Tips for How to Turn Off the Television (Without a Fight)

old-691069_640One of the transitions my kids like the least when we move from summer mode to school mode is the return of strict limits on screen time.  We are barely one week in, and already our heads are spinning from the number of things on the calendar.  With all of the sports, extra curriculars and playdates, there just isn’t time for television during the week, so our house rule is no television until after school Friday.   We usually have a movie night on Friday, and weekend mornings are fair game for whatever screen time the kids want (if the hockey schedule allows!) and it’s back to no screen time on Sunday nights.

Even with these limits, and even with a whole morning of available screen time on weekends, we still have a hard time when it comes to turning off the tube.  The kids resist unplugging, and there’s inevitably a squabble once the television stops entertaining them.

So at CBC Kids’ Days, when I met with Dr. Lynn Oldershaw of CBC Kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her:

1. How can television teach kids how to regulate their emotions when the t.v. goes off?

2. How can we turn off the television without the meltdown that almost inevitably ensues?

Oldershaw pointed out that as part of their teaching of emotional intelligence, CBC Kids shows teach kids how to name their emotions, regulate their emotions and then problem solve to cope with their emotions.  Shows like The Adventures of Napkin Man and Poco teach strategies for how to manage anger or sadness, for example.  I’ve taken to getting Youngest to name the sense of aimlessness he feels when he unplugs.  At least if he’s able to recognize the pattern of feeling at a loss when the tv goes off, he can begin to find ways to overcome it.

Her advice for how to turn off the screens without a meltdown is to make empowerment the key.  Give your children choices.  The more control they feel they have, the less they will resist the limits you impose.  Have a family discussion about what is a reasonable amount of screen time and when it can happen.  Present them with choices before and after screen time:

“Do you want to watch television or play on the Wii?  It’s your choice how to spend your screen time.”

“Do you want to put in a movie or watch a television show?”

“Do you want to have lunch or go to the park?  It’s your choice what to do next.”

What do you do to help your kids unplug?  Is it a difficult transition? 


Online Learning versus Learning with Nature, by guest blogger Catherine Ross

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of the flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unconsciously to the soughing of the trees…”, wrote Valerie Andrews in her book called ‘A Passion for this Earth’.


Photo Courtesy: Philippe Put

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing games like hide and seek and blind man’s bluff with the kids in the neighborhood. We were a bunch of 8-10 kids who would gather in the biggest garden available (which was, luckily, ours) or the park every evening around tea-time and spend at least two hours together. We would either play one of the above mentioned games or simply make up new and innovative games of our own, squealing away as we chased each other. And the feeling of accomplishment which came with emerging as the winner in such games was unparalleled – we would strut around the house all evening, proudly proclaiming the same till our moms shut us up!

Another vivid memory is the annual treat of going out camping with dad for a weekend in our summer holidays. My younger brother and I used to start badgering him a week before the summer vacations actually began – eventually he would have to give in and then off we would go, with our sleeping bags in tow. One particular summer, dad was out of town for the entire duration of the holidays and we were particularly morose until our mum came up with a brilliant idea – we ended up camping with our tents and sleeping bags in our very own backyard!

However, if you ask my kids today what activities they enjoy the most, they would probably say it’s the PlayStation game ‘EyePet and Friends’, ‘Temple Run’ or some such online or mobile game. Playing outdoors would never figure in their list of activities at all, let alone favorite activities!

A study carried out in the USA titled – An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play – came up with the following major findings:

* Children in the USA today spend less time playing outdoors than the previous generation.

* The number of regular play activities is higher for indoor activities than outdoor ones (96 per cent kids watch television regularly, 81 per cent play online games every day).

* Obstacles to playing outdoors focus on the child’s increased use of television and computers at home.

Then comes the question: Does it matter? After all, one should change with the changing times. In the present age of tablets, smart phones, cable TV, Facebook and YouTube, is it actually important for today’s kids to know the difference between the daisy and the chrysanthemum, a fowl and a chicken?

My answer would veer somewhere between a yes and a no. I don’t think kids would be affected as adults if they don’t know the difference between two different species of plants; what would matter more is picking up qualities like problem-solving skills, cooperation and teamwork, which they could have picked up while getting dirty climbing trees and splashing through mud puddles with other kids of the same age group. These little joys of childhood learning are slowly but surely disappearing today.

