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Screen time vs. play time: Why I’m raising unplugged kids

I have always wanted to raise unplugged kids. When you live in a tech-obsessed world, where most kids’ weekends are spent beating the latest video game, and even doing homework requires a screen, it gets hard.


Six years ago, finding minimalism changed my life and restored my motherhood. I got my time, my joy and my home back. I also feel that I gave a huge gift to my children.

One huge benefit? They developed wild imaginations. What does that have to do with minimalism? Well, everything.

The thing about minimalism is that once you start, it doesn’t really stop. You begin to look at the way things have always been done with fresh eyes, and you desperately seek a simpler way of doing pretty much everything. Minimalism will touch every area of your life once you realize what a truly freeing gift it is.

For our family, our use of technology has been no exception.

Now let me be clear—I’m not the mom whose kids never play video games or don’t know how to use an iPad. We have plenty of technology in our house.

The difference is, there are boundaries around technology. There isn’t constantly some kind of screen on entertaining everyone, tech time isn’t something that’s expected by my kids.

Most people think limiting technology has to feel like some kind of punishment, and that is simply not true. By limiting technology, we are simply setting healthy boundaries, teaching our kids how to be well-balanced human beings, and encouraging the power of their imaginations.

How to get started in your own home.

1. Get clear on your family’s values.

You can’t copy mine or ask your neighbor about her’s. You need to be deeply connected to what matters to you for your family. Grab a journal or open a note in your phone (see? Technology isn’t all bad, it can be super helpful!) and write out what matters a lot to you. How do you want your kids to grow up?

Some of my biggest values are:

  • That my kids have wild imaginations and know how to play like kids should
  • That my home be a beautiful haven we all love spending time in
  • That my kids see my husband and I intentionally spending lots of time together
  • The pursuit of minimalism in our home, calendar and lifestyle

2. Decide how you’re going to do this.

You can go about the pursuit of less technology a couple of different ways. You can do a full fledged detox and not have any in your home for a set amount of time, or you can slowly pull back from it, limiting it more and more as time goes on until you hit your personal sweet spot.

Personally, I think a detox is incredibly beneficial for most families, especially if you’re feeling the tug to take action. A detox doesn’t have to be super long or extremely painful. My advice is one week of no screens (or as few screens as possible if you need them for school).

One week is a great amount of time because it’s just enough to reset your kids’ brains. Just know that if you reintroduce your old tech habits after this detox, you’re going to undo all your hard work, so be sure to reintroduce technology on a very limited basis. For example, Netflix and video games for one hour on weekends only, or whatever similar boundary feels good to you.

3. Plan your first screen-free day.

Grab that journal again and come up with a gameplan.

  • How are you going to find a moment for yourself?
  • How will you handle “witching hour” when you and everyone else in your house are just done?
  • How will you help your kids find media alternatives?

Without a plan you are much more likely to cave, drink an entire bottle of wine, and think I’m a jerk for even suggesting the idea of a tech detox. We don’t want any of those things.

4) Create a connected and consistent family rhythm.

Rhythms in your day help everyone feel at peace. The kids know what to expect, you know your day is already somewhat planned and you aren’t trying to come up with on-the-spot entertainment for your kids. How will you fill your day? What are you going to do with each time block?

Start with the blocks that are filled for you—school and work hours, meal times, nap time, etc. From there, come up with ideas of how to fill your day with intentional, family rhythms.

Another thing to think about is balancing inside play and outside play. This can help you find a consistent rhythm for your kids’ play because it feels like a transition. Instead of just two hours of straight playtime, you can guide them to play for a bit in their playroom, then outside, then in the living room while you prepare lunch. It doesn’t take much to change things up!

5. Help your kids get into their play.

We can’t go about life doing things one way and then rip the carpet out from under our kids and expect them to know exactly what to do and how to be, right? That’s not gonna work! We can, however, gently guide them and offer them alternatives and new ideas.

  • Give your kids something tactile and new to play with
  • Provide them with a clean, uncluttered space to play in (#minimalism)
  • Have open-ended, simple toys on hand (think Legos, blocks, puzzles, dress up clothes, art supplies)
  • Be prepared to spend more time with your kids as they re-learn how to play

6. Set yourself up for success.

How are you going to handle this big change? You have to be prepared and equipped, and that takes a little preparation.

