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You Are Your Child’s Favorite Toy

Posted on Apr 9, 2014 by

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Parenting is not for the undecided.  Raising children requires parents to take a stand…on everything.  Beginning with pregnancy right through great-grandparenting, I suppose.  For instance, there continues to be a lot of chatter surrounding screen time for young children these days, and there are no shortage of strong opinions.  Opinions are better when they are informed, of course.  I think almost everyone agrees that even “educational” screen time for young children can be over done, but I wonder how many of us really know why?

If a young child enjoys an “educational” game or program for a restricted amount of screen time every day, is that really a problem?  Honestly, I don’t think so, but the question that I would ask is…

What Is the Trade Off?

The problem is what young children are NOT doing when they are sitting in front of a screen.  It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a television, tablet, smart phone, or computer.  They may learn some of their basic skills for reading, math, and computer readiness, but what they are trading is time and experiences that are truly fundamental to their development.

The worst trade off of all can be a lost opportunity to learn and play with their favorite people in the world:  Their Parents.

 

When In Front of a Screen…

They are NOT moving! 

The body and mind are very much connected.  Young brains grow stronger when the body is actively balancing, swinging, running and jumping.  Learning is quicker and lasts longer when children do real things. Our mental outlook is stronger and happier when we are physically active, and of course our physical fitness depends on movement.  This biological need to move and explore during the early years has an important reason, and it hampers specific developmental milestones when it is not encouraged.

*** Parents can enrich screen learning by following up on what they learned with a trip to a zoo or the mountains or the library.  Or they can act out what they learned from Curious George or Sesame Street in the house or outdoors through role play or science experiments.  Reinforce letters and numerals with active seek and find games outdoors, in the kitchen, or in the tub.

  • Movement: Montessori teachers believe that movement aids learning. If a child’s learning task includes using their hands to move the pieces of a classroom work (for example, moving a miniature cow to a letter card with “c” on it), the child learns more efficiently, meaning that s/he learns more quickly, retains the learning longer, and enjoys the experience more than if s/he had not used movement.

– See more at: http://www.bfarm.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=5&Itemid=218#sthash.fZWkJa02.dpuf

  • Movement: Montessori teachers believe that movement aids learning. If a child’s learning task includes using their hands to move the pieces of a classroom work (for example, moving a miniature cow to a letter card with “c” on it), the child learns more efficiently, meaning that s/he learns more quickly, retains the learning longer, and enjoys the experience more than if s/he had not used movement.

– See more at: http://www.bfarm.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=5&Itemid=218#sthash.fZWkJa02.dpuf

  • Movement: Montessori teachers believe that movement aids learning. If a child’s learning task includes using their hands to move the pieces of a classroom work (for example, moving a miniature cow to a letter card with “c” on it), the child learns more efficiently, meaning that s/he learns more quickly, retains the learning longer, and enjoys the experience more than if s/he had not used movement.

– See more at: http://www.bfarm.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=5&Itemid=218#sthash.fZWkJa02.dpuf

  • Movement: Montessori teachers believe that movement aids learning. If a child’s learning task includes using their hands to move the pieces of a classroom work (for example, moving a miniature cow to a letter card with “c” on it), the child learns more efficiently, meaning that s/he learns more quickly, retains the learning longer, and enjoys the experience more than if s/he had not used movement.

– See more at: http://www.bfarm.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=5&Itemid=218#sthash.fZWkJa02.dpuf

They are NOT using all of their senses! 

The more senses that can be combined in an experience, the deeper and more memorable the learning becomes.  If young children can touch, trace, build, move, say, and hear letters and numerals, they will learn them faster and more permanently than clicking and dragging them on a screen.

*** Parents can pay attention to the screen lessons and make them come alive with multi-sensory activities.  Check many great ideas on Pinterest.

They are NOT using their imaginations!

Imagination is like a muscle.  It needs regular exercise and challenge.  Creative thinking is critical for success in school but especially in life.  Most apps and games claim to be interactive, but they actually just teach children to follow rules and play a game.

*** Parents can pretend with their children and provide props for role play and all kinds of art.  Follow your child’s budding interests and play games that reinforce the two dimensional screen learning.  Build castles and mazes, make up stories, look for treasure, perform. 

They are NOT interacting with people!

Communication is an intricate skill that requires practice and finesse.  Reading the emotions of others, responding with empathy and tact, expressing persuasive opinions, and learning give and take are important human qualities that children learn from being with adults and other children.  Help REAL people in your community, not just the pretend ones on the screen.

*** Parents can  be a mindful model of high quality communication for their children,  play communication games, read interesting and playful books,  discuss feelings, and schedule regular play times with friends.

They are NOT developing executive brain functions!   If the TV or I pad is used by you to pacify and calm your child or to entertain them when they are bored or you need a break, how will they learn to self-regulate without the screen?  If they lack experiences with their real surroundings, how will they learn to concentrate, make decisions, organize, develop patience, impulse control, and resilience?

*** Parents can feel good about offering their children unstructured time to experiment with and refine their environment at their own pace.

A Well-Informed and Playful Parent Cannot Be Replaced

All  things travel through a parent.  I mean decisions big and small.  Parents filter food choices, childhood vaccinations, schooling, sports activities, discipline, vacations, books and screen time.  While we work hard to bite our lips, sit on our hands, and stand back in order to foster independence, our parenting filter has at least indirectly touched every moment of a child’s life.

If your young child is interested in screen activities, you can filter their activity in several important ways. Learn what skills and methods are age appropriate.  Research the best learning and play activities for the screen, because good ones do exist.  Search for well done graphics and sound that will not overstimulate.  Pass on rapid-fire pace and violence.  Look for games that are free of gender and other stereotypes.    Find ones without commercial ties or branding.

Then, limit the time preschoolers can spend on screen to 1 hour per day.  If your child resists the limits, screen time is probably not worth a daily battle.

Definitely don’t stop after the research.  Supplement, enrich, and extend online or onscreen learning with REAL activity and play.  Use the screen games to inspire further learning that is active, meaningful, interactive, and creative.  Most of all, join in and engage your child so they can feel your commitment to them.  If you enjoy yourself, it will be important to them.  That’s what the title of this piece means:  you are your child’s favorite toy!

Parenting is powerful.  Balance your child’s learning activities just as you balance their meals and everything else.  Then you can stand back and support whatever they choose to do.

 

 

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