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Balancing Technology Use as a Parent

FAM, health, LIVE, rest By September 9, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

As a writer for the Tech Timeout Challenge by life insurance provider Foresters, I made a huge commitment as summer began.  I set off to up the ante and do a full week without technology with the whole family.  Over the summer, how hard could it be?  It was hard.  And I am embarrassed to say that we did not succeed.  We lasted 3 days.  But in the process we did accomplish the original intent of the program.  We sat as a family for a minimum of an hour a day for the whole summer, talking, playing board games and playing in the sand.  The art of balancing technology use as a parent proved far more challenging than I expected. 

Tech TimeoutI invested in bocce and croquet.  We inherited a bunch of board games from a neighbor and in their attempt to make mommy a ‘Princess’, the boys built me numerous castles made of Lego.

So half of me feels incredible – I bonded with the kids, we talked more as a family and I realized that taking away the tech from my kids wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  But the other half is ashamed.  Is it society or the high standards I place on myself that make me feel like that?  Not sure.  Perhaps tasking myself with the elimination of tech while I run a tech business with little time off is unrealistic.  Perhaps the tech is my security blanket that allows me to hide when necessary or collect my thoughts when I go through a difficult parenting situation. Using technology

As part of our tech timeout and summer plans, I took my boys on a train to Portland.  My husband was away for three weeks climbing Kilimanjaro and I was having a magical time.  I taught them Crazy 8’s and Old Maid.  Upon arrival we went walkabout.  In a generic corner grocery we stopped to collect fruit, chips (it was vacation) and water.  But then my 7 year-old went down an aisle and there, at eye-level, were at least 15 different pornographic magazines.  We all stopped in our tracks.  He began to cry as the lady behind the counter yelled for him not to go down that aisle.  I became the lioness mother, being strict with her for having no signage or warnings.  We left and I didn’t know what to say.

So I turned to my ‘tribe’.  Which happens to only be accessible online.  I facebooked my son’s teacher to ask how to handle it.  I reached out to another friend to vent.  I texted my husband in Tanzania in hopes that he may be in a freakish serviceable area.  And I put the boys to bed and held them tight and it became intensely apparent that the world we live in is a different one.  It is a world where tech can and should be controlled, but I’m not sure it can be removed.

I was with a few ‘Big Bang Theory’ types this week and we all reached for our phones.  One mentioned that his grandmother would be laughing at us texting, but he also said that our brief sojourn into the keyboards was for the purpose of extending out interactions, increasing the size of our village and working to bring more folks to join us in person.  He had a point.

Tech Timeout 2
So what are my thoughts on our tech timeout?

1.  We’re on devices too much and unless there are limits we can slide into constant use.
2.  My kids get riled up by tech, and yet when it’s gone for a time they don’t notice.  They become more creative, role-play and use boredom to expand their horizons.
3.  To ask of myself to give up all tech for a week was unrealistic given my job, and I realized that women often set the bar very high for ourselves and feel like failures if we don’t succeed.  Moderation and instincts should be given preference.
4.  Placing more importance on sitting around a table and playing actual ‘games’ and talking brought me back to childhood and gave the whole family pure joy.  We’ll be sticking with the games and also making sure the technology never creeps into dinners or restaurants when we are bonding as a family.
5.  Technology can be used to educate your kids and research their questions or find fun things to do in person with them. 

Tech isn’t the devil.  But it can also be useless and addictive.  I think the real challenge as families is to use it for good – to broaden our village instead of shrinking it.

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by life insurance provider Foresters, but the opinions and images are my own. For more information, visit www.techtimeout.com.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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My Summer Tech Timeout

LIVE, rest By June 18, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , 2 Comments

Summer Tech Timeout“Beep.  Ding! Ring!!”  Twitter is chirping, the kids just finished a dance-off with the Wii and my facebook feed is buzzing on the Blackberry. As summer approaches, Canadians have a growing social concern about the impact that digital devices and technology are having on family togetherness. Remember those long cottage days as kids when we spent hours playing Battleship, catching fireflies and beating the parents at Monopoly? (I think they let me).

I want my kids to have memories of their childhood that don’t involve Minecraft and exploding pigs.  So I have agreed to take the “Summer Tech Timout Challenge by life insurance provider, Foresters”.  It offers a call to action to experience scheduled time together without devices for one hour a day for a week this summer.  But I want to go much further.  My family will do the challenge for 8 weeks in July and August, and during one summer week, we will completely stash the tech.  No computers, mobile phones, ipod touches or ipads.  <Insert heart palpitations here.>

The interesting conundrum for me is that of all four members of my family, it’s me that will have the hardest time.  Granted, my business requires that I be constantly ‘plugged in’, but I admit that it’s hard to turn off and take a break.  Even when I’m globetrotting I buy roaming plans for the tech.  But not this summer.  I will unplug for a full week.  Read books.  Garden.  (Without instagramming the flowers – the horror!)  It actually makes me doubt my abilities as a mother that I have concern about being without technology.  And I am a very good mother.  But it is interesting.

