Screen-Free Week is an international celebration hosted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). It takes place April 30 through May 6, 2018. Schools, libraries, families, and communities around the world will organize events designed to help children turn off screens in order to connect with family, friends, nature, and their own creativity. According to CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin.
“Screen-Free Week is a great way to take a much-needed break from entertainment screen media and rediscover the joys of face-to-face communication and offline play. Every year we hear from participants that not only did they have a blast, but the week led to lasting changes and healthier media habits.”
Reflecting the growing consensus that excessive screen time is displacing essential childhood activities, Screen-Free Week 2018 is endorsed by 102 public health, nature, and child advocacy organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Children & Nature Network, American Public Health Association, Sierra Club, Reach Out & Read, National WIC Association, National Black Child Development Institute, American Horticultural Society, and The Alliance for Early Childhood. The President of the AAP. Colleen A. Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP says:
“Screen-Free Week provides families with an important break from digital distractions. It challenges parents to be more thoughtful about the digital media choices that they make for their families, The AAP encourages families to think proactively about their children’s screen time and talk with children about it. The real danger of too much media use is that it takes away time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep. Parents need to help teach their children how to use media as a tool to create, connect, and learn. The AAP’s new Family Media Plan tool can help.”
PROBLEMS WITH SCREEN TIME
Research shows that children’s screen time exceeds public health recommendations, and that excessive use of digital devices can lead to health and wellness problems:
- School-age children spend more time with screen media—television, video games, computers, tablets and phones—than in any other activity but sleeping.
- Teenagers consume an average of nearly 9 hours of entertainment media daily, with tweens averaging nearly 6 hours—and these numbers exclude additional media use for school and homework.
- Children aged eight and younger average 2 1/4 hours of entertainment screens daily, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months avoid screen media (except video-chatting) and that children aged 2-5 limit their screen exposure to 1 hour daily.
- Excessive screen time is linked to a host of problems facing children today, including poor school performance, childhood obesity, sleep disturbance, depression, and attention problems.
SCREEN FREE ACTIVITIES
For this year’s celebration, CCFC has partnered with Every Child a Reader (ECAR), the hosts of Children’s Book Week, also taking place April 30 – May 6. Children’s Book Week hosts free public events in libraries and bookstores, and CCFC and ECAR have created resources for hosting both weeks together, including joint pledge cards in English and Spanish and a list of children’s books about unplugging from digital devices.
Screen-Free Week offers many ideas and resources for getting started or digging deeper:
- The Family Guide to a Great Screen-Free Week
- Resources for teachers
- Screen-free play and activities
- Organizer’s Kit
- 101 Screen-Free Activities
- Local Screen-Free Week events
INSTEAD OF SCREEN TIME
According to Dr. Susan Linn, Founding Director of CCFC:
More screen time means less time for hands-on play, reading, exploring nature, and dreaming – activities crucial to a healthy childhood.
In addition, it is through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing. It’s not always easy to wean our children away from the seductive screen, but it’s worth the effort. Here are some things to do instead.
Stories. Even older children and adults like being read to. Choose a book that the whole family will enjoy and read a chapter aloud every night after dinner. Our children love to hear stories from when we were growing up. Tell stories involving your children as characters. Ongoing stories are fun, but they don’t have to have a message. Take turns doing the telling. For inspiration, ask your children for a list of places, magical beings, magical objects, people and creatures. Make up stories from their lists.
Read and Write Poetry with the family. It’s fun to read poems aloud or to recite them from memory. I loved The Best Loved Poems of the American People when I was growing up and especially “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Haikus can also be a fun way to learn to write poetry.
Music. Don’t be intimidated by music; it belongs in every children’s life. Start with lullabies. Play music often. Go to a concert during Screen-Free Week. Dance together. Make up a DIY dance contest. Sing songs together. The Golden Song Book is great for preschoolers; Rise Up Singing is a group singing songbook. Get some simple musical instruments to have around the house and drum or rattle along with the songs.
Nurture Your Artist. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a lot of time painting, drawing, creating collages, or making clay sculptures? These would be great activities for Screen-Free Week. Make a trip to a local museum or art gallery during this week.
Play Board Games. Board games teach group dynamics skills, lessons about winning and losing and foster intimacy. Plus they’re just fun to play. Here are some suggested games.
Have a Messy Party. Make mud pies. Have a mud bath. Play in a sand box. Make some homemade playdough or silly putty. Make your own bubbles. Get dirty.
Get Outside. Kick some balls around. Go for a walk. Go for a hike. Create a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt. Have a picnic. Watch the night sky. Go on a bug safari. Fly a kite. Make a fort in the back yard. Make a DIY Fairy House.
Play Restaurant. Plan a menu. Cook it together. Change into “fancy” clothes before dinner. Eat by candlelight on a tablecloth and use cloth napkins.
For more information see the chapter, “Wholesome Family Entertainment” in my book Natural Family Living
For a related article, see “Going Screen-Free.”
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.