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What is ScreenBreak?

ScreenBreak Guide

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What is ScreenBreak?

Since 1995, The Alliance for Early Childhood has sponsored ScreenBreak (formerly TV

Tune Out Week). Children from approximately age three to 13 and their families are

encouraged to turn off their television sets and other screens, such as video and

computer games, for seven days and, together, experience the adventure of a week

with no screens. Families make their own rules about screen usage during the week,

ranging from no screens (“cold turkey”) to limited or reduced use. Families are

encouraged to enjoy their own activities at home or some of the many alternative

activities that have been coordinated throughout the community. Activities range from

arts and crafts to a variety of sample classes, from languages to the arts and sports.

ScreenBreak is now held in early March, after being held in February for the first

several years. Approximately 30 schools are involved, including all the public, private

and parochial preschools, elementary schools, junior highs, and day care centers in

Winnetka, Northfield and Kenilworth. Several schools from surrounding communities,

such as Wilmette, Glencoe, and Highland Park, also take part. Approximately

5,000 children participate each year.


Purpose and goals

The purpose of ScreenBreak is not to suggest throwing out the family television set

forever nor is it to make families feel guilty about watching or using screens. Instead, ScreenBreak marks a time each year for families to evaluate the role that television and

other screens play in their lives, to explore other options, and to become more educatedabout screen media.


Community activities during ScreenBreak

ScreenBreak fosters a wonderful sense of community and a feeling that "we're all in this together." The Alliance sponsors a Kick-Off event, on the first day of the week, to

promote involvement and generate excitement about ScreenBreak. Tickets to this high-energy performance are open to the public. At the end of the week, The Alliance

sponsors a Finale event to conclude the week. This event is also open to

the public.


Throughout the week, dozens of merchants, schools, and organizations in Winnetka,

Northfield, Kenilworth and other communities sponsor events and activities as

alternatives to screens. Examples include:


Service and Volunteer Opportunities

  • Prepare food for local food pantries
  • Clean-up the Skokie Lagoons
  • Create cards for those who are ill, elderly, or otherwise in need
  • Make pull-toys and blankets for animals in a shelter

 Art and Construction

  • Lego construction
  • Knitting class
  • Build-a-Bear
  • Arts and crafts projects

Dance and Sports

  • Irish step dance
  • Yoga
  • Basketball
  • Swimming and scuba lessons


Adventure and Outdoor

  • Hunt for geocache treasure
  • Outdoor scavenger hunt


  • Animal hospital tour
  • Museum discounts
  • Science activities
  • Language classes

 And, much, much more!


The activities provided during ScreenBreak are not limited to just the kids - the entire family can get involved!  While some families enjoy participating in several activities throughout the week, others find this a perfect week to reconnect by participating in low-key family activities at home, such as reading, arts and crafts, games, cooking, or other family projects. The ScreenBreak Guide contains a full description of activities offered in the community as well as fresh ideas for families to share right at home.


ScreenBreak Drawing Contest

The Alliance sponsors a Drawing Contest to encourage kids to depict their own

interpretation of the current ScreenBreak theme. The contest is divided into two age

categories: The Junior Division consisting of preschool through 1st grade and the

Senior Division, 2nd through 8th grade. All Drawing Contest winners receive free

admission to and are honored at the Kick-Off event. The Drawing Contest deadline is in

January. Details and rules are distributed to schools and throughout the community in

December. They can also be obtained on the Alliance’s website.



Students at participating schools receive ScreenBreak materials the week prior to the

event. Preschoolers receive a ScreenBreak button and elementary-aged children and

older receive a red wristband. All children receive a Guide that contains a complete

schedule of activities and events, as well as ideas for at-home projects, games and

activities that are great alternatives to spending time in front of “screens.” ScreenBreak

cards can be found on the back of the Guide in case wristbands or buttons are lost.

ScreenBreak materials are funded through the generosity of community sponsors,

including banks, merchants, local organizations and parents. Varying levels of

sponsorship are available in exchange for ads placed in the ScreenBreak Guide.

Supplemental materials are available online at A color coded “At-a-Glance” chart will help you find your favorite activities fast, and a Calendar Template will make planning your entire week a snap. Updates and changes to the lineup of activities will also be posted on the website. Families that wish to participate in ScreenBreak activities that do not have children who attend a participating school may purchase a “ScreenBreak Kit”.


Family responses

During every ScreenBreak, families discover that TV and other screens influence

children's use of free time and also has an impact on their reading, playing, learning and

family interactions. Parents offer a variety of reports about how the removal of screens

enhances the lives of family members, including:

  • more creative, involved play
  • better sibling relationships and interactive play
  • a quieter, more peaceful household (although some report a louder, messierhouse!)
  • an increased use of art materials, games and toys that had been unused orforgotten.


A typical reaction: "I had no idea we used that TV so much!" Each year, the experience

prompts some families to make permanent changes in their use of television and other

screens. A few families turn off the TV set and never turn it back on again. Some

families are reassured that they really don't watch a lot of TV or use other screens

excessively anyway. And some report returning to their previous screen habits as soon

as ScreenBreak ends, but they are grateful for the annual reminder. The Alliance

encourages each family to use ScreenBreak in whatever way suits it best, setting its

own goals and its own rules for participation.


In conclusion

ScreenBreak has become a tradition in Winnetka, Northfield, Kenilworth, and other North Shore communities. It has grown each year. In 1995, its first year, approximately 3,000 childrenparticipated. They were primarily students in preschools and early elementary grades in schools in Winnetka and Northfield. All the activities for the entire week fit on two sides of one piece of paper!


In 1998, activities appropriate for older students were added since children who had

participated as elementary school students wanted to continue to participate as they

entered junior high. The distribution of materials expanded to include the junior high

schools in Winnetka and Northfield.


In 2006, Kenilworth became involved. In 2011, The Alliance’s Associate Member

schools, located in Wilmette, Glenview, and Glencoe, participated as well. These

communities have also begun to offer activities during the week, thus expanding the offerings. In 2013, approximately 5,000 children and over 100 businesses participated. And our numbers continue to grow!


Families look forward to this special week each year. ScreenBreak is both educational

and enlightening. And it’s fun, too!