Over 100 hang up on tech for Noojmowin Teg’s annual family challenge

Families and friends got cozy during the challenge as they prepared to leave technology behind for 24 hours. photos by Warren Schlote

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – For a span of 24 hours between noon on Saturday, February 8 and Sunday, February 9 at the Four Directions Complex in Aundeck Omni Kaning, more than 110 people pledged to go without technology as part of a prize-filled challenge run by Noojmowin Teg Health Centre.

“The whole idea is to disconnect from the world and reconnect as families,” said event organizer Nelson Wood, who works as the healthy living children’s co-ordinator at Noojmowin Teg. “It went well! We saw a lot of smiles; our photographer was showing me pictures of kids running around with big grins.”

This was the second edition of the Noojmowin Teg No Technology Challenge; the inaugural event took place in 2018. Its return was popular—the availability for overnight tent camping within the community centre was full to capacity and the daytime-only attendees list was also rather lengthy. It was a positive conclusion for Mr. Wood who said he has been planning this event since October.

The No Technology Challenge is more than a simple competition to see who can best resist the beckoning of candies to be crushed or mines to be crafted. Mr. Wood said the event is designed with the broader family ecosystem in mind.

“We’re trying to think of every aspect of family time. Instead of picking up our phones, let’s read a book or work together in the kitchen,” he said. “Nowadays, we seem to be getting away from that shared time. Yes, we all have hectic schedules, but it’s how you use that time you have.”

All of those above activities were available to participants at this event, which had a highly varied schedule with offerings designed to appeal to an array of challengers.

The activities ranged from less structured, such as board games, reading, air hockey, pool, skating and gym sports, to guided workshops on topics such as beading, pillow making, fire making, painting and bath bomb making. A workshop on pressure canning deer meat and making strawberry leather provided that kitchen connection time Mr. Wood said was so important.

Eight-year-old Luke Corbiere, left, won the camping prize pack while 10-year-old Nyala O’Connor took home the ice fishing collection.

Although many parts of the event were geared toward keeping children entertained without the habitual comforts of technology, there was a significant education component for the adults as well.

“We think of kids who use technology for that instant fix, but we need to look at who they’re watching. A lot of times, parents have gotten into the habit of looking at their own devices, and that can set a bad example,” said Mr. Wood.

As technology grows even more powerful and prevalent in modern life, Mr. Wood said events like these are more important than ever.

“This is an area we need to focus on, especially with all the health studies coming out about how technology and screen time can be harmful, and how a lot of kids are getting twice or more screen time than a healthy amount,” he said, noting that gaming disorder has recently been listed by the World Health Organization as a legitimate health problem pertaining to addictive behaviour.

“Even something as simple as checking the time. Who wears a watch anymore, let alone an analog one? People look to their phones for the time,” he said.

The winter season has been a natural fit for this event, especially on days like the Saturday when wind chill values dipped below 

-30°C and people are less likely to get active outdoors.

“I like the winter because people feel cooped up and like they don’t know what to do. Things like (this event) are a reminder that there’s still lots of things to do,” said Mr. Wood.

It also aligns in the calendar nicely with Family Day—this challenge usually happens a week before the relatively new family-centric February holiday, so families have a chance to put the lessons from the No Technology Challenge into practice immediately, hopefully cementing those ideas into their minds.

For the next edition of this challenge, Mr. Wood said he wanted to continue the successful model and keep growing it in new ways. 

“I’d like to get even more community involvement like we did this year with Mnaamodzawin Health Services, but get even more community groups and agencies involved,” he said.

For the inaugural event, Mr. Wood partnered with Hasbro so each family could take home a board game for family fun. Unfortunately, the company was unable to help out this year, but Mr. Wood said he would be working to secure their support for the next event.

“I also have grand goals of maybe even offering outdoor camping in tents in the winter, and there’s a lot of interest in doing this more than once a year,” he said, adding with a laugh that it would be a massive undertaking on his part to plan more than one annual event.

On Sunday morning, right before the end of the challenge, Mr. Wood called up the families who competed in the Amazing Race challenge with Mnidoo Mnising Crisis Response Team. This was a series of stations that families or other groups visited, where they completed challenges and received stamps on a passport.

The top three teams got the first choice of prizes before all of the other teams were called up at random to select their prizes.

Then, finally, the pièces de résistance: two grand prize draws for outdoor family-themed prize packs worth nearly $1,000 each. The first, an ice fishing kit including rods, auger, hut and other accessories, went to M’Chigeeng resident Nyala O’Connor, 10 years old.

Eight-year-old Luke Corbiere of Aundeck Omni Kaning won a camping set which featured a tent, camp chairs, an air mattress and other fun items and tools designed for a campsite.

With the prizes distributed, it was time for the challengers to retrieve their devices from the lock-up and return to their daily lives. Although they had outlasted the 24-hour milestone, the real challenge would come in the days and weeks that followed—how to use the lessons from this event to make a brighter future, with less light from their phone’s screen.