When you think of screen free or tech free activities, reading a book may be the first thing to come to mind – and there are many other low-cost activities that can be done at home. Remote learning has made it necessary to spend more time on computers and pandemic restrictions made it necessary for people to spend more time at home watching streamed programs.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Vast majority of parents say they limit when, how long their child can use screens; digital ‘grounding’ is relatively common among parents.” How can children be grounded when they are expected to spend most or part of their day on an electronic device? COVID-19 restrictions in school districts has made it necessary that students’ classrooms are also their bedrooms and school aged children are spending more time than ever in front of a screen.
Even when many schools aren’t doing remote learning, there are a lot of activities that children can engage in that are screen free, engage other skills, and can provide learning opportunities.
- Reading can be an enjoyable screen free activity. In school there is always a push to read more challenging books or explore different genres. As an escape from the screen there are other options such as word search books, joke books, or even topical nonfiction books. Graphic novels or comics are a way to escape and may even spark creativity in students who want to draw their own.
- Baking bread/making a meal – depending on the age and skill of the child, following a recipe can be a great learning experience. Make pizza from pita, French bread or from scratch or add an additional science component – bake different types of bread and compare the processes. Try a quick bread, a bread that requires yeast, and a longer project such as baking sourdough. An additional resource and to incorporate reading would be to read “Everyone Bakes Bread.” Preparing food provides an opportunity to do something different and see a finished product quickly.
- Birdwatching – any time of year is a great time to watch birds. Make a birdfeeder from items you may have at home and a package of inexpensive bird seed to attract birds and provide some food during the winter or seasonal migration. To make a birdfeeder with a toilet paper roll, smear it with peanut butter on the outside of the roll and roll it in birdseed. Peanut allergies? Use lard instead. Commercial bird feed blocks use lard. Another way of creating a birdfeeder is to use plain gelatin, dissolved in water then mixed with birdseed. Once it is mixed, shape the mixture, or lightly press into a mold and wait a few hours for it to harden. For either method, you may add a string for hanging or hang on a branch.
- Play a board or card game. While it may not be possible to have family game night every night there are many games that are not as time intensive as Monopoly. There are variations of solitaire, or multi-player card games like Blink, Monopoly deal that are fun and can also teach strategy and reduce stress. Not interested in playing a game with cards? Building a tower of cards is another way to work on fine motor skills. There’s a Guinness World Record for building with cards.
- Puzzles – Jigsaw puzzles were very popular in the beginning of the pandemic but there are also 3D puzzles that use shapes or blocks. Pattern or logic games are another way to take a brain break to just to play is to use blocks or different shapes. Construct something with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, or Lego. Make your own set of tangrams and use the pieces to try to make different shapes.
- Send a card or write a letter to a friend or relative. Personal mail is a commodity in the modern era. Being away from friends and family due to pandemic restrictions can be more of a treasure and way to keep in touch.
- Focus on the body. Recess and physical education classes may be online, but they aren’t the same as just taking a few moments to do deep breathing, taking a nature walk or just staring out of the window at the changing of the seasons can be a good way to relieve stress and stretch the muscles after sitting for a long periods of time.
A tech free break helps the brain shift focus and reengage. Since much of our daily lives involves technology, setting boundaries and making time for tech free and screen free activities is a good way to find balance. Engaging in tech free activities that provide brain breaks can be refreshing and energizing even if the break is short. Even a 90 second break can be a stress reliever and help refocus.