With smart phones, tablets, e-books, TV, apps, digital games, and videos being a part of everyday life, creating screen-free time for children is more important than ever. It can be intimidating to try and cut down screen time, especially since technology is such a vital part of your family’s day-to-day activities, but you’re not alone. There are many things you can do as a parent to help limit your family’s screen time and encourage your child’s development.
Screens and your child’s development
Many parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend with screens. Research shows that screen time gets in the way of activities good for young children, like playing creatively and interacting with caring grown-ups. Screen time takes away from their ability to socialize appropriately with their peers and does not teach socialization to neuro-typical children.
Developing children thrive when they are talked to, read to, played with, and given time for creative play, physically active play, and interactions with other children and adults. In addition, there’s no research showing the benefits of introducing children to new technologies in the first years of life. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screens for children under 2 and no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day for older kids.
Limit screens, maximize family time
Parents are a child’s first teachers, yet changing children’s screen habits can be a challenge for both kids—and their parents. Way to Grow has compiled some helpful strategies for getting young children to spend less time with screens and more time engaged with the world around them.
1. Rearrange the furniture
Turn the living room into a place for family interaction and play by arranging the furniture so the TV isn’t the focus of the room. Don’t forget—your living room isn’t the only room in your home with a screen. Remember to keep screens out of bedrooms: Kids who use screens at night have more problems with sleep.
2. Start the day screen-free
Create a morning routine that does not involve screens. Try not to turn on the television to entertain children while getting ready to start the day. Children will learn to entertain themselves and play on their own. In addition, parents should model screen-free behavior by avoiding computer time or checking mobile devices first thing in the morning. Those emails can wait until after breakfast.
3. Enjoy screen-free meals
Mealtime can be stressful, but having the television on during meals creates even more noise and distraction and does not promote family interaction. What’s more, screen-free family meals encourage healthier eating!
4. Encourage sensory and pretend play
Young children learn through exploring with their whole bodies, including all of their senses. Instead of relying on screens, provide children with easy play options for sensory play—which gives them the chance to explore using their sight, touch, and other senses—to engage children while you get things done around the house. Set up water and toys at the kitchen sink, and you can accomplish things nearby while keeping an eye on your child. At different times throughout the day, introduce basic art supplies or play dough to your child’s playtime to keep things fun and tactile.
Pretend (or dramatic) play is important as well, since children learn as they play and play as they learn. When your child engages in pretend play, they are actively experimenting with the social and emotional rules of life, which is especially important for preschoolers as they harness these skills. Pretend play also reinforces language skills, which is important as your child learns to read. To encourage pretend play, consider creating a prop box or corner of the home filled with everyday objects to spark your preschooler’s fantasy world. You might include:
- Large plastic crates, cardboard boxes, or a large empty box for creating a “home”
- Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, and hats
- Old telephones, phone books, or magazines
- Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic food containers, and napkins
- Stuffed toys and dolls of all sizes
- Fabric pieces, blankets, or old sheets for making costumes or a fort
- Writing materials for taking phone messages, leaving notes, and making shopping lists
5. Explore the outdoors
Spending time in nature is important for healthy child development. Plan outdoor activities that the whole family can enjoy together. You don’t have to be “outdoorsy” to spend time outside. Do small activities together like watching the clouds and asking your child what the shapes remind them of, splashing through puddles, and collecting leaves for arts and crafts projects. Get creative and a little messy together and draw with sidewalk chalk or dig in the mud. Feeling adventurous? Try a family activity like hiking or sledding, camping in the backyard, or hitting the local playgrounds and parks in your community!
6. Create activity kits
It can be hard to come up with spur-of-the-moment ideas, so keep a few on-hand for when you need them most! Make activity kits using supplies you already have in the house to keep children busy during transition times between daily activities, or at other tricky times of the day. One idea: Gather up shoe boxes to decorate with your child. Organize toys and games in each box. Instead of reaching for a smartphone or tablet, or turning on the TV during transitions or downtimes, grab an activity kit!
7. Limit your own screen time
Take a break from your smartphone and other screens throughout the day to give your child your uninterrupted attention. Having your full attention, especially in the evening hours when children are tired and may be cranky, helps you interact more successfully and will keep things calmer.
Remember, no television program, app, or computer program is as interactive as a teacher, parent, or playmate!
Screen-free week is April 30–May 6, 2018. Find out ways your family can participate at screenfree.org.
Need some ideas for fun activities to do with your family away from screens? Check out the following sites for tons of screen-free activities for the whole family:
Getting your child outside is important for their development. Read more about why kids need to spend time in nature at Child Mind.