After my post on all the kid-directed goodies and gadgets, my sister Amanda presented a challenge to me in her comment:
I'd like to hear your ideas about how to compete with these techy gadgets, as I'm sure your other readers would. I'm learning that the sweet out of doors compete well, as does reading and good old fashioned "work" for kids.
Competing with instant-gratification has to be just that: gratifying in some way. Thus, homework or taking out the trash isn't going to cut it. Like anything else designed to change some habits, preparation and good strategy are your two best allies. Here are some fun ideas for the stimulus-hungry:
Scavenger Hunt: When I was 10, there was nothing that would have been more exciting than a scavenger hunt. Any halfway-observant parent can trick this game out to suit their family. For younger children, I propose using a list of pictured objects to hunt for in your neighborhood. Older kids can have more sophisticated items to hunt for, with coded clues or use a camera to document what they've found. This can even be tied into their own interests or favorite places. And for an added twist, older children can help to create scavenger hunts for younger siblings. Having a "prize" at the end is fun too, whether it's a little sweet, a packet of stickers, or new packs of play dough (which is another great 'immediate gratification' activity, by the way.) Even a bowl of popcorn at the end is a marvelous treat.
Hot Wheels/Racetrack Challenge: Fun for any kid who likes to build or race cars. Use index cards to come up with several challenges in building a race track according to your child's level of ability. This can be anything from "make a track with two bumps" to "using a protractor, build a track with at least one 30 degree incline. how will the car make it up the incline and continue?" and other ideas of this nature. Challenges for the "shortest completed lap track" or 'steepest', or even 'track most covered by tunnels or other enclosures'.
The sky's the limit....
Paper Dolls/Making Doll Clothes: Boys aren't the only kids who need alternatives to television and video games. Depending on their ages and abilities, girls can have a lot of fun drawing a girl onto stiff card stock and cutting her out, careful to make sure there are shoulders to support the tabs which will hang the clothes, and use the body to make the basic template for the clothes. This can be as detailed or as simple as you like. I've made paper dolls with children who were happy to decorate the clothes once they were cut out with watercolors or sequins and trim glued on, and other children were able to do most of this themselves. Providing a variety of papers and materials only makes it more interesting and complex. Likewise, if you have some scraps of fabric, doll clothes can be created with a few folds and stitches---even simple robes and tunics can be devised for baby dolls; more advanced sewers can attempt clothes that are a bit more sophisticated, depending on the level of help the parent can provide. I'd also say that simple knitting and sewing projects like little purses can fall into this category.
Treasure Hunts: Who doesn't like a treasure hunt? You can use simple or challenging clues, even incorporating math ("Add the ages of yourself and your friend. Now take that number of steps down the hall...and look up. Your next clue is waiting nearby for you.") If you can prep ahead of time, and compose several games, this is a perfect 'inside on a rainy day' game. Just make sure the treasure is for everyone to enjoy. It could even be a new book about maps or something great for story time or another activity, like a new game, waiting at the end, to lead your kids onto the next fun thing.
Paper Airplanes:I've had great luck with this one! Bring out lots of paper, a few sets of instructions for paper airplanes (you can find them online easily), a roll of masking tape and a tape measure. Let the kids roll out a length of masking tape onto the floor wherever you plan on flying your planes. Hallways and long areas work well. Then, have them use the tape measure and a pencil to mark out 6" increments, labeling the 1 foot measures as they go. Then, let the airplanes fly! You can make it as simple as a contest to see whose plane goes farthest or something more experimental, using graphs and charts to measure which designs of planes are most effective and fly the longest most consistently. Kids can also fly them from opposite directions to try to 'crash' them in mid-air, if this appeals, or you can hang a target from the ceiling--even a crumpled ball of foil or paper plate are perfect for this, and let those paper planes fly!
Beading Kits: I can't say enough good things about beading kits. What first comes to mind is necklaces or jewelry, but a few twists can provide some added fun. Magic Wand: buy some wire, go for a walk to find a 'magic wand' (a nice stick off the ground is fine, just clean it to their satisfaction...some mosses and lichens are really neat), twist the wire around one end a couple times and then let them add beads and wrap the length of wire around the twig just as they please. This can also be done on the neck of a bottle to make it a vase. Otherwise, a simple needle and some good beading string (even dental floss will work in a pinch) is all you need for some fun.
Origami: Most packets of this beautiful square paper come with directions, otherwise, you can check out everything from beginner to advanced books at your local library, and they can also be found easily online. Note: be sure to practice some of these projects first and make notes to avoid trouble spots when you are ready to do it. Also: younger children can enjoy this too; help them fold the paper into quarters and let them cut 'snowflakes', then tape them up in a window. Perfect for this time of year.
Challenges: There are some bright, inquisitive kids and parents in this world. If you want something a little more engaging for both of you, check out Mensa for Kids for ideas. Also check out rules online for challenges like the Egg Drop, where kids try to package an egg within certain guidelines so that, when the box containing the egg is dropped, the egg stays intact. I watched two 12 year old girls spend a morning very happily with this challenge.
Letterboxing: I read about this in a magazine a couple years ago, and while I haven't yet gone on our first letterboxing adventure, everyone I know who has--well, they've just loved it. Letterboxers either hide a "letterbox", which is a little case containing a logbook and homemade stamp, in a public place for others to find, or they search for another person's letterbox and leave their own stamp in the logbook, while stamping their own logbook with the unique stamp found within the letterbox. Too cool, or what? Use this link to get started on this special sort of treasure hunt. One more reason to play in the great outdoors.
You might have noticed that several of these proposed activities present challenges to be overcome. I think this is important in showing our children that they can be good at more than video games; they can be thinkers, solve problems, create, and often, have something to show for it. As I said before, preparation and forethought is necessary in wooing our children's attentions away from all the mind candy, but once you have a few activities prepped, you'll see how easy it is to use these ideas. So when they ask for games or tv, having something immediately fun on hand to distract them with will have the desired effect. And once you've done them a few times, they'll have something new to beg you to do. "Mommy, can we pleeeease do a treasure hunt?" certainly sounds more enticing to a parent than "Can I sit on my bottom all afternoon and stare at a screen, and then get upset when I have to stop before completing Level 2000?"