Heather C Heather C is a married, mom of three: big sis Lily and identical twins Natalie and Sophia. She has been guest blogging for Mumbling Mommy since February of 2012 and began working as a Social Media Editor in 2014. After nearly a decade in banking, she now works part time at a doctor's office specializing in breastfeeding medicine and spends the rest of her days in her Midwest home as zookeeper/stay-at-home-mom. Heather C is also a runner, hiker, yogi, bike rider and more. She reads when she finds more than a few minutes to herself and she hosts a lot of pajama dance parties in her kitchen. In her spare time, she's the co-leader for her daughter's Girl Scout troop and an active member of the school's Parent-Teacher Committee as well as a certified postpartum doula.

A look at our screen-free summer 

Our last day of school was May 19th. I had high hopes for all the great things we were going to do as summer approached.

May 20th rolled around. We slept in a little bit, took our time with breakfast, and then the girls asked if they could watch some Netflix. Since I had some work to do plus a lot of packing to get done, I thought it was a great idea. The next thing I knew, it was around 2 p.m. I had gotten a lot done, but the girls had not moved from the couch. I barely even heard a peep out of them. Heck, we forgot to eat lunch!

We left for vacation the next day, but I knew we needed to change something when we got back. This is where my Popsicle sticks came in.

Screen-Free Summer in Action

I started June with the TV off, the tablets off, and the computers asleep. I had the kids play inside with their dollhouse, puzzles, magnetic blocks, and LEGOs. They played outside with jump ropes, swings, Frisbees, and hoppity hops. They did crafts, drew pictures, read books, and used their imaginations.

It was fantastic, but I could quickly see that it would take a little too much of my own energy finding things for them to do, especially since I am a work-at-home mom.

If I’m telling the truth, I use the TV to just keep them quiet sometimes so I can work or study. So my dilemma for the summer was how to find a balance. How do I help my kids stretch their brains and have a break from learning but not need my supervision every minute of the day, and how do I avoid sticking them in front of a screen for babysitting all day, every day?

I make them earn screen time!

On day one, I made the sticks and had the girls help me think of things they could do to earn screen time, like laundry, cleaning their rooms, scrubbing a toilet, yoga, coloring a picture, writing a letter, or free play. We then talked about how the sticks work and just like that, they became like our screen time bible.

The rules we used were:

  • No Netflix binges. If they earn enough screen time for TV, then they pick a movie together. This way, there is a set end. We don’t just turn on Jake and the Neverland Pirates anymore to mindlessly lose track of time.
  • One movie a day. They can earn the screen time until they are blue in the face, but I will only turn on the TV one time, for one movie.
  • Parents get the final veto. Sometimes, they ask for screen time and instead of telling them to grab the sticks and earn it, I just tell them that now is not the time.

Over the course of the first month, attitudes and energy levels improved. I rarely hear complaints about boredom anymore. It’s like I reprogrammed them so instead of giving an “I’m bored!” complaint, they say, “I need something to do. Let me solve this problem on my own.”

I love the concept of empowering my kids and I love that I can still get my work done when they earn a little screen time. But mostly, I love that their imaginations have just skyrocketed and, through this experiment, I have taught them a life skill that I hope will stick.

How do you manage screen time during school vacations?

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: Heather C.