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Setting limits on screen time is important, but just how strict are you? Do you have an established amount of scheduled time and a physical timer that dings when that time is up? Or do you just use your parenting sense to gauge whether it’s time to move on? Sure it’s easy enough when it’s that last 15 minutes before bedtime, but weekends and evenings can easily become hours of screen time. I swear my son will grab his iPad at any chance he gets - even that tiny 5 minutes in between finishing dinner and clearing the table. It seems impossible to track every second. Can all that screen time be so bad? After all many adults stare at screens all day long - that’s part of our job! If we look at our kids as the future of our workforce, perhaps looking at screens isn’t as bad as we think. As long as you know that they spent most of the day off screens rather than on them. I mean that’s more than I can say. I’m pretty sure I spend more time looking at that glowing light of my computer or iPhone than not. How do you define what screen time is? Is watching an episode of Sesame Street for an hour the same as playing Angry Birds for the same amount of time? If the kid is doing math drills for an hour, do you really want them to stop? Is it really quantity of time over quality? Here are some things to consider. First off, it’s important to acknowledge that there are a few categories of screen time. It can’t be all lumped together and defined with a single term. Step 1: Define “Screen Time” * Passive - They are sitting watching a movie or a TV show - the typical couch potato. * Passive / Active - They are reacting physically to what is being watched - dance time! * Interactive - They are actively involved and engaged in manipulating what is happening on screen - games * Interactive / Active - They are controlling what is on screen and reacting physically - Wii / 360 Kinect * Communication - They are communicating via texts, Facetime, Skype, etc (You wouldn’t limit screen time while chatting with Grandma!) Step 2: Define the Content: * Entertainment - The goal is fun, but may contain some educational value. Just don’t confuse the two. Sure you can argue that Angry Birds helps kids learn physics, but without explicitly explaining what “trajectory” is, then they probably aren’t really learning anything other than how to aim. * Education The goal is to learn and refine skills that are used in the real world. These are concepts that should be goal-oriented, explainable, and applicable outside of the screen. This doesn’t always mean ABC’s and 123’s. Recycle Hero is a great example of education that has a more practical real-world application. * Creativity The goal is to express ideas. Kids are creators and screens are a medium to express creativity with sound, images, and video. Step 3: Define the Boundaries: * Establish a Time Range - You will need to determine what range of time is acceptable to you and your family and recognize that weekends and summertime limits may very well be different, so define that too. I say range because if you have a single number, you’re kid may start timing themselves to get every last second of screen time regardless of circumstances. * Enforce it - How will you enforce the time limit? By app, by timer, by intuition? Schedule the time on a daily basis? Find a method that works and be as consistent as possible. If you are able to give them a number to work against, know that they will use every second. * Give a warning - I mean can you stop reading in the midst of the latest hot news story? Kids are little people, so give them time to find a stopping point. Make sure it’s specific or else they’ll use it to their advantage. I also find it helpful to stand and watch, just to make sure! * Balance - Make sure the child is getting at least an hour of moderate exercise every day before saying 2 hours of screen time is acceptable. Health always has the priority. Also, break up long stretches with some crafts, an impromptu dance party, or a board game. * Socialize - Family face to face time is important. Build a time / place for “no screens allowed” rituals such as during the drive to school, during breakfast or dinner, and/or before bedtime. It’s also fun to sit beside them as they play their games to be actively involved. Pulling it Together After you’ve taken into account all these elements, it’s time to really create your screen time strategy. It is helpful to write it down, implement it and see how it works. I categorize my sons apps and always watch him play it for a while so I can accurately judge if it’s entertainment of educational. Passive screen time isn’t a much of an issue, but interactive (iPad) screen time is a daily effort. Some tips that have worked for us: * Play an educational game BEFORE your favorite time-sucking entertainment game * Define the number of levels and/or points that is acceptable to play * Create multiple time ranges so that entertainment screen time gets much less time than educational screen time. * Review educational concepts in the real-world to see if the game is truly educational * Remember, as a parent, and instill in your child, that screen time is a privilege * Buying games makes a great reward and motivational tool What are your tips? What have you discovered that works for your kids? What screen time management strategies do you use? Written by DeEtta Cobra
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