Screen time isn't all bad. In fact, it can be very good. With so much educational programming, accurate new forecasting, and reliable Hollywood entertainers, what could go wrong? Wait. What? Where is the educational programming, you ask? And Hollywood actors aren't reliable? Well, is that real news?
Here's the nitty gritty. Too much of anything is bad. Too much sunshine = a sunburn. Too many sunburns = skin cancer. Too much coffee = jitters and acidic stomach. Too much sugar = Type 2 Diabetes, or on a smaller scale of life threatening diseases, acne. Too much alcohol = poisoning. Too much water = electrolyte depletion. Too much salad = diarrhea. I'll stop there. You get the point.
But do we live out our days understanding when too much is too much? When you find yourself waiting in line for something, do you pull out your smart phone and text or check the status of the world on Facebook? When something incredible happens, do you celebrate with the people in the room with you or do you Tweet the news? Given the opportunity for a quiet night a home, do you spend it online, watching a movie, reading a book (a real book!) or playing board games?
The reality is that screens are distracting us from the beauty of the people around us. Sure, there are some scary people out there, but they would be less scary after a little face-to-face time with you.
I have stood in that line before while everyone around me was on their phone. As an experiment, I tried to strike up a conversation, but was told that it was rude to interrupt people while they are talking. "But you aren't talking." She held up her phone and showed me a texting conversation.
That's not talking. It's texting. And it's helpful and quick and fun, but it's faceless. It's without emotion (although emojis do help), and it's without tone quality.
When a child is born, we would never dream of showing it a screen shot of our affections. No! We snuggle and cuddle and talk. We feel their soft cheeks and smell their baby fine hair. They sense us through touch and sound and smell. It's the essence of human nature to desire a warm body with a nice voice and a soft touch.
We must set down the screens and walk away from the televisions to reintroduce ourselves and our children to real people and to real voices.
I write this not because my family is immune to the risks associated with screen-overloads – we have our phones and our social media lurking. But we have made a commitment to each other to not give up the face-to-face time over our phones. Some of my best nights with my children can be spent finding silly animal pictures on Pinterest. And other nights we share stories around a campfire, or stand in the kitchen late into the night sipping hot tea and just talking and listening to each other.
There is one rule I wish every family would follow: Set up one room in the house where kids can use their phones. The family room or the kitchen table. Never ever allow your children to take their phones into their bedrooms or the bathroom. That's the same as inviting the world and all it's icky-ness into the privacy of your child's room. If they break this rule, they lose their phone. It's simple. Painful, but simple.
We’ve been blessed to have children who are aware of the need to put the screens away. And we also have a child who tells time based on when his favorite TV shows are on. We are still seeking balance ;)
The Family Cook In
4 Hours or more
I admit - this has got to be my favorite event! In a day, our family plans a week or more worth of meals, we grocery shop together, come home and prepare all the meals at once, putting as many prepped meals in the freezer as possible. I'm listing this first because it truly makes or breaks a family on so many levels. Here's why:
There are many children in this world who expect food on command. They announce that they are hungry and parents direct them toward the snack cupboard (or the junk food drawer) and they eat to their heart's content. Or, the flip side is that the family doesn't have enough food and the child goes hungry. Despite which end of the spectrum your family lies, there is a happy meeting place right in the middle.
The Family Cook In.
This is an all-day event. I can't list it under a *Free event because there is grocery shopping involved, but if you are grocery shopping anyway and can make it a family event, it can be free. Yet absolutely life changing for all!
First, ask your family to list out their favorite meals. Meatloaf, friend chicken, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken noodle soup, a big salad with all the toppings--list it all out.
1.5 - before you head to the store, check your pantry and see what you already have.
Second, grab the grocery store ads. See what's on sale that would allow you to purchase a week's worth of food and remain at or under budget. Teaching a child a budget is invaluable information. Helping a child understand that food costs and spoiled food is like throwing money away will only assist them in saving money in their adulthood. When we do this--and we don't do it every week--the money that we don't spend on groceries is used in a fun way (more ideas on that later).
