I hate admitting it, but everyone in my family is guilty of spending too much time on screens. TV, social media (Snapchat or Tik Tok for the teenagers, Twitter or Facebook for the adults), computer games, Netflix, and YouTube videos all compete for our attention.
Recently my toddler’s imagination has become a great source of entertainment for the entire household. He’s one wacky character! It just so happens that he has also recently discovered Peppa Pig. He’s obsessed. The pigs are taking over on and off screen. This morning George pig caused havoc, spilling milk (imaginary, of course) on our kitchen table, while we were eating cereal. Blessing (age 2.5 years) has also started calling me “Mama Pig.” Seriously.
If this wasn’t enough to set off alarm bells, I read an article which said kids on average consume 1200 hours of screen time each year, despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation that parents should restrict screens to one hour a day for young children. Some experts have criticized the WHO group behind the guidelines, stating that the recommendations were made with inconclusive evidence to support them. Regardless of which position you take on this issue, it’s evident that the rise in obesity among children is related to sedentary lifestyles compounded by screen use. The Mayo Clinic offers a sensible guide for parents which seems balanced. Their website says: “Keep in mind that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the type of technology or amount of time spent.” While I prefer Sesame Street, Peppa Pig certainly isn’t the worst program my child could be watching.
The thing is I’m tired. Really, really tired. I haven’t had a single night of uninterrupted sleep since I was pregnant. Caring for an active toddler and parenting hormonal teenagers, plus managing my home and work, can be overwhelming. Caffeine doesn’t help much anymore. It’s tempting to turn on CBeebies so I can run a load of laundry in peace, wash the dishes or even take a quick shower. In small doses watching TV is fine, but I don’t want it to become a habitual practice to automatically flip on the television when we’re at home.
Though my energy was especially low after a poor night’s sleep, I made a decision as I drained my mug of coffee this morning. We would get out and about rain or shine. I brought Blessing to a parent and toddler group for the first time. He had so much fun, especially because they had a Halloween party and all of the children dressed up. (He went as a pumpkin, not a pig). Afterwards we took our dog for a walk in the woods.
We are fortunate to live in one of the most scenic parts of rural Ireland. It’s a paradise for nature lovers. There is an abundance of beaches, hill walks, and woodland trails to explore. My older three children enjoyed their years as members of Scouting Ireland. Before Blessing’s arrival we would regularly walk the hills with friends; those are some of my happiest memories. Once we hiked to the top of Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest point, with my son’s scouting group. It’s harder to hike these days because Blessing is getting heavier to carry, but we still try to do it occasionally. (Check the above link for information on guided tours if you’d like to hike the Kerry mountains too).
The Glengarriff Nature Reserve is near the community hall where we attended the parent and toddler group. Usually I bring Blessing’s buggy on the meadow walk, but I wanted to be close to the water today. The River Walk is a shorter distance, but the trail has steep steps which are difficult with a stroller. Instead I brought a simple baby carrier in case he needed a rest, but it proved unnecessary since he walked the entire trail.
We were the only ones in the woods and took our time. It was sunny when we started the walk. Minutes later showers started so we had fun finding places to shelter in the trees. Blessing collected tiny pine cones and sticks, threw stones in the water, jumped in puddles, remarked on the birdsong, and marveled at the variations in the river as the current and landscape changed along the way. It was magical for both of us. I’ve decided to make it part of our weekly routine year round.
Some time ago I discovered a blog 1000 Hours Outside: Ditch the Screens. The focus of the blog is to encourage families to spend more time in nature. I’m inspired by the homeschooling family of seven in Michigan and aspire to be like them. Author and founder of the blog, Ginny Yurich, says she has been inspired by the work of a 20th century English educator Charlotte Mason.
“I originally thought her idea was utterly preposterous. It is a far cry from typical child activities these days, most of which last no longer than an hour. At the invite of a friend we began to spend large immersive chunks of time in nature and immediately my eyes were opened. Children who are allowed this freedom of time outside get lost in nature. They get lost in their imaginations and they get lost in wonder. And then they rapidly develop. There are many factors why but one reason is due to the rich sensory environment that nature always provides.”
I recommend reading the full blog post by clicking here.
Long before there was a need for a 1000 Hours movement, my partner and his siblings spent their childhoods immersed in nature on their family’s smallholding. Their parents chose to live simply without electricity or any modern conveniences. They were part of the Back to the Land movement in the 1970’s. As a result, Christy is extremely creative and one of the most knowledgeable people about nature. He can read and understand land in ways I can’t. I hope he’ll pass on this trait to our son.
I’ve no intention of becoming as extreme as his parents were, but I would like to achieve a middle ground. Spending three hours a day outside is unlikely at the moment, but I would like to start tracking our nature time in an attempt to increase it. Currently I live close to town, but I would like to move further into the countryside when my teenagers have left home. This would make it easier for Blessing to spend time outdoors where he can climb trees, play in willow domes, and roam in a big garden. For the time being, I’ll need to make more of an effort to plan excursions in nature. The Facebook page West Cork with Kids is a great resource for finding more places to explore in our region if you’re visiting or living in the area.
How does your family navigate the modern issue of screen usage? Do you spend enough time outdoors or is it something you’d like to do more of? Print the free 1000 Hours Tracker Sheet here if you’d also like to join the movement.
One last note. Waterproofs are essential in Ireland. I’ve supported PuddleDucks for many years. I discovered the company back when my teenagers attended the local Waldorf kindergarten, where the children went outside daily regardless of the weather. Below is a photo of Blessing in his fist waterproof set last year. His new fleece lined set for the winter arrived the day after I ordered it (pictured). There is a temperate climate in Ireland, but the constant dampness is really unpleasant. PuddleDucks delivers quickly and the shipping is inexpensive within Ireland. The quality of the waterproofs is excellent and we certainly get our money’s worth in this wet climate! My next task is to get waterproofs for myself. I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comment section.
Please do share with me any adventures (or photos) in nature you’ve recently enjoyed! I try to post photos on my Instagram account to share some of West Cork’s beauty with others who may never have the chance to travel here.