Less screen time…more creative, active playtime

by CCFC on May 2, 2016

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screen free wk 2016Editor’s note: May 2-8 is Screen-Free Week, an observance created by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages children, families and communities to unplug from digital entertainment and spend their free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, connecting, and rediscovering the joys of life beyond the screen. Attachment Parenting International (API) reminds parents to find a balance with screen time in their families and supports a variety of activities — including play — to strengthen and nurture secure parent-child attachment relationships.

Children need to play.

Play is so essential to children’s health and well-being — and so endangered — that the United Nations lists it as a guaranteed right in its Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of the most important reasons to limit children’s screen time is to ensure that they have more time and opportunities for hands-on creative play.

Children play creatively to:

  • Have fun
  • Express their fantasies and feelings
  • Gain a sense of competence
  • Make meaning of their experience.

Hands-on, creative play promotes:

  • Intellectual growth
  • Critical thinking
  • Constructive problem solving skills through opportunities to explore and experiment
  • Self-control.

As the amount of time children spend with screens is increasing, the amount of time children spend in hands-on, creative play is decreasing. Also, the more time young children spend with screens, the more time they are likely to spend engaging with them as older children and the harder time they have turning screens off. In addition to the time it takes up, screen media is less conducive to creative play than other media such as books or radio.

The best-selling toys, marketed on television and the Internet, often inhibit rather than promote creativity, because they are either linked to media programs, embedded with computer chips, or both. When children play with toys that are based on media products, they play less creatively because they are not spurred to make up their own world. And toys that talk, chirp, beep, and move electronically mean that a child’s involvement is often limited to pushing a button — hardly a creative activity!

Active play is important, too. Kids need at least 60 minutes of active and vigorous play each day, and one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to meet this goal is by playing outside. Given that childhood obesity is a major public health concern, the amount of sedentary time that children  spend with screens is a big problem. Children ages 10-16 now spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity, yet they spend an average of 10.4 waking hours each day relatively motionless.

In  addition, young children living in inner cities are failing to develop essential large motor skills. One recent study found that 86% of disadvantaged preschoolers in 2 cities lacked basic motor skills like running, jumping, throwing, and catching.

While proponents of screen technology laud gaming systems like the Wii, which promotes movement, a recent study suggests that simulating activities by playing on a Wii does not burn as many calories as actually engaging in those activities.

Screen-Free Week is a chance for children and families to experience the joys of play:

  • Play with art supplies
  • Play with words
  • Play with music
  • Make up songs
  • Play with blocks
  • Play with nothing
  • Play cards and board games
  • Play indoors
  • Play outdoors
  • Play tag
  • Play sports
  • Play together
  • Play alone

And when Screen-Free Week is over, keep on playing!

Additional API Resources

Jean_Illsley_Clarke_PhotoAn exclusive API audio recording with Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke on “How Much Is Enough? Attachment Parenting, permissive parenting and overindulgence” — now only $9

2011 AP Month “Families at Play” research

An interview with Sara Adelman, founder of Screen-Free Week, on API’s online The Attached Family magazine

Personal stories on API’s blog, APtly Said:

“Non-TV ways to connect with your kids”

“Screen time and Attachment Parenting”

“Screen time can be family time”

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