Making screen time positive

by | Aug 13, 2020

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In our new reality, an increase in our children’s screen time has been inevitable. Experienced pre-primary teacher Dapheney Kroet talks to Teixeira Murray about how to use screen time to your child’s benefit.

The world has changed so much in the last few months and many countries have experienced some form of lockdown. Lockdown has brought many changes to the way parents work and, of course, how children are being educated.

Screen time has now become part of the daily routine for both adults and children alike, with the use of computers, tablets, and smartphones becoming an integral part of staying connected and informed. For the longest time experts have warned parents against prolonged screen time for their little ones, encouraging more outdoor play, but now that social distancing is vital, many schools have moved to a virtual space, and so time spent in front of screens has grown significantly. Early Childhood Development specialist, Dapheney Kroet, admits that screen time is something she has also previously warned parents to keep to a bare minimum, but with the need for education to continue through remote learning, screen time has become a necessary tool.

“Unfortunately screen time has received a bad rap, and we certainly don’t want parents to leave their children to sit in front of a television for hours on end, watching empty programmes that do not enrich the child. But screen time can be a tool to help enhance the child’s learning journey and so we are learning to look at screen time with new eyes.”

Kroet explains that screen time must be carefully planned and selected to ensure that programme are educational and will stimulate and encourage movement as well. In this way, it can offer many benefits.

Setting limits

“I want to stress that structured screen time, monitored by parents, is extremely important, but still needs to be within limits. I still would say for children under two years old there is very little benefit, other than playing a nursery rhyme here and there. Screen time for children older than two should also only be in short bursts of 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Overall, children should have a limit of three hours of total screen time within a day during the lockdown period; ideally it should be no more than an hour a day.”

Using screen time as an educational tool can be fun and interesting, provided that content is carefully selected for the appropriate age group.

“The more I researched and looked for educational programmes, games, and other content, the more I have come to see there is so much available to parents. Various platforms offer content geared towards improving mathematical and language skills. Often these programmes will look at numbers, shapes, colours and the alphabet through fun and vibrant songs, allowing the child to engage and memorise various concepts. Other programs have stories with morals and lessons attached to them: programmes such as Barney, Vegetables, Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol spring to mind.

“For the older child, there are programmes like Story Bots, and Odd Squad, that focus on the STEM subjects. You will  note that most of these are only 15-20 minutes long per programme, which is ideal.”

The best forms of screen time are when content is interactive, fun, interesting, and appropriate for the various age groups.

A world of content and resources

“We live in a digital, technology-driven world and we should try to embrace it and use it to our advantage. I have first-hand experience during the lockdown of the benefits of technology, as it allowed me to connect with my students remotely. I found so many useful resources and content that I really believe can help children over the age of two to learn valuable skills such as learning to focus, apply problem-solving skills, and even executive functioning development.

“All of this is greatly enhanced when both adult and child engage in the content together, as it encourages dialogue and social interaction, and can be a great way to bond.”

The use of smartphones, tablets and computers for gaming has also never been a favourable topic among parents, but more and more development in educational games has made the use of these devices something to consider, as both a form of entertainment and education.

“Games on devices can help to develop interactive learning as well as promote fine motor skills, and hand-eye co-ordination. However, gaming should be monitored and also only be allowed in short bursts at a time, with as much parent involvement as possible. All forms of screen time must be thoughtful and should never replace real face-to-face interaction with other people, namely parents or guardians.”

Fostering good habits

To foster good screen time habits, Kroet advises that parents should always model positive behaviour when it comes to technology.

“As a teacher, I always encourage parents to structure their screen time in a way that teaches children that limits are important and that there should be a time for real connections away from devices. We need to make time for play and real conversations.

“Perhaps make it a rule that there’s no screen time from supper time, where family time instead focuses on having a meal together, and talking about the events of the day. Building puzzles and playing family board games or spending time doing crafts and reading together will all be beneficial for the development of the child, but also the family unit.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to visit family and friends, and many children are still being schooled at home. This means there is a gap in social human connection, but we can certainly use screen time in the form of video calls as a way to connect.

“The wonderful thing about technology is that it is ever-evolving and these days video calls form such an integral part in staying connected with family and friends. Encourage your children to use devices as a healthy way of communicating.

“Connecting via video calls has the added benefit of being used as a learning tool as well. Movement classes such as dance classes can be hosted via video calls and can help to bridge the distance between the teacher and the child. The possibilities are endless.”