KIDS TRY TO GO WITHOUT TV They switch to life in the fun lane


Parents feared they couldn't cope with it.

Students feared they wouldn't survive it.

"When we mentioned this to them at first, you know, it was: 'What?' " said Andrew T. Barshinger, principal of Pointers Run Elementary School in Howard County.

The ghastly horror inflicted on the 400 students of the Clarksville school and their parents was a two-headed monster called Pull The Plug Week -- five days of no television and no video games.

But the students not only survived, and the parents not only

coped, but many of them also flourished in this strange, quiet world without "Roseanne."

"I asked my 10-year-old this morning what she thought about it," said Joanne W. Ferguson, the assistant principal. "She said television is like smoking. It's a habit. When you take it away you miss it for a while, but then it's gone."

The girl obviously has not tried to quit smoking, but her point is well taken. Students interviewed yesterday agreed.

"Once you start turning it off, . . ." began Julie Hill, a fifth-grader.

"It stays off," finished Joel Kahle, another fifth-grader.

"This week finally made some kids realize there're other things in this world besides watching TV," Julie said.

Julie, who turned 11 yesterday, said she usually watches only an hour of TV a day. This week she broke the pledge just once, to watch one of her favorite shows, "Full House."

"It was a new one," she said sheepishly.

The idea for Pull The Plug Week came from Ann Potts, cultural arts chairperson of the PTA. She heard a news report on the radio last summer that said American students ranked low in educational achievement.

The report said three ways to improve the ranking were lengthening the school year, assigning the students more homework and making them watch less TV.

This was preaching to the choir, because Mrs. Potts and her husband don't allow their two children to watch any television on school nights and they may watch for only two hours each day on the weekend, after the parents approve the shows.

Mrs. Potts decided to spread the word. She proposed to the PTA that Pointers Run ask students to turn off televisions for one week. And, maybe even more important, she hoped that parents wouldn't turn on the TV until their children went to bed.

"I wanted to make this a proactive event for parents," Mrs. Potts said. "I'd like to be part of an awareness-raising process: What are we watching? How often? What do we like and don't like? What can we do about it?"

Mrs. Potts is a dressmaker who works at home, and her husband, Bill, is a building contractor. They spend a lot of time with their children, Christella, 10, and Brian, 12, playing pool, reading, playing games and working on art projects.

A week without TV was routine for the Potts, but not for the Quinns: Marian, a picture framer; Timothy, a surveyor; and their two children, Paul, a first-grader at Pointers Run, and Sarah, 3.

The children watch about three hours of TV a day, two before dinner and one afterward, Mrs. Quinn said. They watch it downstairs, and she has another TV on upstairs, even though she often doesn't pay close attention.

"It's usually on all the time," she said. "I admit it."

She said in the past she often told the children: "I'm cooking dinner. Why don't you go downstairs and watch TV?"

At the beginning of the week, she said, she feared they'd be underfoot.

"But they just went and played," she said. "They didn't bother me at all. I think they found out they could have as much fun without turning the TV on."

It was a pleasant week, Mrs. Quinn said, that just might spill over into next week.

Chris Amburn, another mother, began the week with a jolt, as if the minor mid-week earthquakes had rumbled early. Her 7-year-old, Gary, a first grader at Pointers Run, woke up Monday with a fever. As it turned out, he was home all week with strep throat -- and no TV.

What was a frantic mother to do?

Dig out the checkerboard.

As the week drew to a close, a composed Mrs. Amburn declared: "Gary's become a very good checkers player."

She said she can't get over how creative her three sons were. Bradley, a fourth-grader at Pointers Run, Todd, a pre-schooler, and Gary, despite his illness, commandeered every extra chair, table, blanket and pillow to build forts all over the house.

The main fort, where the boys planned on sleeping last night and tonight, is in the basement -- obscuring the blank TV.

"It's like a house -- with rooms and nooks and crannies," Mrs. Amburn said. "It's like an architect built it."

While the children built forts, read and played, Mrs. Amburn accomplished plenty with the television off. She read books, flipped through magazines that had stacked up and put photos in albums. She and her husband spent more time with the children.

"The only thing I miss is the news," she said. "We had a UPS delivery the other day, and the guy said: 'Did you hear about the earthquake?' I said: 'What earthquake?' "

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