Giddy bride in a white dress, adoringly speaking naive vows to the man I was committing to share my life with; that was me–23 years ago. He was a student in grad school and I was a first year special education teacher. Aspiring to foster healthy patterns of communication and time management from the start, we decided to live our first year together TV free. Idealistic? Absolutely. Our first anniversary rolled around and we were amazed by the new lifestyle we’d embraced. We liked it and weren’t ready to give it up to reclaim some TV time and so we opted to continue our experiment for another year. Now, almost at our silver anniversary and four kids later, we still don’t have TV.
Recently, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), restated their recommendation that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming. France considers the consequences of TV viewing to be so serious that the French broadcast authority has banned French channels from airing TV shows aimed at children under 3 years old. For many conscientious parents, this advice seems counterintuitive since baby’s first 2 years are considered to be a critical time for brain development. We want good and stimulating education for our kids right from the start and the experts in child development who design programs and even entire channels targeting babies, like BabyFirstTV and Baby TV, seemingly have so much more to offer our child than we do. Combine that with the reality that most moms I know (including myself) who struggle with fatigue and a general sense of overload appreciate that TV can serve as an invaluable short term babysitter.
In Kindermusik, we start each semester telling parents, “You are your child’s best teacher,” and I believe it. You have more to offer your baby than TV does. Think of your baby’s brain as the foundation of his or her life “house.” Early experiences that combine sensory interactions make neural connections which function very much like the structure, wiring and paint on baby’s life “house”. Activities that integrate touching, smelling, feeling, hearing, seeing and moving build the strongest, largest and most ornate “house.” Free play and unguided exploration can be combined with short instructive, interactive play times peppered throughout each day. This beneficial combination encourages greater holistic learning–intellectually, physically and socially- than TV can.
Self-doubt has stymied many a mother’s good intentions. Here are some practical ideas you can use to give baby a TV free start. With a safe area for baby to explore in, along with a few tools of the trade, you’re ready to try this out at home.
- Cribs, playpens, stationery jumpers and baby proofed gated areas are ideal places for baby to engage in free play. Play music softly in the background. Music, like Kindermusik CD’s, that is diverse in meter, style, beat and timbre is best.
- For young babies, mirrors, balls, an activity gym or playmat, mobiles, a fabric doll preferably with textures, snap and lock beads, stacker cups, shape sorters, soft blocks, rattles, teethers, soothers, and pop up toys are all excellent choices.
- As baby gets older, fill a large container without a lid with baby’s toys and add stuffed toys, Little People, board books, play telephones, blocks, as well as simple rhythm instruments, like a drum, bells, and glockenspiel. One of my babies loved her toy box so much, I’d often find her sitting in it happily exploring her treasures.
- Setting a timer helps a busy mom be purposeful about floor time with baby throughout the day. In 15 minutes you can read several books, make block or duplo towers and demonstrate simple board puzzles. Repeat this over and over, day after day. Remember babies thrive on repetition.
- Add to the mix a mini-massage during diaper change or at nap time for some purposeful physical touch, which also stimulates neural connections.
- Top it off by singing baby a song. Nothing else can surpass this kind of stimulation for baby’s brain development and emotional security.
Twenty-three years later, the idealism and naivety are both gone and so is the season of life that includes floor time, guided play, and dirty diapers. Since then, I have stockpiled a long list of personal regrets both as a wife and a mother. But I am proud to say that living TV free is on the top of my list of personal kudos. That decision set a trajectory for marriage and family life that has been rich and rewarding. Our kids rarely say “I’m bored.” They are avid readers, immensely creative, arts enthusiasts, and unbelievably content (which I am convinced is a byproduct of not being inundated with thousands of advertisements telling them what they need to be happy and fulfilled). Absolutely, I’d do it all over again exactly the same way.
This post brought to you by Miss Hope who thrives and lives TV-free!