In a few short weeks, my family is embarking on an epic summer adventure – 6 weeks of camping the East Coast, from Florida to Maine and all points in between. Fletcher (8) and Lola Gray (6) are excited to spend a summer sleeping in the ‘treehouse tent’ that attaches to the top of our teardrop camper. They are ready to spend the summer riding bikes and roasting marshmallows, to see the wild ponies of Assateague Island and tour Chocolate World in Hershey, PA. They are less excited about an entire summer ‘unplugged’. From my perspective, the elimination of screen time is an added bonus to what promises to be a summer to remember.
Frankly, I’m hoping it won’t be as big an adjustment as my son thinks it will. For years now we have seriously limited our kids’ screen time. Don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming to be anti-television by any stretch. I’m a closet reality tv junkie and I am pretty sure that PBS taught my son to read. But something happens to boys when they move from Thomas the Tank Engine to Pokemon and Nintendo DS. And that something is not pretty. It turned my sweet boy into an irritable creature who spoke of nothing but when he would get his next screen fix. Pair this with the knowledge that today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week) but in a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own. (Children & Nature Network, 2008) We knew we had to do something.
It has been 2 years now since we instituted the “no screen time during the week” rule, and we haven’t missed it at all. Where my children used to get dressed and eat breakfast in front of the television they now read books or ride scooters before school. And since they know that weekends are the time for Saturday morning cartoons, family movie nights and plenty of Wii they almost never beg for screens during the week. It hasn’t totally eliminated the addiction, but it works for us.
This no screens rule is not without exceptions, however. When the kids accidentally discovered my American Idol obsession, I caved and let them watch along. It was family bonding time, snuggling together in bed and cheering on our faves. (Go Philip!) I can’t exactly claim that American Idol is educational, but the other exceptions to my rule are.
The first of these is Myth Busters, the Discovery Channel series featuring Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. The Myth Busters website describes the series as mixing “scientific method with gleeful curiosity and plain old-fashioned ingenuity to create their own signature style of explosive experimentation.” The description fits to a T. While the kids are largely entertained by the fantastic explosions that accompany almost every episode, they are simultaneously learning about controlled experimentation, that we can learn from failure (things always go wrong on the show before they go right) and about how much FUN science can be. (FYI: Several seasons of Myth Busters are available for instant streaming on Netflix.)
The other exception to the rule is the amazing website The Kids Should See This, a collection of beautiful, interesting and inspiring videos from across the web. When we last visited, the kids and I learned about How Life Begins in the Deep Ocean and why we yawn. We watched a cascade of 60,000 dominoes and a classical music flash mob on a Copenhagen Metro train. The site’s creator, Rion Nakaya , says “There’s just so much science, nature, music, art, technology, storytelling and assorted good stuff out there that my kids (and maybe your kids) haven’t seen. It’s most likely not stuff that was made for them… But we don’t underestimate kids around here.” I like that, because we don’t underestimate kids around here either.
So while we are adventuring this summer, if a rainy day traps us in the tent or we just need a change of pace, I’ll feel good about knowing that we have the computer charged and ready with a few good (and entertaining) diversions – just in case!