Monday, January 28, 2008

10 Great Alternatives to Conventional TV

Recently, I detailed a little bit about how my family has given up conventional TV. It seemed a little bit overwhelming at first. But ever since then, our lives have been much more peaceful. We visited our families in California over the holidays and just about lost our minds thanks to the endless chatter of TV comercials in their houses. In fact, not a day goes by without one of us talking about how glad we are that we made that decision.

It takes a committed husband and father to help the family make this decision. It's not easy for many of us. If you're someone who has never had a problem with TV, and your family doesn't waste too much time and money with it, then congratulations. If you're like I've always been, then it's a change that needs to be made.

But if jumping off the deep end scares you, maybe this list can help you chill. This doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing game, after all. No TV at all may be the best, but there are options to help you wean, or to help you get the addiction under control and make it simply another activity. There are lots of ways to tame the flat-screened beast in the corner of your living room without giving up on the entertainment.

1. Buy an Apple TV (or similar item, if such exists).
I know, I know--here I am preaching against consumerism and yet I'm plugging a product. The fact is, however, that this product is a wonderful tool to get rid of a lot of the clutter that TV brings into your house. Of course, it's stupidly expensive, but we had a good sized tax-return that year so we didn't feel so bad. Besides, with how much money we've saved on cable/satellite, it's paid for itself.

There are a few great things about the Apple TV. One is, you have to download every show you're going to watch. This means that you watch nothing without purpose. While it used to be easy to just flip on the TV for one show and then get sucked into hour after hour of mindlessness, you get to decide if it's worth th $1.99 to watch 20/20 or not.

Another great thing about it is the pictures. It takes the pictures from your computer and puts it up on the screen as a slide show. You can play music from your music library and have an ongoing slideshow of your family's trip to the Grand Canyon. This feature really is what our TV is primarily used for these days.

2. DVDs
If it's a rainy day and there's no way to go outside, we can break out the DVDs. They're cheaper than ever, if you know where to shop, and easy to get via renting through the mail. We buy DVDs of old cartoons that we enjoyed, though we're frequently surprised by the violence (Popeye never beats a guy up the same way twice!). But they are commercial-free and don't have nearly as many product tie-ins as so many of today's cartoons.

3. Hikes
If the weather is nice, there's nothing like them. True, if you get home from work late, it's not going to be a great option for you. But on the weekend or another day-off, there's not a cheaper or more engaging way to pass the time. When we started hiking, we had to carry both of our kids on our stomachs or backs in order to cover any ground at all. Now they usually lead us down the path. If you take a packed lunch, you can spend the whole day. And the days out hiking are long, beautiful, and happy ones.

If you're not sure where to hike, the 50 Hikes series has helped us out a lot. So has the 60 Hikes series. What the heck, knock it up to the 100 Hikes series if you're worried about getting your money's worth. And the American Hiking Society has lots of free info on finding hikes, too.

4. Gardening
Kids can get very involved in this activity. So can dads. It can be a lot of fun to search out the kinds of things you can grow in your yard and go for it. If you don't have space yourself, you can try and search out community gardens. Also, there are plenty of books that have very creative gardening suggestions just for outdoor play, such as Rickard Louv's The Last Child in the Woods.

5. Go to the Zoo
Again, you may need more than just the few hours after work for this one, but it's worth it. One of the worst things about TV is that it is all made up of second-hand experiences. Children learn much better through first-hand experience. I used to be on the fence about zoos because of animal rights. And while I still hate to see them caged, I've visted a number of rescue zoos and have seen the good of what zoos are doing. Plus, a show about an elephant can get my daughters watching for maybe five or ten minutes. Watching the baby elephant at the Houston zoo can be an all-day engaging activity.

6. Go to a Museum
We bought a family membership to the Museum of Natural Science. It was well worth the money.

7. Go to a Bookstore
I love libraries, don't get me wrong. But sometimes they're not the best places in the world for kids my kids' ages. A one and three year old are honestly just a little too loud for most libraries. On a rainy day, heading out to the big-chain bookstore is just what they need. Often these stores have things out to be played with and "stages" where the kids like to "dance." The problem with them is that products are often placed in very kid-accessible places that aren't books. They look like books, but they're really electronic toys. I work very hard to teach my children that there is a difference between toys and books. Many times they need my help in picking out a suitible book. But you know what? They need help with a lot of decisions, like what to eat for dinner, so don't feel bad telling them that you don't want to read them the Elmo book.

I also feel like I need to give a shout-out to the bookstore with the best ever kid's section, BookPeople in Austin. They have great books, puppets, and readings.

8. Make Cookies
Cookies are pretty easy and fast to make. It's engaging for my kids and promises a pretty nice reward at the end. I've also had a good deal of luck with them helping to make biscuits and bread. Of course, they have taught me that biscuits are better with chocolate chips in them. They're right.

There are lots of great recipies in the book The Art of Simple Foods by Alice Waters.

9. Pick up a guitar
Or other instrument. It depends on how old your kids are, but if they are old enough, you can learn an instrument with your child. I play 12 instruments with varying degrees of success. I've taught myself 11 of those. You can pick up an instrument for yourself and one for your child used or on Ebay and a book won't cost you much more. My daughters can't play yet, but they love to sing along with the guitar or banjo. And, honestly, if you've never played before, in one afternoon you'll be able to wow any toddler with your skills. You have plenty of time to get better.

10. Games
This is a no-brainer, I guess, but we often over look it. My girls are almost old enough for very simple board games, but they're not there yet. I'm telling you, though, you wouldn't believe how much fun they have with hide-and-seek. Remember that many of these games, board or otherwise, are very new to your kids. Watching them have fun is worth standing behind a shower curtain for a few minutes while they look for you.

Naturally, there are about a million more things you can do. Keep an eye out for more alternatives to conventional TV. Though many of these things take more effort than the sitting in front of the tube routine, you'll find that they're many times more rewarding. Plus, without TV, your days will spread out before you like a landscape; you'll wonder why you've thrown so many hours away.


Enhance Life said...

What about Yoga, meditation? ;-)

More and more these days people find it difficult to live without watching television. The reality shows they have these days are very addictive!


Sol Smith said...

yeah, I dig yoga and meditation, but I was thinking of things you can do with kids. Particularly, I guess, kids about the ages of mine. That said, my daughters love to copy yoga routines!

ellen said...

have you read "four arguments for the elimination of television"? i read it a long long time ago (pre-mommyhood) and was pretty blown away. at that point i had a small tv/vcr combo with no cable, and only watched tapes.

now we do have tv w a dvr.... i kept banjo away from tv for his first 2.5yrs then went to youtube/dvd on the laptop.... only in the last few weeks has he started watching real tv (although it's pbs so doesn't have real commercials).... unfortunately of course this means caleb (13m) is seeing tv at such a young age! :(

oh btw w/r/t the dora topic.... even though banjo has never seen dora on tv he went through a phase of being totally obsessed w her and would spot her image everywhere we went. the merchandise i hard to avoid, even walking outside - i have seen dora umbrella strollers!

Anonymous said...

Great sight! I see you live near Austin. My new favorite place is "Wild Connections", a small butterfly farm just off 290 West on the way out towards Drippings Springs. You can sit and relax while the kids watch butterflies and turtles. Then go on a short hike on their trails and picnic.