We may be anti-TV, but that doesn’t mean that we completely ban screen entertainment for our children. This year, we’ve started introducing scheduled screen time once-a-week on Sunday afternoons.

Watching Skippy, August 2010
Mr Hammond, the Head Ranger at Waratah National Park, entertains the girls as they watch Skippy.

Previously, David sat down with the girls occasionally, and they watched Youtube clips until David got bored (or had to do something else). But this started being requested more and more frequently. We love to show girls the educational clips on the internet, but it’s not something that we would encourage in place of actually sending them out into the world to learn for themselves!

Setting up a scheduled screen time means that when the girls ask to watch something, we can always direct them to the right time when their wish will come true. We’re not saying “no”, we’re saying “wait”.

Likewise, the scheduling means that we can’t use screen time as a baby-sitter for our own convenience. This leads us to encourage the girls to play independently when we need to be busy, instead of relying on passive entertainment as a solution.

Having a scheduled screen time has also introduced the girls to the days of the week at a faster rate. David and I are not on a regular weekly schedule (David works during the week and on weekends — whenever the work is available), so the weeks can fly by without anything remarkable to distinguish one day from the next. But with screen time on Sundays, the girls have started asking what day it is at breakfast so they can project how long it is until Sunday afternoon.

Some Sunday afternoons, we never get around the screen time. We may be out and about, meeting with friends, or having a grand adventure on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn’t matter — we don’t book the screen time in the next available afternoon — the girls just have to wait until the next Sunday. After all, they weren’t missing out by being out of the house — our family should consider that we were having a better time by chasing our own adventures instead of just watching other’s adventures!

With our girls unused to the fast-paced scenes of contemporary children’s television, and Disney totally banned, we’ve had to be creative with finding shows that we’re happy to show the girls and that they enjoy watching. As with most children in front of a screen, repetition doesn’t seem to be a problem, so we only have a small repertoire of items that we show.

Skippy, the produced in the late 60s, is probably the Australian equivalent of Leave it to Beaver except that the family consists of one father, one co-worker, two sons, a girl-boarder and a kangaroo. There are 91 episodes of this iconic show that follows the lives of a park ranger and his household in an Australian national park. We enjoy the episodes where Australian wildlife features prominently, but — although they’re quite tame — some plots are still too tense for the girls to enjoy. One of the hazards of watching stuff from this era is that we run into the themes of racism and sexism portrayed in a way that is not ideal.

The Fox and the Child is one film that is has made our short-list. Originally titled Le renard et l’enfant, The Fox and the Child is a beautiful French feature film that merges the magic of childhood with the wonder of a nature documentary. The girls delight in watching the fox’s antics again and again and are mesmerised by the main character, with Aisha even going so far as to let some hair hang over her eyes in mimicry.

The Gruffalo, produced by the BBC for last year’s Christmas season, is the only animation that we’re watching at the moment. I’ve raved about The Gruffalo before, and we keep going back to this cartoon again and again. It has such a simple dialogue, the scary scenes are by-now predictable, and the musical score brings more emotion to the story.

So that’s what we’re watching — when we do have screen time. What’s in front of your children when they’re watching a screen?