Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Unplug During Screen-Free Week!

Shut down the video games, turn off the TV and step away from your screens – April 18-24 is Screen-Free Week! This national celebration, which coincides this year with school vacation, is presented by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and encourages children, families, schools and communities to turn off screen media for a week – to unplug, play, read, create, explore.
Excessive screen time has long been an issue, but the problem is growing as more kids have individual devices and near-constant media access. A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year-olds average more than 7½ hours per day in front of screens and consuming entertainment media, which adds up to more than 53 hours a week – nearly twice as much time as they spend in school.

And although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen use for children under 2 years, very young children also spend an astonishing amount of time at screens. According to Nielsen, preschoolers average more than 24 hours of television viewing each week.

Dr. Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, notes that while not everything on screens is bad, in general screen time encourages passive media consumption and limits the time children spend engaged in creative play. “Unlimited access to miniaturized screens means that even when children are out and about, we are depriving them of opportunities to engage in the world,” explains Linn. “They learn to look to screens rather than to their environment for stimulation, to expect to be entertained rather than entertaining themselves.” Among other implications, screen time can also make kids less physically active and more prone to attention problems, poor school performance and sleep disruption.
So take a break during Screen-Free Week and see what you and your kids can do without. Worried about screen time withdrawal? Here’s a list of fun-filled, playful alternatives, contributed by Providence Children’s Museum educators:
  • Go on a nature walk in a park or around your neighborhood. Take paper and crayons and do rubbings of the bark of different trees. Collect leaves and twigs for a nature art project.
  • Have a family game night. Make popcorn and play fun games like Uno or Cranium. With a deck of cards, learn how to shuffle and try building card houses.
  • Hold a family talent show. Plan a few days ahead for practice, props and costumes. Don't tell each other what talent you're going to perform so everyone's act is a surprise!
  • Take a dark walk – bring flashlights and explore your neighborhood at night.
  • Have a book-a-thon. Go to the library in the afternoon. Then, after supper, climb into bed and read aloud to each other. Don’t limit the number of books or chapters – just keep reading for as long as everyone stays awake!
  • Design a mini-golf course inside or outside using toys and things found around the house. Take turns with a real or plastic putter and golf balls.
  • A different hide-and-go-seek challenge: take turns hiding and searching for something small, like a stuffed animal.
  • Make outside obstacle courses using jump ropes, balls and chairs and have a relay race. Take turns designing new courses.
  • Have a toy carwash. Bring out cars and any toys that need a scrub and gather sponges and soapy water.
And don’t worry if kids whine about being bored without screens – let them figure it out! It’s amazing how boredom can inspire creativity if you allow the space for it to happen.

Have a wonderful UNPLUGGED week!

Other resources:
For more unplugged fun, visit the Museum during school vacation! Meet llamas, lambs and other Fleecy Friends. Fold and crease paper to create fabulous flying contraptions. See performances by the Pumpernickel Puppets and the State Ballet of Rhode Island. In celebration of Earth Day, watch No Time to Waste, an interactive family comedy about recycling. And for adults, get tickets to Unplugged, the Museum’s 2011 gala fundraiser, and support the Museum and child-directed play!


amy said...

I rarely turn the TV on during the day when I'm home with my toddler--only if she or I is sick and I'm a little desperate. We maintained this over February break while her older brothers were home from school. If they'd asked, I'd probably have said yes to a DVD or two, but they never asked. And we weren't out and about all week, we were just home enjoying each other's company and some needed non-scheduled time. I also made a commitment to only use my laptop for a short time each day.

I hope your Unplugged event focuses on adult screentime as much as children's. It was disheartening, during my last visit to the museum, to see so many adults focused on their phone screens while their young children played nearby.

Paul said...

But Megan, I need a screen to read your blog...

Janice O'Donnell said...

Thanks, Amy. We agree. We followed with interest The New York Times series “Your Brain on Computers,” including this article: The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In,
which points out how those blinking, beeping, flashing devices distract our attention from our kids. At the same time, we know that parents are often over extended and kids are often happily engaged in independent play at the Museum. So if a parent or caregiver takes advantage of that to check her or his mobile, well, kids need to play independently and grown-ups need occasional adult time. But – for sure - if we want our kids to unplug, we grown-ups have to model screen moderation at least.