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Health Feature Articles


Play More, Watch Less

Sara Gable, Ph.D., State Specialist & Associate Professor, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, University of Missouri Extension


Did you know?

  • Average U.S. home has 3 TVs; 56 percent have 3 or more.
  • 59 percent of U.S. homes with TV have digital cable.
  • 90 percent of U.S. homes with TV also have a computer with Internet access.
  • Approximate hours of TV watched per week:
    • 39 by women over age 18
    • 35 by men over age 18
    • 24 by youth ages 12 to 17
    • 26 by children ages 2 to 11
  • Reducing TV time can help prevent excess weight and obesity.
  • For children under age 3, screen time is linked with sleep problems.


illustration of boy unchaining himself from TVNational Screen-Free Week is an annual celebration of the magic of being unplugged. During this week, parents, children, teachers and others across the country turn off screen media — including TVs, video games, computers, tablets, e-readers and smartphones — and get in touch with being unplugged.


Use this time to take a look at your family’s screen-use habits. How many hours are spent using a screen compared to doing other activities? Here are some ways to change these habits:


  • Create screen-free zones in the home. Establish one spot for storing and recharging everyone’s handheld devices.
  • Gather the family and come up with a list of alternative activities to sitting in front of a screen. Jot down lots of ideas and post them on the refrigerator (see suggestions below).
  • Make changes gradually. Set limits. Experts recommend no more than two hours a day of recreational TV, computers, video games and DVDs for kids.
  • Know what your children, of any age, are watching on TV, doing on the Internet and seeing on their smartphones. Ask them open-ended questions about what they’re seeing and doing. Ask them whom they are communicating with when emailing and texting.
  • Take TVs out of bedrooms. Sleeping with the TV on, even with the sound off, can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to fatigue.
  • During meals, turn off the TV and put away other distracting screens and electronic devices. Instead of using them, talk about everyone’s day.
  • Keep the TV and other screens off unless someone is watching them.


Instead of sitting in front of a screen...



  • Plan and prepare meals together.
  • Visit a park or public library.
  • Go on a picnic.
  • Play charades or board games.
  • Take a walk down the street and collect litter.
  • Dance and sing to music. Check out CDs at the library for some new or different music.
  • Have a family talent night.
  • Plant a garden, and tend it daily.
  • Plan a dream vacation or party.
  • Walk around the neighborhood and talk about different houses, trees and gardens.
  • Catch up at mealtimes (“Share one good thing and one bad thing about your day…”).
  • Assign everyone a housekeeping chore, schedule a time to do them and celebrate when they’re done.
  • Catch up on letter writing, cards and phone calls.



  • Read a book or magazine. Find an author you like and read everything she or he has written.
  • Look for and try new recipes.
  • Do stretching exercises or yoga.
  • Clean out a closet, the garage or the basement.
  • Find a new hobby or dive in to a neglected one.
  • Plant flower seeds indoors. When they have sprouted several inches, transplant them outside.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Clean under the refrigerator and stove.
  • Hand-wash woolen sweaters.
  • Set up an easy-to-use recycling station.
  • Read a local newspaper.
  • Organize family photos and write picture captions.
  • Start a scrapbook about your family.
  • Gather and give away old clothes and household items.



  • Think about future careers or jobs. Write a story about yourself being successful in that career or job.
  • Volunteer.
  • Interview your favorite relatives and record their stories.
  • Write poems or short stories.
  • Plan and plant a vegetable garden. Create a weeding schedule for the family.
  • Sing along to your favorite music. Try writing down the lyrics and understanding the song’s meaning.
  • Do stretching exercises or yoga with friends.
  • Find a cause, such as saving the earth, that interests you and get involved with a friend.
  • Make a list of things you want to learn. Visit the library for books on those subjects.
  • Find a recipe that your family really likes and practice making it so that it becomes your specialty.
  • Take up a new hobby or sport that interests you.
  • Dance or exercise to music.


6 to 12 years

  • Play hide and seek indoors or outside.
  • Make a list of what you like about yourself.
  • Play flashlight tag in the dark.
  • Play board games, cards, or memory or dictionary-based games.
  • Crafts: Make greeting cards or wrapping paper, bead necklaces or bracelets. Weave friendship bracelets. Macramé a hanging plant holder, necklace or bracelet.
  • Learn to play a musical instrument and practice every day.
  • Set a goal to learn something new or to save money for something you want. Create a plan to achieve your goal.
  • Write letters to a grandparent or favorite relative.
  • Write a play for family members to act out.
  • Stand on one foot and try to keep a balloon in the air using your hands and other foot.


Under 6 years

  • Practice spelling new words, including names of family members.
  • Play with water with bowls, cups and spoons on a protected surface in the kitchen.
  • Make a tent out of blankets and “go camping” indoors.
  • Have a parade with simple musical instruments.
  • Practice writing letters, numbers and your name.


What parents can do

  • Create toy boxes that can be rotated by day or week (adds an element of surprise).
  • Make available plain paper, old magazines, safe scissors, markers or crayons, and tape.
  • Keep a dress-up basket full of clothing and safe accessories.
  • Put a long line of masking tape on the floor to use as a balance beam.
  • Create an obstacle course in the yard.
  • Have lots of books available. Visit your local library.
  • Provide puppets and encourage children to put on a puppet show.



This flier can be downloaded for free as a PDF through MU Extension publications at


Screen-Free Week is a program of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood,


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Last Updated 05/02/2017