Young children learn best from face-to-face conversations with caring adults. Yet in our homes and other places, our television, smartphone, computer and tablet screens have become more and more a part of our daily lives. The Canadian Pediatric Society's latest guidelines for screen time for children are,
- For children under 2 years old, screen time is not recommended.
- For children 2 to 5 years old, limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
Here are some ideas for pencil and paper activities when you turn off the screens.
- Categories. Draw a grid on a piece of paper with as many squares are you like. Down the left side, write letters (perhaps the letters in one player’s name). Across the top, write categories (girl’s name, boy’s name, animal, place, etc.) Players take turns filling in the squares with words that fit the categories at the top and begin with the letters at the side.
- Crazy Drawing. One player tells the artist what to draw, but the artist must draw it with the paper and pencil on top of their head or with their eyes closed.
- Silly Messages. Take turns calling out 5 different letters. Each player writes down the letters in order and the first player to create a silly sentence about an animal using the letters to start each word wins. For example: letters AHGSP could be Alligators Have Green Silly Pants.
- Name that Story. One player begins by telling the plot of a well-known story. This player tells the story bit by bit without naming any characters. For example: “This story is about a brother and sister who have an evil stepmother.” Pause to give the other players enough time to make guesses. If no one guesses correctly, then give them another clue. “They decide to run away from home into the woods…” Play continues until either the entire story is told or one of the other players guesses correctly.
- Would You Rather. Take turns asking each other silly questions. One player makes up a silly question such as “Would you rather take a bath in Jello or mud?” or “Would you rather sweep the floor with a tooth brush or rake the lawn with a fork?” The other player must say which one they prefer and give a reason why.
Once your child turns two, here are some tips for how to make the best out of screen time.
1. Be present. When children are using a tablet or other electronic device, sit with them and ask them what they are playing or doing. Talking about what they are seeing on apps or during a movie not only gets them thinking about the activity in a more productive way, it also shows that you are interested in what they are interested in.
2. Pick age-appropriate programming. Content and context of media exposure is associated with language and cognitive development and the ability to pay attention. Viewing content that is beyond what a toddler understands is highly associated with attention problems, whereas children viewing educational content, within moderation, that is suitable for their age is not linked to attention problems.
3. Consider educational vs entertainment. Educational shows on television offer thought provoking ideas that refer to real life situations, where entertainment programming is often fast-paced and fantastical. Consider shows where the characters speak directly to the child and seek participation in tasks. Also programming where characters label objects and give opportunities for your child to respond promote language and skill development. (Eg. Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, Blues Clues or check out commonsensemedia.org)
4. Get involved! The more verbal interactions with parents during programming, the more the children will learn. Point out objects in the background, or define words that they have yet to comprehend. Talk about what you are viewing with your child.
5. Opportunities to transfer learning. When using apps with children, take the learning piece that the app has provided and relate it to a physical object or real-life scenario. For example, if you are counting on the screen, follow up with a counting activity that provides the child an opportunity to touch or move something physical taking it from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately at this time, there is no evidence that the “swipe” and “touch” skills are transferable to writing.
6. Face to face interaction. Face-timing is a great way to stay connected to friends and family that do not live close, but is it safe? The answer is yes! Face to face interaction, even if done through an electronic device or screen, sets the stage to build stronger relationships between the adult and child when meeting in real life. By 17 months, infants are able to understand the connection between the real person they know and the person they are seeing on the screen.
7. Cut out the background noise. In many Canadian households, having the television playing in the background while chores are being done or while children are playing is an everyday occurrence. Research has proven that this seemingly harmless environment actually makes it harder for your child to direct their attention to the task at hand. Whether playing with blocks or reading a story, the background noise causes interference and is associated with poorer parent to child interaction.
8. Keep screens out of the bedroom. The importance of sleep cannot be over emphasized. It is crucial to a child’s development. Children who view screens within 2 hours of bedtime are slower to reach the level of restorative sleep that they need to be successful the next day. Encourage reading instead. Bedtime is a great time to share a book together or even allow children to read on their own (print copy, of course). Television in the bedroom is also a known risk factor for obesity.
9. Set the example. The best teaching opportunity can come from leading by example. Taking the time to put down electronic devices supports social and emotional connections with those around us. In addition, when parents overuse screens, they could be encouraging an increase in negative behavior from the child who is bidding for their attention.
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