Each night my mother would put us into bed at 7:15pm and we would read for an hour. “Books in bed” time was my favorite part of the day and one of the best gifts she’s ever given me. This time changed me, slowly morphing me into more than a book worm, but a total language geek. You know, the kind that relishes 3 pages of description about a sitting room chair. So, you can imagine my surprise at being “that” mom, the one whose kid is obsessed with screens of all kind. So obsessed in fact, that the worst has happened; he doesn’t want to read. Oh he will “read,” but he doesn’t relish stories, language, or the thrill of a good ending. He’s a reader, but not a READER. He’d rather see than read.

So, parents of other screen-obsessed kids, what do we do? We’ve tried a ton of strategies to curb and replace the obsession to no avail, from no screens during the week to only screens after work to never a screen again! As is often the case, deprivation leads to a deeper obsession. And an unhappy family. Then, during helping with a recent assignment that involved researching a famous scientist, it hit me.

Use them, don’t lose them!

We began a new tactic of using screens as tools to accomplish tasks and encourage creativity outside of school. Our mission was to change his view of screens from toy to tool, something that he used to develop skills and qualities that improve both his life and the lives of others.  Think beyond assignments. We made sure to suggest the computer when our child was given anything from an assignment to household chores. And it’s working!

Removing the power struggle of “no screens UNTIL” and replacing it with the ability to use technology as a tool for growth and learning stopped many of the battles. We’re slowly beginning to see less of an obsession with the latest game and more of a desire to branch out, to spend time on other interests. Does he still pine for computer games daily? Absolutely. But, the obsession is receding and we’ve begun to see his inquisitive and creative side peer through. And the best part is we’ve done it without having to say “NO!”

Here’s where we have been able to work screens into our daily life in a non-gaming, beneficial way. I call them our “screen savers.”

Screen Saver #1: Techno To-Do’s– Tired of constantly repeating yourself and reminding your kids to do something? Take list making to the next level with the computer. There’s no better reminder than a to-do list and you know how satisfying it feels to accomplish everything on your list and see a neat row of checked boxes. Have your kids create their to-do lists on the computer! This will teach them typing and organization skills and take the lame out of lists. The best part, teaching them to use the different word processing tools to create square bullets that they can check off!

Screen Saver #2: Creative Play– My middle child is constantly asking to do an art project. But, sometimes the glitter and glue are just not possible. So, what does he inevitably want to do then? Play games of course! Instead of saying no to both desired tasks, empower him to use the computer or tablet to create art of his own! There are a ton of free art programs that allow you to be creative and then print your masterpiece, we love Tux Paint and Drawing for Children. Challenge older students to research various artists and then recreate or do an interpretation of a famous piece.

Screen Saver #3: Random Letters of Kindness– We all want our children to be kind and encouraging to others. But, somehow this doesn’t always make our daily schedule. Enter the computer! My kids are loving looking for quotes, inspiration, images, etc. to give others as a way to encourage or build them up. I allow them to find the images in word using the clipart generator. They’ll then search for a Bible verse to accompany the picture and type out a short letter. It’s been amazing to see the joy they get from blessing another. An added bonus, they’re typing skills are getting much better!

Screen Saver #4: Helping Hands– My son loves using the internet to help me or others in our family. If I don’t know what to make for dinner, he’ll help me search. If we are going on a trip, he’s our resident map finder. He’s even started to help his siblings (which is new and very welcomed!) We’ve found the computer is a great tool to encourage sibling togetherness. One way is to have one child research a topic, gift, project etc. for another child. If my youngest, who cannot read, is studying sharks, we allow my oldest to do the typing and surfing and read to his younger brother. We also let them find coloring pages, extra worksheets, projects, and even gifts to surprise their siblings with. This is, by far, my favorite tool because of the love and kindness it’s engendered between my children. What a gift!

Screen Saver #5: Learn Out Loud– Allowing our oldest to listen and read classic literature online has changed how he views stories. I’ll never forget the moment he heard The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin out loud while turning the pages himself online. It opened an entirely new world for him, and all it took was the screen and hearing. It’s not how I imagined reading would look, but it’s reading all the same. If your students love screens, having them read online is a great way to encourage reading skills while incorporating what they love. You might be surprised at what a reader he becomes in the process!

Using screens as a way to motivate your kids and encourage character traits can keep them engaged in meaningful activities while re-framing how they see screens and their importance.

Parents, what tricks do you use for turning screen time obsession into a tool? Or do you keep the screens separate from homeschool? We’d love to hear from you!