*warning… we’ve long-distance co-written this last minute-ish (it has been in our heads for a while though!) amid our busy toddler chasing lives! Ignore typos… please!
So here goes... two mums, Medlan (@mrs.p.plus.three) and Ailsa (@aulay.aulay.aulay), passionate about play… not so passionate about screens! Don’t panic... we’re not preaching or judging, just sharing our experiences, and hopefully passing on some screen free play ideas!
We hear all too often that too much screen time is bad, and we all feel the guilt of letting littles watch a little too much... but how often we hear how to break the habits? That’s what this blog is about… why we’re (mostly) screen-free, how to break the habit, fill the hours and reap the benefits!
For me, (Mrs. P), going screen free was for my sanity… when my eldest (now 15) was only months old (before Netflix etc.!) I found myself being lured into wasting the day to trashy dull daytime TV. One day, I didn’t switch it on, and I’ve never looked back! We’re not totally screen free, we love a movie night, Mr P and the teen would riot without their football fix and let’s face it, how else was I going to explain in detail how a rescue boat worked to my inquisitive 2year old without good old YouTube?!
For me, Ailsa, it was in the car. My little would scream whenever he was in the car and we had the school run twice a day (a 30-40 minute round trip) and countless other journeys added on. So we got into watching short programmes in the car. I didn’t want this to become a habit so looked for something different before he was old enough to ask for it. We tried lots of different things but audio books and songs were our answer! That and me retelling classic stories over and over! Now that he is old enough to see out of the window and have full on conversations we only need ourselves and our imaginations.
Are screens really that bad?
You may be surprised that most guidelines and experts recommend NO screen time at all for children under 2! But more important than how much they watch is what they watch, how they watch it… or more importantly to me… what do they miss out on while watching?
How much is TOO MUCH?
Consider this... your 2year old eats a chocolate bar then shouts for another when its all gone? Do you give them one? Now swap chocolate for a TV show... is your answer the same?? Try thinking of TV/screens like you would junk food, a little now and then is fine, but too much too often cant be good. Life is a balance, a little of most things is usually the best way, too much of anything usually isn't!
Play matters... it matters a lot! Play is how babies, toddlers and children learn, relax, have fun, socialise, imagine. Yes, they’ll pick things up and repeat or copy from apps or TV but physically doing, experiencing and talking about things will solidify their understanding much quicker. Play gives little people an opportunity to explore their imagination, to test their limits and boundaries, to practice skills and situations, they can steer it in any direction and most importantly play happens at their own pace.
Remember, the more they play, the better they get at it and the more immersed they’ll become in their own games… which mean more peaceful tea drinking time to the sound of happy toddler/child instead of irritating theme-tunes!
Screens, TV, the internet are all amazing resources, my 2year old constantly wants to know more, if he encounters something in a book he’ll ask all the questions, unfortunately we don’t tend to have a lifeboat/combine harvester/tower crane etc. to hand… but we actually do! We’re huge fans of YouTube and similar for feeding his curiosity and learning. We watch together, so we can chat about it afterwards.
Secret weapon…! There’s also a place for ‘kid’s shows’ in our life too… ok, so he can only name 3 kid’s shows and one of those is the original Thomas the tank series from 1984 (sucker for Ringo Starr’s narration!)! I treat these shows as a tool… or necessity! If one or both littles are ill, if they’ve had a long day, are over tired, stressed or worried then I pull out my ‘secret weapon’ and put the TV on. Or, best of all, when the littlest is napping 2yo and I make a cuppa and pop and episode or two on as a bit of a treat… for both of us!
We never watched a lot of TV, but what we did watch I was starting to notice was making too much of an appearance in his play and conversation. I wanted him to make up his own characters, or use his love of books as a foundation for his play. The inferences in books allow children to fill in the gaps for themselves and use their imaginations to bring characters to life, something which I feel a lot of children’s TV shows take away from them. We are now at a point where, on average, he watches about 30 minutes a week. This is mainly due to the fact that he doesn’t ask. Because of this I find that when we do watch something it is a lovely 10 minutes. We sit together, we enjoy it and we talk about it. It’s become a nice activity rather than a daily background noise.
So… What Next?
Start by choosing wisely… by wisely I mean don’t choose something that will irritate you… whether that’s the content itself or just the catchy song that you’ll be annoyingly singing to yourself way after bedtime!
Be mindful of what you watch. We are not completely screen free but I am selective in what we watch. I hear so often and sometimes catch myself saying “he won’t like that…”, “I’ll never get away with that”, “they are obsessed with”, “he/she has to watch this”
Remember… Children only know what we show them and like what we introduce them to. It can be hard for them to stay away from cartoons we don’t like as I feel they are surrounded by it. My toddler recently asked me “what those dogs called, mummy? I’d like that bag”, as he looked at a Paw Patrol lunch box. There was not one lunch box available without some sort of TV based cartoon. I looked around and all cutlery and water bottles were the same. I can’t help feeling that the world is telling our children that they should be obsessed with these characters. Completely robbing them of their own thoughts and opinions.
