Screen-Free Week at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library

Screen-Free Week at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library

We are always excited to hear about Screen-Free Week events hosted by public libraries.  Not only do libraries encourage reading, but they also serve as important gathering spaces for all members of the community. So when we heard about how Tiffin-Seneca Public Library in Tiffin, Ohio, had organized a successful Screen-Free Week 2018 celebration, we had to ask them how they did it.

Many thanks to Becky Oswalt for sharing Tiffin-Seneca’s Screen-Free Week story with us, and a big thank you to librarians Trinity Lescallett, Lori Hodkinson and Connie Cole for organizing Tiffin-Seneca Library’s Screen-Free Week last year.

Tiffin-Seneca Public Library decided to celebrate Screen-Free Week in 2018 because we understand the harmful effects of excessive screen time on people of all ages. Helping families become more intentional at putting down their devices and inspiring them to think of ideas for screen-free fun all year long seemed like a win-win situation. So, in March 2018 we formed a small committee of staff members to help plan a full slate of activities for Screen-Free Week.

Offering a daily activity or event during Screen-Free Week seemed like a good way to help families meet their pledge to go free of screen entertainment for the week, with the added bonus of bringing together families who were all trying to accomplish the same goal.  We decided to host an informational session the first night of the week to educate adults and school-age kids on the effects of excessive screens. The program, Digital Detox: Family Edition, used slides, research, statistics, and helpful tips. The program acknowledged the negative psychological, social, and cultural impact of spending more than half of our waking lives in front of a screen, and offered ways to make it easier to put down the screen. It was also an opportunity to encourage attendees to consider making a screen-free pledge of some kind for the week. 

Here’s what else we scheduled:

  • On Tuesday night, the library set out board games all over the library for families to enjoy on their own time.
  • Crafts and coloring projects for all ages were available around the library on Wednesday evening.
  • We put on an “Are You Smarter than a Librarian?” trivia contest, pitting families against our librarians on Thursday.
  • On Friday and Saturday, we stuck with two of our regularly scheduled programs to highlight some of the fun screen-free activities that we offer year-round. Playtime @ the Library is a monthly program for children ages 18 months to five years old. This two-hour drop-in program features a large selection of toys and activities that encourage unstructured, creative play. Our monthly Lego Saturday program invites children and families of all ages to stop by and build their own Lego creations with friends. We provide Duplo Blocks and Legos, and we also provide a different theme every month.
  • All week long we offered a StoryWalk® where participants walked around the library, reading a story as they progressed. The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Also, different craft projects were set out on the tables in the Junior Department and rotated daily.
  • During the week, the library displayed relevant books for parents such as Unplug Your Kids: A Guide to Raising Happy, Active, and Well-Adjusted Children in the Digital Age by David Dutwin, and picture books for kids such as Hello! Hello!by Matthew Cordell. We printed up a list of screen-free activities and a book list filled with more screen-free ideas.

By far the most fun activity to plan was the “Are You Smarter than a Librarian?” trivia contest. We made our own PowerPoint with five different rounds of five questions and a bonus round question. When the game ended, teams that had more points than the librarians won a small prize, but more importantly, they could now brag that they’re “smarter than a librarian!” Categories included “Songs from Movies,” where we would play a short music clip for players to guess which movie it came from. Another round was “Fun with Words,” and the bonus round consisted of pictures of 25 book characters, where teams had to identify as many as possible before time ran out.

We realized that because our library has a special place in the lives of local families, we could bring families closer together by offering fun, meaningful activities that don’t involve technology. If we encouraged just one family to put down the screens and engage in some fun family time, then we consider Screen-Free Week 2018 to be a success!

Why Disconnecting is Essential to Children’s Development

In this blog, pediatrician Mark Bertin, M.D. describes how screen time affects children’s development and why parents should embrace screen-free time. 

Parenting often has less to do with knowing what to do but doing what we know. Whether it is healthy eating or getting kids to bed on time, we have clear ideas about what is best. It’s making the right thing happen that’s hard.

