Monthly Archives: June 2011

Screen Time for Kids

It’s a question often whispered amongst parents.  We don’t want to ask out loud for fear of judgment, but most of us admit to using it.  The TV.  The question is… how much is too much?

I spoke on air recently about screen time.  If you missed it on the radio, you might like to listen to the podcast below:

96Five Radio Podcast

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I’m not against television viewing.  In fact, I quite often review children’s programs here on the blog.  BUT… I think as parents we should select what we allow our kids to watch, rather than leaving the TV to run.
  • The maximum time a child should spend looking at a screen is 2hrs a day.  Some new research is suggesting that children under two shouldn’t watch any television at all.  Keep this in mind especially if you have older children watching while your little one is in the room.
  • One of the biggest problems with television is what it doesn’t do.  It doesn’t converse with your child. It doesn’t improve your child’s fine or gross motor skills.  It doesn’t give them hands on experience.  It doesn’t replace the real world, or real people.  Make sure your child’s real experiences far outweigh their virtual ones.
  • Screen time includes more than TV.  If your child has access to a computer, iPod, iPad, iPhone or other smart phone it all counts towards screen time.  Two hours can pass quickly. It’s up to parents to monitor and limit use.
  • Use screen time when it best benefits your routine. For our family, it’s the late afternoon.  Usually the kids play outside in the afternoon, then they come in for some quiet screen time while I cook dinner.  Saturday mornings are the only mornings the TV is allowed to go on.

For a fantastic list of alternatives to screen time to try with your kids, check out this article “Installing Speed Bumps to Television Viewing” by Little Eco Footprints over at Childhood101.

Embracing Winter Days (like Dirtgirl)

Lately I’ve been hearing a message I really dislike:  Keep your kids out of the winter weather.  I’m not sure where the message is coming from, or why.  Of course we have to make allowances for weather, but there is no need to keep kids indoors.  Outdoor play is an important part of a child’s day – every day.

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote here on the blog about Playing Whatever the Weather:

I don’t think we can expect children to tolerate extremes of temperature they are not accustomed to, but I do think they should be able to enjoy outside time in their home climate.  For my kids, temperatures range from about 10 degrees celsius in winter, through to around 35 degrees in summer.  Winter play means wearing lots of layers.  The days start chilly, but do warm up and beanies need to be replaced with sunhats.  Winter play doesn’t mean staying inside with the heater on.  Summer play means sunscreen, hats and sun-safe clothing.  It also means drinking plenty of water, and playing out of the sun during the hottest times.  Summer play doesn’t mean staying inside with the airconditioning on!  Ok, yes there are days when I use the heater in winter, and the air con in summer – but we don’t stay trapped inside and I always find the kids have more fun outdoors.

A year on, I am nodding along to my own words. My opinion hasn’t changed.  I still think it’s important for kids to get outside, whatever the weather.  Next week the school holidays start, and I know it will be a great opportunity for my two munchkins to play together outside.  Here’s what a typical home day in the winter holidays looks like for us (with the morning routine relaxed because we’re not in a rush to get to school):

  • 6:30 – 7:30 Breakfast
  • 7:30 – 8:30 Get dressed, brush teeth, make beds, do morning jobs
  • 8:30 – 9:30 Play inside (or help Mum with housework)
  • 9:30 – 10:30 Morning tea and outside free play
  • 10:30 – 12:00 Creative activity together, preferably outside (anything from painting to playing pirates!)
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:30 – 1:30 Quiet Time in bedrooms (read or rest)
  • 1:30 – 3:30 Outside free play or continuing activity and afternoon tea
  • 3:30 – 4:00 Pack up sandpit, outside toys, creative mess
  • 4:00 – 5:30 Play inside, TV on (while Mum gets dinner ready)
  • 5:30 – 6:15 Dinner and bathtime
  • 6:15 – 7:00 Stories and BED

It’s a pretty fluid schedule – times are just there to give you an idea. You can see though that the kids can easily have three or four hours outside during the warmest parts of the day.  I know that some days they will have extra time outdoors, because they’ll be keen to get outside straight after breakfast despite the chill, or because they’re still hunting for dinosaur eggs at 4:30 and haven’t noticed the temperature dropping!

I don’t mind the tv going on in the late afternoons at all.  I know that the kids have had lots of outside time, and they’ve usually had enough of each other by then.  We’re all getting tired, crankiness creeps in, and I need to get dinner ready.  And what do I put on? Dirtgirlworld of course!

Dirtgirl knows that winter is wonderful outside.  She loves winter’s nourishing soups, rugging up in lovely warm clothing and gumboots, and making the most of the sun when it’s out – even if it’s just for a little bit.  Me and Dirtgirl? We’re so on the same page.  Even when my kids are watching tv, they are getting the message that outside is where the fun is at.  Dirtgirl and Scrapboy give my kids ideas for tomorrow’s play, and encourage them to get their boots on and head outside all over again.

Thanks to my friend Dirtgirl (and the gang at Madman) I have five amazing prize packs to give away. Each one has the Winter DVD, as well as Dirtgirlworld’s Spring, Summer and Autumn DVD collections!  To win all four seasons DVDs, just leave a comment below sharing what your kids like to do outside in WINTER.

Usual rules apply: Aussie residents only, one entry per person, winners drawn randomly, comp closes Sunday 26th June 6pm Qld time.

If you’re a fan, you might like to follow Dirtgirlworld on facebook and twitter, and check out all the cool stuff starting to happen on their blog too.

Questions About Real Play

It was a cold afternoon, and after being outside all I could think about was wrapping my hands around a warm cup of tea.  I put the kettle on, and suggested the kids set up their own tea party for afternoon tea too.

They brought their “kids” along (a baby and a bear), then set the table with a tablecloth and our Plan Toys wooden tea set.  The three of us enjoyed the role play as we made tea, fed the “kids” and helped ourselves to seconds. Such fun.

I left the real kids to it while I made myself a much needed real cuppa.  As I wrapped my cold fingers around the steaming cup, my teacher-mama brain wandered.  What would happen if I let the kids have real tea too? Would real tea enhance their play? Would it still be play if the teacups were filled with real tea?  Is it ok for the lines between real life and play to blur? When is play no longer play?  What IS play, anyway?

I whipped up some fairy bread* and poured two luke-warm cups of tea into little espresso cups.  Mr 2 ate the bread but wasn’t at all interested in the real tea.  He much preferred the freedom of the wooden cups – unconstrained by worries about spilling the liquid, exploring a new taste, or testing the temperature.  Pretend tea in pretend cups is very well behaved!  Miss 5, however, responded quite differently.  She sat straighter. Held her cup carefully. Sipped cautiously.  Made small talk.  Re-enacted the behaviour and conversation she has seen and heard while out at coffee shops with me.  Adding real tea took her play to a new level.

Was it still play? Maybe she was playing for real?  Or was she just really playing?

I don’t need answers to any of these questions.  Sometimes asking them is the important part. If as a mother and an educator I stop asking myself questions, then I have fooled myself into thinking I know all there is to know about the way children play, think and learn.

* For my overseas readers: Fairy Bread is a children’s party favourite here in Australia. It is simply a piece of buttered bread with hundreds-and-thousands sprinkled on top, and cut into triangles :-)

Organising the Chaos

I often describe my life  as organised chaos. I’m a too-busy mama with too many to-do lists and not enough hours in the day!  Sometimes the result is a big, full, happy, satisfying week.  At other times though, the result is a frazzled mother, cranky kids and a messy home.  I’m always inspired by other women who are still busy, yet manage to calm the chaos. Continue reading