It’s Saturday morning and my five kids are running around happily doing chores. They encourage each other to get their jobs done. They take a six-minute break, and then they start on the next job. After an hour or so, the regular jobs are done with a few extra ones besides.
How did this happen? Zelda power!
Video games can be a great distraction for kids (and adults!) from getting important tasks done. If you’re like me, you spend a great deal of time trying to balance the magnetic pull of screens on your children with helping them do the tasks they need to succeed in life. It can take a lot of work as a digital pioneer parent (see We Took Away Our Kids’ Screentime; This Is How We Gave It Back).
But what if instead of fighting against screens all the time, we could have them partner with us — at least sometimes? I won’t pretend this will happen all the time — the struggle is real — but here are a few creative ways I’ve found to transform screentime fantasy into real-world enrichment for my kids.
And I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.
But first, a childhood background
When I was a kid, my father was an early adopter of home computers. He was also an early adopter of computer games. One fond memory I have is playing adventure games as a family — gathering around while Dad explored the realms of King’s Quest or other early adventure games.
Now as a dad with six kids of my own, I’ve tried to re-create that experience. We’ve played Minecraft, the new King’s Quest adventures, and other games together. Like my Dad, I run the controls while the kids watch. As a family we’ll decide what we want to do, where we want to go, and how to solve the adventure together.
By playing games with my kids, I find I can model mindful screentime behavior. I can show them how to set time limits and end gracefully. I can show them how to pause when someone talks to me (OK, I do have to practice this myself, too).
I can also demonstrate how to persist through challenges. How to not give up the moment something gets hard. How to think creatively to solve problems that seem unsolvable at first. How to not go to the cheat sheet at the first sign of difficulty.
In addition, I get a chance to connect with my kids in an activity engaging to them. I can then take this engagement and use it to help them connect to the world around them.
One of my recent successes has been with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch. At the start of the year our family was on a pretty limited digital diet (for a history on that see We Took Away Our Kids’ Screentime; This Is How We Gave It Back).
However, we needed something we could do together during COVID lockdown when it was bad weather. Zelda has since turned into a great bonding experience and an opportunity to try some new activities as a family.
While I’ll share some specific examples of how we turned Zelda into real-world enrichment activities, the possibilities can be expanded to many other digital entertainment forms. The only limit is your creativity as a parent!
Every Saturday morning, we do chores as a family. I’m a firm believer in the Mary Poppins concept that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Now , there’s a time and place for getting it done — working fast and furious until the work is done. No messing around. We definitely take this route in our home when needed.
However, I think it’s also valuable to help kids realize you can take an unpleasant task, apply a dash of creativity, and have some fun while still getting it done.
One fun way we’ve found to get chores done is Zelda Chores.
First, we list out all the chores that each child needs to get done. Make bed, clean room, clean bathroom, pet chore, etc.
Then everyone has to do one item off the list. They all run off and go accomplish the task.
After that task is complete, everyone comes back to the living room. We play 6 minutes of Zelda with Dad.
Then we select the next item on the list, get it done, and come back for 6 more minutes. Rinse, repeat, until the chores are done!
For my kids, this is a motivating way to quickly get chores done, plus there’s encouragement from their siblings to go quickly.
For a little extra surprise and fun, we’ll put the chores up for random selection (one favorite way is https://wheeldecide.com/). We’ll even throw in a few fun extra activities into the mix: 6 more minutes of Zelda, quick snack break, listen to music, etc. By throwing a few extra fun activities into the chore mix, the anticipation to keep going and see what comes next increases.
I make sure to emphasize with the kids that they’re not ‘earning’ screentime by doing their jobs. They have to do the jobs regardless. This is just the fun way to get it done.
Full disclosure — the main downside to the Zelda Chores approach is that it can take a bit more time to get everything done. So you probably want to save this for a day when you have a little extra time as a family.
Thus, Zelda Chores is not an every Saturday affair. But when it does happen, the chores get done, the kids are engaged, and we all have fun!
During Covid times, we found ourselves indoors a lot. While we did have Legend of Zelda to play together at appropriate times, we also felt a bit of cabin fever. I realized that our family needed to get outdoors.
Using the themes from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we found a night with good weather and planned a weeknight family Live Action Zelda Outdoors activity.
I acquired a few treats and special items. I then went to a nearby park and hid the items around the park — behind trees and bushes, mostly out of sight. I labeled the items with names to have some resemblance to items from the game. Pistachios became “Korok Seeds”. Gatorade was “Stamina Potion.” Mini Hershey treasures were “Gold Rupees.”
I also included a few swords and shields from our basement costume box. Mom helped lead the kids around to look behind trees and bushes to find prizes. Dad hid as a “monster” to defend some of the treasure. The kids got to explore free-form around the park and see what they could find.
In the end, everyone found the treasures and we ended up laughing, talking, running some foot races, and enjoying our treats together.
I’ve found that kids respond well to turning a video game into “real life.” If you can find a way to transform elements of your child’s favorite game into an outdoor adventure, you’ll find yourself on the way to fun, adventure, and a bunch of great memories.
Zelda Dinner…with Vegetables
We recently observed friends of ours using Covid Quarantine time to have their kids cook meals based on themes: movies, video games, books. We thought this was a great idea. Thus, Zelda Dinner was born.
One of the fun, creative aspects of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that you have to cook up food dishes from ingredients you find along your journey. Common dishes are cooked greens, mushroom skewers, roasted meat, and raw and cooked fruit.
As in most families, my kids often shy away from new foods that contain ingredients like mushrooms, carrots, or radishes. However, Zelda made these food items look so digitally appealing!
For Zelda Dinner, we identified some of the foods from the video game. Each kid picked a dish they thought looked tasty or interesting, and we came up with a shopping list. We bought the ingredients and then worked together to cook the foods.
We had kids buying and cooking roasted mushrooms, barbecued chicken, seared steaks, fruit compote, and cooked greens. According to age level, they cut, chopped, mixed, boiled, and barbecued. Every kid had a dish or two to share with the family. Because of the nature of the food in the game, all food items were prepared from fresh ingredients — there are no processed foods in Zelda.
It ended up being quite a feast!
During our dinner, we played some of the Zelda background music. We told a mini-adventure story and worked the food into the story. Each kid tried different bites of new food. When trying new food became part of a story, my kids’ normally conservative palates became a bit more adventurous.
In the end, we helped our kids learn to cook and prepare new foods, appreciate fresh food ingredients, and try new dishes.
Lest you think you have to run out and purchase a Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, be assured you can take these ideas and apply the principles to other forms of digital entertainment.
Does your kid like Minecraft? Try making some of the food from the game, or doing a real-life Minecraft dig.
Does your kid have a favorite YouTube show or channel? Watch a series of short videos interspersed with chores.
Does your kid have a favorite internet-based game? Try to learn some of the elements of coding and how to create a game.
Does your kid have a favorite fantasy game? Learn the background story behind it and have a dinner based on the game.
Do you hate video games? Have your child teach you how to play one of their favorites. It may not be your cup of tea, but they’ll appreciate you showing interest.
Our kids live in a digital world with an abundance of distracting content. We have to help them navigate the complexities of the internet and develop self-discipline and mindful mastery when using electronics.
At the same time, we should also keep in mind that they’re still kids and need to play. We can play with them while we also show them a better way. In the end, they’ll respond better to our digital coaching, and we’ll have just a little more fun.
Ready for a screentime change?
Ready to try something new with your kids and screentime? Signup at this link and get 10 Life Hacks for Family Screentime, my free guide to family screentime success. It also includes the Screentime Mindfulness script, a great tool for helping kids who have a hard time putting down their devices.