Christmas break is a time for my family to reconnect. We like to do this by choosing a series to watch. This year we chose The Goldbergs. This sitcom focuses on the Goldberg family and their life in 1980s. My children have a fascination with the 80s. They ask about historical moments, 80s pop culture (you danced on cardboard?), fashion (why would you wear parachute pants?) and often will ask to listen to music by Michael Jackson, Journey and Def Leppard. But nothing surprised and shocked them more than a Goldberg episode on how we played in the 80s.
In the episode, the middle child Barry and his younger brother Adam, made up a game called “Ball Ball”. The object of the game is to block your opponents score using every body part imaginable. However if your opponent does score, the game is over and they receive the “Ball Ball” trophy cup with their name and date written on it. My children were flabbergasted.
“Why are they playing this?”
“They look like barbarians!”
“Don’t they have games to play? I know they have Nintendo. Why would they make up such a dumb game? What’s the point?”
Their criticism led me to think about today’s child, their toys and their playtime. As toys change, has play itself fundamentally changed? For that matter, does the early attachment to grown-up toys… iPhones, iPads, laptops… in some way shorten the imaginative world of childhood?
Play during my childhood was filled with imagination, outdoor adventure and creativity. I remember building my own Barbie dream house out of shoe boxes and transforming spools of thread into chairs, and using peanut butter lids and thimbles as coffee tables. I remember our neighborhood roller skating shows. We would create simple costumes, bring out our boom boxes and put on a roller skating dance show that was judged by the neighborhood kids. The “winner” was the next judge. Simple wholesome fun. Children of the 80’s were their own source of entertainment. Even now, I can create a fun game out of just about anything! But, can my kids?
My children rely on their tech toys and devices for entertainment; TV, iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, desktops, and the X-Box One. As I observed them over holiday break, they would go from one device to the other, to a tech toy, and back to a device. This upset me greatly, so…I created a new game. I proposed the Device Free Challenge (a DFC day). One day, no devices of any sort, and find something to entertain yourself. A day of creation, imagination and reconnecting with each other.
The resistance came early.
“Can we talk about this?” Gabriel, our oldest child pleaded.
“No”, I replied.
It was 8:30am. We were at the breakfast table and had just told the children that we were not allowing any tech devices for the day. Nothing. They needed to hand over their iPods, iPads, iPhones by 9am. There was to be no TV, no computers, and no video games. Sarah, our youngest, began to cry. Sophia, our middle child, sat there stunned.
“May I please say my peace?” Gabe shot back.
“Sure”, I said.
Gabe began explaining to me how his generation was practically born with a device in their hands. He went on to say how he remembered being 6 and playing with his dad’s iPhone and how even little Sarah was younger and played with the iPad. How these devices assist in problem solving, reading, writing, (“yes, texting is writing mom”) and math exploration. On his iPhone he can blog, any time he is inspired. On Sophie’s iPod she can design music videos on musical.ly and even Sarah can create her own worlds on Roblox.
“These devices are a part of our lives and have sparked our imagination and creativity in a non-traditional way. Why cant you see that?” he pleaded.
Gabe continued to discus how a device free day is unconstitutional, un-American and will result in serious side effects for them all.
“Nice try, my friend”, I said with a smile.
My kids began their day reading. Each had new books from our local B&N for the holidays. A few hours later, they played card games. They started playing bullshit (a favorite), then moved onto war, then onto rummy. I announced that I was making cookies in the kitchen, they each came in looking to help. They sat at the island, handed each other the ingredients, stirred, poured, measured, laughed, and joked the whole time. After some cookies they moved on to wrestling, tag, hide and seek and poke your sibling until they scream.
While folding laundry, their creativity and imagination kicked in. A game of sock-o-dunk was born. The object of the game…simple; try and shoot a pair of socks into the laundry basket while your opponent moves the basket and fakes you out. As Sophie, our resident athlete said,
“It’s all about predicting where your opponent will move that laundry basket next, you gotta plan ahead.”
They played “sock-o-dunk” for quite some time. I was happy to see them enjoying a simple game of fake out. It may not have been the best day. There were some “I’m bored moments”, but it was a really good day. A day without checking a screen and hearing a buzzing alert. It was a day to reconnect, talk, laugh, joke and make memories. And it proved to me and to my kids that old-fashioned play…without tech…will not result in any side affects.