Keeping the Screen-Free Week Spirit Alive during COVID
As we all continue to social distance, mask up, and take care of one another, Screen-Free Week may look very different in 2021! Towns in northern New York kept the spirit of Screen-Free Week alive this year. Read this guest blog post below for inspiration. And check out this news coverage about their events.
Screen-Free Week celebrations in my rural community in northern NY have always been a bit unusual, but COVID presented some new challenges. We did our best to adapt, and we learned some things that we really hope we won’t have to use next year.
For the past fifteen years various community-serving organizations in Pulaski and neighboring towns have offered free non-electronic family activities during the school vacation week. This generally didn’t match the national Screen-Free Week dates, but it did match a time when many families were looking for something constructive to do with kids. Local parks, libraries, historical societies, art centers, businesses, churches, and volunteer groups hosted readings and presentations, game nights and community meals, daylight and moonlight nature walks, art classes and craft projects, and outdoor and indoor volunteer opportunities. In 2019 groups jointly hosted a free community barn dance that brought a lot of people in. We were looking forward to a repeat in 2020.
And then along came COVID. All our 2020 Screen-Free activities were called off at the very last minute. At first I assumed that this would be a very temporary problem, and we’d be back to normal in 2021. But the school break week this year spanned the end of March and the beginning of April, and by February it was clear that normal wasn’t what we were getting. So we started brainstorming what we could do to help people reconnect with the real world without putting them at risk.
Packets were sent home with every K-5 student in the Pulaski school district. These included many suggestions for games, nature explorations, and other activities that families could do at home or out in public parks as well as coloring books, hot chocolate, and information about other Screen-Free Week offerings. Next year we hope to send things home with kids in the adjoining Sandy Creek school district as well.
Many other materials were made available free at different pickup locations. The Little Free Libraries in town put out all sorts of kids’ books. The state park offered bird feeder crafts and naturalist activity books and badges. Town libraries offered museum and park passes for families to borrow for free as well as books and craft kits. The Fine Arts Center also put out a variety of free craft and art kits including directions and all materials.
We also invited people for a few in-person activities, though these were individual or self-guided rather than large-group. A historical society invited people to make appointments for genealogy study in their large building.
The state park posted consecutive pages of a children’s book in enlarged waterproof format along one of their trails to make a self-guided Storybook Walk. They also offered an augmented-reality app-based experience to go with one of their trails. (We usually wouldn’t have done this during Screen-Free Week, but this year when live guidance wasn’t available we decided to be flexible.) At my farm/nature center, we invited hikers and made trail maps, binoculars, magnifiers, and identification aids available for people to borrow.
I miss the energy of the community coming together for live in-person events, but I think what we did had some value. We’ve gotten some encouraging feedback on the packets that went home with students. Scores of people checked out art and craft kits wherever they were available. Smaller numbers of people went nature walking, partly because of the week’s erratic weather, but many people hoped to come back another time. Perhaps as importantly, I think this helped to keep the idea of Screen-Free Week alive in people’s minds. When we held our first celebrations fifteen years ago people tended to look blankly at us and ask just what that was meant to be about. Now it’s gotten to be a tradition which people of all ages seem to enjoy. I hope that we can keep it that way, and that maybe next year we’ll be playing games together and dancing again.
About the Author
Joanna Hoyt is a full-time volunteer at St Francis Farm in Orwell NY, whose mission is to live an alternative to the consumer culture. This has included introducing Screen-Free Week to her community. She appreciates the very clear and user-friendly resources that ScreenFree.org provides for this.
Photos provided by the author.