How to Keep Your Children Engaged with “Cheep” Entertainment

Parenting Hack, Courtesy of a Nerdy Dad

Lily watching bird feeder

I am a Millennial dad, and I can tell you that mealtimes with a little one can be a little squirrelly (pun fully-intended). My daughter Lily is almost 3 years old and as any toddler-parent will tell you, and as some of you surely remember, getting a child that young to focus on ANYTHING is a long-shot. The truth within that statement multiplies when it comes to getting your kid to eat. Carrots, deli turkey, and goldfish just aren’t that entertaining when the whole world is brand new!

Today’s parents face a dilemma in these situations: smart phones provide an “easy out” that is almost certifiably-guaranteed to hold your tot’s attention. Plopping a screen in front of your kid is a sure-fire way to distract him or her long enough for some food to actually be consumed. I’d be lying if I said my wife and I haven’t, occasionally, taken that easy way out. It isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card though; it’s more like surrendering the battle at hand, in hopes that you can regroup later to win the war.

We all know that little ones need SIGNIFICANTLY limited screen time. Study after study has shown us this. Plus, extraditing a phone usually becomes its own struggle. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that as a Millennial, there is something especially-irritating in hearing someone else call YOUR phone their phone. But between kids’ short attention-spans, their desire to never-break-stride while playing, and the very real need for parents to have a momentary breather, all parents today hear the siren song coming from that handy little device in our pockets.

For my wife and I, we’ve noticed how our own increased screen time works as a band-aid; a momentary distraction that eventually leads to increased restlessness, and sometimes melancholy within us. We are working (with varying degrees of success) to better manage our own screen time. But as parents, we wanted to do our best to strike a healthy balance of screen time with our daughter, from the start. So, we started poking around for alternative, non-electronic, distractions to preoccupy our daughter throughout mealtime.

Bird Feeding Isn’t Just for Your Grandparents

What was an aspiring “bird feeding kingpin” (inside joke) and first-time dad to do? Well, I tried a low-risk experiment when Lily was a little over 14 months old. For one of the lunches that “Dad” was in charge of, I plopped her highchair in front of our patio doors to look outside while she ate. I was resolved to try this out for at least five minutes- come Hell or high water. She could sort of see our ‘Bird & Breakfast’ feeder just beyond the deck, but I didn’t have high-hopes that a partially-obstructed view of a bird feeder would hold Lily’s attention. After all, bird feeding has a stigma as “an old person’s hobby”- it doesn’t get much younger than 14 months.

Was I ever surprised. Lily was entranced! Even though there was light traffic at the feeder that day (just a few house finches, and a lone cardinal) Lily’s eyes were peeled. And she ate. Her whole plate. Seriously.

Ta-da! Or as today’s toddler-Lily would say, “Ba-wa!” This proud dad had found perhaps the world’s most self-serving “parenting-hack.” It worked repeatedly during that stage of Lily’s infancy. It was a nice, natural distraction that gave both of us, parent and child, an opportunity to unplug from screens and instead “plug in” to the nature around us. I don’t mean to say watching a bird feeder is a cure-all, but it is an easy, “natural detox” of sorts.

As with many “birders”, Lily has graduated to deeper observations of the birds around her. She learned how to use pretty colors to tell one type of bird from another. She came to notice how some birds are “small birds” and others are “big birds”. She loves “helping me” by carrying a fresh Mr. Canary® ‘En-Tray’ out to the ‘Bird & Breakfast’, and she watches me VERY carefully as I refill it. Lily has even started calling out certain birds by name as we walk the neighborhood. (I really hope that future, preteen Lily can forgive me for facilitating her bird-nerdiness!)

An Intergenerational Bond

In all seriousness though, feeding birds serves as another point of connection between my daughter and I. I love that my daughter shows a genuine interest in understanding and participating in “Daddy’s work.” And while it might be a little nerdy, I know that if I can teach my daughter to pay attention to, and learn from, the natural world around her that she will be made better for it. And while I will never know for sure, it is possible that those early lunches spent watching the bird feeder may be part of the reason she is such a great observational learner now. Check out the many other benefits that come with bird feeding.

Today, we use educational placemats to hold Lily’s interest during meals. The bird feeder outside doesn’t captivate her attention for minutes-on-end like it had in the past, but it still provides an inter-generational connection between Lily and I. My wife and I are expecting our second daughter in just a few weeks. While I am definitely looking forward to those baby snuggles that come with the newborn-stage, I can promise you that I am going to keep that “bird-feeder-at-lunch-hack” in my back pocket for when she graduates to solid foods. Who knows, maybe lightning will strike twice! (And if it does, I promise to take better pictures to share with you all.) If you’re having doubts that this actually worked with my daughter (I don’t blame you), so try it out for yourself by using promo code: “DAD2019” at Mr. Canary’s online checkout to receive 15% off any of Mr. Canary’s products, purchase valid now through June 21st.

Learn more about Mr. Canary’s products and its many benefits by visiting our website.

Author: Nathan Odell

Published: June 6, 2019