There is no question that laptops, smart phones, and iPads have altered the way we do life: Technology puts a wealth of information at our fingertips, but can simultaneously cost us a fortune in terms of first-hand experience. These portable gadgets make it possible for us to connect with people on the other side of the globe, but increasingly prevent our connecting with family and friends on the other side of the dinner table.
For those who long for a simpler time, or even just a day away from emails, texts, tweets, and phone calls, I offer the following ideas for tech-free fun. None of these suggestions require any kind of Internet access. I’ve purposely kept this list general, so it is good for all ages — including parents who are also ready to unplug.
10 Things Kids Can Do for Tech-Free Fun
Creative endeavors are one of the most versatile options for tech-free fun. Whether it is modeling play-dough, cutting out paper dolls, or painting a picture, children love to make things. Maslow went so far as to include “creativity” in his hierarchy of needs. But creativity encompasses far more than arts and crafts. Baking bread, drafting blueprints, sewing clothes, composing music, landscaping gardens, or constructing tree forts also qualifies.
Whatever your child’s area of interest, provide a few basic materials, some minimal instruction, and a place to work, then stand back and admire the results. Supplies don’t have to be expensive nor projects involved, especially in the beginning. Our kids have created all sorts of amazing things using recycled tin cans, cereal boxes, and egg cartons, along with a little bit of hot glue or duct tape. Our aspiring cooks start out using simple recipes with three to four ingredients. And we’ve bought almost all of our Lincoln Logs and Duplo blocks at garage sales for a fraction of the original cost.
Do provide your children with a broad base of creative experiences, but don’t attempt to do everything at once. As your child grows older and begins to show deeper interest in a specific area, you can invest in higher quality tools and supplies or private lessons.
We do our children (and ourselves) no favors when we pack their schedules too full, constantly rushing from one activity to the next and filling every available minute with schoolwork, sports practices, and social events. Don’t feel like your children must always be doing something. Kids (like adults) need some unstructured time now and again for quiet reflection, goal setting, and problem solving. They need an opportunity to daydream and imagine, to process and plan, to collect their thoughts and regroup. This is a vital part of their brain development and the best kind of tech-free fun. Give your children time to think.
Model a strong work ethic and seek to instill the same in your children. Require them to do chores. Labor alongside them. Tackle housecleaning and outdoor projects as a team, teaching them how to do their work cheerfully and well. Competency in these areas will build their confidence and self-esteem much more effectively than empty flattery or unearned praise. As your children grow older, their experience and willingness to work hard can lead to paying jobs. A motivated twelve-year-old can make a bundle mowing lawns, walking dogs, or babysitting, and older teens can work part-time during summer months to earn extra spending money and to save for college.
Children take their play very seriously, and nothing delights them more than for a parent to join them in it. Take time to sip an imaginary cup of tea or to crawl into their blanket fort for a pow-wow. Teach your kids how to play games like Spoons, Octopus Tag, or the Hat Game. Round up the whole family or invite some friends over for fun night of playing boardgames. For several years, our family sponsored a monthly “Chess Night” for our homeschool group. We’ve also hosted neighborhood four-square contests, ping-pong tournaments, and cherry-pit-spitting competitions. Current family favorites include Bananagrams and Settlers of Catan.
Reading has the power to transport your children to another world, time, or dimension, so get them a library card and throw open wide the door to adventure. Provide access to a wide variety of great literature, inspiring biographies, beautifully illustrated volumes of art and science, and the like, then give your child the freedom to choose what he wants from those offerings. Don’t get too hung-up about the reading level — whether he’s reading picture books, chapter books, comic books, classics, magazines, newspapers, or cereal boxes, the more practice he gets reading things that interest him, the more likely he is to develop a lifelong love for reading. Cultivate that same love within yourself, as well, and continue to read aloud to your children for as long as they live in your home.
One common benefit of being an avid reader is a heightened interest in writing, as well. Take every opportunity to encourage the development of this essential skill in your children. Assignments can be literary (teach them the fundamentals of poetry and give them a journal in which to practice) or practical in nature (dictate to them your weekly grocery list or ask them to copy favorite recipes). Although handwritten letters are becoming a relic of the past, parents have the power to revive this lost art! Buy your children some fun stationary and some pretty stamps, then set them to writing to grandparents, cousins, pen pals, and whomever else you can think of. Let them send postcards to friends when you are on vacation. Teach older kids to write letters to the editor of local newspapers and national magazines, addressing topics of concern.
Physical exercise offers almost limitless opportunities for tech-free fun. Active bodies are healthy bodies, so encourage your children to get up and get moving. Go outdoors for a stroll (or a jog or a sprint) around the block. Breathe in the fresh air and sunshine. Or gather all the kids for a family bike ride or a rousing game of freeze tag, Ultimate Frisbee, or 3-on-3 basketball.
Install a swingset if you have the space for it. If not, take younger children to the playground regularly, so that they can run and climb and swing on the equipment there. We recently installed a slack-line between two trees in our backyard, and our children practice on that almost daily. Our 11-year-old can make it across and back 21 times without losing her balance or falling off.
Our kids will do all sorts of calisthenics if we challenge them to a contest with prizes for the winner. We often have push-up, sit-up, chin-up, or hand-stand competitions in which each and every member of the family will put forth maximum effort, just for a chance to win a free treat from Smoothie King.
Ten thousand hours. That’s what’s required to truly master any field of endeavor, whether it be music, sports, art, or academia. If your children dream of being Olympic athletes, violin virtuosos, American Idol finalists, or National Spelling Bee champions, they will need to put in long, grueling hours of practice for years on end.
But even if your kids set for themselves more easily-attainable goals, practice will still play a vital role. Would they like become fluent in a foreign language? Speak in front of an audience without stammering? Finish their math drills in under a minute? Recite long passages of scripture from memory? Sing hymns in four-part harmony? Encourage them to hone those skills through consistent, daily, measured practice. Doing so will enable them to reach their goals more quickly and will build in them the self-discipline necessary for continued success in any branch of study they decide to tackle in the future.
One of the best benefits of disconnecting from the World Wide Web is the chance it gives us to reconnect with the people in our own little corner of the world. Teach your children the importance of investing in relationships with the people around them. Your attentive ear will encourage them to talk, laugh, and share their thoughts with you. Do all you can to assure them you are never too busy to listen and are willing to discuss with them anything that’s on their hearts. Provide plenty of opportunities for them to interact with friends, but try your best to foster friendship between siblings, as well. We’ve always had the rule that if our children cannot get along with their brothers and sisters, they will not be allowed to spend time with friends from outside the family.
Look for ways to develop a heart of service in your children and an eye for the needs of those around them. Do you have an elderly neighbor who could use help with her yard work? A nearby park that is in need of some cleaning up? A hospital with a junior candy-striper program? A soup kitchen where your teens could ladle out warm meals to the homeless? You can likely find many opportunities for community service right in your own backyard, if only you’ll keep your eyes and ears open.
We live within biking distance from a nursing home where several of our children have volunteered for years, helping call numbers for their weekly Bingo games. At Christmas time, our entire family enjoys a little tech-free fun ringing the bell for Salvation Army in front of a local department store. Our small chorus of children attract a lot of attention (and generous donations) when we spend our shift singing carols while brother plays the violin. Participating in these sorts of activity helps our children appreciate their many blessings and gives them the opportunity to share those blessings with others who are less fortunate.