Is that even possible?
It seems that kids are turning to electronics 24/7 for summer vacation. Television and other handheld devices are more inviting than ever. They are an easy way to keep kids occupied while we work from home, or just want peace and quiet. And they’re easier to clean up than Play Doh.
Sure, gaming is fun and TV has some educational programming, but many parents want more than that for their kids. Aren’t they supposed to learn how to play with others? Socialize? Problem solve (other than how to shoot angry birds to kill virtual pigs)? Engage in creativity and sports? We have this intuitive sense that gaming and TV are like Twinkies: great for a treat, but not for a steady diet. Sadly, many kids are becoming sugar junkies on technology.
The featured photo for this post is a spinner for kids to use for balance in their lives. It could be used for summer or the whole year. Whether or not you are turned on by this “spin” on the Fidget Spinner craze, I’d like to suggest five ideas for more play and less TV this summer.
- Bring out the goods. The expression comes to mind: “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Kids might need a jump start to squeeze creative juices from their stagnant minds. This means it’s up to us, the adult, to supply plenty of material and equipment like sidewalk chalk, Nerf guns, water colors, and roller blades. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. When my kids were small, from time time I’d have an open-ended “make and take” activity on the kitchen table when friends were over. I’d put out rubber stamps and ink pads, various kinds of paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, and decorative punches. They made crowns, cards, paper dolls, you name it. “Trashables” extends this creative process by offering empty egg cartons, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes, aluminum foil, etc. Fort building is another popular activity that only requires blankets and chairs.
- Practice a 1:1 ratio. For every one hour of physical activity, a child can earn one hour of screen time. It doesn’t have to be a huge sporting activity, but a water fight, bike ride, or hide and seek will do. You’d be surprised how they get so involved in the fun, the hour extends and the time is forgotten.
- Be involved. Kids may need your guidance to get ideas. Once they get started, they can continue on their own. Teach them how to play hopscotch and “Around the World” basketball. Draw a “road map” with sidewalk chalk on the driveway or sidewalk and let your little ones drive their toy cars around, and teach them trampoline games. Kids are growing up not knowing HOW to engage in self-guided activities so they resort to TV and gaming to inform them instead. I’d also like to promote summer programs that parents can initiate such as library summer reading programs. Go with your child to the library weekly to get a handful of new books to read and audio books to listen to. In order to do #3, it’s a given that the parents unplug for a while too (and perhaps find out they are just as addicted as their kids!)
- Keep a routine. I like the Fidget Spinner idea where each day the kids know the routine and how to get to “PLAY.” This other idea was shared on the internet and has a similar process:This may scream,”Too much structure!” because you would rather let your kids do their own thing. It’s summer, after all, right? I read a lot of negative comments that were posted about this idea. Stuff like, “Hey I played computer games 24/7 when I was a kid. Now I’m a computer programmer. I don’t think playing with cardboard boxes would have got me where I am today.” I would respectfully respond that working with computers successfully is one small part of a person’s overall well being and ability to have a fulfilling life and relationship with others.
- Recruit other kids and parents. It may not make you The Most Popular Parent on the Block, but encourage your kids’ friends to put away their devices when they come over. Teach them other ways of playing. Talk to other parents about research that overwhelmingly reports the perils of too much technology and TV. It’s hard to fight the tsunami of usage if you are doing it alone. My friend’s son is having a device-free summer and all the friends support and respect him. They know they need to come up with other ideas like skateboarding and playing basketball. The board games have been dusted off and been a gold mine of connection and fun.
If you aren’t convinced, search the internet for plenty of stories and tips where parents did the unthinkable: unplugged their kids from TV and/or electronics. Here is one such testimonial, among others that will give you the inspiration and willpower to do was is best (but not always easiest at first!).