Like most kids of the 80’s, I grew up watching after-school shows, Saturday morning cartoons, and looked forward to beating the next level of Mario Brothers on my Nintendo. If I was lucky, I got to play my cousin’s Sega or Gameboy when we went over for a family dinner.
We were a generation raised on television, and as a product of visual stimulation it’s become difficult not to integrate it into regular family life. We were “there” when reality TV was introduced via The People’s Court, COPS, the marriage of Charles & Diana, and when video finally killed the radio star with MTV. It developed a sense that if we weren’t tuned in, we were disconnected.
Having kids tends to shine the light on one’s personal values which is often deeply rooted in childhood experiences. My husband and both agreed that kids these days seem to have ever-shortening attention spans, and I experienced this first hand as a public school teacher. We had to face the imprints of our childhood when it came to family decisions like: would we watch TV while we ate dinner? I certainly wanted to. It was part of my family’s bonding ritual, but not his. Or, would we have the TV on when we had company over? I didn’t really see a problem with it, because it was normal for me.
Reclaiming Family Time
The ease of access to visual stimulation has grown exponentially and if we want things to be different, we have to take the initiative to change our patterns. So in effort to forge a new path, we’ve tried to incorporate as many interactive options as possible, without our devices.
But before I go any further, confession time: there are days when I need to catch up on chores and meals that I do give in and let them watch a few of their favorite shows on Netflix. And there are nights when we’re home together and Daddy is at work and all I want to do is relax with them and watch a movie. My personal discipline as a Mommy is to practice keeping the screens off for the majority of our time together in the home. The helpful thing about blogging is that when I write articles about lists and other healthy family practices, it sticks in my mind and helps to keep me accountable. I’m practicing to break my own habits and I hope you will, too.
Here are seven ways we enjoy time together at home:
1. Board Games
We introduced board games to the kids as early as 3 years old (I think it was CandyLand). It’s a great way to teach them about taking turns, friendly competition, problem-solving, and strategy. Be on the lookout for age-appropriate games for your kiddos at yard sales, your nearest Goodwill, Salvation Army, or do a friend swap. Otherwise, have Amazon deliver to your doorstep!
I learn more about my kids each time we engage in a rule-bound game, and they learn more about fair play, sequence of events, taking turns, strategy, vocabulary, and other tiny nuances that I wouldn’t have thought were happening. This is a unique experience that sitting in front of the TV could not provide for us.
Here are some of our favorites board games:
Look for used games at Salvation Army, yard sales, thrift stores, or do a toy-swap with other families
2. Build a Fort
Throwing a blanket or sheet over some chairs or couch cushions creates the perfect space for pretend play. Allowing a semi-private space for kids to pretend is an important part of their development as they experiment with the safety and boundaries of new spaces. Cardboard boxes are also serve as excellent building material. Safe large moving or appliance boxes, duct tape together, and let the kids personalize their building with crayons!
Sheets are cooler than blankets if you live in a warm climate & battery-powered candles are fun at night.
3. Art Center
Kids need tools to be creative, and consolidating their supplies into one place helped me to keep things accessible and in order. This utility cart from IKEA was a great mobile option for the kids to move their supplies around the house. The utility storage caddy also helps to separate all the different pens, pencils, & markers. Having a large roll of craft paper around is a simple way to kickstart a paper project, or practice drawing diagrams, maps, banners, etc.
You’ve seen all those adult coloring books that are so popular, right? There is actual research that proves a calming effect happens in our brains when we unplug and transition into this creative outlet. (See this article) When I take time to relax and just color inside the lines with my kids, our spirits are quieted and we can enjoy each other and make beautiful things together.
Here are some supplies to start your own supply at home:
Reuse sauce or mason jars for pencil and brush holders!
4. Pretend with a Dollhouse
I wanted to choose a dollhouse that was neutral enough in color and style for both my daughter and son to enjoy. This Calico Critters Cloverleaf Townhome set with the Yellow Lab Family was the kid’s choice. Our friends actually gave us the house and we picked out the family and furniture.
This type of pretend play also sparks important conversations about family life, how the kids see us in our roles, and how they may express feelings about their home, which is critical for their social and emotional development. This is also a chance for them to practice organizing the rooms, and the patience it takes to place tiny pieces takes time and focus… also good for them. In the video below, Asher explains why he likes to play with the dollhouse.
Build your own house out and furniture out of cereal boxes and other recycled materials around the house
What would a device-free activities list be without Legos?! These little guys have stood the test of time and made many advancements in design since we played with them as kids. This building toy has been an amazing activity to keep my active little guy busy. He began with smaller sets, learned to follow the step by step instructions, and when those were put together, he took them apart and created his own thing:
I watched him put together complicated models and explain his mechanical design – it was wonderful to see him take a small project-based toy to the next level of creativity. Some sets he gets as gifts from grandparents, but when we have a choice, we go for community-based sets like fire engines, helicopters, police squad cars. Here are some of my favorites:
Store Legos in an easy cinch up bag that doubles as a floor mat to take on the go
6. Story Time
One of our favorite things to do together is curl up on the couch and read a book. Picture books were great when they were young, and since they hit elementary age, I’ve tried to incorporate more chapter books, and read aloud to them to stretch their attention span (among TONS of other benefits! See this article published by the NAEYC)
The best educational picture books I’ve ever seen are published by Usborne Books. Their children’s encyclopedias are very well illustrated and they have links on each subject to an online research data base.
Use your library card! There are tons of free resources including audio books and learning magazines
7. Play Catch
Any kind of ball will do, really. Just tossing it around helps with their hand-eye coordination, but physical activity gets both of us moving and breathing deeper. Chloe actually asks to play catch more than Asher does, and she could play for hours…seriously hours. So we set goals, like, 3 more good catches or hitting a target 3 more times.
They pass it to us, we receive it, and pass it back. And that’s basically parenting in a nutshell.
What are some ways that you enjoy device-free family fun time at home? Please share in the comments below!
This simple domino game has swept the nation (maybe even the world) and has definitely become one of our family favorites, among family & friend gatherings, and on holidays! We’ve been known to stay up late into the night just getting one more round in. This game is addicting and fun for adults and small kids alike. Get your own set by clicking the links below.