Tech Tips for the Tykes, from a Teacher:
Part 1

8 Reasons to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time & 8 Alternatives to Screen Time


I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to write a bit about a theme I’d like to share with parents and other readers. As the writing was coming along, I realized that I had a lot to say on this essential, timely topic: screen time! For this reason, my blog will be split into 2 different posts. In this post, we’ll examine 8 reasons to limit your child’s screen time, as well as 8 alternative activities instead of screen time. The next post will then discuss 8 tips to help you as a parent accomplish limiting screen time. Both of these posts are written with Children of Tomorrow’s main age groups in mind: birth to kindergarten.

Let me first introduce where I’m coming from!

I am a Facebooker.
I am a Pinterest experimenter.
I am an Audible addict and frequent user of Hulu on my lunch break.
I am currently typing early on a Saturday morning while listening in the background to Chip and Joanna Gaines fix up an ugly house.
I am also a devoted wife, a mom of a busy 3-year-old and a dedicated Pre-K teacher.

So, what does technology use have to do with my family life, my time with my child and my students?

A lot.

“Screen time” is a hot topic. As a parent, we wonder how much screen time is appropriate for our child. How much is too much?  “Can I watch just one more episode of Peppa Pig? Please?!”

After the Christmas and New Year’s break with lots of downtime for our family, we went back to our normal work and school routines. Our little girl, Daisy, would immediately ask upon beginning our evening together at home, “I watch my Peppa Pig?” Each time she was denied, it was World War 3. Dramatic crying, the whole works. She hadn’t reacted like this prior to all our TV intake during break, so my husband and I knew this was a reality check. A big one.

Beginning a new year is always self-evaluation time. So, I did just that. The piece I know I needed to change up was my own tech-use at home in front of my little girl. I admitted to myself that I want better for myself and my family. My phone was always there. It was there for dinner recipes. It was there for texts. It was there to check Facebook. It was there to Pinterest ideas for school and life. It was always there. But why?! I was part of the epidemic of adults who consume media at a high rate, even if it was front of my child.

I felt in my gut that a change was needed. Maybe some of you see yourself described above, or maybe don’t think a change is needed. For either party, I want to tell you all about screen time through the eyes of a teacher and parent. No judgment. Just what I’ve researched or have found helpful through experience. Let’s check it out.

Here are 8 reasons to limit your child’s screen-time.

  1. Developmental milestone delays

According to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, the screen time struggle is so real that it’s starting to hit home. This study found a direct link between children’s screen time when they are 2 and 3 years old and their developmental milestones when they are 3 and 5 years old. These children are of the age in our care, here at COT! Researchers looked at milestones like growth in communication, motor skills, problem-solving and social skills. Mothers completed questionnaires related to their child’s performance on developmental tests at 2, 3 and 5 years old. The parents also shared how much time their kids spent on screens during the week and on the weekend.

More screen time at 2 years old was connected with poorer performance on the developmental screening tests at 3 years old. As well, more screen time at 3 years old was associated with lower scores on developmental screening tests at 5 years old. The study showed the average amount of screen time for 2-, 3-, and 5-year-olds was 2.4, 3.6 and 1.6 hours per day.

  1. Increase in aggression and impulsivity

The delay of developmental milestones is not the only trouble.

Right here in the Twin Cities, Sara Ridley, a speech language pathologist at Wayzata Early Learning School, did research for 1 year with children ages 0-3. In her research, children in this age-range being raised with access to handheld screens were seen with many negative impacts. The lengthy list includes increased aggressiveness and impulsiveness, as well as difficulty self-calming, regulating and coping. These are all “soft skills” that Kindergarten teachers crave their students have, rather than high academics. Why? Because academics are more easily taught! Soft skills are more difficult to teach than reading or math skills. I love the reminder, confirmed by Sara Ridley’s research, that these children have new, fragile brains. They’ve only been alive for a short minute and are still constantly developing. She says, “They are wired to human interaction. Not technology interaction.” We all need that reminder.

  1. Struggle to focus and listen

I want to share 2 important terms I learned in researching why exactly it’s harder for children to focus and listen if they’re used to watching screens. These 2 terms are proprioception and vestibular sense.

Proprioception is what tells you where your body parts are without having to look at them. It’s how we are able to bring popcorn to our mouth while still looking at the screen, or how we can switch our foot from the gas pedal to the brake without looking down. Without developed proprioception, kids can push too hard during a tag game, trip walking upstairs or fall out of their seat during a meal.

Vestibular sense helps you understand balance and gives information about where your body is in relation to surroundings. Without proper vestibular sense, all other senses struggle to function properly. Kids will fidget, get frustrated easily, experience more falls and aggression, struggle with focusing and listening. All because they cannot help it.

Solution to underdeveloped proprioception and vestibular sense? Experiencing physical exertion during childhood! Let them jump, spin, pick up rocks, dig in the dirt, lift boxes, build a fort! Get them active! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most critical time to develop a child’s proprioception and vestibular sense is before age six. This means that by the time children graduate COT and go on to kindergarten, their development in these 2 areas should almost be complete. Making sure our kiddos have time for this development is on our plates! (And it’s not in front of a screen!)

