Family Night: 17 Ways to Have Fun Without Screens

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Family Night: 17 Ways to Have Fun Without Screens

August 3, 2020
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Table of Contents

For many parents, getting their students to unplug and put their phones away for even one family night can be a challenge. It might often feel like you’re competing with social media and the television to get your child’s attention. Building a tech-free family night into the family's weekly schedule can have a positive impact on everyone.

The SmartSocial.com Team asked 17 parents and experts to share their best tips for tech-free family time. Keep reading for some unique, kid-tested ideas you can use with your family.

Family Night: How to Have Fun Without Screens an Expert Guest Blog SmartSocial.com

1. Go somewhere without cell service or wifi

Natasha Nunez headshot
Natasha Nunez

Natasha Nunez, Former Teacher, Blogger at The Artisan Life

Make gadget use virtually impossible by going camping or staying at a rental in the mountains where cell signal is nonexistent and wifi is painfully slow. Getting online is a lot less appealing when internet speeds are reminiscent of dial-up!

My husband’s mom and brother are constantly glued to their phones. When we invited them to stay at a remote property we own in West Virginia, they were forced to put their phones away after draining their batteries taking photos. We didn’t have electricity, wifi, or a cell signal. After the phones were put up, we were able to play dominoes and connect as a family.

If you can’t travel somewhere out of cell range, try getting everyone to place their devices in a box (parents included) and then head to the back yard. Set up a “camp” with a tent or a pool filled with pillows and get ready to have family fun!

2. Start a family book club

Alexandra Fung headshot
Alexandra Fung

Alexandra Fung, CEO of Upparent

One of my all-time favorite family activities over the years has been the family book club we started when our kids were 6 and 8 years old. We take turns picking a book, read it independently (and sometimes out loud or listening to an audiobook), and usually plan a fun family activity once everyone has finished to discuss it and enjoy some time together.

Activities can be as simple as a special meal (bonus points if you incorporate foods themed to the book you read!); watching a movie if the book has been adapted to the big screen; or even taking a special trip tied to the book theme (for example, visiting a petting farm after reading Charlotte's Web). 

What I've loved most about our family book club is that we always have something to chat about over dinner, even apart from our special activity. As the kids get older our reading selections have become more interesting, and often elicit great family conversations, though the read aloud’s we had when they were younger were also special. We often get our inspiration from this list of parent-recommended favorites on Upparent.

3. Find a positive offline activity that your teen would be proud to share on social media later

Josh Ochs headshot
Josh Ochs

Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com

Older students in middle or high school can be more challenging to get off of their screens than younger kids. In my experience, older students will get excited about an offline activity if it will help them create content to share on social media later. Help your children find 2-3 passions they want to be known for, then pick one of those activities to do together as a family each week.

Whether your child wants to volunteer at a local charity, help build or fix something around the house, practice an instrument, or play sports, schedule a tech-free family night where you spend time doing an activity they love.

Encourage your children to keep a journal where they write down their experiences, what obstacles they overcame, and what they learned. These journal entries can then easily be repurposed into an Instagram caption or a blog post on their personal website. Not only does this get your children excited about unplugging each week, but it also gives them valuable experience to add to their student resume.

4. Try a “disconnection diet”

Cindy Muchnick headshot
Cindy Muchnick

Cindy Muchnick, Educational Consultant, Co-Author of The Parent Compass

Get your family to try a “disconnection diet” or a mini-vacation from technology. Start small with an hour, then grow to a half-day, full-day, weekend, or even a month. Can you give up tech for Lent or another special occasion?

Maybe make it a family competition, but define what is included in your tech diet, since sometimes only using a landline is not always possible.

Design your break from tech with appealing alternatives. Have great offline alternatives to do: art projects, cooking or baking as a family, board games, puzzles, table topics, ping pong, corn hole, card games, ring toss, shooting hoops, family contests, family TV binging, movie night, etc.

5. Craft and create something together

Michelle Meredith headshot
Michelle Meredith

Michelle Meredith, Blogger at Bright Color Mom

I've found that the best way to turn off the electronics without causing meltdowns is to have an activity planned where they get to *create*. Kids glean as much satisfaction from building and creating as adults do, if not more so. There's something very exciting about opening up new craft supplies - new paper, glue, stickers, scissors, etc.

And it doesn't matter if we're going 100% imaginative or using pre-selected parts to build a planned project, like a felt haunted house kit at Halloween. My kids love both equally, but parents will likely know which kind of crafting their kids prefer.

Just turn off the screens, clear off the kitchen table, and call them over for help. Even if they whine at first... They will get really into it. Crafting and creating gives kids a sense of control as well as a feeling of accomplishment, and that creates a really positive connection to family time, too.

