Screen-Free Week

by Della H. Harris

boy playing game on computerAt times it seems as if the entire universe is tethered to an electrical wire of some type. Adults and children alike are constantly staring at a screen.

From televisions, video games, hand-held devices, computers, and smartphones, we have become increasingly dependent upon technology, immersed within an age of instant gratification to the point that even 30 seconds of commercial advertising can feel like an eternity!

Screen-Free Week is a time for participants to turn off and "tune in" plugging into life instead!

Why Go Screen-Free?

Kids today are faced with an unbelievable amount of screen time. The stats are simply staggering. Here are just a few:

  • The number of commercials viewed in a single year by those pre-k and under: 25,000
  • The average number of minutes per day school-age children are staring at a screen (tv, computer, or video game): 153,300
  • Percentage of children ages 6-17 who have TV's in their bedrooms: 50
  • Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
  • Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66
  • Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 38.5

Children (and adults) exposed to too much screen media time are at risk for at least some of the following:

  • Obesity
  • Lower attention span (and possibly ADD or ADHD)
  • Sleep disruption
  • Expression of less satisfaction with life in general (always in need of the more "instant gratification")
  • Behavioral issues and aggressiveness
  • Poorer academic performance
  • Far less development of creative play -- skills which build the foundation for problem solving, learning, and creativity later in life
  • Inability to interact and socialize well with others "in real life"

Here's Your Challenge

chasing a giant bubbleYou're invited to turn off and tune into life, joining thousands of others trying to break free of dependence upon screen media and work on developing a greater balance within your life.

Obviously, there can be tons of positives with the use of TV and computing; even video games may serve a purpose. Viewing screen media is generally a passive "non-activity" which can detract from more healthy, interpersonal, productive, rewarding and community-oriented choices. Turning it off for a few days can help families take time to evaluate their habits. The key is finding that level of moderation needed. Doing so for yourself and your family is definitely worth it and can positively impact future generations as well!

To help you reach your goal, we've created a list of general suggestions. Additionally, for each day, we've developed various themes which you may wish to focus on. Throughout the weeklong event, we will also present further activities on our community forums. Yes, we know you are "tuning out" but all things in moderation is your goal, remember!

1. Visit the library.
2. Plant a garden or container garden.
3. Go camping, even if it's in the back yard or living room.
4. Sort clothes and toys. Donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local rummage sale.
5. Take a nature hike. Make a collage with collected stuff and post on the refrigerator.
6. Play games. Designate a "family game night."
7. Visit the zoo.
8. Go to a community concert.
9. Paint a picture.
10. Play with your pet.
11. Check out activities at your community center.
12. Read a story to a younger sibling.
13. Learn some new jokes and riddles. Mom and dad can get kids to groan as they share some old favorites.
14. Bake two batches of cookies; share one with a neighbor.
15. Ask an older family member or friend to tell you a story about their childhood; write about it.
16. Begin a family project. Plan together from start to finish!
17. Get out the picture album and share memories. Now's the time to organize all those tossed in a drawer. Consider creating a scrapbook!
18. Write a letter or draw a picture for a friend or relative. Mail it at the post office (yes they still exist).
19. Learn to say simple phrases in several languages.
20. Cook dinner together.
21. Clay time! Make homemade play dough or salt dough. Have fun forming shapes. You can even bake and later paint your creation!
22. Explore your neighborhood: Take a walk or host a scavenger hunt around the block.
23. Play "cotton-ball" or sock-toss basketball.
24. Hold your own sing-a-long. No worries if it is not in perfect tune.
25. Have a teddy bear picnic. If it is too cold outside, spread a blanket in the living room.
26. Check with the school districts. Often the community and school may plan a few events or discounts for family observing the week.
27. Become a tourist in your own area. Seek free information from your local visitor's bureau. You may be surprised by new discoveries or pleasantly reminded of old favorites.
28. Pick a sport, any sport! Head to the back-yard, local park, or other venue and have fun! From Frisbees, badminton, kick ball, soccer, swimming, and more -- there are plenty to choose from!
29. Go fly a kite! We even have instructions for building your own!
30. Throw a party to celebrate TV-Free Week! Help raise awareness with your family and friends!

Focus Themes

Each day of our Screen-Free event, we've offered designated themes along with ideas for implementing within three different age groups: Baby, preschooler, older kids. Turn off your computers, electronic devices, and the television and spend that extra time doing something active and creating special memories with your family.

Monday: Today's focus is literature. Explore books, history and make your own. Need some ideas?

Baby: Take a walk. You do the walking; baby comes along in the stroller or sling. Make up a story about the birds, animals and plants you see or simply engage your little one by introducing new words, sights, and sounds.

Preschooler: Check out the library for drop in crafts and story hour. If there aren't any, still go! Search together and discover some new favorites to take home! Later, create finger or stick puppets and hold your own puppet show to act out a beloved story or nursery rhyme for additional fun!

Older Kids: Interview an older family or community member. Ask them to take you for a walk back in time and share a story from their childhood. Afterward, write and illustrate that story. The style is your choice: documentary, story form, plays or whatever you like.

