While I have to admit that I am somewhat glued to my screens (my lifeline is my smartphone and I believe I have almost every iteration of Apple hardware including iMac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV), I always welcome Screen-Free Week (May 2-8 this year). An effort by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood to get people to take a break from the digitized entertainment world, the idea is to reconnect in person with family and friends, play, read, go outside, and create. My family has participated in this for several years through our local elementary school. We really do seem to connect better during this time and the effects linger for at least a little while.
Here are a few facts that may nudge you just enough to give Screen-Free Week a try. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2010 study, children ages 8-18 spend 4.5 hours daily watching television, 1.5 hours on computers, and over an hour playing video games. Over 92% of teenagers go online daily and 24% say they are online "almost constantly" according to a Pew Foundation survey. While kids are tuning into their screens, a multitude of studies shows that children with less screen time tend to eat healthier, do better in school, be more active, and are better able to engage in schoolwork.
If your school is not participating in this campaign or if you need a few suggestions, we thought we would assemble a few simple ideas that are often forgotten in our busy lives!
1. Eat dinner as a family, and maybe even cook it together. Pizza or tacos are fun as everyone can assemble to their own taste.
2. Try a conversation game at dinner. Take turns saying one thing that was good and one thing that wasn't good about your day. For older kids, read one short article out of the newspaper that may interest your child to spark a discussion.
3. Resurrect the dusty board games. Now is a great time to take the board games off the shelf if they have been lingering.
4. Read by candlelight. Even if you read regularly with your child, you can make it fresh and exciting by turning out the lights and reading by candlelight.
5. Get outside. Go for a walk, a hike, or a bike. Visit the playground or forest preserve now that the weather is warming up.
6. Get artsy. Make homemade play dough or use scraps of cardboard, buttons, pipe cleaners, glitter, and things from nature to create wondrous works of art. If you feel very ambitious, try to recreate a masterpiece with acrylic paint or markers -- Picasso and Matisse are fun to start with.
7. Make paper airplanes. There are lots of videos and online guides to making cool paper airplanes... yes, you'll have to cheat a little and go online to find them, but we won't tell anyone!
8. Play music. Skip the TV noise in the background and play music. You can start with current music favorites, but kids also end up liking the music of their parents' era as well -- even if they don't like to admit it. Dancing will also up the fun factor.
9. Look for community events. Your school, local library, pool, and other recreation centers will certainly host screen-free events. If not, you can always organize a fun evening with neighbors or friends to hang out in the backyard.
10. Is a whole week too long? Understandable. It's a lot for my family too. Maybe just try a weekend. You may discover that after just a few short days, you'll grow to love the connections you'll make and the extra time you seem to have without the screen turned on 24/7!