kids playing outside

Photo: Zurijeta/Shutterstock

There was a news story recently about how kids who watch too much TV can become antisocial adults. There’s no surprise there. Ask any mom and she'll tell you that an hour of “Dora” will give her an hour of quiet time (read: no talking, yelling or fighting with each other) in an otherwise chaotic home. My own kids, who are the very loudest kind of kids, turn into absolute mutes when the TV is turned on, so much so that it seems they don’t even hear me when I ask them the same question multiple times in a row. TV seems to have that effect on people.

There isn’t anybody out there who would disagree that, ideally, kids should get outside more, spend more time exploring nature and doing other things that will enrich their brains and lives. Let’s face it, though: There are times when moms and dads (myself included) use television as a baby sitter of sorts — a way to keep the kids occupied for an hour or two so that they can do the laundry, cook dinner, or pay the bills (or maybe even write the article that is two weeks late). So what’s a busy parent to do to help wean their kids off of television and onto healthier pursuits? Here are four ideas:

1. If you don’t already have one, create a library in your home, a quiet place where your kids can go to read books, or if they’re still too little to read, look at the pictures. Try to make it a cozy spot, with beanbags or little chairs and enough light to read comfortably. If you don’t go already, take them to the library every couple weeks to stock up on new books to read and look at. My kids relish the hour after we go to the library to pore over their new (albeit picture) books. When it’s library time at home, they all know where to go and what to do — and I have just enough time to whip up dinner.

2. Another great option? Set up an arts and crafts corner in your home where your kids can go to do their own self-directed projects. I’ve seen a 4-year-old spend one whole hour cutting and gluing strips of construction paper to each other. Fill a supply bin with pipe cleaners, pompoms, leftover toilet paper rolls, anything you can find. Then stand back and watch them create. I was never artsy myself … when I was a kid, I actually loved to fill out forms, so much so that my parents would ask for doubles at doctor’s offices so that I could fill them out at home. (Filling out forms was somehow so adult.)

3. One word: puzzles. Once your child hits 2 years old, she can usually attempt a very small wooden cutout puzzle. And the more your kids do puzzles, the more they will enjoy them. Puzzles can occupy kids for minutes, even hours at a time. My friend’s son once spent an entire Sunday figuring out his new 100-piece puzzle (granted, he took bathroom and snack breaks). Though they may be frustrating at the start, puzzles boost improve math skills. And that’s something “SpongeBob” can never do.

4. Finally, go outdoors. Lucky for me, we’ve got a screened-in patio that basically allows my kids to play outside while I sit right inside and work at my desk or on the couch and still keep an eye on them. But a fenced-in backyard or park can provide the same enjoyment for your kids. Outdoor exercise is key for your kid’s development. In fact, a recent study (performed by the Delaware Department of Education) mentioned in Parents magazine suggests that kids who get exercise just before an exam do better on their tests than kids who were at rest before the test. There’s also something to be said for fresh air, even when it’s not all that warm yet in some places in the United States. And if you can, get up and play with them, too. You’ll be doing both your kids and your body a favor.

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