Confined within four walls for the forseeable future, countless children are becoming even more dependent on screens to stave off the boredom of lockdown.
And while many parents will welcome the social interaction and entertainment their children get from gaming, the internet and social media during this unprecedented time of social distancing and isolation, few will want their children to spend every waking moment staring at a screen.
But to prise them away from their beloved tablets and phones, alternative pursuits are necessary – and that’s where 101 Things for Kids to do Screen-Free could come in very handy. The book does what it says on the tin, and offers a wealth of crafty ideas, recipes and games to keep kids entertained.
“We’re living through some really strange times right now,” says Dawn Isaac, the book’s author. “Our kids are having to go online to complete schoolwork or do lessons, so it’s more important than ever to give them a bit of screen-free time.”
She suggests designating two or three hours a day as screen-free time, and making this is a regular occurrence so everyone expects it, and it doesn’t cause a daily argument with the kids.
“If you’re juggling work and kids, it’s good to give them some activities they can really get stuck into and will keep them going for not just a quick five minutes, but a good couple of hours,” she says. “The key to this is making sure you gather together all the materials they may need so they don’t keep stopping to ask for things.
“I designed this book to be read and used by kids, without needing to involve parents too much. And right now, that couldn’t be more important, as parents need a break as much as kids need some entertainment. Also, the projects tend to use everyday items you can find around the house, so not being able to get out to the shops shouldn’t slow down the kids’ fun.
“The real surprise is how much children enjoy doing screen-free activities, especially when they feel in control. Giving kids loads of ideas for activities is a brilliant start, but what I really love is how they can take an idea or activity and, before you know it, they’ll have used their own creativity to take it in a whole new direction. Before they know it, they’ve been engrossed in something for half an afternoon and not even given YouTube or their PlayStation a thought.
“But it does need to be the whole family – kids can sniff out hypocrisy from a mile away, so it does mean parents need to put away phones and leave Twitter and Facebook alone too.”
Here are three of the ideas in the book to get children aged between about eight and 12 off screens.
1. Create cardboard costumes
You’ll need: cardboard, scissors, ruler, pencil, PVA glue, pegs, paints and your imagination.
Cut some construction strips from your cardboard, which should be the width of a ruler. These are used as the basis of any costume. For example, a strip around the head with two more strips attached front-to-back and side-to-side makes the perfect foundation for any headpiece like a helmet. Two strips made into loops and attached to a straight cardboard section as wide as your back makes armholes so you can put on a back-mounted costume like fairy wings or a dinosaur’s spines. And a strip across your chest and one across your back with two side-strips attached makes a base for a costume that covers both your front and back like a body of armour or a robot’s torso.
When attaching strips, or anything else, you need to use a thin layer of PVA glue. You have to give this a few minutes to work, so hold the cardboard together with clothes pegs until it’s well stuck. For added colour, paint your costume when finished.
2. Make a tape town
You’ll need: masking tape, toy cars, cardboard boxes (optional).
You don’t need expensive diggers and bulldozers, just a roll of masking tape, which is easy to lift off carpets and floors, so you can lay out your town any way you wish, and just as easily change your mind.
A road system is a good starting point. You could make single lanes with thick masking tape or use two lines with some central markings to create dual lanes. And then you can add bigger, wider motorway sections, roundabouts and car parks. If you have different toys like planes, trains and small figures, you could add an airport runway, train tracks and pedestrian crossings.
In the spaces in between, you can include buildings made from cardboard boxes: houses, hospitals, shops, even… schools. A giant open air swimming pool could be made out of shiny foil, a hillside out of cushions and a blanket. You can use different coloured tapes for a brighter looking town.
3. Make your own facepaints
You’ll need: a bowl, teaspoon, cornflour, face or body lotion, plain flour, water, vegetable oil, small pots, food colouring, brushes, mirror
Mix 4 teaspoons cornflour, 4 teaspoons lotion, 2 teaspoons flour, 2 teaspoons water, 2 teaspoons oil. Mix them into a smooth paste and divide this between several small lidded pots. Add a few drops of different food colouring to each until you have the range of paints you need. Then paint your face! It takes about half an hour to dry so don’t smudge it while you wait. Also, be careful not to get it on your clothes as the food colouring can stain.
101 Things for Kids to do Screen-Free by Dawn Isaac is published by Kyle Books, €12.46. Available now.