Updates From A “Mostly Electronics-Free Summer”

July 09, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Out-of-School Learning, Parents and Families, Students

Last month, Wired’s GeekDad writer Jenny Williams decided to engage her kids in a summer-long experiment, one devoid of technology and “iThings,” as she calls them, for the most part, at least. The goal? For her kids to rediscover life without an iDependency.

“My hopes for this experiment are manifold,” wrote Williams, who says that techo-toys provide constant, immediate gratification, which, in turn, zaps her eight-year-old son’s sense of imagination. “I want my son to be more physically active. I want my son to experience boredom. I want my son to play with his other toys,” she said.

There are, of course, a few caveats. Her kids are allowed to Skype with their dad and check their email. She also gave them each a punch card good for ten days of electronics use, averaging out to a little more than one day per week.

Two weeks into her experiment, Williams reported back to GeekDad that her experiment thus far has been an “unqualified success.” Williams also said that, surprisingly, her children complained about being bored even less than before. She explains her theory behind this:

So now that my son isn’t receiving instant gratification all the time, when he has a moment with nothing to do, he isn’t instantly trying to fill it with something else. Instead, he goes looking for something on his own. If we’re out and about, he’ll be silly with his sister instead of complaining about wanting to use an iThing. And he goes straight to a book when he feels there is nothing else to do.

Reading took on a whole new role in her home, said Williams, as well as board games that had been previously covered in dust. For anyone trying to implement a similar diet at home, she suggests frequent trips to the library and taking active steps to keep children’s book shelves stocked with new and exciting things.

A recent article by the Tampa Bay Times also noted the importance of reading in avoiding the dreaded “summer slump.” “Visit your local public library and check out as many books as you and your children can carry,” said Adam Brooks, library services manager for the Hernando County Public Library. “Studies have proved that reading even four or five books can help to reverse the summer slide.”

The International Reading Association also provided a few tips for parents on how make reading a part of children’s daily summer routine. One of their suggestions, provided by education professor at Clemson University Linda Gambrell, was to purchase an inexpensive camera and a notebook and let children create a picture journal of their summer experiences.

Not all aspects of Williams’ experiment are as clear as placing a stronger focus on reading. In fact she has posed a few questions to her readers, such as: do educational videos, like those from the Khan Academy, contribute to the “zoning out” often caused by other digital technology? Should she let her kids watch them if they’re learning and loving it? Feel free to respond with your thoughts and suggestions, along with other GeekDad readers.