Making the most of holiday screen time

By Kerry Gallagher

Families with school-age children everywhere are looking forward to a week or more of quality time together. In many parts of the country this time will be spent mostly indoors due to cold weather. Since new electronic devices and toys are common holiday gifts, some of that quality time will be spent with technology and screens. Here are a few ideas for how to make the most of that time together:

Online activities with academic goals

My own daughter has access to an online platform where she can both complete homework and play enrichment games that help support or math and science curriculum in her 2nd grade class. She will surely want to play those games this week, and I support her because I know it will keep the new skills she learned just this week fresh in her mind. She also has her own Google Drive account through her school. She will undoubtedly want to continue writing the stories she’s started in Google Docs and the designs she creates in Google Draw. Both of these examples qualify as quality time with technology because they support the learning from school and because I usually sit with my daughter while she is online so that we are talking about her learning and about her technology use together.

Bonding over virtual reality and gaming

Whether you are planning to add a new virtual reality viewer or the latest game console to your family’s collection of entertainment devices, remember that neither has to result in teen or adolescent retreating to their bedroom for hours of isolation. On long wintry days have family contests using the games and devices together. If your child has more practice with a particular game, he/she will love the opportunity to teach you something new. I recently brought home a Google Cardboard, downloaded a couple of free VR apps, and showed my husband and children a fun rollercoaster. We even explored the surface of the moon and a coral reef together. Although only one of us could experience virtual reality at a time, it was a family activity that allowed us to laugh together, teach one another, and share an experience.

Video chats and messaging with far away relatives

Although the holidays are a time for family to come together, often distance, schedules, or even divorce can keep people apart. If you or your child receives a new smartphone, tablet, or laptop use the opportunity to try out video chat services that have been around for a while like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Go a step further with your teens and ask them to show you the video chat feature in Snapchat. Since Snapchat is quickly becoming the preferred messaging platform for that age group, use the opportunity school vacation provides to learn more about it. ConnectSafely’s Parent’s Guide to Snapchat is a great place to start.

Document the day and create something to share

Often we are taking videos and photos throughout our family gatherings. Why not share those photos and videos with your child and show them how to edit them together using a free and easy program like iMovie for Apple’s iOS? Don’t know how to use those programs yourself? There are plenty of homemade tutorials easily searchable on YouTube. Use the opportunity to learn together with your child. The final product will be a digital keepsake you can share with your family members to remember the day.

For more ideas on how to talk with your teen about social media and online safety during your time together, take a look at a post I wrote for parents in preparation for summer break. These same tips apply to winter break as well.

Once the gifts are unwrapped, the real quality family time can begin. Take the time to enjoy one another and learn more about your children’s interests by experiencing their devices, games, and programs with them. Happy holidays!

Kerry Gallagher is the Director of K-12 Education for ConnectSafely, in addition to her full-time role as Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts.