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Raising a “Low-Media” Child with Self-Directed Play

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Raising a low-media child with self-directed play can provide opportunities for exercise, independent exploration, and imaginative play. It can limit negative behaviors associated with excessive television time including tantrums, moodiness, hyperactivity, and decreased neurological development.

Self-directed play is when a child is able to “play” independently and be self-reliant without the need for screen time (i.e. TV, phones, laptops). When your child is engaged in self-directed play, play is initiated and directed by them, which makes them more self-sufficient during playtime.

An important part of maintaining a low-media lifestyle is the need to prepare your home environment.

Self-directed play should encourage and promote movement, multi-sensory stimulus, concentration, and a fun/playful atmosphere. Creating an environment that is stimulating and exciting to children will invoke curiosity and inquisitiveness for hours!

11 Tips for Creating a Self-Directed Play Environment:

1. Outside is Best
Whenever possible, outside play is best. Not only are there countless benefits of sunlight (i.e., Vitamin D) children thrive outside especially if they can be with a group of other kids. They are more playful, more imaginative, and more creative outside.

2. Make “Play” Part of Your Routine
Routines become habits, and there is no better habit for children than play. From early stages of infancy and on, the time between meals and sleep should belong to play.

3. Keep it Safe
Make sure that sharp furniture corners are covered, heavy objects are out of your child’s reach, and soft mats or blankets cover hard tile floors. The safer your child’s play space is, the more comfortable you’ll be encouraging active, self-directed play.

4. Beware of Overstimulation
Researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio recruited 36 toddlers and invited them to play in a room for half an hour, with either four toys, or sixteen toys. The study found that the toddlers were far more creative when they had fewer toys to play with.

So, when you notice an excess of toys accumulating try the following: rotate toys, keep toys a grandma’s/grandpa’s, rent instead of buy, donate, and/or store away toys that are not being played with.

5. Use Colorful Items
Colorful visuals are essential for engaging children, especially young children. So use colorful posters, storybooks or flashcards to engage children and keep their attention.

6. Have Books Easily Accessible
Reading is fundamental to every child’s growth and development. Whether you read to them or they look through the books themselves, have an ever growing and changing stack of books for your child. It’s also critical that books are easily accessible. So, provide a space for books in which your child can easily reach such as a basket, open shelf, or bookrack.

7. Store Bought Toys are Not Always Best
True joy and contentment will never be found in the aisles of a toy store. Store bought toys are not always best when trying to create a self-directed play environment. Instead of always having the newest and latest figurine or doll (which can also be quite expensive), set up a crafts station instead. Let your child use their imagination to create their own toys.

8. Resist the Urge to Help
Learning for your child includes exploration of the environment around them. Children are doing very important work when they play, so try not to interrupt and resist the urge to instantly help. Trust them and allow them to decide how they would like to play. This creates a sense of independence for the child as well as it allows them to problem solve even at a young age.

9. Limit Access to Television & Phones
Limiting access to screen time for your child can be as simple as removing technologies from your child’s play area. For instance, removing the television from the play areas will resist the urge to watch. If this is not an option, place a blanket or sheet over the television during “play hours”. Also, apps are available for televisions and phones that allow parents to set up a parental time allowance so the device will shut off automatically after the scheduled time has concluded.

10. Create “Play Stations”
Those who have toddlers understand that keeping their children’s attention for more than 30 seconds can be a challenge. Instead of trying to keep your child at one location in the house/room, create “play stations”. For example, one corner of the room can be allocated to painting, the other corner can be for building a puzzle, the other crafts, and so on and so on.

11. Lead by Example
Most importantly, as parents, we have to model the behavior we want and expect from our children. Start using technologies less while you are with your children.

Helpful tips:

• Put your phone down when your kids are talking to you
• No answering phone calls/emails while eating dinner
• Shut the TV off during playtime
• Let them see you reading
• Read with them
• Do puzzles or crafts with them
• Put your phone away when you come home

Observe and follow your child as they explore their surroundings. Self-directed play should not only be an exploration for your child, but also a way to learn about what your child’s likes and dislikes. Encourage your child to engage in their own experiences, playing at their own pace, and following their intrinsic motivations and interests.

For questions, additional information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Christina Wellner at Chantilly Chiropractic Center, please call (703) 378-2698 or email her at [email protected]

Dr. Wellner, Chantilly Chiropractic CenterDr. Wellner, a Chiropractor at Chantilly Chiropractic Center, received her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic and is the recipient of the James Buerkle Memorial Award for leadership, service, and commitment to Palmer College and the chiropractic profession. As a physician, she strongly believes in patient education and empowering patients and their families to improve the quality of their lives through a multidisciplinary approach. Dr. Wellner works with local OBGYN offices, general practitioners, orthopedic doctors, neurologists, personal trainers, and other healthcare professionals to administer optimal care to her patients.

For her pediatric patients, Dr. Wellner believes in allowing a child’s natural healing abilities to shine through by using a combination of gentle spinal adjustments and nutritional/lifestyle recommendations. In her quest to educate others about the role of chiropractic in children’s health care, Dr. Wellner hosts classes and lectures in Northern Virginia about the importance of a healthy lifestyle for expectant mothers, babies, and families. Dr. Wellner is also a member of the Unified Virginia Chiropractic Association, American Chiropractic Association, Dulles Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Dulles Chamber Health and Wellness Committee as well as the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Christina Wellner, please call (703) 378-2698 or email her at [email protected]. Chantilly Chiropractic Center is located at 3910 Centreville Rd., Ste. 202, Chantilly, VA 20151. Connect: Online | Facebook | (703) 378-2698.


“American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017
Wood, Mindy. “How to Raise a Low Media Child (Without Going Insane).” Mama Natural, Genevieve Howland (Mama Natural)
Pediatrics & Child Health, Pulsus Group Inc, 2003
Kids, Caring for. “Caring for Kids – Caring for Kids.” Caring for Kids – Caring for Kids
“ICPA – Public Wellness Education and Chiropractic Research.” International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, 2018,
Pediatric Research, Nature Publishing Group, 2018

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