BREAKING the HABIT
It’s so easy to fall into habits, good and bad. Especially with little ones as they love routine. If you do something more than once, for them it becomes part of their day, their routine, and routine makes children feel safe and calm so it is understandable how screen time easily becomes a part of that for both parents and children.
Our Top Tips for reducing screen time…
This isn’t a set of rules, dip in and out, pick and choose, see what works for you!
*Go cold turkey! May seem drastic but give it a try, imagine the internet/TV went down for a day? Once you’ve done 1 day you know you can do another and another!
*Lead by example… children copy, if you’re glued to a screen its natural for them to think they should be too.
*Start small… pick one usual TV session, and try to go without that one. Then chose another, and another until you get the balance you’re happy with.
*Don’t switch on in the morning… put out some toys/activities ready for morning and see how long you can get out of it before they ask for the TV.
*Talk to them, make sure your child knows when the screen is being turned off, at the beginning of the program warn them that it will be just one episode. This should lessen the stress of being cut off and limit the “just one more” plea.
*Be prepared… don’t just switch off and expect them to play, they need to transition, have something ready for them.
*Leave the iPad at home… If you don’t have it, you won't use it!
*Delete convenient apps too!
* If they don’t ask, don’t put it on, and remember if they do ask you don't have to put it on
*Value the screen time you do have, make it something to look forward to and a topic for conversation afterwards
What to do instead?
*Play invitations, set up some toys ready for play, it doesn’t have to be complicated, a few cars and track, a tower of blocks, a ball and goal, digger and duplo to dig, box houses and people, stack of books to make a ramp and a car/truck, saucepan filled with lego and a spoon, anything you fancy. Remember toys can be mixed up too, people from one set, cars from another…! Remember children may not do what YOU intended from the invitation, just let them go with their imagination!
*Stations… have another activity or toy somewhere else to guide them to or let them discover later. The same toys in a different place can be lots of fun
*Toy rotations, we’re all creatures of habit, and children sometimes forget to look through the toy box and just grab what’s on top. Try to keep some toys out of site (cupboard or high shelf) and then swap them around every week or so, forgotten toys are often as exciting as new ones!
* Play dough… can be used in so many ways, put it out with a few toys, or a knife, or cookie cutters, or a few plates for a tea party, saucepan and spoon, the possibilities are endless. See photo for recipe too!
*Washing up, a few cups in the sink is always a winner here, can also be a follow up activity, for example wash the cookie cutters post play dough etc, just for fun to keep them entertained longer.
* Messy/non messy/sensory play. Probably our favourite! A tray of rice and a few spoons and cups, pasta shapes and a sauce pan, mess free painting (paint sealed in a ziplock bag and taped to a table/floor/window), a cup of sand and a digger or some animals. If you’re worried about mess pop a sheet on the floor under a tray so you can scoop it up and shake it off at the end.
* Story sacks, pick a favourite book and try to find some props to use with it, for example any toys that resemble the characters or items that feature in the story, read it with props then leave the props and book out for them to play as they wish… ‘Whatever next’ is a favourite, we used slippers instead of welly boots, a colander, an empty drinks bottle, sometimes a real snack, and a box when we have one, if you have a toy bird/owl throw that in too!
To see these ideas and more in action see our stories and highlights on Instagram @mrs.p.plus.three @aulay.aulay.aulay
This is a big one. Have faith in your child. Don’t turn the TV on, try something different. Have faith that they will be OK in the car without the iPad. Don’t bring it “just in case”, see what happens. Have faith that they will eat their dinner without a TV show to watch. Have faith that if you direct them to something else instead of the TV they will be fine. Children are unpredictable and mine surprise me every day.
And, have faith in YOU! Toddlers are determined little things but you are their parent, you can do this!
This blog has made me reflect on screen-time for all ages. I was sitting in a café recently and looking around me, there was not one table that did not have some form of screen at it; children and adults alike with iPads, phones or laptops in front of them. Most ignoring the company they were with. Screens were everywhere. I couldn’t help but wonder how much we all rely on these screens. That we should all take time to leave our phones in the house or the other room (something I am trying to do more often myself) don’t switch the TV on, hide the iPads and try something different and I’m sure we’d all feel better for it
Challenge yourself... and your partner/friends/family to a screen-free evening and enjoy it!
Finally a quick thanks to our husbands for sticking with us and supporting our sometimes silly play antics when sticking the TV on may have seemed the easier option... we love watching you get involved with the play too!
**Shout out to Mr P for the title… he was quite proud of himself!
Well done for reaching the end!!... if you're still after more tips, advice and ideas:
Watch our daily play stories on Instagram @mrs.p.plus.three and @aulay.aulay.aulay and feel free to ask us any questions.
Follow @busytoddler and @toddleractivitiesathome on Instagram for tons of quick easy DIY ideas
Even more activities here:
General info about play:
Info about screen time: