I shared recently how we came to live without a television, or really with almost no screen time at all for our kids. I promised to circle back around on what that looks like for us and how it works, so here I am to do so!
First a couple disclaimers: Most of my kids have lived their entire lives this way, and they don’t know any differently. If this is a transition you’re hoping to make, there will be some “detox” and adjustment needed – we’ve seen it with foster kids coming into our home. It’s drastically different than what they are used to. Secondly, I am a stay-at-home mom. I don’t work outside of my family, nor do I have other major commitments that I need to fulfill for someone. I am also married and Jon is a very hands-on dad; I’m not a single working parent trying to do it all myself. I don’t expect that this is the perfect solution for everyone, so please feel nothing but grace here. So how do we make it work?
Out of sight, out of mind.
We got rid of the TV completely. Like I mentioned before, it was old and a safety hazard. I don’t even have the temptation to turn it on, because it’s just not there. We have a projector that we bring out occasionally for family movie night, but it lives in a suitcase in a closet when not in use. It takes significant effort to set up, so it’s not something I can break out without thought. A friend of mine shared that their TV stays unplugged most of the time so that her small kids can’t turn it on. Maybe putting the TV in a less-frequently used room (like we originally did in our master bedroom), will keep it from being the go-to.
I’ve had to adjust some of my routines to accommodate life without the TV. For example, I leave my little kids in their beds for a few (or sometimes several, honestly) extra minutes in the morning while I get myself dressed and ready for the day. I started a habit a couple years ago of getting completely dressed (and not in sweats – dressed enough to go out, if need be) and ready (hair, makeup, jewelry) every single day before I will even leave my room. The baby will be ok in his bed for a few extra minutes, and I won’t feel like I’m desperate to get away to do these things later. I also shower at night after my little kids are in bed. That way I’m not worried about who is getting into things while I’m showering.
I’ve trended toward a lot of automated or cook-ahead type meals. I have a rice cooker, a crock pot, and an Instant Pot. If I can put these things to work for me, or just throw something in the oven that I’ve previously assembled (say, during my littlest ones’ nap times), it allows me to spread my attention around and not feel like I need to try to be watching the stove while making sure a toddler isn’t pulling curtains down at the same time.
I use a lot of “near me, but not with me” time for my kids: having them do something nearby without necessarily having to directly interact with them. When I’m exhausted out of my mind (when I’m hugely pregnant, for example) and I just need to lay down, I will sit a child or two on my bed or on the other end of the couch with a pile of books to look at while I rest for a few minutes. Or I can put a baby or two in high chairs with a book or a couple toys while I’m prepping a meal or sweeping the floor. I have my kids sit together at the kitchen table and color or look at magazines while I’m making lunch or breakfast, instead of trying to make it and then corralling them all to come sit down.
And honestly, there’s a lot of the kids just learning to entertain themselves. They’ve gotten used to not being actively entertained most of the time. I’ve allowed them to get bored enough to find something to do on their own. They’ve stopped expecting me to keep them occupied and have learned to occupy themselves. For the natively-screen-free among my kids, this comes a little more naturally. For those that have had to get used to it, it develops over time and can be hard at first.
And, of course, the nitty-gritty… What do my kids actually do all day while they’re not watching TV?
Pretend play: We have a big collection of dress-up clothes and costumes; a play kitchen, table, and chairs where they pretend to cook for each other; baby dolls with clothes, bottles, a high chair, cradle, and stroller; and a few action figures that regularly save the day. One of the favorite games right now is “going home,” where the kids pack a bag of random toys and tell me “Bye Mom! I’m going home!” and then proceed to walk around the house with their bag of toys as if they are travelling home.
Building: Wooden blocks, Duplo, Lego, K’nex. Something is usually being created at any given point in time. Train tracks and Hotwheels cars are also constants.
Arts and Crafts: Crayons, markers, colored pencils, and a steady supply of printer paper are always available. Most of the time I’ll allow simple watercolor painting, too. Play-Doh is popular and a good one for when I need everyone sitting in one place for a while. I also have a variety of stickers, beads, yarn, felt, glue, scissors, etc. Painters tape is handy for all sorts of things, and my boys especially are fond of making all kinds of creations out of cardboard.
Games: Matching/memory kinds of games are great because they can be scaled to fit different ages and developmental levels; my two- and three-year-olds just sort through the piles looking for the matches, while the older kids can play structured memory and take turns flipping the cards. We have lots of puzzles in varying difficulties. Simple board or card games: Candy Land, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Uno, War, etc. Pictionary can be modified so that even very young kiddos can participate. My fourteen-year-old recently taught my four- and six-year-olds to play Uno, so that is the game of choice right now.
Books: Books, books, books for days. I am a total sucker for books. Always. I’m sure we have in the neighborhood of a couple thousand books in our house. I do a lot of reading aloud to the kids, but I’ve also collected a variety of big, beautiful, elaborate picture books that non-readers can sit and look at happily for extended periods of time (seek-and-find type books are great for this, too).
Outside: We spend a lot of time outside. We have a big yard, a couple great climbing trees in different sizes, a massive sandbox, and a swing set/playhouse. Bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, kiddie-pool, studying nature, collecting leaves or rocks, going for walks, and playing tag are all fan favorites.
And what about the older kids? You might be surprised how much these things scale. My teenage daughter will sit on the couch with a book for a couple hours. She’ll use the art supplies to work on hand-lettering Bible verses to hang on her wall. She takes the dogs for walks up and down the street. She’ll journal and listen to music. Or she’ll sit in the room and just talk to me while I do other things.
A Place for Technology
Even without the TV, there’s still a place for technology in our everyday. I do sometimes put on an audio book for the kids to listen to on Audible. A sweet friend got us a subscription to Adventures in Odyssey this year for Christmas. We have a series of Google Home speakers that we use to listen to music or podcasts. Once in a great while, I will let the kids play the Bible App for Kids for a little while. And yes, once in a while we drag out our projector and watch a movie together as a family.
It does require some different thinking and planning to be screen-free. It takes creativity, and sometimes a lot of patience. But if paring down your screen time is a goal, I hope I’ve given you some practical ideas to try. Questions? Comments? Things I forgot? Let me know!