Posts Tagged ‘before electricity’

I may have been the only kid in the world who was happy when the summer weather started to end.  Shorter days and longer nights meant that it was truly dark outside when I went to bed and got to feel like I’d stayed up late even though I hadn’t.  Most importantly though—the end of summer weather meant that the rainy season was coming, and, if I was lucky, that meant blackouts.

As an adult blackouts are kind of annoying because they keep me from getting work done (or worse, they interrupt my DVR recordings), but once the initial annoyance passes and I’m left trying to figure out how to entertain myself without any kind of technology, I think back to my childhood and can’t help but smile.  I loved blackouts as a kid.

I loved wandering around the house with candles and flashlights.  It was like my own adventure; the house was familiar and yet strangely foreign.  The best part about power outages though, was that I always learned really cool things when we had no power.

When I couldn’t watch movies, I learned that movies were just a series of still images shown one right after the other (at least they were when I was growing up, back in the days before digital movie projectors) and from that I learned how to make flip books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_book).  When we couldn’t use the refrigerator, Mom told me about how people used to preserve foods before refrigerators existed and explained the canning and drying processes.  I learned that I was better at jigsaw puzzles than my brother and sister, but that my sister will always win Scrabble games, and my bother somehow has ridiculous luck with Yahtzee dice.  My dad taught me how to make the best couch forts and paper airplanes.  My mom taught me to sew things by hand and my grandmother taught me how to knit.  Grandma also taught me a lot of different card games (due to a blackout, I learned to play poker when I was 11).  

My family has always been big on finding teachable moments, and blackouts were prime time for learning about how the world was before electricity.  Blackouts were like my own personal time machine; I learned a lot about the way things used to be done because I was living the same way people used to.  (And when I started learning about the Oregon Trail in school, I felt a connection with the covered wagon travelers—I knew about how they had to preserve food, sew clothes by hand, and entertain themselves with cards and dice.) 

So the next time a blackout rolls through your neighborhood, instead of packing up the kids and going somewhere that still has power, use the blackout as an opportunity to teach your kids a little practical history.  Spend a few hours learning about the way things used to be done and creating your own entertainment; you’ll have a lot of fun spending time with your family (and when the power comes back on, I guarantee that you’ll have a renewed love for your light switches).

If you live in an area with a relatively stable power grid and don’t have blackouts very often, make your own!  (Bonus:  Blackouts created by hand equal electricity bill savings created by hand.)  Find the breakers for your house or apartment and just flip the main.  You’ll have to reset the clocks on your microwave and stove (and don’t forget your alarm clock!), but at least you probably won’t have to deal with the dreaded VCR clock my dad always complained about. 

Here’s some ideas for electricity free activities:

  • Hide batteries and flashlights around the house and go on a treasure hunt (complete with maps and clues) to find them before it gets dark.
  • Make your own beef jerky, just like people did before they could keep meat in refrigerators.  (Bonus:  Use the jerky as snacks for the following week.  Home made jerky is also a cool show and tell item—kids will love the ‘I made it myself’ factor.)
  • Knit scarves for cold weather.  (Learn to knit here:  http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/how-to-knit.htm or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uw-nUvGrBY)
  • Create a flip book.
  • Have a paper airplane race.
  • Using sheets, turn your entire living room into a giant fort (and see how the sheets glow when you light them from inside with flashlights).
  • Lay out an area on your floor and get the whole family to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle.  (Make your own smaller puzzles by cutting magazine pictures or drawings into interesting shapes.)
  • Act out your favorite movies, or even better, write your own play!  (Or use puppets made from socks or paper bags to act them out.)
  • Cook outside.  Fire up the grill or cook hotdogs over an open fire in the backyard. (Be safe and use a fire pit or make sure to line your fire with stones to keep it in one place.)
  • Hand write letters to friends and family members telling them how much you love them.
  • Stargaze.  If the power is out in your neighborhood, there will be less ambient light and the stars should be more visible.

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