“The TV is dead.” Do these words excite a feeling of freedom or a dread normally reserved for the end of the world?
For many of us, probably both. Most of us are fans of this or that show. (I’m partial to Star Trek myself.) Yet the tube is on, not just for “this or that show”, but for hour upon endless hour, day upon day, year upon year. We just sort of passively fall into it and phase out. Conversation dies. Eyes glaze. Kids sit with mouths open and a trickle of drool running down their chins (and these are the teenagers!) All this for the 3 hour Gilligan’s Island marathon.
And all the while we could be living! So before we wake up in the Old Folks Home with 10,000 hours of Energizer Bunny commercials poured into our skulls and forty pounds of old cheeseburgers packed under our belts, let’s explore some ways out of the glass prison, culled from some of the fun things our family has done since we embalmed the tube.
Some old gloves, a wig, a hat or three, a stick horse and some goofy elf shoes from the local thrift store and it’s look out William Shakespeare. Both impromptu and reader’s theatre are popular with our two extroverted munchkins (Luke (8) and Matthew (6)). (Speaking of munchkins, these guys rehearsed and performed all of the Wizard of Oz with the help of a story tape on the stereo. As the tape told the tale, the kids mouthed the dialogue, mimed the action, and made a frantic series of costume changes while my wife Janet and I cheered from our front row seat couch.
Of course, grown-ups can be part of the action too. For many weeks our couch became the deck and we the crew of the legendary Dawn Treader from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I was the brave captain who fought off a sea serpent bent on crushing our ship like a strawberry box. Luke was Prince Caspian. Matthew was Reepicheep the valiant mouse. Janet was a beautiful Princess. All that travel–and great mileage!
Power Out Nights
Last winter, a storm blew out the lights in our area for nearly three days. We cooked on camp stoves, heated the house with our little fireplace, shared perishable rations with the neighbors and had a lot of fun. Company came and went. The house was filled with candlelight and laughter. We played hide ‘n seek in the dark nooks and crannies. Then Jan brewed up a little chocolate soup (hot chocolate mix + water) in a pan on our fireplace stove. (A big puzzle to our guys, by the way. They kept peering up to our cupboard shelves as though at any moment they would spy the telltale can of Campbell’s Chocolate Soup and unravel the mystery.) Then we settled down for warm drinks in a chilly house, brushed our teeth by the light of a Wee Willie Winkie candle, unfurled our sleeping bags by the fireplace and nestled in to watch the fire and sing quiet songs. Our children (and we) have never forgotten it. Nor have we forgotten the best part: there’s nothing to stop us from doing the same thing any other night. Just shut off the lights, light a few candles, and tell stories or play a game in the dark. Again, it’s so simple you might never think of it. Yet you can make a heart-memory for a child by just flipping a light switch.
This covers a lot of turf. Matthew’s idea of a game ranges from Chutes and Ladders to All-Out Dad Wrassling. Whatever game you pick, though, should be structured (especially for young ones) to build up the child and encourage him or her with what they have accomplished, not humiliate them for losing. Likewise, teach the child to play in a right spirit too. Team games can especially helpful in this respect since, by their nature, they encourage cooperation. Moreover, such games can give children a sense of competence by placing them in a decision-making process in which an adult takes their ideas and wishes seriously.
Older children might enjoy “long play” board games which can continue the saga each night. Other games like tag or charades are all fun and can be tailored to specific ages. Tickle games are also fun, as long as every participant can stop the tickling or wrestling when they wish.
Get a science book for kids (the kind that shows you how to make fizz with baking soda and vinegar). Or get an cheap set of watercolors so everyone can try drawing a family portrait. Get a some clay and work it into a gallery of dinosaurs. Enlist the kids in a cookie making extravaganza. Go to the library and find a copy of David MacCauley’s The New Way Things Work and take apart of some simple household gizmo to see how it goes. (Caution: If you’re like me, make sure it’s a household gizmo you have two of. I always have several leftover cogs when I’m done.) All this can provide many evenings of fun and exploration. Hey! You might even learn something!
Last but not least, there’s books. We’ve been through Narnia a couple of times now as well as trips through Tolkien’s Middle Earth via The Hobbit. (The guys were absolutely spellbound.) Now we’re making our way through George MacDonald’s fantasies; specifically the Princess books (The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, The Light Princess). Dr. Seuss is a blast too, of course. So are Steven Kellogg, James Stevenson, Andrew Lang’s Color Fairy Books and a host of others. But just as important as what you read is simply the fact that you read. It inspires a love of learning because kids (and adults) love to be read to.
Of course, these are only a few examples from a vast number of possibilities. If something else catches your fancy, go for it! The more things we try, the more we will enjoy life. And the more we enjoy life, the more liberated we will be from the glass prison.