Time to Play: Disconnect to Reconnect

I was a girl of the 70’s & 80’s. An era where people were limited to the phones in their homes, and they weren’t at all smart. Those brightly colored, push button plastic contraptions were usually connected to the wall by long spirally leashes and had no voice mail, fun little apps, or texting. If you needed to speak with someone, you waited until they were home – and off the phone. As a society we were far less reachable, accessible, or bothered. We mainly shared photos of family adventures and other cool things we did with people who actually knew us. Not in order to collect “likes” on Facebook, or followers on Twitter. And we spent hours upon hours roaming the hood with our pals playing hard and getting dirty. “Screen-time” wasn’t even a word.

But time marches on and technology is often the Grand Marshall of the parade, leading the way and setting the tone for what’s next. After years as a classroom teacher and a “stay-at-home” mom, I work firmly in the right now, always updated, on-line arena. As a blogger/vlogger, writer, and social media mom, I’m hooked up…all the time. My two boys are growing up in a world where unless a whole lot of virtual strangers think what you’re doing rocks, it may not rock. Or so it seems.

This notion was the catalyst for my husband and I investing in an unplugged, off the grid, cottage in the woods last year. It’s an hour and a half from our home and a million miles away (and it’s where I’m writing this right now). We have no phone, internet, or TV, and never will. Our massive spider population provides the only web service around. We get there every weekend we can and I live there with my boys for at least a month in the summer. It’s a place of real, down and dirty, face-to-face play. And it rules.

But fully disconnecting from the world in order to reconnect with each other took me some major getting used to. It was more of a rude awakening than an “aha moment”. But in the year since we created our unplugged, playful paradise, we’ve discovered some amazing things. Like the intense joy of a completed jigsaw puzzle, that there are literally hundreds of card games, how brave we can be when learning something scary (like wake boarding at 40ish), that the best “thumbs-up” approval is from people who have real thumbs, and the beauty and inventiveness that a little bit of boredom can bring.

And my tween and teen boys play, I mean, really let go of teenage “cool” and PLAY. Hard. And so do we! Having a play-based get-away, void of digital distractions, is a gift that not everyone can make happen. I get that. But it is possible to create an unplugged paradise right where you live…if even for a weekend. So if want to disconnect and reconnect with your crew, here are 5 simple tricks I learned along the way, to get you started.

  1. Explain.

    Before you order everyone to check their devices at the door, tell your kids what you’re thinking. Pick a weekend where you’ll ALL be off the grid and screen-free, and assure them they won’t have to play scrabble and read Little Women with you all weekend. They’re in for some FUN! (Disclosure: I love Scrabble, but my husband always beats me so I’m a little bitter at the moment).

  2. Ease in.

    It’s vital to remember that when going all unplugged, slow and steady wins the race. Going cold turkey for a week or two may not be the way to your family’s playful sides. Start with a weekend “away” from it all and go from there.

  3. Commit.

    This one’s simple. You can’t cheat just because your kids go to bed before you or you have a smart phone and can sneak into the bathroom with it when no one’s looking. Not that I ever did that.

  4. Create.

    It’s great to remove yourselves from your natural habitat if possible. It’s so much easier to be TV and internet free when they’re not staring at you. Book a local hotel for the weekend, go visit some relatives, befriend someone with a lake house. If that won’t fly, then simply unplug it all & collect the phones. Remind them that it’s only 2 days. No one will perish. You’ll also need to do some pre-production. Plan some crazy-fun activities, dig out a few forgotten playthings (I love those “oh we forgot about that toy!” comments), and make time for your kids to creatively play with and without you.

  5. Invite.

    Kids are social. And they love their friends. This unplugged family time experiment will quickly be seen as a punishment if you always exclude their pals in hopes of strengthening your family ties. Make room for one (or two) more, every now and then.

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