So you've decided to take the plunge and try life without TV for a few days -- or even permanently? If you have young children, giving up the so-called "babysitter in a box" can be a daunting prospect, but if you plan well, recruit older kids in the family to the cause, and stock up on stuff to do, a television turn-off might be the best move you ever make. To get you started, here are 25 ideas to entertain you and your family the old-fashioned way.
- Have a tickle party. Wrestle and roll around with your kids.
- Blow the dust off those board games. When was the last time you played Monopoly anyway?
- Have some friends over -- life without TV is a lot easier when you do it in a group. Try to organize your turn-off with another family or through your child's school. Marie Winn's influential book The Plug-in Drug: Television, Children, and Family (Penguin USA) is packed with reasons to live TV-free.
- Let the kids take every cushion off the sofa and build a fort. Crawl through once or twice yourself.
- At the risk of being obvious -- read! Take the kids to the library to stock up before your set goes off and lay in a mountain of books. The older ones can read to the little ones when your voice gives out.
- Share a skill with your kids -- do you knit, sew, tie flies, play an instrument? Spend some time passing your knowledge on.
- Take a class together. Isn't there something you'd both like to learn to do?
- Go ice-skating -- have hot chocolate after.
- Get to know the museums and historical societies in your town.
- Stock up on books and stories on tape. There's an extraordinary selection available for the youngest to the oldest these days. Try the Chinaberry catalog (www.chinaberry.com) for some great selections.
- Have a family letter writing party. And no, not using e-mail, but pens, paper, markers -- remember them? If your children are too young to write, have them draw on the front and then dictate a letter to you to write on the back. Grandma, Grandpa, and faraway friends will be thrilled.
- Set out a lot of good dress-up stuff and let your kids play with each other -- it might be bumpy going at first but you'll be surprised at what they can come up with without the tube.
- Have a dance party in the living room.
- Teach the kids all the card games you know. If you don't remember any, get a hold of 101 Best Family Card Game (Sterling, 1994) by Alfred Sheinwold. For younger children, try Card Games for Little Kids (Workman, 2000) by Gail MacColl, which comes with a brightly colored deck of cards.
- Bake something -- even the youngest can help with simple cookie recipes.
- Cook dinner together. Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup (Tricycle) has some terrific recipes.
- Get crafty -- there are tons of books with terrific craft projects in them. Get one, get some felt and get to work.
- Do something for someone else -- spend that afternoon you would have spent watching Pokemon or Arthur culling old toys to give to less privileged children or with older kids, working with a community group or church or synagogue to help folks in need.
- Can we fix it? Fix that leaky faucet, sew those ripped pants. Turning off the set gives you time to do some of those household projects you've been ignoring. Let your kids hand you wrenches, or work on their own sewing (or for the little ones, lacing) projects.
- Take it easy. Part of life without TV, for you and your kids, is figuring out what to do with yourselves without the easy escape of the tube. Stare into space for a while -- something's bound to come to you.
- See some live shows -- community theater, a dance performance, a music concert. Introduce your kids to the excitement and spontaneity of entertainment that's not taped.
- Play outside. Even if it's cold outside, bundle up and go for a walk. Make a snowman or go sledding if there's enough white stuff around. Time spent outside every day is key to life beyond television.
- Get photographic. Work together on scrapbooks or organizing photos into an album. Kids love to see photos of themselves as babies or younger children, and they can help make beautiful scrapbooks that will become family treasures.
- Take an evening walk together -- the days are shorter now and it will be dark well before bedtime -- time you might have filled with TV. Go see what your community is like at night. Maybe you'll even see some stars.
- Laugh more, talk more, enjoy each other more -- the thing about television is that it means you never face each other. Once you start interacting more, you might find that you live with some pretty great folks.