I remember babysitting my young niece not too long ago. All evening she asked, "Cars?" This was code for, "Could we watch the movie Cars?" Soon I turned on the TV and sat with my niece as she watched intently. I became intrigued as I started to notice she did not take her eyes off the TV. She, like many of us, had watery eyes due to the amount of focus she put on the screen. This experience caused me to think about what she could be doing instead of watching TV and if changing her activity could improve her overall development.
Research shows TV time for children should be limited. Infants between 0-18 months should have no TV exposure, children 2-5 should be allowed 1 hour a day, and children 6 and older should have limited media time. We know that watching TV is not necessarily the best activity for our children, so what can we do to actively entertain them?
According to Janet Lansbury's, Elevating Child Care, self-directed independent play is best for child development. What may seem like a boring task to us, may just be the right stimulating experience for an infant or child. When children seem bored, they are on the verge of an idea for a new activity. Sometimes giving them more attention or setting them down for a nap will help.
Here are some activities children can do as a substitute for TV time:
- Draw with crayons
- Play with blocks or legos
- Dolls and Dollhouses
- Dressing Up
- Shape sorters
- Wheel toys
- Sidewalk chalk
- Explore the outdoors
- Books on tape/CD from your local library
Simple objects can invigorate imagination and play. Always keep in mind that we want to encourage active learning, child-directed problem solving, and creative experimentation rather than "doing it right." This is what self-directed play can do!
If we can postpone the use of TV (or break the habit in the early years), our children have opportunities to develop the neural pathways needed to be a good listener and learner, improve their gross and fine motor skills, increase their problem solving abilities, and show their creativity. All of these activities result in a strong sense of self.
Making time for self-directed play takes a conscious effort, especially when it would be easier to turn on the TV to feel productive in our day. The benefits are well worth the energy. It enables children to develop important skills that will go beyond the ability of screen time. So pull out that play-doh, sidewalk chalk, or dress-up clothes and let's encourage these moments together!