VOORHEESVILLE — The World Health Organization announced that children under the age of 5 should have limited or no access to watching screens, according to its new guidelines published on Wednesday, April 24. Examples of screen usage include smartphones, tablets, television sets, video games and laptops.
For children aged 1 or younger, no screen time is recommended. Children aged 2 to 4 could have sedentary — spending much time seated — screen time for one hour at most although less is encouraged. Parents should ensure such children “must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy,” said WHO, citing that early childhood is a key time period for kids to develop mentally and physically.
A local perspective
Such guidelines are similar with how Voorheesville resident Lori Storrow feels towards the relationship between young children and screen usage.
A mother of two young children who go to the local elementary and middle school, Storrow came up with the idea for the village’s first-ever “Screen-Free Week.” Screen-Free Week is a national initiative that encourages families and children to stop using screens and do other activities for a week.
Occurring from Monday, April 29 through Sunday, May 5, Voorheesville residents, particularly families with young children, will get to enjoy events, physical activities, food options, 28 raffles and drawings for prizes, and discounts at some local businesses and establishments. Some require sign-ups while most allow walk-ins. With all this going on all week, residents are encouraged to get outside and be more active, while not using their screens for entertainment. “It’s a fun way for families to get together, do things, communicate and learn without screens,” said Storrow.
“I was concerned as I would see kids just sitting next to each other and talking to each other through their computers or phones and not conversing as much,” she said, who added she shared this concern with librarian Gail Brown of Voorheesville Public Library; the latter also manages youth services and programming. “It saddens me as a parent to see all the lost opportunities for bonding.”
Brown was able to connect with the village’s schools’ principals, the Voorheesville Parent Teacher Association, and the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation. She and Storrow also worked with various local businesses and churches, and she said the response overall has been massive and positive.
“140 families with children at the elementary school all have pledged even before spring break to participate in Screen-Free Week, and there have been more since then,” Brown said. “The schools’ principals have been so supportive too and we were lucky with all the local restaurants, and even WildPlay reached out to us. At first, we were seeking out people to help and organize this but by the end, it’s gotten so big.”
Brown noted that reducing screen usage for the week applies mainly for entertainment purposes, as in people should not use screens to go on social media, play video games or watch TV, for instance.
She understood, however, that children generally need to still use their computers to get homework done like with Google Classroom and adults need their phones and computers for work.
Storrow chimed in, “I do feel the Internet and the computer are great tools to make life easier but moderation is important. We’re just looking for more meaningful connections.”
Brown brought up how elementary and middle schoolers were more receptive to the idea of Screen-Free Week than high schoolers, which did not surprise her.
She explained that high schoolers are using devices to get much work done, especially since the school year is ending soon, and screen usage “is so much ingrained in their lives and almost is a part of them.”
Kicking off on Monday, April 29, there was a Playground Picnic from 5:30 to 8 p.m. for elementary students at their school, along with STEM-related Science Stations throughout and an Emack & Bolio ice cream truck. That same day, there was a 1.5-mile group run at 5 p.m. and a parents-versus-students basketball game at 5:30 p.m. at the town park’s court on Swift Road. Food at the local Subway was 20 percent off from 4 to 8 p.m. if you said “Happy Screen-Free Week” to your server.
On Tuesday, April 30, Unplugged Palooza — a family-friendly night filled with games, crafts, food and fun — took place at St. Matthew’s Church from 6 to 8 p.m.
On Wednesday, May 1, parent-accompanying children can cycle with Jeffrey Vivenzio, the elementary school’s principal from 4 to 6 p.m. on the Albany County Rail Trail. Registration can be done in the public library’s online calendar at https://voorpl.org/. Also, large pizzas are half-priced from 4 to 8 p.m. at Jaycee’s when you say “Happy Screen-Free Week!” while ordering.
On Thursday, May 2, there will be a group walk along the Rail Trail from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dinner is 15 percent off at Emma Cleary’s Cafe from 4:30 to 9 p.m. if you say “Happy Screen-Free Week” to your server.
On Friday, May 3, the public library will have teenagers-oriented screen-free activities from 3 to 5 p.m. The library will also have a potluck dinner and family fun night from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and people are encouraged to bring a dish to share. For both events, registration can be done in its online calendar at https://voorpl.org/.
On Saturday, May 4, the Voorheesville Firehouse will have a Community Cares Days Volunteer Event from 9 a.m. to noon; walk-ins are welcome although one can sign up by emailing to [email protected] From 10 to 11 a.m., the public library is having a family yoga session and registration can be done in its online calendar at https://voorpl.org/. John Boyd Thacher State Park’s WildPlay Elements Park is offering classic and kids courses at 25 percent off from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration can be done by calling 1-800-668-7771 or visiting www.wildplay.com where one would choose Thacher, book, and apply the promo code, “VHSCHOOL2019.”
On Sunday, May 5, the Voorheesville PTA will have its Color Run fundraising event at 9 a.m. at the high school. There will be a Community Cares Days Volunteer Event at the New Scotland Town Hall from 9 a.m. to noon; barbecue will follow from noon to 2 p.m. Registration can be done by emailing to [email protected] Elsewhere, the public library is having its Pete Seeger Centennial Program at 3 p.m. Food is 10 percent off at the Across the Street Pub from 4 to 8 p.m. if you say “Happy Screen-Free Week” to your server.
Overall, each day a child takes part in an event or activity, they can enter into a drawing to win a prize, to be collected the week after.
Prizes include gift cards for Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Billy Beez and Mobil; gift certificates for Tasty Treat and Cone Zone; and even pizza parties.
Both Storrow and Brown plan to make Screen-Free Week an annual event for the village. They also expressed hopes that high schoolers could participate more next year.
“We do have some high school students organizing this year’s activities but this year, most students participating are in elementary and middle school,” said Storrow. “The high school principal has been very supportive too though and we understand why high school students might not get into this as much as the younger kids.”
Regardless, Brown concluded that “we all use technology and it’s a wonderful tool but I think we need to be aware of how much we are using them and make a conscious effort to engage in non-screen activities too. If parents use screens too much, young kids see that and think it’s okay. Human contact, especially for young kids, is the best teacher, not the screen.”