The balancing act: TV, video games, outdoor activities, and learning

Getting in activities in the right amount for our five-year-old seems to be a constant battle. Trying to find that proper mixture of learning, fun, and physical activities is a difficult balancing act and one that it seems like we're always working to readjust. We want our son to have a good time, be a kid, and watch cartoons, but we also want him to be smart, enjoy sports, and run wild outside sometimes.

Living in a third floor condo in an urban environment only adds to the challenge we encounter in finding the right balance of entertainment and activities. Therefore, we find ourselves really having to work to make sure our son gets the right balance of physically, mentally, and fun-related activities.

Setting Goals and Priorities for Learning

We like to set goals for our son's learning. One of my major personal goals for our son is to attempt to keep him about a grade level ahead of what he is doing in school in every possible area.

To help me do this, we do several things. First off, since at the start of school, our son's kindergarten teacher provided us with a list of what he will be graded upon, we can use this as a sort of checklist. This helps us gauge where he already excels and find any weak points where we might need to focus more. We also make it a point to do a study session each afternoon after he returns from his half day of kindergarten, not only preparing him for doing homework in the future, but reviewing things that he may have done in class that day or working on other items to help keep him ahead of the game.

Enforcing Limits and Times

Now that our son is older and can better understand time and time limits, we can better explain to him and enforce these limits. Telling him that he could watch cartoons for a half hour when he was three, really meant nothing to him. As a five-year-old though, he has a better grasp upon time telling, so I can tell him at 12 o'clock that he can watch television or play a video game for half an hour -- or until 12:30 -- so that it's not a shock when I tell him time is up.

Putting time limits on things -- whether they are fun activities like television, video games, and outdoor time, or they are learning-related -- helps us to balance these things better, and helps us keep our son from getting sucked into hours of unproductive activities.

Re-evaluating Over Time

As I mentioned when discussing limits and times, things have changed as our son has grown older and learned what time is and how to understand it. Our schedule has also changed as he has started kindergarten. And I recognize that it will continue to change over time as he grows older.

This means that there must be a constant re-evaluation of activities and the times spent on those activities. Sure, during the summer there is more time spent outside, watching cartoons, playing video games, and watching television, and less time spent on learning and education-related activities (although we still make time for regular such activities). I mean, we want him to be smart, but we also want him to have fun and be a kid too.

As school starts though, we re-evaluate and transition to a more regimented routine with more learning and less play. On weekends, we tend to move back to that that more fun, summer-style schedule though. So really, it's just a constant game of re-evaluation and re-balancing of priorities and activities, and one that I don't expect will end until he's out from under our roof.

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