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Taking Back Childhood

Dear Elizabeth,
My daughter always wants whatever she sees on TV. I'm trying to get her more interested in simple toys and activities. What can you suggest?
Felix Perez
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Have fun together as a family
  • Talk to your child about advertising
  • Buy simple, open-ended toys
  • Point out role models and model qualities you value
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early education instructor
Why Simplicity Is Better
Simplicity creates a space that invites children to do the work of growing up in a rhythm and routine that meets their needs, interest and understanding of the world. A child’s world is actually very complicated as they are learning so much about the life everyday. We underestimate the intensity of what it is like to grow up in the first five years. Keeping the child’s world simple is an immense support in helping the child form solid foundations that are the cornerstone to learning for the rest of a child’s life.

How to Simplify Kids’ Lives Ensure each day incorporates time that children are engaged in child directed play or free play where they can express their ideas, thoughts and stories through creative opportunities and self-directed exploration. The toys and play materials that we offer then are basic toys such as blocks, blankets, cushions, earth sand water, sticks, dolls and cars; you can never go wrong with a cardboard box! Or a little cornmeal in a shallow pan with spoons and measuring cups, cars or rocks.

Never undervalue the role nature has in supporting children in their learning through play. It is accessible, free and full of wonder and most cities have great resources and support for families that want to offer their children more experiences to play in nature.

Free Play
Free play is the foundation to all children learning about the world in their early years. We have become so stressed out about our children’s future we have forgotten that the way children learn best is through free play. Children know what they need; they are curious, motivated and interested by nature. All we have to do is tap into that and let the child do the rest of the work. To rob a child of time to engage in free play is to take away critical learning skills that will aid them in all types of future learning such as language arts, math and the science.

The Dangers of Overscheduling
There are many dangers when you overschedule a child. Fatigue sets in – not only for the child, but usually the entire family. The child may become disinterested. Pushing children into things they are not interested or ready for and then they dislike something that if they tried later they would have enjoyed. Most importantly, they lose value time to be engaged in free play which is critical the health of their emotional development and opportunity to learn about their world in a developmentally appropriate way.

Family Time Together
Family fun creates opportunity for the child to feel valued and learn how to be part of a community they learn how to be caring and kind, share and to socialize. They feel important.

Some family activities feel easier than others. Keeping the activity at the level of the child’s development is an important element is the family’s decision about what to do. It is important to keep the idea of the family outing simple also. It is not what the family does that the child appreciates; what the child loves is just that the family is together. I have been to amusement parks and watched families that do not look like they are having a lot of fun, everyone is stressed and crying and they are still at the admissions gate. It is being together that is important not what you do while you are together – keep it simple!

How Marketing Affects Children
Marketing has a huge affect on what children want and how they play. Child consumerism is worth billions of dollars. Companies spend millions on marketing. Marketing is geared to what is termed the nag factor – nag your parents until they give in. The other method is that everyone else has one, do not be left out. It is a tough part of parenting to say no to the pressures of marketing.

Counteracting Marketing Directed at Kids
In the parenting class I teach, we call it Media Literacy. We need to be aware of our rights and educate ourselves on the effects of media and the choices we have as consumers. I recommend that families reduce the amount of commercial television they watch or any media that their child spends time doing. Be the adult and hear the child’s request but know how to say no when you do not think it is appropriate. My mother’s rule was if you see it on TV, you cannot have it. I would not suggest that anyone has to go that far but her point is well taken. Children cannot discern the misleading and suggestive appeals of the marketers. We need to do that for them. Find alternatives that support more creative play and they will be much less interested in TV or other media outlets.

Helping Children Cope with Sexualized Media Messages
I do not think they should have to cope if we are aware. How can they cope with something they do not even understand? We have the control. Do not let them watch shows that support that type of message or advertising that sends these messages. Be aware of what types of magazines we have in the house and so on. However, given the reality of many people’s lives and that each family has a different culture, it is important to be clear but keep the message relative to the child’s age and understanding if you need to have a discussion about something the child has been exposed to. The best thing to do is to model behavior and buy clothing, toys, books that are in keeping with a simpler, younger message.
Child Care Provider Comments
Tondra Gardner
Tondra Gardner
Licensed child care provider for two years
We always try to incorporate simple play into our child care program. That is our entire philosophy. Children learn through play. We have blocks, dress up items, play-dough, and more available. Popsicle sticks, cookie cutters. We have crates of books that we leave out for them. We make everything accessible to them. It is at their level, and they can just get what they want. We have large amounts of time dedicated just to free play.

People know that if they give me a toy that needs batteries then the toy is gone. I don’t replace the batteries. If it needs batteries, then usually there is only one way to play with it. It’s not open-ended. They need to play with things that have more than one way to do it. I want them to learn to be creative and solve problems and think outside of the box.
Amie Souza
Amie Souza
Expecting her second child
At one point when my son first started pre-school, he was signed up for karate and soccer. It was every day doing something. It was overwhelming. Now, we try to limit it. We try to keep him at one activity at a time with school.
Mona Shah
Mona Shah
At one point when my son first started pre-school, he was signed up for karate and soccer. It was every day doing something. It was overwhelming. Now, we try to limit it. We try to keep him at one activity at a time with school.

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Clean Mud
Taking Back Childhood Featured Video:
Taking Back Childhood
Topic: Play & Creativity
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