Stocking up the Holiday Entertainment Vending Machine

Abundant, cheap holiday entertainment for kids… now that would be useful.
Vending Machine

Anyone else feel like an entertainment vending machine during school vacation? It’s day 6 of our term one break and I already need a refill. Sorry kids, there’s only pretzels and bottled water on offer here. The boring stuff. I’m already getting that scratchy exhausted wanting-to-exercise feeling. But instead of exercising or being stimulated and feeling useful in paid work, I am finding myself cutting up bits of fruit and sandwiches to put on the food-train that travels at high speed from the supermarket, to the cupboard, to the plate and into the tunnel of the child’s mouth faster than a speeding bullet during the holidays.

There are another 10 days or so of this to go. I’m in trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I love having time off with my little treasure, but lately, there’s been a lot of time off to fill. We just finished a very short 8 week term after a 5 week break over Christmas. So, I feel a little ambushed by the early onset of Easter. Also, due to our recent Crazy Life Tsunami experience, which includes a reduced budget and a husband otherwise engaged somewhere in Africa, we haven’t been able to get out of town for the last 3 rounds of school holidays. So personally, I’m over it.

A lot of the kids I teach have parents who are rolling in cash (or rolling in debt), as they head off to Europe or Aspen or somewhere else fabulously inaccessible for us, which is definitely the optimum way to capitalize on school being out. But, what if you, like the other 99.9% of the planet don’t have the money for that kind of extravagance? How do you stop the, “I’m bored” commentary without spending all of your already stretched grocery money? Especially during the colder months. Holidays in the cold, sans snow, are almost certainly always harder to deal with, as the gloriously exhilarating and exhausting effects of rivers, pools and oceans become sick-inducing. We don’t want holidays and sick. Noohohoho. That’s not what we want at all.

I’m an ideas gal, so I’ve decided to sit down and generate a list to top up the old entertainment vending machine. It’s probably going to suck, so, if you have any further suggestions, I’d love to hear them. My daughter is 8 and an only child at present, so this has some baring on the activities I’m cooking up. Plus, I’m trying to avoid screen-time. Lord knows there is too much of that in all of our lives. Here goes…

Dry Weather Activities

  • Friends to play and visa versa – I work on the principle that more kids are less work, as they entertain one another
  • Organise a camping trip – with friends, a cheap way to get out of town
  • Feeding the ducks at the botanic garden
  • Bush walking/strolling
  • A back-yard camp out
  • A picnic
  • Gardening – pruning and/or planting – have kids help you with sweeping and clipping. Or gather some cuttings from a friend’s garden and plant them.
  • Hit the Parks –  playgrounds, skate parks, basketball courts
  • Do a park crawl of all the best local playgrounds
  • Look for freebee events at the Art Gallary etc
  • Hit the beach and collect some shells – make something with them or use them decoratively in your garden
  • Chalk on the pavement – create a mural or play hopscotch
  • Create movies – requires a camera – could edit on iMovies or another editing suite, teach them and they’ll be away
  • Get around and visit your friends living in obscure country locations
  • Lemonade stands or some other enterprise – my sister and I made chocolates and sold them to the neighbors as a way to earn pocket money when we were children.

Wet Weather Activities

  • Sleep overs – pajama parties
  • Visits to grandma/other favorite person
  • Organise some time volunteering together – for an opportunity shop or soup kitchen – I had this idea the other day and would really like to do it, as a way to help encourage my daughter to focus on helping others.
  • Baking – always a hit
  • Play ‘Restaurants’ (tie in cooking dinner with a game – great to incorporate social, literacy and numeracy skills with recipes, menus, sevice etc)
  • Trips to the library
  • An indoor picnic or tea party with teddies
  • Create a book reading cave with the couch in the lounge, a torch and some blankets
  • Choreograph a dance
  • Craft Activities (not my favourite pass-time, but Magic loves these)
  • Pull out the dress up box
  • Board Games
  • Visit the local pet store

Entertainment that costs, but not too much

  • Go dress-up shopping at the local thrift store
  • Trout fishing
  • Strawberry picking
  • Museum, zoo, aquarium, hobby farm visit, miniature train ride
  • Mini Golf

Now just for someone to organise and implement them.

Let me know if you have any creative, simple and cost effective ideas up your sleeve.

Links welcome!





Last year my teaching position was at a brand new public secondary college, which amongst its list of in-vogue boasts, became one of the first all iPad schools in Australia.

When I first met the principal in September 2010, he was toying with the idea of becoming an exclusively Apple school and rolling out the iPad. Thanks to my mac-head husband, he was impressed by the fact that I already owned one. An iPad1.

Needless to say, my little accessory helped me get the job, and, while everyone else waited for their devices to arrive, I was the hippest cat in school. Sadly, my fifteen minutes of cutting-edge-tech-geek-fame were over, just four short weeks after the school year began. iPad2 was launched. Overnight, my zippy little machine became a relic.

Two weeks ago, just another short year later, The New iPad hit stores.

Typically, there was a buzz around it all. Some Vietnamese bloggers managed to unwrap it and go viral with the footage, before Apple officially did. The clip had an uncanny resemblance of some of the golden ticket scenes from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In the same fashion, people were camped out, lining up around the block and smooshed against the glass of stores to get their latest Wonka tablet on Friday March 9.

“It’s amazing!”

“So beautifully packaged!”

“Such a fine piece of technology.”

“So intuitive.”

“And economical”

“Look how streamline it is!”

“The potential is incredible!”

Yes. Sure. I absolutely agree. But, there are some things about all of this iMania that really bother me.

