They keep you awake at night! They’re immoral! They’re violent! They’re stupid! They kill creativity!
Who can these big bad wolves be? Depending on where you are placing the chronological cursor, ‘they’ might refer to novels! comics! video games! the TV! or, more recently, screens in general. It’s not the first time in the history of media and communications that new technologies are tutted at for corrupting the minds of users young and old. But it is perhaps the first time that the finger is pointed at something that is so omnipresent. Screens are in your living-room, on your desk, in your kids’ classrooms and in your pocket. There’s no getting away from them, it seems.
The pressure to give in to the convenience and the wealth of resources offered by the likes of Netflix, YouTube Kids, Friv, Google or Minecraft is perhaps only equalled by the pressure to not give in. As a parent, it can be hard enough to know where to set your limits (when is too much screen time too much? At what age is it ok to let your little one encounter moving images? Or access them by themselves?). There is no official guidance from Irish authorities, but if you’re looking for pointers, CyberSafe Ireland is a good place to start. And if you’re looking for ways to fill up this screen-free time with activities that will fire up your kids’ creativity, we have some bookish suggestions!
First off, try your local library. Many library branches around the country have dedicated unplugged hours where kids and families are invited to play with the library’s stock of board games, from Scrabble to chess via Operation.
Heading out into the world (the playground, town, the wild!) is a good way to keep away from screens and can become a fun adventure, especially if you turn your trip into a scavenger hunt (who can spot a green door? A round window? A three-legged dog?). Nicola Baxter and Andy Mansfield’s Backyard Explorer has plenty of fun ideas that would work well with kids aged 5–10, and it looks like Never Get Bored Outdoors (published by Usborne Publishing) has thought of everything! Claire Potter’s terrific Keeping the Little Blighters Busy (with activities for kids aged 3–12+) will change the way you see chores and family routines, such as going to the supermarket (let the kids do the shopping and stick to a budget), washing their hair (using an ironing board) or going to granny’s house (with a dice). For a bumper collection of activities that require next to no materials and zero budget, from easy crafts to absorbing role play, games, cooking and physical activities, try Kris Hirschmann and Elisa Paganelli’s clever 100 Screen-Free Ways to Beat Boredom(age 5–10). Or you could have a look at Read All About It! by Kristyna Baczynski and discover how to make your very own mini magazines for hours of fun. For something less manual and more cerebral, check out Peter Cosgrove’s Fun Unplugged books: they’re full of brain teasers, puzzles, jokes and tricks to while away the time or impress your friends. Finally, why not get creative with your screens and use them as cameras as you take up the twenty photographic challenges set by Henry Carroll in the excellent Be a Super Awesome Photographer (age 7–12)? Would that be cheating?
Written by Juliette Saumande (juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie), a children’s book writer whose latest title, My Little Album of Dublin, is illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press.
100 Screen-Free Ways to Beat Boredom, by Kris Hirschmann, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, QED Publishing, ISBN 9781784932640
With three broad sections giving you ideas to beat boredom at home, outdoors and on the move, this book has all the bases covered! The activities are fun, easy to set up and use very little material or equipment. The range is wide, from cooking to painting, word games, role play, agility games and much, much more. Find out how to make your own finger printing kit, how to put on a fashion show, set up a funny photo booth, paint toast, make butter, build a zipline for your teddies or adopt a pet stone. Need we say more? (Age 5–10)
Never Get Bored Outdoors, by James Maclaine, Sarah Hull and Lara Bryan, collective of illustrators, Usborne Publishing, ISBN 9781474952989
This activity book with a difference comes with a healthy dose of fact, giving young readers a chance to learn loads on a range of topics while having fun putting this new knowledge in action. You can have a go at making paper helicopters (and learn about samaras, aka ‘nature’s helicopters’), identify wild species (and learn a bit of Latin), make up a story (and discover cryptozoology) or try one of six different techniques for drawing clouds (and read up on 18th-century artist John Constable). Whether you’re looking for a collective game, something to make, a quiz or some quiet time on your own, this book has you covered! (Age 6–9)
Be a Super Awesome Photographer, by Henry Carroll, Laurence King Publishing, ISBN 9781786275578
This book is brilliant! A photography primer, it uses twenty photos from twenty photographers from around the world to illustrate twenty photographic techniques in a fun and accessible way. With simple and engaging text, Carroll explains the basics of perspective, light, composition and more, and invites the reader to have a go: ‘pretend to be a dog’ (and adopt an unusual angle for your photo), ‘get in shape’ (and track geometric forms in your every-day surroundings) or ‘play with your food’! Highly recommended! (Age 7–12)
Fun Unplugged, by Peter Cosgrove, Penguin Ireland, ISBN 9781844884810
This one will keep your brain ticking with its many puzzles, riddles and code-breakers. Ideal for those who like picking up obscure but cool miscellanies, and challenge their friends and relatives to seemingly impossible (or deceptively simple) tasks. Find out the trick behind speaking without using the letter A, move a coin without touching the cup it’s sitting under and read your friends’ minds as you ask them to pick random numbers. Great for developing critical thinking, observation powers and thinking outside the box. (Age 9–12)
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.