Never Underestimate the Value of Off-Grid Entertainment

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My oldest son was really into Cub Scouts when he was little. One evening when he was nine, as soon as we got home, he started pulling food out of the fridge.

“What on earth are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to put all the food from the fridge into the root cellar and then shut off the main breaker,” he explained. “We’re supposed to not use any electricity for a week.”

We reached a happy compromise.

I got his Cub Scout book and read the requirements, which were to reduce electricity use for a week, not eliminate it entirely. I explained that we were not shutting off the main breaker and that he was putting all the food back in the fridge. We got into a lengthy argument over this, but eventually, while making it clear that I was obviously the lamest parent he knew, he agreed that we would simply not use any forms of electronic entertainment for the week.  

We don’t have video games at my house, but my kids and I have been in the habit of watching an hour or two of TV most evenings. So, that week, we spent time instead reading, playing games, drawing, and playing musical instruments. All three of my kids were elementary school age at the time, but there were very few fits about the lack of TV. I had to be a little more engaged, but we had fun.

off-grid entertainment

Energy supply for this coming winter has been on the top of my mind lately. Yes, gas prices have fallen a little bit, but only because Biden’s been releasing oil from the Strategic Reserve before the midterms. This is so short-sighted and irresponsible it boggles the mind, but that’s the situation we face. After the midterms, who knows what will happen?  

A lot of people (myself included) only got into prepping after having kids.

Whether it was the new-found sense of responsibility or some kind of disaster (failed marriage, lost job, etc.), many of us found ourselves thinking more about how to handle emergencies.  

While each one of us has a different living situation, some with access to awesome rural bug-out locations and with only adults to look after, others of us will have to think about how to keep the kids from driving each other (and us!) nuts. But we have a lot of options.

Arts and crafts are a staple.

Without TV or the internet, many kids (more likely girls) can be occupied for a long time with arts and crafts. 

Most boys will do better with scrap wood and tools. Never underestimate the entertainment value of a block of wood and some nails or a saw. Just watch carefully. If you have room in your budget, places like Michael’s have projects and craft kits that offer hours upon hours of entertainment.

Never forget about drawing.

Or, if you’re like my dad and you’re on a very tight budget, if you work at an office, you can grab the partially-used paper out of the recycling bin and bring it home to have a supply for your kids. I don’t think my parents ever bought drawing paper when I was little. Dad just had a basket next to his desk full of paper that only had printing on one side, and that was what we used.

I did something similar when I worked in energy. I would bring home out-of-date 24 x 36 alignment sheets to use for kids’ projects. Most offices generate a huge amount of waste that’s only partially used. If you work in an office and are looking to create a stockpile of cheap craft supplies for your kids, keep an eye out.  

We drew pictures on our own, but games like Magic Drawings will also keep kids entertained for large chunks of time. Magic Drawings is the game where you draw a face, fold the paper over, pass it to the person next to you who draws a torso, then folds it down and passes it to the person next to them, and they draw the legs. Then, when done, you open up the paper and see what you’ve come up with. 

It’s usually pretty funny. And if you have more than three players, you can just split up the body proportions as needed (head/torso/legs/feet, or head/chest/stomach/legs/feet, and so on).  

Are there alternatives for exercise?

Keeping a pile of board games and decks of cards on hand is a good idea, but what about when kids need to burn energy?

If you live in the country, I’m sure you already have an endless supply of chores that kids can help with. But what about people stuck in suburban or urban environments?  

I lived in a very poor urban neighborhood for a few years in the 80s. And yes, kids got into trouble a lot, but I was amazed at the amount of time neighborhood kids could spend jumping rope and playing hand-clap games. 

If you’re surrounded by pavement and have limited space, some jump ropes might be a good investment. And if you can’t remember hand clap games, here’s a YouTube video with some I played when I was little.

Books can be a great substitute for TV.

I used to be a big library patron until mine was taken over by homeless people. 

They’ve since hired a security guard, but I’ve had time periods where we’ve had to make do with what we have at home, and I do believe, if you can possibly afford it, it’s worthwhile to build a good supply of books.  

