7 Fun Activities to Try During Screen-Free Week

April 28th, 2012 by Dionna | 4 Comments
Posted in Eclectic Learning, Healthy Living, natural parenting

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April 30 through May 6 marks the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s annual Screen-Free week. Screen-Free week is not just a week to turn off the boob tube, it gives each of us the opportunity to start changing habits. Heck, it can even help us start improving our own self-image.

How could watching television affect our self-image? I’ve been reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. One of the phenomena she discusses is how easily girls and women can be negatively influenced by exposure to poor stereotypes in the media.

Take the female college students, all good at math, all enrolled in advanced calculus, who were asked to view a series of television commercials: four neutral ads (showing, say, cell phones or animals) were interspersed with two depicting cliches (a girl in raptures over acne medicine; a woman drooling over a brownie mix). Afterward they completed a survey and – bing! – the group who’d seen the stereotyped ads expressed less interest in math- and science-related careers than classmates who had seen only the neutral ones. Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads. And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group; interestingly, male students showed no such disparity.)

“In a 2000 Nielsen Media Research and Radio Advertising Bureau survey it was found that on average, U.S. households watch more than seven hours of television per day.1 How many stereotypical images of women do you think you and your children are exposed to during those seven hours?

And so what?, you might ask – we all know that not every woman gets orgasmic over mascara, that we’re not all built like a Victoria’s Secret model (are any of us?!). The problem is that “increased television viewing is associated with more stereotypical views, especially of gender.”2 In other words, we (and our sons and daughters!) start believing in the “happy housewife” B.S. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a positive “strong, powerful female” stereotype.

So let’s start combating this phenomenon in our own children. Let’s get them doing something fun, healthy, screen-free, and stereotype-free. Here are 7 ideas your boys and girls can try during Screen-Free week, or any day that you want to turn off the electronics. (And yes, I’ll be stepping away from the computer more during screen-free week, at least during Kieran’s waking hours.)

1. Blast Off with a Baking Soda + Vinegar Cork Rocket

Grab an empty 2 liter bottle, dump in some baking soda, add vinegar, pop a cork on top, and stand back. Experiment with how much baking soda and vinegar you’ll need to make the cork fly. For older kids, you can use or modify the experiment at Science Buddies.

You can also try putting a balloon on the top of your bottle and watch it blow up as the baking soda and vinegar react.

2. Read an Adventure Book, Then Act It Out

What child doesn’t love an adventure? Read an adventure book together, and then find some fun ways to act it out. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

Magic Tree House: Create a tree house from blankets thrown over a table and chairs inside or from the branches of a tree outside. Imagine that you and your child have been whisked away to some far-off place in time. Where would you go? What would you see? What dangers lurk? What fascinations await you?

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Go to your local nature center or other hike-able area. Make up your own words (scamper through wildflowers, splash through puddles) and find your own bear!

3. Grab a Camera and Go On a Photo Scavenger Hunt

Make a list of things you might see at the park, or on a nature hike, or at the zoo. Give your child a camera and let her discover how many items she can mark off the list.

4. Make a Difference: Volunteer!

Does your family have a heart for hiking? Take a trash bag to a local trail and clean it up. Know any senior citizens in your neighborhood? Stop by with some handmade pictures (drawn by your child) and chat for a few minutes. Dedicate one day to making your corner of the world a better place. For inspiration, take a look at Ten Ideas for Volunteering with Young Children and 155 Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.

5. Have an Audio Picnic

Pack a picnic lunch, your thickest comforter, and a few pillows. Bring something for kids to draw on and with, or some other quiet activity they can do while listening to an audio book. Lay back and relax – listen to a story with your kids – that is always a nice change for me, since I am usually the one reading.

