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Tips from a mom: This is how I encourage my children to spend time away from gadgets

Dr Lakshmi Joshi Dr Lakshmi Joshi 8 Mins Read

Dr Lakshmi Joshi Dr Lakshmi Joshi

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Most parents struggle to keep children away from gadgets. Here is a mom's account of how she engages her children in various activities and gets them to spend productive time away from gadgets

Tips from a mom: This is how I encourage my children to spend time away from gadgets
"Let the children be free; encourage them, let them run outside when it is raining, let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water." - Maria Montessori

A lovely quote that truly describes a child who runs carefree, exploring everything under the sun. This is what children instinctively enjoy doing. While it is difficult to practice in reality, given the opportunity, every parent would want their children to run free and bask in the sun.

My husband, my nine-year-old twins, and I are a family of four, living in Ontario, Canada. Our favorite way to spend time together is to do outdoor activities together, even if it is only for a few hours a day.

I have fond memories of my childhood days spent in India when I would run around in the vast open spaces around my house. Times have changed now and children are spending long hours in front of the electronic screen, be it their online schooling hours, television, or games. While I agree that electronic gadgets have their pros, such as motor skills development in children, there is no doubt in my mind that off-screen living is what children naturally are inclined towards.

As parents, my husband and I, take every opportunity to spend time outdoors. Below are a few of the things that we enjoy doing together as a family.

Things to do without gadgets

Local hikes, trail walks, swimming, and biking

On weekends and sometimes during weekdays, when the weather is warm, we go on short hiking trips, wade through a stream, or go on walking trails.

Swimming in safe natural waters with an adult is another favorite activity for my kids. Biking with a light snack in their backpacks is another one. They always look forward to these little adventures as they have been doing them since childhood. Sometimes, their friends join us as well!

Ontario has very prominent seasons - spring, summer, fall, and winter. Every season has its own beauty and offers a variety of colors. Even during winter, you can partake in outdoor activities if adequately dressed. We go for long walks together through the woods, taking care to keep ourselves warm, even during harsh winter months. We sing songs together to add to the excitement.

Camping and road trips

Camping, either in tents or a camper, is a very important family tradition for us and we do it every year. My children also enjoy road trips, so we often combine long road trips and camping adventures.

Last summer, we went camping in a caravan for ten days in the north of Canada. This was an experiment in living with minimum resources.

Camping is a great learning experience for children, as it teaches them about sharing food and living spaces, minimizing resources, conserving water, appreciating nature, problem-solving, storytelling, and so on. Moreover, a walk through giant sequoia trees or hiking along waterfalls are activities that children will treasure for a lifetime.

Physical activities

Children need a break from their stressful academic learning every day. So, we make sure that our kids do some kind of physical activity every day.

Our twins have been attending football and tennis lessons of late. The idea is to keep them engaged and develop an interest in sports. It also inculcates discipline and team spirit in them.

Recently, to keep their physical activity going, we cleared off some space inside the house for a set of gymnastic rings. We also made some space in the garage where they could play a game of squash or football.

Family time together

For us, grocery shopping is a family activity. We go to the grocery store together and take the kids' choices into account as this makes them feel involved. They thoroughly enjoy it when they pick up their choice of fruits and later are up for discussions about fruits for health.

Art and crafts

I also encourage the kids to do crafts of their interest, be it building Lego models or creative play. Sometimes, they are not interested when I try to teach them to crafts but are very enthusiastic when I just provide them with the materials for activities that they like doing.

Household chores

We do a lot of household chores together such as mopping floors, sorting laundry, doing the dishes, organizing spaces, sorting groceries, etc. This helps keep the kids physically active indoors. This is even better with their favorite music playing in the background and them choosing their favorite songs. It is also a great way to engage kids without any gadgets. They love to do things that they see adults doing most of the time.

Planting a garden

Gardening is the best way to understand mother nature. I ask our children to do whatever they love to do in our small backyard patch. Even a balcony garden can be a creative venture.

Last summer, they germinated seeds and planted them into the soil. When we harvested some tomatoes and chillies from their plants, they were so excited. They love to play with the water hose and are good at watering plants. Visiting farm stays is yet another way to introduce your child to nature.

Reading aloud books of their choice

We let our children pick the books that they would like to read. Every time I have tried reading aloud a classic to them, they have quickly lost interest. They do not enjoy it when I try reading folk tales to them. They are happier picking their own books. They have chosen books such as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" or Ronald Dahl stories, which are more contemporary, and perhaps, relate better to their everyday life. We also discuss words and characters from the books that they read for fun.

Going through family albums

As a nuclear family on foreign shores, we get to spend less time with our extended family. It is very important for children to connect with their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It's good for their emotional well-being. Since meeting them regularly is not always possible, going through family albums is a great way to make them feel connected with extended family members.

Prioritizing family bonding

We make it a priority to attend family occasions. The children need friends or family members whom they feel free to open up with. The importance of bonding with family or friends can never be undermined.

Movies and music

Children are curious and creative and exposure to creative work will help nurture these qualities and teach them to appreciate arts and culture. This winter, we plan to have a home theatre set up at home and watch movies together.

Talking to children

I love to chat with both my children - we talk about things of interest to them. I encourage them to talk about the cartoon characters that they like, why they like them, and so on. We also discuss plans for spending the weekend or a holiday. Our chatter helps me understand them and their interests better. It also helps me keep a check on what is going on in their lives.

Doing nothing

Sometimes, just doing nothing or having time to themselves is important for children. I have seen children come up with the most creative things while doing nothing. While exposure to ideas is important for children to understand the world, imposing them is not something we should do as parents as it might affect their creativity and passion.

I believe that constantly doing activities for an outcome or practicing something only for academic brilliance might actually end up traumatizing a child. Children learn from the environment they grow up in. Staying focused and disciplined in what they are doing is more important than what they are actually doing.

How I keep them away from gadgets and encourage unstructured time

Moving away from gadgets is tough for everyone these days, but in my experience, if you introduce outdoors and other interesting activities to your children early on, they will enjoy their gadget-free time.

Too many academic activities or routine learning might become tedious for the child and make them bored. Unstructured activities, or activities with no predetermined outcome, will come as a breath of fresh air to them. It will get them excited and ignite their curiosity to learn.

We have always been an active, outdoor-loving family, as we believe spending time in nature empowers our children.

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