Knowing the detrimental effects screen time can have on young kids, parents often wonder how to engage their children’s attention in healthier ways. Being busy parents, it’s hard to know how to encourage kids to play and grow. As a stay-at-home mom, I have struggled with this question and sought many ways to encourage active, creative and independent play in my children. Here are some helpful tips I have learned:
1) Get kids outdoors
Kids need fresh air and physical movement to stay healthy. They can also learn so much about God and His creation just by being outdoors, no matter what the weather or season: “[God’s] eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).
Sometimes my daughters enjoy playing inside so much that they lack motivation to go outside. But I have found that they get more excited to play outside if I or my husband goes with them to play for a while. We mix it up by going to a local playground, a beach, a nearby garden, or even just our own backyard. We also look for good nearby hiking trails where we can do nature walks. Occasionally, I give the girls a nature scavenger hunt, a task for the walk like having them point out all the different plants or animals they see, or ask them to find something new in nature that they want to learn more about.
We also try to encourage our kids to enjoy and try new outside activities like biking, roller skating, climbing, swimming. We hope to instill a love for being active at a young age so they will build healthy habits early on.
2) Inspire creativity
Since we are made in God’s image, our creator God has also made us to be creative for His glory. I try to have a lot of art materials for my girls to make things with at home when they are bored. Instead of spending a lot of money on special art kits, I usually just buy the basics (crayons, scissors, glue, paints, construction paper, etc.) which can be used in a multitude of projects.
We also like to be creative and use things we see around the house to make something new. We turn old cereal boxes into cars for their dolls or stuffed animals, attach old cardboard boxes together to make a dollhouse or maze. We also try to use toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, and whatever else we can find to remake something ordinary into something useful and/or beautiful.
Just like other kids, my daughters love to watch shows and play games on a screen too, but instead of just giving it to them whenever they ask, I try to remind them that God made them creative and encourage them to use that creativity to find ways to solve their boredom.
3) Encourage independent play
As parents, we can’t always be playing with our kids. We need a break sometimes! So encouraging quiet, independent play is so important.
I especially needed this when my youngest was still a baby and needed help going down for a nap. In the afternoons, I told my older daughter that it was quiet time for her to play on her own. I usually gave her some choices. For example, she could choose to play with her building blocks or color in a coloring book. If she had a hard time playing on her own, I would sometimes play or color with her for 10-20 minutes beforehand to get her started, letting her know that I would soon have to go help the baby take a nap.
Usually that one-on-one attention helped her get into playing and she was able to carry on by herself. If she really had a difficult time, I would allow her to listen to some soft music or an audiobook of her choice in the background while she played.
I found that encouraging this kind of quiet independent play made her a much more peaceful child and she is now able to sit quietly and concentrate on a task without needing a screen or mommy’s full attention all the time.
These are just a few ways my husband and I encourage our kids to play without using a screen. We hope by instilling in them a love for being active, creative and independent, it is part of heeding God’s wisdom to, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). We hope that the earlier we start to help them build healthy habits the more likely they are able to flourish for God’s glory later in life.
Written by: Elizabeth Hughes
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