Is your house overrun with technology? Some days it seems like mine is. From requests to watch TV, instant message with a friend or play Minecraft it feels like I can’t get my four kids (ages 6-13) away from technology. Every time I look up their nose is in an iDevice.
I’ll share (take) the blame for that. Aside from the iPod my oldest daughter bought with her own money, I’ve provided all the funding for these pieces of technology. And I’m the one who sets the time standards by which they can be played. If I didn’t want them in the house I could easily get rid of them.
But that’s just it…I don’t really mind my kids having this technology – age appropriate of course. However, I do want to limit its use and domination over their life. If left to their own devices they would be on a device all day long. I don’t believe that’s healthy for their overall development.
So my wife and I have worked hard by setting rules for the use of technology and by trying to provide alternative, non-technology activities for my four kids to engage in. Over the last few years, it’s been surprising to see how drawn our kids have been to some activities we’ve suggested.
Some of these I’ll share with you are old standbys (no-brainers) but my kids love them nonetheless. Others you may not have thought of. Either way I hope they help you crush the technology bug infecting your kids.
Inside the Home Activities
1. Family game night. Before you roll your eyes at the prospects of a four-hour Monopoly marathon, realize it doesn’t have to be that in-depth. Yes, we’ve had drawn out games that have spilled over into day-two but that’s not the norm. Usually we are spending about an hour playing a quick game and ending it in a reasonable amount of time. Our go-to games recently have been Qwirkle, Aggravation, Sorry, Poker (I’m teaching the oldest two) and yes, Monopoly. Once the kids understand the rules and come to enjoy the game, they can play with each other when you are not available.
2. Puzzles. I’ll admit to being shocked at how attracted my kids have been to puzzles. We had toddler puzzles for them when they were young, but our rediscovery of how much fun puzzles are happened not so long ago when we received a puzzle-pack featuring 10 different Thomas Kinkade paintings.
Talk about hard! There was so much color and so many shades of light in those puzzles. But they stuck to them, even working to complete the 500-piece puzzles. Sometimes we had all six of us around the puzzle at once – arms and puzzle pieces flying everywhere.
3. Reading. We started our kids out early with reading. Of course I’m sure you’ve read about the cognitive benefits of reading at a young age. We read to them all the time as infants and toddlers. Thankfully they have all caught the reading bug and don’t mind sitting down for 30 minutes to read.
Reading can help bring the family together, especially if done right before bedtime. It makes for “quiet moments” during the day where the house is peaceful. It introduces them to new ideas and concepts they hadn’t considered before.
I even use it as a reward system. My kids often here me say “Read for 30 minutes and then you can…(fill in the blank).”
For this one, I’m even willing to break the non-technology rule. My oldest son (12) and daughter (13) both have Kindles and use their own spending money to purchase books (with our approval) through Amazon. Just make sure they aren’t sneaking it to bed after hours.
4. Constructing paper airplanes. This may be a boy thing but mine love it. I even have to keep them from flying planes in the church sanctuary that they make from the bulletins.
What’s really fun is to purchase a book with different airplane designs. They will spend hours (and all your reams of computer paper) trying to build the plane just right.
5. Build a tent or fort out of blankets. On a rainy day a couple of years ago I happened to remember from my youth how much fun I had building tents out of blankets inside our house. So I introduce the concept to our kids who were bored out of their mind. They looked at me like “What? Build a tent indoors?”
Once they understood the concept and started to build they really got into it. There is something about this activity that makes them feel like they are on an adventure. It also teaches them creativity and planning. If you have multiple kids it will force them to work together.
And the best part of all is that when they get to sleep in it overnight. That is until someone rolls over and it comes crashing down at 3 AM.
6. Give them household chores. Wait a minute? I thought you said these were activities your kids love? No kid loves being put to work!
Well maybe so, but my four kids love the money they get for the household chores we assign so I chose to include it here.
Remember, this is all about giving your kids options besides technology. And when we come home from school and they immediately want to hit the TV, I’ll always say a) “What homework do you have?” and b) “What chores do you need to do?”
The point on this one is not whether they love it or not. Rather that it slows them down from immediately seeking out a device. And you’ll get help with the housework, teach them some discipline and responsibility along the way and help them learn some skills they can put to use later. (Seriously, how many college freshmen do you know who can’t even do their laundry?)
And contrary to popular belief I believe kids can come to love work, just like some of you love your work. Just last week I received the shock of all shocks when my 13-year old daughter said, “You know it feels really good to get all your chores done…like you really accomplished something important.”
7. Cooking. Speaking of teaching them skills…cook together with your kids. I know you want to get dinner ready fast and having a 7-year old working in the kitchen usually slows things down. But I’ve found my kids love announcing at the supper table, “Hey, I helped with dinner!”
