Thanksgiving is undoubtedly my VERY favorite holiday. And interestingly, it isn’t at all because of the food (although I DO love stuffing.) For me, it is because it offers everything I crave every other day of the year—the chance to stop time and reconnect with those I love.

On this one day we are actually given permission to turn off the world around us. We are encouraged to tune out the 24/7 news cycle and the coverage of the latest tragedies in our world and rediscover the goodness that exists right in our own homes. We can quiet the noise in our heads, take a deep breath, enjoy the aroma of familiar comfort foods, and truly relax. We are finally able to decompress and settle in one cozy spot for more than a moment with those who mean the most to us and laugh, share stories, and feel kinship and warmth in a setting without pressure.

In today’s world, Thanksgiving offers an even bigger gift and more meaning than ever before—because it brings us back to an idyllic time when life was much less complicated.

I don’t know about you, but I feel strongly that screens hamper our ability to develop profound connections and create lasting memories. And I am so focused on making this Thanksgiving one that is conducive to building meaningful connections that I’m declaring it screen-free. It will not be easy—don’t forget that I have six children ranging in age from 9 to 24 who are sadly tethered to their screens in a not-so-healthy way. But for this one day I am finally putting down my foot and requiring that everyone within and entering my home turns off their screen and puts way their smartphones and tablets.

I’d like everyone to actually look each other in the eye and focus on what they are saying rather than on a screen. My goal is to make every person in our home experience the joy of pure connection without any artificial stimulant in the way. Not so novel for those of us who grew up decades ago, but clearly a challenge today!

I believe it is a worthy challenge for all of us: Let’s promise to connect and play this holiday. I’m hoping the feeling of warmth and true, unfettered connection will be so powerful to my family members that they will CHOOSE to incorporate more moments like this into their lives even after Thanksgiving. Here are some ideas for turning off screens, turning on imaginations, and making connections.

During the Car Ride

The day before Thanksgiving is one the busiest travel days of the year. Try these activities to help pass the time:

  • Have a Sing-Along: Take turns teaching each other songs you know. Older kids may enjoy a challenge so do a round where everyone has to suggest a song featuring a mode of transportation or a song that features a food.
  • Try Tongue Twisters: Print out a list of tongue twisters and have everyone try saying them. It is hysterical and one of my family’s favorite travel activities!
  • Read Aloud: Assuming the grown-up in the passenger seat doesn’t get motion sickness while reading, this could be a great time to read aloud a classic for the whole family such as Swiss Family Robinson, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Charlotte’s Web, The Tale of Desperaux, Mandy, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, or any book by Roald Dahl.
  • Play the License Plate Game: One of my favorite childhood car ride games was the license plate game (which has now been turned into a real life Melissa & Doug game!) Each player picks a number of license plates they believe they will find during their travel time. They then call out different state plates as they see them. A state can only be called once, and once it is called it is out of play and credit is given to the first player who saw it. Whoever gets closest to their chosen number of states wins!
  • Guess Arrival Time: Our family members also enjoy guessing the exact time we will arrive at our destination. Closest guess is the winner!

Before Dinner

  • Decorate a Sign for a Device-Free Basket: Enlist kids to help you decorate a basket where tablets and phones can be placed during the Thanksgiving festivities.
  • Cook Up Some Fun: Invite children to help with the cooking. Kids enjoying nothing more than finding ingredients, measuring them out, and mixing them up! Stimulate their senses by encouraging them to taste, smell, and touch different ingredients. Ask them to describe their observations.
  • Get Crafty: Set out art supplies and encourage kids to make place mats or place cards. Is there a kids’ table? Charge kids with making a unique centerpiece for that table. Send them outside to seek out pretty pebbles, twigs, leaves, or pine cones that can be wiped off and brought inside for the arrangement.
  • After Dessert
    Look Through Photo Albums: Kids love looking at pictures. Instead of scrolling through digital photos, pull out your old photo albums and boxes. This is especially fun at the grandparents’ house when kids can guess who is who and enjoy looking at st‌yles and hairdos from the olden days. Plus, they can learn about their relatives and what they did for fun before smart phones!
  • Put on a Talent Show: Everyone has a talent—whether it is singing a song, doing a cartwheel, telling jokes, doing an impression, performing magic tricks, or simply wiggling your ears. Challenge the whole family to think of one talent they can show off to the others. Give them enough time to think of their talent and practice it if necessary. Encourage group acts as well. Perhaps the young cousins will want to choreograph a quick dance. Set a showtime, designate a “stage,” and enjoy the laughs!
  • Play a Family Game or Work on a Puzzle Together: Family games get the whole family together in such a fun and engaging way to build connection and laughter. We love games like PicWits, Apples to Apples, Scattergories, and Heads Up that are fun no matter what the age. Another fun activity that the whole family can enjoy and come back to again and again over several days is a high-piece-count jigsaw puzzle. Younger kids can participate by sorting out straight-edge pieces, sorting by primary color on the piece, or searching for corner pieces.
  • Interview a Grown-Up: Encourage kids to get to know their grandparent (or another grown-up family member) by interviewing them. Tell kids to pretend like they are the host of a talk show and have to get the interview subject to open up about their life. Some questions to ask:
    • Who was your best friend when you were my age? What did you play?
    • Describe the house and town where you grew up?
    • What was your favorite toy?
    • What was your favorite game?
    • What are some funny things my mom or dad did when they were a kid?
  • Get Outside: We make it a tradition to go to the Thanksgiving Day football game at our high school which is a tremendous rivalry and festive fun. But if not that, be sure to find time to get outside as a family. Start a Thanksgiving tradition such as an annual flag football game, 2-on-2 soccer or basketball tournament, a relay race, or a nature hike! There is no better way to connect than through nature!
  • Share Thanks, a Compliment, or Good News: Go around the dinner table, each saying what you’re thankful for, what you admire about the person next to you, and a story about something interesting that happened to you this past year.

What ideas do you have to successfully unplug your own family? Share in the comments and good luck unplugging this week. Here’s hoping for a warm, uplifting and wonder-filled holiday for all!

Featured Photo Courtesy: David Leo Veksler via Flickr

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