There are many screen-free activities to do with preschoolers, and even nowadays in this first-world country going screen-free for a day shouldn’t be too difficult. My “Kid” board on Pinterest provides me with all manner of things I can do with my son for educational, fun, super-involved, overly-crafty, try-mama’s-patience, screen-free entertainment. And yet he’s watching a show on t.v., kiddie youtube videos on the computer, and/or playing games on our iPad for at least some undisclosed amount of time every day… whoopsies.
Depending on how the rest of the day has gone, how many places we’ve been, what else we’ve done, I don’t always feel bad about these screen-filled activities. Sometimes they are a lifesaver, especially when I’ve gotta cook dinner, get our home company-ready (i.e. clean more thoroughly than usual), or I’m not feeling particularly well–me being my only-child’s main entertainer.
That was the case last week.
After a few days of not feeling my best, I wake up naturally one morning, all of my own accord–a rare occurrence since my son is typically my alarm clock. I get out of bed, see that he’s not in his bed, and go to the living room where my 3-year-old is sitting by himself in front of the desktop, watching videos that were left open since yesterday, while playing games on the iPad in his lap. I laugh at the adorableness of the scene, but also know we have to do something different today.
“Ok Des, give Mama the iPad,” I say, turning off the computer. “Today we’re gonna have no iPad or computer. Or TV,” I quickly decide–I’m an all-or-nothing sort of gal. And as my son’s expression quickly turns to panic, I realize my mistake. There’s no reason to announce this to him, as if I’m punishing him for my own parental laxness. As he screams and cries and I think how we are not off to a good start, I correct my mistake too late: “We’re going to do other fun things, activities, cool stuff, just Mama and Des! It’ll be great! But first, let’s eat breakfast!” Thank heavens for my child’s love of all things breakfast, because he is instantly smiling and racing me to the kitchen. And this officially starts our screen-free day.
8:55-9:15am — Breakfast.
9:15-9:50am — Watercolor painting. We haven’t done this in a while, so it keeps Des busy longer than usual. Halfway through, I draw really good pictures for him to paint.
9:50-10:05am — Tell stories. My son really loves to give a “topic” for me to make up a story about: “Tell me a story about when I get a really big Heatwave transformer at the store.” Before he gets his hopes too high about all the new toys he wants and believes will come to fruition, I tell stories about when I was a kid, and he enjoys that too.
10:05-10:45am — Play legos, make a sponge-curler train while Mom gets ready for the day.
10:45-11:15am — Help Mama make beds, then lay down on the bed, get some cuddles, sing songs, act out “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” over and over until my face gets jumped on, OW. Next!
11:15-11:40am — Go through alphabet and color/shape preschool flashcards that I forgot we had. Des most enjoys spreading them all out on the floor as we go along.
11:40-11:55am — Pick up toys and messes so far. I realize we are only three hours in; this is going to be a long day. Every activity and entertainment depends on me. Perhaps my decision for a screen-free day was a bit rash… But, I actually have nothing else I need to do today. I do, however, feel like I need to do this, prove to myself that we can spend a full day at home screen-free (I’m really pretty sure some people achieve much harder things in life. Maybe). Press on Stacey, press on.
11:55am-12:15pm — Make lunch. Des sits on the counter to oversee and kinda help. I give him options and let him choose what we will eat. At some point, piggy-back rides around the house are involved.
12:15-1:00pm — Eat our picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, fruit, and hot chocolate on the living room floor. If it were not cold and winter outside, we would have made this a real picnic. Still, eating lunch on the living room floor really is somehow fun. We turn on some music and talk about silly things. Des runs in circles around me and the blanket to finish up. (Side note: We’ve been potty training for oh, you know, about a year, and pants at home are usually such a bother.)
1:00-1:35pm — Desmond rediscovers some toys he hasn’t played with lately, and yay, they take up some time.
