Utah Stories

Tech Free Kids

One Utah family encourages activities away from television and video games in order to foster learning and imagination.


How Do These Utah Kids Survive With Limited Electronics?

utah kids no technology
The Horsely family limits TV and video game time, opting for activities that incorporate learning and imagination.

With everyone home from school for winter break, the Horsley children, Jude, age 8, Gabby, 6, and Merrick, 5, sprawl in their West Jordan family room watching a half hour of PBS to unwind. When the time is up, Jude rises, turns off the TV, and asks if he can do his math homework. Gabby starts to practice the piano and Merrick picks out a workbook and starts to color. There are no arguments and nobody asks for more TV time. That’s how things work in the Horsley house with very limited access to television or video games. Instead of electronic diversions, the house is filled with fun and interesting things to do.

Mom Lauren, says, “It drives me crazy to hear ‘I’m bored’ and so I keep things around the house the kids can access on their own without permission.” Before they ever had kids, Brett and Lauren Horsley decided that they wanted to parent differently. They wanted their children’s lives to be full of imagination and learning. They wanted them not just to learn, but to love learning. They set up a plan, modified it along the way and put it into practice.

In a world where every kid seems to know the latest video game or computer program before they are available to consumers, the Horsley children are limited to a half hour a day of video or computer games. The half hour is not free. It has to be earned with household chores.

Jude, Gabby, and Merrick are okay with that. Many times they choose not to do the chores and skip the electronic games altogether.

They have closets-full of board and card games. They have a dress-up box downstairs. They have a craft closet. There is a piano in the living room. There are books everywhere. Actual books with pages to turn! Lauren wants to make sure the kids have choices that will help them use their imaginations.

Family activities are also an important part of their lives. With limited electronics there is more time for interaction. The family grows a garden every year and each child is in charge of one crop. Lauren is in charge of what to do with the harvest and the kids are excited when one of their vegetables makes it to the table.

The kids participate in one sport per season, baseball in the spring, soccer in the fall and tennis in the summer. They spend a lot of time playing outside together as a family and they like to travel as a family. In fact, Brett and Lauren give a present of travel plans at Christmas. Lauren believes they get plenty of gifts from extended family and she says, “We want them to know our family values are not about stuff, but about being together, seeing the world and having unique experiences.”

When asked what his favorite free-time activity Jude said he likes to read. He just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After another moment of thought, he added that he also likes to play “baby bear” with his brother and sister. He said, “I am a bear who has learned to talk. Merrick is a mouse and Gabby is the mother. We can’t decide if she is the mouse mother or the bear mother.”
With no mention of Mario Brothers, Merrick and Gabby both said their favorite pastime is playing with workbooks.

Until Jude was around five, no electronic games were allowed at all. Over time Lauren realized it could be a good way to unwind and so the half hour rule came into being. The Horsley’s realized it was a normal part of growing up in this day and age and that it is okay to have down time. The funny thing is that the kids usually choose another activity rather than make their beds. And Lauren is okay with that.

All this amounts to pretty intensive parenting for Brett and Lauren. Lauren drives the kids 20 minutes each way during the week day so they can attend a French immersion school. Jude says, “My favorite subject is math because I’m good at it.” Gabby likes anything taught in French. Seeing the progress and joy in their children makes everything worth it. Lauren says, “Both Brett and I agree that a love of learning is important. We try and foster that in our home.”

A side benefit happened this summer when Lauren broke her ankle. Her bedroom was upstairs and it was hard to go up and down the stairs all day and so they kids were kind of own their own. Instead of running upstairs every few minutes to ask her what they could do, she could hear them downstairs happily playing Uno, one of their favorite games, for hours. She didn’t have to worry about them staring blankly at a computer or television screen, she knew they had each other.

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