Being online can be so useful and entertaining it’s easy to forget what screens don’t do to help kids grow up to be self-reliant, durable adults. In fact, many tech-savvy school kids are doing strange things like losing their balance on chairs, accidentally bumping into kids in the hallways, and being more prone to cry when frustrated. Occupational therapy researcher Angela Hanscom, author of Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, also reports that core strength among children has plummeted. A big reason? They just don’t get enough rough and tumble.
These non-tech gifts supplement kids’ digital pursuits:
Big rubber exercise ball. Under $20. To a kid, an adult-sized exercise ball can be a ship at sea, a performing seal’s perch, or a bowling ball for human pins. Besides stimulating their imaginations, this simple toy makes kids tumble in all directions, thereby increasing core strength and spurring the limbic system, which supports motivation, behavior, and long-term memory. By using the ball outdoors, kids replenish their stores of vitamin D and their spirits are refreshed and calmed by the breeze and green of nature.
Tire swing. $35 and up. Kids love tire swings because twirling and swinging with abandon is tinged with risk. In a tire swing, a kid can be a pilot, tilt-a-whirl rider, or trapeze artist. When a group of kids pushes a swing, they learn physics and cooperation. All this action creates memories of outdoor parent-free fun they’ll recall fondly. To make your swing (hopefully along with your child), you can use store-bought hardware, a worn tire, and sturdy rope. Or buy a complete kit at a home supply store or online.
Tool Box with build-it-yourself bird house. Less than $25. While typical kids are expert at using a few fingers to swipe and tap, Hanscom finds they may not be so good at grasping with the whole hand. The wrist-twisting and effort of using screwdrivers, hammers, and other hand tools builds upper body strength and fine motor skills needed for drawing and handwriting. Making a bird house gives a child that precious sense of accomplishment, and then he or she can learn about backyard biodiversity while watching different bird species (and/or squirrels) flock to their creation.
Bicycle. $40 and up (if new) A bike supplies the true sense of freedom and adventure that too many kids lack. On a bike, kids exercise their muscles, boost their metabolism, and learn to navigate their surroundings. But because cars and trucks exist, kids also need to be armed with information about how to bike safely. My How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design has a whole section devoted to helping your child bike (or walk) to school and around the neighborhood, thanks to advice from the ever-helpful Safe Routes to School program.
Good old alarm clock. Pennies at yard sales. Ok, this gift may not be “fun,” but it leads to overall durability and even better grades. A clock takes the place of using a phone to wake up, so kids are no longer awakened by random beeps in the night or tempted into late-night texting. The phone can then be charged in another room, out of reach and earshot (a durable habit, for sure).
I’ve been singing the praises of solid sleep because scientists have just discovered that’s when the brain undergoes a natural cleansing process. Information learned during the day is also transferred into long-term memory. Kids (and adults) who sleep soundly through the night report feeling better and more in control of their emotions the next day.
Want your family to be more balanced and manage tech the best overall? Download this time planning checklist for free!:
About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media professor, tech hygienist, and inveterate parent of three durable young adults. Her words have informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, and in her books, How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design and The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World.
Download The Durable Human Manifesto for free here.