By: Jenna Duetzmann
“Summer is here. Yay! No school, no homework, no sports! We can do anything we want!”
Did you hear something similar from your kids a few weeks ago? Did they have EPIC plans like Phineas & Ferb at the beginning of the summer? Did all of those epic plans get foiled by the recent monstrous, oppressive, humid heat wave? If your kids are like mine, I’m pretty sure they begged to stay inside all day with your iPad, their Nintendo DS, their PS Vita or whatever electronic game system they could get their hands on.
I’m not going to deny it, I was tempted to give in and let them play games all day. And why not? The games are fun and fast paced with exciting challenges. And it would have kept them still and relatively quiet. But then my rational brain kicked in. We all know that when children and teens spend an excessive amount of time in front of the TV, computer, or hand-held games, it takes away from the time they could spend playing, exercising, and learning.
This is not to say that electronic gaming is all bad. We should not completely cut off a child’s access to these activities, but help our children find the balance between playing games and spending time in independent activity, outside time, and exercise.
So, what should we do?
Simply pulling the plug and banning games is silly. It leads to anger, frustration, and endless confrontations. I know I don’t look forward to seeing my own stubbornness reflected back at me from my child’s face.
Here are a few of my favorite tricks to bring balance back during the summer. Each and every tip helps you engage with your child so that real life outside of the game becomes as much fun as the game itself.
Play a video game with your child:
Have your child pick their favorite video game and give it a try with them. You may find the game fun, or challenging, or completely inane. But, you are playing with your child and building a relationship with them and acknowledging that their interests are important to you. You are engaging them. You are spending time with them. Remember, building trust encourages their willingness to respect you and listen to you.
Create a long term project/activity for your child (even better if it’s based on their favorite game):
My two older children LOVE the Angry Birds franchise. We’ve come up with a summer project that involves arts and crafts, building, and physical activity. We are currently building an Angry Bird course in real life. The project involves painting shoe boxes and cardboard boards and foam pieces to represent the bricks, boards, and other obstacles. Next we are going to create a sling shot and some paper mâché pigs. We’re going to use stuffed birds in the sling shot, and…you get the idea. My kids are super excited to work on this project!
Bring out the old fashioned board games & card games:
Sometimes it is just too hot or rainy to play outside. If I don’t want to be outside, I can’t blame them for wanting to stay in the house, right? This is the perfect time to pull out family favorite games like Monopoly and Clue. Or, you can find modern favorites like Hide and Eek and Headbandz. Or, you can even teach your children Rummy and Poker. There are many educational lessons to be learned in these types of games. They include Interaction, Cooperation, Numeracy Skills, Literacy Skills, Patience and Gamesmanship. There is a reason you loved these games as a child. Introduce them to your child and watch them fall in love too. It’s amazing how much fun stimulating your mind can be.
Please don’t simply tell your child to “Go outside and play!” While the imagination of a child is wonderful and amazing, it needs to be stimulated. Make sure you provide something for your child to do outside, or they’ll be bored and resentful. Have plenty of sports equipment available like a football, whiffle ball and bat, basketball and soccer ball. A used sports equipment store or children’s consignment store can be a great resource. Teach your child to play badminton, volleyball, horse, or around the world. Draw a four square court or hopscotch game with chalk on your driveway. Have plenty of sidewalk chalk available. Make up a simple scavenger hunt. Create a beanbag toss out of cardboard. Fill up water balloons. The options are as endless as your own creativity or Pinterest will let you be. And, most importantly, join in whenever you can. This will show your children that you value outdoor play as well
Go to the library:
Most libraries have a summer reading program complete with contests, games, special events and prizes. If that’s not fun enough, search for books to read to/with your kids about their favorite games or cartoon characters. You would be surprised to see how many early readers their are about Super Mario, Pikachu, Marvel Heroes, Lego Heroes, Sonic, and Spyro. A good Children’s Librarian can point you in the right direction.
Play a game with their favorite video game as the subject:
We all remember playing ‘avoid the lava pit’ games with sofa cushions, milk crates, cardboard, or whatever else was handy. Why not turn this kind of play into your child’s favorite platform game? Make a Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Mega Man, Ratchet and Clank, or Little Big Planet theme. Just do some quick Wikipedia or Google research about the main characters and obstacles and you’ll have the knowledge to use the appropriate lingo to make these simple games way more exciting and relatable to your child. Now, another BIG option under this subject is to find a game that has toys built in. There are 2 relatively new and major games that have this feature. The first is Activision’s Skylanders franchise, and the second is Disney’s INfinity franchise. Both games are video games that include action figures for your child to play with. The action figures interact with the games and can be used as stand alone toys. We’ve had many adventures with block forts and Skylanders in our household. These games allow your child to bring their imagination to life.
Actively helping your child to spend less time playing video games requires more engaged and hands-on time from parents. This isn’t is easy with today’s time commitments and schedules. But, the best way to bond with our children and get them the balance they need is to spend more time with them and play with them.