Ironically, I don’t think the kids will mind at all – either the hour a day for 2 months or the full week without tech.  Our lifestyle ensures that we have at least an hour a day to bond and play with one another already, which is why I’m stepping it up a bit.  The difficult part will be for my husband and I – there is no ‘copping out’ as a parent by turning on the TV or letting them play even educational games on the ipad.  He will absolutely have a hard time without sports on TV.  But I know we will hit a field to play the sports ourselves.

The only thing I don’t think we will include (besides the telephone for emergencies and communication) is music.  We often have family dance parties and chats while listening to music, and I feel that it enhances our experiences with nature and each other.  So…. Bets on!  Who thinks we can do it?  (Me especially!!)

This post was generously sponsored by life insurance provider Foresters, but the opinions and images are my own. For more information, visit www.techtimeout.com

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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West Point, Monrovia. I had No Idea

International, ROAM By March 1, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

I walked into my Right To Play circle and felt insecure.  And then a little boy looked at me.  His name was George.  George Washington.  Seriously.  This is Liberia.   And we held hands and he showed me what to do.  I couldn’t really understand the thick accent of the group leader and I kept doing everything wrong.  I started to relax and got into it after one of the kids squeezed my hand. I had just come into one of the poorest slums in the world on a slow road with people everywhere. West Point, Monrovia.  I had No Idea.  It smelled of fish and feces.  Fruit was carried in buckets on heads and babies on backs.  And I hadn’t really regrouped yet.  After 36 hours of travel, I landed in the dark in an unknown country.  My family was worried for my safety (Google Liberia and you see only images of the recent war).  I didn’t really know what to expect.  But I trusted Right To Play.  And so I should have.

We played short games that I could only relate to my many years of theatre (which everyone joked was a form of therapy).  The games taught trust, learning and self-revelation.   In one we were a team acting as a dragon.  With arms around the waist of the person in front, the head of the dragon had to catch the tail.  Many of us ended in the sand but before falling, we moved as a group, anticipating the collective movement.  In another – I think we call it ‘telephone’ in North America – a phrase was passed around the circle and the final person announced what it ended up being.  We talked about discrimination and judgement.

After the final game we did an au revoir, kind of like ballet class when you thank the teacher and your peers.  Clap clap head bend, clap clap head bend, clap clap, blow kisses!  (In a fab rhythm of course).  Giggles and laughter all around.

Liberia House WestpointWalking out of the games area we went into the harsh reality of these kids’ lives.  The uniforms always make people look so wealthy.  (But I did notice a tear in the back of George’s shirt that needed mending.) I saw a pile of other kids not enrolled in school who were not participating in the Right To Play programs that day.  (There are special play days for all the children in the community including those who do not go to school). They wouldn’t make eye contact and were yearning to be a part of the action.  The games.  The learning.  Very different from the kids who just told me the definition of discrimination with confidence and big voices.  My heart broke.

We past corrugated tin houses down the 3 foot-wide dirt pathways.  To visit the school.  The whole thing was the size of one Vancouver classroom, but with 6 classrooms, grades K-6 plus the principal’s office (all labeled with cardboard).  The kids were packed like chickens (but still grinning) and Right To Play is currently raising money for a new school.  These are the lucky kids.  Many of their teachers are Right To Play leaders as well, using the curriculum for the phys-ed portion of the day.   Boys, and girls were all hankering to get into my photos.  And to, of course, see the result shown on my fancy SLR screen.

Liberia Cooking AreaWe then wandered through more alleyways to the beach.  En route I was offered some local fare.  Manioc.  Crisped beans.  Porridge. Fish from the boats off the beach.  You see, there is no power here.  No water.  Fish is the staple (thank goodness for boat launches from the beach) and it is caught and dried.  Huge barrels burn with wood to cook and preserve the treats from the ocean.  This was the first smell.

