In many ways, portable technology and children’s television programs have helped parents. Every parent needs a break, and with the rise in quality children’s apps and programming, parents get some much-needed downtime. At the same time, research shows that children spend an average of 6-8 hours using technology daily, which is far more than the APA’s recommendation of one hour daily for children ages 2-5. Excessive screen time has been linked to attention issues, poor sleep, and health concerns like obesity and diabetes. If your family is looking for ways to limit screen time, here are some creative ways to break the technology habit and fill your time with better options.
Podcasts and Audiobooks
Screen time often serves parents by giving children something to do in otherwise difficult situations. This might include a long daily commute, time spent waiting at the doctor’s office, or blocks of time at home when parents are occupied with other important tasks. One creative substitute for screen time in these instances is audio entertainment. Audiobooks for children range from the reading of simple picture books (which frequently encourage children to read along) to chapter books intended for older children. Similarly, podcasts cover a wide range of ages with great options for even the smallest children. Parents can utilize these engaging forms of entertainment when they might otherwise give a child a tablet or turn on the television. The story will occupy the child’s mind while he or she colors, looks at picture books, or plays quietly.
After a long day, it can be tempting for parents to turn on the television to get a break and recover. If you want to limit screen time, a fun and connected substitute for this evening entertainment is a family game night. Choose one or two simple games, as calm or exciting as you would like, and sit down together to play before dinner or bedtime. Be sure to choose games that are accessible to your child so that they can enjoy playing. Some favorite games for preschoolers include Candy Land, Hi Ho! Cherry-O, and The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel. An added benefit of this time together is that your child will be far more likely to cooperate with the rest of your plans for the evening after having a chance to connect with you through play.
While busy bags take a bit of preparation, they promise a big return on your investment. Busy bags (or bins, if you choose) are special activities or toys that your child only gets at certain times. Also, they are frequently activities that include lots of free play and creativity. If you create seven busy bags, you will have one for every day of the week. They may include stickers and paper, beads and pipe cleaners, building toys, dolls and changes of clothing, or any other quiet and calm activity. Then, when you would normally turn on the television or use a tablet for entertainment, give your child a busy bag instead. Invite him or her to spend some time playing and creating. You may be surprised at how much they begin to look forward to that time.
Another way to limit screen time is to set up specific tasks that must be completed before the screens are used. For example, if the main living spaces are clean and we’ve eaten our dinner, then we can watch a show. Or, if it’s raining outside and our chores are complete, then you may play on the tablet. Setting up specific times when screens are allowed gives your child clear expectations about screen time in your home. It also allows you to set boundaries for yourself as you work to limit screen time for your children.
A great alternative to screen time is staying active. This might mean playing outside every day, taking regular trips to the gym (and gym childcare!), or planning lots of playdates. If you are on the move, it’s harder to rely on screens for entertainment. This isn’t always possible for a variety of reasons, but staying busy is a great distraction when you’re trying to break the screen habit.
Screen time is a fun activity on occasion, but too much technology can cause difficulties, especially for young children. As you look for ways to limit screen time, try these creative options to fill your time. Before long, you’ll find yourself needing screen time less and enjoying your family time more. Looking for childcare that encourages creative, unplugged play? Consider Legacy Academy. Call or visit your local center today!