This discrepancy becomes more complicated when it comes to technology and screens. We have at least a vague sense the situation may be less than ideal, as we watch a generation become more attached to time on screens and less to time with people. There’s also confusion about what parents should or shouldn’t do or how much and which kinds of screen time are truly harmful. That ambiguity leads to doubt and makes it easy to get caught up in habit. We let routines drift instead of taking stock and making intentional choices.

During Screen-Free Week 2019, you can hit reset and check in with your values. Technology isn’t inherently good or bad – it’s about how we use it. Take a short break to reassess and readjust where you see fit. Wake up, check in, and make an active choice about how your family should live.

Facts Do Not Change Minds (Check Your Beliefs)

To be blunt: Strong parental management of screen time correlates with better behavioral, social and academic outcomes in children. Consistent sleep and exercise paired with less screen time also improves overall cognitive functioning. Children require guidance from adults to grow healthy and strong.

Why is that true? Executive function is a set of cognitive abilities acting as our ‘brain manager,’ which are used to monitor our behavior, make plans and stick to goals. These include life-management skills, the ability to plan, and the ability to exercise judgment. It is a path of development and much like language, only begins to grow in early childhood. Unlike language, executive function does not fully mature until our late twenties.

Early childhood measures of executive function amazingly relate to adult well-being, influencing relationships, jobs and health. Children with advanced executive function in childhood do better both behaviorally and academically. And while executive function develops at its own pace, it’s also true that environment can negatively impact its progress. Which brings us back to screen time.

Largely because of executive function, children lack the perspective to fully anticipate the future and moderate their behavior. Room to learn through trial and error has its place, but much of education stems from what adults directly model and teach. It is no surprise this generation has been shown less active, less fit and less happy than previous ones. Lots of kids living with excessive screen time will do that.

Resisting technology-saturated childhood is not an older generation pushing back against change. Research already shows that too much screen time influences children for the worse. In truth, too many of us shrug this off. Children rely on adults to set boundaries and to provide teaching and advice.

Beliefs Change Minds (But Check Your Facts)

We all want our kids to be happy and successful. Going with the flow around screens may seem easier and cuts down on family debate. It frees up time when our children entertain themselves for hours on end, too. And yet, you can believe that nagging feeling that less screen time would be valuable for your children.

With only so many free hours, who should decide how many are spent on screens – you or some company? Smartphones and video games use proven psychological techniques to influence behavior, which is why nearly everything we do on a device is tracked. If that process didn’t work, it wouldn’t be financially lucrative. It takes effort and maturity to step back, take note, and choose when and where screen time is OK.

Screen time influences development by replacing healthier activities. For starters, it erodes two educational foundations, unstructured play time and reading. Everything from reading to art, exploring the yard to making up a game, takes more effort than time on a screen. Increasing screen time has also been linked to worsening attention spans. The list of evidence continues into much of child health, as research connects excess screen time to sleep troubles, less exercise, obesity, mood and more.

That sense you have that a child on a screen seems disconnected from actual people – that’s often real. Research verifies what seems like common sense, such as studies showing that background television and smartphones both limit conversation. Teens who spend more time on social media are at risk for jealousy and depression. When the power goes out, stories follow about rediscovered moments with board games, or time cuddling together on the couch reading by flashlight. Technology can help us connect, but is that how your family uses it most of the time?

A sense of reconnection with the world around us is obtainable at any time we choose – if we choose. Unplugged, we engage differently with people, and fill our time with creative and mentally active pursuits. As little as one week off screens has been shown to improve social emotional skills. It’s hard, and it’s an adjustment, and kids push back – but we can regain control of technology. For modern families, little is more important than making sure your children use technology instead of being used by it.

Prioritizing What You Value

The whole concept of a week screen-free may seem extreme. Why abstain? But it’s free, only a week, and you’ll learn so much. Hard as it may be to consider – and harder still to implement – you and your children will almost certainly benefit. Trust yourself and create balance for your family moving forward.

