How to get kids to unplug during a play date

Technology can be entertaining, but is it really playing?

Technology can be entertaining, but unplugging play can be beneficial to kids' relationships and development.

By Sharon Miller Cindrich


Q: During a recent play date, my 5-year-old son told me that he and his friend watched each other play computer games. Is this really playing?

A: Technology definitely can be entertaining, interactive and a part of a child's social world.

Play activities that include technology often are based on scripted behaviors as opposed to child-directed, unstructured play. Experts know the latter allows children naturally to develop healthy behaviors like self-control, problem-solving, social skills, sharing and planning.

So how can parents encourage imaginative play in the shadow of flashy digital tech activities? Try these techniques to unleash creative playtime in your child's world.

1 Spruce up your creative options. Add a few new items to your current imaginative play supplies to renew interest in creativity. Put a holiday garland into the dress-up box, add some emptied out cereal boxes or a few of your own kitchen utensils to your play kitchen area, make some homemade craft dough for modeling and sculpting. Inexpensive regular updates can go a long way in keeping kids interested and offering new opportunities for imagination.

2 Designate imagination days. Instead of focusing efforts on a specifically tech-free day, promote some unplugged time as special imaginative play days. For instance, try a Silly Saturday (where everyone wears two different socks, dances to silly music and kids act out silly plays). Take iPods, tablets and video game controllers and put them in a silly place-in mom's pillowcase, maybe-until Silly Saturday is through.

3 Make it a family affair. It doesn't take much parental energy to plop kids in front of a computer game, but a little parent input can go a long way when it comes to igniting a child's imagination. Kick off creative play by suggesting the whole family make a fort or set up an obstacle course in the yard.

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