UNPLUGGED House: The Making of a Screen Free Family
Screen Free Activities For Total Family Engagement
Those gathering at the first annual Children’s Screen Time Action Conference in Boston will discuss what the effects of screen technology has on childhood and youth development. Bringing together psychologists, school administrators, and parents, this conference is the first of its kind to confront the epidemic of screens on our youth.
In my two bedroom apartment in Vermont, we have dozens of strategies for coping with the winters, which seem to get longer and longer. As a parent it has taken significant willpower to model behavior that does not include my phone or laptop. Ultimately it meant I needed to introduce my own childhood hobbies and passions and include my family. I put away the work, the news, the social media, and focus on giving my family valuable face-to-face time.
Here are some ongoing non-digital activities that take place at our home in the evenings, snow days, rainy days, and lazy weekends.
BOARD GAMES: That's How We Roll
In most family rooms in America, the focal point is the television. At our house, the couch points directly to a shelf of board games.
There we can find dozens of strategic, social, collaborative or thematic games to engage our brains and provide a structured, competitive night of fun. Do we want to be a team of explorers lost in a Forbidden Desert? Shall we chase down an elusive criminal in Scotland Yard? Or shall we trade and exchange precious jewels, seeking the attention of Renaissance nobles in Splendor? Because of our board game collection, our family has developed a highly social (and competitive), deeply engaged, (cut-throat!) time around our table after dinner.
I’ve curated the shelf to be mostly games that can be played in an hour. You can find great family board games at Gamewright. I highly recommend Sushi Go Party, a pick and pass card game that can expand for up to 8 players without adding additional game time!
PINBOX 3000: Build Your Own Portable Cardboard Arcade System
We are also game makers, with the PinBox 3000 DIY cardboard pinball machine kit, we use all of our craft and gaming inventiveness to combine for an ongoing pinball game design workshop.
Engaging in kinetic and tactile DIY gaming is a big leap from flat touch screens, but no less fun when you can proudly display - a playable pinball “scrapbook," deep sea pinball, dinosaur pinball, LEGO pinball - all these are possible with interchangeable game boards. You could even add electronics and LEDs. Once you get started, your attention turns to all sorts of odds and ends, bits and parts, doo-dads (and moms), and whirly-gigs that can be converted into ramps, jumps, targets, obstacles!
With the PinBox 3000 you are free to build and design your own world, captured on the surface of a tabletop pinball machine. It's like Minecraft but with actual crafting!
CRAFT: A Cabinet of Curiosities
We lucked out when we found this vintage file cabinet. It’s former employer was a governmental office, with its marble top, wide drawers, and dividers.
Inside is a treasure trove of oddball supplies: Heavy-duty staplers, markers of all types, pencils of all shades, paper strips of all stripes, chalk, ribbons, stamps, clips, tapes, glues, and who knows what you’ll find. Whenever there is a gift to be presented, we dress it up for them. If we have to write a thank you card, we raid the cabinet. If we want to geek out with hot glue, there it is.
You never know when inspiration may strike, so this prominently placed sentinel of supplies keeps the family ready for any gift making, gift wrapping, or freestyle art projects. Great ideas can be picked out at pinterest.com.
D&D: Slaying Monsters on a School Night
My family did not travel for spring break this year, but we did go adventuring in the jungles of Chult.
We mingled with the merchant princes in Port Nyanzaru and raced dinosaurs in the city streets. I can’t post the photos to my social media, because this was an adventure in our imagination thanks to Dungeons & Dragons. The 5th edition of this classic role-playing game has been hugely successful in revitalizing the hobby that encourages collaborative story building, reading comprehension, teamwork, and creative play.
For our family, it’s better than movie night, since we carry with us our ongoing epic storyline, involving character development, moral and social quandaries, puzzle solving, environmental disasters, as well as good ol’ monster smashing. Find the free basic rules to get you started at the official Dungeons & Dragons website.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS THERE’S ALWAYS DISH DUTY
Evening strolls, sport, organizing, cleaning, baking, reading, drawing, LEGOs and science projects all mix in with these activities. My son will ask,”what are we going to do tonight?” and this is music to my ears. Together we’ve decided to log off the internet, and to log on to strengthening our family bond.
Without a television, every week or so we watch a movie on a laptop. It’s not surround sound, and that’s ok. What matters is that the household is filled with laughter, competitive banter, and inventiveness. We’ll share YouTube videos from time to time. We pick out and plan to go to movies.
It’s an ongoing effort, and we’re making progress in our unplugged house, where we’re not in the habit of isolating ourselves to be alone with our technology. We’re setting ourselves up to be better communicators, and we’re certainly a better family because of it.
For further reading, check out:
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D.
The Screen Time Network has a resource page that’s worth a click.
Take the screen-free pledge for Screen-Free Week, April 30-May 6. “Turn off screens and Turn on life!”
- Ben t. Matchstick