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TV and Montessori (and School, In General)

Nov05

by

Amy,

I hope you can help guide me and my husband with a toddler and tv time (really all screen time conundrum): we have two boys ages 3.5 and 1.5. The older one watches tv but not an excessive amount (at least we didn’t think it was excessive), 20-30 minutes in the morning while I make lunches and clean up after breakfast and another 20-30 minutes in the afternoon after daycare. On weekends he watches more, morning cartoons and perhaps a movie in the afternoon as rest time if he won’t take a nap. He loves to look at pictures on our smartphones and he and my husband watch concert clips on the computer and dance. Some Netflix cartoons (PowerRangers) sneaks in occasionally, like at a restaurant during an especially long meal. Still not an amount we had any reason to worry about, he is definitely not a couch potato, he is (very) active.

We recently started looking at schools for pre-K and beyond and are drawn to Montessori and Waldorf education for a variety of reasons. But one concern is the limiting (either by actual school policy or strongly encouraged guidelines) of little (two hours per week on non-school days only) or no screen time for children. I’m not trying to use tv as a babysitter (I kind of am in the hectic mornings though) and we don’t plop him in front of video games all day, but I am hesitant of our family’s ability to abide by the screen time recommendations or policies. I know that Ezra goes to a Montessori school so I am curious if you have encountered this and, if so, how you handle it. Can you effectively give your child a Montessori or Waldorf education and still let them enjoy Mickey Mouse?

Mother of non-couch potato but Power Ranger loving child

So. Okay. Our Montessori school held its annual Halloween Fun Night last weekend. And if you’ve done any research into Montessori (as it appears you have), you’d probably expect to see nothing but a sea of folksy, homemade costumes of the non-TV-and-movie variety. Historical figures and wholesome characters from Great Children’s Literature or whatever.

Not so much. It pretty much resembled a Halloween party at EVERY SCHOOL EVER. Star Wars, ninjas, Disney princesses and yes, a Power Ranger or two.

I’m sure it depends on the school, of course. I visited about five different Montessori preschools before deciding on Ezra’s, and every one of them had a different “vibe,” despite all being under the Montessori umbrella. None of them, for the record, ever mentioned anything about a television policy or strict recommendations/expectations that Montessori principles must be practiced at home. Our school is more than happy to help families be more “Montessori-ish” at home and will offer recommendations for both books (“Montessori Madness!” is their top pick) and routines (cook with your kids, allow more independence, give toys and coats and shoes their own “place” etc.), but it’s not over-the-top or pushy. Honestly, our little Montessori preschool is downright chill, as preschools go in our area. (Think pressure-cooker schools. For THREE YEAR OLDS.) I chose the one with the most charming, happy-feeling classrooms and where I best “clicked” with the director and teachers.

(The fact that this particular school just so happened to be the one closest to my house was also a huge plus, but I swear it really was my favorite beyond that.)

If we were presented with some kind of official school policy about television or other “rules” about what we can and cannot do in our own home, yeah, I probably would take that as a sign that that particular school might not be the best fit for us. But I wouldn’t assume that ALL the schools are going to expect a similar level of commitment to Sparkle Motion Montessori. (And I am limited to Montessori knowledge here — Waldorf preschools aren’t nearly as common/popular around here, and the only one near us was beyond prohibitively expensive.)

THAT SAID.

School was a total game-changer for us, when it came to TV viewing habits. While I certainly don’t cling to every terrifying study about BAD, TV IS BAD and DESTROYING THE YOUTH OF AMERICA’S PRECIOUS SOUPY BRAINS, I will say that the effects of daily TV watching were really brought into sharp focus once Noah started school. And again when Ezra started — perhaps even more so because by that point Noah had grown bored with the relatively calm, educational offerings on PBS Sprout and Nick Jr. and was asking to watch more frenetic fare, like SpongeBob, Ninjago, Power Rangers, etc. You know, the kinds of cartoons mentioned in this study, that reported a significant (though temporary) drop in four-year-old’s attention spans and problem solving abilities. 

