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Screen-free Time With Your Grandchildren

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A Guide to ensuring you have a fun-filled, screen-free time with your grandchildren

You’ve hidden all your precious ornaments, shifted sharp-cornered items of furniture out of the way and stocked up on nutritious snacks. Is it an earthquake warning? A tornado alert? No, it’s not an impending disaster: just a visit from the grandkids.

It’s not that easy to tempt children away from their technical gizmos

Childminding is, of course, a pleasure, not a chore, but it still involves a fair amount of forethought and preparation. Now you’ve tackled health and safety issues and filled the fridge with healthy treats, there’s just one question left: how do you keep them occupied?

They will almost certainly arrive with a full set of gadgets, including (but not limited to) tablets, mobiles, and computer game consoles. However, like most grandparents, you would probably prefer to encourage a little eye-to-eye contact and discussion, rather than simply watch your grandchildren stare at a screen all day.

A recent survey of 2,000 families carried out by CensusWide found that children currently spend an average of 23 hours per week using tech gadgets to watch videos, chat with friends or play games: that’s twice as much time as they spend talking face-to-face with parents and other family members. The UK’s four chief medical officers have therefore advised parents to take a ‘precautionary approach’ to screen use, not allowing children to play with smartphones and other gadgets for more than two hours at a time.

A visit to the grandparents should provide an ideal opportunity for kids to cut down on screen time. In practice, it’s not that easy to tempt them away from their technical gizmos. Here are some great, non-messy, old-school ideas that might encourage them to turn their backs on technology, even if it’s only for an hour or so.

Mess-free masterpieces
Many house-proud grandparents will shudder at the thought of what could happen when the kids are let loose with a set of poster paints and a brush. This clever idea involves squeezing large blobs of poster paint onto a card sealed inside a ziplock bag. In this way, children can use their fingers to swirl the paint into a rainbow design through the clear plastic bag, without actually touching the wet stuff themselves. It’s a great way to let children play with colours, without having to wipe paint off their hands, clothes, the sofa or the cat. Dry the painted card with a hairdryer for speed and send your wannabe Damien Hirst home clutching his or her abstract masterpiece.

Brilliant bathroom games
Make Bubble Snakes by cutting the bottom off a plastic bottle, pulling a clean sock onto the cut end and securing it with an elastic band. Create a bubble mix by combining water, food colouring and dishwasher liquid on a saucer and mixing it well. Now dip the sock in the soap mix and get the child to blow into the bottle from the drinking end – it should produce a glorious, snake-like stream of bubbles. Alternatively, half-fill the bath and make your own version of the hook-a-duck game by fastening tape loops around the necks of some toy bath ducks and letting the grandkids take turns at catching them (if you can’t find a suitable hook, try a long-handled wooden spoon instead).

Fun on the web (and not the world wide one)
Use a door that’s seldom opened (a cupboard door is ideal) to create a spider’s web out of masking tape, keeping the sticky side of the tape facing the room. Now cut up some newspaper into equal sizes (big enough to turn into small balls) and give each child 8 to 10 pieces each. Ask the children to write their names on the pieces of paper then scrunch them up into tight balls. The winner is the one who gets the most paper balls to stick to the ‘web’.

Competition in the kitchen

Kids love competitive games, so if your grandchildren aren’t particularly keen on cooking, you could set a ‘Bake-off’ style challenge for them. Depending on their age, either get them to bake a cake from scratch or give them pre-cooked cakes to decorate. Just like ‘Bake Off’, they will start by drawing a design idea and then decorate their cakes following that design. Set a time limit for the whole project (if there’s a big gap between children’s ages, then give the younger ones a little more time to finish if needed) and when mum or dad arrive at pick-up time, you could ask them to act as judge, without knowing who decorated which cake. To avoid disappointment, make sure you give prizes to both the winner and the runners-up!

With a little forward planning and careful supervision, your grandkids will learn that playtime with grandma and grandad can be every bit as exciting as watching the latest cartoons, or playing video games. What’s more, you’ll also have loads of fun planning and playing!

By Kate McLelland

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