We will never be a TV free family. We enjoy our televisions and our gaming consoles here. We also have smart phones, tablets, and rokus. These are modern luxuries that we happen to love. It is all about keeping things in perspective though. Sometimes we need to do a technology cleanse (or detox) if usage is getting out of hand. We also need to remember that life should be experienced with all of our senses and not just viewed with a screen.
Kids may need assistance from mom and dad with this issue because they aren’t known for their abilities to self regulate (yet). This is an issue that could have profoundly positive effects on your family. Do you think you could resolve to live without television or computer games for a week? An entire month? Okay maybe smaller… how about large block of time each day when no screens are allowed? You decide. The computer would be used for work purposes only (homework, jobs, and so forth) but not entertainment. And you couldn’t cheat by watching videos on the computer!
Do you think you could do it? If you’d like to take this plunge, here are some ideas on how to get started, and some of the effects your family will likely enjoy.
1. Hold each other accountable. If you’re going to do this, no one can cheat. Make sure everyone is on board, however reluctantly. Even if your kids do not want to go with it, as parents you need to make sure you stick to the resolution and keep the television and computer games off.
2. Focus on the positive – emphasize all the things you can do now. Has someone in your family always wanted to learn to ride a bike, explore a particular natural area, or view the stars? Now that you are unplugging for the month, take advantage of the free time and do those things. Point out that you are doing this-and-such activity (perhaps watching a meteor shower) because you aren’t watching TV or playing computer games.
3. Make plans to fill the void. Replace computer games with board games and card games. “Parlor games” are also fun, like charades. I like educational games like Wildcraft or cooperative games that each us to work together to meet a goal.
4. Read books as a family. In the days before visual and auditory media, families would take turns reading aloud to the family. Try Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or classics such as the Little House books.
5. Family members can learn to play an instrument, and have family “concerts” or recitals. Other skills that can be showcased in this way include drawing, painting, singing, sewing, and other crafts. Think how much your family will learn about each other this way.
6. Have a cookout. In fact, cooking outside saves a lot of energy, and you can engage in some really interesting energy projects this way. You don’t have to use fire to cook out, although that’s fine if your property allows. But you can also make a solar oven with aluminum foil and cardboard boxes. Let your kids build an outdoor oven like this and cook various foods.
7. Plan outdoor activities. There are concerns today that kids are not getting enough of the great outdoors. Go on hikes and explore the landscape. Use field guides to identify birds, plants, rocks, and other interesting things in your area. Look for the locations of natural springs and local waterfalls. Hunt for covered bridges in your area. Whether it’s cold or warm weather, there is something fascinating to discover in nature.
By the end of the month (or week) you probably won’t even miss the television or computer games. And your family will have a greater appreciation for each other and for what it is to live life and not just watch it.
How many times have you been frustrated with your child for allowing their toys to be strewn all over the household? How many times have you found your child’s toys in your way when you were in a hurry or trying to accomplish some household task? How many times this month have you had to argue with a child about the disaster area that is their bedroom?
Toy clutter is a big problem in the typical American household. We live in a society of excess and amassing huge quantities of toys is just part of the lifestyle. Gone are the days when you got one toy for Christmas (ie that shiny red bicycle). Now kids can pick up a dozen or more new toys and gadgets during the holidays and the toy consumption really goes on all year long. I know well how easy it is to fall into the habit of excessive toy buying. I was raised with lots and lots of toys and so when I had my first child I thought that was what you did…shower your child with toys. My oldest child’s bedroom would get so messy that he would not be able to handle it himself. It required a parent (or two) to “gut it” frequently and make it livable again.
All of the this changed though with my second and third children. We decided to downsize our entire life so that my husband could get a different job, one that would mean we actually would see him on a daily basis. This came with a huge cut in pay but I was ready and willing to meet that challenge because I wanted our family to live more intentionally. I also wanted to stop the cycle of excessive spending and rampant consumerism. We moved from a 6000 square foot house to one that was 1000 square feet. We started living with a mind to minimalism and one of the first areas we tackled was toys.
