I just spent a week with around sixty 4th - 6th graders at a YMCA camp in Minnesota's North Woods--just outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. It was a great week away from technology, surrounded by the beauty of lakes and woods. The students were great, but I noticed a few things that we (as a society, as parents) can work on.
1. Self-regulation. Students need to develop an awareness of how their actions effect others. Talking while one person is speaking (I notice this among adults, too), using indoor voices, words that aren't helpful.
2. Self-reliance. I don't mean this in the typical sense, but in the sense of not needing to constantly be entertained. The students did pretty well without technology for a week, but even while hiking in the splendor of the North Woods I heard a few students say, "I'm bored." This isn't a surprise to anyone who has been around children. They have a need to be entertained and lack the ability to do it on their own.
3. Table procedures. Every meal we ate was served family style. You know the one: large bowls of food on the table that get passed around as each person serves themselves with the amounts they actually think they can eat. The camp talked with the students about taking appropriate amounts of food to work toward having little food waste at the end of a meal. Students had to work on this. But I noticed as much of a struggle with knowing how to pass food around a table.
I suppose this isn't much of a surprise in a society where we're too busy with activities that we seldom have the time to eat a meal together. Even when there is time to eat together, families are smaller and we seldom eat family style where there is a need to pass dishes of food. Maybe the rare holiday with families.
I believe that this is the best place to start work. It takes intentionality, of course. And time. And work. But these things are typical for any work in a family. But in spending time together as a family, teaching children how to pass food around a table so that each member of the family receives everything, opportunities exist to talk and teach about how to handle time without entertainment and how to think about others.