Monday, July 2, 2012
Screen Free Summer Challenge
"Mom, can I watch Netflix?"
"Can I play the Wii?"
"Can I play my DS? He already got to play the Wii today!"
"Just one more show, please mom?"
"That wasn't very much time to play the Wii..." sulked my son in a whiny tone of voice.
About this time last year my kids were barraging me with these kinds of questions and statements every time I turned around. I swear, I was having to tell them no 15 times a day, or deal with their quickly souring attitudes every time I told them that they need to do something that didn't involve screen time.
We limit screen time in our house, but it's not at all uncommon for my kids to get to watch a show on Netflix or spend some time playing a video game. By the time Spring rolls around and we're counting down the days until school ends I feel like we're all just doing what needs to get done to "make it through the next few weeks". Sometimes, that involves way more screen time that I'd care to admit, and definitely more than my kids ought to have.
I don't know about yours, but my kids turn into zombies when they're in front of the screen. They magically lose all ability to listen and/or comprehend what I am saying to them. They get short with each other about what show to watch or game to play, and they get snippy at me when I request for them to do something. They sulk and whine when I turn it off.
It gets really annoying after a while!
My kids seemed to magically lose all ability to find anything else to do to entertain themselves. They would bypass a cupboard full of games, school supplies and puzzles, to come down the stairs and tell me, "I'm bored, there's nothing to do. Can I watch a movie?"
Finally, a week or two before school ended, I had enough. I had bigger and better dreams for our summer than having a daily battle about being bored and wasting away half of our day in front of a screen. After all, when we don't have something else on the agenda, what's the harm in saying yes to "just one more show".
So I declared war. "Kid's, we're going to have a screen-free summer!" I stated emphatically. I explained that this wasn't a punishment, but an opportunity for us to do more fun things over the break. They weren't really buying it, but I wasn't asking their opinion.
I knew that eliminating screen time would force me to be a more creative and involved parent, and it would force my kids to use their imaginations to find something constructive to do. It wouldn't be easy for any of us, but I was convinced it would be worth it.
I had no idea just how worth it it would be! After realizing that I was really, honestly going to ban screen time all summer long, my kids magically found other ways to entertain themselves and each other.
They suddenly started pulling board games out of the cupboard. They would set up the Marble Works set and spend hours creating different mazes for the marbles to drop through. Color books, puzzles and craft supplies regularly graced our dining room table. They created puppet shows together and had teddy bear tea parties. We had dance parties in the middle of the living room. They helped in the kitchen. They took turns alternating between playing Legos and Polly Pockets... for hours and hours and hours at a time. They put their swim suits on and splashed around in the tub together with various toys and kitchen utensils. They magically began to use their imaginations!
All of these things were wonderful, but best (and most surprisingly!) of all, my kids started to spend parts of their day cuddled up with a stack of books. At first books would only hold their attention for short periods of time. But soon, my kids started getting into specific books and they'd spend more and more time choosing to read. The more they chose to read the better they got at reading. The better they got at reading the more they wanted to read. By the middle of summer my 5 and 7 year old kids were avid readers. They were devouring books. They both finally decided to start reading chapter books with very few pictures which is something neither of them had ever wanted to do before. My son started kindergarten being able to instantly read almost any word you put in front of him. Their hunger for knowledge and information deepened. Their curiosity grew. Their imaginations soared.
I knew that a screen free summer would be good for them, but I had no idea just how good it would be.
I also had no idea how good it would be for me. I had to engage with them more. I had to be more creative and thoughtful about how we should spend each day. I had to learn to find the balance between creating mom-directed opportunities and allowing free play. I had to get them out of the house more. We made the library a regular stop on our journeys and my kids joined the summer reading program. They read every single day of the summer and collected rewards along the way. We picked berries together. We explored parks. We did chores together. And, I had more patience with them. After all, I was no longer getting constantly irritated at their requests to have screen time.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending time playing with my children last summer. They enjoyed learning how to be each others best friend. We all enjoyed learning new things and expanding our horizons. It was such a success in our house that we're definitely going to do it again, and we're honestly even looking forward to it! Just last night Leeann told me she was excited to start our screen free Summer. When I asked her why she said, "Because I'm looking forward to doing lots of activities!"
If you have kids at home (or hey, even if you don't!) let me challenge you to make at least part of your Summer intentionally screen free. Here are a few ideas:
Go screen free for a week, or a month. Or maybe just on weekdays or weekends. Perhaps you could make odd numbered days screen free, or screen free until 3. Or screen free after 3 (or noon, but 3 rhymes, and I think rhyming is fun!). Screen free Sundays. Screen free on sunny-days... now I'm getting into alliterations. Please, someone stop me!
What do you think? Are you up for this crazy challenge?
*On a side-note, we started out doing an entirely screen free Summer but I soon realized this was difficult to expect and enforce at other people's homes. So we changed our rules to include our own home (and car), though we did make a few exceptions for family movie nights.