We don’t know what Maria Montessori would have said about screen time (as there were no screens when she was around) but we do know that her educational model placed emphasis on children from 0-6 learning in a hands-on way with a focus on the sensorial; the need to manipulate their environment in order to learn. Small children develop mentally and physically through interactions with their mums and dads and the ability to explore the world around them in a visceral way—typically, the passivity of screen time mitigates this experience.
Whilst screens are certainly not bad in and of themselves, and are a critical part of modern living, many parents are concerned about the negative effects over-exposure may have on children’s development and learning.
If you would like to create some new screen time habits in your home, here are some top tips that might help:
- Be available: spend time with your child (chatting, reading, playing, singing)—make a commitment to be engaged.
- Play outside: replace screen time with more time outdoors.
- Encourage creativity: children have an instinctive curiosity and love to get involved in sensorial activities (drawing, cutting, panting, moulding, collecting) so make sure you have the right crafts/tools at their disposal.
- Encourage independent play: if your child can play well independently, the transition into less screen time will be so much easier. Independent play is facilitated by you spending time with your child and them having the opportunity to go outside and to be creative with their toys and time. They may need you to help at the outset but they will adapt quickly to new routines with your support.
- Practical use of screen: make screen time active rather than passive—let your child use a device to take photos or record a song/dance performance.
- Interactive use of screen: share screen time with your child—research their favourite topic or play a game with them.
- Screen-free zones in your home: prioritise meal times or game night. Perhaps no screens in bedrooms? Whatever is appropriate for your family.
- Clear rules about screen times: have clear expectations as to how long children can spend on screen, and when/where they are permitted to do so.
- Be a role-model: put hand-help devices away when it’s family time or one-on-one time with your child. It’s important to lead by example by limiting your own screen time (as is appropriate for you).
- Be realistic: set small goals and then work to where you’d like to be with regards to when/how much screen time. Going in cold turkey is a massive expectation and will be tough to maintain.
Setting good habits when children are young will stand them in good stead when they are older. If you would like further information or recommendations, visit the World Health Organisation, which has guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children.