Monday, April 25, 2011

Highlights from our Screen-Free Week

So, I'm officially back online! Did you participate in Screen Free Week?

Don't worry, I took plenty of notes (almost a week's worth, in fact) on my observations from our five days "unplugged". I will share them here, since I don't want anyone to feel left out, plus I know you all are wondering what in the world we did without television or computer, right?

How we participated:

We started out with the intention of going an entire week without television time. I would check email briefly once or twice a day, just in case something important came through and the sender was not aware of me being offline. My husband still did his online work, but if we were home, he went to the library, or if he had work to do, I would take the children out of the house. He agreed to not play games or engage in other non-work related computer activities.

How did we do?

Well, I shortened our SFW to five days instead of seven (see Thursday). I went on Facebook a couple of times to check on a family member and a friend who were both dealing with health challenges, and I needed to stay updated. But I went directly to their walls to check for updates, and did not read other people's statuses. (By the way, I'm happy to report that my family member is fine, and the friend is improving).

Thursday evening, when a friend from church came over with her children, I decided to allow them to watch a video after they got bored playing in the room so that we could actually engage in adult conversation! (Five children, four and under- I needed the help! Lol!)

Oh, and I gotta tell on my husband, who apparently forgot that we were screen-free when he played a video game at Skateland (during an event that was a part of SFW. Oh my. Just sayin'. ;-D)

What we did:

The first day (Monday) was pretty eventful. After a morning spent reading, cuddling, and playing with the children (going on 4 and 18 months), I took my son out for a couple hours to the library and then to the park while my daughter (the younger one) was napping. While we were out, we toured our city's multi-generational center (think YMCA) and discovered many interesting programs and activities. That evening, we went to Skateland where my son skated for the very first time. (They were participating in SFW and offered free admission to families who signed the Screen-Free pledge).

After all the excitement of Monday, we pretty much stayed home all day on Tuesday. I got up early to get some exercise (I think I can say that it's literally been years since I've been motivated enough to exercise! Oh my!) Later, my body rebelled by being exhausted by about 10 am! What's up with that?! Again, we read lots of books with the children, and played with flash cards, some toys,and I blew bubbles for them. It really was not very eventful, but that was okay!
Finding new uses for toys- a great source of entertainment! (It's a tuba, in case you wondered!)
On Wednesday, I did manage to get a few things done that I had been putting off for a while! I think the children were finally getting used to the idea of occupying themselves without the television, and played in their room quite a bit. Otherwise, they pretty much followed me around while I worked on stuff around the house. They would play near me, and I would often take mini-breaks to play with them. I came across a pack of balloons, and blew several of them up to play with. They enjoyed that! It didn't occupy them for very long, but they still liked it. That evening, we went to our Wednesday evening church service. By the time that rolled around, we were ready to get out of the house!
Before SFW, this was still half covered in boxes from the move, now it's a functional place for our family to eat dinner! (I'm not really sure why this picture is all "choppy" or whatever that is).
On Thursday, I decided that we would cut our SFW down to five days instead of seven. I'm weak! Ha ha! (I may or may not have been influenced by my son's DAILY question "is Screen-Free Week over yet?) Anyway, I was up early again to exercise. I took a walk around our neighborhood, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of our area. Some nearby neighbors have goats (did I ever mention we kind of live in the boonies?) and I think I may have heard some kind of large bird, I'm pretty sure it was a peacock. And of course there were plenty of dogs, and some neighbors even have horses. I guess I kind of live in a diverse neighborhood, because our street is apartments, and then the streets near us are homes with a lot of land. 

That evening, a friend from church came over with her little ones and we discussed a book we're reading together, The Surrendered Wife (pretty awesome so far if you want to check it out). Our children played together for a little while, and then they got kind of restless, so we let them watch a movie so we could continue our discussion. (I had decided ahead of time that I would make this exception if they were "bouncing off the walls!")

Friday morning, I was up and out of the house to meet up with this sweet person for coffee. She is just as nice in person as she is on her blog, just in case you're wondering! When I got home, my mother in law came over to use our computer, and we had a maintenance worker over to fix our ceiling fans (hooray!) Then after all that was finished, I took the children to the library again. So, more book reading. Books are a very big thing for us, I guess, and we read even more when the TV is off! That evening, I got to go to the store by myself to pick up a few things we needed for Easter.

What I learned:

I want a yard! I really would love to have one! We live in an upstairs apartment, and we don't even have a small patio any more like we did in our last apartment. And downstairs, it's just parking, and there's no place within walking distance for the little ones to play outside. Our neighborhood being semi-rural, only has sidewalks right in front of residences, so even taking them for a walk is challenging. (Have you ever tried to push a stroller in gravel? Hmm...) Anyway, the hardest part for me (at least initially) was finding things they could do independently. I would love to have a yard so they could have a safe place to play while I catch up on housework and stuff.

Too much screen-time can be toxic! I think right about day two is when we kind of experienced screen withdrawal! It was pretty awful! Right around 1:00 p.m., I really had this overwhelming urge to turn the television on for the children. I may have also gotten really frustrated with things in general. Thankfully, I refrained from giving up and managed to push through, but wow, that was really challenging for a little bit!

The internet is a HUGE time-waster for me! Okay, well I guess I pretty much already figured this, but it was so evident during SFW. Being "unplugged" I was much more quick to make a decision to do good things! I was motivated to stay busy with housework, and as I mentioned above, I even exercised for the first (and second) time in a very long time!

It's actually pretty easy for children to be occupied (and to occupy themselves) without a screen. Aside from the no-yard thing, they adapt pretty easily to life without a screen. Even as I type this (and our screen time has resumed), they are playing quietly together in their room. They enjoy things like reading books, playing with their toys, blowing bubbles, playing with balloons, coloring, playing at the park, dancing to music on the radio, and more! They might not stay focused on any one activity for a very long time, but they are both under four years of age, so that is completely appropriate! (Being in a zombie-like trance while staring at the TV for hours on end, however is not so appropriate for any age!)
See? Everyone was still okay without screen time!
Photo's blurry, but she's clearly having a good time!
I really need to brush up on my parenting skills! This past week, I was confronted with the fact that I'm a little rusty with actually engaging with my children. I often use a screen as a baby-sitter in a sense while I'm doing housework and of course using the computer! While I think that has a place (like when mama needs a shower, or a quiet moment to herself) it should not be the norm! I definitely need to be more disciplined myself, and be more purposeful about our screen usage.

Going Forward:

I loved the decisiveness to do good things that I adopted during SFW. It is now easier to overcome the temptation to stay on the computer a lot. I will be more purposeful about my computer usage- and not go on immediately in the morning. I plan to continue getting up early to get some exercise on a regular basis. (See Maximize Your Mornings for where I got some inspiration).

We are now limiting television and computer time for our children (mostly our son- as our daughter doesn't really care yet!) For the past two days, when our son asks for computer time (he likes to play some of the games on and a few other things), we have set a timer for 30 minutes. He has resisted getting off so quickly (compared to before) but he's fine once he finds another activity to pursue. I'm still working on how we will limit television and/or video time. (I'm open to suggestions if you have any!) We may adopt a screen-free day once or twice a month (or maybe once a week?)

It was good for our family to participate in SFW. Like anything else, computer or television time can become an idol and something that you just pay way too much attention to! It was a way for us to reconnect with each other, it brought out some things we need to deal with, and it helped us to become more disciplined with our screen time!

What did you learn from Screen-Free Week? Share in the comments if you participated!