Parents with pre-school children ask me one question more than any other: 'what's the right way to integrate screen time into my child's routine?' At a time when children are the world's best learners, between birth and the time they begin school, a lot of parents wonder if and when they should introduce their child to television and apps, and how to do it best. Well, there's no magic answer...but I asked a real expert:
Alexandro (Sasha) Vicente-Grabovetsky is a Cognitive Neuroscientist, with a doctorate from Cambridge University, and a specialisation in the part of the brain that's involved with learning and memory. I asked Sasha for his advice on using screens in your child's early years.
Here are his four tips.
==1. Screens aren't bad, or good, by themselves. They're tools. ==
Sasha's main advice is that parents shouldn't feel guilty about letting their children watch TV or use a smartphone, even in infancy, but should understand how to best use these tools. Sasha dismissed the old-fashioned fear of 'screen addiction':
"You should not worry about screen addiction unless your child is spending many consecutive hours sitting in front of a screen."
And he explained that television or apps can be used for short periods with positive effects, and parents can find lots of carefully-designed learning games and television shows if they do their research. The most important thing to understand, is that the screen is not good or bad in itself. Sasha adds:
"There is nothing magical or special about screens. They have a high degree of interactivity. An app, just like a book, can be used in a very positive way, but can also be negative."
2. Not all screen time is created equal.
The main question is not if you should use screens with your child, but how. Sasha advises:
"it's all about the quality of the time using the screen."
If your child is watching television, or using an app, make it a positive experience by choosing educational content to play, and by taking part with your child.
New recommendations from the Association of Paediatrics suggests that children between 2 and 6 can use screens for a maximum of two hours each day without harming their development, but parents should look for positive and interactive experiences like video chats with family, educational apps, and television or video content designed to help children learn. Chatting to family on Skype, or playing an interactive learning game that develops the brain, are actively positive ways to use screens from 2 years.
3. Active is better than passive.
Screen time, as we've discussed, has different forms. There's passive screen time - watching television or YouTube, and there's active screen time - playing games or speaking on video chat. Creating quality active learning experiences is important, and screens can help.
Sasha explains that balance is the main thing: "Children can spend time playing with screens, which develop a particular set of skills, and children should also spend time moving, or outdoors, to develop their physical skills too."
Doing both, and having balance is important - not just one or the other on its own.
4. Invest time in finding the best experiences.
Sasha explains that for neurological development, the most important things are providing the child with a nurturing environment where they have the tools to explore and learn.
"The more a child has opportunities to develop their talents and interests, the better."
Here's our list of some good resources to try with your child:
- Club Lingumi, the playful learning app for kids age 2-6
We designed Club Lingumi as a fun, interactive way for children to discover a second language in their early years, when the brain is most naturally good at absorbing new languages. It's used by over 1000 families in Germany, and you can learn more here:
- Alpha Blocks, by the BBC
BBC television produces great children's learning content that is watched around the world. Alpha Blocks is funny, and educational, and will give children a real curiosity for language, and the difference between languages, without slowing the development of their mother tongue. Find the Alpha Blocks here:
- Fiete Puzzle, by Ahoii Entertainment
This app is a very beautiful and interactive way for children to discover animals in a 'picture book' style game.