I hate to say it, but: Yeah, that. We totally see similar effects, particularly with Noah (who already struggles with attention and self-regulation), but also with Ezra (who technically “doesn’t”). And don’t even get me STARTED on the effects of the commercials that run on all the non-preschool channels. Don’t. Even. Get me. Started.

Our TV rules now are pretty strict — no TV on school days, with ONE (1) exception being made on Wednesday nights, if there’s a new episode of Ninjago, and IF homework is completed first, or all the toys picked up, etc. If Ninjago is a rerun (which it is about 99.9999% of the time), they can watch something more Ezra-appropriate on Nick Jr. instead. On Friday nights, we watch a movie. On the weekends, well…we aren’t ridiculous about it, but we still try really hard to avoid letting them just turn the TV on and watch blocks of shows at a time, particularly on the commercial channels.

They ARE allowed to play games on our phones and the iPad, but unless we’re traveling we keep videos off them and block YouTube. (Mostly because we ran into problems with Noah starting on something child-friendly and then clicking on “related videos” that LOOK like cartoons but…uh…aren’t appropriate. AT ALL.) We also set up a computer that uses the TV as a monitor and let Noah play with the educational games and online books on StarFall.com and Scholastic.com, which he loves. This gives him the TV “fix” without the passive staring and helps him learn basic mouse/typing skills. Ezra’s starting to enjoy StarFall as well, plus some Montessori-friendly phonics apps we’ve purchased for him. So they still get an awful lot of screen/media face-time. (And of course Noah knows how to Google and find all the Ninjago crap he wants.)

I will definitely cop to caving on the Original Boob Tube occasionally — I like to kid myself that turning Nick Jr. on for an hour while I make dinner isn’t as bad as like, The Kellogg’s PopRocks’ Super Loud Product Placement Action Figure Hour — but the boys watch a FRACTION of the TV they used to, before we were expecting them to transition from home to a classroom every day. And it’s…fine! We survive and haven’t killed each other yet.

Sorry for zigging and zagging through this answer and going on a bit of tangent, by the way. I guess the tl;dr version would be: Don’t worry too much about the Montessori “rules” regarding TV…but also don’t be surprised if you end up kinda agreeing with them, after all.

Photo Source: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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17 Responses to “TV and Montessori (and School, In General)”

  1. Becky Nov 05 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    We looked at (and briefly attended) both Montessori and a traditional NYEAC (spelling?) preschools. (My daughter is 2)

    The Montessori one was…hardcore, to put it mildly.  Part of the program was a half hour lecture each morning for the parents – mostly to berate us for things like TV viewing, reading fairy tales, not completely potty training by 1, use of any convenience or non organic and locally sourced foods (they had a problem with using farmers market bought apple butter because it should be homemade) etc. The facility was gorgeous and it was fairly cheap, but I couldn’t take it anymore after being told that allowing my daughter to wear dresses was enforcing gender stereotypes that should be discouraged. 

    She now attends a semi-religious preschool (mentioned above) that has much more realistic view of raising a child today. (At least, they don’t make me feel bad about my choices). 

    So it really can depend on the actual school. I suggest going and seeing the school and talking to the teacher if possible. It might be like Amalahs. But it might be like mine. 

