The other day I asked a dear friend to help me on something. She is a businesswoman, new bride, home-school teacher to her two youngsters, and is pregnant with twins! Knowing that our moments together were going to be precious few, we went right to work. Pretty soon, when giggling erupted from the other room, my friend called out to her children, “That doesn’t sound like you two are doing your school work,” and her son sweetly answered, “I’m sorry, Mama, I got distracted!”
I began to notice what a wonderful environment this young “Mama” had created in her home. The household was quiet in a most wonderful way – a dog barking occasionally, the buzz of children working on their lessons or the laughing of children joking with one another, but no tv, radio, video game, phone – nothing extraneous to add to the busy day of this young family. It felt good being there. The children were calm, engaged in activity and engaging with us.
These two siblings had been in my class and Mom reminded me about how we had talked about TV in our pre-school community. The teachers have discouraged television viewing and asked the parents, in the Kindergarten Handbook, not to allow children to do any TV viewing in the morning before coming to school. The ones that watch TV in the morning are not able to attend to what we were doing in class. The children whose minds were free of these pre-conceived images created wonderful games out of their own imaginations, perhaps from an idea they heard from the story told by their teacher, or from something they saw on a walk the previous night. Since children at this young age learn primarily from imitation, when they watch tv they are compelled to act out what they view. If they come into class overflowing with images – karate chopping, singing pop songs, etc. it is hard for them to stop until they have “played it out”. It can be very disrupting in the group. My friend is a photographer and she said she noticed well what I was talking about now. Some children come to have their picture taken who are so open, relaxed and able to be present with her (and take good pictures). Children who have been watching tv are more fidgety and are not able to focus on what she is trying to do. It is interesting to hear that other professionals who work with many children can see this difference. One type of child is free to create; the other is not.
Even as a grownup, I am sensitive to the images used on the screen. I can only imagine how overpowering it can seem to a child. Over the years some of the parents have told me that they take their young child (4-6) to movies (Harry Potter or Indiana Jones type) with their older children and it does not bother them. I am sorry to say that these children have been desensitized. Sure, children can learn to adapt to whatever images that are brought to them, but at what cost? These are not images that they are ready for and it can shake their security in a world founded on “truth, beauty, and goodness” which is what we try to bring to children. I also think that we are getting used to our children being anxious and excited after they have spent time watching tv, movies or playing video games. That is not what we really want for them, so what do we do when we need a little time to accomplish something?
On days when children attend school, the day is full with getting ready in the morning, playing, getting dinner ready, homework for older children and getting ready for bed and the next day for the Littles. If the whole family pitches in to make the household run, it can be fun. The children love to learn at your side. But moments can be arranged also when parents can help each other out (divide and conquer), i.e. while Mom is finishing getting ready in the morning, Dad is helping the children (my husband use to play simple card games) or Mom takes the children for a walk after dinner while Dad finishes cleaning up after the meal. Be sure to get the children to bed early, sit back, smile (at each other if you are a couple) and say, “We did it again. We made family happen.”
little o photography
I know it takes longer, but it is so nice to let the children work right alongside what you are doing. They can sit on a bench close by and put some food in dishes for the family, or set the table. At night they can help you lay out clothes for the next day. They can pick out a book and put it on the chair for you to read. There is so much to do in a day, and if they can help, there is no time for passive entertainment. I know that puts the pressure on you to accomplish some things when the children are in bed, but if you get in a good rhythm and simplify, most things will get done
When my son first started at the Waldorf School, to encourage parents to try no TV, there were times when it was suggested that the parents had a week of no TV. It only takes a few days for children to stop mourning the old habits, especially if parents have planned a few fun things for the weekend – a hike, bonfire, building something, crafts, music, etc. It is a good idea to try this once in a while, even if you do choose to have a TV in the household. It reminds you to choose programming carefully and not to become a slave to your habits. Some families choose not to have TV, but most choose to do some viewing. If you have a TV in the household, it will always be a struggle to keep the viewing healthy. Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, called this period of time that we live in, the Age of the Conciousness Soul. We all struggle with being awake about our choices (with consciousness). It is hard, but we don’t want to be asleep about choices that affect our children, “It was good enough for me when I was a kid.” or “I watched tv all the time and see how good I turned out.”
Most families of young children who have chosen to have limited tv, find that there are “those” moments when you want to make sure your child is occupied. Some of the young Moms have told me about simple videos they have used. Back in the day, there were some beautiful Beatrix Potter videos (30 min.) and recently I saw them at Costco. The pictures are shot as stills and are not as damaging to the eyes. Some Waldorf parents are using stories to listen to (not to view) that are told by a Waldorf teacher recorded on a CD. You can download a sample: www.sparklestories.com. I listened and it sounded lovely. The stories are new every week, some for younger (Martin and Sylvie, Fairy Stories) and some for older children. Used sparingly, these could be a good resource. Once when I went on a trip when my son was about 4, I recorded my own voice telling stories, singing songs and reciting verses. My son loved that, but never forget that all of these ideas are second best to be sitting next to you, stroking your arm dreamily, while you tell them a story.
So why all this talk about tv viewing (video games, etc.)? In this world where we are all using technology and I see babies scrolling their Moms’ phone to see the pictures, we need to stand back, and ask, “How much of this do I want in our family home?” Teachers are seeing more and more children having trouble sitting and focusing. Eye tracking is often affected by screen viewing as well. Young nervous systems don’t need those lights flashing in their eyes (constant) and anything they view on tv could be better taught by reading, going to the mountains, the zoo, and living with smart parents that interact with them.
So you have to ask yourself, “How much is too much?” There are no programs that are vital for children to watch, so if you decide to allow the children to watch, be discerning for the health of your child. Does it seem like I’m being hard on you? Good. My children’s teachers were hard on me around TV, and I was glad. It helped remind me what I needed to do to keep my children healthy. I did the best that I could which was far from perfect. One never hears a parent say, “I wish I had let my children watch more television” but often hears a parent say, “I wish I had known how damaging too much viewing could be.” I always appreciated the “reminding” because it is a struggle to keep on task in this area. So many people around us (family, friends) watch copious amounts of television and don’t realize what it is that is “streaming” into the children. After a summer of being carefree and outside, now we require courage as we go within and make important choices for our lives. I encourage each of you to get online and research the effects of too much media on children. It is a struggle to limit media, but it will pay off when your children are industrious, well rounded, and are not a slave to “what’s on next?”
Coming Soon: Dads, Glorious Dads!
Most of the fabulous pictures in my blog have been taken by Brianna Doby of little o photography, a former Waldorf parent and Mama to two beautiful children. You can see her picture here. Brianna is a professional photographer, but some of these photos were taken in my classroom. She just quietly slips in, making friends with the children, chatting with them, showing them her camera, waiting for “those” special moments, and the ultimate outcome is precious pictures of relaxed and happy children. Look at her website, little o photography for more information.