The 12 Days of [Screen-free] Christmas

Technology is awesome, and we wouldn’t want to live without it … but too much of a good thing can suck the fun right out of family life, especially at holiday time. To help keep things jolly and bright all season long, here are 12 left-of-centre ideas for taking the troops off-grid.

Day One: Digital Detox

If you can’t afford an overseas trip, why not book a 48-hour stay-at-home adventure to the Land the Internet Forgot? (Mums and dads - that means you too!) Simply collect all devices in a big cardboard box and banish to a far corner of the garage. Unplug your modem (just in case), and warn visitors that devices must be surrendered upon entry. Expect a few hours of withdrawal … but when the drooling and twitching pass, get ready for some of the best-quality family time of the whole year.

Day Two: Family Trivia Night

Everybody loves a trivia night - but this one has a special twist. All the questions are literally trivia about your family. Anecdotes, anniversaries, middle and maiden names, past addresses - it’s all fair game. Pit kids against parents (or boys against girls) and get everybody to contribute at least 10 questions. This is the kind of trivia you can’t google the answers to!

Day Three: Reading Circle

Audiobooks have proved to the world that we’re never too old to listen to a story, and that’s amazing. The downside is that listening on our devices can be just another opportunity to plug into our own little worlds. Reading Circle to the rescue! Simply pick a book with appeal to all (and no, it does not have to be Harry Potter #justsaying) and read a chapter or a certain number of pages each night, serial-style. For extra screen-free goodness, hold your reading circle by candlelight.

Day Four: Dinner at the Home Alone Restaurant

Put the kids in charge - and that means in TOTAL charge - of a special family lunch or dinner, from menu-planning to clean-up. Encourage place-cards, menus, fancy table setting and Downton-Abbey-worthy manners.

Day Five: Balloon Construction Challenge

Challenge all members to create a moving vehicle powered only by the air from a balloon. Allow only the following materials: balloons, straws, tape, string, elastic bands, pegs. Be sure to make rules and boundaries clear - maybe setting a minimum travelling distance, or finishing with a race between individuals or teams to see whose goes furthest. (Hint: Placing siblings who do not get along on the same team is a great way to change the frame and build cooperation.)

Day Six: Scavenger Hunt

This is a fab way to pry the kids off their screens and into the great outdoors. (Tip for city dwellers: You can do this one while at the beach, out on a bushwalk or even the local park.) Compile a list of specific items for each child to find - eg., a feather, a banksia cone, four pebbles in graduated sizes. (Can’t you just hear them now? “What’s a banksia cone, Mum? “Dad, what does ‘graduated’ mean?” And yep, that’s the whole point :) You can assign a point value to each item if you like, with super-bonus points for a really unusual item.

Day Seven: Crack the Queen.

Hungry kids + slow holiday-period restaurant service = misery for everybody. You could always whip out the tablet to keep them occupied, but honestly this game is much more fun. Here’s how it works. One family member is appointed “Queen.” Her job is to resist smiling or laughing while the others take turns trying [silently!] to break her composure. The person who succeeds in “cracking the Queen” succeeds to the throne, and the game continues.

Day Eight: Sandcastle Comp.

There’s nothing like a competition to get the creative juices flowing, especially when there are sweet prizes to be had (nothing fancy - we’re talking icy poles here). You’ll find that even family members who are lukewarm on the subject of sandcastle architecture will suddenly rise to the challenge. Choose a theme if you like, and enough judging categories - biggest, cleverest, funniest, most inspired use of seaweed, etc. - to make sure everybody ends up a winner.

Day Nine: Create-a-Sport

The idea here is to use tennis balls, laundry baskets, chalk, the trampoline, clothes pegs and other indestructible indoor-outdoor type materials to invent a brand-new sport, complete with logical rules and scoring and - if you’re feeling really motivated - team hats and tee shirts. Oh, and don’t forget to name your sport. (For the unsporty among us, this is three-quarters of the fun.)

Day Ten: My Dessert Rules

On nightly rotation, family members plan, shop for and create an original dessert in sufficient quantities for all. Scoring sheet (think categories like: originality, texture, visual appeal, healthiness, more-ishness) can be devised and prepared in advance, and each dessert can be ‘judged’ - and of course devoured - by all.

Day Eleven: Scramble

It’s Scrabble, only freeform (and so much easier for younger players to manage). Use your Scrabble board and tiles but allow players to add words in any continuous pattern, in any direction. Bonus: a fast game is a good game, and this one really moves.

Day Twelve: Cut-rate Ping Pong

Who needs a bulky ping-pong table and exxy paddles? Use good old fashioned plastic cups instead to both throw and catch a ping-pong ball. Bonus: this can also work for kids playing alone, in pairs or in small groups.

Being a digital parent isn’t all fun and games. The job of keeping the kids safe and happy online can be a real challenge. The good news is that Family Zone is here to help.

If you have any questions or would like more information please email 

Topics: Parental Controls, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, Cyber Experts

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