  2. MR Nov 05 at 4:51 pm Reply Reply

    My older dd (4) is in a Montessori. She loves it and is thriving. I highly recommend Montessori programs – they just really understand kids. Now, I don’t know if ours has a limit on tv watching. I’m sure they don’t recommend tons, but they aren’t the ones there with my family. My dd gets to watch tv in the morning while I get ready for work (depending on what times she wakes up this is usually about 30 minutes), and we usually let her watch some in the evening (around an hour 7-8 when we are all wiped). It is more than we want her to watch, but it is less than she used to and we are working on cutting down the evening stuff. It has been a really difficult last year and a half, so tv was totally our babysitter so we could make it through the day. Not super proud of it, but if you knew what our 1.5 year was like, well quite frankly this was good and what helped us get through it all. It has not affected our dd at school at all. I don’t know if that’s because we closely monitor the types of shows she watches, she is still watching Dora, Diego, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little ponies, even though she’d love to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog. But, I tell her those are not 4-year old shows. We don’t let her have the iPad when she is supposed to have quiet time (in lieu of actual nap) anymore. We found she would come out of quiet time crankier than she went in and that didn’t work for us. She can watch something while I take a nap on weekends if she isn’t tired, but if we feel she is cranky and needs quiet time or nap, she doesn’t get to take the iPad.
    Our 1.5 year old is just starting to get interested in watching tv. I don’t really want to encourage that, but at the same time, I need to get her through a medical procedure in a few months and even the dr’s office encourages kids watch tv during it to get them to stay still enough, so I need to start letting her now. Otherwise they will have to sedate her. Overall, we use the tv as a babysitter more than I like. But, we haven’t seen a negative impact on it yet. And as we continue to recover from the last 1.5 years, I anticipate this will go down more. But, I personally don’t think 40 minutes is that big of a deal.

  3. AmyRenee Nov 05 at 5:22 pm Reply Reply

    Can you meet some of the teachers and current parents to find out whether they are hard core Montessori or take it as more general guidelines? Also another factor to consider – will the staff be lecturing your child and making them feel that they are bad or stupid for watching tv, etc? We had a major issue this summer with a summer pre-kindergarten program and my son’s teacher in that she liked to dictate rules to her class for outside school as well. Some I agreed with, although not necessarily the way she presented them ex:”Spongebob rots your brain – kids in my class do not watch Spongebob” whereas others really frustrated our family ex: “Kids in my class go to bed at bedtime every night” – which caused tears and drams “No, I can’t go to the fireworks on the 4th of July because Mrs. X says I have to go to bed at bedtime every night!” Really teacher? Thanks for giving my kid a complex and telling him I’m a bad mom. My son is a major people pleaser and rule follower, so it did not go over well when what I told him contradicted what the teacher told him, and I’m sure the families that actually needed advice on Spongebob and bedtimes totally ignored her. I’m really glad she wasn’t assigned to be his permanent teacher, as that would have resulted in some interesting conferences, I’m sure.
    In summary – talk to parents and the teacher, don’t put your kids in a school where they try to dictate rules for at home you can’t or don’t want to live with.

  4. Jeannie Nov 05 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    I have no Montessori experience, but my kid experience suggests that my kid has clear behavioural issues when there’s too much screen time of any kind. And those same issues disappear when we pull back on being permissive. We don’t have a set amount of allowed time at this point (he’s seven) — we actually just base it off his behaviour at this point. 

    Anyway, not really a point, more of an observation and a chiming in with Montessori or not, I think you’ll be a good judge of how much TV is right for your kid. 

  5. Carrie Nov 06 at 11:41 am Reply Reply

    Amalah,

    Do you let Noah watch Adventure Time? My 2nd graders friends all talk about it, but I am scared to pull the trigger. We never have tuned into cartoon network, and thankfully were able to avoid spongebob.

    Thnx.
    carrie

  6. Sara Nov 06 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    So my dear 16 month old son threw a wooden block at our LED TV destroying it three weeks ago. It was the only TV in our house and after a thoughtful discussion regarding screen time, we have not replaced it nor have a timeline to do so. Honestly my son’s behavior did a complete turn around as he is getting much more attention from my husband and I. There is much more music being played, impromptu dance parties, home cooked meals, and my own grad school scores are much more improved as my focus has considerably been funneled into something worthwhile. We also canceled our TV saving us almost $200 a month! We are taking this money are putting it towards a vacation in March.

