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TV and Montessori (and School, In General)

TV and Montessori (and School, In General)

By Amalah

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

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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