Kicking it Old School: Challenging Your Kids to Be Screen-Free

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides.

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here is the quick and dirty:

  • For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends avoiding use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, the AAP recommends limiting screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, the AAP recommends placing consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

In conjunction with, the AAP also created a Family Media Use Plan Tool, that allows parents to come up with a healthy diet of media depending on their age.

While these recommendations are a highly-anticipated update to the stringent media use recommendations of the past, if you are anything like me, they are scary.  Sometimes plopping my kids in front of the television or electronic device provides a well-needed respite after a long day at work, or a chance to use the bathroom or take a shower without my kids constantly asking me what I’m doing or what I plan on making for dinner.  The thing is, although my husband and I set limits on screen use in our house, I always feel guilty watching my kids zone out in front of a screen instead of engaging in the world around them.  No matter how educational I tell myself the program is.  Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides:

1. Solitary Toys and Screen-less Electronics

Did you know they still sell Rubiks Cubes?  While its popularity was a little ahead of my time, I still remember my older brother losing hours trying to figure out that little cube.  A few years ago, my eldest received one as a gift and despite the inevitable frustration, he loved it.  Solitary toys like the Rubick’s Cube are often a great way to engage an active mind.  While my youngest isn’t quite as interested in solving the cube, he loves Magna Doodles and Etch-A-Sketch which also allow him to work independently and still engage his mind. Our kids also enjoy toys like Simon and Flash Pads which are electronic but screenless.  Both are puzzle games and boost memory skills.  We regularly pack these toys for long car rides or for appointments when waiting quietly is an expectation.  The funny thing is, they are so rare, they usually attract a hoard of kids around them who would rather play with the old school toys than their own iPads!

2. Coloring/Activity Books

The great thing about coloring and activity books is that you can really find them anywhere and to match any budget.  Before a long car ride, I load up on a few from Target, my local grocery store or chain pharmacy but you can load up at places like the Dollar Tree for even less. My kids really enjoy Highlights Hidden Pictures, Look and Find Books or Where’s Waldo which give them a chance to work towards a goal.  You can find more academic geared activity books at Barnes and Noble. B&N also has drawing books which are great alternatives to coloring books for older kids. Crosswords and Sudoko for Kids are also great if your kid is up for a challenge. I usually find those at my local grocery store in the magazine isle or check out line.

We also have a 4-drawer plastic storage cabinent in our kitchen, that I purchased for $15 at Target, that I try to keep fully stocked with crayons, markers and construction paper.  I’m a little ashamed of how many times my husband and I have said “go draw something” but you’d be surprised at how well it works.  They love drawing.  They even created a comic book together.  If you’re kids need a little more direction, give them an assignment (e.g., a picture of Grandma or a snowball fight).  I call a wall in our house the “Art Gallery” and regularly display their work to show my pride.


3. Books and Journaling

A few summers ago, I read Baratunde Thurston’s book “How to Be Black.” While I enjoyed many aspects of the book, one take-away was his amazing mother’s commitment to encouraging his education outside of school.  She would take him on trips and give him independent reading and writing assignments.  Totally taking a cue from Baratunde (my kids will thank him one day), I regularly assign my kids reading and writing assignments.  This summer, my nine year old read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and had to write weekly essays on themes and reactions to the book.  I made sure to listen to them on audio so I could engage with him about the books, but I also found awesome questions on google prepared by other teachers and parents (I believe Ivan also had discussion questions at the end of the book).  If I needed some “me” time or had to get something done, I would just ask him to go to his room or sit at the table and work on a prepared assignment.

With my six year old, it wasn’t quite as easy.  He is at the age where he still works better collaboratively so independent assignments tend to tire him out.  For him, I assigned short reading assignments (thanks, Google) or created mini-scenarios and asked him to write reactions to them.  For example, the assignment would ask him how he would help a friend who was being picked on by other members of his class or require him to create a list of things he would do to prepare for his new baby brother.  These short assignments were less taxing on him but still allowed him to work independently.

4. Scavenger Hunts

I work from home a great deal.  While I try to get the majority of my work done while my kids are sleeping or at school, sometimes they are wide awake and ready to be entertained.  When I know they are going to be at home and I know I may be distracted for a block of time, I coordinate a scavenger hunt throughout the house.  I hide toys and household items in safe places, compile a list of the items and give it to them to find.  When they were smaller, I confined them to one room but as they have gotten older, I spread things out throughout the house (leaving a few places – like Mom and Dad’s room – off limits).   If you’re like me, just don’t forget to make a mental note of where you hid things. I learned that lesson the hard way.


About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at