Tag Archive: children

Do you get your 30 minutes a day? And I’m not talking about exercise

happy feet

Did you know that spending time in nature makes you healthier, smarter, more generous and sexier? Actually, I made that last one up, but surely a fitter, happier more generous person is more attractive. So let’s consider that a fact.

Today I signed up for David Suzuki’s 30×30 Challenge. The idea is to spend thirty minutes outdoors in a natural environment every day. It sounds simple, doesn’t it. But guess what? I didn’t do it today. Apart from hastily pegging out some washing, I spent the whole day indoors or in the car, no wonder I feel so flat.

So that means that every day for the rest of the month, I have to commit to spending just 30 minutes in nature, which will be a bonus for the kids because wherever I go, they go!

Here are some (real, scientifically proven) facts to get you thinking:

No television for under twos

I feel a bit squirmy writing this post; it’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long while, but have been too chicken to face it. I don’t even know why. As I wrote last week, the idea behind this blog is to provide information, and for people to take what they want and leave the rest. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty, but I do think there’s a big gap in awareness when it comes to the issue of TV and very young children, and I hope to address that. In a squirmy kind of way.

To lay it out plain: kids under two shouldn’t watch TV. Squillions of studies have shown there are no benefits to kids under two watching TV. More so, screen-time, which includes computers, games, ipads and DVDs, can have adverse effects on concentration, movement and eye development, lead to obesity and create a hyper-real sense of the world. In 2009, the Australian government released guidelines that made headlines around the world: “Australia says ban television for under-twos”. The report “Get Up and Grow”, aimed at tackling obesity, recommended that children under two have absolutely no TV time, while children two to five be limited to less than one hour per day of quality viewing. Click here to view the guidelines.

Considering that four-month-old babies here watch an average of 44 minutes of TV a day, it’s safe to say that the guidelines are a long-shot from reality. In fact, I know of very few parents who don’t let their baby or toddler watch some TV, even if it’s only “In The Night Garden”. Somehow, despite all the studies and the official recommendations (backed up by the American Academy of Pediatrics), there’s a general feeling that it’s actually okay for kids to watch TV; that the academics are wrong. And of course, there’s the rub – it’s easy to make recommendations like this when you’re looking at data and MMR scans, as opposed to looking at a tired, cranky child who wants your attention when you’re trying to make dinner. I completely understand why the TV is such a big part of children’s lives, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t agree that it should be, know what I mean?

A lot of parents, 50% in a study in the US, believed that TV was good for tots because they learned from it. Well, in October last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics basically came out and said there is no such thing as educational TV for kids under two. Once you get past 24 months, it’s a different story, but according to Time magazine: “Sesame Street has been shown to contribute to improved language and social skills in children older than 2. But play the same programming for younger kids…and they will actually have delayed language skills”. Read more here.

Somehow, we’ve made it to 23 months without the TV. Alfie has watched a couple of episodes of “Minuscule” with Daddy, and we all sat down together to watch “The Snowman” at Christmas. From what I’ve read online and what people have told me, the real challenge will arrive in three months, when I have a baby and a toddler to look after. Hopefully, the diversion tactics I’ve used so far (when I needed to make dinner) will continue to work. Are they “better” than TV? Well, it depends on how you look at it… pulling stuff out of cupboards, chasing the dog around the living room, pouring water all over the floor, playing with Daddy’s new laptop… The tactics I use to get 20 minutes to get something done tend to be messy and/or noisy and occasionally end up causing bruises (jumping on and off the couch). There have been times where I’ve looked at the TV and thought, “Maybe just this once.” Fortunately, the only thing on was “Ready, Steady, Cook” and no-one should ever have to watch that. Suck it to me, though, the one time I really needed Alfie to get absorbed in a screen was when we flew to Sydney last year. The kindly lady next to me turned her screen onto the kids’ channel, but Alfie ignored it completely and continued trying to crawl into her lap. “He doesn’t really watch TV,” I muttered, embarrassed. (On that note, I’ve had a mum from an older generation shriek, “Oh the poor thing!” when I said Alfie hadn’t ever seen Playschool.)

My plan when number two comes along is to continue to leave the TV unplugged during the day and to introduce a DVD whenever that hideous day comes that Alfie drops his day sleep. Maybe we’ll watch stuff together when the little one’s asleep, but I’m (optimistically) determined to give my second baby the same benefits Alfie has had (but that’s a whole other post!). Babies are often exposed to what’s known as “second-hand” TV, and while you may think they’re not playing attention to the TV in the background, research shows they look at the screen every 20 seconds.

So there you have it, my views on TV and the real reason Alfie doesn’t recognise Thomas the Tank Engine or know any Wiggles songs. I’d love to know your thoughts…

Picture by allman was here

OMG! Nature defecit disorder

At last! Something I can obsess about! A disorder that can truly get my knickers in a knot! As you know, I have a little habit of reading scary books about how easy it is to completely screw up your kids, so it’s little wonder that this one caught my eye – Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s by Richard Louv and it has sold a squillion copies in the US where it seems people really are intent on screwing up their kids.

First let me tell you that nature-deficit disorder is not a medical term; rather, it’s a theoretical condition posed by the author. But something about it just leaps out, doesn’t it? We all know that kids used to play outside from sun-up until sun-down, but now we’re too scared to let them walk down the street alone. And we know that tree-climbing is a lost art, that tree houses now require planning permission and a kit from Bunnings.

Some time ago, I interviewed a professor of theology about how to raise kids with spirituality when you don’t subscribe to any particular religion. One of the key things he recommended was getting kids out into nature as often as possible. According to Last Child, nature not only provides kids with a sense of wonder and awe, but natural setting help with balance and co-ordination, boost creative thinking and can ease the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders.

It’s certainly clear to me that nature calms. Since he was a tiny baby, Alfie has been soothed by wind or trees or simply lying on the grass. The other night, I had him out way too late and he went into complete meltdown. As soon as we stepped into the night air outside, he relaxed. I make a habit of walking home from day care via a park, or spending some time in the garden and it definitely improves his mood.

There were a couple of things in Last Child that really struck me and I’ll share them with you now…

A study of toddlers in the US found that out of 78 three-year-olds, most were active for only twenty minutes a day. How is this possible, you might ask? The researcher, from the University for Maryland, describes these children as “containerized kids”. They go from car-seat to stroller to high-chair to baby seat in front of the TV. Since reading that, I’ve made more of an effort to make Alfie walk or to play active games, even though both are often exceedingly tedious for me!

The other one that struck me was another study, this time in Denmark, that compared kids playing in a traditional concreted play space, and those in a more natural setting. It won’t surprise you to know that the kids in the second group were far more creative in their play, getting into make-believe and imagination-based games. On our regular afternoon walks with the dog, we tend to visit either the dog park or a nearby playground and it’s obvious that Alfie gets more out of the natural, rough and often hazardous (ie poo hazards) environment at the dog park. No trip there is ever the same, yet we do exactly the same things in the same order when we go to the playground. Hmmm, something to think about.

So how do you help your kids engage with nature? Do you find it makes a difference?

Gorgeous image by Fran Forman, to view her photostream, click here