Ironically, as I sit here on my laptop, with the TV on in the background, my phone beside me and half an eye on my WhatsApp, I’m thinking about the things we do to limit the time the children spend glued to a screen. Well…they’re in bed and what they don’t know…
We’ve all read the studies linking excessive screentime with obesity and poor academic performance and, well it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it’s better for kids to be running around outside rather couching in front of the telly mindlessly grazing on crappy food.
About six months ago we introduced Screen-Free Sunday as a way to consciously spend time together as a family away from the telly and the iPad. It’s not always easy, as it is clearly much simpler to grab the duvets, snuggle up on the sofa and browse Netflix for a Family Favourite with a sharing bowl of cinema sweet popcorn. Mum and dad secretly peruse their social media while pretending to be really enjoying the film, we don’t talk to each other and the kids don’t fight for at least 90 minutes- everyone’s a winner, right?
Wrong! Apparently too much telly makes kids nuts. Looks like the old adage your mum used to throw at you – “it’ll rot your brain”- is actually true, who knew?! So, with all this new screen-phobic awareness swirling around, these are our Screen-Free Sunday alternative activities…but, erm…you might want to grab a pen, make a note then turn the screen off…!
- Board games. “No, they aren’t called board games because they’re boring!” Well, they are a bit but invest in some games that you actually like. Personally, I’ve always hated monopoly but I can deal with Junior Scrabble, Snakes & Ladders and Connect 4. If your kids are a bit older you can always introduce gambling to up the fun factor.
- Card games. We are very into Snap and Pairs at the moment. I have started teaching the 5-year-old Blackjack and Pontoon but we’re not there yet.
- Get out of the house! When the endless whinging and negotiations get too much (and they will) you have to physically remove the screens or yourself. Go to the park, for a walk, visit friends (call ahead and ask them to cover the telly with a tarpaulin (see if you are invited round again in a hurry)). Join National Trust or English Heritage and hit the road for a day trip (see my blog: Top 5 National Trust Days Out For Kids.)
- Make a scavenger hunt sheet and go on a minibeast adventure in the garden, park or local woods. To add to the excitement, pick up some cheap magnifying glasses or make some binoculars out of loo roll tubes beforehand.
- Save your old glass jars and make ‘perfume’ in the garden. Collect a fragrant assortment of leaves, petals…what ever you can find…and add to the jar with a little water. If it happens to smell nice it’s perfume, if not, it’s a magic potion! Use sharpies or stickers to decorate the jars and give to a deserving relative as a precious gift. This keeps my daughter and her friends amused for hours!
- Bake together. This isn’t my favourite activity as I get a bit tetchy about the mess but, when I manage to chillax a bit, it is really fun. We make little fairy cakes (usually from a pre-mixed packet) and some very messy finger sandwiches then my daughter creates a poster or invitation and ‘invites’ the teddies to afternoon tea. A very civilised affair.
- Put on a show. Kids love nothing more than dressing up and hanging out with the grown ups. Ask the kids to choose their favourite story book and turn it into a play. Wonderful family fun!
- Got a cardboard box hanging around? Grab the sellotape, aluminium foil and anything else you can find and see what you can turn it into. A car, rocket, dolls house? I regularly save plastic packaging and cardboard boxes for junk modelling, tossing random bits and bobs into a box that lives in the ‘do-not-open’ cupboard. The kids absolutely love the creative freedom that comes from diving in the box and making whatever they want.
- Create an obstacle course- outside in good weather or in the living room if not. Use whatever you have to hand and add instructions- i.e. walk around the red cushion 3 times, jump over the teddy bear, do 5 star jumps at the plant pot, crawl under the table and leap over the sofa. Firstly, the kids will think you have lost your marbles as you spend 80% of your life bellowing, “Stop jumping on the bloody sofa!” Once they get over the initial shock they will delight in this anarchy all afternoon.
- Make a den. We grab blankets and dining chairs and fashion a rustic fabric bivouac in a corner of the living room. Bring torches, snacks, teddies and a stack of books and bring the stories to life with silly voices and actions.
It doesn’t really matter what you do, ultimately the kids just want to spend time with you! These are our tried and tested faves so far but we’ll add more as time goes on.
Enjoy! Amy x