I have two daughters, ages 9 and 11. I have noticed that they have a short attention span when it comes to their free-time activities. For example, they may play with Legos for 20 minutes and then move on to drawing for the same amount of time and then on to something else. I'm also concerned with their lack of interest in reading. I am concerned because I remember being a very different child at their age. I read chapter books for enjoyment, and I played with Barbie's (my only toy option) or played outside for hours. I watched an hour or so of afternoon cartoons after school each day.
My thoughts are perhaps too much TV time or video game time. They get two hours of video game time each week (1 hour each but they play together). They watch an hour of cartoons in the morning which amounts to 7 hours of TV a week. This totals 9 hours of screen time. I will gladly take away any amount of this screen time if it will improve their attention spans. Another thought is perhaps too many toys.
Thank you for your help!
Hello, and thank you for writing. Screen time can certainly affect children's ability to attend to things, even the things they enjoy. When you consider the active nature of reading a book compared to the passivity of television, you can see where one is "easier" and therefore frequently preferable to kids. It sounds as though you're doing a good job of regulating the screen time, but honestly none of it is good, useful, productive or helpful for them. If you want to reduce it, have them each pick one show a week that they want to see, and that's all. Mornings routines are important but don't need to include cartoons. Mornings are best started with quiet conversation, breakfast and some fresh air.
We don't get the kids we imagine, we get the kids we get and we work with what we've got. It may be that your girls will never be particularly interested in reading for pleasure but there are some things you can do to encourage it. Take the girls to the library and let them choose two books each every week. Sometimes just the simple fact that they chose a book will be motivating. You can institute a quiet hour (even 30 minutes is good) in your home during which there are no electronics in use (by anyone) and the only acceptable activities are reading and/or writing.
I am going to make an experienced guess that your girls have more than a few toys, and that they're not particularly organized. That fact in itself can be over-stimulating and create an environment where it's difficult for them to make choices. I recommend that you significantly pare down the toy collection and then organize what remains into a toy library over which the parents rule. Here's how:
1. Start with the stuffed animals and dolls. Pile them all in the middle of the floor and have them touch each one. The only ones that make the cut are the ones that are truly meaningful and special. If no one can recall its origin, out it goes!
2. Next, gather all the battery operated toys, including electronics. If the batteries are dead, remove them and donate the toy. If the toy only does one thing, donate it. If you haven’t seen them use the toy in a while, donate it. If the toy truly annoys you and you wish they didn’t have it, donate it!
3. Round up all the building toys and determine which get used a lot. Those that aren’t played with should be donated. Keep the rest, as building toys are pretty wonderful in that children can design different things and there’s no right or wrong.
4. Dress-up clothes and props are great to have! Make sure that they still fit and are used. Donate any that aren’t.
5. Bring out all your board games and puzzles. Check for missing pieces and keep only the ones that are complete and you know will be enjoyed again.
6. Inventory the outdoor toys and determine which ones can be donated. (Many churches, women’s shelters, hospitals and preschools will appreciate your donations, as well as the standard drop off places.)
The next step in the toy overhaul is to develop a toy system. This will help them keep things tidy and make their play more intentional. Arrange the toys in labeled bins and introduce them to the new protocol. They are allowed to choose no more than two bins if playing alone, three if playing together. When they're finished playing with the items in those bins, they will have to clean them up and put them away before getting others. Parents are the official toy librarians and must be consulted before swapping the bins.
Take this opportunity to lead your daughters towards being more resourceful and responsible. You'll be glad you did! Please write again if you need clarification or further guidance.
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