Electronic gaming, videos and television privileges have functioned as the discipline currency in my household. We learned a long time ago that both earning and losing time in front of a screen molded our young son’s behavior quite effectively.  Recently Watson, my five year old, returned home from school and headed for the television. I gently reminded him that he lost all of his “privileges” due to the previous days’ behavior choices. And indeed he quickly remembered.

The rest of the afternoon was eye-opening for me. Despite the fact my son was still free to occupy himself at his leisure in the toy room; he remained agitated and frustrated, needing constant attention. It was not long before I realized that without electronics involved, my child lacked the ability to self-play! The match box car set, the locking blocks, and the puzzles all sat idle as Watson struggled to find constructive activities for himself.

Like my son, many children require intentional parenting to develop the ability to self-play. Reflecting on my own growing up and the downtime I spent playing Atari PacMan (yes, I am that old!), video games hold little significance compared to the memories of wading a nearby creek, sponge painting T-shirts, and creating a jar to catch lightening bugs. It was the active play utilizing my imagination and family’s existing resources that I fondly remember: making tents using hollow-stemmed wood poles from our backyard bamboo garden; spending hours exploring the pastures on my grandparents’ farm; searching on scavenger hunts planned by my mother.

As the days of no school and warm weather are here, my husband and I are shifting our child’s reward currency away from electronics and to “popsicle privileges.” In the meantime, here are 6 activities I’m planning to inspire my son’s imagination, improve his dexterity, and increase his free-play abilities.

  1. Search the web for kid-minded projects and recipes for homemade bubbles, play-dough, and body paint. Children are as much enamored with the process of creating as with the end product.
  2. Take a bucket of water and a handful of medium sized paintbrushes and assign children the task of painting the sidewalk (with water!).
  3. Don’t under estimate the value of a sandbox. Allowing children to hunt for toys in sand, a bin of dried beans, or dried pasta are good ways to engage a child’s tactile sense.
  4. Read bed time stories by flashlight on the back porch or in the backyard and take note of the stars in the sky.
  5. Plant seeds in a garden or pot and make it a daily activity to water the growing flowers or vegetation.
  6. Find hands-on activities and quiet crafts such as: puzzles, cross word games or beading. Make a daily or weekly schedule that incorporates a few minutes of this same activity as a way of helping your child develop a wind-down hobby.