Formally known as TV-Turnoff week, Screen-Free Week (April 30-May 6, 2012) is an annual event presented by the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood to promote a healthy lifestyle, in which children “turn off screens and turn on life.” For one week, non-profit organizations, community groups, and schools are coming together to spread the word about the importance of choosing alternative activites. These include: playing tag instead of playing video games, going down slides instead of downloading applications, and reading books instead of reading the TV guide. Screen-Free week is the time to eliminate all electronic devices, including, but not limited to: televisions, computers, iPods, iPads, Kindles, smart phones, and video games.
Why is it Important to be Screen-Free?
For many years, researchers have pointed out the negative effects of long-term exposure to television and video games. A 2002 study by the National Institute on Media and the Family discovered that third through fifth graders, who viewed violent acts on the screen, (T.V., DVD or video game) were more likely to treat their peers inappropriately as compared to those who had not viewed as many violent acts (WebMD, 2002). Kidshealth.org, another organization spreading the word against the overuse of electronics, reports that children who are exposed to more than four hours of screen time per day are more likely to become overweight (2012). Moreover, researchers at Sydney University, Australia have found that excessive television can cause serious eye problems, which can ultimately lead to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes further in life (ABC News, 2011). Although technology can have educational value, and of course provide great entertainment, it is important for parents to monitor and limit the number of hours their children spend in front of a screen. Instead, they can promote activities that encourage physical activity.
How Can Kids Break Free from the Screen?
Inevitably, kids (and probably grown-ups too) will moan and groan about losing their precious electronic devices, but there are plenty of activities that will make them forget all about those screens. From playing a game of freeze tag, to finger painting, or just talking about the day, there are endless activities that children and parents can take part in to avoid the temptation to turn on that electronic device. The most important part of Screen-Free week is simply to turn off the T.V., power down the iPod, and be active.
Here is just a partial list of activities that you can try:
- Visit the library (there are sure to be tons of events planned)
- Host a game night (Charades, Monopoly, Go Fish, etc…)
- Get in the kitchen and cook something delicious
- Take a hike and collect rocks, leaves, and flowers to create a nature collage
- Build a tent under the dining room table and have a “campout”
- “Read” your house: Write down as many words as you can find around the house
- Organize a ball game in your neighborhood
- Go on a scavenger/ treasure hunt
- Write a letter to someone (President, parent, teacher etc…)
- Plant a small garden
- Pick up the phone and call a relative or friend that you have not talked to in a while
Does Screen-Free Week Stop After Seven Days?
The ultimate goal of Screen-Free Week is to teach children and parents that an active, healthy life style should be a daily goal. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit the use of screens to a maximum of two hours per day for children two years and older. They also suggest that children under the age of two not be exposed to television or other electronic devices. In addition to setting limitations on time, they say parents should also monitor the type of programming or gaming that children are watching. The AAP finally suggests that parents utilize T.V., DVD, and video game ratings, and subscribe to public television channels such as PBS, which usually broadcast fewer commercials and less violence. It’s important to note that electronic devices are not all bad. Many educational television programs, iPad applications, and websites can be educational for young children. In order to maximize the learning potential, parents and children should be engaged in these digital activities together so that kids can ask questions and parents can discuss any potentially harmful scenes.
You can purchase Screen-Free Week t-shirts, download an organizer’s kit, and find local event sponsors at www.commercialfreechildhood.org/screenfreeweek.
Other Helpful Lessons:
Time to Play
Learn to catch as many objects as possible without dropping anything! Players of all ages will have a ball throwing soft balls, toys, and whatever else they find (that won’t hurt) at one person whose goal is to try to hang onto all the objects. The person who can catch the most objects is the winner! This lesson plan is easily adaptable for all ages and abilities.
Illustrate the importance of dramatic play in early childhood education. Although this lesson plan, study guide, and PowerPoint presentation are written for a high school audience, parents will benefit from reading the information in preparation for creating a dramatic play area at home. The benefits of using dramatic play are extensive and include helping children to learn about community roles, express their feelings, and try new things.
With summer just around the corner, why not try some super cool pirate activities with your child? Oriental Trading Company has a ton of pirate goodies available for purchase, or you can make your own! Check out this pirate lesson plan for ideas from painting rocks gold for a treasure hunt to making a telescope out of a paper towel tube! The majority of the ideas are geared for younger children (ages 3-7) but can be modified for any age.