Thursday, April 26, 2012



Screen-Free Week:  What a concept!  When my kids were little, I sort of knew that tv-watching wasn’t the best way for my children to spend their time.  But what I didn’t understand is that kids who watch less tv (or better yet, no tv) become better and better at the thing they need most:  play.

Twenty years ago, while agreeing in principle with the idea of spending a screen-free week with my preschoolers, I’m sure I would have been slightly horrified at the thought of a week without even a minute to myself. Like many other parents, I used the tv as a babysitter.  A couple of kids’ shows every day gave me time to catch up on something, take a shower, or just hear myself think. I didn’t realize then that an hour of tv every day was making my kids more needy and demanding. I was a tired, struggling mom with busy, active kids, like most preschool moms I know.  And still,  I’m challenging YOU to try committing to Screen-Free Week.

One nugget of wisdom I’ve acquired: tv and other screen-related activities reduce children’s ability to think and create.  This results in kids who are more whiny, more bored, and more unhappy than nature intended.  A child who isn’t used to being entertained doesn’t miss it, because they are expert at entertaining themselves.  A child who has a steady diet of tv, movies, and video games has less faith in their own imagination, and find it more difficult to play. Honestly: if I had it to do over again, I’d get rid of the tv when my kids were young.

Diane Levin is an expert on the effect that media has on children, and has authored several well-known books about it, including "So Sexy So Soon" and "Remote Control Childhood." Here is what she has to say about Screen-Free Week:

Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative way to improve children's well-being by reducing dependence on entertainment screen media, including television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices.  It's a time for children to unplug and play outside, read, daydream, create, explore, and spend more time with family and friends.  And, of course, Screen-Free Week isn't just about snubbing screens for seven days; it's a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round. 

I would encourage parents to give their kids a break from electronic media, even if the first few days may be a bit frustrating.  Kids often fuss at first about the things that are best for them.  But parents who are willing to persist through the whining will eventually be rewarded with the joy of watching their kids play, create, converse, learn, and explore. Even movies, video games, and tv shows that are supposedly designed for children offer very few opportunities for any of these high-quality, brain-enriching experiences.  Screen-time is always inferior to real life, in terms of satisfying learning experiences.


Here are just a few little ideas to get you started. You and your kids already have a million ideas for fun things to do, so please share some of these ideas with everyone by making comments below.

-Tents and Forts  Indoors and out, made with blankets, cardboard boxes, or whatever is handy)

-Flashlights:  Get a cheap one and a few extra batteries, and see what your child comes up with! 

-Clipboards:  give your child a clipboard and a pen, and ask him to walk around taking notes.  You’ll be surprised:  even toddlers often love “note-taking.”  There’s something magical about a clipboard.

-Paint with water.  Give your kids paintbrushes and buckets of water, and send them outside.  Inside, give them paintbrushes and buckets of PRETEND water.

-Obstacle courses:  you create one for your kids, then they’ll spend the rest of the day creating them for you. 

-Snails, Worms, and Other Wildlife:  collect, care for, observe, discuss, and eventually release. I’ve never met a child who didn’t love small squirmy creatures.  Kids will spend HOURS on this.

-Nature art:  collect flowers, leaves, etc. and glue onto paper or cardboard. Or use nature-stuff as paintbrushes.

-Playdoh or Fingerpaint: make your own.  It’s very easy, and the making is as much fun as the finished product.

-Tape.  Give your child a roll of dollar-store tape.  Just don’t fall asleep…….

-Make books or journals. They can be as simple as stapling papers together.  Children love to dictate or write stories and illustrate them. Even toddlers love drawing in their journals.

-Write a note to someone, then walk to the post office to mail it.  Or sit outside waiting for the mailman to come so you can hand it to him.

-Sidewalk chalk:  draw shapes, pictures, scribbles, people, floorplans, games.  Try it wet or dry.  Try it on decks, porches, or other surfaces that can be easily hosed off.

-Play School:  the child is the teacher, and you can be the kid!

-Invent games, such as new forms of TAG
-Soccer-ball challenges:  how far can you kick it or throw it?

-Hanging from bars:  how long can you hang? 

-Learn dance steps, or make up new ones

-Karaoke:  use a fake microphone, and decorate the “stage” with sparkly decorations and hand-made stars

-Reading, reading, reading. Kids who are used to a lot of tv and video games find it harder to concentrate on books.  But once they get out of the media-habit, all young children love to be read to.

-Make blocks out of boxes and cartons.

And then of course, there are always the old tried-and true standards:



-Park Days with friends

-Water Play. Keep it simple:  provide a small tub of water in the backyard with a collection of containers for pouring, or offer long leisurely bath times with sponges, cups, and boats..  Almost any preschooler would gladly trade tv for water play if they were given the choice.

-Mud Pies or Sand Cooking

-“The Hose”   If you’re in my class at preschool, you know how awesome this tool can be! Turn it on a tiny trickle, let your child water plants or build a river.

-Collecting:  rocks, leaves, shells, sticks, etc.

-Ancient History.  Stories about what you liked to play when you were their age.

-Make costumes out of newpaper and tape

-Water the garden.  Give your child a tiny cup, and tell him the plants are thirsty. 

The most important thing is that all these activities are fun. But they’re also good learning opportunities for a wide range of ages. Many of them can be a springboard for even better child-created activities.  Some of these ideas need adults to help, at least at first, but others are kid-driven, and adults only need to check in occasionally. None of it is “rocket science.” 

So why is it that we sit our kids down in front of a screen as often as we do, when there is a whole world full of kid-friendly adventures waiting for us? 

Give it a try, and add your ideas to the list! 

Happy Screen-Free Week!

1 comment:

  1. Annie,
    I love this post! We have found since we have limited our daughter's television viewing over the past year, she has increasingly created whole storylines and pretend spaces for herself. I learned that I could tell her "Mommy needs 30 minutes of quiet time. You create a pretend story during that time and Mommy will let you know when I am ready to hear it." She happily goes off on her own and usually hates to be disturbed when the 30 minutes are up! Now this took practice over time with me being clear that I was not available for questions or feedback. It is so much fun to see what she comes up with!


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