Nowadays we have very few toys in the household and with the exception of Legos, none of them are new. If we buy toys we buy them used at thrift stores and yard sales. We also purge frequently (donating them) and allowing only so many toys. This means I almost never have to tell my kids to pick up their toys because they just don’t have that many. There were some pains adapting to this in the beginning, especially for the child who grew up with an excess of toys but my youngest two don’t know any other way.
Here are some simple ways you can go minimalist and get rid of the of toy clutter…
Stop buying toys!
This is the easiest and most sensible first step. I am sure your pocketbook will be eternally grateful too. Kids don’t need all those toys and in fact I suggest reading the book Simplicity Parenting. It was written by a therapist who recognized that many modern day kids have post traumatic stress disorders due to their their hectic schedules and overabundance of “stuff”. One statistic that was horrifying to read is that the average American child has around 150 toys. That is ridiculous!
In my home we buy new “things” for the kids for holidays and birthdays only. Now this is not to say that we can’t surprise them with something special just because but in general they only get toys or new possessions (except clothing) during special occasions. When we go to a store my kids know they will not be stopping in the toy isle and they will not be leaving with anything. I think it provides them with an understanding that we can go into stores and buy the things we need only.
Create a commercial free zone
One of the ways in which our children are influenced into consumerism and senseless buying and spending is via television commercials. You can avoid this by changing the way they watch TV or even going TV Free. We have opted to not allow our kids to watch regular TV and mainstream cartoon channels. Though we don’t tell them they can’t, we just set it up so they only have the options we endorse. We stream and/or rent content via Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Prime. They get to watch shows they like without commercials so they are often unaware of the latest, greatest toys. We also have basic cable but almost never watch it directly. We DVR anything we want to watch from there and use the fast forward button!
Purge the toys often
Make five piles and label them as follows:
1. Toss: for toys which have been damaged, broken, missing or worn out
2. Keep: for toys still in use and well loved
3. Sell: for toys that were expensive and for which you feel that you will still be able to get something back from them by selling them.
4. Giveaway: this pile is meant for those toys which are still good but have lived their life and are no longer interesting for your children.
5. Save: for any toys you feel you should save for subsequent children.
Set aside one room as a toy-free zone
This room should be the first room you see when you come home or the room you spend the most time in to relax and unwind. You should help your children understand that this room is only for relaxation and not a room for toy clutter. If they bring a toy into this room then it also needs to leave at the end of that day or when they leave the room to spend time somewhere else.
I used to have a toy box in our main room (or family room) so that my kids would have easy access to some of their favorite toys and so they could be put away quicker and with less of a battle. Awhile back though I decided I just didn’t want to see any toys in the common areas of our home period and I got rid of it. Toys are not permitted anymore…they have to be kept upstairs in the child’s bedroom or actually in their hand being played with if they are in the common areas like the family room or kitchen. This is non negotiable.
Limit the selection
When you go about limiting the selection of the toys and rotating them in and out of the play environment on a scheduled basis it reduces stress for the whole family. Moreover, it also keeps the children from becoming overwhelmed by all their options. Old toys become new again. You simply need to have a method to store the toys (out of sight) so that you can rotate them every couple of months without children getting into them.
Its best to involve your children in the process of donating old toys. When you involve your children in the art of donating toys it will be able to teach them empathy especially when you remind them that there are many children who don’t have very many toys, if any. Donating will teach your children the joy of sharing, kindness and generosity. At the same time you will also be able to get rid of toy clutter.
We can conclude by saying that what children really want is us. They also want and need fun experiences. This is why it is necessary to spend some quality time together as a family and not buy a bunch of toys so that they can spend their time entertaining themselves. Enjoy them. One of the most remarkable gifts which you can give your children is the gift of your presence. When you go about looking for something to give them, keep this in mind.
Recommended Reading: Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home (Only $2.99 for the Kindle version!)
Playgrounds are where learning and enjoyment meet together. As parents, you only want what’s best for your children. Luckily, you can also choose what’s best for the planet.
