Since Seb was tiny, we let him watch TV. Not a lot, but it was a good break to put him in his bouncer and let him CBeebies (a UK BBC Channel aimed at pre-schoolers). He enjoyed it, and we enjoyed the break.
As Seb got older, he actually tended to watch less and less TV. He was so busy with his other activities (most of them outside of the house), that he just didn’t have time to spend hours in front of the TV. In fact, such was his relatively limited access to TV, that he’s inherited my wife’s habit of having it on the background whilst he does other things (draws, play etc).
There were certain shows that he loved to watch. Early on there was Teletubbies, and Brumm (a car with a mind of it’s own). Later came Rubadubbers, Bob The Builder, Dora the Explorer and Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs.
What none of this programmes provided was a schedule which fitted with Seb’s schedule. You were either in when they were on, or you missed them.
An example of this was bedtime. For nearly two years, Seb’s bedtime wind-down began at 7pm, aiming for a 7:30pm “in-bed-asleep”. At 7pm, we would sit down with his nightly milk, and watch Little Bear. This was a calming show, about a bear and his friends. It was the ideal show to help Seb calm down before bedtime. After it finished at 7:15pm we’d go upstairs, to read the nightly story and then song and sleep.
However, if for any reason (out visiting friends, finished play), we started later, Little Bear was gone. Which meant our calm down show went to.
Now, this wasn’t the nightmare I portray. Seb’s very easy to calm down and get ready for bed. It’s not like we needed the show. But it was nice to have continuity there for Seb’s routine.
Then I bought the only piece of technology that my wife’s accepted into our house with open arms. We’ve subscripted for over 6 years to Sky TV (a UK Satellite provider). New on the block was a Sky+ box. For all you with Tivo/home-brew PVR, you’ll recognise this. It’s the same Sky box, but with a hard disk for recording, and two tuners, so you can watch and record different channels at the same time.
All of a sudden the TV fitted around Sebs schedule. My wife went through and put all Sebs favourite shows onto record, together with a series link, meaning the box would automatically record all episodes of the show it detected. Before long we had a fantastic library of all Sebs favourite shows, ready to play the drop of a hat.
Right from the start, if Seb needed to go at bed after 7:30pm, we still had a Little Bear show to watch. If he had a spare 15 minutes after play Alex could pull up an episode of Bob the Builder.
We now have control over what Seb watches. We still let him watch live TV when appropriate, but it’s a much more structured activity. We’re no longer at the mercy of TV schedulers.
I realise that not everyone has the ability to get or afford Sky+. This is a special piece of kit that costs a lot to run (currently, with our subscriptions it costs us £39+ per month). However, there are other steps you can take.
Firstly don’t think about VHS. The kids just don’t have the patience for it. Fast-forward, rewind etc. And recording can be a nightmare.
Instead, if you can’t afford Sky+ there are two other options in the UK.
1. Freeview box PVR. There are now Freeview (a free over-the-air digital service due to replace analogue TV in the UK) boxes available that contain a hard disk. These can be had for approximately £150-£200, but with the added bonus of no monthly subscription. In the UK, this would get the BBC CBeebies channel, giving you enough programming to keep the little ones happy.
2. DVD Recorder. These have just crashed in price in the last year. Originally these cost over £500, but we just picked on up for archiving purposes from Tesco’s for £79! Less than £80 to record any show to DVD. It’s brilliant, and includes on-screen scheduling. It wouldn’t take you long to create a DVD with all the favourite shows.
I really recommend investing in one of these options. It’s better than having to feed the goggle monster with size 8 shoes, affixed to the couch any old rubbish.