TV Diet Part II

June 1, 2010

Tracey Frost, founder of the New York-based community center, Citibabes, provides great guidelines to move your kids away from the screen and into the green this summer.

- Ignore the Whining: It’s important for parents to understand that for children, TV may always seem like the more fun alternative. There will probably be a lot of whining when you turn the TV off and plan a “real world” activity, but I promise: once the kids are engaged, they forget all about what they are “missing” on TV.

- Think like a TV Producer: Examine your child’s favorite TV shows from a television producer’s eye and pick out exciting elements of that show you might be able to turn into a real world activity. Do your children love action and superheroes? Find a comic book shop in your neighborhood and make a trip. Is it fantasy they enjoy? Go to your closet and play dress up or, better yet, bring some dress- up clothes to the park for an afternoon of make-believe. For instance, if your child is obsessed with Dora, pack a backpack for the day, draw a map, and go on your own “exploration” of your neighborhood or city. Sure, children love watching their favorite characters on TV, but they love playing their favorite characters even more.

- Live Performance: One of the joys of living in New York City is the sheer amount of live performance available to families, from puppet theater to Broadway shows, there’s something for every child out there. I strongly encourage families to seek out local community theater, dance or music and exposing children to the energy of live performance. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to watching something on TV and you can discuss the differences between the two when the curtain falls.

What are the best TV shows for kids? While Tracey didn’t want to name names, she says she selects shows by their level of participation such as those shows that invite kids to get up, dance and sing along. I can’t see my eleven-year-old getting jazzed to do that, but she gets a lot of exercise just going to school and back every day. A little vegging out in front of the tube on vacation and weekends is okay as long as it’s not the only way they enjoy the slow.

Here are some of Tracey’s favorite alternatives to TV viewing:

- Make your own TV show or Movie: Create your own characters, costumes, plot and scenery for a class movie. Let the kids hold the camera, yell “Action” and direct their friends for hours of excitement.

- Make your own Storybook: Whether it’s a story about a television character your child likes or something they’ve made up completely, have your child narrate while you document their words verbatim. Help them if they’re stuck by asking questions about the character and plot, but try to let the child create the bulk of the tale’s action. When they’re done, divide up the words on several pages for the child to illustrate like a real storybook.

- Scavenger Hunts: Scavenger hunts are great warm weather activities that get kids out of the house. We actually use them a lot in the club in our preschool class, whether we’re learning about Australian animals or going on an African safari – we hide stuffed animals around the club for children to find. You can take this game outside very easily, either in teams or one-on-one with your child. Variations include doing a photo scavenger hunt where you take pictures of things on your list or the more traditional version where children have to retrieve items or information from various neighbors or local businesses.

- American Idol Sing-off: Turn on the CD player, if you don’t have a karaoke machine, and let your kids belt it out. It’s fun to play dress up before the big “show”, maybe choreograph a few moves and, at the end, you can even record it and play back the video for all to watch before it’s time to go.

Art imitates life. It’s fun to have a blend of both as Tracey suggests. With her tips it truly is possible to embrace the power of slow without drooling in front of the tube for hours on end.

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Do Busy Moms Have Time?

April 1, 2010

After reading Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte’s time starvation manifesto, “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going,” I couldn’t resist but to reach out to her to share the power of slow. I felt an affinity for her and her struggles. It seemed like the right thing to do.

She sent a lovely response, agreeing to meet for coffee if I was every in the area. It just so happened I would be. So we sat down for a chat while I was in Washington, DC in mid-March. In our one-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground, which she wrote about in today’s Washington Post.

We talked at length about our lives as working mothers, the constant external pressure to keep it altogether, and our intense need to do this despite how taxing it can be. Her children are roughly the same age as mine (primary school); like me, she works in a deadline-driven environment, often from her home office; and, like many people, she struggles with the clock.

That is where our lives diverge.

Somewhere along the line, I consciously decided to disengage from clock combat. I began to look at time as a resource I could work with, not against. It was a subtle, yet profound paradigm shift that leaves me feeling calmer when life gets messy.

With two kids life is often chaotic and loud and odiferous. Just yesterday my son dropped a strawberry on my favorite pants, staining them a lovely red hue. We learned that berries really can stain. But we learned something else, too.

Boundaries matter.

This mind-shift of time-as-friend-not-foe happened because I saw how my children, back when they were age one and three, lived in a timeless state. To them the clock meant nothing. So why did it mean so much to me? What would happen if, for a moment, I stepped out of time altogether and walked more slowly to the car, to the grocery store, to the laundry room? What would occur if I took the risk of slow-poking it to work, thanking the fourteen-wheeler for giving cause to ease off the gas for the ten-minute ride?

Wonders occurred. My life occurred. I occurred.

Sitting in the trendy metro-area coffee shop with my new Post pal, I delighted in Brigid’s company as she admitted she delved into the procrastination chapter of The Power of Slow first. Life can be so overwhelming! Where to start! Working toward deadlines seems to help. It must as she manages to meet her timelines like everyone else. But along with the workaday routine, she is accompanied by a deep feeling of dread. Tell me really, she said to University of MD leisure studies professor John P. Robinson, where does my time go?

She even went on the Dr. Phil show to address this same issue.

It got me to thinking.

Where are we spending most of our time? If I were to calculate how much time I spent in my car, for instance, while in the US for just that week, I would say a good deal of our time is spent inside our vehicles. How can we cut down our personal traffic? Is it feasible?

Telecommuting arrangements are one way to navigate the time continuum. For moms who work without pay (read: full-time parenting), how can we carve out moments of time for ourselves? In a past essay, entitled “Minute Snatchers ~ How to Be a Writing Parent” I called time carving  minute-snatching. I’d snatch a few minutes during naptime to write. In fact, I wrote three books that way. It was fulfilling because it gave me a sense of control, something many moms struggle to regain in their lives dictated by so many external demands.

Having blocks of time seems like a luxury, yet it is possible. It really is about task management.

My kids, for instance, are home for a two-week Easter break right now. Like boomerangs that hover low to the ground, then high in the sky, they double sling-shot their way through the day. Sometimes, they make arrangements with their friends; at other times they are sitting on my lap, asking what they can do. Just when the pain point of their boredom gets unbearable, they come up with an idea. I call it skating on the fringe of creativity. They need those unstructured days to feel the timelessness of youth. Then there are moments in which they are in structured play, such as a two-day riding camp. It is about blending both to find the optimum experience.

Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don’t.

Think of it this way: when you fill a tablespoon with water, what takes longer? Running the water at full speed or raising the faucet handle just a tad to fill it once without spilling?

The other day my son ranted about how his jacket wouldn’t zip up as he hurridly struggled with the zipper.

“Sometimes slow is faster,” I said in my best mommy voice. He smirked as I showed him what I meant.

Today he proudly showed me he could zip it himself.

“Look, Mom!” he beamed. “There really is power in slow!”

Why yes, honey, I’d say there really is.

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