Ironically, if you search online for family activity ideas, you’ll find a ton of ideas about how to “unplug” and have “tech-free family time”.
But don’t we already know how to do that? Is that what most of us have grown up with? Sure, we might need reminders in our busy digital lives: Play a board game. Go for a hike. Build a tree fort. Bake something together.
But if we are really trying to strike a balance between teaching our kids how to live in both online and offline worlds, should we also show them how to combine them? If technology is supposed to enhance the quality of our lives, let’s teach them how to use technology to enhance the quality of our family time, too.
Need some ideas how to do this? Here are 18 of them…
YouTube video sharing night
Have each member of the family select a recent favorite from their YouTube history. (If you have younger ones who don’t YouTube, select a few that would be of interest to them.) Make it an event by displaying it on a large screen (Chromecast, AppleTV or an HDMI cable to the TV.) And don’t forget the popcorn!
Create a short film
Brainstorm some ideas for a short, simple film you can create as a family. Draw or write it out on paper to plan what you will do. Make sure everyone has a role (camera, sound effects, narrator, actors, etc.) Using your phone or a tablet, film and edit it. You can use an app like iMovie or any number of others. Remember, you are going for fun here, not an Academy Award.
A more technical version of the film idea is to try your hand at stop motion animation. Using Legos, stuffed animals, toys, or any other object, create a short story. Try using an app like StopMotion Studio for iOS and Android. Everyone can play a role in this production, but it might be better for older ones with slightly more patience.
Create a newscast
Another variation of the create-a-film activity is to create a broadcast in the style of a news report. Select the “news” items you want to include and assign an anchor and an on-the-street reporter. Write a quick script and begin filming. You could even give the “family news” for the week or month and send it to relatives. (Who needs the old Christmas newsletter?)
Create a YouTube channel
A bit more advanced, but once you are comfortable with creating videos as a family, you might want to go all in with posting videos on a regular basis on a YouTube channel. Try to pick a specific topic or theme for the channel, and brainstorm a bunch of “episodes” to see if you have enough for a series of videos. Set some guidelines and unless your kids are older, you will want to be the producer (i.e. uploader) for the channel. (If you aren’t sure how to create a channel and upload videos, just search for instructions on–wait for it–YouTube. Mind. Blown.)
Practice your storytelling
Look up photos on Flickr, Google Images, or Unsplash (a great site for beautiful pictures.) Be careful with these searches, of course. You will want to do the search with the kids or have them use kid-friendly sites like Kiddle or Pics4Learning. Everyone gets a photo (or a series of photos) and has to make up a story around the image. You can even use the activity to reinforce good copyright practices.
Build something together
Decide on a project you’d like to try as a family, and search YouTube for good instructions. Try using the term “DIY” in your search. This could be a one-evening build or an ongoing project. (I’m still trying to convince my boys that we should build a hydroponics garden during the summer.) During or after the construction, be sure to talk about the qualities of good–and bad–tutorial videos.
Learn something together
Is there a language, a game, a new skill, or a hobby that you want to explore as a family? Search YouTube and the web for solid instruction. Show your kids how to evaluate good instruction on YouTube through ratings and views. For serious learners, check out platforms like Udemy, Lynda, Great Courses, and others (these are usually paid courses.) For coding fun for the whole family, log in to code.org for free Hour of Code activities.
Doesn’t every family need a family theme song? Use a tool like Garageband or any number of other music apps. The song doesn’t have to have lyrics, if you are not a family of singers; just an instrumental blend of sounds will do. Make sure everyone gets to create a piece of it. Share it with family and friends, and use it for special occasions.
Host your own karaoke night
Turn up the tunes and warm up your vocal chords! You can pull favorite music videos off YouTube or find Karaoke-type sites with a quick Google search. Disney has a couple karaoke apps, and there are dozens of others. Watch for appropriate lyrics within songs as well as ad content and privacy issues within apps.
Play a video game
If you have gamers in the family, try an interactive, multiplayer game. Each person can play on their own device but in the same room. If you are looking for a starting place, here’s a list of 15 games for iOS devices and one for Android. (And, no, I’m not playing the dance games.)
Play a game that connects to the real world
Another way to incorporate gameplay is to find apps that encourage movement in and interaction with the real world. To get you started, here’s a great list of seven of them. From trying to outrun a Cheetah, to serving lunch, to gazing at the stars, these apps and other will get your kids moving.
Plan a trip
Whether it is an imaginary road trip or an actual upcoming vacation, hop on Google Maps and teach them how to plan out a route. Research other possible stops on the way to decide if they are worth the time. Discuss the pros and cons of sticking to main highways vs. taking back roads. Give everyone the same handful of destinations and stops, and see who can come up with the most interesting trip.
Go on a virtual trip or tour.
Pick up a few cheap sets of virtual reality (VR) goggles and load Google Expeditions on. (Learn how to “run” a virtual expedition, too.) Or just use street view on Google maps to wander the streets of some city or place you’ve never been.
A tried-and-true activity that blends tech and getting outside, Geocaching allows you to find hidden “caches” that others have stashed and given the GPS coordinates for. Using an app like Geocaching (for iOS and Android), users find their way to caches, sign in to a physical or digital log, and often take a trinket and leave a new one.
Create a photo essay
Plan a day out, whether at an event, an outdoor space, or a walk through the city. Instead of banning the devices, have everyone takes their phones with cameras (you will need to set some ground rules.) At the end of the day, dump everyone’s favorite shots into a slideshow. You can use a simple PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation or try an app like Animoto or Magisto.
Create a photo scavenger hunt
For a variation on the photo essay, you could create a photo scavenger hunt. You can find lists online, too, depending on whether you are going to an urban location or a natural setting. If there are enough in your family (or if you want to borrow some people from other families), you can work in teams for this one.
Listen to an audiobook together
Nothing fancy about this one. Find a book your whole family will enjoy (ask your librarian!) and get it on audiobook. Get comfortable in the living room, and hook a device up to a good set of speakers. If you don’t want to purchase the audiobook, load the Overdrive app and connect to your local public library to tap into their collection. Along with tons of eBooks, your library may have a good collection of audiobooks, too.
By combining technology in with our family time (sometimes), we can model how tech should improve the quality of our lives. Balance is the key, of course. We have to have those totally unplugged moments with each other, but we also need to acknowledge the world in which our kids are growing up. They need to see that there is a time and place for both.
What have you and your family done to combine screen time and family time? Any good activities to share? I’d love to add to the list, so please add to the comments below!