Not sure what an unplugged childhood is? Perhaps think back to your own childhood, free of iPads, smartphones and the Xbox, but instead filled with an abundance of tree climbing, scrapes on your knees and spontaneous play opportunities. Whilst technology surely has it's place in the world, so too does a childhood that takes a step back from video games, touch screens and the TV.
Photo: FidlerJan, Morguefile
Last year's article covering the story of a 4 year old girl who was addicted to smart phones and tablets, for me still acts as a heady warning to create the right balance of technology within an active childhood. If you're looking for ways to create an unplugged childhood read on:
1. Limit tablet time
With the number of educational and learning apps available on tablets, there can be real benefits for tablet time for children. However, like anything in life, tablet time should be enjoyed in moderation, with appropriate time limits set to prevent overuse. It's a good idea to also back up onscreen learning with learning in the physical sense; so if a child is learning how to 'write' a letter on a screen with their finger, then also spend a good portion of time also showing them how to write with a pencil.
2. Role model the right behaviours
If you want your kids to limit their time with technology, then you too must limit your time on devices. It's important with children to try to ensure that you are truly present and engaged when you are with them, as if you are regularly distracted on your iPhone (or similar), then they're learning from an early age that technology comes before actual relationships and interaction; not a great life lesson.
3. No electronic devices at the dinner table
For me, this is a no brainer, but it's amazing how often electronic devices creep into what is a really important bonding time for a family. Having phones and tablets active at the dinner table interrupts conversation and sends the wrong message about it's priority in real life.
4. Embrace play time
Photo: Tangle Eye, Morguefile
If you want your kids to not become dependent upon technology then allow them time for their brains to enjoy finding ways to be creative and to use their imagination. An unplugged childhood isn't about the amount of apps on a tablet, or the amount of toys a child owns, it's about unbridled fun and play in natural surroundings. Children should get to experience the fun of climbing a tree, digging up the garden, building a den and making mud pies. I'm yet to find an app that recreates this.
5. Get active
The more you get active with your children, and encourage their love of activity, health and fitness, then the less time will actually remain for over-indulgence in technology; there simply aren't enough hours in a day. On a typical day of school, homework, a kick around with a football, dinner and some family time, there's not a whole lot of time left to spend on technology and this is a good way to ensure kids don't get over-reliant without having to be too strict and lay down the rules.
Photo Sideshowmom, Morguefile
6. No tablets/phones in the bedrooms
Cyber safety expert, Robyn Rishani of 'Your Kids Online' advises that computers and laptops should be placed in the open plan zones within a family home. This way children are not shut away in their bedrooms for prolonged periods of time, in addition to making screens viewable by parents to ensure certain levels of cyber safety. If parents can see what a child is up to on the internet, then kids are less likely to be looking at 'questionable' material.
7. Get Inspired
If you're lacking inspiration for what are some truly great childhood experiences, have a look at some of the 'bucket lists' for children that give some great ideas for unplugged fun for the family. I love this bucket list posted on Globe and Mail for 50 things kids should do before they are 12 - click here to view. This is a great starter for ten if you've forgotten the joys of snail racing, camping and playing conkers.
8. Read a book
I'm truly old fashioned when it comes to reading a book and I've yet to convert to the joys of the Kindle. For me, there is something special about physically holding a book and turning its pages that a device just can't recreate. Start reading time early with your child to assist with language development and also to unleash their imagination. A child should know that reading a book is about turning pages to find out where the story is going, not just swiping at a screen.
9. Enjoy nature
Photo, Erdane, Morguefile
Kids that love spending time outdoors, tend not to want to spend hours of time cooped up inside on devices or in front of the television. Take time to show your kids the beauty of nature, by starting early and letting them simply be kids and explore the best that the outdoors has to offer.
10. Talk time
Finally, Its a great idea to always create the opportunities for conversations with your children. Have time every day to find out what they've been up to and to talk about what they've discovered that day. Such conversations demonstrate the meaningfulness of relationships, the likes of which cannot truly be mimicked or replaced through technology.