Screen-Free Week: Top Ten Ways to Get Kids Unplugged

by Jackie Hershwitz

Screen-Free WeekIt's Screen-Free Week 2012! Have you filled up your calendar with creative play time, fun and activities?

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood challenges parents to get kids away from electronic screens for seven days.

Last year, looked at turning off and tuning in to life.

This year we're seeing how parents can turn Screen-Free week into a scream-free week. But first, let's take a peek at kids and the stats.

Why Go Screen-Free?

Today, kids spend an unbelievable amount of time in front of a screen. It doesn't matter if it is the TV or computer -- the stats might alarm you.

  • Children spend an average of seven and a half hours each day in front of a television, computer screen or playing video games.
  • Preschoolers watch 32 hours of TV each week.
  • The average preschooler sees 25,000 TV commercials a year.
  • Nineteen percent of infants one and under have televisions in their room.

The children who spend too much time watching these screens face increased odds of developing conditions that can affect them in the future.

  • The more time preschooler and babies spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with their parents.
  • Screen time for kids under three is linked to irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition.
  • Toddler screen time is associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity and increased BMI.
  • The more time a child spends with screens, the less time they spend in creative play, the foundation of learning, constructive problem solving and creativity.
  • Kids with two or more hours of daily screen time face increased psychological difficulties, including hyperactivity, emotional and aggression.

Here's Your Challenge

Less screen time for kids translates to a better diet, more exercise, less aggression, better school performance and a list too long to include here. If the media monster has taken a central spot in your home, here's how you can send it to its corner.

During the week of April 30 to May 6, we invite you to become a "turned off" family. Unplug those screen and plug into life instead! Parents, that means you, too. Stash the mobile phone, turn off the iPads and power-down those computer screens. We'll make an exception for, of course!

If your family's a noob at going without gadgets, load the first couple days with fun things to do, like going outside. Don't be left twidding your thumbs! Later in the week, you can ease up and allow more unstructured time for the kids to invent their own play and activities.

To help you reach your goal, we've put together a list of ten activities to turn Screen-Free week into a scream-free week.

1. Read an Action-Packed Book

"Fix-It" by David McPhail tells the adventures a family of bears whose TV breaks. Thumb through books like "Gilberto and the Wind" by Marie Hall Ets for imaginative outdoor play ideas.

2. Make a Backyard Zoo

Set up a cardboard box or a card table covered with a sheet. Invite a bear to make it a home. Whether your child or a stuffed animal resides there, that zoo dweller needs food, water and entertainment.

3. Sock Basketball and other Silly Games

Have socks that have misplaced their mates? Set up a game of sock basketball. Even the tiniest kids will be thrilled when they "score."

4. Support Your Community

What about an event at the local library, museum or school? You don't have to recreate the wheel; take advantage of all your community has to offer.

5. Sort and Donate

Go through your closets or cupboards and donate your extra clothing and household goods.

6. Have a Family and Friends Picnic

Invite another family or host a potluck. For variety, have an international potluck where guests bring food celebrating their heritage. This week offers an opportunity to spend meal time together.

7. Reclaim Family Meal Time

Plan your meal together. Get creative with the napkin folding. Shop, cook, eat, talk and clean up as a family. Come to the table with a set of prompts that encourage sharing favorite memories.

8. Have a Game Night

Get out the cards and dust off your favorite board games. Challenge each other to see who wins -- and the winner gets to pick the next activity!

9. Go for a Nighttime Walk

Watch the night sky through binoculars or a telescope. Can you identify different constellations? Listen to nighttime noises. Which animals and bugs are chirping?

10. Create a Family Collage

Make a collage of all your adventures this week. Talk about what you've accomplished as a family.

How did you celebrate the week? Tell us about one activity that grabbed your child's attention.