My son, who’s four and a half, has a terrific little wheelie bag that is shaped like a clownfish, and it always draws remarks at the airport. This year, the first to comment on the bag was a TSA Security Guard, who asked, “Is that Nemo?” Had he instead said, “Hey, buddy! That’s a great bag. Is that a clownfish?” Wyatt would probably enthusiastically responded that yes, it was, and he would have shown him the zipper and the retractable handle. Instead, Wyatt looked at him like he was insane.
Two more people asked “Hey! Is that Nemo?” as we waited for our plane. Wyatt gave them both the same quizzical look, as I explained, “No, it’s just a clownfish.” They followed-up with an incredulous, “Really?” So I assured them, “Yes, really. It’s just a clownfish,”
These are the kind of exchanges that happen to us regularly, because Wyatt doesn’t watch television or movies, and he doesn’t play video games. Connecting with Wyatt over pop-culture doesn’t work at this point in his life.
Our decision to wait to expose Wyatt to media has been a very conscious decision, and it has proven challenging at times. Our decision is based on many of the reasons discussed in this great post and thought-provoking podcast episode, and we’re incredibly glad we have taken this approach. But when people find out that we’re “those no-media people,” we usually get one of three reactions. The first is, “You’re crazy!” The second is, “So what are you saying? I’m ruining my kids by letting them watch their favorite programs?” And the third is a sort of sheepish, “Oh. We don’t let ours watch THAT much…”
We are not crazy. This approach is working for us, and we feel that we’re reaping the benefits of having a child with a rich imagination who enjoys independent play. And our choice has nothing to do with what anyone else is doing with their own kids. The statement, “Wyatt doesn’t watch TV or videos,” when offered to explain his blank stare at a pop-culture reference, is not a judgment of anyone. But it’s no wonder that people sometimes take it negatively. Media in childhood is a hot button issue. At least a few times a year, there’s another article telling parents that children should have less media exposure. And infuriatingly, those reports usually offer exactly zero suggestions on how to cut back. (If you’re interested in cutting back on media for young children, there is a helpful post from Janet Lansbury that you can check out here.)
Anyway. Long flights are challenging for everyone, but especially young children and the adults traveling with them. It’s easy to assume that entertainment in a confined space like an airplane requires screens. But it didn’t for us. The low-tech stuff still works.
This year, Wyatt was old enough to help decide what to put in his wheelie bag to pass the time on the plane. Here’s how we amused ourselves on our flights.
Aside from the mandatory safety video, the only thing we watched on a screen was the map showing the plane’s progress across the country. On our flight to Boston, a child was seated in front of Wyatt and the poor kid kept dropping his toys. So Wyatt spent a lot of time retrieving the toys for him, trading toys through the crack between the seats, or playing on his own with his cars or other things on the tray table. He also listened to some music on his headphones plugged into my 12-year old iPod, until the device finally died, giving us a terribly sad face on its big grey screen. I built him into a fort with an old swaddle blanket we always travel with. And I tried doing a couple of string figure games with him, but they weren’t that fun–maybe in a few more years. On the flight back from Boston, Wyatt did some drawing, reading, resting, and listened to a couple of audio stories from Sparkle Stories (which I managed from my phone, since the old iPod was dead). I didn’t get to read a book (or watch anything myself, obviously), but I did end up getting a short nap and I made a lot of progress on a knitting project. I also had some pretty fun conversations with my kid.
We brought and ate healthy, delicious snacks we rarely get at home. Plane snacks!
And we spent lots of time looking out the window, especially on take-off and landing.