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Taming the Television Monster

"All my three- and four-year-old want to do is watch TV. They fuss about having to turn off the TV at dinner and bedtime. They wouldn't even play with their friends yesterday because their favorite shows were on. I think I've let it get out of hand," lamented Robin.

I was impressed to hear Robin take responsibility for the situation. Television is an easy thing to let take over, with big screens and DVD players, surround sound, 100 cable stations and children's stations. Children are usually quiet when they are watching TV, so it can ease into our lives with no awareness. Video and computer games could be included in this discussion.

Children under the age of six want to be near you all the time it seems. Why fight it? Use it to your advantage. How? By setting up an activity center in your home. In a short time, the center will be more satisfying to your children than television.

I recommend that every home with small children have a child-sized table and chairs. Small shelves can be purchased inexpensively at an office supply or discount store. White melamine boards and glass blocks purchased from a building supply also make an attractive three-shelf unit for an activity center. The kitchen, dining room or family room are good areas to put your activity center.

After you have shelves, put six to ten activities on the shelves in baskets or trays. A crafty friend of mine used wallpaper to cover oatmeal and shoe boxes for their center. This is a sample of what might be on the shelves:

- A puzzle board
' A basket of duplo blocks
' A wooden bead stringing exercise
' A shoe lacing activity
' A basket of three or four books
' A basket of wooden blocks
' Button sorting in a muffin tin or egg carton

For four-year-olds and up, add art activities such as colored pencils and paper on a tray, homemade salt dough with a plastic place mat or a mosaic gluing activity with a glue stick and colored bits of paper.

Show your children how to use these things properly and how to return them to order on the shelves. You might want to change out items every week or two. Give the children about a week to get used to using the activities.

Next comes the challenging part. One night after the children are asleep, unplug all of the television sets. If you have any budding electrical engineers, you might have to turn the electricity to the television off at the breaker. When the children try to turn on the television the next day, they will "discover" that it doesn't work.

If your child has a television or computer in his or her room, consider removing it permanently. You can console them by saying, "Too bad. Why don't you get something from your activity shelf?" They might cry and complain, but remain cheerful and direct them to their activity center.

To optimize their learning, children need to use their hands and heads together. Granted, television can give good information, but watching it robs our children of hands-on activities that develop important skills such as drawing, building, sewing and reading, to only name a few.

Using an activity center, they will become active, imaginative learners instead of passive learners. I challenge you to turn off your television for one week. It takes a bit of planning, but I think you will discover something wonderful.

Robin marveled at the changes in her children, and they went more than a month without the television. Robin told me, "After a week, they didn't even ask about it." It could happen to you. Happy parenting!

(Helpful hint for world peace: If Dad has to watch the game, ask a friend to have him over.)

Favorite Salt Dough Recipe
1-cup flour
1/2-cup salt
1-cup water
1-tablespoon cream of tartar
1-tablespoon oil

Stir and cook the ingredients in a saucepan until rubbery. Knead slightly. Food coloring may be added. Cool and store in a plastic container.

Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at

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About the Author

Maren Schmidt is Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at

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