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Screen Free Week: How families can be mindful of time spent online


May 3 through 9 is Screen Free Week: a global effort to get people offline and an engaged with activities away from a screen. In Western New York, a local museum and a learning scientist at the University at Buffalo have a few ideas on how families can get involved.

Sam Abramovich, Ph.D. is a learning scientist, meaning he studies how we learn and what helps us learn best. 

Sam is pictured sitting near a computer, with his elbows on his legs and his hands together. He has brown hair and is wearing glasses, a pink button down, and tan pants.
Credit University at Buffalo
Sam Abramovich, Ph.D. is the director of the UB Open Education Research Lab, and an associate professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction, as well as the Department of Information Science, at the University at Buffalo. He studies how we learn and what helps people learn best.

As someone who has been looking into how digital technologies can influence education, he believes screen free week can be more than just turning off a screen. He thinks families can use this as an opportunity to take the passions kids have online, offline. 

“Rather than deny them, rather than just to cut them off, let's leverage that passion, let's leverage that interest, and bring them back to communicating with people outside of that world that the screen kind of sets up: these arbitrary rights, you know, barriers or borders, right? So let's get them to bridge themselves out of that particular focus on screen time and communicate right, to parents, to siblings," said Abramovich.

He adds that this week is a great time to model moderation when using technology.

Certainly, at least at a minimum, right for modeling, what is good use of screen time, right? And then how that screen time can move into actual engagement, and activities that are independent of a screen," said Abramovich.

And a local museum is offering a chance for families to see that idea in action. At the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, the historical band organs that play the music actually use binary code – something students who are interested in computer programming are probably learning about.

“It's a lot easier, and a lot more fun to be able to hear this music and relate it to binary than just having to look at these things on the screen," said Ian Seppala, the interim director, as well as the education director, of the museum.

The museum is also hosting it’s own Screen Free Week events, with daily book readings and an offline activity,to help families find ways to take learning beyond the screen. The reading times are also available online on the museum's Facebook page for those staying home.

Or, if you want to your own thing at home, Abramovich suggests just asking kids to teach you something they love, such as a video game, or a TikTok dance.

“All of a sudden now we're now engaging with other people, sometimes peers, right, but family members, and we're now developing those kind of important kind of communication skills that perhaps, maybe at the heart of screen, we'd have screen free week, that's what we're worried about losing the ability to engage with others," said Abramovich.

He explained that by learning from what kids enjoy online, we can find ways to bring it offline, such as a love for Minecraft can also become a love for Legos. All you have to do is listen. 

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.