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Family Alternatives to Watching TV for Screen Free Week (or Whenever)

Whether it's during the April holiday or any time of year, bust out the books, get outside or pop in the kitchen. Here are fun ideas for parents and kids.

These days, digital distractions invade the home front on multiple levels. It includes the average two-plus TVs per household, sure. But, as parents in southeast Michigan and beyond know, it's also the ubiquitous smartphones, iPads, video gaming systems and computers – to name a few of the current culprits.

If it feels downright saturating, you're not alone – and, around late April/early May each year, you're invited to unplug as part of Screen-Free Week. Held nationally – and formerly called National TV Turn-Off Week – it's a "celebration where children, families, schools and communities spend seven days turning off entertainment screen media," according to the campaign's website, "and turning on life."

Should your family opt "in" on this annual movement – or just decide to power down for a day or two, whatever time of year it is – here are a few alternatives to keep you plenty busy (and sneak in some quality bonding time, too!).

1. Read a book

Reading a chapter book together as a family is a great shared experience – and a great way to improve listening skills. Our family has fond memories of reading through The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House on the Prairie series. Peruse The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease for book suggestions as well as a primer on the benefits of reading aloud.

2. Bake something

Dig out the cookbooks and gather the kids around the table (check out the Metro Parent Crumbs blog for great ideas – and our stash of recipes). Let each child choose a recipe and prepare it together as a family. Whether it's chocolate chip cookies or chicken pot pies you whip up, you're sure to enjoy food, chatting and fun with your kids.

3. Play a game

Dust off Monopoly or invest in a new game (try these nine classic board games on for size – check out the Gimme, Gimme! blog roundup, too!). Try a different game each night you'd normally be watching a show or noodling online. Set yourselves up in tournament play and have a big celebration at the end of the week.

4. Explore your city

Get out and about! Visit the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak or Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor (be sure to check out the Metro Parent Fun Guide for tons more outdoor stuff in our directories). Catch a baseball game. Tour the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan Science Center, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum or tons of other southeast Michigan museums. Use your freer time to see all our region has to offer in the way of art, entertainment and culture. Or just take a walk around your neighborhood.

5. Plant a garden

Children love to garden, and you'll find digging in the dirt very therapeutic. Check out some library books on the subject (since you won't be browsing online, right?) and plan a garden. You don't need a lot of space; even some potted plants on the back deck will do (in colder weather, maybe tend to a little windowsill herb garden). The sun, air and dirt will be good for your souls.

6. Visit with the neighbors

We live in a culture that is increasingly private. New homes no longer feature front porches, the entertainment of years gone by. They seem to have disappeared from our architecture right around the same time that TV became popular. Hmm.

Grab a lawn chair and a glass of iced tea and sit out front. Supply the kids with bubbles or sidewalk chalk and lure your neighbors outside. The kids will enjoy playing with their buddies, and you can catch up with their parents. You may find you have more in common than you thought.

7. Ride a bike

Equip yourself and the kids with proper safety equipment (and maybe some bike bling, too) and hit the road. You'll appreciate the wind in your face and the cardiovascular workout for your heart. The whole family will enjoy the time together – as well as the road races. Don't forget to check out the local bike trails!

8. Build a fort

A dad we know salvaged appliance boxes and crafted a huge castle, complete with working drawbridge. What a fun way to spend time with the kids and let them exercise their imaginations! My husband's performed cardboard art as well, producing a huge pirate ship. But you don't have to go to great lengths to make a fun hideaway – a few chairs and blankets will do (check out our tips on making an awesome indoor fort). The important part is to join your children in creativity and role-playing.

9. Visit your local park, beach or lake

Especially in Michigan, there's always a unique outdoor spot, including nature centers and gardens, just waiting for you and your kiddos to explore. Pack a picnic dinner and relax. Breathe in the fresh air. Laugh with your children. Run races. Be a kid again.

Savor the moments; they pass quickly. You'll find that a life without screens really is worth living. You'll discover new amusements you hadn't thought about. And, best of all, you'll get to reconnect as a family.

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