From social applications to intentional learning programs (and all of the games that fall somewhere in-between), there are countless reasons to hand the tablet or smartphone to our children these days. However, a lot of time can be lost using them, so despite their value, it's important to find ways to help our kids balance their time looking at screens with time in other creative, playful ways.
We put together a list of things (some out of nostalgia) that might inspire your child's interest just as much as any app, to get them looking somewhere other than their screen for entertainment, comfort, knowledge, creative outlets and growth.
A Polaroid Camera
No matter what age your child is, a lot of the draw of using a phone is tied to taking pictures with the built-in camera, looking through them again, and, in the case with older children, posting them on social media. One idea to eliminate the need for a phone is to introduce them to the Polaroid.
With this, your child will be able to take photos on their own without a phone. They'll still be able to see the photo "develop" before their eyes, and you can have some fun working with them as they develop their eye through the camera lens.
Ultimately, you'll likely end up with some fun photos to display around the house. So long as you have developable Polaroid film available, this is a project that will keep your child busy (and away from screens) for hours!
Coloring Books/Art Kits
There are a number of great applications out there for little artists—canvas drawing, coloring by number, being able to color over and mark-up photos that are pre-provided or self-taken. While these apps are engaging and helpful for cultivating creativity, they don't hone the same skills gained through working with real colored pencils, markers, crayons, stickers and coloring books.
A quick trip to a local store to pick out a new book, set of crayons or watercolors might be just the thing you need to help your child engage in their physical art projects just as much as those they're creating digitally.
Building With Boxes
Another element involved in many online games and apps is the element of building, creating and ultimately competing with others in a digital space. Minecraft is especially popular for this reason.
While at their surface a physical 3D box may not be as impressive or intriguing as a pixelated one, an easy way to get your child invested in something play off-screen could include shipping boxes from all your various deliveries.
Save these boxes and challenge them to build a fort that meets certain requirements (i.e. height, stability, occupancy, appearance). Once they build their fort, let them decorate it. What are the rules in their fort (food/no food, shoes/no shoes)? A lot of the draw to a digital game is that there are constant challenges put before them—if they can see this in the physical boxes, they'll likely be able to put down the screens and forget about them while they build and imagine with real blocks.
A Scavenger Hunt
Oftentimes a scavenger hunt bears a prize, package or surprise at the end—maybe it's some screen time, a snack or any other treat for your child to earn or work up to, but there are many ways to achieve this on-the-go activity to get your child moving and noticing the world around them.
The easiest version is to create a list of items they have to collect or find in a given area. If you have a bit more time on your hands, you could have a lot of fun writing clues to hide around the house or yard that leads to the next until they meet the end of the hunt. If your child is old enough, they could create one for you, too, and you could have a race to see who can complete their hunt first.
A Reading Challenge
There are a number of productive apps to encourage and promote reading skills, but none of these will help in the mission to minimize your child's time looking at screens. Consider giving them a reading challenge with actual books.
This challenge, like a scavenger hunt, can take a variety of forms. You may want to take them to the library and pick out a book (or series of books) together and set an attainable goal for completing them (together or on their own).
If you're having trouble considering what might be an attainable goal for your child given their reading level or interest in reading, reach out to your child's teacher to have them help you set a goal to keep your child reading and growing through this challenge.
An At-Home Obstacle Course
While virtual reality is an attempt to battle the "sedentary" aspect of screen time, hand-eye coordination and exercise can just as easily be found without screens, videogames or applications through various sports and activities, including building your own at-home obstacle course.
Whether it be with items found around your house or with wood from the hardware store, you and your child can surely work together to find the right series of challenges to overcome. By creating the obstacle course together, you're able to help cultivate their creativity while also being sure to set reasonable challenges for their ability and development.
You may find that they're busy for hours working to meet the challenges, to beat a time record or to make up something even harder to overcome—just like they might in video games.
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