Moving from screen to scenarios: Why it’s time for the kids to unplug

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Trade clicks for tricks and taps for maps

You might not exactly need another article to let you know that too much screen time can have a negative impact on your children, but here’s an update.

In early 2019, a local study by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the National University of Singapore found that excessive screen time on digital devices such as tablets, smartphones and game consoles led to sleep disruptions, which contributed to developmental problems such as hyperactivity, moodiness and lack of attention.

The World Health Organisation recommends that children under five have no more than an hour each day on said devices, and those above that age to have an allotted consistent usage. But with the school holidays arriving, it’s tempting to quickly fill up the extra time with video games and that just-one-more episode, quickly undoing all the discipline we’ve put in place the rest of the year.

While we needn’t frame technology negatively, there are plenty of benefits that offline activities can offer. Unplug and try some of these things to do for the holidays.

Motor skills

You can do an Alley-oop in the game but at the real court, it’s more Airballs. The importance of hand-eye coordination and other motor skills can only develop with physical activities like sports, so include some of these in your holiday planning.

Because sports extend our range of movements, children will be given the opportunity to move and control their body, aiding them with a natural body awareness. Not only does it improve posture and confidence, but that dose of exercise is the health boost we all need.

When planning a sport activity, take into consideration the child’s developmental level, because enrolling them in something too difficult will only lead to frustration and early dropouts. For younger children, try play parks like Jewel Changi’s canopy offerings or Bedok Reservoir’s Forest Adventure. Cycling is both easy and fun, and Singapore’s park connectors are a great way to explore our island home. Engage older children in ones that tune fine motor skills, such as badminton or swimming, or let them train with unusual ones like archery for some variety.

Communication soft skills

There’s a lot to be said about expression and clarity. In school we have comprehension and spoken tests, but learning through exposure with actual people broadens the capacity to do so. Especially with the rise of mobile phones, children are texting more than speaking, and like all skills, communication is something that needs to be honed over time.

Letting children express themselves through activities is a great way to let them go beyond the topic of school work and reveal their character. This two-way process not only lets you know your child better, but encourages them to experiment with different communication methodologies. Later in life, this will help when they are working in teams, adopting leadership roles, or even for the boys, getting along with fellow soldiers in National Service.

Many shared activities among the family can improve this, and they can all be done in the comfort of your home. Get everyone working on a puzzle together, and portion out duties. Pick out different board games and let them bargain or strategise. Love the kitchen? Prepare recipes to cook or bake together, and be rewarded with something delicious when everyone follows through on the right instructions. And to really drive imagination, get your cardboard boxes and socks ready. Creating a puppet theatre helps them discover the joys of storytelling through dramatic entertainment.

Creative expression

For the longest time, sketching and painting seemed only possible for the gifted few. But art shouldn’t be seen as an exclusive activity only for the “artsy” people. Art’s purpose is really an extension of the previous point – expression, but this time in forms that are less linguistic. It doesn’t have to be high-falutin – even the act of choosing your clothes is a creative decision.

If you’ve ever felt oddly calm after colouring in a page or a sense of accomplishment after finishing up some origami pieces, that satisfaction is your creative self finding voice through your actions. Children naturally love to indulge in this, so let them explore more through various mediums.

Workshops are aplenty these days and you can easily book them online. Examples include sewing sessions at Bernina, Funan or pottery classes at Clay Cove, Delfi Orchard. Another avenue you can look into are our local museums. The National Gallery has a dedicated section for children and best of all, most of these sessions are free for locals.

Don’t forget that music or dance lessons are also a great outlet for creativity, and when all else fails, pull out some Lego and build a world from scratch. Remember – it’s about creating, not accomplishing!

A sense of perspective

We know this – the world is so much bigger than about just our homes, our office and ourselves. This abstract concept is best learned through activities that bring us out into the world itself, in all its myriad of environments.

Travel remains one of the best ways to let your child better understand the world around them. It lets them tangibly see the difference in cultures, languages, and even economic abilities, to grant them a better appreciation of what they currently have. Having this reframed gives them a more global perspective, which again, gives them an edge in the workforce later in life. But with the Covid situation, what are some other ways to explore?

Nature walks and hikes through some of our natural reserves are great for getting away from the concrete city, and to better respect the earth we live on. Introduce them to other species too – our world-class Singapore Zoo lets them witness this wonderfully. If you’d like to move them past their you-niverse, let them join you and help out at an animal shelter. Teens in particular can also benefit a lot by devoting some time to volunteer. Local RCs will have plenty of opportunities, be it to distribute assistance kits to families in need, or helping with chores at an elderly home. The reward one feels after uplifting another person can be life-changing.

Finding yourself

Through the above activities, your child will begin to get a sense of what they are drawn to and be able to develop their own interest and pursuits. This process ultimately gives us the individual – what makes your kid unique.

Too often, parents herd their children into classes and skill-centric to ‘upgrade’ them, forgetting that we are raising little adults, and not robots. By allowing our children to do the above activities, we give room to not only let them grow, but flourish into a well-rounded and often more interesting individual.

Think Benjamin Kheng, who was trained to be a National swimmer, who is now multi-hyphenated talent who sings and hosts. Or social media activist Preetipls (Preeti Nair) who vocally speaks for the minorities in Singapore. And if Nathan Hartono and Stephanie Sun had just gone only the way of their studies, we wouldn’t have the privilege of their songs today.

So let your child find their footing in life, and support their expressions through discovery with these activities for the holidays.

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