Technology is now a central part of children’s lives: TV, DVDs, computer games, the internet, social media networks, and mobile phones all make for a vast array of constant activity. There is no escaping it—digital devices are everywhere and they are an integral part of social activities, education, and leisure time. However, I would argue it’s equally important for this generation of children to experience the varieties of life, and to promote this I supply 21 practical ideas for entertaining, and educating, kids without the use of technological wizardry.
1. Paper Airplanes
To get things rolling, we have the legendary process of making sheets of paper fly. Paper airplane-making sessions can start with simple dart designs, and then encourage your children to develop their design skills; folding the nose tip adjusts weight and momentum, experimenting with flaps on the wings to add lift, and change direction and trying out different airplane designs.
Although paper airplane-making offers a huge amount of fun, it also introduces the principles of aerodynamics and develops design and craft skills.
2. Science Experiment #1: Mouldy Bread!
Science experiments at their most basic can be great fun, and educational. For this simple experiment you will need sliced bread, sealable sandwich bags, locations with different conditions in which you can leave the bread, and a magnifying glass. This experiment also requires around ten days for a proper investigation.
For the first stage, get the kids to place single slices of bread into sandwich bags, seal the bags, and then find places to store them where they will not be disturbed. These areas should provide a variety of conditions: warm and cold, light and dark, dry and moist, indoors and outdoors. Once left, the children should check the state of their bread samples at regular intervals over the course of ten days, studying them with the magnifying glass and noting the presence of mould and the different conditions that encourage its growth. The bags should remain sealed. The results they find can form the basis of a conversation about why mould grows, what microbes are, which conditions are best for mould to grow in, why we refrigerate food, and other related issues.
It should be noted some people are allergic to mould, so get your children to wear protective gloves and masks when studying the bread, never allow them to have direct contact with the mould, and dispose of the samples at the end of the investigation.
3. Write a Story
This is one of the simplest tech-free ways to entertain your children. It’s a simple process that promotes creativity and inspiration—vital activities for young, developing minds.
4. Perform a Play
Holding an impromptu play is a terrific way to entertain children. You can use favourite toys to create characters, include the family pets as additional support, and generally make sure you have a fun, silly time of it. The play could be anything from a simple monologue to more elaborate productions that would encourage further creativity, such as script-writing, set-building, making costumes, singing songs, and dancing.
5. Make Maps
Cartography is a lot of fun and also helps develop a child’s spatial awareness. Drawing maps of the layouts of their bedroom, or the house, can begin with pacing out the lengths of walls and where things are located in relation to each other. Larger-scale maps could include routes to school, where friends live, and the local town and countryside. A world map would also be worthwhile, allowing a child to understand the scale of the Earth. It doesn’t have to be so serious, of course, as imaginary places (such as treasure maps) can a tremendous sourse of creative fun.
6. Tie-Dye Clothing
For this activity you will need clothing dye, freshly washed and dried t-shirts, rubber gloves, a large washing up bowl or bucket, and elastic bands or string.
Use the elastic bands or string to fold, knot, and tie the clothing item: the way it is tied determines which parts will be exposed to the dye and coloured. Wearing the rubber gloves, mix up the dye with water according to the dye manufacturer’s instructions and submerge the clothing item for the recommended amount of time. Remove the item and allow it to dry for 24 hours, and then wash. Once finished you’ll have a very lively piece of clothing!
7. Science Experiment #2: Make a Sundial
This is an outdoor activity that requires the ever-useful Sun, a clock, a compass, and a stick. Push the stick into the ground, angled towards north on the compass. Use the clock to mark where the stick’s shadow is at the passing of every hour. Now you can use these marks to tell the time on any day when there is enough sunlight to cast a shadow. This is a handy reminder to any child of our ancient ancestors’ lack of access to digital clocks!
8. Science Experiment #3: Build a Rain Gauge
This is a meteorological technique that measures rainfall—if everyone’s stuck inside thanks to a rainy day, here’s a reason to be creative. All you need is a large flat-bottomed jar, a ruler, and some rain.
Leave the container out in the rain either for the duration of a rain shower; hours, days, or weeks would be fine. Use the ruler to measure to depth of water collected in the container and you have an accurate record of how much rain fell during the specific period of time. It’s a useful way for children to understand the arbitrary happenings of weather.
9. Science Experiment #4: Plant Seeds
This is the perfect way to introduce children to how plants grow. You will need fresh seeds such as sunflower, cress, or pumpkin seeds. Next, find some good quality soil or compost, and a few plant pots. Water, sunlight, and heat will also be handy for this experiment!
Place the soil in the plant pots, plant the seeds in the soil, and place the plant pots on a warm windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight. Keep the soil moist by watering daily. Kids can keep a record of how the seeds germinate and the plants grow, developing an understanding of biology and farming.
