Monday brings the start of Screen Free Week, an annual event intended to help families rediscover the joy of being unplugged. Our family has never participated in the event before because I have always felt we had a healthy relationship with screens. My kids play outside more often than not, we read books together, television viewing is usually done intentionally, and the games on screens are usually educational in nature.
But something has changed in the last year. The pendulum has swung and I decided that for the first time our family really needs this tweak in our routine to remind us to turn away from screens and towards each other. Too often I find the girls retreating to separate corners of the house for YouTube Kids time on an iPad or endless Netflix on the tv. The quiet helps me get dinner on the table but it also gives me an excuse to spend far too much time on Facebook.
The pocket of time between when the kids arrive home from school and when they go to bed is chaotic at best. Homework, dinner, and bath routines mean we rarely have time for all of us to sit down together for an activity and screens have been filling in all the small pockets of time that make up our evening.
Over breakfast on Monday morning, I broke the news to the kids: "We've been using our technology and the tv too much and I want to try something new. For the rest of this week, no screens are allowed but I promise I'll have something fun for us to try instead when you get home."
They were slightly skeptical but the announcement didn't even phase them. I expected more of an uprising and was pleasantly surprised to discover my kids trust me enough to come up with something better.
They arrived home from school to discover a tower of Melissa & Doug puzzles on the dining room table. My girls loved puzzles in their preschool years but I couldn't tell you the last time we worked on one. I purposely selected options that are well beyond their skill level/ages and their eyes widened when they saw the number of pieces on the box
. "MOM! We can't do these, look!"
That's when I told them this would be a family project for us to do together as a team. They couldn't wait to dig right in. I let them pick the one we'd work on and they chose the hardest one from the set.
We broke down the puzzle piecing into easy steps that the girls could work on with minimal supervision:
- Sort the corners, edges, and middles: Little Pea jumped right in with sorting all 1500 pieces into those crucial 3 categories.
- Build the frame: The Peanut found enormous satisfaction in piecing together the frame of the puzzle.
- Sort the middles by color: I helped figure out the main color groupings and then we all worked together to sort the pieces into blues, yellows, greens, purples, and reds. Turns out our fancy china set works for more than just holiday dinners! We corralled the pieces into random dinnerware I grabbed right from the china hutch.
Once the puzzle was prepped and sorted, we started piecing it together section by section. I confess, a 1500 piece puzzle is difficult even for me. The work is slow going and can be frustrating at times but boy do I love a challenge.
Our dining room table is right by our front door. The entire family walks right by it as we come and go all day. Having it out in a public place draws us to it when we have a few minutes of time. I catch the girls hunting for pieces in the mornings before school and while they are waiting for me to finish dinner.
But, their favorite time to work on it is when I'm sitting right there with them. There is no way they can finish it without my help so it gives me zero excuses for wasting time on social media when I could be at the table spending time with them.
The puzzle has become the thing that pulls us to the table, but it's not really about the puzzle at all. Working on the puzzle has been the gateway to slowing down together.
5 ways to slow down and connect with your kids:
- Listen to music together: Since most of the puzzle work doesn't require intense concentration, we play our favorite music while we did the sorting. The Moana soundtrack is our current favorite and I love listening to the girls sing out loud--something they may have been to self-conscious to do if their hands weren't busy doing something else.
- Work independently but side by side: We each had our own tasks we could do without assistance but we were all working towards the common goal of finishing the puzzle. My youngest particularly thrived being able to do "big girl" work alongside mom and big sis and yet she did it all on her own.
- Ask and listen: We all try to ask our kids how their days go at school, but sometimes the really listening is the hard part. Working on the puzzle kept me in one place for an extended period of time without distraction. I didn't have the oven beeping or the phone buzzing or a to-do list item popping into my head because my mind was focused on hunting for puzzle pieces. My girls could give me tid bits about their day in smaller pieces of conversation without feeling the pressure to tell me all at once before I'm off and running to sort some laundry.
- Work as a team: Our evenings still have plenty of distractions. We don't have the luxury of sitting down at the table all together to work the puzzle for hours on end. But my girls happily report back when they make progress on a section. We have a common goal to chat about together even when we work on it when no one else is around. I've taken a few minutes of my lunchtime each day to work on it so they see progress when they get home at night. It makes them excited to see the difference and inspires them to help find pieces, too.
- Let them see you struggle: Last night the Peanut said, "Mom, are you ok?! You don't look very happy." I laughed and explained that was my look of intense concentration. Dangitall, but this puzzle is so hard! The temptation has come a few times to put all 1500 pieces right back into the box but I love that this is an opportunity for the kids to see me struggle but not give up. She came and sat with me while I stubbornly looked for a missing piece right before bed. It was the perfect opportunity to talk about perseverance and hard work.
If you'd like to try your hand at a family puzzle, Melissa & Doug has options in all sizes to fit your needs. We love how colorful the designs are and that the pieces are so easy to work with since they are produced on high quality card board. You can search for puzzles with 24, 60, 300, 500, 1000, or even 1500 pieces right here. The gorgeous harbor scene we are working on can be found right here.
Peanut Blossom is proud to be a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador. All thoughts and opinions are our own.