Tuesday: Today's focus is artistic expression. This one has potential for some great pictures, so have your camera handy!

Baby: High chair edible art. The media: yogurt, instant pudding, whipped cream, applesauce. The background: the high chair tray. Suggested clothing: minimal! You'll be tapping into your child's natural dexterity as you help him draw shapes, pictures, or even letters in their name.

Preschoolers: Nature hike. Bring a bag and collect a FEW sticks, leaves, small rocks, shells, etc. Once home, offer glue and a piece of cardboard for a memory collage or help them make a shadow box for their room.

Older Kids: Want to experiment with natural dyes? Have you child research a bit and get together ingredients to make their own. Be certain to have old newspaper or other reusable art cloth on hand to cover your work area. The results are art you can wear and special memories together!

Wednesday: The focus today is on spring cleaning and sharing! Go through toys or clothes and set aside those for passing on or donating. Meanwhile, your little ones can have a blast getting re-acquainted with the stuff that has shifted to the lower levels.

Baby: Dump out the toy box. "Those on the bottom" are often like new. While baby is playing, you can be sorting out a few for donation.

Preschoolers: Play with toys and such while you do a little spring cleaning. Sometimes the sheer number of options can overwhelm a young child. Weed out the outgrown and broken ones. Then sort the rest into two or three baskets, leave one out, store the rest and swap out.

Result: A "new" batch of toys every couple weeks. This is also the age when little ones actually enjoy cleaning! Take advantage of this opportunity and let your little helper hunt down and wipe out fingerprints off the wall or crawl along baseboards with a damp cloth! It saves your back and leaves you free to tackle some of the more challenging chores (unless you have teens you can draft, too)!

Older Kids: Help sort toys and clothes for donation. Hop in the car and drop off at Goodwill, local charity such as Saint Vincent's, or a community rummage sale with proceeds going to a worthy cause. You can then swing by the park for a run on the way home. Don't forget to bring a healthy snack and water!

Thursday: Focus of the day -- music! Whether you make your own, sing a song together, or tune in on the radio, music can be food for the soul!

Baby: Put on the music, dance, sing and be silly. Wonderful exercise for you; great fun for baby! Just for curiosity's sake, try a different genre of music today.

Preschoolers: Make your own band! You can use a metal pot or bowl and big spoon for percussions. Create "shakers" by putting small beans or pebbles in a jar or container with a lid. Lids become cymbals and so on. Turn on a marching band (or make up your own melody) and march around the house. Together, you'll practice rhythmic sounds and movements.

Older Kids: This may be embarrassing for your older child. That's part of our parent's job after all. Clear the living room and invite your child(ren) to dance with you. Have a variety of musical genres available to choose from. Learn some of the newer dances from your tweens and teens and show them that you can "move it" with the best of them. You can even introduce them to some classic waltzes. While all of you may be reluctant to start, stick with it and you're bound to end in smiles or collapse in giggle with more than a few calories burned.

Friday: Our focus today is on picnics and campouts!

Baby: Tub time! It's an opportunity for great fun and learning opportunities. Use plastic cups and bowls to allow your child to play safely. What happens when the cup turns over? Will the water spill out this time? There is even more fun when siblings join in! Follow up with a "picnic" and nap.

Preschoolers: Picnic time for teddy bears! Is it still too cold outside? Not a problem! Toss a blanket on the floor. Invite your child to help make lunch. Experiment with a new dip for the veggies such as plain yogurt, lime juice and a touch of curry.

Older Kids: This age may get excited by an overnight camp-out. Let them invite a friend to join in if it's convenient. Weather not cooperating? Move it indoors! Toss a sheet over the card table and you've got an instant indoor tent. Add a flashlight and plan a grilled (oven or grill) dinner.

Over the weekend: Take part in community activities or create your own. Many areas may be hosting special Earth Day events to wind up Earth Week celebrations. Look for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Baby: Look to start your own vegetable garden or participate within a co-op garden within your local community. Your little one will love the feel of the earth between their fingers and toes and can even help by pushing seeds down into the dirt. Just think of the homemade baby food at harvest time!

Preschoolers: This age is perfect to grasp a basic understanding of the importance of caring for the world around us. Instilling good habits now will benefit all of us in years to come! Take your preschooler to a local community event, children's science museum, or even on a short nature hike. Finally, have your preschooler help think of ways your family can help in saving the earth like shutting off water while brushing teeth, or turning off lights when leaving a room.

Older Kids: Have you and your children "adopt a highway" and join in the clean up efforts. Take along a bag for collecting plastic bottles or aluminum cans. If convenient, drive by a landfill or dump. In addition to the toxic off-gassing creating a stench, show your child how much of those mounds contain items that don't decompose. Next, drop your collected garbage at the local recycling center. Point out how items are separated and discuss ways they are reclaimed as usable items.

What Does Screen-Free Week Accomplish?

The event isn't a punishment designed to drive you bonkers, but rather an awareness opportunity on how much time we spend engaged with these devices and how sedentary we are while using them. Let's take advantage of this week to disconnect the screen and reconnect with the people we love!

If you participate in the Screen-free Week, in whole or in part, please share your experience with us! We'd love to hear from you!