This evening we had a power outage in our neighborhood due to a mid-June heat wave here in northern Colorado. At first it was annoying, with family visiting, bedtime approaching, and a tired toddler. The hours passed, I was washing dishes, the adults were chatting deeply in the living room, and I noticed Ester and her cousin outside. When they would have normally been indoors, and most likely watching a movie, the lack of access to technology welcomed them outdoors. They made "roads" in the pea gravel, played with the soccer ball, and had pretend rock meals. When they came in after sunset it was time for shadow puppets, and candlelit reading. Ester's cousin sat with her and read all of her library books aloud as she attentively chatted through each page's illustrations. It was almost magic! The evening felt kindred to nights I remember as a young teen sitting by a campfire in the eastern Sierras. We could hear the crickets.
Technology, it's wonderful, but it robs from our lives in ways we so quickly forget. Our children are forced to their chairs and couches, snacks in hand, as technology lures them into its electronic trance. Offering our children and active childhood, away from devices, must be intentional, yet unrestrictive. The more we restrict them the stronger the appeal; when presented with an opportunity to play without a device, out of necessity, it's as if a brighter version of our children come to the surface.
An active childhood isn't something that we can tangibly hand to our children through a gym membership or a spot on the soccer team, it's something we do with them. An active childhood is created by making carefree memories together, through exploration, play, and adventure.
Today it's easy to be disconnected from nature, we spend all too much time indoors. When our children are scheduled or over-scheduled, more of the free time is limited, and likewise, more of our time as parents is limited. Sports and clubs are wonderful for children, but if the time spent driving our children to these things removes the option of spending time together, is it worth it?
Choosing to play with our children at the park, joining in, will add more value to their lives than placing them in the chess club. Limit the time they require a schedule, and maximize the time they can spend with you, together. If you love to fish, take them, if you love to hike, take them, and as they grow older, join them in what they love.
We can model an active lifestyle with our children, and limit our own use of technology, this impression will last.
Loosen the Boundaries
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that too much technology leads our children to the possible development of attention issues. The best way to increase the attention span in our children is to give them opportunities to pay attention. When they're eager to climb the tree, walk through the creek, or scale up the boulders, let them. Encourage them to take the risks that they want to take.
And while they're actively exploring, they're developing motor skills, balancing and shifting their weight, making decisions about where to step next, they're actively problem solving.
One of my pet peeves is a soundtrack of parental commentary while I'm at the park with Ester. Our children need to hear the dialogue happening between other children, and their own commentary in their young developing minds. When they're out to play, they're thinking, considering, pondering, and unless they look to us for praise or encouragement, we can be quiet, smiling onlookers.
On the contrary, we also need to be vigilant and ready for them. Sitting on the bench and reading a book is not as helpful as standing nearby, observing, and watching our children interact with others. Knowing you're there, watching, and ready to participate if they need you brings comfort and reassurance that we're both interested and available.
Play With Them
Our children love when we play with them. Instead of spending time at Nickis or Nordstrom purchasing cute outfits, they'd much rather us teach them our favorite childhood games. The game of “tag” is a classic favorite, Ester loves to be chased around the house and "captured".
As they grow we can change the ways in which we play together. Some children will love to go on long nature walks, while others will enjoy playing catch at the park. We don't have to be skilled athletically to engage our children in sports, but rather, meet them where they are. Rollerblading has become popular again, and teaching our children how to ride could make for several exciting family outings. Making family outdoor activity a common event will broaden our children's love for being outside, and thus being more active.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw
*This is a collaborative post.