Electronics can be an overwhelming presence in our lives these days, and their use has become a topic of debate and source of guilt for families everywhere. Between our smartphones, iPads, home computers, video games, and high def TVs (complete with DVR), electronics are woven into the fabric of American life whether we like it or not.
There is no question that too much screen time can have detrimental effects and that many parents of young children feel guilty or torn about allowing any screen time at all. No one likes the thought of their child staring at the electric glow of a screen all day, but some purposeful screen time can open new opportunities for learning and sharing in our homes that was never possible before.
NOT ALL BAD
The Internet can be invaluable for learning about all kinds of topics and interests. Aside from many academic websites geared toward “school” activities, the Internet can also be a wealth of opportunity for out of the box exploration. Here are some of my favorite examples:
- The American Library Association has released a list of the Great Websites For Kids, a collection of reliable sources for kids to use to research topics of all kinds.
- Sites like The Mystery Class by Journey North immerse you in a mystery that requires students to use their geography and science skills to find ten secret sites around the world. Hands-on (paper and pencil) mapping and graphing skills are easily integrated into this fun activity.
- Broadcasts from wildlife webcams allow you to watch a mother and baby bear in their den, or a baby falcon hatching in its nest in real time. The World Wildlife Federation and Journey North are two examples of sites that host these type of nature cams.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website provides bird call identification apps that can be loaded on to your mobile phone for use when you are out birding, along with other fascinating regional bird facts and information.
A WINDOW INTO OTHER WORLDS
The Internet allows us access to cultures and places that in the past could only be extensively experienced through travel. International news, video clips, and websites dedicated to entire cultures and ways of life are now a Google search away. For those of us in less than diverse rural areas, the Internet can provide opportunities to connect to the global community and to appreciate the culture, perspectives, languages, and lifestyles throughout the world. In just a few minutes and without leaving your home, you can find music, recipes, art, and history of almost any culture or region. Virtual access like this can quite literally open a world of possibilities for homeschoolers.
SCREEN TIME TOGETHER
Sitting together and watching a favorite show or movie, and sharing a laugh with your children over a bowl of popcorn, can be a great way to spend time together. Sharing a movie, a favorite TV show, or even playing certain screen-based games together can be quality time if you use it as an opportunity for just that. Instead of using screen time as a way to occupy your children, try using screen time as an opportunity for some quiet time together, as a way to share interests, or for some family fun on a rainy day. For suggestions on family friendly movies and TV shows, you can always rely on Common Sense Media.
We all know that too much screen time is not good for children or adults. Some of us have managed to maintain tech-free homes, but these days most of us rely on some type of technology in our everyday lives. It is easy to let screens become an ever present force in our lives, and so it is important to power down frequently and get outside for some good old fashioned fun, too!
Let’s face it, some things are better enjoyed offline:
- Board games like Scrabble are much more fun while played sitting around the table with a few of your favorite people.
- Try drawing in a nature journal on a walk where you would normally be snapping pics on your cell phone. Instead, take turns passing around a family nature walk journal to capture the memories of your adventure.
- Some of us will always prefer the feeling of a paper book in our hands.
- Touch screen baking apps will never replace the smell of fresh baked cookies in your house (not to mention, there is no spoon to lick).
- Playing music with family or friends is a fun way to spend your tech-free time. (The digital recording equipment doesn’t count, but listen to it later).
- Bird watching is great fun and you can make your backyard bird friendly.
- Real pets are much more cuddly than virtual pets.
- Viewing a clear night sky through a telescope (or without one), collecting rocks, observing frogs in a pond—basically, science is better in real life.
- There is an online game out there for every sport, but athletes agree that sports are best played with your whole body.
- There are no virtual equivalents to getting some dirt under your fingernails. Whether you are jumping in mud puddles or digging your hands in the soil while gardening, making a physical connection with the earth is a tech-free experience that cannot be replicated.
Some low-tech activities can eventually lead to a purposeful project on the computer. For example, taking digital photos and then using photo software to edit and create projects is a great experience for kids to have. Young poets and writers who write with a pen and paper can find avenues to share their original work on a variety of websites for young writers. Mountain bikers and runners can use online software to map their routes and share them with other enthusiasts online later.
FINDING WAYS TO UPLUG
Hands-on activities and face-to-face interactions offer opportunities to connect with our world and each other. Sometimes finding tech-free time is a challenge, but working it into your family routine can be beneficial. For example, designating an entire “tech-free day” or a time of day that everyone agrees to unplug is a great idea. It’s a good idea to keep family meals free of devices, and an hour of tech-free time following dinner can be some great family down time. Quiet, less distracted time together allows the space and time for conversation, connection, and cuddling.
Balancing screen time with face-to-face activities is a challenge for households across America and beyond. The Internet and the media offer a great opportunity to open doors to other parts of the world, learn new skills, and be entertained. It is inevitable that our children are going to be a part of a technological world, and helping them to find a balance with their use of electronics is an important life skill. So don’t feel guilty about your child watching that movie he loves (again), but then get out and experience the three dimensional and equally amazing natural world. Allow yourself time and opportunity to be fascinated by the original “web,” brought to you by your local spider.
Deb Velto, Oak Meadow’s K-8 Program Director, keeps her eye on balancing screen time and media-free time, home and work, and parenting and personal time while homeschooling her two children. Oak Meadow offers progressive, experiential homeschooling curriculum for kindergarten to grade 12, providing students with the educational freedom and flexibility to explore their interests, talents, and passions. The curriculum may be used independently or by enrolling in their fully accredited distance learning school.