Screen-Free Week is an international celebration hosted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). It takes place April 29 through May 5, 2019. 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 breath of fresh air. Kids are surrounded by so much media all the time, and most of it is trying to sell them things or encourage them to act or think a certain way. By turning off entertainment screens for a week, kids and families can shut out that noise and rediscover what really feels good, whether that’s going for a bike ride, playing outside, or just getting lost in a great conversation.
Reflecting the growing consensus that excessive screen time is displacing essential childhood activities like creative play, Screen-Free Week 2019 is endorsed by 113 prominent international organizations in the fields of public health, nature, and child advocacy, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Children & Nature Network, Center for Humane Technology, American Public Health Association, Sierra Club, Reach Out and Read, National WIC Association, American Horticultural Society, ZERO TO THREE, Children and Screens, Center for Digital Democracy, Childhood Obesity Foundation, Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, and the Association Montessori International/USA among others.
The President of the AAP, Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP says:
Screen-Free Week challenges parents to take a one-week break from digital media and to be more thoughtful every day about the digital media choices that they make for their families. The AAP helps families by offering information and a tool so families can discover what is best about digital media, and how to minimize the distractions it can cause from real life. Parents need to make sure that digital media doesn’t take children away from important activities like playing, studying, connecting with friends and family, or sleeping, and a good first step is to create a Family Media Plan.
PROBLEMS WITH SCREEN TIME
Research shows that there is good cause for encouraging children to take a break from entertainment screens for a week. 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 don’t include additional media use for school and homework.
- Children aged eight and younger average 2.25 hours of entertainment media 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 of high quality content 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, the host of Children’s Book Week, which is also taking place April 29-May 5. Children’s Book Week is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and is marking its centennial celebration with free readings and book-related events in libraries and bookstores across the country. CCFC and Every Child a Reader have created resources for hosting both weeks together, including joint reading pledge cards in English, Spanish, and French, and a list of children’s books about unplugging from digital devices.
Since 1996, thousands of parents, teachers, PTA leaders, librarians, scout leaders, naturalists, and clergy have organized Screen-Free Week celebrations in their communities. This year, SFW organizers have planned nearly 350 public events. Here are just a few of this year’s festivities:
- Screen-FREE Week Frederick, in Maryland, is kicking off its community-wide celebration with a joint Screen-Free Week and Children’s Book Week book event, featuring Wall Street Journal columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon. The robust list of Screen-Free Week events can be found here. Frederick’s Mayor Michael O’Connell will also be declaring April 29-May 5 as Screen-FREE Week Frederick!
- In Davis, California, residents will be treated to a full week of screen-free events, from knitting to singing to a community picnic and more.
- Nevada County, CA, is anticipating 3000 participants in its Screen-Free Week celebration.
- Brady Smith and actress Tiffani Thiessen will be launching their new children’s book, You’re Missing It!, during Screen-Free Week, with several book signings across the country. The book celebrates the joys of disengaging from our screens; but in a delightful twist, the children teach this lesson to the adults!
- Wadsworth Public Library in Wadsworth, Ohio, will be hosting daily screen-free activities for children, including several arts and crafts projects, with board games and puzzles for teens and adults.
- Students at Newmarket Elementary School in Newmarket, New Hampshire, will enjoy a Harlem Wizards basketball game, animal show, and family dance.
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
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 and New Mexico Mountains. 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.