  1. Social struggles

Social/emotional competence is the ability to interact with others, regulate emotions and behaviors and communicate effectively. These skills are tough to teach, and they develop over a long period of time. According to David P. Sylvestro, MA, CSP, School Psychologist and his presentation, “Promoting Social Skills Development in a Screen-Oriented World”, kids today often need help learning to balance screen time with time spent engaged with others, learning the language of social interactions and how to function effectively in the real social and emotional world. Your child needs foundational skills to make positive connections with others: survival skills (listening, following directions, ignoring distractions), interpersonal skills (sharing, joining an activity, waiting your turn), problem-solving skills (asking for help, asking for help, knowing how/when to apologize, accepting consequences) and conflict-resolution skills (losing, accusation, being left out).

This all takes lots of practice. I see it about 500 times a day in my classroom alone; it’s completely age-appropriate behavior to need lots of practice to discover how to socially interact. Sylvestro also says that practicing social interactions means making a distinction between the “real world” social interaction and our electronic devices. There needs to be clear boundaries for electronic devices for this real social interaction practice to occur. At dinnertime, put the screens away and really talk with your family to teach your kiddos how social interaction works!

  1. Impact on sleep

I bet you’ve heard that you should try to not watch TV right before going to bed because it stimulates the brain. This is true for adults. Do you think it’s the same for children? You betcha! Did you know that the blue light from a computer or TV screen used in the evening hours can alter the brain’s sleep rhythm? This blue light interferes with your body’s production of melatonin, which helps you sleep. If this is true for adults, it has an even stronger effect on children.

  1. Less physical activity, leading to obesity

This one is pretty self-explanatory. When watching a screen, we are usually sitting down and not moving our bodies. If a child is watching a screen for long periods of time, this lessens the opportunity for physical activity in their day.

  1. Vision harm

The number of nearsighted children has increased radically in the last 30 years. Why? Kids have so many more opportunities to attach their eyes to a screen. The digital devices produce a strong light in the form of blue rays. Excessive screen time can result in nearsightedness, digital eye strain, dry/irritated eyes and loss of eye focus flexibility.

Along with the vision harm that optometrists see, increased screen viewing has an effect on spatial awareness and understanding. According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis’s most recent screen-time guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics, part of the negative effect is children having difficulty translating two-dimensional skills learned on a screen to the real, three-dimensional world. For example, stacking virtual Lego blocks and actual, real-life Lego blocks. They have a tougher time if they have more screen exposure.

  1. Inappropriate and/or Violent Behavior

A question is raised here: do you know what your child is watching? In the recent months, you may have heard of the “Momo challenge” as it surfaced in the media as a ploy to convince young children to harmfully act and hurt themselves. The “Momo challenge” was said to have interrupted certain YouTube shows geared towards young child audiences. How scary! Leaving our child’s innocent eyes in the hands of YouTube scammers isn’t what any of us want. It’s recommended that if your child under 5 is watching a screen, it is not your babysitter. Co-viewing is always advised.

Then there’s having our adult channels on in the background when the kids are in the room. Even if you think it’s appropriate language and actions for children to watch, is this necessary or appropriate for their eyes and ears? Hearing or seeing adult words and actions may compel children to mimic. Imitating is part of how our little babies, toddlers and preschoolers learn! Ever say a word in front of your child that you didn’t mean for them to hear and then they repeat it a second later? It’s like that.

Knowing all these negative effects, it makes sense as to why it is so important for our children to have limits for their time in front of a screen. Parents who are teachers, like myself, most likely have a wealth of different activities for their kiddos at home instead of screen-time. If you’re at a loss of what other activities your child could do at home, you’re in luck.

Here are 8 screen-free activities for your child:

  1. Play with age-appropriate toys and games.

Independent play is just as important as social play. If your child can play by themselves or with their sibling, what a wonderful thing that is! Maybe your kiddo doesn’t quite have the skills to do this independently yet. Sometimes independent play comes more naturally for some than others. Go ahead: sit on the floor and interact with your child. Playing along with them builds your connection with them as well as builds their abilities to eventually play independently.

The five types of toys that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests for boosting development are as follows: toys that encourage pretend play (“cooking” with pots and pans, running a pretend restaurant, play with dolls), toys that hone fine motor skills (building with blocks, solving puzzles), arts and crafts toys (creating collages, making DIY projects), toys that boost language skills (playing board games, reading books), and toys that promote physical play (setting obstacle courses, playing tag games). These are all great options: no screen required!

  1. Talk with your child

The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of face-to-face communication. In order to know how to communicate, parents need to communicate with their child. It seems simple, but still there may some who need a reminder. This applies to when we feel happy, sad, mad, loved, scared and all emotions in between. Communicate your feelings out loud, and it will teach your child how to communicate their feelings in healthy, appropriate ways. Parents are a comfort to their children, and children learn best from ones who they trust. Be that loving communicator for your child!

