My biggest problem with screen time is how alienating it can be. There are times when we are all on different devices doing our own thing. Even when we do watch movies and shows together, we don’t really interact. This year, since our family room television is actually a big computer screen, we’ve been discovering new ways to have screen time also be family time.
This is an ongoing list of my favorite ways to enjoy screen time as a family. As I find new ones, I hope to keep adding them here. If you have favorite websites that encourage family interaction, leave us a comment below. Don’t tell the kids, but most of these are actually educational as well as fun. Some of these sites require an account, but all of them are free or have a free option.
1. Slooh. The Universe is our Screen Time
Slooh connects humanity through communal exploration of the universe. We gather people around live telescopes to see space for themselves and share their diverse perspectives. We are Space for Everyone.
Come achieve the Slooh state of mind, a light meditation while peering ponderously into space. Slooh’s observatories put you on the bridge of a spaceship, floating in a most peculiar way. The stellar light we can see and its myriad of interpretations. Take a photo like 4 million others. Share your thoughts and broaden our perspective. There is space for everyone.
The Slooh community celebrates mankind’s common cause under a shared sky.
If you’ve never played Set, it is a game of recognizing patterns, an important math skill. My brother, the math major, introduced it to me, and it was among games recommended by Stanford Professor Jo Boaler, author of What’s Math Got to Do With It. You can find other math games at that link, but this one lends itself to family time really well. While I thought the game might be too hard for my kids, the Set creators offer a great interactive tutorial to get the kids started. By the end, even my four-year-old had it down (kind of). After that, you can play the Daily Set Puzzle as a team.
3. Bookflix – Use Screen Time to Get Your Daily 20 Minutes of Reading Together
You need a library card to use this program, but it doesn’t have to be paid off. This is the Hennepin County Library link to Bookflix, but all of the Twin Cities metro libraries offer it. Log in through your own library. Bookflix has been my favorite find this year. When we’re all exhausted and don’t want to move, we go flop in the family room and watch Bookflix. If I’m too tired to even read, then my 10-year-old will often offer, otherwise, there is a computer read option. This is a PDF of the books offered on Bookflix. You can see there are a lot to go through before running out. If your kids are like mine though, they’ll have their favorites that they choose to re-read over and over.
My daughter brought iCivics home as a school assignment but continues to play it both by herself and with the family. There are a lot of games to choose from on this site, we like to play Do I Have A Right, where we get to pretend to be attorneys specializing in constitutional law. These games lend themselves well to a cooperative family game and create discussions about civics while you play.
5. Spotify – Screen Time for The Family That Sings Together
If you don’t have a Spotify account, you can get a free one that allows something like 3 hours of streaming music a month. That’s enough time for a family sing along night each month. I particularly love Spotify since they added the lyrics option. We pull up the lyrics onto the big screen and belt along with the songs.
Besides the fun aspect, I’ve found educational uses for Spotify. For instance, I created this Nursery Rhyme playlist to teach my preschoolers nursery rhymes and other poems. You can read about the importance of nursery rhymes for growing brains at PBS.
For the older kids, The National Association for Music Educators created a list of approximately 100 songs that every American child should learn. These songs range in age range from Kindergarten through High School. I love some of these songs; others not so much. But they are mostly good sing-together songs. These songs range in age appropriateness form kindergarten through high school. I’d recommended scanning the list for your favorites rather than letting it play out.
I also found an audio book of Alice in Wonderland on Spotify recently. This lead me to do a Google search to see if anyone had created a list of classic audio books on Spotify. Yes! Open Culture, my No. 6, has gathered a list.
Open Culture is one of the coolest things on the internet. Their purpose is to connect the public with free educational and cultural materials on the internet. Every time I go there, I find something new. I should note that blog posts do not appear to be maintained, so some of the links will no longer be good if the post is older, but it still keeps me busy. A good place to start with kids is the animated films — most of them are shorts and most are found on YouTube.
I’d like to keep this list growing. What is your favorite way to turn screen time into family time?