The Armstrong Archives (104): What? No T.V.?

Mel and Linda with kidsOctober, 1981  You may want to throw this letter right in the trash, especially if you love T.V., but I feel so enthusiastic that I just had to write. I just got a letter from a girl friend whose T.V. broke. Her husband decided not to replace it, and they’re glad but a little lost for how to use all their extra time. Alan and I are so THRILLED not to have a T.V. that I can’t begin to tell you, but there have been moments when I’m trying to cook dinner with Jon at one elbow, Michael at the other, something spilled on the floor, and Aaron at the table saying, “What does this say?” when I say to myself, “Now if the boys were all watching Sesame Street…” Here are a few thoughts I have on “Why not have T.V.” and ‘What in the world can you do without a T.V.?”  Big Wheel FunAaron’s teacher remarked to me the other day, “I can tell which children haven’t had a T.V. in just a day or two. They’re so much more creative and know how to use their own time.” If I can find the article again, I’ll enclose a summary of some research done on the influence of T.V. on children put out by the National Teachers’ Association. It was plugging good reading and included an extensive bibliography of literature for children. Alan with boys readingProbably anybody, whether or not they like T.V., can think of 101 reasons for not using it too extensively. The real problem is time. When the child isn’t watching T.V., he is generally requiring supervision. Same for us. It’s easy to feel, “I’m just too tired to think; I just want to sit down and be entertained.” So, the first trick is being committed to the idea that the extra effort is worthwhile. That’s a personal choice and requires a great deal of strength—or for the weak (as in my case), a great deal of prayer!

So what do we do? Go crazy! Sometimes! Most of the time not. During the day, Michael and Jonathan generally play together with toys, have friends over, or assist me. Jon sits barefoot by the sink and helps me cook dinner almost every day. Michael knows how to peel potatoes and make tossed salad. He can use knives and electric mixers, or stir soup at the stove because he’s seen me do it a thousand times and knows the dangers. Jon regularly helps me unload the dishwasher and hold the dustpan when I sweep up the crumbs. Michael can sort laundry or vacuum the floor, scour the sink and brush out the toilet. I think Aaron could just about run the house if he needed to. That’s during the day. The boys learn to work. The hard part is that it makes housework take longer (although it won’t in a few years), and the boys talk constantly, asking questions or wanting me to play little games and tell them stories. There is no time for thinking a private thought.

That’s why we have rest time! (Which is what we’re doing right now!) Jonathan naps, Michael has to entertain himself with only minimal help from me to get him organized, and I spend an hour or so thinking adult thoughts.

When Aaron comes home, we all work on his Wonder Book. He carries an empty notebook to school, and whenever he has a question that he can’t find the answer to, such as, “Where do gypsies come from?” or, “How long do tarantulas live?” he writes it down in picture form, and we look up the answers when he gets home. Then, while I get dinner, the boys either help me or play. When the weather’s at all nice, they play with the neighbor boys outside. In bad weather, they color, paint, draw, play with play dough or in the sandbox, build tents, work on workbooks, etc. (Just ask me for a list of 1,000 ideas, and I’ll send it.) [I’m not sure that offer still stands today into the 21st century, but I could try!] Very often Aaron is tired and will just sit on the couch and listen to a record. We have invested heavily in Christian records (it’s cheaper than a T.V.), and we go at least weekly to the public library where we are allowed to check out four records, six books, and two pictures per person. Alan reading to MikeWe have also begun an extensive tape library. I tape most of the children’s classics as I read them to the boys so that they (and later Jonathan or others) can hear them over and over again. Aaron has listened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, When We Were Very Young, and others numerous times. I also tape our nightly Magic Mattress stories, which include a portion of Scripture and a “you were there” type of story about the boys visiting the characters of Bible times. Michael is especially fond of these and thereby is repeatedly exposed to the Word. Carefully selected tapes and records are great for those tired times. Rub a dub dub. Three boys in a tubAfter supper there’s always a good, long time of playing in the tub (which might not be so appealing if you didn’t have two playmates to enjoy it with) and then some reading. On quiet nights I try to read an hour, divided equally among books that are educational, entertaining, and edifying. Right now we’re reading Winnie the Pooh (again, but this time we’re taping it), the Childcraft Bug Book, and Bible stories. Sometimes Michael is asleep by the time I’m finished. Sometimes when Alan’s home, the boys would rather build with legos, tinker toys, etc. At any rate, we’ve begun ending the night with singing a few songs while we rock the boys, and prayers. (Jonny goes to sleep right after his bath.) Sometimes Aaron makes a picture with his new Lite Brite set and has us turn out the lights and watch it glowing in the dark while we sing, or we’ve even tried light a candle since we don’t have a fireplace. We usually tumble into bed soon after the boys and feel totally exhausted…but happy.

This is our alternative to T.V. Maybe it sounds dreadful or like too much work, but still I’d like to recommend it to you, at least while you’re getting your T.V. repaired! If you have favorite family fun things to do at your house, I’d also love to hear what you do, so we can try it. We’re always in the market for new ideas. Thanks!

[Written on the backside of the above letter] Wednesday, October 14, 1981 Dear Mom and Dad, Just so you know,  I didn’t send this to any of my sibs but Ann (lest you think I’m terrorizing my elders!).

When are you coming to see us? Whenever you know which days, I’ll get an appointment for our family portraits. Mom and Dad                                            (My parents, Louis and Betty Ward)


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