Device free activities for the family that encourage human connections

Creating with our hands- knitting!

Why do we care so much about our children’s growing dependence on devices?

  • The recent Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma, looks at the manipulative intent of social media and our growing dependency on digital connections.
  • As children discover social media at increasingly younger ages, their dependence can negatively affect their ability to build healthy human relationships, confidence in their personal skills and talents, and even their educational success.
  • That is why at Waldorf Academy Toronto, no technology is used from grades K-6, and students who have devices are not allowed to use them during school hours.
  • Additionally, middle school students use Yondr, a company that helps schools create a phone-free zone. When students arrive at school, they put their phone into a case, and it locks when they enter the phone-free area. It won’t unlock until they are outside of the phone-free zone. Yondr assures students that their phones won’t be stolen, and protects them from distraction by devices during the school day.
  • Yondr – correlates to the brain becoming conditioned to needing those clicks and check-ins so the pouch gives reassurance and peace of mind that the phone will still be there but frees kids to focus on other endeavours
  • Silicon Valley executives routinely send their kids to Waldorf schools because they don’t have technology in the early years. They say the brain needs imaginative experiences in childhood to lead to tech careers.

Watch Jennifer Deathe be interviewed on Breakfast Television about Device Free Activities for the Family


Look in the Mirror: Parents are role models to their children. Measure how you feel after you have binge-watched Netflix or stared at TikTok for an hour compared to how you feel after a walk with your children, or reading a book, or playing a game of backgammon on a Friday night instead of each family member doing their own thing on a device? Device-free activities always feel better so now imagine the difference for your children who do not have the ability to resist the addictive nature of video games or social media. They need our help and guidance and as usual, any change begins with ourselves. So here are a few ideas to consider as the family prepares yet again for another lockdown and during a time when the days are getting shorter and colder.

Device-Free Activities:

These activities are more than a list – they are not one-offs but offer long term strategies with many benefits including affordability, sustainability and socio-emotional capacities.

Dinner time Activities: At any age dinner time can be a central focal point of your family offering endless opportunities for meaningful human connections as well as life skills, joy and exploration. Consider all the layers involved in dinner: menu planning, shopping, prep, cooking, setting the table, a candle to signal gratitude, mastering the art of conversation and clean up. Some of these activities cover building self-regulation, family values, communication skills, manners, self-care, transitions, meaningful work, imitation, emotional well-being as well as an appreciation for different foods from different cultures – some families create a weekly theme. Including children in the creation can help with buy-in.


Nature Activities: We live in a city known for ravines and parks. Consider nature walks, nature tables,  and a lantern walk at night ( 6 pm ish). You can make your own lanterns with a few simple materials. A nature table can live outside or indoors- place treasures found on a walk- acorn, pine cone, red leaf, beach glass- create little homes or nests for a wooden squirrel – include a cloth that reflects the colours of the season. Learn more with our guide to creating a nature table in one of our earlier BLOGS. A wonderful way to connect with your child is a nature walk and it does not have to be an explicit educational moment but a chance to connect with the seasonal cycles and feel connected to the Earth. Family time in nature can provide a reserve of experiences that can help during difficult times well beyond the teenage years as a strategy for coping with depression or anxiety.

Baking Dragon Bread

Students baked dragon bread for a fall festival

Movement Activities: If children are not on devices they are moving. Movement is key to our kindergarten program and throughout the grades. Movement builds healthy neural pathways for learning, self-esteem and regulation. Observe if your child is able to partake in fine and gross motor movement, somersaults, hanging upside down, balance beams (can be a log), skipping as well as lifting heavy objects. Playing in the snow allows for all of this but you can also create little obstacle courses indoor and outdoors. All of this movement is understood by OT’s as essential for building the foundation for learning in grade school. Children learn through their bodies. Fine motor movement is working with one’s hands with activities such as finger knitting, cutting with scissors, peeling carrots or folding napkins.

Self-directed play activities: We encourage open-ended imaginative play in our childcare and kindergarten programs. You too can create this environment in your home so you are not the one always entertaining or having to play with your child. Boredom is good and maybe necessary to transition from a media-rich childhood. Children that are experiencing loneliness and boredom can learn to be more self-reliant when there are opportunities in their environment to engage in imaginative play. Waldorf students were well equipped with the lockdown because they know how to woodwork, knit, draw and create projects. Here is what you need –

#1- reduce sensory overload ( only have visible a few toys a few books) put away items when done in a box or crate so they are not visible. We are feeling the strain of the financial impact of pandemic and kids don’t need half of what we buy to have a rich childhood.

# 2 Open ended toys in a basket or drawer: paper (encourage recycling), crayons- drawing, painting. Wool- and finger knit. Sandpaper or a rasp:-sticks gathered on a nature walk- sand it and smooth it- add yarn etc, Lego, a simple kitchen play area, cloths to create forts, blocks of different shapes to build structures or lands. I have watched my neighbours with 3 cardboard boxes all summer create a city, kingdoms, forts and ships. It is important to emphasize imagination. Older kids may make their own books or design their own board games.