Juggling is a fun, and healthy, activity; it can help improve concentration, hand-eye coordination, and overall brain health. The creative and mathematical elements to the skill are also very handy for young, and old, minds alike. You can use Lifehack’s Juggling Guide to learn the basics—practice makes perfect!
This is a cheap, and rewarding, way to promote creativity. From watercolours to acrylic paints, all you need is a sheet of paper and some artistic flair.
12. Chalk Drawings
Every child should enjoy the artistic creativity of drawing with colourful chalks on a local pavement. If this is frowned upon in your community, get a chalk board—there’s no price on creative expression for young ones.
13. Science Experiment #5: Experiment With Static Electricity
This activity is great fun, but also introduces children to ideas about how physics works. Here’s what you need: two balloons, a wooly jumper/sweater, an aluminum can, and a head of hair. Once in possession of these, rub the balloons on the wooly jumper and then experiment with trying to push them together—they will resist one another. Next, rub a balloon on your hair and gently lift it away from your head—it should make your hair stand on end! Rub the balloon on your hair again and then, with the aluminum can lying flat on its side on a table, hold the balloon close to the can—it will be pulled towards the balloon.
The kids can try out these experiments and you can explain what is happening: rubbing the balloons creates static electricity. When you rub the balloon on hair or wool it becomes negatively-charged because it has taken some negative particles (called electrons) from the hair or wool, leaving the hair or wool positively charged. The positively-charged hair, or aluminum can, are attracted to the negatively charged balloon. The two negatively charged balloons are not attracted to each other so resist being pushed together.
14. Draw a Family Tree
Children can learn a lot about their history by creating a family tree; they will be able trace distant relatives, learn how much other family members know about the family’s past, and find interesting connections and personal stories. Families are often very complex, but resist the urge to go online for research. Instead, speak to family members and ask them about their memories of relatives. Before long, a family tree will take shape.
15. Scientific Experiment #6: Create an Indoor Volcano
Making an indoor volcano is a real crowd-pleaser, but also has the potential to get very messy, so you need to be prepared. To build your volcano you need a large bowl, an empty 500ml soft drink bottle, a large oven dish, warm water, washing up liquid (dish soap), red food colouring, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, cooking oil, 850g of plain flour, and 320g salt.
Place the flour and salt in the bowl along with 480ml of water and four tablespoons of cooking oil. Get your kids to use their hands to combine the mixture into a smooth paste.
Stand the empty drinks bottle in the centre of the oven dish and then begin molding the paste around the bottle to form the shape of the volcanic cone with the top of the bottle becoming the volcano’s crater.
When the volcano’s cone-shaped mountain is complete you can unscrew the bottle’s cap and start adding the ingredients for the lava. Pour in warm water until the bottle is about three quarters full, then add six drops of washing up liquid, and a dash of red food colouring. Finally, add two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda, stand back and watch the eruption begin!
16. Take to the Great Outdoors
Many of these activities have involved being outdoors, but this tech-free suggestion for is to take kids right out into the great outdoors.
There are infinite possibilities for activities to be enjoyed this way: head to local parks (or into your garden) and look for local wildlife; study the weather (or just guess the shapes of clouds), or explore urban landscapes in greater detail. Most cities have park areas, so seek them out and enjoy the relative solitude.
17. Find Pen Pals
A long-forgotten part of growing up is writing letters by hand, even if it’s just to each other or to family. Hold a letter-writing project and take your kids to post them in the nearest mailbox. Even better would be to get a pen pal from abroad; communicating with different cultures can be inspiring for any young mind.
18. Charity Events
Bring out the best in your children by holding charity events and initiatives. Find long-forgotten causes and contribute to them; such activity promotes good moral teachings. As it’s springtime, you could do something fun to raise money, such as opening a lemonade stand.
19. Play Some Retro Games
Classics such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are still great fun to play and promote intelligent thinking, whilst games such as Jenga can provide fun shocks, and Twister will have everyone in hysterics. These games are also useful in promoting social interaction and communication, so dust off your old versions and get playing!
20. Make Sock Puppets
An item as simple as a sock can be a tremendous source of fun to a child’s vivid imagination. Sock puppets, which can easily be made by adding eyeballs and silly bits of wool for hair, immediately become sentient beings with children, and they can even make up a number of characters to form a play (which would be handy for Point 4).
21. Music Lessons
See if you’re in the possession of the latest Mozart by holding regular music lessons. With so much modern music focusing on electronic sounds, going back to music’s roots can inspire and remind children of different cultures and human history. Classical music is believed to have very positive effects on children’s development—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s compositions in particular. The “Mozart Effect” has been a craze for 20 years, with studies from 1993 showing young people’s reasoning abilities improved after listening to Mozart’s music.