Third, go shopping! With your list in one hand and your week's worth of meals in the other, go have fun! Have the kids find the best price. Compare the bulk sizes to the smaller packaged foods and see which one is a better value for your money. Bring cash to but the groceries and have the children count out the money to the cashier. Believe me when I say that this act is the best finance teacher in the world! Handing over $20 bill after $20 bill is painful; especially when they know that if they had made a better meal plan, some of that money would have funded the trip to the zoo.
Fourth, prep the meals. Once you are home, unpack the groceries, putting away the pantry items, but keeping out the food you are going to prep. Cook all the meat. Dice the veggies. Prep salads in advance and store them in large gallon Ziplock bags with a paper towel inside to keep the lettuce from wilting too much. Put together the enchiladas, the lasagna, roll the meatballs. In the background, play the fun music. Enjoy the time together.
Fifth, put the prepared meals in the freezer with directions (written on paper and taped to the outside) on how to heat and serve. Keep one meal in the fridge for tomorrow night. Then, before you go to bed, take a meal out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to defrost. The next day, pop it in the crock pot of the oven.
Tips to make the Family Cook In even better:
Make a fun meal in the crock pot to eat when you get home from the grocery store. You will be hungry.
If your kids want to invite friends over on Family Cook In day, go for it! Share the fun! Spread the wisdom of planning ahead, of financial wisdom in meal planning, of good old family fun in the kitchen.
Try a new recipe once or twice a month. Keep it fresh and exciting. And, between you and me, keep a frozen pizza in the over just in case!
Be sure to have the correct types of food storage containers. Ziplock bags, freezer containers, foil, wax paper, and even canning jars can make the entire process better. Have what you need, wash what you can to re-use, and know that in the end, you will probably be saving money.
Meals that are easy to prep:
salads - dice the veggies, hard boil eggs, have a salad dressing selection.
Chicken and Rice
The Etiquette Night
Free - $$$
You've been a restaurant and you've seen *that family—the family with the children who sit up straight at the table, who use their napkin, who say please and thank you, the family with children who will eat their veggies without launching into an all-out battle.
We've also seen the *other family—with children who climb, poke, argue, throw and rage throughout the meal.
I'm sure you and I have families somewhere in between. But why not shoot for the first family? Why not demonstrate to our children (and remind ourselves) that manners are not just rules to follow, but a way of showing the people around us that we care about them? The way we act is a direct reflection of our environment and our emotional state. They don't always align, especially when we are children, but the focus of being a child is to learn how to be an amazing adult.
That's us, those of us reading this. We are amazing adults! Let's get out the good china and raise amazing children!
In high school, I was invited to join a friend's family at the Country Club. I'm not a Country Club person, but I'd like to think that when met with that invitation, I knew what to do. I didn't. And I was utterly embarrassed. The little things, like putting the napkin on my lap with the fold nearest my body...yeah, that's a rule. Not knowing that little rule made me feel a fool.
We make etiquette night a big deal at our house. I don't necessarily plan a nicer meal on these evenings, because setting the table is a big enough job, but we do go all out on manners and attire.
First, going from the meal plan you set up in the first activity, pull it out of the freezer and pop it in the oven. While it's cooking, get the whole family involved in setting the table. A great resource for this is Miss Manners DVD on Etiquette. She was a former Miss America contestant, a Southern Belle, and knows everything there is to know about setting a table and table etiquette. We watched the DVD and laughed at how serious she is about place settings, but the girl really does know her stuff! While we may have been the ones laughing, we certainly learned a great deal that we needed to learn.
Second, go put on a dress or a shirt and tie. Make it special. Don your best!
Third, put the food on the table, light a few candles, and play your favorite instrumental music in the background (we play George Winston Radio on Pandora).
Fourth, have fun with the rules! Enjoy the meal, the spills, the giggles. The more you enjoy it, the more your children will. Make the memories you will laugh about in twenty years!
A note for people in small homes: I have a friend who lives in a mansion. It’s beautiful and she can make any meal look like it’s fit for a King simply because of the beauty of her home and the money she has put into having such a showcase home. We live in a very small house. I mean small! Our dining room table isn’t just for meals, but it’s my homeschooling center, my writing desk, and when I have a sewing project, it holds the sewing machine. When the vegetable garden is producing, it holds baskets of tomatoes and potatoes and peas and beets. I share this to encourage those of us who have the smaller homes, with tables that serve a multitude of purposes. Etiquette night is the night when the table is completely cleared off. It’s the night when the ‘dining’ label is returned to that piece of furniture. It prepares for a meal eaten at a table that has flowers as a centerpiece instead of a stack of homeschool books topped with a jar of pencils. IT doesn’t matter what the house looks like around the table, it’s the discussion, the preparation, the fun in practicing the etiquette that makes this such a memorable tradition.
