by Tracy Walter
During the time of the COVID-19 shelter in place order, we found ourselves at home with all of our family members trying to get used to a “new normal”. Parents were trying to work from home, school aged children were trying to do school from home, parents were trying to be the teacher for them, and young children not able to go to early learning centers were at home needing care. As a provider, you might have experienced lower numbers in your classroom.
In situations like this, turning on a video or game to keep the children occupied seems to be the easy answer. Before you do, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is it educational?
- Do I have time to sit with the children and help them apply it to what they are learning in the world around them?
- Is it free of violence and inappropriate content?
- Is the time going to be less than an hour?
- Is the child older than 2 years old?
According to Caring for Our Children, screen time use in early learning programs is not recommended for children less than 2 years of age. The interactions with caregivers directly influence early brain development in infants. The first two years of life are critical for the growth and development of children’s brains and bodies. Because of this, it’s very important that if a child is less than 2 years of age, they don’t have access to screen time in early learning programs. If the child is between the ages of 2 years old and 5 years old, it’s recommended that no more than one hour per day of screen time is permitted in your program and at home combined.
Caring for Our Children indicates that inappropriate use of screen time with children could lead to behavioral problems and trouble with emotional and behavioral self-regulation. Too much screen time interferes with and limits interaction with adults and social interactions with their peers that are important to the growth and development of children. As an early learning professional, we need to be very careful that screen time does not take the place of exercise, refreshing sleep, and play time with friends and family. Children need physical activity as well for the development of the brain and to help ward against childhood obesity.
There are fun and educational uses for digital media that are appropriate for children over 2 years of age. Using an educational video from a local zoo to learn about an animal or music and movement activities can be fun and engaging for the children. Watching videos and doing activities that help children make a connection between the real world and their lives is important. It is also important that an adult is an active part of any digital media with the children to help make that connection.
Each year, we celebrate Screen-Free Week. The Screen-Free Week scheduled for May 4-8, 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19. However, we as educators should take time to be more cautious of screen time and ask ourselves the few questions above to ensure that how we use screen time is educational and beneficial, and limited for children. And let’s plan to celebrate Screen-Free Week during the week of May 3-9, 2021!