Do you remember how much screen time you had as a kid? “Screen time” wasn’t even a phrase back then – probably because the only screen you saw was the TV for a few basic cartoons or much-loved kids’ programmes, which didn’t equate to much time at all. There were no smartphones. No iPads. No PlayStations.
So, what did you do with all that time?
You invented. You got creative. You rode bicycles around the garden, pretending it was a town. You built forts out of blankets. You collected weirdly-shaped rocks and painted them bright colours. You played outside and got dirty – often with other kids. The point is that you spent almost all of your day interacting with the natural world and other people, rather than with technology.
As wonderful as tech can be, unfortunately, it is still detracting from our children’s development. A recent Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal study showed a direct correlation between reduced screen time and an improved ability to learn and reason in American children between the ages of 8 and 11.
So, while it might seem like an uphill battle to reduce your child’s screen time – especially when their friends are chatting on social media or raving about the latest computer game – there are loads of advantages to doing so.
Here are five great non-screen options that have been around long before even you were a child:
1. Play a board game
Board games are a great way to bond as a family or with a group of friends. Encourage your kids to hone their artistic and communication skills with Pictionary, their spelling and literacy with Bananagrams, or teach them strategy with Jenga or Battleships. These games will teach your kids how to deal with winning and losing, and they’ll help develop problem-solving and cooperation skills.
2. Get dirty in nature
Playing outdoors encourages your child to be more physically and mentally active, as well as to have a closer connection with the great outdoors. But chances are they won’t just head outside – so give them a reason for being there. Get them a magnifying glass, a bug collecting set, gardening tools, seeds to plant and nurture, or books for identifying trees, birds, plants and insects. You could even allocate a small spot outside as their special dirt patch where you bury marbles, coins or other “treasures” for them to find.
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3. Seek out STEM puzzles and games
Tech-savvy dad Ben Ford believes science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills don’t come from time in front of computers or tablets. “My job has me on a computer all day, but the best way for kids to learn problem-solving, logic and critical thinking skills is through hands-on activities,” Ben says. Look for games designed to develop STEM skills, such as anti-gravity puzzles, robot kits and maths games, like tangrams and Sudoku.
4. Make music
Music is a universal language that all kids can relate to, no matter what their age. Make a suitable playlist for them of their favourite tunes and load it on to a device they can operate (preferably one not linked to the Internet – there are still a few music playing devices available that don’t have screens). Get them shakers, triangles, a drum, or even a keyboard and let them make up a show that you can then watch later. Encourage dance moves too, of course!
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5. Reorganise their rooms
While tidying up may not seem like such an enticing activity, you can sweeten the deal by offering your child an incentive. Perhaps you offer to buy them a new pillow/blanket/bedside lamp if they sort through their toys and make up a pile to give away? The bonus is that while they’re tidying, they’ll probably find toys they haven’t played with for months, and these will keep them busy for ages. You could do the same with their clothes: ask them to try everything on, with the reward of a new shirt or hat if they donate some of their older items or things that don’t fit.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to keep your children off screens. Above all, remember that the best way to keep your kids away from them is to keep them engaged with the outside world, including spending time with other people they’re close to – because there’s no replacement for that.