Outside the Home Activities
These are some things we’ve doing outside of the home. We enjoy being at home but we love to go places and be outdoors. Try these non-technology activities on for size.
8. Go to the park, bike or hike. I included all three of these together because that’s exactly what we do sometimes. A local park nearby has equipment to play on and biking trails. The kids play on the equipment and then bike on the trails while the wife and I walk the dog alongside them.
Personally I believe engaging with nature and outdoor activities is the great equalizer to technology. If you allow it, nature can completely disconnect you from this world for a time, relax your mind and bond you closer to others. Some of our best times as a family have been doing things like hiking up a mountain, camping, playing at the beach or simply…(see #2)
9. Watching a sunset and then see the stars come out. We watched a sunset together recently on vacation in Key West. Spectacular! But you don’t have to go on vacation for that. One happens every night. Take the kids to an open spot in the country or even someplace high up (like a downtown office building) and watch the sun slip away.
Then, see who can spot the first star. Or better yet, wait a few hours until the sky is filled and do some stargazing. And for this one I’m also OK if you combine activity with technology. There are some great stargazing apps out there that will help you navigate the night sky and bring those constellations alive.
10. Geocaching. If you haven’t heard of this one you really need to check it out at geocaching.com. I had no idea this activity was such a world phenomenon.
It’s essentially an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS technology. (Yes, I realize once again I’m violating the premise of this article. But you as the parent can control the GPS. And really you need one – or a GPS app on a smartphone – to make this activity worthwhile.)
For this activity participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and try to find the cache (container) hidden at that location. There are literally millions of caches hidden all over the world. You should have no trouble finding one in your area. Last time I checked there were 132 caches within 5 miles of the small town where I live.
Every time we’ve done this, my kids have loved it…even when we took time on vacation to geocache. And, I’ll be honest…it’s a lot of fun for adults as well.
11. Have a campfire in the back yard. It doesn’t have to be a grand bonfire. Simply dig a 3 ft. by 3 ft. square hole in the ground in a safe place. Throw some sticks in there and you have a fire. Break out the marshmallows and your kids will sit there for hours mesmerized by the fire.
12. Attending a community social event. We’ve started to do this more and more as the kids have become older. We love concerts in the park, community festival events and parades. You might even take them to a local high school sporting event.
13. Take them grocery shopping. Oh…I can hear the groans now. The last thing I want at the grocery store is my kid.
Well, I get it. Rarely do I take all four with me. It can be a management nightmare. But during the summer months when they are home from school, I’ll routinely take one or two at a time. Here’s why:
- it gets them out of the house
- they actually can speed up the process by retrieving items off the shelf
- I can teach them money management skills (comparing prices, staying within a budget, getting deals, etc.)
- they love to push the cart
- I reward them with something small (I usually let them buy one item – usually a snack – as a reward for helping out. Maybe that’s why they like to go.)
14. Get into a social organization or church youth group. My kids love the several hours each week they spend with friends at our church youth group. If that’s not your style, you may be able to find a social organization or teen center nearby that’s free or relatively cheap to attend.
15. Have them volunteer. This last one has just begun to happen for our oldest daughter. Once a month she will go with her grandmother to deliver food and serve at a local homeless shelter. She’s learning the world doesn’t revolve around her and her technology and that there are many needy people she can impact.
The Bottom Line…
If you want your kids to put down the technology you will have to set limits and provide them with options. Be creative and be prepared for some trial and error. There are hundreds of things they could do but some of those suggestions will be a BIG miss. Not everything we’ve tried has clicked.
Most importantly though realize you are going to have to be the driver of this. If technology is around they will default to it when bored. That alone speaks to the pull it has in their lives. You need to spark their imagination and draw them away from the screens (…which also means you will have to pull yourself away from the screens).
Finally know this…you have to be involved with them. If you notice many of our activities are family centric. I’m not letting the kids build their own fire, work around the stove without supervision or go hiking by themselves. I’m there with them. My wife is there with them. We are together.
That’s how it should be in a family. And really, if they are honest, it’s all your kids really want…to be with you.
What’s your favorite cheap activity? How bothered are you by the pull technology has on a child? What else are you doing to limit the reach of technology in your home?
About the author: Brian Fourman is a former private school personal finance and Bible teacher now turned stay at home dad and blogger. He helps individuals and families navigate the challenges of managing their money so that they can grow wealth and live with greater peace of mind. In his down time, he loves hanging out with his four kids and hearing his wife talk about all the cool things CPAs do at work. You can check him out providing encouragement and inspiration on his blog at Luke1428.com or by connecting with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.