MD Mama

Screen-Free Week Ideas That Might Actually Work

So it's Screen-Free week, the week when we are supposed to be virtuous, shut off the television (and other screens), and remind ourselves that there is more to life than screens--and that there's lots of fun non-screen stuff to do.

I can just imagine what lots of kids (and parents) will say: Yeah, right. 

Screens are so much part of our daily life that it can be hard to think about shutting them off. No morning news (or cartoons)? Email? Netflix? YouTube? Minecraft? Instagram? (My 8-year-old and 13-year-old are pretty devoted to the last two). 

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That's why the only way to make Screen-Free Week work is to make it fun. 

Every child and family is different. But here are some activities that might just make your kids be willing to put down that Wii remote:

Games. Yes, games! Remember those? Those things that usually sit in their boxes gathering dust in the closet? Turns out that they can be really fun. Some of my favorites (mostly because people of all different ages can play them together):

  • Apples to Apples (there's a Junior version too). There's minimal literacy involved (some cultural literacy involved in the non-Junior version), and not only can it be very funny, winning mostly involves knowing the personalities of your competitors. Find out which person in your family has everyone pegged! 
  • Wits and Wagers. This is a great variation on a trivia game. You don't have to come up with the answer, you just need to be able to recognize the right one when somebody else comes up with it. 
  • Quirkle. It's kind of like dominoes. Actually, I have no idea how to properly play dominoes, so maybe it's not. But it's a visual game of strategy (and luck) that kids (from kindergarten or even preschool age up) can play just as well as grownups.
  • Chess. If you haven't taught your kid to play, or if you're not sure how to do it yourself, this is a great week to spend some time playing this ancient and ageless game. 
  • Mad Libs. Remember those? You can teach your kids grammar and make everyone laugh at the same time. 

Cooking. Instead of sending kids to watch TV while you cook, involve them! And everybody is always happy to bake, especially if there is spoon- or bowl-licking involved. Think simple comfort foods, like:

  • Pizza. Buy the crusts already made and stick whatever you want on them. Be creative.
  • Lasagne. With no-cook pasta, it doesn't get any easier. But it looks impressive when you are done. 
  • Mac and cheese. I found a great recipe in The Best Recipe Cookbook from Cook's Illustrated that involves evaporated milk. It was wicked easy and wicked yummy. 
  • Brownies. Need I say more? Try adding a box of chocolate mousse mix to the brownie mix. The result is pretty amazing. 
  • Cookies. Any kind. For our family, easy works out best (like prepackaged cookie dough easy), but doing it from scratch and making shapes is a great way to spend an afternoon with your family. 

Making Stuff. Building something out of Legos can make an afternoon fly by. But hey, why not get crafty? Mother's Day is around the corner, you can always get some gifts made. Here are some simple ideas:

  • Decorate flowerpots with Sharpies. 
  • Buy an inexpensive canvas tote bag or apron (craft stores sell them), and decorate with fabric markers or paints. Or Sharpies.
  • Pick up some canvases from an art store (they don't actually cost very much) and some acrylic or other paint, and be Picasso! 
  • Sew a pillow. Anybody can do that, by hand or with a machine. Stuffing it is fun. 

Read Aloud. It's such a lost art, which is too bad as it can be a wonderful way to spend time together and introduce your child to books they might otherwise not encounter--or that you loved as a child. My votes:

  • The BFG, or others by Roald Dahl--they have grownup appeal, too.
  • Charlotte's Web, or another by E.B. White
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis--the whole series is wonderful (I especially liked Voyage of the Dawn Treader). 
  • The I Spy Series--there are lots of different books, and everyone can hunt for the objects together.
  • For little kids: anything from Eric Carle (my favorite is The Very Quiet Cricket), Going on a Bear Hunt, or Ten Minutes Til Bedtime

Get outside! Now that the weather is finally better, take a walk. Dust off the bikes. Go to the park. Or a zoo. Or kick a soccer ball around, or jump rope. Have fun and set a good example at the same time.

For more ideas on what to do, check out the Screen-Free Week website of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips for creating a healthy family media use plan.  And check out #screenfreeweek on Twitter--add your own ideas too!