The Magic of Faraway Screens

“Nothing like having a bucket of water flung over you to make you see things as they really are.” – Enid Blyton.

Say the B word in front of my mother, and if I wasn’t fast enough to slippery-slip out the back door into the vast expanse of Enchanted Eucalypt-Wood that surrounded our diary farm, then my “Bored” self would be loaded up with a pile of dirty jobs to rival Dame Washalot on a heavy duty day!

Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds, then every Joe (Bessie), Dick and Fanny knows that too much time spent peering into an interactive device window is not good for our children’s bodies and brains and can send even the most angelic pixie into a raging fit. However, despite the litany of public health campaigns – surfeit of popular psychology texts, damning documentaries and overtly published longitudinal studies – detailing the insidious nature of excessive interactive (in particular) screen usage, the default mode for many families is to whack a device in front of little Silky the moment she shows even a fairy dust sized hint of being bored. Why?…

Because in this modern world of time poor parenting, it’s easy. And everyone else is doing it too!

Since catapulting my own kids out of the house on a rather mundane weekend…post-school afternoon…school holiday period…(you get the idea) would likely land them underneath a hotted up (probably stolen!) urban speed racer or see them being used as a guinea pig in a rather dubious neighbours’ crystal meth lab, Scott and I have had to get creative in how we teach our kids to occupy their spare time. For those keen to garner some secrets from nearly a decade of low-screen-time-living life, I present to you our compiled works of The Magic of Faraway Screens:

Topsy-Turvy Land: from years of having to survive on a tight, single-income budget, we’ve turned the concept of a toy on it’s head. Litter-ally. From egg-carton walls and tin-can tunnels to junk box kingdoms and up-cycled wooden block garages, if there is a creation to be made then no recycling bin is safe.

Land of Spells: when it comes to keeping ourselves sane during those long-haul car trips to our rellies’ houses, we tend to cast our in-cabin-activity wand wide. When the traditional car games – number plate cricket, eye-spy, phonetic alphabet, rhyming words etc. – die a supernatural death, there is always a plethora of music, audio-books, colouring activities and good ol’ fashioned window watching to disappear the hours.

Land of Dreams: kids need sleep. And lot’s of it. One of the easiest ways we have found to ensure our little angels get their full 10-13 hour complement of shut eye, starting at 7.30pm, is to run them ragged. Plenty or reading, open-ended playtime, reading,  commuting by bike (scooter, foot and skateboard)…oh…and did I mention reading… are great ways to burn up that excess fuel.

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Land of Do-As-You-Please: giving kids plenty of opportunities to learn new skills not only keeps their minds and bodies active, it also provides a more resilient scaffold from which to weather social bumps and self-confidence knocks during those raging-hormone teenage years. Many of the extra-curricular clubs we are a part of are relatively inexpensive as they are community run: there is a strong volunteer base. When we do choose to spend up big, such as for music lessons and private tennis coaching, we have one rule: they must stick with it!

Land of Toys: thanks to a well stocked, local Toy Library I can count on just one hand the number of times I have actually ponied up the dough for a new toy. When we do unleash our purchasing powers upon a nearby retailer, we pay top dollar for an open ended toy (such as Lego, model cars and plastic animals) or a family game that spans a wide range of age groups and that can easily be be re-homed when we are done.

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Land of Magic Medicines: sometimes the only way to enjoy that enspiriting potion of coffee with a friend, is to take the kiddies along too. Preparing a small busy bag – replete with match box cars, colouring pencils and paper, read-it-yourself-books, activity fun packs and playdough – to the cafe, yields magical results. I am able to drink my cuppa and relish in some much needed, uninterupted adult time too.

Land of Tempers: I would love to say that removing interactive screens from your children’s home life is a cure all for those unsolicited tantrums…but then I’d be shipped off to Dame Slaps’ school for telling lies. When, however, that mega-wobbly does come our way a short five to ten minute session in the bedroom with some engaging, quiet time activities – puzzle, picture book, solo-board game, drawing materials – is all that is needed to trip the fuse on that overloaded brain circuit.

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Land of Presents: our family is a great lover of the consumable gift. In lieu of the usual endowment of toys and books, our children have received skills lessons (fishing and mountain biking), yearly passes to favourite attractions, experiences (zoo trips and train rides) and cash. Such legacies have often paid invaluable dividends: many hours of quality memories retold through the mediums of writing, drawing and imaginative play.

The end?

Not quite.

Having laid good foundations for the robust construction of those neural highways to the higher-order-human-brain command centre – the pre-frontal cortex – we now feel slightly more prepared for what we expect to be a rather rugged but adventurous sequel…

The Folklore of the School-Mandated-Technology Tree.

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