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How the Remote Controls Us

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Contributed By: Ellen Graham (6 Posts)

Music, Montessori and Making-Do: This Mom's Approach to Early Childhood Home Learning


Whether you agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics stance on TV viewing time or not, I think we can all agree that watching television is not the best way to encourage learning. That being said, I will admit that my son, Knox (2 1/2 years old), has watched his fair share of TV. I often find myself using it during times when I need him to be occupied so that I can accomplish other things. Whether it’s nursing a baby, doing housework, working on the computer, important phone calls or a number of other things, there are often short periods of time that I need to not be needed by him.

But the truth is, I like being needed. I like interacting with him as often as possible. I’m blatantly aware of the fact that someday, much sooner than I’d like, he won’t want to interact with me. He won’t need me at all. And, every time I answer “Not right now,” to the question “Mommy, can you play wif me?” my heart sinks and I want to ignore every other responsibility I have and focus solely on him. Obviously this is not a healthy way to raise a child, nor is it a possible way. Chores must be done and he and his sister must be cared for. My problem with TV is that it doesn’t care, it distracts. And not only does it distract us from each other, it distracts me from caring for him, it distracts him from whatever it is that his brain is telling him he should be doing, learning, figuring out.

All children are different, but Knox is one who has always found it difficult to play independently for any length of time. He enjoys quality time with me (or whomever will give it to him) more than anything else. As he gets older, he’s learning more and more how to play on his own, but he’s still very young and requires a good bit of attention from me throughout the day. Like many other parents, since I’ve had my second child, TV sometimes becomes my go-to tool for times like the ones I listed above but, unlike many other children I know, Knox’s behavior changes drastically when he is exposed to TV regularly. He turns into a zombie while watching it and is an impossible-to-please whiny mess afterwards (forget the tantrum that occurs when it’s time to turn it off!). This behavior, the simple knowledge that television is just not the answer, combined with expert advice from sources such as the AAP has driven me to discover better ways to handle the juggling act that is parenthood.

Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, author of the book “Understanding the Human Being” (1992), psychiatrist, pediatrician, and international director of the Montessori Assistants to Infancy courses at Association Montessori Internationale, puts it well when she says,”Television . . .is an anti-experience and an anti-knowledge machine because it separates individuals from themselves and from the environment and makes them believe they are living while they are only observing passively what other people decide to make them see.”

I think this sums it up perfectly and ideas like this help me to resist reaching for the remote control when I feel the temptation. Don’t misunderstand, I know there are quality television programs out there. I recognize that children can learn things from watching TV. My question, however, isn’t whether or not Knox learns from something, it’s how and what he learns, and more so the former.

Montessori learning is very a “hands-on” approach to education and it’s hard to deny the importance of this type of learning, especially in young children. For those who may not fully understand early childhood development, this is a difficult concept to grasp. I’ve heard questions like, “Who cares how they learned their colors? They’ll all know what ‘blue’ is when they get to Kindergarten, right?”

While most children do enter Kindergarten knowing their colors, the children who learned their colors because someone (parent, teacher, caregiver) provided them with the tools (and, different children may need different tools) to learn colors – those children are one step ahead of their peers. Those children have learned additional skills and values that a child who passively gained the same knowledge may not have learned. Those children have gained a basic understanding of how to learn. Those children will know what questions to ask in order to teach themselves the things they will need to know to be successful in life. Those children will have a sense of autonomy, pride and self-confidence that is gained when one accomplishes something through hard work and determination. Those children will have an appreciation for exploration and discovery, a thirst for further knowledge and, once they’ve tasted it, implanted in them is a hunger to continue to succeed. Those children will also have linked their knowledge to a real life experience with an individual who cares about their well-being, they will know they are valued and that their questions and answers are meaningful to someone. So, the answer to the question of whether or not it matters is YES. Blue is blue, but the weight that it can hold is beyond our scope.

My goal as a parent is to create that desire for success within my children (and, I believe it’s their job to define success), so now every time I reach for the remote control I hesitate and ask myself what I want him to learn and how I want him to learn it. That power button haunts me because I know how much power it truly holds (and how much it takes not to push it).

Is TV so engrained in our culture now that it’s become an important thing to expose our children to regardless of the negative effects it can have? Has TV added something to your child’s development in a positive way or do you agree that we should avoid it whenever possible and find other ways to occupy our children’s time? I would love to hear from others.

Stay tuned for activity ideas that enable us to forget about TV in our house.

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