Here are some tips in choosing an eco-friendly playground for your kids to enjoy:
Safety first. More than anything, safety is of utmost priority. With much vigor the children have when playing, accidents are likely to happen. Therefore, look for playground surfaces that are good shock-absorbers. A great example of this is recycled rubber mulch which is processed from recycled tires and is non-toxic and inflammable. They’re known to provide twice the amount of protection (a 6-inch thick filling could protect a fall height of up to 12 ft.) and due to their strong odor and texture, do not invite insects and animals (unlike sand which animals use as litter box). Plus, because of its density, it holds your playground in safety. Durability can last up to 10 years. Beware, though, some recycled rubber when not properly cleaned may contain pieces of wire harmful for children. Also, mulch pieces that are too small may present a choking hazard. Rubber mulch may cost twice as much and requires constant maintenance. On the upside, you can save up on drainage maintenance because of its excellent drainage system.
Choose the most qualified materials. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the base of recycled plastic which can be used in manufacturing recycled playground equipment. Most environmental playground companies make recyclable plastic lumbers (RPL) using in-house lumber extrusion and make use of post-consumer recycled materials such as plastic milk and water bottles. Unlike other conventional materials, RPL does not rust, splinter, break down, nor does it need any staining-maintenance or waterproofing. Combining it with strengtheners and UV stabilizers results to incredibly high tensile and compressive strengths. Such product result is known to be extremely sturdy with the recycled plastic even lasting to 100 years! That’s guaranteed to be enjoyed by your children, your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s children!
Health is wealth. Best avoid playgrounds which consist of plastic containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) as
“…(A)dded stabilizers, plasticizers and ﬁllers can leach and are potent hormone disrupters when ingested from little hands.”
Avoid lumbers which have been pressure-treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), arsenic being a carcinogen linked to immune and cardiovascular diseases. RPL coloring is solid throughout unlike painted metal or steel in other playgrounds. Note that paint may harbour lead and ingested lead can cause damage in the brain and nervous system.
Look for something that’s easy to maintain. Should someone write or vandalize on your playground, here’s something to smile about: RPL resists graffiti. It’s protected from paint and ink too! Meanwhile for some recycled playgrounds faced with vandalizing dilemmas, it’s as easy as using sandpaper for buffing it out. Also, recycled playgrounds usually only require water and soap for cleaning. That’s hours and money saved on cleaning and maintenance!
Choose companies that are dedicated to quality and their cause. When looking for manufacturers, choose those that are dedicated to their craft with years of experience and consumer satisfaction to back it up. These are the guys you can rely on in terms of quality and integrity. Make sure you pick out those who are dedicated to their environmental cause, not using it for sole profit or advertising. You can bet these are the people who make sure they lessen their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through HDPE recycling. Just to give you an idea, today’s HDPE recycling
“…saves 23.7 trillion British thermal units (BTUs) of energy – equivalent to the amount of energy consumed in one year by 125,000 American households. This savings equates to avoidance of 659,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide – the emissions equivalent of 75 million gallons of gasoline.”
Fortunately, there are those who make sure they recycle the scraps they generate during production and use them to make packaging materials, for example, or have it sorted out for recycling elsewhere. I highly recommend those companies who use RPL in their playgrounds since RPL saves trees from being cut down for lumber and according to a report, a typical playground using RPL would’ve utilized about 31,500 to 63,000 water and milk containers. That’s A LOT of plastic saved from being dumped to landfills.
So before purchasing that kick-ass playground for your children, think about where it places (according to the above-listed tips). While putting your children’s safety ahead of everything else is perfectly reasonable, it wouldn’t hurt to think about the planet’s safety as well, once in a while.
Emily Harper is a busy housewife, and is also an active member of the neighborhood watch. She keeps her readers up to date with issues of sustainability and other home matters through writing. She lives with her husband, two sons and a cat named Theodore. To know more please check out her blog, SecurityOcean.Com.
I love, love love Zulily. Yes I have said it before. It’s still true. How else can I get great stuff for a fraction of the cost? AND because they have so many eco options I don’t have to feel guilty. After browsing today I formulated my wishlist for the summer months using all the stuff they have available right now. It changes weekly but it always good stuff. I just have to remember that for every new thing I buy, something old has to go!
