The Holidays: Unplugged

By and

Posted in: Hot Topics, You & Your Family

Topics: Healthy Living

We like to play on our computers as much as anyone. But during the holidays, solitary screen time squanders the chance to play with siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins and friends who are also on vacation. Taking a break from work can also mean a chance to recharge without being tethered to our computers. But, many parents ask us: What can kids do if they’re not IMing or playing videogames?

We’ve reflected on this question by remembering the ways we used to spend time during the holidays without technology. Below we have shared some of our greatest (unplugged) hits from our own childhoods—Anne’s in a Manhattan apartment, and Tristan’s on a sheep farm in Nevada—as well as the traditions of our current families living in Boston’s suburbs.

1. Writing for candy: Growing up in Mad Men-era New York City, I (Anne) used to write jingles and slogans for all of my favorite products, particularly candy. Then I would send my ideas (usually to Mars), and wait for my thank you. More often than not, I would get back a box of M&Ms or Milky Ways for my efforts.

2. Turtle races: I (Anne) was only allowed to have turtles for pets, and I had about two dozen over the course of my childhood. One of my favorite things was to invite over kids who also had turtles, set up elaborate race courses made of blocks or lines drawn on big sheets of paper, and then race the turtles, enticing them with words, meat and lettuce.

3. In limbo: In my (Anne) New York City apartment, two of us would lightly rest a broom on an outstretched palm, and then the rest of the kids would slither under. After each turn, the broom would be lowered by an inch or so, until only one of us could make it under without knocking the broom off.

4. Food coloring magic: When my (Anne) two sons were young, I assembled two eyedroppers, several small dishes filled with water and different food colorings, and a pile of paper towels. Then they folded the paper towels into squares, or kept folding them into a tight pile, and applied drops of different colors. When the towels were unfolded, the patterns surprised and delighted us. We hung them up to dry on clotheslines hung around the kitchen—it was like stepping into a psychedelic Rorschach.

5. Playing animal rescue: When my (Anne) two sons were young, I would hide all of their stuffed animals around the house. Then, we’d pretend to be rescue doctors looking for the animals to bring to a wildlife preserve where we would take care of them—taking their temperature, putting on splints, and getting them ready to return the wild. Sometimes, I confess, we pretended we were zookeepers, capturing the animals for our zoo.

6. Scavenger hunt: I (Anne) made up a list of items to be found on a walk in our neighborhood, like two red birds, three green cars, blue holiday lights, a coin on the sidewalk, a person over 80, and one under 1. You get the idea. Then, we’d celebrate with ice cream cones at our local ice cream store.

7. Scent guessing: Each person rounds up three objects from the bathroom or kitchen, and puts each one in a plastic cup. Then, the others, blindfolded, have to sniff what’s in the container, and try to guess what it is.

8. Cardboard puppet theater: Take the cardboard box that your computer or refrigerator came in, and make a puppet theater out of it. Paint it, cut out a window, make puppets, and start performing.

9. 4-wheel ATVs for hide-and-seek on a big field: Growing up in a rural community, we (Tristan) had plenty of land on which to play. We would play hide-and-seek using 4-wheeler ATVs on fields that covered many square miles. Although not everyone needs to have a 4-wheeler to enjoy this game, consider an untraditional playing field, like your neighborhood or mall.

10. Magic suitcase: A trip to (Tristan’s) grandma’s house over the holidays also meant a trip to a store that sold magic tricks. Take a trip to the library or magic store, learn a new trick or two, and knock the socks off your family members at the holiday dinner table.

11. House of cards: Competition thrived in my (Tristan’s) home growing up, even in mundane games like building a house of cards. Try mixing up this traditional task by shuffling together a deck of playing cards with a deck of Uno cards. Take turns when adding cards to the house, and be sure that no two cards of the same type (traditional or Uno) are in a row when the house is viewed from the side.

12. Gingerbread house contest with unexpected judging: More recently, we’ve (Tristan’s family) have taken to annual gingerbread-house-building contests. Break into teams of two, and then set aside 90 minutes for a mad dash of building. Creativity is encouraged, but not always fully appreciated by the competition’s main judge—the family dog. It seems that stuffing the gingerbread house with leftover roast beef is a winning recipe.

None of these ideas are particularly novel, but that’s just the point! The holidays should be a time to reflect on times and traditions past. Parents have an opportunity over the holidays to show their kids the ways they used to play—something that may be lost on this current digital generation.  And, if your kids are really hungry for some sort of engagement with bright lights and technology, put on some mittens and go hunting for Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

How are you and your family unplugging for the holidays? Comment below.

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Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D. is the director of education for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. He was formerly the managing director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard M...

To read full bio click here.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D. is the author of Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids (...

To read full bio click here.