How To

Screen-Free Literacy Activities to Give Your Eyes a Break

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Mikkaka Overstreet

Senior Contributor

Mikkaka Overstreet is from Louisville, Kentucky by way of Saginaw “Sagnasty”, Michigan. She has been an educator since 2006 and earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in 2015. By day she is a mild-mannered literacy specialist. By night she sleeps. In between, she daydreams, writes fiction, and reads books. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and cats.

First, let me apologize for the fact that you have to look at a screen to read this list of screen-free literacy activities. A major side effect of COVID-19 in America is increased screen time. Many of us are working or going to school from home, using various video conferencing tools. As a professor, I’m in front of my computer teaching, meeting, and writing for six to nine hours a day.

After we finish work or school, most of us like to decompress. For me, that’s always meant playing a nonsense game on my iPad while watching HGTV. I might also scroll my phone, catching up on the day’s social media posts and news. Unfortunately, these activities are less appealing to me and my eyes than they used to be. I just don’t want to look at another screen after a long day of looking at a screen.

Similarly, I imagine there are lots of parents who want their kids away from screens after a day of virtual school. Many of those parents want to enrich their children’s literacy learning as well. Thus, the idea for this post came to me in the night (when I couldn’t sleep because I’d been looking at my phone screen before bed).

The activities below will feed your literacy life, while giving your eyes a break.

Read Aloud

One of my favorite things in the world to do is read out loud. You might be a child or an adult, human or animal, but if you’ve known me awhile I have read to you. Reading aloud is a powerful way to build literacy and community.

Check out these 5 Reasons Why We All Should Be Participating in Read Alouds.

When I taught second grade, my class was always in the middle of a chapter book. Any time we had a few spare moments, particularly during transitions and unexpected delays, I would pick up our current title and the kids would lean in expectantly.

When my partner and I started dating, we would sit together in the park and I would read for hours. Those stories became part of our story, our secret language. There are some books that have an unfair haze of rosiness over them because we read them while we were falling in love (cough Twilight cough).

This sort of activity works for families, couples, and even people living alone. (Imagine the fun you could have calling your grandma a couple of times a week to read a book together. Or a friend, if you’re not thinking about how much you need to call your grandma.)

Learn to Enjoy Audiobooks

The world of audiobooks is waiting for you! These days, there are often audiobook versions of all your favorites. Many will be free through your local library or through a free and legal website.

My annual reading has increased dramatically since I began incorporating audiobooks into my life. I started by listening to them in the car to sweeten a 90-minute commute, but now I listen to audiobooks everywhere. Everything is less tedious with a good book in the background.

Listening to audiobooks provides a variety of screen-free options. Perhaps you and your family can choose a book to listen to together in the evenings while crafting or doing chores. Maybe you’d like to jazz up your exercise routine by listening to a book. (It could be a way to distract yourself from the pain.) Your children can follow along in a picture book as they listen to it on audiobook. Consider adding an audiobook to any task that doesn’t require all of your concentration.

Check out these Literal #OwnVoices: 30 Audiobooks Written and Read by Black Authors.

Take Up Letter Writing

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a Jane Austen heroine while I write long letters. My grandmother is usually the recipient, and she’s always pleasantly surprised. Since I abhor talking on the phone, these letters assuage my guilt between calls.

You don’t have to rely on a weird affinity for classic British literature or on familial guilt to take up this screen-free literacy activity. Most of us have people in our lives who could use a kind word. Why not send them a letter or a post card to brighten their day?

One of my Facebook friends put out a call for first graders who might be interested in practicing their writing through a pen pal exchange. Her son now has several pen pals his age in different states, which provides him authentic writing opportunities. Educational research suggests that such experiences increase student motivation, learning, and engagement.

Many organizations are looking for pandemic pen pals for elderly patrons. Sadly, most elderly people have been unable to have visitors during the Coronavirus pandemic—imagine the loneliness they’re experiencing. A letter from you or your children could really make a difference in their lives. You could consider reaching out to a local nursing home, or use one of the many sites linking letter writers to seniors. Additionally, a quick google search will yield tons of results for organizations dedicated to connecting people via snail mail.

Break out your bookish stationary and get started!