Anyone who knows our family knows we are screen light. There are certain places where our kids will never (and yes, I know parents say “never” about a lot of things- but I mean it) use screens- an example of one of those settings being mealtime, whether at home or at a restaurant. Other situations depend on the scenario, such as long car trips. We try to use screens as a last resort: i.e. everyone in the car is screaming, and we need to all make it to our destination intact with my husband and I still married. Leading up to the point where we wave the white flag, we try to employ quite the list of activities that do not involve a screen. Being transparent, this is a list of ideas in our toolbox, not all of which we have used yet- so try at your own risk. But hey, they’re screen free.
Measure your trip
“Are we there yet?” and “how many more minutes?” gets old real quick, mamas. If you don’t mind tape on your ceiling in your car, use scotch tape to make a road with a visual on one end representing home and the other end your destination. Draw or cut out a picture of a car and stick it on the road with tape, moving it ever so often so your kids (and you!) can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You can also use this to add in visuals representing stops, snack breaks, or anything you want to add in along the way.
This same visual concept could be used as a behavioral motivator to move toward a mystery prize or a chosen activity. I find that the element of surprise can be pretty encouraging. I have heard of people actually wrapping gifts or activities for their kids to unwrap every so often on a trip. How fun is that?
Hit up your local library before your trip and stock up on new CDs or audio books. My kids love Disney movie soundtracks. There are also great kids’ podcasts out there for free!
Never underestimate the power of a one dollar cookie sheet from the Dollar Store. These have so many great uses. Your child can use it with magnets, draw on it with dry erase markers, or use magnets to hold a coloring sheet or paper in place. You can also either glue or duct tape down a base Lego sheet to build on. Get creative and stick magnets on the back of anything, such as puzzle pieces or popsicle sticks that can be used to create pictures or letters and numbers. You can create your own easy 2-4 piece puzzles by cutting up a picture from a magazine or a flash card and adding magnets to the back of each piece.
This one is an easy and obvious one but again, head to your library. Have your child pick up some new ones and not read them until the day of your trip. Or pull out books your child hasn’t read in awhile that will be new and fresh. Books on CD are great, too, and also available at the library!
This is OK; let it happen. Kids tend to be so overstimulated and in constant need of something to keep them engaged. Looking out the window mindlessly is good for the mind and soul.
How often is your entire family in the same place practically strapped into place? Take advantage of this time to ask each other questions and talk! Get to know each other more, you may be surprised what you find out. There are lots of kid friendly conversation starter books and games that are full of thought provoking questions for any age and then you can always make up with your own! Car trips are also a great time for kids to practice some phone conversation skills. Have your child call a grandparent, friend, or anyone who will answer! Kids these days do not get as much practice with this skill, so what better time than when you have a few hours to kill?
These ideas potentially lend themselves to an iPad and movie free travel experience for kids, however it is so important for us as parents to model what being screen free looks like. This is where I feel most convicted and sometimes like a hypocrite. Take this as a challenge to put away your phone, as well. In a recent ABC special with Diane Sawyer on screen time (that I highly recommend), she and her team found that the average American adult spends 49 days a year on his or her phone. As adults, we are often in need -if not more than our kids- to be engaged in some form of digital connection.
Listen. I am not saying leave the screens at home. I am just posing the question this question: what if screens weren’t the first go-to during a long duration of idleness? Why not save the screen for those moments of desperation and not at the first sign of boredom? What might your kids gain or you gain as a family? There’s only one way to find out.