$ - $$
Will take some screen time research to find a place. Sorry. It just works out that way sometimes!
Remember the dances in high school after the football and basketball games? Me too. They are mostly great memories. Just thinking about those nights in the cafeteria with the music blasting my ears, the sweat dripping down my back, and the awkward moments when 'a slow song' came on and those of us without boyfriends ventured to the wall to wait.
Because we have decided to homeschool our children, they have no such experiences. They have something better. Church dances where the entire family attends the dance together. It might conjure images of teen torture (watching their parents dance...gasp!) but it's a family favorite. Some cities have a Renaissance Ball or a Regency Ball, a 1700-1890 period costume dance with live music (usually a piano and a flute), and a caller (someone who truly knows what they are doing and calls out the directions).
Let me just say this...I love the Regency Ball. The etiquette, the formality, the atmosphere of true gentlemen and real ladies (at least for the evening) is a thing to behold. The first year we went, I watched from the balcony while my three daughters attended with two friends. We had an odd number of people, so right away with the first dance, my middle daughter didn't have a dance partner. She went to the sidelines and sat down. Within a minute, a tall, Regency-dressed (picture crisp white shirt, knee-length pants, tall boots, a poufy-ruffle tie, you know, classy!) young man walked up to her, bowed, and asked, "Would you honor me with this dance?"
From the balcony, I fell in love with this young man - I mean young. Like, 18 years old. He was a true gentleman. He saw my daughter alone, knew that she was there to enjoy herself, and made her feel beautiful by asking her to dance. That, my friends, was worth the hunt for costumes and the cost of the tickets.
1940s Radio Night
When our parents or grandparents were children, they may not have had a television in the house. The probably had a radio, a tall, wood-sided, big knobbed radio. In the evening, families all over the country crowded around the radio and listened to the news, listened to fire-side chats with the President of the United States, listened to Bringing Up Father or The Shadow.
Parents and children alike would sit, side by side sharing that family warmth, each listening to the story, but each picturing their own images. That skill--creating story pictures in our mind--is an absolutely necessary skill for reading, which is why this is one of my favorite Screen Detox activities. Listening to stories, aside from being fun, is actually a highly educational skill.
When we read to our children, we are usually reading form picture books, so the task of creating the images from just words is somewhat limited. But when we read from novels to our children, we change the game. The images, the characters, the locations, the action, must all be generated within the mind of the listener. Much of the success of this, obviously, depends on the skill of the writer. Charles Dickens wrote his stories to be listened to by a skilled reader rather than read. He understood the human desire to listen.
As a reading teacher, I am often asked by parents of struggling students if listening to books on tape is cheating. If that is your concern, let me just share a few facts with you and you can make up your own mind.
Listening to audio stories
encourages the practice of listening skills and quiet concentration for extended lengths of time;
helps the listener understand complex language,
exposes new vocabulary,
is a perfect solution for the blind, those with dyslexia, and anyone in a situation where reading a book is difficult.
The nature of an audio book, the narrators voice inflection, tone, pace, and the vocabulary of the story all contribute to a development of sentence structure, a sense of narrative structure, and an understanding of language.
This is a gift for multi-taskers! Personally, I can knock books off my 'to-read' list while cooking, driving, or exercising.
Listening to poetry being read professionally breaks down the barrier of 'not getting' it. When read without the line break pauses, poetry is a left-right-upper cut of storytelling.
So now that you are completely pumped to listen to audio books, let's get back to the 1940s Radio Night...
Plan ahead with a trip to the library to borrow a great story. Or, download an old radio show from www.oldradioworld.com. Turn off all the lights except one. I don't know why we do this, but it adds to the theater feel of the program. We sometimes pop popcorn or make a special dessert or just snuggle up on the couch after the dinner dishes are finished. Put in the CD and push play.
Ta-da! No screen. Great stories. Listening skills being practice. Future strong readers being made. Well done, parents!