By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer
I don't know about you, but for some reason when February arrives I feel the strong need to hit the reset button for our family.
I'm sure it's the time off over the holidays, and the cold weather, and being stuck inside, but we all start to get a little crabby and cranky. This year, my kids have already had eight snow days and were off of school more days then they were in school this month!
So we're off-schedule and have major cabin fever since it's even too cold to go outside and play. And I've noticed my kids are spending a little too much time in front of screens - either watching TV shows or playing games on the phones or tablet.
I've also realized that I've become a little lax with our usual rules and limits because I'm a little tired and cranky from being stuck inside too!
So for the past several years we've hit the reset button by declaring February "No Screen Month" for our kids.
For us this means no watching shows or movies on the TV, iPhones or tablets, and no games on the phones or tablets either. (This year we'll still let the kids watch video tutorials for using their Rainbow Looms because that's an activity they're really into right now.)
Because here's the problem I see - my kids can get too attached to the screen--to the point that any free moment they have they want to be watching or playing on the screen.
I don't know if my sweet kiddos are the only ones like this - but they are easily addicted.
I'm not against screen time completely, but I do think that it needs to be used wisely and intentionally for our kids (and really ourselves too, right?!) so it doesn't morph into a monster within our homes.
The first several days of "No Screen Month" are always a little hard for all of us. My kids have a hard time letting go and still ask to watch a show or play a game multiple times throughout the day.
And I have a hard time letting go of the break that screen time gives me as a mama. But with a little intentionality we all learn how to manage, and by the end of the month we have reset as a family, so that screen time is not our default.
How to plan a "No Screen Month" for Your Family
1. Set yourself up for success.
For us this means we need to help our kids stick to "No Screen Month" by removing the temptation for them. We take our Netflix apps off of our phones and tablets. We set pass-codes on our phones, so even if the kids try to use the phones, they can't get on.
We keep the TV remotes hidden away, and we don't have any gaming systems, but if we did, we would probably unplug them and put them away for the month too.
2. Find a replacement.
My kids' regular screen time was in the afternoon when I let them watch a TV show while I put my youngest down for her nap. It was the easiest way for me to keep them quiet and entertained so I could be sure they wouldn't wake up the baby.
I still need to put the toddler down for a nap in a quiet house, but I don't want to back off our commitment to "No Screen Month," so I needed to find a replacement.
Books on CD are an excellent way to help keep kids entertained and quiet.
We've purchased a few of our own, but we also love to pick up new ones from the library every few weeks. My kids love to sit and listen to several books in a row, and I love that I can get the baby down for her nap.
We also recently found Sparkle Stories, and I was thrilled to learn that they have a podcast that is free! I think they may be better for older kids who can sit and listen to a story without having a book to look at, but I'm really loving this resource for replacing screen time at our house.
Other similar stories on CD would be great too.
3. Plan some activities.
When you first cut back on screen time, you know there is going to be the inevitable whining around the time when your kids are used to watching a show or playing a game.
Plan a few easy but fun activities to offer at those times to help distract them and give them something else to do.
It can be as easy as water play in the sink or a new set of markers or paint and a giant roll of paper. I'm not a crafty mama in any way, so I don't plan complex crafts, but you certainly could if that's your kind of thing.
We stick to simple things that the kids don't get to do on a daily basis.
One day we filled the bathtub with snow because it's been too cold to go outside to play, and the kids had fun with that. Although the snow play didn't last for as long as I'd envisioned, it got their minds off of screen time, and they were off playing with something else without asking to watch TV again.
We've also done a beach party where the kids put on their bathing suits, and we pull out the beach towels and get some tubs of water and they can play with water in the living room.
The Beach Party is always a big hit and doesn't require a lot of materials or planning ahead. And while, yes, the water may be a little messy, just think of it as an excuse to clean your floor when they're done!
You can always look to Pinterest for more inspiration and ideas!
4. Institute reading time.
In our house, when our kids get too attached to the screen they forget how much they enjoy reading. Instead of 20 minutes of screen time, we do 20 minutes of intentional reading time.
For us, this works best if I set a timer for my kids to read alone for 10 minutes - my oldest daughter can read to herself; my son just flips through books and looks at the pictures. Sometimes my daughter reads out loud to my son, which is also super cute.
After they've finished their reading time, I read aloud to them out of the chapter book we're reading. We usually read the chapter book at night before bed, so it's a little bit of a treat to read an extra chapter during the day.
It also helps us to get through the book faster so we can move on to the next great chapter book that we want to read! Right now we're reading the Little House books and my older kids, ages 4 and 6, are loving them!
5. Use a reward.
You want your kids to feel good about giving up screen time, instead of mad or frustrated, and I think one additional way you can do that is to offer them a reward for their involvement and cooperation in "No Screen Month."
Our family does this in two ways. First, we have Family Movie Night on Friday nights when we watch a fun movie together.
You may think that's cheating on No Screen Month, but my kids look forward to this SO much that it's a great motivator for them to forgo the TV during the week, so it works for us. And we don't watch a movie every single Friday night; we often plan other Family Fun Nights for Fridays as well.
Secondly, at the end of the month we'll plan a fun family outing to celebrate that we made it through No Screen Month!
We let our kids help us plan our outing, which really helps them to look forward to it, and we remind them about it when they're bummed that they don't get to watch a show or play a game.
Beyond No Screen Month
And, ultimately, the best outcome of "No Screen Month" for our family is that it helps to break the habit of regular screen time, both for our kiddos and for us as parents.
When the month is over, we may allow some TV shows and game time back in, but taking a long break from screens in that way helps us to really limit that time and use it more intentionally.
Afterward, our kids don't ask for screen time every day. They've learned to occupy themselves with other things, and they do that much more naturally and automatically, instead of turning to the screen every time they're feeling bored.
Our family has done a "No Screen Month" and helped to break our kids of their habit of using screens when they're bored with great success for the past several years. I hope these tips can help your family to plan and actually enjoy a "No Screen Month" too!