    Weeks ago I would have never fathomed that we would be a TV free household, but honestly it is one of the best things we could have done for our family. It was a hard transition as we have had to completely change our entire life routine, but it was well worth it. It’s not for everyone, in fact my SIL thinks we are downright batty, but sometimes the best things for you are forced upon you.

  7. betttina Nov 06 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    My 18 month old is a typical toddler and doesn’t want to sit still for meals. We’ve started letting her watch the PBS Kids app on the iPad (it’s just PBS kids’ shows like Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train and all the others) while she eats. Since she’s entertained, she’ll eat more at one time than she does if there’s nothing else interesting going on. This isn’t ideal and I hope she doesn’t grow up to need the tv on while she eats but it helps her focus on food. When we’re all sitting down together for dinner each night, she’s entertained by our family chatter.

    She also gets to hold the iPad at night in bed while I brush my teeth. This buys me a few minutes of her patience whereas she used to cry while I got ready for bed.

    So far she hasn’t seen any commercials, so that’s not an issue. I’m with Amalah that it depends on your own personal brand of child and how much tv is too much.

  8. Jenelle Little Nov 06 at 2:17 pm Reply Reply

    My dd (almost 4) and ds (1) are in a Montessori school, which in general we love. Except when it gets too…Montessori-ish (eg, they don’t believe in smocks for art time because it interrupts creativity. Really? Then you come home and do my laundry!). But they’ve never specifically set forth any rules about TV time.

    Here’s what works for us: every Friday, my dd gets 14 “tokens” (poker chips) to use for the week. One token is worth one episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or 30 minutes on the iPad; 2 tokens are good for one movie. She can use the tokens any way she likes (within the restrictions of dinner time, bed time, etc.) but she doesn’t get any new ones until the next Friday. She has to balance “spending” and “saving” and deciding when she wants to watch TV. She has never run out of tokens before the end of the week, and we don’t have to make arbitrary decisions on whether she’s watched “too much” TV at any given time – if she as tokens left, she’s fine.

    When she gets older, we may let her earn extra tokens for the week by doing extra chores or whatever, but right now it isn’t necessary. She really likes getting to choose how to spend her tokens by herself (so very Montessori!).

    • JenVegas Nov 06 at 3:30 pm Reply Reply

      I LOVE this idea. Do you think it would work on my husband too? 

    • Jillian Dec 04 at 11:51 pm Reply Reply

      I like this idea!! Def going to try it

  9. AmandaP Nov 06 at 4:48 pm Reply Reply

    I’d like to add a note for Waldorf as well! Most Waldorf schools definitely discourage tv watching, but in my experience most children are familiar with the normal kids shows, so…

    That said, my parents are both Waldorf teachers and they talk a lot about how much tv and video games harm kids’ abilities to focus and take part in class room activities. I totally understand the draw of letting a kid watch tv – even my 5 month baby is quiet and happy when she’s watching the bright flashing colors – but there is so much research out there that shows how even a small amount of screentime can be harmful for little developing brains.

    Anyway, maybe cutting it all out isn’t an option for you, but you might find that what Waldorf or Montessorri can offer would balance out the inconvenience of not using the tv as much?

  10. Alice Nov 06 at 4:51 pm Reply Reply

    I went to a Montessori preschool/kindergarden, and a Waldorf grade school, as did my sister.  My parents sound a lot like you – didn’t want us watching a ton of TV in general, but didn’t see the harm in a bit of PBS each day while they made dinner, etc.  Like Amy said, each Waldorf/Montessori school is different, but while they strongly “encouraged” parents not to allow ANY screentime (this was in the 80s & early 90s before computers/internet was quite so ubiquitous, so they asked parents not to let kids use computers EVER, through 8th grade) there was no particular backlash to my parents (that i know of anyway!) in letting us continue with our normal habits. I watched a ton of PBS, and a bit of Nickelodeon, and got to use the computer – no banning by school influence.  (And I turned out fine ;-)  )

  11. tasterspoon Nov 27 at 2:32 pm Reply Reply

    I am so interested in this discussion! What are the signs to look for to show that a toddler is being impaired by the TV?

