Christmas is fast approaching and that means school and day-care breaks as the wonderful caregivers also spend some much-needed time with their families.
For a lot of parents, I know that our thoughts are filled with 1 question; How to entertain and keep our children busy during this period when they are home? Are they getting too much screen time?
Would the activities be as stimulating as the ones they engage in at school or day-care? If you are a mother working out of the home, those questions are followed by others such as ‘Would the caregiver at home stick to the schedule when I am not there?’, ‘How do I monitor screen time vs creative play time?’

We spoke to Jerelyn Johnson to give us some tips on this all too important subject. Jerelyn Johnson is a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone and a mother to 3 girls; aged 16, 5 and 3 years. The eldest daughter, she and her spouse adopted when she was 3 years old. Malaika Johnson, whom she describes as shy, soft and diplomatic is currently in grade 1 at the Apex International School Ltd. Vienna Johnson is the youngest. According to her mother; she’s a handful, very upfront in her dealings and says things as they are. She’s also at Apex International School in kindergarten 1.
Jerelyn says that her family usually goes on vacations out of the country during school breaks between July and September so keeping her children busy was not an issue as they would have already lined up activities to engage in at their destination. However, this year, they did not go on vacation and so keeping her daughters busy became a challenge as she wanted to give them a change from what were their normal weekends/breaks.

She said “Deciding what they should engage in was a bit difficult. So together with my husband, we settled on arts and craft activities because we agreed it will be good for them to help develop their creative minds and abilities.

At their ages, they cannot use scissors to make the cut-outs they often need. We involved them fully in the planning so they always looked forward to the activities. On some days, we invited their cousins over. I noticed that they were willing to share and work as a team. They would help each other out especially Vienna who is quite young. Physically, it helped as they had to run back and forth to collect materials or cut-outs from us if one of us was not in the area they were working from.
They were also able to think and make decisions about what their pieces of work should look like. They would say aliens have green faces and use a green crayon, marker or paint.

Those activities we engaged in brought us closer as a family because it was all hands-on deck. Because they were also making contributions and actually taking part in the planning of the activities, they were never bored nor was their short concentration span an issue.”

In this digital age, I know that a lot of parents struggle with the issue of screen time. How much is too much? There have been studies that show that that children between the ages of 3-5 years who get screen time over the recommended 1 hour a day have lower brain development. See this one .  But often, as parents, we need that screen time to restore our sanity as we enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet to recharge. It is also a way for children to learn; they are a lot of educational materials online that teach them about colours, numbers, letters and games that expand their reasoning capabilities and engage them in creative play. There are also features that allow parents to control what their children can and cannot see online.
On the subject of screen time, Jerelyn said “Yes they do have screen time. When I get home from work, the TV goes off. After they finish their homework, they watch TV until 7:45 -8:00 pm then go to bed. Getting them to leave the TV and go to bed was initially a challenge.  Then we had a discussion about it and part of our agreement was that they will take turns turning the TV off at bedtime. When we started doing that, our fights ended.

In April this year, we got them their individual tablets because they had, through the help of big sister, learnt how to access YouTube on their dad’s iPad and there were always fights between Malaika and Vienna as to what to watch. Vienna prefers watching rhymes but Malaika prefers the cartoons. Now with their tablets, they both can watch what they prefer. This brought about another screen time challenge as they would cry whenever I tried to get it from them to charge or otherwise. Again, we had a discussion about it and I told them that if they used the tablets for too long it will affect their eyes and they might go blind (laugh). Since then, they only use them in the evenings on weekdays from 7:15-8:00 and on Saturdays if we are home all day for 1-2hours maximum. On Sundays they are with it as much as they want after service. I however encourage them to play with their other toys and jump around”

Both Jerelyn and her husband work out of the home. So, I asked her how she ensures that her daughters could still engage in the kind of creative play that she envisions when she is not there to monitor them.
She told me that the key is ensuring that they have a schedule and explain it to their caregiver; in this instance, the nanny and the eldest sister. She also said that they engaged in other activities with their caregivers “With their nanny, and big sister they have other activities like tea parties, play dates with their dolls  which are a kind of re-enactment of their play dates but this time the dolls are the kids or just supervising them when they are letting off steam.”
She however does not over schedule their days and allows sufficient time for free imaginative play.

Her tips for other parents “You should try as much as you can to adjust your busy schedules and make time for playtime with your kids, it’s fun and you will all will enjoy it. Conduct online research to know what type of age appropriate activities they can engage in. You should also spare some money to shop for the ideal toys or materials that will be needed for the activities they desire to engage in. Primarily, it’s all about making sacrifices just as is everything with parenting.”

So, for parents dreading the fast approaching school break, we hope you will learn some tips on how to keep those hyper energetic little ones busy to keep you from losing the little bit of sanity you have left.

Make time to join them in play, get them involved in the planning as much as possible and speak to their caregiver so that you are all on the same page.
Happy Holidays!!!

Written by: Fatmata

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