Really…don’t hire SpongeBob Squarepants as your babysitter.

Why SpongeBob? That perpetual innocent who opens up a mesmerizing fictional underwater world, with humor accessible to the very young and appreciated by adults?

Why am I going after SpongeBob in particular? Because Nickelodeon has SpongeBob on every day from 4pm to 5pm Eastern Standard Time. Sleepytime Club helps families cultivate new bedtime habits – stacking them one at a time – so everyone can enjoy the long-term benefits. There are times when breaking an old habit – particularly adorable SpongeBob – can be very difficult. I know from personal experience. We loved Spongebob so much, we scheduled one hour a week to watch the show – just not every day as we were getting ready for family meals and bedtime.

Schedule SpongeBob for a different time – he, Patrick, Squidward, and the other denizens of Bikini Bottom will wait for you. Schedule him in for an hour on a Saturday morning to watch together because the road to bedtime begins around 4 or 4:30 for families with very young children.

Below are 5 SpongeBob-related alternatives for that 4-5 pm time. You may want to try one each day of the week, add others on the weekends, and repeat each week.

1. Water play
Put down some old towels and get out pots, bowls, ladles, sponges, spoons, colanders or sieves, and funnels and let your children go. Give the older ones a challenge such as seeing if they can move the water using a soup ladle from one bowl to another in the time it takes to sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean…or the Spongebob theme song. There are some excellent water play suggestions here.

2. Arts: Explore the colors of the ocean
Get out paints in various colors of blues and greens. Have your children begin a mural on a roll of white shelf paper, or large piece of poster board. You can also get a roll of clear cellophane wrapping paper, tape it to a window and let your children make their own “stained glass” picture using tissue paper in blues and greens attached with either glue sticks or glue mixed with water and painted on. Both can be ongoing art projects if you have the space – different layers of blues and greens, collage or drawing on top of the ocean colors.

3. Wash and sort
Children love helping out. Is there a drawer in the kitchen that could use reorganization? Children can take out items such as linens or spoons, butter knives, and forks, wipe out the drawer with a paper towel or soft cloth and re-organize. My grandmother kept us occupied for what seemed like hours by asking us to do the “very important” job of polishing her pennies. Depending on the sensitivity of your children, you can successfully polish copper using lemon juice and salt. Give the children a spray bottle of just water and a soft cloth, show them how to spray a little on the cloth, and ask them to wash baseboards.

4. Cooking
What comes out of your kitchen will be so much better than the Krusty Krab when the children help. Simple tasks that contribute to the meal are:
– washing fruits and vegetables
– cutting soft ingredients such as strawberries, butter, and cheese using a plastic knife with a serrated edge (be sure you know your child’s skill and strength well – the ability to do this will vary with age)
– stirring ingredients – all ingredients should be at room temperature, and the caregiver should be patient when it comes to accidental spills
– mashing room temperature food with a fork or masher
– sprinkling, peeling, hulling
– setting the table and enjoying the ritual of family meal time

5. Pretend Play: “Underwater” fort
A white sheet will do for this project, but if you have a blue or green one, all the better. Children as young as 4 can work to construct a secret underwater lair. Bring in board games, toys of sea animals, construction toys like Lego, books, pads, and crayons. Children love these kinds of environments. Warning: like the stained glass mural on the window, you may have to make your peace with the fact that the underwater fort will remain up for a few days.

Here are a few extra ideas:
– treasure hunts
– sorting shells and crafts with shells
– painting on the sidewalk or rocks using water and sponge brushes
– singing songs about the sea. Here’s a link to one of my all-time favorite underwater bedtime songs by Greg Brown (are there other underwater bedtime songs?)
– tell “tall tales” – using one of the many sea story picture books for children as inspiration, ask the children in your care to elaborate on it adding their own wishes.
– call an uncle, aunt, or family elder and ask them to tell you about their favorite seaside memory. Draw a picture book version of it.

Please don’t let SpongeBob Squarepants be the de facto babysitter.

Breaking the tv habit and replacing it with good bedtime habits will simply take some intention, some merging the new habit with what works for your family. Get Sleepytime Club’s free Bedtime Blueprint so you know exactly when to cut out screen time, caffeine…and when to start that delicious tuck-in time.