We talked a couple points ago about deciding how you’re going to have a moment to yourself in order to go the length of a full day without relying on technology. Here are some ideas:

  • Seek support from your village by reaching out to a relative or friend to come over, break up the day, and help out!
  • Lay the foundation for good self-care or “quiet time” by setting time for yourself before the day even starts. This way, you sort of give yourself a “moment” before you need it.
  • Make sure you have a strong bedtime routine. This will give you the evenings to yourself.
  • Get outside. One of my favorite things to do when I feel overwhelmed and stretched super thin with my kids is head to the park with my headphones. I listen to music or an encouraging podcast while they play on the playground and I watch. Win, win.
  • Play an audio story to give the kids something calm to entertain the while you drink some coffee and take a break. We love Story Nory!
  • Make or prepare dinner early. This gives you a break during one of the hardest, busiest times of the day.

7. Set up a home that allows you to be a present mom.

It’s hard to ditch technology and apply family rhythms when you’re overwhelmed by a long to do list, endless chores, and that feeling of dread you get when you know you’ve got tons to do but are spending time with your family instead. I want you to be able to pour into your kids and know your house is maintained without you having to constantly catch up. Believe me, it is possible!

When our homes are cluttered, we have more to clean. When we have more to clean, we feel an inner overwhelm and a pressure to keep up. We wind up feeling like we are always cleaning, and unable to pause and spend quality time with our children unless we are willing to pay the price later on—catching up on the housework.

What takes up your space takes up YOU.

A life of less freed me and allowed me to be more intentional, more present with my family, and to fulfill some life-long dreams as well!

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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One of the hardest areas to declutter can be your children's toy closet. Does that beeping, singing firetruck spark joy for you? Well no, in fact, it might be the most frustrating toy, but then again, having an occupied, entertained child sparks more joy than all of your household items combined.

So do more toys really mean a more engaged child? Studies say no. Having fewer toys leads to a more ordered home and encourages your child to develop creativity, concentration and a sense of responsibility for taking care of their belongings. But how do you go about reducing the number of toys your child has when there are so many "must haves" on the market? Perhaps more importantly, how do you ensure you don't bring any more toys that will be quickly forgotten into your home?

The secret: Look for toys that are open-ended, toys that will last for years, toys that encourage creativity, and toys that benefit development.

Here are some of our favorite Montessori-inspired toys.

Open-ended construction


Toys that are open-ended, rather than have just one use, empower your child to be an active participant in their own play. An example of an open-ended toy is a set of blocks, while a more limited use toy might be a talking toy robot. Blocks are only fun if your child applies their own creative thinking skills to make them fun, while the robot is a much more passive type of entertainment.

Open-ended toys also tend to keep children's interest for much longer, as they grow with your child—as their skills develop, they can build increasingly complex structures and scenarios.

There are so many beautiful sets of blocks available, but here are a few good choices.

1. Wooden Blocks

2. Duplo Lego

3. Magnatiles

Pretend play


Beginning in early toddlerhood, many children begin to incorporate pretend play into their repertoire. They do this all on their own, without the aid of toys, turning mud into pies and sticks into hammers.

Still, these toys will encourage their budding imaginations and also allow them to process things they experience in their own lives through role-playing and pretend play.

4. Doll

5. Farm

6. People figures

7. Train set

Music


Music provides a great deal of joy to most children, and can also aid in brain development.

Providing regular opportunities for your young child to both create and listen to music will encourage him to develop an appreciation for music, an understanding of rhythm, and an outlet for creative expression.

8. Musical instrument set

9. Simple music player with headphones

Movement


Giving young children opportunities for movement is so important, both for their gross motor development and for giving them a daily outlet for their boundless energy. Children who spend plenty of time running around generally sleep better and are often better able to concentrate on quieter activities like reading.

Encouraging plenty of unstructured time outside is the best way to ensure your child gets enough daily movement. These toys though can help your child develop muscle coordination and strength, while also providing plenty of fun.

