Electronics-Free Friday, Or How I Got My Kids to Play With Their Toys

My daughter's spontaneous artwork. Photo: Jenny Williams

How do you get your kids to unplug? Simple. Require it.

If your kids are like most these days, they spend a great deal of time plugged in, either on the computer, texting, playing video games, or watching television. Perhaps you wish they did this less often. I think my kids spend an average amount of time doing electronic-based activities, but at one point I realized that I still wished they would spend less time doing it, and spend more time with their many other toys and with each other. Both of my kids love their toys, but when given a choice, my son will usually take the electronic way out. “Ooo shiny!” My daughter usually picks an analog option, so this effort is mostly aimed at my son.

How did I successfully combat my son’s preference for all things electronic? I created Electronics-Free Fridays. Did the kids balk? Not too much. My daughter wasn’t upset at all. She prefers to play the old fashioned way, anyway. My son does still say that he isn’t happy about it, yet every week he has imaginative adventures dressed up in costume, or he reads a book, or he builds giant structures or elaborate play sets.

What are the rules? I have decided that there will be no television, no computer (unless it’s directly related to the homeschooling we’re doing that day), and no video games. They are allowed to listen to records, since it’s something they do together. I don’t set them up with any activities. I let them decide what to do on their own. They have no trouble staying incredibly busy, almost always playing with each other.

What about boredom? My son is never bored, regardless of what day of the week it is. He always easily finds something to do, electronic or not. My daughter only complains about being bored on the other days of the week, when my son is on the computer or watching television.

Every week for Electronics-Free Friday, my kids end up doing something different. They spend time playing with each other, playing with all their toys, reading books, or running amok outside. This weekly reminder of how much fun they can have without electronics has also made them unplug more often during the other days of the week. Mission accomplished!

So if you despair of getting your kids off the Wii, or to put away their iPod, try setting aside one day each week to unplug. Its effect will carry over to the other days of the week, and the results are nothing but great joy for everyone.

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Jenny Bristol is an Editor at GeekDad and a founding Director at GeekMom. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.