There’s no doubt about it, smartphones and tablets sure make life easier. Whether we’re plugging in GPS to take a road trip or asking Google for a recipe, they certainly come in handy.
However, when we reach for our devices, what example are we showing our kids? Studies suggest that too much interactive screen time can have a raft of negative effects on our children, causing disturbances in mood, memory, focus and social skills, among other ill effects.
It’s down to us as parents to lead by example and show our kids an alternative. So, here’s the challenge: how do you fill a whole vacation day with no screen time at all?
Take a walk outside
Kids can become lethargic if they spend too much time on the couch. It’s essential that we start the day right and encourage them outside. Need groceries? Leave the car in the garage and walk to the store!
What is the weather doing? Do we need to wear our rain boots? It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or in the countryside, a walk outside is an opportunity to teach your child to look around, notice the world and how it all fits together. How many ladybugs can you spot? What shapes can you see in the clouds? Help your child to focus on the present moment.
There are all kinds of curiosities to spot around the neighborhood. How many churches can you see? How many diners? What if you sing a song every time you spot a yellow car?
Not only will the fresh air and exercise help your child’s physical and emotional health, but it will also help bring them into the present moment and stop fretting about school, friends, homework or social media.
It’s a big old world out there and once your kids are outside it will be easier for them to put their thoughts in perspective.
Collecting is an activity that encourages togetherness and complicity and doesn’t have to cost you a nickel. There are a thousand and one fascinating items to find and collect in nature.
Forests, rivers, and lakesides are also great places to collect curiosities from the natural world. Pine cones, leaves, wildflowers. Whatever you find. Encourage your children to choose what they might like to collect.
If you are lucky enough to live by the ocean, it can be fun to walk the tide line and collect shells or driftwood. What about collecting pebbles or gemstones? How many different types can you find?
It’s an activity that can open up a host of learning moments for you and your child. Where does the water go at low tide? How deep is the ocean? Where does driftwood come from? You can really get your child thinking.
If you live in the city, your neighborhood park will provide some open space for child to run around and will still have plenty of interest for the collector. You may even spot a squirrel.
The great thing about collecting is you can combine it with taking a walk: all of a sudden you have the perfect reason to leave the house! Who can find the very first pine cone?
Arts and crafts
So now you’re home again, what are you going to do with all those leaves and horse chestnuts you collected? Throw them in the trash? Of course not. You now have the perfect opportunity — and plenty of free materials — to get crafting with your child.
There are so many things you can make from a pine cone alone: a bird feeder, a succulent planter, or simply color them with Sharpies or non-toxic paints. Leaves are perfect for making collages. Why not go all out and add some glue and glitter?
Working with crafts can help develop your child’s patience and dexterity, as well as feeding their imagination. The sky is the limit and your child will be so absorbed they won’t remember their cellphone.
Humans are hard-wired to love stories. Making story-time part of your child’s day pays dividends in so many ways.
The world is a busy place and children’s brains are like sponges: always learning. Too much stimulation can cause sensory overload, however, and make our kids stressed.
Story-time gives your child an oasis of calm and quiet time. Listening passively allows children to rest their cognitive functions, which can help stop them from becoming over-stimulated and stressed. Their minds can wander, their imaginations can run wild, as they are soothed by the reader’s voice.
The benefits do not end there. Studies show that stories actually change the brain and help your child develop empathy. People feel happier when they can tell themselves a story that gives meaning to their life events.
So as well as feeding the reading time in the early years can give your kid some real self-care skills.
A good stock of games can fill an afternoon. Card games such as Happy Families or memory games can be effective in teaching children observational skills.
Modern board games like Cluedo or Operation can keep kids occupied for hours while teaching them more complex lessons about the way the world works.
Other board games such as Backgammon or Mancala will help teach kids to count, use logic and develop strategy, besides being beautiful objects to keep around the house.
Games are a brilliant way to bring the family together. As well as playing traditional games, you could also devise your own. This could incorporate craft into your day, and get your children’s creative mind’s buzzing. There will be a sense of achievement as well as they will be able to reap the rewards from their hard work and creativity, with something to show for it.
Games will also teach your children the art of losing gracefully, a key skill they can carry with them throughout life. Having a competitive edge is acceptable, but managing to be a graceful loser is essential.