The question of ‘How much screen time should a child have?’ is a debated topic and one which does not have a definitive answer.

In a new set of guidelines, the World Health Organization said that infants under 1 year old should not be exposed to electronic screens (unless for video calls) and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” per day but that “less is better”.

However, these guidelines have caused a contentious reaction by UK experts who state that there is not enough evidence to back it up. What are your views as parents or educational practitioners on this?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that there is not a “one size fits all approach” but that parent’s must be their child’s ‘media mentor’ ensuring that they create a healthy lifestyle where they encourage media as a tool to “create, connect and learn”. The AAP state that some media can have educational value for children starting at approximately 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming. The AAP offers healthy media guidelines and recommend that parents prioritise “creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers”.

Amongst all of the varied views, guidelines and recommendations, what we do know is that media usage must be monitored carefully, openly talked about and also balanced with other healthy behaviours which is what I will discuss in more detail below.

Children develop rapidly in early childhood and it is important to develop a healthy balanced lifestyle so that they can reach their full potential.

4 areas to promote a healthier childhood for our Little Thinkers:

Communication

Where possible, encourage media free times & zones including meal times and crossing the road. During media free meal times, take this time for conversation and talk. Ask questions, ponder ideas, discuss news and tell jokes! At LLT we love Nana’s Manners Conversation Cards & Would you rather cards; they are a fun way to generate imaginative conversation.

Talk to your Little Thinker about what they are seeing and watching online. Teach them to talk to you if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable and encourage them to talk about online safety and respect. Face to face interaction is crucial in childhood so the more time you have without a device blocking that time the better.

Sleep

Encouraging media free zones, including inside your Little Thinker’s bedroom, will help to increase the amount of quality sleep that they have. It also limits the risk of children accessing information online which is not adult approved. Reading a bedtime story will not only develop your Little Thinkers language, communication skills, imagination and love of reading but also enhance the chances of a good night sleep.

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Play

In the words of Fred Rogers “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” I couldn’t agree with this more. Working as a teacher/headmistress has meant that I observe childhood all day and the time where children are the most focused is when they are immersed in the world of their play. They are problem solving, they are communicating, they are imagining and they are learning and it really is a joy to observe. It is our role to encourage children to break sedentary activity and promote the world of play.

We often feel that children need to fill their free time with set activities and structured learning however it is often the simplest forms that create the most powerful learning opportunities and happiness. Last week I observed my nieces (both nearly 2 years old) playing; they spent hours in the wood finding bugs, looking at & listening to birds, picking flowers, playing hide and seek and running in the grass. . they were immersed in a world of simplistic yet powerful learning and it was all for free.

We often underestimate how simplicity can create the most engaging entertainment and effective learning.

I also recently observed the children in our nursery playing with a cardboard box. Some may say ‘a cardboard box? Is she mad?’ but it again leads to my belief that sometimes the simplest things can create the best imaginations. The interactions and communication that it created was magical to watch; they created their own theatre production using the box as the stage and then when their imagination was satisfied with this idea, the box was then transformed into a spaceship that took them to space to eat ice cream on the moon! A true representation of childhood at its best.

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Exercise

Most often or not exercise is incorporated into play for children and it is our role as adults to ensure that the Little Thinkers in our care experience enough physical activity throughout the day.

The quote “adults call it ‘exercise or working out’ but children call it play” has always resonated with me. Children are naturally drawn to physical activity, so it leaves it up to us to continue to encourage the time and passion for it.

Encouraging play/exercise means that children and young people reduce the time spent sitting for extended periods of time which has endless health benefits. The NHS states that children aged 5-18 should be active for least 60 minutes a day. This is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles and higher levels of self-esteem.

Although the evidence supporting screen time is often unclear and conflicting, what is consistent is the view that promoting physical activity, encouraging communication, play and sleep can only lead to a healthier and more positive childhood for our Little Thinkers.

Article by Rebecca Dooley, London’s Little Thinkers

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Further Reading

WHO Guidelines for Physical Activity, Sedentary behaviour and sleep

AAP – Guidelines for Children’s Media Usage

NHS Guidelines for Physical Activity

About The Author

My Baba

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