Here is my Zulily Wishlist for the week. It centers around keeping the kids occupied during the summer and joining them in the fun if at all possible!
Bird Bingo – They have tons of educational games on sale and my kids would love most of them. Yet as much as my son would adore the Dinosaur Bingo I think the Bird Bingo is more practical for family play. Plus I really need to brush up on my bird names and learn to identify them. I have an irrational fear of birds, always have, so my lack of knowledge probably stems from that. I always say though that I wish I could identify more trees and birds. This game would help with that!
Taj Mahal & Maya Pyramid 3-D Puzzle Set – My oldest son loves puzzles and he loves travel. He has never had a 3-D puzzle though so I think he would get a real kick out of this. I would also love to put this together so maybe I need to get the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Statue of Liberty Kit or maybe the St. Peter’s Basilica 3-D puzzle.
Wildflower Bingo – Hours and hours of Bingo fun. After we learn about the birds we can learn about the wildflowers. Horsemint, Columbines, Firewheel, Antelope Horns, Eryngo…we will learn to identify them all. We already have a game that helps us identify herbs so this is right up our alley.
Blue Picnic Table Set – Okay so it is possible that this one is mostly for me but I am not feeling guilty about that. We want a small table and chairs set or a small picnic table that can be folded and put away for winter months. This fits the bill. It is made of aluminum and not plastic so that is a bonus too. If I had this I could send my kids outside to paint and craft, play games with their friends, and we could all eat messy summer foods like watermelon and barbecue ribs outside where the clean up can be done by turning on the hose. Now that’s what I am talking about.
Junior Bean Bag Toss Game – A great outdoor game for kids and I love to send my kids outside to play in the summer. I do work from home after all and it is a big adjustment for me to have a bunch of noise and chatter during my work hours. Bored with the trampoline eh? Not in the mood to hit the pool for the 5th time today? Break out the bean bag toss game. Gimme 10 minutes to finish this project and I will join you.
Looking forward to summer yet???
I feel it is imperative for me to share every sale or product that comes our way from the company Learning Herbs. Last month or so it was their new book series for kids called Herb Fairies but the gem I have been going on about for years now is called WildCraft. I have long been a fan of this herbal learning board game (read a full review here). We have two of them actually, one for our home and one for grandma’s house. I am thoroughly convinced this is the coolest game ever… no seriously… coolest EVER. This purchase was well worth the money, even if it was a hair pricier than CandyLand.
CandyLand is obviously centered around candy. I will pass thank you. Wildcraft is all about real, valuable knowledge and skills that are quickly getting lost in the shuffle. It is a gorgeous game that teaches the players all about herbs and how useful and helpful they are. The players are on a mission from grandma to go and pick wild Huckleberries. They have to go up and down a long winding path to get them and along the way they find herbs (plants cards) and they they even run into some trouble (trouble cards). Some of the trouble you find would include sore muscles, an earache, a toothache, a hornet sting, splinters, and much more. But thanks to the herbs you have been collecting along the way you may just have an herbal remedy to help you. Step by step along the game board kids (and parents) learn about various herbs and their practical applications in health and healing. I know I want my kids to think of nature and natural remedies BEFORE they think to grab a pill bottle and this game is a great introduction to that.
Okay, rave reviews aside this game typically only goes on sale once a year, during the holidays. But for the next couple days (until May 30th) you can get it for 50% off. That means you can secure one for less than $20. To make the deal even sweeter they are also giving buyers access to a cool webinar on Learning Herbs with Aviva Romm, M.D. called Outdoor Kids: Herbal First Aid for Summer. Plus:
* Dandelion Activity eBook
* Herbal Roots Zine Kids Activity Magazine
* The Herbal Gifts eBook. (Saves you more in gifts than you spend on the game.)
* Mentoring Kids & Nature Connection with Jon Young (mp3)
* Herb Fairies Activity Pack, with Book One and activity materials