Nothing makes me feel worse than watching my kids soak up the rays of digital devices. A little bit each day, sure. At a restaurant to avoid a meltdown, whatever. But with all the extra time we’re enjoying during the summer months, and my pocketbook unable to keep up with my tiny bot’s need for entertainment, it seems that television and tablets have crept even further into our lives.
Yet, this mama isn’t ready to surrender to the privileges of the 21st century just yet. “Less screen, more learning” is the mantra I’m leaning on lately. And with just a little bit of prep work to get my preschooler started, I’m happy to see that she isn’t so dependent on the devices as I thought.
Here are 10 tasks and activities preschoolers can do independently this summer:
1. Write/draw a book: Our go-to, nonelectric activity has always been coloring. Whether in workbooks or on blank pieces of paper, my kids love to draw. Yet, freelancing is no longer adequate for my preschooler. Instead, I prompt her to draw a book. I spent some time explaining to her that books have a beginning, middle and end, as well as a title, characters and plot. Her reward is that, once she completes her drawings, I write her narrations and help bind the book together. In addition to her traditional library, she also loves to read books she’s authored herself.
2. Produce a play: Similarly, many afternoons are spent producing plays — in which she stars as the leading lady, of course — designing sets and costumes, as well as developing plots. Usually, these end up in fantastic monologues since her 2-year-old brother isn’t quite the actor. Either way, she’s rewarded with my undivided attention as she performs her Tony-worthy production.
3. Be bored with siblings: Later known as “making memories,” I’ll admit to being the mean mom that turns off all electronics without a single objective planned for my preschooler. It’s amazing the games she invents with a willing, tag-along sibling underfoot and no device to distract her.
4. Sew: Possibly done independently, but with your watchful eye close by, simple sewing projects have been a wonderful way for my preschooler to work on her fine motor skills, create something from nothing or fix fabrics headed to the trashcan.
5. Practice an instrument: My husband and I finally decided to enroll our preschooler in piano lessons — and the summer months are the perfect time to establish a practice routine as we prepare for the busy back-to-school days ahead. Set regular practice times so you can focus on what your preschooler is doing, but prompt him to practice independently, too.
6. Play with puzzles: What ever happened to putting puzzles together? To working first on the border, using the picture as a guide and learning how shapes fit into each other? Surely Tetras isn’t the only way to learn these skills. Puzzles are cheap, vary in difficulty and your preschooler can play with them independently.
7. Build a fort: Give your preschooler free reign of everything in the house and prompt your little architect to build a fort that can accommodate the whole family. The reward she feels when everyone climbs in will be better than one any device can offer.
8. Go on a nature hunt: Assuming they won’t find anything that can seriously hurt them, send your little explorers out to hunt for nature — bugs, leaves, rocks and birds can offer a world of curiosity. Give them a special journal to draw, trace and document what they find. Ask them to show you their treasures once they’ve finished their exploration.
9. Sort toys for donating: This can be a difficult task for preschoolers, but one they can certainly do independently. Give your kids a box and ask them fill it with toys they can donate. Then walk away. Resist the urge to interject at this point, allowing your children the space to determine each toy’s valuation on their own. Upon your return, even if just one toy is in the box, you’ll know that your children spent time independently thinking about the process of donating. It’s funny how these rudimentary, non-electrical toys suddenly hold new meaning!
10. Teach an old dog new tricks: If there is one thing my daughter loves to spend time with more than all devices combined, it’s our (her) 10-year-old Shih Tzu. After taking some time with her to discuss how dog training works, watching YouTube videos on the subject and helping her create a plan, my preschooler made it her goal in life (or at least this summer) to teach our old dog a few new tricks. Whether or not she’s successful doesn’t matter. The fact that she’s engaged with a real dog versus an animated, virtual pet is all that’s important to me.
I use digital devices in my parenting as much as the next mom does. They’re helpful resources that teach my children and keep otherwise stressful situations a little less so. But during the summer months, when screen time seems to increase to an all year high, prompting your preschooler to do a few things independently isn’t such a bad idea.
From boredom to bug hunting, little kids need all sorts of experiences to have full and happy summers. And if taking the devices away every so often makes me a mean mom, then so be it!
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