Would it surprise you to know that the time children 8 and younger spend on mobile devices has tripled in four years? In today's digital world, families are exposed to more screen time than ever before. Smartphones, tablets, YouTube and many popular games, are just a few of the many sources of electronic connection that vie for time and attention from both parents and children.
More and more research is showing the detrimental effects of television and computers on young children, which range from rising levels of obesity, to low reading levels and hyperactivity. Childhood is the time for learning through activity. We encourage children to play energetically and imaginatively, to spend lots of time outdoors in nature, to read, play musical instruments, draw, paint, and play games as healthy alternatives to media-based entertainment.
Although every family must decide this issue for itself, The Playgarden preschool and kindergarten adheres to the Lifeways® and Waldorf inspired principles of encouraging families to eliminate media, or limit it as much as possible. We firmly ask that children do not engage in any media prior to the school day. This helps the children gain the most benefit out of imaginative play and story, which are directly linked to intellectual development.
Developmental Effects of Electronic Media:
Young children are like sponges; it takes time to develop the capacity to screen out unpleasant sense experiences, as children are completely open to what they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
Exposure to electronic media has a direct impact on the development of sight, hearing, movement and balance, creation of neural pathways, attention, creativity and imagination to name just a few.
Some physical, social, and cognitive hazards of exposure to electronic media include:
Difficulty "switching off"
Blunted senses, visual strain, and under-stimulation of the developing brain
Side-effects of toxic emissions and electromagnetic radiation
Childhood obesity, lack of exercise, and movement disorders
Undermining of play
Electronic addiction; the "plug-in drug"
Less creativity and imagination
Undermining of language and literacy
Attention deficit and inability to concentrate
Listening and attention problems; the background noise of radio, television, tablets and computers is so prevalent in everyday life now that the sense of hearing is being dulled.
So why is it hard for children (and adults) to switch off? The cathode ray and light technology of TV/VDT (computer/screens) inhibits the brain functions that are involved in the decision making process.
The electronic media medium tunes out the logical left brain and tunes in the uncritical right cortex, which processes images.
Negative effects of screen time in early childhood on the Reticular Activating System (RAS), a part of the brain that develops with the senses, includes short attention span and an inability to concentrate
Exposure to electronic media directly affects children's observational skills as well as the ability to learn, to listen, to read facial expressions, and to take turns in conversation.
Children whose senses are engaged through play and real-life interactions and who engage in healthy physical movement build strong, flexible neural connections. For example, when a child waters a garden she can see, smell, and feel the plants, earth, and water; she can spill her water to gauge the reaction of those around her and initiate a conversation; she can ponder and imagine how the plants grow from a seed.
Large, M.(2003).Set Free Childhood. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Hawthorn Press.
Impacts on Play:
Research shows that "heavy viewers are less imaginative and less dramatic in their play, show less initiative, are more likely to expect to be entertained, can pay less attention to stories, sometimes lack co-ordination, and do not play so constructively...as non-viewing children."
"Evidence is strongly supportive of the hypothesis that long-term exposure to television violence increases the degree to which boys engage in serious violence"
"Children's imitation of aggressive role models through media learning can increase children's verbal and physical aggression"
We understand that eliminating media during particular times of the day (ex: dinner preparation, morning rush, etc.) can be tricky for some families. We would like to suggest the following activities that can provide your child with an engaging activity during such times. However, we strongly encourage you to bring your child into the activity that you are focusing on and allow him/her to participate. For example, if you are making dinner your child can use a child-friendly cutting tool to chop vegetables, tear lettuce, or wash dishes beside you while you cook. If you have a pile of laundry to fold you can give them socks to match, small washcloths to fold, etc.
Here are some other suggestions:
String wooden beads or pasta on yarn to make necklaces or garland. This is a fun activity that a child can do in the room with you while you get ready for work in the morning. You'll also get a fun necklace to wear to work!
If it is night time, do a flashlight search game. Hide a toy in a room while your child waits in the adjoining room. Tum off the lights and give your child a flashlight and help them to find the toy by saying "Hot" or "Cold". This activity can easily transition to bedtime by letting your child use the flashlight to find their way to bed.
Make bread dough or purchase a healthy version of pre-made croissant dough from the grocery store and let your child make some treats with raisins, cinnamon, pumpkin seeds, etc. These can be great after school or post-park snacks. This can be done while you are preparing dinner.
Go for a pajama walk! Night time is a prime time for a worn out parent to want to tum on the TV. Instead take your pajama-clad child for a walk. As parents of young children, we so often go inside to make dinner and stay inside until the following morning! Dusk is a beautiful time to take your child outside.
Painting with a paint brush and plain water is a fun and easy activity. Your child can "paint" the fence, the sidewalk, driveway, etc. This is a fun activity to do while you're doing yard work.
Build forts with sheets and furniture around the house. A box fan and a duvet cover make an awesome fort as well! This is a good one to do right before you start making dinner. It is a great place for child to play while you prepare the meal.
For more screen-free ideas check out ScreenFree, Screen Free Parenting and Commercial Free Childhood.
Also check out some book resources like Set Free Childhood by Martin Large and Simplicity Parenting, a national movement to use the power of less to raise calmer, happier and more secure kids. This movement is also supporting our Parent/Child Courses. All are great resources to help solve this challenging problem.
The Playgarden College of Teachers