You want resilient and successful children. For that reason alone, it is vital to remain truly connected with open-ended free play and personal relationships. These foundational activities directly support healthy brain development. Whether wrestling with weight issues, school troubles, overall unhappiness or poor behavior, we often overlook one simple first step: without you, your kids’ well-being easily gets undermined by over-reliance on screens.

In our tech-saturated world, involved parents steer children towards what they need to grow. It may start with one week, but can include screen-free family meals, one day every weekend, vacations, or device-free summer camps. Starting now, rediscover your own best intentions around a balanced and healthier lifestyle for your family.

Dr. Mark Bertin is a developmental pediatrician and author of How Children Thrive, Mindful Parenting for ADHD and The Family ADHD Solution, which integrate mindfulness into the rest of evidence-based pediatric care. Dr. Bertin is on faculty at the New York Medical College and the Windward Teacher Training Institute, and on the editorial boards for Reach Out and Read and Common Sense Media. He is a regular contributor to Mindful Magazine, and his blog is available through mindful.org and Psychology Today.

What We Gain From Going Outside: Celebrating Screen-Free Week 2019!

What We Gain From Going Outside: Celebrating Screen-Free Week 2019!

Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., is the Co-Founder, President and CEO Emerita of the Children & Nature Network. In this blog, she shares what children gain from time spent in nature. 

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood makes a wonderful contribution to children’s health and well-being by promoting and celebrating the benefits to children, their families, and whole communities by going screen-free for one full week every spring. How much screen time a child experiences is a family choice. However, it is evident that children’s use of screen-based technologies is out of balance and excessive in the lives of many children today, to their detriment.

One of the most important sources for supporting children’s healthy development is as easy as opening the door and going outside—it is the natural world itself.  Nature is all around us, even where we may least expect to find it—from backyards to city neighborhoods to rooftop gardens to suburban parks and walking trails.

Why is it important and fun for children to have frequent and varied opportunities for play outdoors—and especially outdoors with natural vegetation—as a part of their everyday lives?   Children tend to be happier, healthier and smarter.  They tend to do better in school.  They are more self-disciplined and focused. They are more self-confident, creative, and cooperative.  They are better problem-solvers and they are more optimistic.  And they are more physically fit.  Family ties are strengthened, a sense of community is nourished, and a sense of place is cultivated.

Children who have the opportunity to play outdoors, alone and with others, learn their limits and gain confidence through experience.  One of the keys is the opportunity for unstructured play—play where children decide what to explore and what to do—on their own terms and by their own choices about what is interesting, fun, and intriguing.  Time disappears, no one is bored, and adventures build on one another.  Part of what builds independence, confidence and self-esteem in children and youth is the ability to make choices and to learn from the results.  Sometimes risks are taken—choosing to climb a tree, hanging onto a rope swing, jumping over a log, taking a steep climb, staying out until near or past dark—all of these are experiences in which children learn more about themselves, and what to do in strange and new settings.  These experiences are a foundation for lifelong capacities for independent decision-making and resilience under pressure.  One of the most needed skill sets for success in today’s world is the ability to work with other people—constructively, cooperatively, and successfully.  When children play together in the outdoors, especially together in natural settings where they need to invent the games and have real problems to solve, it cultivates their team work, cooperation, and social skills.

There is no question that regular, frequent opportunities for unstructured play outdoors in nature make it possible for infants and children to develop the basics of support for their cognitive, social and physical development.  And there are emotional benefits too. Going outdoors, in the fresh air—whether on a windy, cold winter day or a balmy day in springtime—the results usually bring a feeling of relaxation and peacefulness.  This is important for everyone, and is especially important for children in their growing years.  Studies from children to adult workers show that attention and focus are increased, accuracy enhanced, productivity increased, and stress reduced when people of any age take a break and get outdoors.