Your local library should have a selection of audio books (we’ve enjoyed the first few in the Harry Potter series (skipping over the scary parts) and a couple of Kate Dicamillo’s books). Online you can find some unique tales at Sparkle Stories – scroll down at that link for several sample stories. Sparkle Stories is one of my {favorite} sponsors, and I chatted via email with David, half of the duo responsible for the site. I asked him how Sparkle Stories portrays girls in strong, powerful, or creative roles. He said:

We strive for balance and variety in all depictions of boys, girls, men and women: there are nurturing and empathic boys, intrepid and commanding girls, men and women who create, tend, justify and stand for all corners of their lives. To give specific examples of girl figures – the most athletic and daring character in “Junkyard Tales” is a female chipmunk. The mother in “Martin and Sylvia” balances her professional life (scientist and science advocate) and her home life with grace and clarity. The protagonists of “So Many Fairies” and “by Thistle by Thimble” alternate every week with male protagonists – and feature strong, insightful, inspired, empowered and creative girls and women.

For the record, Kieran has enjoyed several of the sample Sparkle Stories. He particularly liked the two Martin and Sylvia stories and the sample story for “So Many Fairies” called “Bardswallow.” Check them out, and tell them Code Name: Mama sent you!

6. Discover a Museum

Have you been to all of the museums in your community? What about that little tiny one that is advertised in all of the tourist brochures (but you’re not sure that anyone actually visits)? In our city, we have a hair museum, a doll museum, and a fabulous art museum. Visit for the first time or for the first time in a long time. Look at the exhibits with fresh eyes. And if you can’t find a museum, find a park, nature center, or other venue.

7. Play with Water

In our part of the world, we are enjoying some warmer weather. And one of our favorite activities outside is playing with water. Here is some inspiration for splashing around in your own backyard:

Make a rain barrel

Create a water wall

Water play ideas

For more inspiration on screen-free ideas, see:

The archives for 10 Ways to Make the Day Magical at A Magical Childhood

Explore Childhood 101 and her beautiful magazine, Play Grow Learn

Let the Children Play

What will your family do for Screen-Free week?

  1. Stereotyping of Women in Television Advertisements at 1 (citing Albarran, 2000).
  2. Stereotyping of Women in Television Advertisements at 2 (citing (Allan & Scott, 1996).

4 Responses to:
"7 Fun Activities to Try During Screen-Free Week"

  1. Very cool ideas! I can’t wait to check out the Sparkle Stories! We were doing no-tech Tuesdays for a while, but lately it’s fallen to the wayside. I wanted to blog about it, but I feel like I can’t rightfully do so until we are consistent with it for a little while. I found it to be very beneficial to our family. My kids definitely got more of my undivided attention, and they, though bored for a while, always ended up doing something cool and creative.

    We did get rid of tv a couple years ago, mostly because I feel like commercials are damaging, and didn’t want my kids exposed to them at that volume. There are more subtle examples, but one thing that really bothered me is that they’d show commercials for horror films on Nickelodeon! Wth? There were some terrifying sounds and images, and my older son is very, very sensitive. Then there was the fact that they promote stereotypes, and spread consumerism like wildfire. Max used to want everything he saw on a commercial, even toothpaste dispensers! When he doesn’t see commercials, he’s not thinking constantly about what he can buy next.

    We still have our tv set, but there’s a computer hooked up to it. So, we can get shows on dvd from the library, or watch them on Netflix, Youtube, or Hulu. The latter still has some commercials, but we paid for a subscription, and they are few, and mostly about Cars, food, cell phones, and Weight Watchers (which I HATE). We would stop using Hulu if it got to be too much.

    Thanks for posting this! I don’t know if we’ll do the tech-free week, but starting now, we are going right back to no-tech Tuesdays. Thanks for the inspiration!

    ~Daniél

  2. I much preferred Packaging Girlhood to Cinderella Ate My Daughter. There is a companion book entitled Packaging Boyhood that is still on my list to read, too.

  3. karyn   kloppenmum

    For me, as a Mum to three boys, it’s the negative images with which men are portrayed on tele – in NZ there seems to be a trend to have men being presented as idiots or incompetent in some way. Not what I want my boys to believe about themselves.

  4. Tat   muminsearch

    I’ve noticed that if I let my son watch TV regularly he gets addicted quickly, loses his curiousity and doesn’t know what to do with himself. Turn the TV off and after a few days he’s a totally different boy. Just recently we had school holidays and I was sick and couldn’t give the kids much attention. I thought I’d need to turn on the TV – and I didn’t need it once. The kids just made up their own games and never stopped playing!

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