guest blog by Rinny Yourman, JD, Screen-Free Week Outreach Coordinator, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, OAK Member

When children have free time to themselves, how do we want them to spend it?

We hope they’ll spend it looking down –not at screens– but digging in the dirt, gardening, collecting shells or stones, admiring flowers, watering plants. Maybe they’ll spend it looking up –admiring birds, trees, clouds, sunsets, and stars. Perhaps they’ll get moving, choosing to hike, bike, canoe, explore. Or maybe they will simply lie still, quietly attuned to the nature sounds and breezes that envelope them.

Screen-Free Week, the annual, international celebration that takes place this year April 29-May 5, encourages children, families, schools, and communities to set aside entertainment screens for a week and instead fill their free time with all kinds of screen-free fun. There is no prescription for how to celebrate, other than to go entertainment screen-free. So children can read, garden, exercise, craft, knit, explore, meditate, volunteer, hike, anything.

Elementary and high school students from Chicago Waldorf School clean up
Welles Park during Screen-Free Week 2017.

In 2018, Screen-Free Week celebrations around the world included a vast variety of nature experiences and time spent outdoors. We heard from families, schools, and communities that they enjoyed, among other things: gardening, hikes, bike rides, visits (to nature centers, parks, farms, arboretums, public gardens, farmers markets, planetariums), playground meet-ups, nature and bird walks, beach activities, seed exchanges, garden day, nature programs, canoeing, nature journaling, bike-to-school day, outdoor festivals, tree treks, nature-themed crafts, kite flying, and so much more.

Screen-Free Week is an especially magical week for nudging the kids in our lives to spend time outdoors. Milder weather stirs a natural desire in us to immerse ourselves in nature. Why not capitalize on this inclination by celebrating Screen-Free Week 2019 with nature-themed activities? We invite zoos, aquariums, nature centers, public gardens, and national, state, and local parks to encourage children to visit and explore during Screen-Free Week.

We’d be thrilled to see every family, school, and community initiate a gardening project in honor of Screen-Free Week. Gardening provides children with a lifelong skill, beautifies and feeds, instructs about local ecology, is suitable indoors or out, and teaches patience and persistence.

Our dream is that in the near future, young adults will claim that it was during Screen-Free Week when their parents, caregivers, teachers, grandparents, or family friends first introduced them to their love of gardening.

This year, Screen-Free Week falls during the same week as the 100th-anniversary celebration of Children’s Book Week. Why not celebrate both events with a nature-themed twist? As we all know, children’s books can be meaningful portals to discovery. So before Screen-Free Week begins, be on the lookout for children’s books that inspire home or school garden projects. Then, during Screen-Free Week, bring children’s books with you on outdoor excursions, to help children identify constellations, cloud formations, birds, trees, flowers, and insects. And consider finding nature-themed arts and crafts books for creative inspiration.

There are fascinating nature-related fiction books worth reading during Screen-Free Week. How many of us have been moved by such novels as Island of the Blue DolphinsMy Side of the Mountain or Hatchet? How many of our kids have committed to wildlife conservation efforts from such titles such as The Loraxand Hoot? In honor of both events, why not encourage a child to read any book she desires, but do it outdoors, whether in a hammock, on the balcony, or at the scenic terminus of a hiking trail? How about reading aloud to a child, while you are both sitting outside?

Ideally, we want kids to complete Screen-Free Week with a renewed sense of connection to the earth and the outdoors. Perhaps, if given the chance, they’ll emerge from Screen-Free Week with a newfound love of nature or outdoor activity. Hopefully, the week will invite them, along with their families, to engage in more mindful use of tech going forward. And maybe they’ll invite a friend or family member to enjoy some outdoor time, together.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which hosts Screen-Free Week, invites nature lovers everywhere to download free Screen-Free Week resources and register their Screen-Free Week celebrations at here.

Re-posted with permission from the Children & Nature Network

Published by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Chair

My name is Jackie Ostfeld. I am the co-founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and the Director of Sierra Club's Outdoors for All campaign. I am an advocate for connecting kids with nature. Views are my own.

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