Let’s face it, the Idiot Box has spent 50 years inbreeding, and a new family is born. Mindless technology now infiltrates our children’s daily routines in multiple forms, disguising exactly how many hours per day kids are having their brains zombified.
Video games, cell phones, internet, and interactive television are chameleons born of the Idiot Box Baby Boom, and if you add up how many hours per day/week/month your children spend with these faux friends, you’ll likely be horrified.
Even if money were no object, these are probably the last four ways anyone would want to see their kids spending the beautiful summer months. Gone are the lazy days fishing at the pond, playing tag in the neighborhood yards, and the innocent game of ‘Cowboys and…uh…Robbers’. Big wheels have flown the way of the Dodo, and in their stead speeds Gran Turismo Racing, or Grand Theft Auto Number Five Thousand for the IdiotBox360.
Our children’s brains are not dead however, merely sleeping, and it seems the average American adult has set the precedent for this. The A.C. Nielsen Company reports American adults watching 31 hours of television and video per week, and the average child ages 2-5 watching a whopping 32 hours per week (4.5 hours per day). Something stinks in Tinseltown, and it isn’t the children who are following along in Mom and Dad’s footsteps!
There’s a commonly held myth among parents that children take up “too much” free time, but the truth is that a tiny bit of effort goes a long way. If you nudge your kids’ imaginations in a creative direction, they’ll be more lost in their own worlds than they’ve ever gotten in TV Lala Land. And you’ll have plenty of time to kick back and relax, get some cleaning done, or brush off your Inner Child’s cobwebs and jump in head first for some unforgettable quality time with your kids.
The correlation between creativity and intelligence has been known for decades, and Dr. Robert W. Weisberg, esteemed author and psychology professor at Temple University, notes that creativity is not a mystical gene possessed by only a handful of geniuses, but rather it’s a form of intelligence which relates to a person’s ability to solve problems in novel ways. Creativity can be learned and cultivated in anyone, and it correlates directly to success in every area of life-both yours and your child’s!
Copious television watching, however, leads to copious couch-potatodom. It’s a no-brainer, really, so here’s some very cheap, very fun, very effective ways to foster creativity in your children and their friends:
1.The Backyard School of Theater
This is a bit of an epic endeavor for the kids, but the parental supervision can be handled in installments. Begin by sitting down with your kids and their friends, and encourage them to write a short backyard play together. You can base it on a storybook, characters from their favorite TV shows, or make it completely original. Let them create a setting and a plot by themselves, and then report back to you. They’ll most likely need a little encouragement with dialogue and character actions, but once they get the hang of it, you can either hang out and enjoy the hijinks, or head to the loo and polish up the tile grout, doze off in the reclining chair, or alphabetize your soup cans.
Once these budding Shakespeares are ready, you’ll have to sit down and organize their play into some slightly coherent structure on paper. Notice the words ‘slightly coherent‘-don’t give yourself a headache, this is for FUN! Let it be as strange and surreal as the young thespians want it. Print out a copy for each actor, and let them begin memorizing and practicing their lines. Make sure every child gets a chance to shine on stage.
Costumes are easy-purchase some child safe paint or makeup, and paint up old clothes, build your Knight his shining armor out of shoeboxes, duct tape, and tinfoil. Cardboard can be taped, shaped, and painted to make sets with.
The children can participate in every stage of creation, from writing, set design, costumes, and of course acting. This is a child production, and will generate endless laughter and goofing around among the kids. Only occasional supervision is required to help keep things moving.
Once the kids are ready, you can invite family, friends, and neighbors over for a wonderful afternoon of snacking, acting, and wise-cracking. A video camera can have their play uploaded on Facebook before the standing ovation is even finished.
2. Kitchen Table Art Academy
Pick up some dollar store paints, markers, glue, and colored paper. Dig out the old magazine stash and some scissors. Cover your kitchen table with newspaper, put on some tunes, and have the kids unleash their own unique variety of Abstract Art. Painting, drawing and collage is an unsupervised activity that will easily occupy a room full of kids for hours.
If they’re having trouble initially thinking of what to draw, give them some themes, like ‘Draw yourself taking a zoo adventure’, or a ‘vacation to the moon’, ‘wandering through a dream’, or ‘hanging out on the playground with friends’. Send their imagination on vacation to China or Africa or a pirate island. You could even turn their favorite television show into a story they create on the page themselves, where Dora and the Wonderpets and Scooby Doo are exploring a haunted mansion together. This sort of fun will separate them from mindlessly staring at stories told by other people, and put them right in the action as they create adventures that are as endless as their developing minds. Furthermore, their developing minds develop more rapidly when challenged to think creatively.
As an added kick, when the Art Academy ends, you can take the kids around the neighborhood and have them give out their drawings as presents for friends, or lonesome old timers. Experiencing the unique joy of making other peoples’ faces light up is a whole added dimension for the children, and perhaps the richest reward. If the neighborhood isn’t friendly, then a field trip to the nearby old folks home will provide the same joy.
Art Parties are also a great way to create gifts and cards for relatives at holidays, or loved ones who live far away. And meanwhile Mom and Dad have ample time to swab the deck, or cook up something yummy for the little Picassos.
3. Slip n Slide Waterpark with household items
All you need is a roll of duct tape and 8 trash bags, and some kid helpers to put it together and slide for hours. Cut the bottoms of the trash bags open, tape them end to end on both sides with the duct tape (one long piece for the bottom, and one long piece for the top… have the tape extend 3 inches past the bag on each side so the tape can affix to itself for a tighter seal). When you’re done it should look like a long, flat snake, 8 bags long or more, with silver stripes where the duct tape holds it together. You can stake the corners down with tent stakes if the slide moves around too much.
Shoot a Jet blast of hose water into the bag for 2 minutes to get the insides wet and squishy, then copiously soak the top, and voila! Ten minutes of creative time leads to endless hours of fun for the kids. Turn the sprinkler on nearby so you don’t have to keep spraying the top of the bags, and tell the kids to spray more water inside whenever needed.
And if you’re really strapped for time, don’t despair, there’s an endless number of quick, very simple ideas that require mere minutes of preparation time and will provide kids with hours of fun:
– Grab a pile of blankets, gather all the chairs and heavy books around, and let the kids build blanket forts and mazes in your living room.
– Dig through your storage and find a bunch of interesting baubles like candle holders, discarded jewelry, knick knacks, and throw a scavenger hunt in your backyard or house. The more objects you hide, the longer the kids will be hunting!
– Rather than playing with dolls, have kids create their own fashion runway show in your living room or backyard, complete with music, kiddie cocktails, and a dance party afterwards. Put it up on youtube and let your kids become the Fashion Mecca of First Grade!
Creating fun and enriching your children’s minds is that easy, and if you put your own mind to it, you can begin inventing your own Montessori Methods for your kids without paying an arm, a leg, and a nose. A few minutes of adult encouragement goes a thousand miles in the wild imaginations of a child, and learning to express themselves in new ways and explore their own creative potential is guaranteed to be more fun than any toy on the market.