Friday, May 14, 2010

Past Deadline: The Battle Against Screen Time

Here’s something awesome – my daughter likes worms!

She also, I discovered one morning this week, likes to draw on the closet door in her bedroom, but that’s another story for another day.

I’m thrilled about Girlchild’s love for worms because it’s one more notch for nature in the battle against screen time. We have an ongoing struggle at our house between indoor and outdoor play. Now that the weather is better (if one discounts the freezing temperatures and frost warnings this week), it is a bit easier to pry the kids outside, but we’ve got far too much screen time going on.

We have no one to blame but ourselves that TV and computer use were established early. Now every time a new report comes along dictating how anything more than a millisecond per day of television viewing before the age of two will cause children’s heads to explode, make them grotesquely obese and turn them into knife-wielding zombies, I throw my hands up in the air.

“It’s too late!” I wail. “I have already ruined the children!”

But it’s not simple to just release kids into the great outdoors anymore. Where we live we have a nice backyard that adjoins Groom-boy’s parents’ backyard, which gives the kids lots of room to play. And that’s great, but sometimes they’re looking for more.

When my brother and I were growing up we lived on a quiet street with a nice backyard and we were really close to the river. When we weren’t riding our bikes throughout the neighbourhood we were exploring fields, woods and the riverbank – building forts and catching hapless frogs, tadpoles, turtles, snakes and fish to take home to show to Mom and Dad before returning them to their habitats.

Our kids aren’t quite old enough for this kind of freedom and the river is too far away. Even if they were, our neighbourhood is bordered by busy streets, which limits some of the bike-riding opportunities, and let’s not forget stranger danger. How far out of sight do I want to let my kids go?

I know these sorts of things have been raised before and I don’t want to be a “helicopter parent” hovering over my children and restricting freedoms. Maybe, the key is for us to do more to street proof our kids. I just don’t know.

What I do know for sure is this: the more time kids spend outside, exploring on their own, investigating stuff and problem solving – the better.

And so, even though Girlchild may have wrecked two of her spring dresses because they are splattered with some sort of magical vegetable garden mud with permanent staining power, I’m glad to see her making mud pies.

Despite the mess, I’m glad she, Boychild and two friends endeavoured to dig a giant hole in said as-yet-unplanted garden and, using a donated plastic sheet from a neighbour, filled it up to make a little pond. (Today’s lesson: breeding mosquitoes and West Nile virus.)

I’m also glad (sort of) that I’ve had to retrieve drowned insects and worms out of the washing machine because Girlchild liked them and wanted to keep them as pets, so she put them in her pocket. We’ve since had a little chat about animal husbandry.

I’m thrilled that on a recent rainy day when I dropped her off at school Girlchild ran around the playground picking up worms and showing them to all the girls, who soon got over their “Ewwwww, gross!” squeals and joined her efforts to move them from the pavement to the grass where it was safer.

Boychild, meanwhile, still talks about the time we kept an emaciated toad alive over the winter and released him in the garden the following spring. He loves fish, and he wants to see the spot near his school where I saw a lovely garter snake one day.

I really can’t explain how connections to nature, even small ones, seem to make a difference for kids, but it does. There’s just something about seeing up close how we live with other creatures that seems to get wheels turning.

Now, all I have to do is get rid of the screens, the traffic and the strangers and we’re set!

Published in The Perth Courier, May 13/10


mamabear said...

Yes, yes! Nature is magic!

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

We have that struggle, too. Luckily my son is always acting like such a turd, so he loses his screen time quite a bit. Sigh...