  1. Listen to music… and dance!

When my husband and I made a conscious decision for less screen time in our home, I had a suggestion. Because we always had the TV playing in the background, we wanted something to replace that noise. I wanted music! I wanted an Alexa! Go on Amazon and get yourself one (just be sure to disable the “purchase by voice” feature, in fear of little mimickers’ ears). It has been the best $40 we’ve spent in a while! Since having the Alexa smart speaker on the main level of our home, we’ve reduced our “background TV noise” intake dramatically. Daisy, in turn, has enjoyed listening to her favorite Disney soundtracks and hasn’t asked for TV shows while we get dinner ready in the evenings.

As well, I must give a shout-out to a family in our Pre-K classroom who knows the value of music in their home. This Pre-K child has mentioned on multiple occasions how much he looks forward to their family dance parties. Getting your child excited about music and dancing—no screen needed—how cool is that?! Way to go!

  1. Read with your child… and visit your library!

The benefits of reading with your child versus watching a screen with your child are quite lopsided. Getting your child excited about reading early in life is exorbitantly important. If you include reading in your child’s bedtime routine, that is great! Why not read during the daytime with your child too? In our family room, we have toys and games but also have shelves dedicated to Daisy’s books. Some of them are her favorite books she owns and some of them are books she’s checked out from the library. Chances are that if a child picks the books out themselves, they’ll be more excited to read them when they’re at home! Get a library card, let them scan the books themselves, it’s the best thing ever. Try it!

  1. Involve your child in household tasks!

It’s 5:45pm, and you’re just starting to get dinner ready. Your child is asking for a snack. If they don’t get a snack, they’ll ask to watch a show. Time to rewire this situation! “Jobs” are a great tool to use to talk about responsibility, boost self-confidence and start making your child accountable for household tasks. There are many lists online that will tell you age-appropriate chores. The more “jobs” are put into practice, the more routine they get for your child. In turn, this will make mornings and evenings smoother for you! It’s all about giving praise to your child for a job well-done and following through to make it a normal routine in your household. From age 2, Daisy knows to throw away her own napkin and put her plate and utensils in the sink. She just turned 3, and we don’t even have to tell her anymore. It can work!

  1. Give your child some simple art materials: let them get creative!

During one of our long cold winter days, I made it my mission that I wanted to fully practice what I preached. I was not going to turn on a screen all day: not for me, not for Daisy. Guess what we did for at least half the day? We played with a box. A BOX! It’s totally true: you do not need to rely on fancy, fleeting toys to stimulate your child. I gave Daisy a recycled box, markers, stickers, scissors, and my old “foodie” magazines. She was so focused on coloring and creating for a few hours! Four hours later, we were playing silly games with her “bear den” box that she made. Use what you have available! Have them pick out what they want to use, and get them excited about it! (Hint: Part of THEM being excited about it is seeing YOU being excited about it, too! So, show it!)

7. Be silly!

Some of my very favorite classroom memories are when we’re having a silly conversation during morning meeting, doing a goofy dance together or making up a crazy game outside. This is being a kid! Going along with your kiddo being silly is an important part of bonding! Of course, if your kiddo is trying to do his silliest monkey voice during the middle of a sermon at church, it may not be the best time to go along with that. Timing is important. Make time for the silliness. At our house, we always get the silliest with Daisy after dinner when all of our bellies are happy and full. It can be the simplest things, too. She loves when we sit at the bottom of the stairs with her and toss a bouncy ball up the stairs. As the ball comes down the stairs, we overdramatize how the ball is “going to get us”. Daisy cracks up so hard, and we’ve done it a million times.

8. Get outside!

Anybody that knows me knows I’m a nature freak; I absolutely love being outside. The more I go outside, the more I want to stay outside. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like a kid: energized, rejuvenated, happy! But on a sad note, did you know that there is now a national panic that has spread because of our children’s lack of time immersed in nature? It’s called nature deficit disorder. Yes, it’s super sad that this is even a thing.

You could say that there are benefits to getting outside, but the Child Mind Institute (and I) say it’s a necessity! According to CMI, kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. Being outside builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, provides sensory stimulation, gets kids moving, makes them think, reduces stress… need I say more? We want all of this for our kids! We want all of this for OURSELVES, too. The picture below shows my husband and daughter at a stream nearby our house, where we relaxed by tossing rocks in the water that day. “Who can make the biggest rock splash” is always a fun game! Make it a family experience to get outside and explore!

At Children of Tomorrow, we know the importance of getting kids immersed and excited about nature. One of our goals is to “bring the inside out”. This means that we bring our morning meeting outside, read a story under a tree or bring an art project onto the playground. We also strive to “bring the outside in”. We do this by filling our sensory tables with snow to explore, go on a nature hunt and use those materials for a project or use pictures we took outside for a game to play inside. If you need any outdoor or nature-related ideas for family time at home, ask any COT teacher for fun suggestions!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post to discuss 8 tips to help you as a parent accomplish limiting screen time! Stay strong, moms and dads!

Much love from your Pre-K Teacher, Mom, Friend,

Ms. Anne