The Return of Imagination
Television robs children of imagination and creative thinking. That’s not just a theory, I know this. I have seen it in action. That doesn’t mean that I am going to ban or that I support an all-out ban (or war) on TV. But that also doesn’t mean that I am blind to the differences in my children based on less or more TV-viewing.
When the kids were little, we severely limited their television time. As LittleBoyBlue hit a year or so, he watched A Bug’s Life and fell in lurve. He had to watch it at least once a day. And in the morning. And at nap time. And in the afternoon. And at bedtime. So, we started letting him. Bad move? Maybe. But he didn’t ‘sit in front of the TV and stare at it’ watch it, it was just on in the background while he went about his daily routine. I was sort of fine with that. Then I was pregnant and sicksicksick and so I let him watch more and more, interacted with him less and less (because in all honesty all I wanted to do was sleep) and finally PeaGreen was born. For a long time, we didn’t watch much TV. I am not a homebody by nature (or wasn’t until recently) and so we were gone every day – park, bookstore, library, visiting – anything we could do that was not at home.
As they grew though, we got more and more lax about allowing them to chill in front of the boob-tube when we were home, especially during the Dec-early March when the weather here is cold and wet and gray all the time. Then summertime would hit and I would banish TV, kick the kids outside and open up the house to let the sun in.
When I started paying attention, I noticed a correlation between their behavior and in the tones of their interaction with each other and the amount of TV they were watching. The more TV they watched, the whinier and crabbier they were. I noticed more fights, more picking on each other. When they weren’t allowed to waste the day away in front of the TV, I watched I creativity bloom. They worked together, were more of a team than adversaries. They collaborated on projects – even if the entire project was completely invisible. Heck, they had projects that were invisible!
My theory? Television robs children of the ability to think outside the box – literally. If they spent a lot of time watching TV, then even when they were away from the TV, their mind was on what was on TV. Constantly, I was fielding the question, “Mom, can we watch TV?”. If it wasn’t that, exactly, then it was some variation of it, and always related to getting done with whatever we were doing so that they could get back to watching TV. Even if they were playing without watching TV, their topic was usually related to a show or movie. If I sent them outside, they couldn’t think of anything to do. There was a lot of sitting on the porch, moping and ticking the minutes by until they could get back in front of the television, and if they missed a show? Pouting, tears, attitude… ugh.
When we banished TV (or severely limited it), then after maybe a week of de-tox, they miraculously were able to think of things to do outside or in their room that had nothing to do with television shows. They wake up and PLAY, and everything doesn’t revolve around what’s coming on next. They get engaged in physical activities that require planning and forethought and teamwork, and even if they miss out on a show, it’s not that big of a deal because they were having fun. I like that.
I am seeing this lovely shift into creativity again. I have been a lazy mama, I can admit that. During school (“school” school, not our new and improved homeschool) it took all my energy to get through homework when we got home from school. By the time we were done with that, I needed to get dinner on, make sure laundry was done for the next day, take care of whatever work I still needed to finish for the day – and we all needed to relax. Sometimes, that was accomplished in a “whole family” kind of way, but more often, it was either “Daddy Time” (which usually means video games) or we would all watch a show. Granted, it wasn’t always mind-numbing ‘crap TV’ – we’re big fans of Discovery Channel, Science Channel, NGC, and the History Channel, so we often watch intellectually stimulating programs by choice.
But weekends, weekends were a problem. My husband and I are night owls by nature, so if we don’t have to get up early in the morning, we’re prone to stay up super late and sleep in the next morning. Once the boys got old enough to let mom & dad sleep in, they’d get up and turn on the TV, grab some grub and their morning was set… which translated into a few hours of TV all in one stretch.
Since we started homeschooling, it really hit just how much TV they’d been watching. I was talking to another homeschooling mom in the park last week and she was talking about how her kids argued way more when they were in public school. It kinda hit me then how much my boys were arguing and made me remember how much nicer it was when we had more strict TV time limits in our house.
Last week was kind of our de-tox week. There was a lot of grumping about not being allowed to watch TV, and a lot of me snapping and making unreasonable threats, “If you ask me again, you may never watch TV again!” – that kind of thing.
But this week, it’s almost magical, how the shift from more TV to less TV just gives them back their imagination. They’ve been mining in our yard. It looks more like “digging a knee-deep kid-sized hole”, but they’re calling it mining and I’m encouraging it. They’ve discovered layers in the soil – clay, fine sand, fertile topsoil. They’ve found roots from a tree halfway across our yard. They’ve found grubs and earthworms, made squishy mud pies (did I mention that they’ve found that adding water to the hole makes it easier to dig?) – there’s a part of me that knows that this is unschooling at work, and I am reveling in it. But they still had a spelling test and a math test this morning. The part that I love is that yesterday, they didn’t get to go dig; we had a playdate and library day which they enjoyed as much but in a different way. This morning, that’s all they have asked to do – to go dig. So I cut short lessons – only math, spelling, reading, art appreciation (Raphael’s “St. George and the Dragon” – it’s a freakin’ dragon!) and the geography that they asked to do (Paddle to the Sea), which led to online explorations and discussions about canals and shipping lane locks. That, in addition to their digging discoveries, covers science.
This is the part I am loving about homeschooling. Yes, we still have lessons we need to work through, but there is an opportunity to learn that is self-directed. They can experiment and make discoveries for themselves, on a subject that they are motivated to explore and we can skip the pre-packaged lesson on science in favor of what they want to learn about. We have yet to crack open the science textbook (not that Charlotte Mason advocates textbooks, but I have several and figure we may as well get some use from them, when it suits us) and yet they’re learning just fine.