Free Family Alternatives to Watching TV

There are alternatives to watching TV, but can you convince the rest of your family that they can live without the tube? You hear about people who can get so much done in a day: They bake bread, cook a big homemade meal for dinner, read a book a week, find time to exercise and do volunteer work. Their kids are straight-A students, belong to dozens of clubs and sports and still have time to spend with friends.

Where do these families find enough hours in a day? They're probably not spending any of them sitting in front of a TV screen. If you think your family could benefit from less TV watching, you don't need to go to the extreme of tossing the television set out the window. Just cutting back on the hours your television is turned on can have a surprising effect: Once the kids are forced to look around for something else to do, those alternative activities will get a hold of them and they'll find they're choosing on their own to not watch TV.

Here are seven alternatives to TV for you to try with your family, to get them to break the TV habit.

  1. Read
    Get a library card for each member of the family and become regular visitors there. Sign up for a frequent-buyer card at your local bookstore and use it often. Get to know your local independent bookseller - he or she will be a big help in finding books to keep your family entertained. Set aside time every evening and weekend for family reading. Turn off the tube, put on some soft music, pass out the pillows and get cozy with some good books. If your child balks, explain that most TV shows are based on themes long found in classic books. Help your child find a genre that's as enjoyable as favorite TV shows.

  2. Go outside
    Put on your shoes, throw on a coat, take an umbrella or snow boots if necessary, but open your door and go outside. If you have young children at home, make a point to get outdoors at least once a day unless there's dangerous weather or the kids are sick. Taking a bike ride, walking through the neighborhood, playing an outdoor game or going on a nature scavenger hunt are all good alternatives to television.

  3. Write
    Write a short story with each family member contributing. Put together some funny poems. Write letters to an aunt or relative who hasn't gotten a handwritten letter in her mailbox in years. Write a screenplay idea for a movie.

  4. Create
    Get out all the art supplies and organize and keep them in a new, convenient place. When the kids get bored, take out some googly eyes, foam shapes, pom-poms and glue, and let their imaginations go wild.

  5. Solve a puzzle
    Clear off the dining-room table and set up a jigsaw puzzle that's challenging but fun for the whole family. You may be surprised at how often you'll find one of the kids has wandered in there and is looking for the spot for that one piece. Keep some Mad Libs, word searches and Sodoku puzzles in the house.

  6. Play a game
    Make Saturday night (or whatever was the big TV night) game night at your house. Check the sale racks of the toy store for some inexpensive board games. Book stores and game stores have some unusual and educational board games that your family will want to play again and again.

    Some games require nothing more than your imagination. The Dictionary Game is played with just a dictionary, paper and pencils. Players take turns being the dictionary player. The dictionary player looks up a word that is likely to be unknown to all players. The dictionary player writes the real definition on a piece of paper, while the other players make up definitions for the word. All the definitions are given to the dictionary player, who reads all the definitions. Players try to guess which one is the real definition. You get five points for guessing the real definition and you get one point for each player who thought your fake definition was the real one.

  7. Pick a project or a cause
    Get your kids excited about something. Cutting back on kids' TV time will give them more time to help others. Adopt a needy family at your church and let your kids come up with ideas for things to do for the family. Start an after-school day-care in your home and let your kids come up with games and activities for the kids who come. Put all members of the family in charge of holiday decorating, Christmas cards, shopping for Father's Day, anything that keeps a parent busy can be adapted to a family project.

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