Though I’ll admit it was tempting, especially since I was often ill, to consider using the TV as a babysitter to keep the children quiet and passive, we didn’t. TV was mainly limited to an hour or two in the evenings. As parents we were conscious of our example, so we didn’t just turn on the TV every spare moment to amuse ourselves or just keep us company.
We tried also to set an example of spending our time doing good things, and included our children in these projects. Our children helped rewire the house, learned to cook, washed cars, planted gardens, and picked fruit. Besides projects, we provided regular work for them to do. We divided the upkeep of the house and yard and made assignments according to ability. Even toddlers were given small jobs to do.
As parents we tried not to do things for our children which they could do for themselves. Besides teaching our children responsibility, Mom had more time to spend with each child and wasn’t as tired and grouchy. Realizing that children could do much more if tools were their size, we got child sized brooms, shovels, rakes, etc.. We put sandwich making materials where the children could reach them. We put low hooks for coats and baskets for toys. Building a sense of competence and independence, we taught our children how to care for themselves: how to put on a coat, make a sandwich, put away toys, and how to clean up split milk.
Besides their daily responsibilities, we were always looking for fun activities. We
went on bike rides, picnics, hikes, swimming, walks, and played at the park. We went to the library, shopping, picnics, and to museums. Since they needed a referee, my husband played tag football and basketball games with the neighborhood children. We kept a net up in the back yard for badminton or volleyball, and had swings and made a sandbox for small children. We hung a heavy rope from our large walnut tree for swinging., and allowed them to dig a large hole for a fort in an unused corner of the back yard (it was fenced around for safety and filled in each fall). We tried to use whatever we could find; for instance, when they replaced the telephone poles, we made a climbing tower out of the old poles.
We provided our children with boards to build tree houses, wood and tools to build things, and old tires, beams, and a metal barrel for an obstacle course. We gave poles and old sheets for tent building, large packing boxes for play houses, and clothes for dressing up. For Christmas we spent our limited money on toys they could do things with such as art supplies, musical rhythm instruments, tools, blocks, balls, and roller blades.
Since our basement wasn’t entirely finished, we allowed the children to roller blade, ride trikes, play ping pong, and basketball (with a soft ball), play hide-and-go-seek, and build tents downstairs. In the winter, besides allowing active play inside, we encouraged play outside. We made sure our children had warm clothing, then sought ice skates, skis, ski boots, and poles at yard sales (during the summer) and at thrift stores. We put heavy plastic on part of the driveway with boards around the edge to make an ice skating rink. We took our children sledding and allowed them to make snow forts, slides, and toddler ski hills in the back yard.
On holidays we stressed doing things. The time before Christmas went quickly for we were all busy making gifts for each other, and on Christmas day we dressed up for our Nativity pageant. Near Easter we colored eggs, then took turns hiding and hunting them in our yard. We also celebrated the seasons with activities such as sprinklers and small swimming pools in the summer, and huge leaf piles for jumping into in the fall.
We also encouraged our children to earn money to buy themselves bikes (we paid half), and other things they wanted. They were allowed to pick and sell the cherries from our tree. They worked for neighbors by babysitting and doing small jobs. As they got older the jobs became larger, such as helping a neighbor build their home, or working as a cleaner at the local elementary school.
We encouraged our children’s interest in very active activities such as sports and dance, but we also supported anything which wasn’t just sitting and staring at a TV screen or computer monitor, whether it was playing a musical instrument, singing in a choir, or making a video.
Our resolve to use TV and computer play time only as rewards would have been very difficult if we were constantly forced to make exceptions because some show was on right then. Our solution was to encourage our children to choose good shows they wanted to watch during the week, then we recorded these shows for them. This gave us all a sense of control over what we watched, instead of just turning on the TV and being pulled into what ever was on. We were all more relaxed. If the show was on in the afternoon, or there was a large school project or some activity that night, we weren’t stressed, for we knew the show was being recorded and we could watch it later at our convenience. This practice also helped us all to be more discriminating in what we watched, and to be better parents. When a child needed to talk, we immediately stopped the video and gave them our full attention.
I don’t think our policy of limiting TV and computer play time would have worked if we hadn’t provided plenty of fun activities for them to do, and given them responsibilities to fulfill each day. I also think it was important for us to set an example of doing things, and that we did things with our children. All this wouldn’t have been enough though, if we hadn’t truly enjoyed children. Our yard was a place to grow children, not a showcase to impress the neighbors. Yes, we had strict safety, health, property, and kindness rules, but creativity and activity were encouraged and appreciated. Not only were our children fun and exciting when they were young, but we are now having the satisfaction of seeing them as active, problem solving adults.