So take a break and participate in Screen-Free Week 2019!

Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., is an innovator, author, organizational executive and educator.  Cheryl is the Co-Founder, President and CEO Emerita of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN). She currently serves as a consultant to the Network, coordinating the Network’s international activities. Cheryl is also Adjunct Faculty and founding Executive Director of the Nature Based Leadership Institute at Antioch University New England (AUNE). Recipient of numerous awards for her leadership, she served as founding National Director of the pioneering K-12, interdisciplinary environment education programs, Project Learning Tree and Project WILD. Cheryl is author, editor and designer of a wide variety of publications including books, articles, and educational materials. 

Liberty, Truth, Solidarity: Why I Support Screen-Free Week

Liberty, Truth, Solidarity: Why I Support Screen-Free Week

Jacques Brodeur is the founder of Edupax and the 10 Day Screen-Free Challenge, a media literacy challenge popular across France and Québec, Canada. In this blog, Jacques describes why disconnecting is so important and why Edupax endorses Screen-Free Week.  

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I became interested in media violence and how TV time affected children. Between 1985 and 2000, the percentage of students with troubled behaviors in elementary schools had tripled and media violence was one factor in the increase. As an educator, I wanted to know more. In 2001, I was introduced to the Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television (SMART) program, which showed how screen time reduction was linked to reduced verbal violence and physical violence by 50 and 40% as well as obesity prevention and fewer requests for toys.

As I learned more about media literacy and reducing TV time, I realized the importance of reducing screen exposure for children’s sake. Having been a physical education teacher for over 30 years, I chose to make screen-time reduction a sort of “game” between young people and professional digital entertainers. These guys get paid to create video games and social media designed specifically to increase screen exposure and sedentary behaviors, with no care for young people’s health. So, I created the 10 Day Screen-Free Challenge, a competition in which young people go screen-free while learning about how devices capture their attention and what they can do about it.

Since its creation in 2003, the 10 Day Screen-Free Challenge has spread throughout Québec and France! Teachers loved it. Parents loved it. And most of all, kids enjoyed learning about how the industry makes profits by trapping their attention, more often, and for longer periods of time.

While facing real professionals in the field of persuasive design is a very exciting “game” for children, I thought it would be more difficult to motivate teens to disconnect. In 2015, I introduced the Challenge to high school students for the first time in the jurisdiction of Vendée, France. In only four years, 25 high schools offered 7,000 students the opportunity to try the Challenge and evaluate their level of device dependence.

Not only did the teens survive, but various benefits followed, as confirmed by evaluations from teachers, parents, and students. Empathy improved, verbal and physical violence went down, misogynist and homophobic humor became less funny and lost popularity, students spent more time reading, bicycling and other physical activities, and they spent more time in conversations with families and friends.

What made educating for screen reduction so popular?

Evaluation by teachers, parents, and students in Québec and France helped us understand the reasons why. Some of the most common benefits included the following:

  • 50% decrease in verbal and physical violence.
  • Improved relationships between students, between parents and children, and between students and teachers.
  • Less fights and mean language at home and at school. Interestingly, positive changes were witnessed more at home than at school, according to students.   
  • More time spent reading, more time spent in sports and other physical activities, including bicycling and walking.
  • More time spent in conversations with family and friends.
  • Better attention in class, better quality of homework.
  • Closer relations between parents and school staff.
  • Closer collaboration between school and community. A better reputation of the school in the community.
  • The mood of students improved, confirmed by parents, teachers, and students.
  • Better learning environment.
  • Improved critical judgment was witnessed by parents and teachers.  
  • The need for better media awareness consumption was confirmed by 90% of teachers in high schools.
  • Critical media education was found to be welcome in schools by staff and parents.

By making digital disconnection a sport, we witnessed a significant increase in participation rates with children and teens. Hundreds of schools have organized the Challenge abroad. Technology became seen as more of a tool, and the digital drug lost some of its addicted users. Tablets, television, and video games had more aware users. And telephones stopped being called intelligent or “smart.”