10. Balance bike

11. Pedal bike

12. Climbing structure

13. Wagon

14. Balls

Puzzles


Puzzles are wonderful toys for helping children develop spatial understanding, problem-solving skills, resilience and new vocabulary. Bonus, they also provide a quiet activity that can engage even young children for an extended period of time!

15. Peg puzzles

16. Jigsawpuzzles

17. Layered puzzles

Games



Games encourage your child to develop social skills such as taking turns and winning and losing gracefully.

Many games for young children also have educational benefits such as building memory or practicing counting.

18. Memory game

19. Bingo

20. Simple board game

Taking the plunge and reducing your children's toy collection can be scary. If you're uncertain whether your child will miss a certain toy, try putting it away in a closet for a month to see if they notice. Take some time to observe your child with their reduced toy collection and notice how their play changes.

Once you commit to fewer toys, you'll find you can truly be intentional with what you provide your child and can also choose higher quality toys when you're only purchasing a few. There will also be far fewer little objects strewn around the house to trip over, which is a huge bonus!

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For so many parents, finding and funding childcare is a constant struggle. How would your life change if you didn't have to worry about finding and paying for quality childcare? Would you go back to work? Work more hours? Or just take the four figures you'd save each month and pay off your student loans faster?

These hypothetical scenarios have been playing in the minds of many American parents this week as presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan for free or affordable "high-quality child care and early education for every child in America."

Universal childcare will be a cornerstone of Warren's campaign for 2020. It's a lofty goal, and one many parents can get behind, but is it doable?

Supporters note it's been done in other countries for decades. In Finland, for example, every child has had access to free universal day care since the early 1990s. Sweden, too, has been building its universal childcare system for decades.

Critics of Warren's plan worry about the price tag and potential for ballooning bureaucracy, and some are concerned that subsidizing childcare could actually make it more expensive for those who have a government-funded spot, as it could result in fewer private childcare providers.

But subsidized childcare had lowered prices in other places. In Sweden, parents pay less than $140 USD to send children to preschool. In Finland, the cost per child varies by municipality, household income and family size. A parent on the lower end of the income spectrum might pay as little as the equivalent of $30 USD, and the maximum fee is about $330 a month.

But Finland's population is on par with Minnesota's. Sweden is comparable to Michigan.

So could the Nordic model scale to serve the hundreds of millions of families in America?

As Eeva Penttila, speaking as the head of international relations for Helsinki, Finland's education department once told The Globe and Mail, "you can't take one element out and transfer it to your own country. Education is the result of culture, history and the society of a nation."

Right now America spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries (only Turkey, Latvia, and Croatia spend less), but that wasn't always the case. This nation does have a history of investing in childcare, if we look back far enough.

Back in World War II, when women needed to step into the workforce as men fought overseas, America invested in a network of childcare to the tune of $1 billion (adjusted to today's money) and served hundreds of thousands of families in almost every state through center-based care. Parents paid between $0.50 and $0.75 per child per day (the equivalent of about $10 in today's money).

So America does have a historical and cultural precedent, not to mention a current model of universal preschool that is working, right now, in the nation's capital. In D.C. In Washington, D.C., 90% of 4-year-olds attend a full-day preschool program for free, according to the Center for American Progress. Seventy percent of 3-year-old are going too, and the program has increased the city's maternal workforce participation rate by more than 10%.

It won't happen overnight

While some American parents might be daydreaming of a life without a four-figure day care bill in 2020, the road to true universal childcare for all children in America would be a long one. Peter Moss, a researcher at the University of London's Institute of Education, previously told The Globe and Mail it took Sweden "many years to get it right."

Indeed, the 1990s saw long wait lists at Swedish day cares, but the growing pains of the '90s paved the way for the enviable system Swedes enjoy today.

According to Moss, governments in other countries look at the Nordic model and "tend to say, 'We can't do that.' But what they really mean is 'We can't suddenly do that.' In other countries, they just don't get to grips with what needs doing and actually plot a course."

