Why you should embrace unplugged play - for ALL ages
It’s undeniable. Childhood now looks nothing like we remember. Mud pies, forts and neighbourhood games have been replaced with iPads, Xboxes, Gaming and Minecraft.
While this shift is the new normal and parents and caregivers appreciate the relative peace and quiet (not to mention reduced dirt through the house), it brings with it a new group of problems.
A growing number of children are starting school without the ability to visualise new concepts or even stories when read from a book. They can’t imagine how a character looks or sounds, or how they might react to situations not explicitly illustrated in the book. Put simply: there’s no movie playing in their head. They’re so accustomed to having a screen animate everything FOR them!
As they progress through school these children find themselves struggling and not knowing why. They can translate the words on the page, but recall and deep comprehension become elusive and baffling.
Why do other kids find this easy? What’s their secret?
Unplugged brains work differently. They’ve exercised their ability to visualise through the type of play we adults remember.
Unplugged play is a form of mental exercise that needs to be done from a young age.
Turns out our parents were telling porky-pies when they said we’d get square eyes, but they weren’t completely wrong. My optometrist is always telling me the more time I spend at my computer, the worse my vision will get. He explained the same goes for children and their screen usage.
When we look at things close up all the time, we weaken the long distance capacity of the eye. Taking a break to look up and around not only reconnects us with real life, but could be the ticket to a spec-free future.
It really is a case of use it or lose it!
Loss of creativity
Creative children are more successful in school. Due to standardised testing such as NAPLAN, there is a heavy focus on children’s ability to write a narrative or persuasive argument. Rather than create a story from their imagination, fitting it into the desired structure and scoring well, students are overwhelmingly writing recaps of movies they’ve seen recently. Obviously, these recaps don’t score as well. It’s not that the children aren’t trying, it’s that the creative connections haven’t been formed.
Ever found yourself sitting down to eat a snack in front of Netflix and suddenly realising your snack has disappeared? You ate it. Without savouring the taste, without even remembering doing it.
Screens have the same effect on children, leading to obesity, long periods of inactivity and all the associated health complications.
Reduced problem solving skills
Chances are, your tot isn’t solving complicated Sudoku puzzles on the iPad. Children’s games aren’t meant to be quite that challenging, but are rather designed to offer a fast, easy reward. Kids get used to the play/reward/play cycle and become programmed to give up on any problem that doesn’t reward them quickly enough.
Conversations are painful
While you’re all for them having a long chat with their friends about Minecraft this and Pokémon that, it’s an amazing adult that can join in without developing an eye twitch. Throw in a little unplugged play and suddenly the conversation becomes more relatable. Having authentic conversations with your child not only boosts their social skills, but also their vocabulary.
You’re excluded from fun
Screen games for kids tends to be a one-person party. The size of the screen itself limits playability to one person, isolating the child from people around them. Unplug for a time and suddenly there’s a whole world of opportunity for group activities, creating lasting memories and cementing relationships.
Screen time is important to develop tech skills in children, but it’s also vital to unplug on a regular basis. Unplugged play isn’t about mirroring your own childhood, but rather using your power to create an environment more suited to their needs, both now and as they grow.
Unplugged play ideas are in abundance on both our website and the wonderful collection of toys available from age 6+months at The Hera Collective.
Guest blog post reprinted with permission by Melanie George, of The Hera Collective