encouraged me to create a great environment in my home for my little fella. He was fairly independant by nature and just thrived on the wonderful toys we provided for him.

    I just noticed “Sophia’s” questions, written above my own post. One tip I was given was to buy beautiful toys, and incorporate them into our decor. I was child centric in my heart, and our home became child centric also. Catalogs that cater to Waldorf-type toy values often have beautiful toys that are not offensive the the eye-balls and can be incorporated into your decor. Or simply change your approach to decorating!

    Almost every room in our house has a built-in play area. Our bathroom has a drawer that was dedicated to DS and is currently dedicated to DD. The only room where there is no toys is the master bedroom. (Hey we’ve got to have a line somewhere!)

    I used to trade off with my son–play with him, then when his interest in the activity waned a little, I’d take off to get something else done and let him play independantly for a while.

    Even as I speak, I am in my home office (a corner of the family room) which has a set of crayons and paper, and right now I’ve dragged in some train track and trains (brio). I put a few tracks together, my daughter happily plays trains, I encouraged her to put in a track by herself, met some resistance…”just try one sweetheart!” She did it, and now she’s been happily diving into the rubbermaid box of track for ten minutes…while I catch up on facebook! :-)

    • avatar Jane says:

      Just one more thing…I had to change the idea that children are spoiled by having nice toys. They aren’t! My children are expected to be responsible, respectful, grateful and to work. But the great home environment, and lots of healthy recreation is a need…not something that spoils them!

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