20 Picks for Screen-Free Fun
With Screen-Free Week taking place from April 29 – May 5, we’ve taken a look at the negative effects of too much screen time and found twenty alternative activity sets that are fun, educational and allow children to engage with the world around them.
While technology in the form of tablets, smartphones, televisions and interactive white boards have allowed children to instantly access information, entertainment and become tech savvy from day dot, there is more and more research showing that too much screen time can be detrimental to their health.
Overuse of devices
According to the American Heart Association, Common Sense Media reported that children aged 5 to 8 are spending on average three hours a day watching TV and using smartphones, tablets or other devices. Overuse of devices with screens has been linked to poor sleep quality, lower reading and social skills as well as behavioral issues. There are also studies indicating that health problems including obesity are linked to overuse of screens due to the fact that children and adults are mostly sedentary when using them.
This is troubling because screen time is taking away from active playtime as well as play-based learning. Both active play and play-based learning is crucial for a child’s emotional, social, cognitive and physical development. In fact – Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.
With electronic devices entering classrooms, bedrooms and backyards and a decline in screen-free playtime, children run the risk of not forming the correct social skills to create meaningful relationships with family and friends.
According to the study, The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children:
“When play and safe, stable, nurturing relationships are missing in a child’s life, toxic stress can disrupt the development of executive function and the learning of pro-social behavior; in the presence of childhood adversity, play becomes even more important. The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement (harmonious serve and return interactions) that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response.”
On top of children potentially becoming stressed and isolated, they’re also at risk for having brain deformations. Dr. Gaya Dowling of the National Institutes of Health participated in a landmark study on brain development and reported that out of 11,000 children, those who spent more than two hours a day looking at a screen got lower scores on thinking and language tests. They also found that for some kids, there is premature thinning of their cerebral cortex.
Appropriate screen usage
You’re probably asking yourself: So what is the appropriate amount of screen time for a child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children aged 2-5 years be limited to one hour of screen time a day. However, they also note that not all screen time is created equal. Common Sense Media identifies four categories:
- Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
- Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
- Communication: video-chatting and using social media
- Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music
It’s important to understand how your child is using their technology. For example, Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician, Dimitri Christakis, who is the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines on screen time, explains that a toddler who learns to build with virtual blocks in an iPad game gains no ability to build with actual blocks. Their one hour of screen time would be better used video-chatting with family. A teen who is having behavioral issues may be okay watching movies or creating art, but not playing video games for long periods of time.
Screen-Free Week, an initiative of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), was created so kids and families can unplug and reconnect with the world around them. An hour that was once dedicated to TV can become an hour of make-believe, art, reading, or enjoying nature. Both parents and kids can use this week to reconsider the value of screen-based entertainment in their lives and establish year-round screen-free habits.
Ready to go screen-free? Here are twenty fun, educational and social activity kits your kids will love.