Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Preparing the Environment

Some tips for preparing a low-media environment for a toddler

I shared the other day about how and why we’re trying to stay away from electronic media for our toddler. (In fact, I’m working on a whole series discussing this topic.)

I’ve found that an important part of maintaining a low-media lifestyle is preparing the home environment to encourage more beneficial play — namely, self-directed play that promotes movement, multi-sensory stimulation, concentration, and a sense of order, among other things. (You know, all the things that sitting in front of a screen doesn’t promote.)

Here are a few things that have worked for us.

(Note: if this post makes you feel anything but intrigued, feel free to move along. These are simply ideas meant to inspire reflection, dialogue, and perhaps some experimentation. I am not offering advice. As if I know enough about anything to offer advice!)

#1: Keep Screens Out of Sight and/or Inaccessible.

It’s pretty hard to watch a lot of TV if the TV isn’t anywhere to be seen.

We own a television, but it’s not on the main floor where we spend 98% of our time. Instead, we keep it in the living room in our basement. This means we have to make a special trip downstairs if we want to watch a DVD. During the summer we go down there about once a month, though in the winter we go down there a couple of times a week. The rest of the time, the TV stays out of sight and out of mind. Lydia doesn’t even know what a DVD is.

We don’t have a TV in our bedroom (which we share with our daughter) or anywhere else in the house.

We have one desktop computer, which we keep in our “office.” We have also made it a rule to keep smartphones off the table during meals.

If we didn’t have a separate floor on which to store the TV, we’d either give up the tube entirely (my vote) or keep it in a cabinet, only to be taken out for special viewing (my husband’s vote).

Since it’s not a part of our regular lives, Lydia rarely thinks to ask for TV. And I never think to offer it to her. When she’s driving me crazy, my only thoughts are generally

(a) whether or not Ben can take a turn with her outside;

(b) whether she can “help” me with what I’m doing;

(c) whether turning on some music will help [we rarely have recorded music playing]; or

(d) whether I can get her to play with her toys or play dough in the other room.

TV is not usually on either of our radar.

#2: Keep Toys on Open Shelves and in Open Baskets.

Montessori-inspired toy shelf

I’ve discussed this idea before. It works on the same principle as the above idea: your child will more likely to be drawn to the things she can see, and not the things she can’t see.

Instead of dumping all of Lydia’s playthings into a single toy box so that she has to dig through a tangled mess of plastic to find what she wants, we keep everything on low, accessible shelves. We agree with Montessori educators (and others) who argue that this makes play objects much more attractive and enticing.

Open shelves invite the child to engage with the toys that are in plain sight. They also encourage respect for each individual item, since nothing is stuck in the bottom of a dark box to be crushed and/or forgotten. They encourage organization of play materials, which helps make them more appealing.

When it comes to toys that consist of lots of small parts (like blocks, puzzles, etc), we keep them in open baskets or trays on the shelves. Lydia can see what’s inside them and choose accordingly. This helps cultivate a sense of order, and also invites play.

Open shelves and baskets also encourage independence, because your child can get things herself and move them to where she wants them. If Lydia wants to play with play dough, she can carry the play-dough tray to her table and start making “snakes” (her favourite play dough activity) without our help.

play dough snakes

#3: Store Books on Racks/Shelves That Expose the Covers

Again: kids will be drawn to what they can see.

Books are a great alternative to cartoons, but they’re a lot less appealing when they’re stuck on a shelf with only their skinny spines showing. So we’ve arranged them so that they’re easy to see:

I got this idea here. (We also considered making something like this or this, but my husband liked the above option best.) Ben purchased and installed rain gutters on our wall to hold Lydia’s books so that she can see the covers at a glance. With all of her favourite books spread out across her reading nook, enticing her to pick them up, I find that she spends a lot more time sitting and reading by herself. (Which translates into more time to myself. Score.)

toddler reading nookA nice touch is a comfy rug, chair or pillow to snuggle up on while your child reads. I like this sheepskin from Ikea.

So with her books and toys all set out in plain view, and the TV tucked out of sight, our daughter is encouraged to play and explore her environment rather than sit in front of a screen.

Next, I want to share some ideas for activities that also help keep our daughter busy and learning in the real world.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions for creating a low-media environment? What has worked for you?

*Previously, in this series: Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Why Bother?

*You might also like my post, 7 Cheap and Awesome Items to Add to Your Toddler’s Toy Shelf.

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  1. I wish I could find space to do shelves like that, so for now we keep baskets of books in just about every room (including the car!) and like I said before keeping the TV downstairs and out of the way has helped a lot so much. Between keeping books and toys accessible H. can occupy himself without my help for a much longer time than I was lead to think a 2 year old could – amazing I tell you.
    Molly recently posted..Bountiful PreservingMy Profile

    • I think there are lots of advantages to keeping books in baskets, too — they’re still way more accessible for little hands than a traditional shelf (and makes it easier to tidy up!). Plus, it breaks up your library into smaller amounts so he can find and focus on what he wants. There are lots of ways to make books accessible to little ones!

  2. These are some great ideas! They are making me rethink the amount of “stuff” that we currently have. I also love the idea of the TV on a separate floor. I never watch it, but I don’t like that the kids are becoming more attached to it. Hmmm… basement remodeling project maybe…. Thanks for sharing!
    Ruth Anne recently posted..“Offering it up”My Profile

  3. I love those shelves! For now we have books in a basket for OG to look through. I have noticed that she gets cranky when her toys are all a mess and can’t find anything to do on her own. I usually take that as a sign that i need to tidy up (with OG’s help where she can) and that usually helps her to see what is available to play with. great post!

  4. This is definitely something we want to do! At my shower a few weeks ago we played a game that involved me answering the question, “how many minutes of TV will your son be allowed to watch a day when he is four?” – to which I answered ZERO. :) Everyone thought that was weird, but whatever. Anyways, I really love the gutters for keeping all those beautiful books accessible and appealing! We’ll have to do that for our baby in a year or so.

  5. Christiana says:

    Constance has The Belly Button Book and Pride and Prejudice Counting Primer too. We keep her books on our coffee table but she prefers them on the floor. I get sort of giggly when I see her looking through a book on her own though, not bad for 13 months! I love the idea of a toy shelf.

  6. We only watch tv in the evening and weekends because I only watch it with my husband…but he watches it pretty much constantly when I’m home, which I find really annoying but oh well.

    The hardest part is that, because I work from home for the office I used to work full-time for (if that makes sense), I am on the computer all. the. time. Or, not all the time, but often, and unpredictably–if I get a call and need to do something RIGHT NOW, then I have to do it RIGHT NOW, I can’t wait for naptime, which is when I try to do the bulk of my work.

    We actually have our main computer hooked up to our tv screen and both out in the living room. I like this because I can work while T-Rex crawls around and plays and entertains himself, but I don’t like it because too often he just sees me staring at this screen. Also, one of his favorite toys is the computer mouse–not because he realizes it does anything (it’s a cordless mouse and I turn it off when he grabs it), but because he likes the clicks and the scroll wheel. He also likes banging on the (turned off) keyboard.

    Anyway, with the computer in the living room it’s easier to do a quick bit of necessary work while he entertains himself, which if I had it back in the office would be harder to do. But it makes it tempting to hop on and scroll through Facebook or cruise the intArwebs while he plays, too.

    And while I wish we could hide the tv in a different part of the house, my husband would have a tv in every room, so I feel like this is a victory.

  7. Where did you find that low orange chair? Adorable. Looking everywhere.


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