Maybe America's starting point is found in its history books, or in the modern day preschools of the nation's capital, or in the conversations happening between now and 2020. It doesn't have to be Warren's plan, but America does need a plan for safer, more affordable childcare.

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It's so unfortunate that in the working world there are still those who believe mothers are more distracted and less productive than people without children.

Research proves that just isn't true—working moms are actually more engaged than working dads and fathers and equally committed—and plenty of working mothers will say that parenthood has actually made them more productive.

Ayesha Curry counts herself among those moms who become more efficient at work after becoming parents. The entrepreneurial mom of three seems unstoppable when it comes to expanding her career, which she launched as a lifestyle blog back when the oldest of her three children was still a baby.

"You don't realize how much you can get done in a day until you become a parent and you're like, 'what was I doing with my time before'?" she recently old Cheddar's Nora Ali.

Now less than seven years later she's built her own empire as a mom, not in spite of being one.


Now a New York Times best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur, Curry has also got her own brand, Homemade, and you can find her products bearing her name in places like Target and JC Penny. She's been promoting a partnership with GoDaddy and she's an ambassador for the Honest Company, too.

Curry says motherhood taught her how to multitask and manage her time.

"I have three children, so I've had to grow four invisible arms," she explains. "I've definitely learned efficiency through being a parent. It's helped me in my business tenfold."

As a celebrity, Curry's life experience is kind of unique, but her experience of becoming better at work because of motherhood isn't, according to experts.

Career coach Eileen Chadnick previously told Motherly that motherhood is an asset in the workplace, in part because it trains women to be both empathetic and assertive at the same time, a combo that makes for great leaders. "There are incredibly nice, compassionate women who are very strong and know how to take a stand," Chadmick said. "And they're trusted and admired by others even if they need to say 'no' to their employees."

That's something Curry agrees with. Because it's her name on that frying pan, cookbook or bedspread, she doesn't shy away from saying 'no' when she doesn't like something. "I'm really good about being forceful and putting my foot down," she explains.

It's easier to put your foot down when you've already grown four invisible arms. That's the balancing act of motherhood, and it's what makes this mama so good at business.

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It may seem like there are more recalls than ever these days, but that's actually a good thing for parents. It means fewer potentially dangerous products are making it to our dinner tables and medicine cabinets.

According to food safety experts, the spike in recall notices for everything from broccoli to baby toys in recent years suggests companies are doing a better job of self-reporting, and we're actually safer than we were in the days when recalls were rare.

"It reflects a food industry that takes contamination and foodborne illnesses seriously. Increasingly companies are willing to recall their products rather than expose customers to potential harm," Dr. William Hallman, professor and chair of Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, said in an interview with Food Drive."So more companies are taking a cautionary approach."

Here are the recalls parents need to know about this month:

Dollar General Baby Gripe Water

The FDA issued a recall notice for "DC Baby Gripe Water herbal supplement with organic ginger and fennel extracts" after the company received one report of a one-week old baby who had difficulty swallowing the product, and there were three other complaints "attributed to the undissolved citrus flavonoid."

The FDA says "the product should not be considered hazardous but could result in difficulty when swallowing the product for sensitive individuals."

Basically, it's not harmful if swallowed but the undissolved flavonoid makes it a choking hazard.

The gripe water was sold at Dollar General stores in four ounce bottles with the UPC code 8 5495400246 3.

Nature's Path Envirokidz gluten free cereals

If you've got a kiddo with celiac disease you're probably familiar with the EnviroKidz kine of gluten free cereals sold at Trader Joe's and other grocery stores. Unfortunately, Nature's Path, the maker of the cereals, is recalling more than 400,000 boxes of Envirokidz cereals in the U.S. and Canada due to potential gluten contamination.

Choco Chimp, Gorilla Munch and Jungle Munch are all impacted. The best before dates are: 08/01/2019, 08/24/2019, 08/27/2019, and 09/21/2019. The UPC codes are: 0 58449 86002 0, 0 5844987023 4, 0 5844987027 2, 0 5844987024 1 and 0 5844987028 9.

If you can handle gluten they are safe, but Nature's Path says "people who have a wheat allergy, celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten and wheat should not consume the cereals."

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