Denver Waldorf Families Take Up “Media Fast” Challenge
That’s just what 4th grade families at The Denver Waldorf School did in January.
Dr. Thomas Cooper, author of “Fast Media, Media Fast” came to The Denver Waldorf School this fall and challenged families to unplug from all media for a period of time. Cooper said such media free chunks in our lives would help us rediscover our personal identities, sharpen our senses, save us time and money, and help us tap into hidden talents.
The families in the 4th grade at The Denver Waldorf School took up the challenge and agreed to a two-week media fast in January, giving up televisions, iPads, videogames, cell phones, music and even radio in the car.
Media Fast ‘Made My Imagination Fly!’
It “made my imagination fly,” said 4th grade student Marilese Ray. The Ray family, who have three girls including 4th grade student Mariliese, said the media fast helped them all sleep better.
“They played with the family pets and the girls had fun with Grandma instead of just watching TV with her,” said mother Mary Ray.
“We had a great experience and truly embraced the media fast,” reported Trish Licata, mother of 4th grade student Sole, and Giuseppe in 1st grade. “Our family found more time for games, books and chore sharing. It also gave us an opportunity to strengthen how we communicate with each other.”
“The Media Fast provided us an opportunity to explore a relationship that was not constantly filled with noise,” said Michael Sawaya, father of 4th grade student Alma. “We enjoyed the quiet time together. It let us find times to do things that we would not have thought to do, such as reading together, playing games, talking, walking, playing with the dog and more. It allowed things to slow down and life was a lot less frantic. We were able to cook together, for instance. I was surprised, but we did not miss all the media stuff,” he said.
Studies Find Technology Zapping Students’ Attention Spans
Two studies by the Pews Research Center and Common Sense Media released in November found widespread belief among teachers that technology is affecting students’ ability to focus.
Todd Matuszewicz, the 4th grade teacher, suggested the class take up the media fast challenge. He is hoping the class can do it again in the spring, perhaps for even longer. Matuszewicz remembered a lecture given by Joseph Chilton Pearce, the famed child development expert.
Pearce was asked: What is the most important things one could do for their child?
“’There are two,’” Matuszewicz remembered Pearce as having said, “’One, get rid of your television. Two, send your child to a Waldorf school,’” he said.
The Denver Waldorf School is committed to raising awareness about the impact of screen-time and educating our community about alternatives that will support the healthy development of children and foster joy and peace within families. Too much screen-time is now also being linked to many childhood learning disorders, including loss of focus. Addiction centers are cropping up in the United States at an alarming rate to help wean people off media addictions.
Waldorf schools around the world have recognized for years the impact that screen-time has on children, including difficulty in developing gross and fine motor skills, visual disorders, social and behavior problems, and other developmental problems.
As Douglas Gerwin, Director of the Center for Anthroposophy and Co-Director of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education, wrote in a recent article, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Mind Over Machinery,” electronic media is a tool that should serve humans, rather than the other way around.
Gerwin asked the question: At what age do children gain the developmental skills necessary to handle what the media is throwing at them? If they are engaging in media, what are they not doing? The fear is that children who should be moving, creating their own mental pictures and engaging in lived experiences, are instead sitting in front of a screen, absorbing content created by others who likely did not consider what was developmentally appropriate for children.
‘We Found That It Is Hard to Get Away From Screens’
Many 4th grade families reported they already lead an unplugged home lifestyle.
“The media fast was a non-issue for our family as we have been committed to living in a way that supports our commitment to Waldorf education and is ordinarily very low media,” said Stephanie Slade Winfield.
“We didn’t really miss media too much, since we don’t have a TV and didn’t do much to begin with,” said Christine O’Connell, mother of 4th grade student Sabine Keppeler, “one thing we did sort of miss was our recorded music. No biggie, but we’ll probably go back to listening to selected music in our living room.” O’Connell also said that used to have a family movie night every Saturday, but during the media fast the family played games instead and really enjoyed it.
“I do not think the media fast was too painful for us, since we have very limited TV (<2 hrs/week) and no video games or computer time for kids,” said Krista Douglass, mother of 4th grade student Braden. “It was good for all of us to be aware of how much media seeps in anyway- from restaurants with TVs on every wall, to people who carry their iPads everywhere to watch football, to the E.R., we found that it is hard to get away from screens. It was a useful exercise to be more mindful and I noticed that I spent less time checking email on my iPad and my husband no longer brought his iPhone to the table at meals. However, I will be happy to turn my classical radio station back on!”
Throwing a big wrench into many families’ media fast plans was the success of the Broncos, who made it to the divisional quarter-finals in January. Jenny Thompson, mother of 4th grade student Charley, was one of many families who called Mr. Matuszewicz that night to confess they would be turning on the game.
The MacMillan family really wanted to watch the championship Broncos game, but instead, 4th grade student Sierra and her two sisters created a song and dance performance for their parents, complete with costumes, hair and makeup and choreographed moves to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’ Dad Peter Macmillan said it was one of the best family nights they’ve had in a long time.
The media fast provided a wake-up call for many families on just how media-saturated society has become.
One family continued their media fast during a trip to their grandfather’s surprise birthday party in Las Vegas.
“The electronic media was everywhere, of course, but not having it in our room and being conscious of not partaking, changed our experience of it,” said Renee McMichael, mother to Abby in 4th grade and Logan in 8th grade.
“We actually had a nice quiet time in Las Vegas that was focused on spending time with our immediate and extended family. We went to an aquarium, took the tram, swam in the pool, ate every meal with extended family, walked a lot, and my husband and kids performed (played guitar and sang) for the birthday party,” she said, “The media that was totally in our faces was visual media and it gave us a chance to have several conversations and teachable moments,” McMichael said.
During the media fast, 4th grade student Aidan Rhysling had a dentist appointment and averted his eyes from the TV screen in the waiting area to stick to his promise.
“We spent more time playing games and enjoying the outdoors,” said Pam Holbrook, mother of Jillian, another 4th grade student. “I’m keeping it up … no radio in the car! It’s easier to chill out and stay present!”