In the recent past, our evenings would go something like this:
Arrive home from school; children strip off and shoes, coats and bags while mother squawks about putting them away, children slump in front of TV whilst mother fetches them drinks and snacks. Mother grumbles about quality of the TV being watched (think Horrid Henry, Almost Naked Animals). Children bicker about what to watch, Mother nags them to sit up/stop sucking thumbs/be careful not to spill drinks. Mother attempts to cook dinner but seems to be constantly dragged into ‘what to watch’ bickering/clearing up spilt juice. Mother puts dinner on table to cries of “But Muuuuum, Tree Fu Tom/Deadly 60 has just started”. Mum dishes out all the classic lines “I don’t care, I didn’t slave over a hot stove making a nutritious meal to have it wrecked by Steve Backshall and his biting animals”. Children drag themselves to the table and grumble about missing TV. Mum thinks “There must be a better way”.
It turns out, that for our family, there is a better way – No TV. The benefit of having a tiny television with no Sky+ box or DVD player plugged into it is that I can remove it very easily. And that is exactly what I have done. Recently, our TV has only been making guest appearances, mainly at the weekend. If we miss anything we really wanted to see, we watch it via an online catch up service. The effect on my sanity has been quite the opposite to what you might expect (It probably helps that I’m not that house proud). Here is what has happened:1. My older children have both taken to drawing and colouring in pictures in a big way. This is not so much of a surprise with The Middle Miss, she has always been keen on arty activities. Son Number One, however has been a revelation. His fine motor skills have improved such a lot in the last few months. He has also been developing his own style of cartoon creature that he is very proud of (but I haven’t got any pictures of – instead I give you his fireworks from last night).
2. Creative play has taken place upstairs, out of my hair. They have built dens for themselves and their stuffed animals. In fact, the den building for soft toys has been so prolific that I have had to take steps to try and contain it slightly.
4. There are far fewer arguments. It is much easier to share a pot of pencils than a TV. We have so many sets of colouring-in things that you never have to wait long, if at all for the colour you want. Contrast this to TV time when someone always wants to change channels. Colouring in can be put to one side and picked up again quite easily so they don’t object when I get them to stop for meals etc. When the TV is on you have to time meals to coincide with programming, unless you want whinging children, that is. Maybe Sky+ also sorts this problem but my way is much cheaper.
5. The whole family can do something together. Even Babykins likes to wield a pen or pencil. The older ones are usually good at helping him with lids or new paper or sharper pencils. There are certainly times when he causes trouble and upset. It’s inevitable that an almost two year old is going to scribble on someone’s work at some point. This is certainly a learning opportunity for all involved. It’s interesting for me to see how the older two deal with him. The Middle Miss rarely gets (really) cross with him and is quite the expert at distracting him with something else. Sometimes she needs a bit of prompting to do this but generally, she is very good. Son Number One, despite being older, has not quite grasped this technique of sibling management yet. He still yells for backup from me.
I wouldn’t want you to get the idea that I am completely against TV. In fact, quite the contrary. I love some of the better children’s programmes, the aforementioned Deadly 60 for a start. I could probably watch that and Horrible Histories all day. But that is precisely the problem. It is available without limit. Most children don’t have the maturity to switch off (or maybe that’s just my eldest?). In my childhood, there were probably a few hours in the afternoon when children’s programmes were shown. Those few hours had to cater to all age groups from toddlers to teens. Sometimes it really was more fun to ‘Switch off and go and do something less boring instead’ (If you can remember that phrase, you are showing your age). These days a child could spend all his time at home being entertained without any human interaction or creativity.
I would also like to point out that we are far from saintly when it comes to ‘screen time’. Son Number One still plays on his Nintendo DS and when they visit their grandparents, they enjoy TV, DVD’s and the Internet. It’s just not getting in the way of normal life in quite the same way.
There are still things about our new arrangement that puzzle me. Despite having boxes full of toys, the thing they return to again and again is drawing at the kitchen table. Maybe I need to be a bit more proactive and introduce some other things. They love it when we get the playdoh out and again, that is something they can all enjoy together, sometimes collaboratively. I’m sure there must be some games they could all play together but with the differences in age that is a bit more tricky. Actually, now I think about it, the reason colouring in works is that nobody looses at that and you can’t be accused of cheating. Maybe I’ll save the games idea for when they are a bit more mature.