1:35-2:15pm — We make paper snowflakes following this simple tutorial (because I totally forgot how). Des hasn’t had a lot of scissor practice before, but by the end of this activity he’s holding them the right way and making some cuts on his own.
2:15-3:05pm — We play cars and trucks. Today that means Des forms them into a circular enclosing of sorts, then forces us to sit squished inside while playing with each vehicle, one by one. Eventually our play space is allowed to expand and we crawl around the house.
3:05-3:35pm — Desmond works on puzzles. (We love this Melissa and Doug set of four wooden vehicle puzzles.)
3:35-4:30pm — We build a fort, make popcorn, and eat inside while telling stories. Desmond has gotten pretty good at making up and telling stories to me, which is really cute, and thank goodness because my imagination is feeling pretty burnt out right about now. At some point he knocks down the fort and sits on top of the blanket calling it a princess playground. I have no idea.
4:30-5:10pm — We leave to pick up Dad. (Previous errands would have made this screen-free day go by much faster, but it has been snowing, and I repeat: it’s cold and winter, and I’m all about proving that we can find enough things to do at home.) Usually I bring the iPad on car trips that will last more than a few minutes and Desmond expects this, but when I ask him if he wants to bring anything in the car, he doesn’t even mention the iPad. (In fact, surprisingly to me, he hasn’t mentioned it or the t.v. or computer all day!) Instead he runs to his room and comes back with four Berenstain Bear books, which he adorably looks at in his car seat for most of the trip. Until ten minutes before we get home, when he falls asleep. His first nap in almost two weeks, and it’s at 5pm, oh joy.
5:10-6:00pm — I lay sleeping Des down on the couch, hoping he will wake soon enough, and peacefully prepare dinner.
6:00-6:20pm — I eat dinner, while trying to wake my child by loudly calling out his name every minute, but to no avail. This kid is hard to wake before he’s ready.
6:20-6:45pm — I pick Desmond up and cuddle/annoy him until he’s finally grumpily awake.
6:45-7:05pm — Des agrees to play blocks and his mood improves.
7:05-7:35pm — We run around the living room kicking balls back and forth and playing catch. Miraculously, this does not end in disaster.
7:35-7:50pm — At last Des says he’s hungry and eats a good dinner.
7:50-8:10 — Des follows me around the kitchen while I clean up, helps me put dishes in the dishwasher. When he’s distracted, I quickly fix the dishes my way because I’m horrible.
8:10-8:30 — Des finds his magnetic drawing board thingy and actually plays with it for like twenty minutes, what. (Usually we’d be getting him ready for bed around now, but late naps change things, and this day has not. been long. enough.)
8:30-8:40 — Des eats a snack. He specifically requests a banana, apple, and milk. Apparently a day of no screens makes him want to eat healthier. I can live with that.
8:40-9:05 — I’m not a quitter, but I’m thinking the day is pretty much over. We’ve done well enough, and I just want to sit on the couch. I ask Des if he wants to watch a show now. His response? “No Mama, let’s paint again!” I’m perfectly okay with that, especially since no brainstorming of activities was involved on my part. So we paint.
9:05-9:45 — I finally realize we haven’t even read books all day. Des picks out a bunch from our weekly-changing pile of library books and we sit on the couch (hooray!) and read.
9:45-10:15 — At last it is time to put on jammies, brush teeth, say prayers, sing songs and get into bed. By 10:15, Des is asleep. Ahhhhhhh, we made it.
I couldn’t do this all the time; often I need to wear more than one hat of entertainer all day. But I’d like days like this to happen more regularly. It definitely helped give us a fresh start, enhanced both of our abilities to be more creative about simple activities we can do without resorting to screens right away. It’s good to know that we can both have a rather happy and sane screen-free day. Once the rule was set, Desmond never even tried to fight it. It’s quite a relief knowing that he can adjust so easily, and when it comes down to it, will always find things to do based on what is available to him. It’s my job to limit the screens and help him with other activity ideas when he needs them, and I’d like to think that I might be a little better at this from here on out (…most of the time).