DVDs, videos, iPods, PlayStation, DS, Wii, kid Web sites–the electronic play options for kids are endless. While there are many fun and quite a few educational electronic toys and entertainment products available, there is no substitute for ordinary, old-fashioned play.
By its nature, electronic play encourages isolation; kids connect with a gadget and tons of animation instead of making real human contact, depriving them of cultivating their social skills and friendships. Also, the majority of electronic games require little physical action beyond the wiggling of fingers, diminishing the volume of exercise and the attendant physical development children experience.
I’m a believer in balance in all things. Having electronic toys in our home is part of the fun my family experiences. The challenge is not to let these devices dominate my kids’ playtime. In her book Unplugged Play (Workman Publishing, 2007), Bobbi Conner gives these suggestions for promoting a “no-battery zone”:
1. Provide toys that allow variety–balls, a sandbox, building blocks, art supplies, etc.
2. Change it up by encouraging all types of play: High-energy and physical play; quiet games, arts, crafts, music, building, imaginative play.
3. Make your home a place that other children enjoy visiting. It’s easier to control the kinds of games kids play on your own turf.
4. Don’t micromanage your child’s play. Let him explore matters on his own. Offer a quick demo then back off.
5. If your child looks stumped, toss out a play-inducing challenge: “What sort of fort could you make with these boxes and blankets?”
6. Let grandparents, friends, and gift givers know you prefer low-tech or no-tech play for your child. Until your child is in school, try to avoid high-tech anything–they won’t be left behind.
7. As kids get older, set up a Family Electronic Play Plan. You–not your child–decide how much time is allotted for electronic play each week and when it fits into your routine.
8. Create a regular time for Family Game Night–once a month or once a week–and put it on your calendar so you don’t forget and kids look forward to it.