Let’s start with the fact that, thanks to Apple, technology years have become like dog years. Similar rules apply. Like a dog, my 2-year-old machine is the equivalent of 24-years-old in human years. Oh and the bigger the dog or device, the quicker it ages. Continuing with the comparison, this means iPad1 would be ready to retire at 10 years of age. Hmm, I’ll be lucky to get another 2 years out of it.

So, thanks to Apple, technology years have become much, much shorter than dog years.

As an educator, it seems wonderful that students (in developed countries or privileged schools) are able to gain access to a one-to-one device for an affordable price. The potential is enormous. Just days ago, I was back sub’ teaching at my old school and I marvelled at how students could read, calculate, research, create, organise and play, all on something lighter than a textbook.  Wonderment aside, watching us encouraged to upgrade our devices sooner than we change a long-life light bulb, makes me very, very uneasy.

The question begs to be asked, what is the real cost of that illustrious little ‘i’ and all of its electronic friends?

I’ve done a little scratching around to find out…

The Human Cost

In May of last year, Lai Xiaodong and two of his colleagues paid for our beloved ‘i’ with his life in an explosion at an Apple factory in China. A New York Times article details this event along with a number of other perilously strenuous working conditions that violate human rights. These include pressure to work excessive overtime, exposure to hazardous toxins, cramped living conditions, under-aged labor, low wages and a blatant disregard for employee health. The aforementioned factory blast is not an isolated event, neither is the event of injury and death. Unfortunately there have been more than just accidental deaths occurring, this Sydney Morning Herald article lists concerns of the alarming amount of worker suicides, which have occurred as a result of the demands upon them.

As Wagstaff’s Time report points out, there is a deep irony in all of us sitting around smugly sipping fair trade coffee and tapping away on our iProducts. Not that these occurrences are isolated to Apple products, they are just insisting on being the stars of the show.

I sincerely hope that fighting for fair trade electronics can become as sexy as the crusade for fair trade chocolate and coffee beans has.

Speaking of sexy, do you remember that Lionardo DiCaprio movie, Blood Diamond? Remember it showed the way the innocent little rock that every girl in the West wants has caused enormous conflict and helped finance war in parts of Africa? Well, I know that ignorance is bliss, but similar atrocities are being financed by our love of electronic devices.

All the bells and whistles of our e-bits have not materialized from plastic and glass factories. They are created with minerals from the earth. Tin for the solder boards, tantalum for battery charging, tungsten for vibrating phones and even gold for conductivity and soldering.

KY3 highlights that the Eastern Congo is in a right mess because of the conflict caused by the demand for the minerals that go into all of our electronic devices.

The Environmental Costs

Where did all the dinosaurs go? Into the ground and that is exactly where our toxic laden dinosaur devices are going – well either that, or, like me you have a drawer full of them that you’re not really sure what to do with. The point is, they do not just vaporise. And they most certainly are not biodegradable. Levels of electronic waste are increasing at six times the rate of other domestic and industrial waste

Apparently just one Apple factory cranks out 1000 iPads a day. One Thousand. Per day.

Now, Apple runs a lot of factories. They pump out a lot of different products and then create a lot of new products to pump out and replace the one you just bought. Does your iPad or iPhone come with instructions of what to do with it when you upgrade in a year? Or are you supposed to know that intuitively, too? And what about all of that beautiful packaging? Is it, or can it be recycled?

For a cutting edge multi-billion dollar company operating in a world with serious environmental threats, these kinds of gaps are utterly irresponsible.

The Value Cost

Another concern around the rate at which new, widely accessible technology devices become available is what it does to our ability to truly value what we have. This is not a new issue. It has become progressively more ingrained in the fabric of society, since the 1950s, when the powers that be decided we needed to more consume stuff to make post-war society productive and positive. (See this fantastic expose on The Story of Stuff).

The speed at which new technology products have fed the marketing machine has accelerated this consumerism. New technology has also, by design made marketing more sophisticated, pervasive and allowed us to spend on impulse at the click of a button. It is fueling a frenzy of iWant, iGet. And we can get it, because, the price tag is low.

It is low, because someone else is paying.

What is unsettling is that, on the surface, all of our iTechnology nestles in so comfortably with some of our current highest ideals.

The iPad school I work at synonymously promoted it’s commitment to sustainability, social justice and helping create global citizens, along with it’s commitment to cutting edge technology. These notions are entirely relevant and appealing for parents trying to prepare children for life in the 21st century, but as we have seen, there are issues around the iProducts that mean the hidden costs of this technology is incongruent with these other high ideals.

Yet, there is something about Apple products that are still so utterly desirable. I have been, for the most part, completely sucked in. Judging by every second person that walks past fingering their iPhone, I am not alone. This is because some switched-on people somewhere over at Apple sat down and very cleverly packaged us an identity.

When we see an Apple product, we see relevance, intelligence, innovation, sophisticated simplicity, ease, beauty, creativity and uniqueness. What’s not to want about that? And it is probably more reliable than a relationship to boot; if there’s something wrong with it, you can just upgrade to the next glitch free generation.

How can we possibly value what we have, when it’s true cost is not reflected in its beautiful packaging or the dollar price we pay or the ease with which it is replaced?

In creating product platforms that promote social connectivity, responsibility for our ethical connectivity from the start to the finish of the supply chain needs to be taken seriously.  For the Apple identity to be authentic, we need more than an iPhone app listing Fair Trade t-shirt, cocoa and caffeine items. We need Apple to get their six figure earning sex-me-up think tank to bring a fair trade, sustainability action plan to the consumer table and activate it throughout the production cycle. Those of us that love their brand would be right on board. Otherwise Apple are merely marketing high-tech whitewashed tombs.