6. Go on a treasure hunt around the house

Tom Winter headshot
Tom Winter

Tom Winter, Co-Founder of DevSkiller

One of the best ways of keeping kids engaged is through problem-solving games. I have created a small treasure hunt game that contains a lot of riddles, tasks, and problems that kids need to solve. You can play with the format as much as you like and customize the game based on your kids’ interests. It’s important to have a stimulating reward at the end that would keep the young ones motivated to persevere until the end.

What kids love the most are the excitement and action and treasure-hunt games combine both elements. Depending on your children’s age, you can even add certain physical activities they have to do before getting the next clue. The more diverse your tasks are, the more engaged kids will be.

7. Let your students plan the tech-free activity or surprise them

Deanna Fitzpatrick headshot
Deanna Fitzpatrick

Deanna Michaels - Blogger at From this Kitchen Table

One of the keys to getting your kids excited about a screen-free family night is to let them be involved in the planning! This means the activities and food.

Each week, rotate which child gets to decide the activity and food. Or you could let each kid choose a favorite snack item and just rotate who selects the activity.


Another fun idea is to do a surprise family night! Give your family a time and type of clothes to wear, if necessary, but don't give them any other information. Of course, you have to be sure to select a family night activity that will live up to the suspense.

8. Make it a competition with a prize for the winner

Kate Diaz headshot
Kate Diaz

Kate Diaz, Interior Designer and Owner of Swanky Den

One of the things I did was to turn it into a competition by challenging them on who can go without picking up their gadgets the longest over the weekend. And whoever wins get a special prize or treat from me. To ensure they don't get bored and cranky, I introduced them to some classic board games like Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, etc. You can even let them choose which game to play.

Additionally, I also ask them to help me out in the kitchen when preparing the snacks they want while we're playing. So basically, our tech-free weekend also turned into our regular family bonding time. We even go on picnics in our backyard or set up a mini-camp at night to mix things up. Now, the kids are always looking forward to it, and I don't even have to remind them to put down their gadgets.

9. Set up a family night scavenger hunt

Jenna Dowd headshot
Jenna Dowd

Jenna Dowd, Elementary Instructional Coach and Family Literacy Educational Consultant, Blogger at Simply Working Mama

The key to getting your child(ren) excited about a screen-free night is to really capture their attention and pique their curiosity right from the start.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to create scavenger hunts. However, scavenger hunts, even ones around your neighborhood, can be short-lived. The trick is to make every clue lead to an activity, which will reveal the next clue as opposed to each clue leading to another just another clue.

To set this up, think about an ending prize your child(ren) would love to have. Maybe a new toy or a family adventure to a nearby theme park. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Then, decide what your activities will be. Maybe you will all cook dinner together, complete a minute-to-win-it challenge, or walk in the neighborhood to collect items that will lead to the next clue. I’ve found that about 5-6 activities lead to a fun-filled night. Finally, write out your clues that will capture your child(ren)’s attention and make them think outside the box.

These activity-filled scavenger hunts are engaging, create so many opportunities for bonding as a family, and make long-lasting memories for a lifetime!

10. Have a cooking competition or learn some family history

Nicholas Holmes headshot
Nicholas Holmes

Nicholas Holmes, Founder at ProductReviewer.com.au

Cooking competition:

Cooking is one of those activities that require using all the senses would be fun. Why not ask them to learn something for baking or cooking and then do a competition. All members would be talking while preparing their stuff, their hands would be busy, their ears would be listening to others, eyes would be on their meals, and smelling the delicious dishes. So, as a whole, this activity would be fun and replacement of tech. They would not find time to deviate. Moreover, it will be quite good learning for all of the family members. They would get feedback and improve this essential skill for life.

Go through old family albums:

In this fast-paced world, going through old family albums would be exciting and fun for kids. They would be curious to know about unknown people in pictures. Some funny captured moments would also add a spice of humor in these sessions. Moreover, they would come across many untold stories, and waves of sweet memories would make everyone happy.

11. Stay up late and watch the stars

Amanda Gummer headshot
Amanda Gummer

Amanda Gummer, Founder of GoodPlayGuide.com

Children love staying up late! A stargazing campout can be great fun and adds a sense of adventure.

Students can research the stars in the sky during the day and then have hot chocolate whilst sitting outside. Maybe drive to a hill for a clear view. You'll be amazed at the conversation that flows.

12. Keep a basket of books on the dinner table

Janice Robinson-Celeste headshot
Janice Robinson-Celeste

Janice Robinson-Celeste, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia & Successful Black Parenting Magazine

Our toddler was really hooked on watching our iPad during dinner. One of the things we introduced for a tech-free night was having a basket of books on the table. So, toddlers can choose a story to read right after everyone finishes eating.