I, being a homeschooling mum to my two kids, definitely feel we are better off with the internet at our disposal today. And though some parents may not agree with me, I do feel children can benefit from educational games, provided they are regularly monitored as well as used in moderation. One, they get a sense of accomplishment while clearing the different levels of a game. It spurs them on to try harder and inculcates self-confidence in them. Two, it does help to improve eye-hand coordination as well as gets them more tuned into how a computer works, which undoubtedly, is something one must know in this day and age. Also, certain games do test the reasoning abilities of the kids, thus sharpening their logical power.

However, outdoor activities in the lap of nature teach things which online learning cannot match. First of all, outdoor games are multi-sensory activities wherein you can touch, hear, see and smell things. It is an imaginative process, where there are no pre-conceived ideas and you can change rules to suit your needs. Interacting with other people in person develops a certain level of empathy and understanding between fellow beings plus improves communication skills, which is impossible in the case of online learning. And last but not the least, kids build up their immunity levels and keep themselves fit with all the running around. Would all this be possible if they were cooped indoors all day, with a touch screen tablet in their hands? No way!

So when Richard Louv writes: “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when our world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist…”, I completely agree with him. Because it is possible to strike a balance between the time our kids spend indoors and the time they spend outdoors, in order to make them have the best of both worlds.

After all, in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. That’s the fun of it. Don’t we owe it to our kids?

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at

Please Unplug My Kids

“Go ahead kids!  Choose a book!” she says enthusiastically to the class and then moves along to her next task.  A crash of 5 year olds rush to the stacks.  Some of them choose the first book their fingers touch, they clutch it to their chest and make their way to the checkout line.  Others gravitate towards chapter books that are clearly far beyond their reading level but enticed by the colourful covers nonetheless.  And then there are others, like my son, whom wanders aimlessly for ten minutes.  Unsure what it is they are looking for.

Suddenly, it all made sense to me.  Why my son was coming home week after week with these Star Wars early readers that were far beyond his reading ability and furthermore, to put it bluntly, poorly written mass-produced, merchandise.  Not exactly what I would qualify as a library book meant to promote reading, literacy and a love for books.

Before I read the article A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute by Matt Richtel I would have said that not having a curriculum based heavily with technology was archaic and even a bit “hippy-trippy”.  Something that “alternatives” embraced but definitely not me.

We are a screen family.  T.V.s abound (although not permitted to be on more than an hour a day), a lap top computer that travels from room to room with as much frequency as any person in our home and my iPhone is practically an appendage.  My kids don’t engage in a lot of “screen” time, but I certainly don’t discourage it or forbid it.

I had prepared to write an argument against this Waldorf ideology stating that it’s classist.  The article cites annual tuitions upwards of $24,000, which is nearly half of the average household income in Canada.  Not many people have the disposable income to send their child – let alone children – to such an educational institution.  Furthermore, I am going to hypothesize that a family that has the means to pay for such an education, also has the monies available to purchase the latest in technological gadgetry when the moment strikes them that their child is “ready”.

The reality for many families is that without technology made available in schools, thousands, if not millions, of children in Canada would be without the opportunity to use and learn technology that has become a mainstay in our society.

I am going to leave those arguments alone.  I still believe them to be true but after volunteering in my son’s class, and seeing first hand “library time”, I see things differently.

It seems that our public schools are so bogged down with curriculum expectations that many teachers feel burdened by the overwhelming amount of “stuff” to cover in a term.  Shortly after my son’s library time was over (about 15 minutes), the class moved on to computer-time, which was a student-directed 15 minutes of playtime on an approved game.

Sadly, I didn’t see these children learning either skill set: computer or library.  The teacher frantically moved from one station to the next, trying to log on users and fix snags (when there are 20 five-year-olds there are many!), sign-out the books and still be present with the class.  A juggling act not meant for the weak.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a phenomenal teacher-librarian.  Each class that passed through the doors was read to – from the littlest of JKs to the snarkiest of sixth graders.

She made it her mission to teach books to the kids.  She introduced the students to styles and genres, explained how to navigate a library and what else a favourite author had penned.  She was always quick to note which kids were falling into patterns and could encourage them to try something new.  This woman would scour the shelves to find books that would entice even the most reluctant readers.

What she did was something that no computer or machine can do.  She developed a strong foundation for those students to, if not love, appreciate reading and books.

A computer cannot teach our children the necessary skills of how to research, think critically and logically.  A computer may be able to hone them or further define them but without face-to-face communication skills, what do we have?  As Paul Thomas says in this article, “Teaching is a human experience…Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

While I am not so sure that I feel “computers and schools don’t mix”, I am much more open to the idea of further limiting screen times (yes, the Smart Board too) and encouraging even more creative thinking, movement and human interaction in our classrooms and our homes.