I was so relieved when the school year ended in June. After 4 months of remote learning, it felt like a weight was lifted. Mind you, plenty of different weights replaced it :)...but we weren't going to be fighting the schoolwork battle again until the fall.
Our best days of quarantine involved the least amount of screen time and the most amount of unstructured play. I was putting away Legos the other day and it brought me back to the time that the girls created and built for 6 hours with barely a break for lunch. How is it that our kids can play for hours and hours but struggle to focus on typing a few sentences on the computer for school?
Sitting on their butts in front of a screen is not natural for our kids. Heck, it isn't natural for us as adults! We've become conditioned to being plugged in. With the prospect of more remote learning in the upcoming school year, I'm scared of the screen time.
I know the upcoming school year is going to be different for every.single.family. How can anyone even pretend to have the same experience in this? With that being said, hopefully some of the ideas below can help you unplug your kids - whether they are at home, with a babysitter, in a group-watch setting, or tagging along at work with you.
Start the day outside
We implemented a morning walk routine the first week of quarantine...rain, snow, or shine we were out there getting the paper and doing our loop. The 15-20 minutes we spent outside set the tone for the rest of the day. We were committed and it made a huge difference.
Encourage open ended play
Want to get a few moments to yourself for a shower, meeting, or to get some things done around the house? Blocks, pieces of wood, cardboard boxes, animal figurines, corks, shells, bottle caps, clay...things that can be imagined into ANYTHING are your ticket to time. Open ended play is unlimited. Corks can be people, wood can be configured into fairy houses, shells made into a crown. This type of imaginative play is being lost on our children. Give them the tools to bring it back. Bear in mind, it can take up to 45 min for a good play routine to develop, so be patient. If your child is used to combating boredom with screen time, this could take some time - getting together with another friend can help spark imaginative scenarios that can go on for hours (or days!).
Engage with your kids
I was REALLY good at playing pretend as a kid. My kids are also really good at it now. Ask your kids about what they are playing. It is important that our kids know that we are interested in what they are doing...because how they spend their time is just as important as how we spend ours. Knowing that we are interested sparks them to continue to pursue activities that they can share with us. At dinner each night, we go around the table and tell our "low" (worst part), "high" (best part), and "win" (something you accomplished, even if you didn't want to) for the day. It is a great insight into what lights us each up and is a chance to talk through challenges. Aside from reading Harry Potter with the girls before bed, it is one of my favorite times of the day, when I feel like we can all connect with each other.
Be a good role model
In our family, our jobs require screen time, and I imagine it is the same for a lot of parents out there. If you have downtime...how are you spending it? Are you glued to your screen or are you pursuing hobbies, talking with neighbors, playing with your kids, reading...kids have amazing powers of observation. Make sure they know that life doesn't revolve around our phones, computers, video games, and TVs.
Get them playing with other kids
I love watching kids engage with each other. It is so cool to see how each child brings something different to the table. Games evolve and grow and kids are introduced to different leadership styles, play ideas, and learn important negotiation skills. I realize that in this era of physical distancing, not all parents are comfortable with this and I respect that, 100%. Our girls didn't play with other kids for months. Now they play with masks on and only outside (unless they are at Wild and Free...in which case they are inside, but are still wearing masks). The kids here have turned cut up pool noodles into fish and marshmallows to roast over a campfire, built moose traps out of rope, created shelters from boxes and sticks, and cooked up gourmet meals in the mud kitchen. Every group that comes in is different and the space transforms under their play. Kids feed off of each other's energy and imagination!
I designed Wild and Free with unstructured play in mind. It is time to bring physical play back into our kids lives. We need to get them excited about play, being outside, and using their imaginations. I hope to see you at Wild and Free soon for some amazing nature-based play!
Stay Wild and Free,