Kids staring at screens too much? Try this!

Something wonderful happened the last time I sought my librarian’s advice about fresh “strewing” content for my living room.

The last time I went to the library to seek advice about fresh “strewing” content for my home, something wonderful happened.

What is stretching, you ask? Like colorful leaves scattered in a field that catch one’s eye,“strewing” newly acquired books, magazines, maps, Mad Libs, Legos, Play Doh, etc., throughout your home creates a learning environment where education and communal connection can occur naturally.

My librarian told me, “Lots of people love to read history and science magazines as well as all things nonfiction,” she said. “But often these same people don’t care for fiction.”

Immediately, I thought of a few guys at home, including my husband. So I checked out a stack of car magazines, antique maps, and travel guides. I also grabbed all the National Geographic Magazines from the “free bin” I could find. I went home and with my best stretching skills, fanned these items out on my living room table.

My husband Pete walked in that evening and didn’t even pick up his phone (he usually “doomscrolls” for at least a half hour after dinner). Instead, he grabbed a magazine and read about Iceland, all the while saying things like, “Just look at that dark ocean”and “Isn’t this glacier beautiful!” and “Don’t you want to go there one day!” I sat beside him, sighing in agreement. A son climbed on his lap from him. We three looked at vivid scenes of Scandinavia together, sharing a moment of wonder on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday night.

My teens also read and talked about cars quietly together on the other couch. Then they rolled up magazines and beat each other fiercely, laughing the whole time. A few of my other kids sat on the floor nearby, putting together a puzzle. (Our library lets you check these out along with books because they know good “strewing” is varied, rotated often, and kept fresh or else it will be ignored.)

I should mention that while my favorite librarian has polished my drawing skills, she didn’t introduce me to the concept. I learned the art of smattering my home with a basketful of board books here and a couple card games there from Maria Montessori, an early 20th-century Catholic educator who pioneered countercultural teaching methods that focused on the innate genius of every child. She left a legacy of Montessori Schools that run by her principles of surrounding kids with a safe, fascinating environment ripe with hands-on learning opportunities. These schools are still popular all over the world.

One of my first jobs out of college was at a Montessori School. It’s why I’m such an advocate of stretching. Lately, my efforts have extended to my basement, where I recently set up a ping pong table, and our yard, where a fire pit draws the whole family outside and away from screens just about every night. Never underestimate the power of fresh s’mores and hot dogs cooked on a stick.

Above all, a successfully strewn home gives me a break from constantly regulating and saying No to screens, because my family members (myself included) are already saying And it is to something more meaningful.

boy, child, book, library

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