You’ll begin to notice that kids actually looks forward to different people, round-robin style, reading them a story. This can also help older teens because they can read to their younger siblings, which helps their reading skills and comprehension.

13. Make it family night part of your routine

Lauren Tingley, Simply Well Balanced

headshot
Lauren Tingley

As a busy working mom, I have been intentional and proactive about scheduling tech-free family time together. In fact, it's become a weekly family tradition in our home that everyone looks forward to.

Here are a few tips to get your kids onboard with regular tech-free family nights:

  • If your kids are young - start now! Younger children often crave attention from their parents and it's obvious that we give more of our attention when our phones are away. Hopefully, at this point they have not developed a tech or social media addiction and simply offering your attention and a fun activity will be enough to encourage their participation.
  • If your children are older you may have a bit more of a struggle. If this is the case, I suggest you get sneaky. Plan your first few family nights in a location where cell service is limited or completely obsolete. For example, take an evening drive to the mountains to watch the sunset. Pack a picnic dinner and eat under the stars before driving home.
  • Establishing it as a regular part of your weekly or monthly family routine is essential. In our home we focus on simple traditions to do together to create memories and stronger bonds as a family.
  • Use your family night as an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect to your community. As a family, choose a particular cause that you would like to support and spend your time together volunteering. Whether you decide to serve a meal in a soup kitchen or walk the dogs at a shelter, staying busy will help to prevent technology from being a distraction.
  • Seek out special after dark activities at your local national parks, zoos and museums. I live in a very small town, but we still have access to these events such as sunset kayaking on the lake, a ranger led moonlit hike in the forest, and an overnight stay in the zoo. Many of these activities are offered for free or a very low price.

14. Plan a “restaurant night” that empowers kids to get involved

Jill Krefft headshot
Jill Krefft

Jill Krefft, Organizational Toast

We plan what we call “Restaurant Night”. The kids help choose the menu, participate in cooking the meal, and set the dining room table with fancy table settings including handmade place cards, centerpieces, and menus. They then take the parent's orders and serve the meals! They get so excited about being involved in each part of the process. Finish off with an extra special dessert and board games. It's hours of fun!

15. Cultivate a love of spending time outside

Carly Brasseux headshot
Carly Brasseux

Carly Brasseux, Carly Brasseux Consulting

It’s hard to have a tablet or iPhone while you’re enjoying the great outdoors. Now, don’t get me wrong; our kids spend plenty of time indoors watching TV, but we like to try and be mindful of cultivating a love of being outside.

Try going arrowhead hunting at a park. The first one to find a rock shaped like a triangle gets the first choice of popsicle flavor, or whatever small prize will encourage your kids.

You can also do a backyard scavenger hunt. We’ll hide outdoor knick knacks like sticks and special leaves in our flower pots or on their swing set to find. This will keep the kiddos entertained for a good 30 minutes. And in kid time, that’s an eternity.

16. Make tech-free time a family tradition

Brenda Kosciuk headshot
Brenda Kosciuk

Brenda Kosciuk, Paper Heart Family

Have a weekly family night where you get together (no matter what) and really focus on having fun together. At first, the kids will probably be slow to warm up to the idea. But after a few weeks, it might just become something that they look forward to.

We like to have game night, and we try to incorporate some fun, unique games into our family night. We have two current favorites. The first is playing hide-and-seek in the dark with flashlights. We make it extra fun by placing distractions around the house (putting a chair behind a curtain, a blanket over a bunch of pillows, etc).

The other is ask each other questions. For example: Who is the funniest person in the family? Who is the most serious? Who is the most likely to become president? Then we all vote on who we think fits that description. It's fun to see what each of us thinks about each other.

17. Challenge your kids to make a board game based on their favorite book or TV show

Jim Wasserman headshot
Jim Wasserman

Jim Wasserman, Author

For my own children, we always kept poster board and markers on hand. We would challenge our children to make a game board based on a book or TV show they liked, or the activity we did that day. Everyone would then play the game together. We kept a box of old board game parts for them to use.

Most of the evening was them making the game, but we always had fun playing it (of course, we'd hit unforeseen snags and then group solve what the rule should be). It was family bonding and creative problem-solving. One of my kids went on to win competitions in game design and has since graduated with dual degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, is a software developer, and partially credits the game-making to finding his passion.

Conclusion

It's often easier to get young kids involved and more challenging to get older kids excited about tech-free family time. However, there are many ways for parents to get kids of any age interested in spending time away from their screens. If it doesn't click for your family the first time, keep trying because the benefits of screen-free time are worth it.

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