When eight-year-old Tushar comes back from school, he turns his tablet on to check if there are any assignments from school. After that, it is a series of YouTube videos and cartoons on the gadget and on television, before he can be coaxed to finish his homework. He hardly plays and his mother worries that the physical inactivity might be harmful to him.
With smartphones and social networks taking over our lives, we can’t imagine a day without our gadgets. The Internet is a useful source of learning for children but like Tushar, many of them get totally overwhelmed by gadgets. A study on the prevalence of Internet addiction and its association with psychopathology in Indian adolescents, published by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry found that 74.5 per cent of children were moderate internet users while 0.7 per cent were addicts. Those who used internet excessively had high scores on anxiety and depression.
That’s why it is necessary that children spend some time away from technology occasionally. They need time to explore and find out what interests them. A day without gadgets also helps children bond with their parents. Make one day in a week a screen-free day and parents should also be off technology for that day. Since keeping children engaged is a challenge, we give you some interesting activities, which kids can do alone or with their parents.
1. Build Forts: Not with bricks and soil, but at home using pillows and bed sheets. On a screen-free day, encourage your child to make a fort and stay inside it, doing various things. He can play games, read books, make stories or just nap there. Parents can also join in the fun. There would be mess, but the time spent would be precious.
2. Play old-school games: We don’t see many children playing games such as snakes and ladders, Ludo, UNO, marbles, hopscotch or hide and seek anymore. Why not take out your old game set and give it to your children? It will keep them engaged for hours together. And you would get the time to complete your work. Or you can participate. Regardless of the age, it is always fun to win. Bond with your children while playing these games.
3. Start a DIY project: A new craft or décor project will keep your child occupied on a screen-free day. Ask him to create some decor item like lantern, memories book, a photo frame or an activity chart for his room. Once the project is complete, and the item is ready, appreciate your child for the effort. This will encourage him to be creative.
Here’s a simple DIY project you can try:
What you will need:
- 1 disposable thermacol plate,
- 4 disposable thermacol juice cups,
- Patterned paper.
- Wrap each cup with a sheet of patterned paper and secure it with glue.
- Once dry, glue the bottom of each cup to the plate.
- Label each of the cups with what you are going to keep inside.
As labelled, sort out different stationery items and group them into a desired category and place inside each cup.
4. Work in the garden: Gardening can teach children patience and hard work, and is a great tool for calming down a restless child. Of course, the children love to play with water and mud, so there is a bonus there. Plant some flowers or vegetables with them and help them nurture it. Teach them to carefully remove weeds. Tell the kids it is their responsibility to care for the plants. Just imagine the happiness on their faces when the first flower blooms or you use the vegetables from their little garden.
5. Try some puzzles: Those giant puzzles are a great tool to keep kids engaged. On their screen-free day, the children can put the whole puzzle together. Or you can challenge them to complete the puzzle in a specified time. This would help in improving the thinking skills, visual-perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination. Puzzles can keep the children entertained during the boring hours of the afternoon.
6. Create works of art: Painting is soothing and brings out the imagination of children. During those dull hours, you can ask your children to create a masterpiece. Bring out those colours and ask them to run riot on the canvas or even a big sheet of chart paper. Let them get messy and create a chaos, if they are going to learn something important and new from it. Either you would get some beautiful art from your children or some funny designs to create happy memories.
7. Read books: Books are the best way to escape all distractions and spend some quiet time. Inculcate in your child the love of reading from an early age. If he is hooked to reading, getting him off the gadgets will not be difficult. On the screen-free day, play a game with your child – ask him to sort the books at home to different sections according to the genre and then tell him to pick a few (age-appropriate ones) from each section to read. Either he can read himself, or you can read together. It is also fun to enact the stories from the books. Enrolling in a library can also payoff.
8. Picnic in the backyard: Remember how excited we used to be when we packed a basket full of freshly made goodies and set out on picnics. There could be outdoor games, lazy banter and lots of running for kids. You cannot go on an actual picnic every week, so create a similar ambience on your balcony or in the backyard instead. Fill a basket with eatables, some playing cards, board games and so on. Even if you organise the picnic in the backyard, it is a good way for children to interact with nature and observe the environment.
These and many such activities keep the children busy and distracted from the TV and tablet. And their dependence on technology will visibly reduce. When parents also take a break from technology, it gives them more time to bond with their little ones.