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.
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.
#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.)
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.