Distractions: Many parents resort to devices to keep their children distracted and not to misbehave for example in a restaurant or family gathering. Although this is not relevant during the lockdown -there are more effective ways to help a child self-regulate. Screens actually make it worse because of the addictive nature of screens and they do not build the capacity to self-regulate or be patient or have good manners. Teachers at Waldorf Academy love to offer our most fidgety children beeswax. It only takes a little to create an object but first, you need to warm it up in your hands. Buy beeswax from our school store – School Store

More Activities for older children:

Ages 5- 10

Books never go out of style: 

Why do we still recommend books? They leave lots of room for the imagination. Read to your children a long chapter book or have them read to you- it’s an interactive experience that builds relationships, patience and imagination. We all need to slow down and spend quiet time together in a world that is increasingly fast-paced and fixated on immediate gratification. 

Cards and board games:  It is true there are those that like board games and those that do not but you may be surprised how willing they are to sit with you and learn a game. In my family, we committed to Friday night board games rather than Friday night movies. Each of us had a turn to decide on what the game would be. Many years later, my daughter laughed claiming I was absurd when I suggested she walk down to her university lounge with a board game/deck of cards and see who joins but a little while later, a much admired boy did exactly that and everyone wanted to play! These experiences in their younger years lay the groundwork for social connections. Every country, culture has its games and playing a game can be a great icebreaker even in the world of diplomacy. 

Movement: Waldorf from the EC to the grades school emphasizes movement.  From simple juggling skills and skipping to ball catching, dance of any form, to winter hikes- depending on the weather- and if you can still scooter, ride a bike- shovel snow, skating.  Connecting with nature during the winter is critical for our happiness. We have our students connect with PINE– and they learn how to be responsible for their own warmth- how to dress in layers, how to move to keep warm-(the penguin dance) and when you have that all figured out- winter is enjoyable- beautiful- and there is so much to do- from tracking animal prints in the snow to gathering treasures for a nature table to playing great outdoor games- that you can make up such as a scavenger hunt or tag. 

PINE Project

Grade 3 Outdoor Classroom with partner PINE Project in -20 degree weather!

Dinner- age 5-10 

The earlier example of dinner still applies for all ages but now your child may want to play the waiter or the chef as well. It just gets better and better. Baking is often discovered at this age. 

Dinner- age 10-15

Human connections through cooking: Just like penpals you can have cooking pals. During Covid, we all want to think of ways to stay connected when apart but many of our children can be quite uncomfortable on a zoom call with relatives. And teens can be tricky to connect with. Staying wired to their phone in their room has been their main source of connecting and it does not translate so well on zoom or in person.  Encourage extended members of your family or close friends that may be on their own to connect with your teen and form a cooking club.  Each member can take turns suggesting a recipe and they all agree to cook it on a certain date or weekend and then shared photos and reviews. 

 You may find that from 10-15 your child is learning about citizenship and activism. Perhaps you have your own causes that have inspired them or maybe it came from school but you will want to encourage, listen and be respectful in how you go about questioning their choices. Becoming a vegetarian is quite common among teenagers, for example, who chose it for environmental reasons. Teen anxiety is on the rise – and global warming is one of those wicked problems that our children are facing. It is important to respect this stage that may change the whole family or be already a part of the family and by being willing to learn about it- shop- try recipes- will also ensure they are approaching it from a healthy and nutritious angle. Vegetarian cooking can be quite affordable when cooking with lentils and rice for example and this will help them when they set out on their own and have to manage quite a different budget. Showing your flexibility and openness is a great example of making human connections that are healthy.

Education about Social Media: At Waldorf Academy, we offer from grade 6-8 a course called Cyber Civics. Students learn about digital citizenship, privacy and how it can impact their health and well being. They also learn how to use social media pro-actively. Teaching your children about social media can motivate them to reflect on how they want to spend their time and how it makes them feel. A great dinner table conversation starter is offered on TechTalk Tuesdays by the director of the documentary, Screenagers, a great resource for families. Families with older children will tell you to get ahead of it before you open the pandora’s box. It is really hard to scale back so start now with family agreements, rules and boundaries and offer positive consequences such as a family board game night!


Ages 10-15 Creative Projects: Accomplishing tasks with our own hands build self-confidence, self-reliance and independence. They will also learn how they learn!  At this point many parents like the idea of having their child engaged in structured after school activities such as dance, hockey etc- where between homework and their teams leaves very little room for on-screen activities. That may be true to a degree but again we encourage building self-directed- self-motivated activities that aren’t passively consumed. This is the time when your child is learning about themselves- and being distracted for hours by TikTok- is keeping them from realizing their potential. They have new interests and new skills at this age.

More ideas and resources:

Creativity: Bookbinding, woodwork -making something from nothing – if you can make a book, knit a hat- you can learn to do anything!

Upcycling: children can sew with a needle and thread and they can use sewing machines. This appeals to the ego of 10-15 yr old. Take an old sweater and change the sleeves, remove a collar. 

Knitting, crochet and macrame- if your child likes to look at Anthropology and other fashion sites you will see the macrame craze. It is not expensive to start and could lead to artistic designs that could become gifts or even for sale- a budding new business. There are so many benefits to creating something from nothing.  What I love about all of these is that they last a long time. Teaching self-discipline is probably one of the greatest gifts we can teach our children. 

Making Lanterns

Making lanterns for a night time walk!


Check out our school store for resources:

Tech Talk Tuesdays:

Family Meal Plans

Create a Nature Table

The Psychology of Parenting podcast with Dr. Lisa Damour

The Scientists Who Make Apps Addictive- article in Waldorf Today

Waldorf: Movement for Childhood

Cyber Civics: Middle School program at Waldorf Academy

If you want to know more about our educational programs contact us

Waldorf Academy

250 Madison Ave,
Toronto, ON, M4V 2W6