Screen-Free Week is a time to celebrate freedom – freedom from screens and persuasive design and the freedom to discover. I support Screen-Free Week because it’s the easiest way to evaluate my own digital addiction level. It’s a fantastic way to make sure that technology is a tool and not a drug. By replacing screen time with some other activities, my brain rediscovers hobbies that used to make me happy before, sometimes years ago.    

Every year, schools throughout the U.S., Québec, and France hold mandatory fire drills, although there have been few fires in recent decades. What if schools started holding a mandatory Screen-Free Week every year? Screen time has negative impacts in many children and teens in all schools throughout the world. Isn’t it time to start thinking about it – and getting organized to do it?                              

Jacques Brodeur is the founder of Edupax, an organization dedicated to ending violence among school-age children and improving their quality of life. Jacques was a physical education teacher from 1967 to 2000, has authored several book chapters on media violence, and served on the board of the Action Coalition for Media Education.

Success with Screen-FREE Week Frederick!

Success with Screen-FREE Week Frederick!

We love this Screen-Free Week celebration in Frederick, MD, where the entire town gets in on the fun! In their video blog, Dr. Alison Bomba and Occupational Therapist Kelly Beins explain why they teamed up to create Screen-FREE Frederick.

AB:  Hi, I’m Dr. Alison Bomba, child psychologist. I own a private practice in Frederick, Maryland.

KB:  And I’m Kelly Beins, I’m an occupational therapist here in Frederick, and I’m also a private practice owner.

AB:  So, last summer, Kelly and I decided that we wanted to host Frederick’s very first community-wide Screen-Free Week. Which sounded like a very daunting task, that’s why we’re doing it together. But we’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.

KB:  We have, and we were really excited to be able to share with you guys some of the things that we’ve done to make Screen-Free Week doable and possible here in Frederick.

AB:  We started with the creation of a Facebook page, for Screen-FREE Week Frederick, which is totally ironic but that’s the way to reach people – social media. We also reached out to our personal and professional contacts and community leaders to get them involved and excited. And we hosted an interview day, in which we spent the whole day in our downtown with our fake microphone that we’ve created and our t-shirts, interviewing people on the street and local business owners about the importance of balancing screen time.

KB:  And one of the big goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of this process was we would make it as big or as small as we wanted to. And being business owners ourselves, there isn’t a lot of time, and so the Facebook page has allowed us to do something consistent that isn’t really difficult, and the interview day allowed us to not only have fun with it, but connect with a lot of people in a short amount of time. And I will say, the fake microphone was kind of a …

AB: Big hit. So we’re keeping it light, we’re keeping it fun, we’re keeping people engaged throughout the year. So we’re essentially acting as a clearinghouse, our goal is to help promote events that are already taking place that are screen-free during Screen-Free Week. We’re also asking people to host events. We’re not going to do the hosting. We’ll make appearances at some of them, we’ll promote their events, so it’s a win-win.

KB:  And, when we were downtown, we had printed up – in addition to the wonderful fake microphone – business cards. And so these business cards we could give to the business owners or the people that we met on the street. And then in our private practices…

AB:  We’ve created flyers, and this is a nice easy way for people to distribute information to their own clients about Screen-Free Week. So just trying to get the word out.

KB:  Yep. And so basically our message is, it’s doable, it’s fun, and there are things that you’re already doing, I’m sure, in your life that can be consistent with and support Screen-Free Week.

AB:  So it has been easy and very fun to tap into our resources that already exist in our community and ask them to host an event, to help share our Facebook page, to get people on board with Screen-Free Week.

KB:  So we hope that you’ll have as much fun as we have in organizing a Screen-Free Week, hope that everybody is successful in their quest for unplugged parenting and screen-free fun.

Screen-Free Week 2019 is April 29 – May 5. Make sure you register your event here!