What would you do with an extra 32 hours in your week? Plant a garden? Visit a friend? Take a walk? Read a book? Make play dough? You could do all of those things and still have time to ride a bike and help your mom with a chore. The average preschool child spends 32 hours per week in front of a screen. 32 hours! On a related note, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported earlier this month that about 50% of all preschoolers are not taken outside to play each day by their parents.
The lure of the screen can be hard to resist – for preschoolers, older children, adults and families. We know the harmful affects of too much screen time: childhood obesity, poor school performance and attention problems. Check out the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood for more information about that, and about negative messages from commercials.
In just about two weeks (April 30 – May 6th) you and your family can join folks nationwide in celebrating Screen-Free Week – a week without any screen entertainment. (Yes, you can still use the screen for work and homework if needed – it is screen entertainment that you are going to get a break from.) If the task seems daunting, know that there are many resources out there to help you and your family be successful. Check out these websites:
Screen-Free Week: Free Organizers Kit, list of events nationwide, and tons more…
Early Years Institute: Screen-Free Week fact sheets, pledge sheets and more – in English and Spanish!
Children and Nature Network: Celebrating April as Let’s G.O.! (Let’s Get Outside)
Childhood 101: Fun and printable list of things to do instead of watching TV
TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment): Free Action Guides for parents and teachers
Empowered by Play (that’s us!): Flyers in English and Spanish plus a fun activity sheet
And if you are in the mid-Hudson Valley in New York, you can join Empowered by Play on Saturday, April 21st for Healthy Kids Day sponsored by the Greater Newburgh YMCA. This free event is from 1-4 pm at the Armory, 321 South William Street. We will be on hand to share information about Screen-Free Week and healthy play ideas.
As a past participant in Screen-Free Week, and the mother of two eight-year-olds, I know that planning ahead is your best bet. Make a special calendar to count down to the beginning of Screen-Free Week, and then plan screen-free entertainment for the times when you usually turn on the computer, iPad, television, DVD, etc… Have a planning meeting with your family and let everyone contribute ideas. Have strategies in place ahead of time – such as a list of possible activities for when a child declares, “I’m bored.” Some families find that putting a blanket over the television helps, other families plan to take walks, play board games, have friends over for pot luck dinners, etc. The idea here is that for many people, screen-time is an addiction, and taking it away without a plan for replacing that addiction with healthy alternatives, can be extremely difficult.
Once April came around, my sons started asking when Screen-Free week was going to be – since they’ve been doing it for years, they are resisting it less then they used to. Plus, they know that since they are already screen-free during the school week, they just have to adjust for one weekend. They laugh knowing that it will be much harder for me! We hope that you join us in the national celebration.
P.S. Boredom can lead to amazing creations. Have you seen the video Caine’s Arcade? With lots of time on his hand, and the support of his father, 9-year-old Caine used his imagination and a whole bunch of cardboard boxes to create his very own arcade. His creativity and ingenuity have inspired both the young and old.