Books can be an expensive hobby, but they don’t need to be. If you’re looking to build your personal library now, if you live in a big city, places like Half Price Books often have a lot of fun stuff. In my area, thrift stores like Good Will and Arc will often have a decent selection, too. And, of course, you can always look online for used books.  

My kids and I still read together most nights, even though they’re teenagers. The value of reading aloud is really underrated. If you have elementary school-age children, obviously, reading out loud together helps them academically. But what if your kids are already competent readers?

It’s still worth it to read together. You have something to talk about. If the kids aren’t seeing their friends at school, well, you can gossip about Hector and Achilles instead. Or Harry Potter. Or the kids in Hunger Games. Books give your kids a social circle when they don’t have access to one in real life, and they can’t contact their friends on the phone. 

(Looking for more information on how to survive a summer power outage? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to learn more.)

And then there’s music. 

Conversations about prepping and survival usually center around food and shelter, and rightly so. But if we are looking at an extended period of time with greatly reduced resources, we need to think about becoming self-sufficient in terms of entertainment, too.  

Getting together to play music is still common in many parts of the world. Most people know about jam sessions at pubs in Ireland, but impromptu musical sessions occur elsewhere in Europe, too. I spent time with friends in Norway a while back, and that was what we did every night. Those of us that could play instruments played, and those who couldn’t sing. It was really fun.  

off-grid entertainment

Many people lack confidence in their own musical ability and are too self-conscious to enjoy amateur music. 

We need to keep in mind that the music we hear on the radio has been recorded and mixed and edited. Think about live concerts you’ve been to. Did the musicians nail every note perfectly every time? I think the only musician I’ve seen pull that off was “Weird Al” Yankovic. Every other concert I’ve been to has had a few missed beats or off notes. 

But everyone still has a good time. 

Modify your expectations, let the person with the best pitch sing loudest, and have fun with it.

There are musical games you can play, as well.

My dad didn’t have a dishwasher growing up (I don’t have one, either), and so he and his brothers would sing in rounds as they cleaned the kitchen. “Three Blind Mice” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” were the ones they’d sing most often, but there are a lot of musical rounds out there, such as the ones on this page.

Children are extra mouths to feed, but they can also be assets.

Older children may be able to help with serious projects, whether cooking, butchering, or helping set up security systems. But younger children can be team members, too. In Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, the widowed old grandfather gets so excited at the birth of his first grandchild because it means he will have someone to help keep his bed warm in the winter. All of us in cold climates may need that this year.  

Families were happy and had fun together before all of our modern methods of entertainment. The overwhelming majority of kids need to use electronic devices for school (I know mine do!), but we don’t need to depend on them for enjoyment. If we’re stuck with sky-high energy prices this winter and need to severely restrict energy usage, fall back on older methods of having fun.   Here are some more ideas for keeping kids entertained and adults busy without reliance on electricity.

None of this should be taken as any kind of excusing the mess we’re in. We can do our best to cope with hardship, but that doesn’t absolve our leaders from their disastrous decisions. Our energy crisis was completely preventable. The food shortages have been mostly preventable too. 

All we can do is hope for the best but plan for the worst. Making plans to keep our kids mentally healthy and pleasant to be around is part of that.  

How do your own kids keep themselves entertained without the omnipresent devices and video games? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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About Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.


Marie Hawthorne

Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

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  • About books…I have a large home library (I am a homeschooler). Free and cheap is how I have acquired most of them from yard sales, public library sales, homeschooling curriculum sales, Goodwill, and the clearance section at Half Price Books. Games can be found in the same places, and I sometimes get them in hopes of replacing missing pieces from the one I already own. This time of year usually you can get notebooks and crayons and colored pencils cheaper than the rest of the year. (Though, there are few notebooks at Walmart this year in Ohio or Kentucky.)

