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Screen time-free entertainment for young children is hard. 

The Cable TV shows, Youtube and Netflix are just three of the main sources for our screen-time entertainment with three boys under 6 years old. Things haven’t gotten much easier as we’ve transitioned into the older-toddler years. Now it is 2, 4 and almost-6 that brings a whole lot of physical, wild, unbridled energy in and outside of the house. SCREENS GIVE ME A BREAK! 

But, recent research shows us how we are teaching our children to never be calm, bored or less-than entertained. We are giving them toys, activities then screens to keep them always stimulated and totally enthralled. I’ve been reaching for less screen time here, and I’ve found some tips and tricks that really help. It isn’t as hands-off as I would like, and the house seems to be messier because I can’t get them to sit still long-enough to clean, but I feel better about their emotional and mental development. I am going to go over my top 5 tips to help you reduce screen time dramatically. We literally only have the TV (no phones (very rarely my phone), ipads, game stations etc. 

First Tip: NEW BOOKS 

We recently tried the Prime Book Box with Amazon, and we were really happy. I struggle with Library books. The local library is currently calling me to pay for a book I SWEAR I will find…unless it is like the last book I paid for that I never found and gave up looking. We have a black-hole for books, so the Library is fairly stressful for me. The Prime Book Box offers new books each month based off gender and age.

Prime Book Box is a subscription program (exclusively for Prime members) and is ideal for readers, and future book lovers, from baby to 12 years old.  They come with your child’s name on it, and it is really fun to get personal mail. Each box contains delightful hardcover children’s books to inspire a love of reading in kids. Now $19.99 per box, Prime members can save up to 40% off List Price. I love a good deal. 

What works really well for my boys is reading the books to them, but also giving them time to just look at the books. Once they know the stories, I can set them up with “reading” time, where they just look at their books. They study the illustrations. What I love in particular about the Prime Book Box is that you have some choice over the books. Once you tell Amazon about your little reader, they curate books based on their editor’s choices. You can choose if you want books delivered monthly, every 2 months or every three months. Because I have 3 boys, I like monthly. You can preview and tailor the books to ensure they go over well, or have it be a complete surprise. Books are a LARGE part of our entertainment without screens. We read together every night, and I stick to my guns with the no TV. 

Give the gift of reading this holiday season with Prime Book Box, a subscription service that delivers curated, hardcover children’s books every 1, 2, or 3 months.

Second Tip: Audio Stories

I take my boys running with me in the morning, which is our routine before I send one to preschool and one in home school. This means they are stuck in the stroller for around 45 minutes depending on how many stops we have to make. It is VERY tempting to let them just sit quietly and watch a show, BUT we LISTEN to stories instead. I am using technology, yes, but my children are not watching a screen, and here is why this is important: they are hearing the story and creating the images with their imagination. This is REALLY good for their brain. We listen to things like Pete The Cat, recently The Gingerbread Man has been on repeat, and sometimes I will let them listen to a show like Peter Rabbit. I let them listen because it is forcing their brains to create the images. Imaginations need practice and work. By encouraging them to listen to the story, they are working their imagination muscle, which becomes stronger for more play through the rest of the day. I kid you not, they play very well after our stroller time. Their imaginations are fired up and working well, so when we get home they run off to play the morning away. You can have your children listen to stories at home, for quiet time, and while you are making dinner, cleaning or getting work done without the guilt of more screen time. 

Third Tip: Fun, Fun Music! 

This is another way to use technology without adding more screen time. We listen to really fun songs like Ghostbusters, Who Let The Dogs Out, Michael Jackson, What Does the Fox Say and some of their favorites from Moana. Kids really like hearing the same songs over and over again, and they really enjoy the music. I use this mostly in our stroller time in the mornings, but also in the car, during the hard hours before bed time and just to put us out of a funk. It isn’t my first choice for times when I just need some quiet, but it does help keep them from whining and fighting in the car or stroller. If you can join in and dance, even better! Music is also my favorite choice when I am cleaning because we all can use the extra boost in mood! 

Fourth Tip: Chores and Jobs

Offering chores and jobs as an alternative to boredom works really well. My kids don’t like to clean and do chores (though they have to a lot), so when that is the only alternative to playing with their toys, it makes it easier for them to keep playing. I will say something like, “If you are done playing, I have a lot of work I need your help with.” They know that work is not going to be fun, so they jump on another game or toy right away. I literally just never offer screens as an option when they are tired or bored. I make the alternative to playing something not-so-fun, so it really keeps things into perspective. If they start causing trouble because they are bored, or their brains are tired of playing I offer a snack, a book and help them come up with new ideas of games to play. Kids get tired of being creative, just like we do as adults, but it is those times they need to learn to regulate themselves, regroup and function without the help of technology. They will learn to regulate boredom and impatience, and get better at is as the weeks go on. This is hard as a parent at first because they can get destructive, pick fights with siblings and be plain difficult. Just push through, ignore their bad behavior and offer alternative game and play ideas. If all else fails, my boys have to sit quietly in their room, by themselves, where they usually get themselves together and come out happier. 

Fifth Tip: Use Screen Time As A Reward

By limiting screen time, it is really exciting to watch a movie or a show. And, I offer them two times a day they can watch TV. Some time right before nap if they behave and eat their lunch (I have a hard time getting mine to sit and eat!). I always have some work I have to do in the last hour before bed, so I will let them watch a movie (usually about 45 min) while I do that, BUT if they misbehave, don’t help me pick up toys, or fight with their brothers, this gets taken away. I do not like to take it away because I need some time at my laptop before bed to catch up on things, but I will if their behavior warrants it. This is really a GREAT motivator for good behavior. They EARN their screen time rather than always having it available. I believe in children learning how to earn things they want, and this system works really well for mine because they really love to watch movies and TV. 

Screen time isn’t all bad. There are some benefits to games and apps for learning that can’t be matched. Kids can learn life lessons, resonate with characters and even get ideas for playing that they never would’ve thought of on their own. We watched Jurrasic World (I know a little mature, I didn’t realize it was PG13 because I forgot about ratings!!), but we had a blast playing dinosaurs in the yard after. We never would’ve had that much fun with out seeing the movie first (and I kinda liked the movie). 

The problem for us today is what is called cumulative screen time. We find ourselves watching TV, then at our laptops, then on our phones, then back on the TV. This is more of an adult problem then children, but the concept is still the same. The TV time, plus the ipad time, plus the video game time adds up to a lot. Finding ways to keep children happy and entertained outside of screens is a very valuable practice, and it encourages the imagination to grow bigger and stronger. 

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