    We had a second baby when my first was just shy of 2, and since I am up all night with the baby (co sleeping has turned on me, since now he nurses and fusses all night), my husband takes the early shift with my elder daughter, who is up at 5:30-6 so I can stay in bed for an extra hour. He started out spending the time reading, but he is not a morning person so started sitting with her in front of the tube watching Curious George and Looney Tunes (so violent). I hate it (esp. the Comedy Central commercials, which he promises he fast forwards), but I am desperate for any chance to sleep, so I keep my mouth shut. Later in the day with me she begs for “monkey” or “bunny” but accepts that I don’t allow it. I explain that TV is for when we can’t think of anything better to do. So far she attends to the TV very little, she jumps around the room and plays with toys, which renders the TV background noise, which is a whole separate issue/pet peeve, but I guess it’s better than her being a couch potato.

    I am so grateful to my husband for getting up at the crack so I want to cut him slack, but I know that if there is cause for concern he will stop.

  12. Melissa@Total_Mama Jan 08 at 7:49 am Reply Reply

    Thanks for this; it’s been on my mind for some time. Our 2.5 year-old son rarely watched TV, until someone introduced him to the Fresh Beat Band a few months ago. We were all sick over the holiday break, so we watched about 8567 episodes of the show. We also were excited to introduce him to Toy Story, which we remembered fondly. Then I noticed (apart from the fact that Woody is so angry the entire film, saying, “Shut up, you idiot!” about 1000 times; oh, and the SADIST kid) that when the movie
    was on, he would undoubtedly become more aggressive. He’d smile and pounce on us for no reason. So we’re done. To start the elimination process, we will let him watch exactly one 22-minute episode of Fresh Beat while dinner is made, and perhaps a little TV on a Saturday morning when his dad wakes up with him and the 4 month-old. It’s difficult with an infant at home to keep him occupied all the time, but I’ve got to do a better job.

  13. Sarah Jan 10 at 11:02 pm Reply Reply

    I am new to blogging .. and what not but i do want to limit tv time for my 5 year old and my little one who is due in march  2013. With that being said, would very educational videos be considered tv time ? For example i purchased signing time first box set that has board books and other activities …. we need to learn a bit of ASL because my niece is deaf and it would be a fun way for me and my little ones to learn with out classroom feel ….. i would consider it a lesson …. not the actual tv time. Or is there a better way i should go about this?

  14. Fernando Nandin Apr 01 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    This is so far my understanding. I would like to add 2 things to the thread: 1) Montessori wouldn′t endorse NOTHING violent. 2) Montessori wouldn’t stand NOTHING that resembles unrealistic stories or fantastic characters, at least for kids below 6: Talking dogs, flying elephants, walking dressed mouses. These two have quite a solid background in montessori literature  which you can research easily. Let′s suppose you find something on TV that is out of those 2 categories: the passive nature of TV rips off will and self discipline from the kid, two of Montessori′ s most important values. But Are there only negative effects? I don’t know and I don’t think so. In our case we use non violent TV, unfortunately with some fantastic character stories, but always spoken in foreign language. In my case, we are from Argentina, and my kids (1.5 and 4)  watch some episodes of Little People in English language, Thomas & friends, Dora. Since they ask a lot for TV, at least in this way they get used to hear foreign language, you (or perhaps just me) would be surprised to see how well they understand me and their phonetic is very very good.  I am trying to combine these with leap pad games or educational apps. I like a quote from Robert Kiyosaki “Whatever you are involved in, you are either adding benefit or harming it”. In this case TV is being involved in our kid´s life. And it is either adding or harming them. Its up to you.

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