    • My oldest daughter and I own a house together. Her daughter lives with us. I have been a prodigious reader since I was a little kid as has my daughter. We have so many books between us we could open a library branch. Granddaughter is five, but she is becoming a good reader for her age. Of course we encourage that through reading a lot ourselves where she can see us and reading aloud to her. As a result, her spoken vocabulary is also extensive and she amazes other adults with some of the words she uses in conversation. She likes to flip through my medical books on anatomy (I used to be a paramedic) and knows the names of a lot of bones and other body parts. I caught her once going through a book I have on the medicolegal investigation of death which has a lot of gruesome photos. She wasn’t fazed a bit.

  • We stocked crayons, coloring books, map pencils, map pencil books, many different skill level games, several beginner level musical instruments,
    lots of notebooks and paper for drawing, older games like ball & jacks, pick up sticks, legos, Tinkertoy, Legos,
    a school microscope with prepared scientific slides, and a battery operated DVD player for a single family movie for the week.
    Most game pieces can be ordered through the game company that made the game although buying another game used could be less expensive.

  • Maybe teaching kids to sew or knit? A useful skill is always handy. I especially like this article because kids are spending way too much time with electronics these days and not getting enough social stimulus. I think this would also help with developing attention span.

    • Completely agree! Though, from personal experience, don’t try to teach a child that’s too young to sew or knit. You could put them off the activity for many years. If you notice they don’t have yet the patience for it, leave it till they’re a bit older.

      • I agree you need to watch their capabilities and not overload them. My wife was a professional seamstress (our basement looked like a sweatshop full of industrial sewing machines). When our two daughters got old enough, they were first taught how to hand sew simple things and repair Barbie clothing. As they got older, they learned how to use home sewing machines. As teenagers they were using the industrials. Both are accomplished sewers now as adults. Not to the level of their mom, but still skilled. And they know how to use the old treadle sewing machine their mom owns in the event of grid down.

    • My five year old granddaughter loves jigsaw puzzles. She will pull them out and play with them by herself. She is working on puzzles for older kids and does just fine. She is also turning into a good reader and a math whiz. She’s homeschooled by her parents and I chip in too. She wants to be a scientist when she grows up. What kind? “A mad scientist” she says with a sly smirk. 🙂

  • When my child was younger, one night a week was game night. We would put on our p.j.’s, have breakfast for dinner, unplug and turn off all phones..and play games. We had on old book that had rules on how to play all kind of games as well as a dorky joke book. Such good memories.

  • Donkey’s years ago when our sons were little but had passed the picture book stage, we read aloud as a family. My husband read Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer. I read aloud the first couple of Soup books. Very fond memories.

  • We’ve collected quite the assortment of board games and have family game nights. And although my husband doesn’t have the patience for LEGOS my son and I looove them. I have to admit I’m kind of obsessed and sometimes enjoy building more than my son ????

  • My Grandkids will go into collective apoplexy when their phones and computers go dead. Not to worry though. Grandma and Grandpa have plenty for the little Videots to do and learn.

  • My parents didn’t have an electric dishwasher. Seeing as there were seven kids and two adults, dishes could really pile up just for one meal. We asked my dad to buy a dishwasher. He answered, “Why? Your mom gave birth to seven perfectly good ones.” My mom always preferred for the boys to do dishes as we got in, got them done right, and got out. My sisters would carry on, drag the process out, do a poor job, and make my mom pull her hair out.

  • When I was a kid we spent hours every day playing outdoors playing tag, whiffle ball, and kickball. We even made up a few games like Mr. McGregor’s Garden and The Witch at the Well. Riding our bikes around the neighborhood was something that all the neighborhood kids did as well as playing in the sandbox with our toy cars and trucks.

  • My internet router died on Wednesday night, the victim of a power surge during a thunderstorm (so was the surge suppressor!).

    My kids came home from school yesterday. My son said, “Hey, why doesn’t the Roku work?” My daughter couldn’t play some on-line builder game on her Kindle.

    “Sorry, guys. No internet. Read a book.”

    They did do some reading. They didn’t ask me for a hot spot using my phone. And we had an early game night (school being already back in session). And they had fun. My little girl said, “We need to do this more often.”

    I told her, “Fine. Just turn off the TV and put down the devices when we get home.”

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