Descending on the beach, after running into a woman cleaning up garbage (since Right To Play began, some community members have formed a volunteer group to make the area more habitable), I looked at the extraordinary view, white sand and clear water.  I only found one shell.  It was like the beaches of the Bahamas.  And then I realized what the second smell was about.  I saw a few dark spots and got warned about where I stepped.  My head was spinning.  And then there was a young boy.  Probably 6, he pulled his trousers down as he squatted.  And then there were three boys doing the same.  Their families couldn’t afford the 5 Liberian dollars for the use of the new latrines (ones on stilts that dump into the ocean).  Many women are pregnant here and families on average (I would guess) for the area – 4 kids, 2 adults.  That’s about $1US per day to use a toilet with privacy.  And the average income?  $1.25.  Beach it is I guess.  I walked through the latrine runoff in order to get back to our vehicle as I watched many kids play in the water.  These people need a well.

Liberia FishingThe women carried babies on their backs – a feat I was astounded about.  One used a towel.  We go back Thursday and I am getting up the confidence for a lesson.  The men hung in groups, a few manned stores and many scowled at my camera.  (Understandably many feel that I am about to exploit their plight to make money in the West by taking a photo with my expensive SLR).

And that was only the morning.  We drove out – 6 of us, silent.  The cockroaches and malfunctioning AC in the hotel room seem pretty good right now.  I want to play with the kids again.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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With TravelKiddy, Globetrotting’s A Breeze!

Canada, ROAM By November 13, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , No Comments

“Over the River and through the woods

Well, you know the rest, don’t you?  Gone are the days of congenial drives in the family car to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Did those days ever really exist?  Today, our little singer would rather don a pair of earphones and spend time staring at a screen (computer, gaming system, DVD player etc.) than participate in a family sing-a-long in the car.  But, if like us and you feel that allowing your child to completely disconnect from the rest of the family is just plain unacceptable, there is a solution.  TravelKiddy, a company that specializes in keeping your kids entertained on long car, plane or train rides without the need of an electronic screen is just a mouse click away.

Created by an industrious mom (aren’t we all?) who was constantly creating activity kits for her children while traveling back and forth from Hong Kong to the United States,  TravelKiddy can best be described as an adventure in a bag.”  The staff selects bundles of toys, activities and crafts to challenge and engage kids for extended periods of quiet play.

TravelKiddy specializes in finding the best travel toys, travel games, educational games, brain teasers, travel activities, puzzles, and accessories that amuse kids on journeys around the block or around the world. The toys and activities are grouped by age as well as by stage development.  So, your toddler might receive mini puzzles and stacking cups while your older children will be entertained by the selection of a unique games, puzzles, and brain. Plus, TravelKiddy uses brands that we’ve actually heard of like mudpuppy, eeboo, Crayola, Klutz, Think Fun, blue orange, Melissa & Doug, Peaceable Kingdom, and Stephen Joseph.  Finally, the activity kits come preassembled taking the hassle out of a parent pulling together interesting and interactive toys prior to leaving for a trip.

Our family has used TravelKiddy several times for our summer car trips to Minnesota and our daughter has NEVER complained of boredom.  Here are some of the things that were in her bag:

  • 24 count Melissa & Doug® triangular crayons
  • A luggage Tag
  • Mini-First Aid Kit including: Bandages, Sanitary hand wipes and tissues
  • Melissa & Doug® 6×9 doodle pad & a pencil
  • Bead kit from Bead Bazaar
  • Sticky Mosaic Kit from Orb Factory
  • Squiggle™ On-The-Go
  • 2 sheets of stickers
  • 2 sheets of scene stickers
  • Map coloring and activity book by Kappa Publishers
  • Traveling Fun activity book (TravelKiddy® exclusive)
  • Pocket snake
  • 2 fashion bendi dolls
  • Only Hearts mini pet with clip
  • 2 Safari Ltd® animals
  • Plastic spring toy
  • Pocket Magic trick
  • Jawbones construction kit
  • Wikki Stix®
  • Wild Wooly classic magnetic game
  • Wooden 3-d puzzle from Puzzled, Inc®
  • Happy cube puzzle cube
  • Create your own puzzle

See what we mean about the best travel toys and games?  It’s hard to get bored with all those surprises in one travel bag!  And, if that isn’t enough, included in the cost of the kit is a “Return Pack” which I cleverly hid at the bottom of my suitcase for the return trip home.  While not as big as the TravelKiddy, the Return Pack contains all new toys and puzzles. And let’s face it, the return home can be just as taxing as the ride there, right? TravelKiddy makes it possible for your kids to never run out of things to do.

 

So whether or not you are going over the river and through the woods or around the world for the upcoming winter holidays, we think that you will be hard pressed to find a more entertaining and varied entertainment package that doesn’t include a monitor or thumb-pad.  Who knows?  Your children may be so happy with their activities that may break out into spontaneous song?  Or maybe your are hoping that the TravelKiddy will prevent them from singing at all?

 

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