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Get Creative – It’s “Turnoff Week” in WA

April 21, 2008

Seattle, WA – The average American child spends 900 hours a year in the classroom and 1,500 hours a year watching television, including an estimated 20,000 commercials. From April 21 to April 27, during annual "Turnoff Week," people will be trying to find more creative, productive ways for youngsters to spend that time.

Turnoff Week applies to computers and videogames as well as television, organizers say, adding that a "screen break" can benefit adults as well as kids of all ages. While it's tempting for adults to leave children in front of a television so they can get things done, Adrienne Fatur of Child Care Resources says that's a mistake.

Fatur observes and coaches childcare providers, many of whom believe television is okay because they think kids learn something as they watch. But, she points out, that's not how children learn best.

"Kids learn by experience. Kids learn by having opportunities to explore; by having interactions with their peers and their caregivers. They learn by trial and error, by problem solving. They learn by touching and feeling and tasting."

With that in mind, a parent or caregiver's challenge is to find ways to involve children in whatever adults are doing, Fatur counsels, from fixing a meal to working in the yard. Even the youngest can participate, she adds. Another goal of turning off TVs and computers this week is for families to become more physically active.

Nan Stephens has run a preschool in Seattle for 18 years, in addition to raising three of her own children. She thinks youngsters need to learn how to entertain themselves, even though at first they may be able to do it only a few minutes at a time. One of her tips, which she used when her kids were toddlers, is to have special toys or books that only come off the shelf when grown-ups need a break.

"I'd put five or 10 little party-favor-type toys in a box. I called them 'funny boxes,' and I'd only get them down one at a time. It was like we had just been to the toy store when I got it down, it was all so new and exciting!"

Stephens says TV and computer games should be used, like anything else, in moderation.

Information about Turnoff Week is available online from the Center for Screen-Time Awareness, www.screentime.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA